Between the Sea and Sky at the New York Musical Festival this last weekend was a wonderful production of an intriguing story, written by a talented team, and presented with passion by a fine ensemble. All that added up to a thoroughly engaging theatrical experience, which proved you don’t need millions of dollars to create theatrical magic. I wish I could leave it at that. But the show isn’t perfectly formed yet, nor quite sure of whom its audience should be. Whether the problems with the writing get in the way of your enjoying the sum of the parts depends on what you expect from the experience.
The show opens on a mysterious Woman in White (the ethereal beauty, Sarah Jane Shanks), singing with more reverb than an Enya album which is a hint at something, about the stories of our lives intersecting. That accompanies an extended pantomime to introduce the story of a family being torn apart behind her. Emily, meant to be age 9 (Jessica Turn), and Samantha or “Sam” (Jenny Rose Baker) meant to be age 13, both convincingly played by young adults, are seen playing on the beach, where Em gives Sam a book of Shakespeare plays which once belonged to their Grandmother (Barbara McCulloh). Then we see their parents argue in mime, and the two girls each go to one of them. Clearly, divorce is in the air.
My initial suspicion was that we were going to see a play about the pain of divorce and its effect on the two young girls growing up. Surprisingly, that’s not what happens at all. In fact, the entire divorce plotline could be cut from this show and have no effect on the story whatsoever.
Then, the girls go to visit their paternal grandmother at Diamond Beach, where they often played growing up. The Diamond Beach community harbors an old mystery from thirty years earlier, which the townsfolk won’t discuss. I only wish it turned out that they had some hand in it, as in the Nightmare on Elm Streetmovies. But it’s a red herring.
Thirty years earlier, a group of visiting hippies came to Diamond Beach with a beautiful woman, Mary, and her young daughter, Charlotte. When an unexpected storm came upon them, the woman and her daughter were swept out to sea…or were they? The answer to that question is the heart of the mystery, and I won’t spoil it for you. Luke Burne, who wrote book, music and lyrics for this show, does a pretty good job of keeping us guessing, and finally paying off our expectations.
Matters are complicated when Sam and her childhood buddy, Vincent (Thaddeus Kolwicz) leave Em to play on the beach and she disappears. Sam and Vincent go on a quest to find her, which turns up a genuine ghost story. Without giving too much away, I will say that the ghost, when we encounter it, is far too corporeal and not enough of a threat to Em’s safety.
Throughout al of this, the parents are absent, Grandma is kind but ineffective, and there are no relationship or characters arcs, except for a little friction between the sisters, to deepen the story. It’s very much a situation dramedy rather than a character driven story. The songs by Mr. Byrne are really beautiful and well written as far as they go. But they don’t grow from the needs or inner lives of the characters. Essentially, this show is no more than a Nancy Drew mystery set to music. Detective stories may be intriguing. But unto themselves they lack the emotional moments that makes for a great musical.
The four supporting players, Caroline Lellouche, Jason Moody, Jordan Bell and Anna L. Baker, start the show as dapper anthropomorphic seagulls with a Checkovian flair, and then become four of the five townspeople. They also move the set pieces with well choreographed fluidity, turning a couple of benches and chairs into various locations and objects. My favorite was the makeshift motorboat, trailing behind four blue umbrellas representing the sea in front of them. As the townspeople, the four supporting players have several scenes in which they are members of a very bad local theater troupe getting ready to put on a production of The Tempest, which draws Sam to them. There was some funny stuff there, especially a monologue overly illustrated with hand gestures by Jordan Bell. But I’d cut most or all of that to make room for more character development. Sam’s interest in her book of Shakespeare plays is all the motivation she needs to utter Prospero’s speech, which opens the gateway to the other world.
Also, Old Pat, an irish woman with an unexplained connection to pagan magic presumably due to her Celtic roots (also played with gusto by Ms. McCulloh) should probably be a more direct part of the resolution of the story.
Thanks to the unforced fluid and direction of Mr. Bello, aided by fine choreography from Jim Cooney, and the uniformly excellent performances, the total theatrical experience never lags. Credit scenic designer Joshua Warner, costume designer Heather Carey, lighting designer Jessica Creager, and sound designer Josh Liebert for their fine collaborative effort. Also, high praise goes to the fine musical direction by Elizabeth Doran, who wrapped the show in a cozy, musical blanket.
The lack of depth of character in both story and song, no matter how well played, raises the same question I had about Make a Wish earlier in the Festival. Is this is just an overlong Theater for Young Audiences show, or an underwritten family show for the main stage? The high production quality lets the question slide.
For twentysomethings to play pre-teens is a big stretch. So hats off to all three adult performers who were perfectly convincing without ever condescending. Particular kudos go to Jenny Rose Baker, who was simply delightful. She captured all the gawkiness, youthful passion, and innate wisdom of young Sam, with an infectious charm. Thank casting director Cindy Rush for finding them all.
I don’t know if this show will ever be another Secret Garden. But it deserves to be seen again. And developed further.
By Jacqueline Parker
Nature’s reward for enduring a spate of rain and gloomy weather is a rainbow. The York has delivered just that in their latest production in their Mufti series, Golden Rainbow. This musical from the late 60s is always mentioned among aficionados of this art form with wistful smiles and fond remembrances. The York has brought it back to life in a version that features some new lyrics by original composer/lyricist Walter Marks that carry the storyline into this century.
From the opening notes of the Jule Styne-esque overture to the rousing finale, the audience was toe-and-finger tapping along to the sounds so evocative of the time when most of us were very young. The story itself is touching—a single father of a boy on the brink of teenhood must wrestle with the choice of saving his livelihood or letting his son move to the other side of the country with his aunt. The connection between father and son is made clear through several songs delivered touchingly by dad Max Von Essen and son Benjamin Pajak.
The arrival under a false pretense of Mara Davi as Aunt Judy sets the plot spinning and allows Robert Cuccioli as mobster Carmine Malatesta and Danielle Lee Greaves as Jill to play their part in the resolution with songs hilarious and touching.
If the story seems familiar it’s because it is taken from the film “A Hole in the Head,” based on the same source material, that starred Frank Sinatra and Eddie Hodges singing the Oscar-winning song High Hopes. Golden Rainbow opened in 1968 starring Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme in the leads. They were household names at the time, based on their talent and popularity from television appearances and cabaret performances.
Perhaps most impressive in this production was Von Essen’s version of the hit song “I Gotta Be Me.” It was haunting as it built in intensity and left the audience almost breathless at the end of Act 1.
Pajak, familiar to all from his recent appearances in Oliver! and The Music Man was astounding in his ability to project the at times heartbreaking and lovingly joyous emotions of his character.
Mara Davi’s character has her own roller coaster ride of emotions, which she transmits with style and conviction.
Robert Cuccioli was hilarious as a mobster singing Taste,
and Danielle Lee Greaves delivered two of the new songs, making me hope for a new recording of this terrific show soon.
The clock is ticking on this gem of a show – it closes Sunday, October 1st. Get your tickets at yorktheatre.org and find your own pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
Theatre News: Here We Are, Some Like It Hot, A Beautiful Noise, All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain and The Laramie Project
The curtain rose last tonight on the first performance of the final Stephen Sondheim musical. Here We Are, the new musical from David Ives and Sondheim, is on stage at The Shed’s Griffin Theater (545 W. 30th Street), with an Opening Night on Sunday, October 22, for 15 weeks only.
Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, the cast of Here We Are will feature Francois Battiste, Tracie Bennett, Bobby Cannavale, Micaela Diamond, Amber Gray, Jin Ha, Rachel Bay Jones, Denis O’Hare, Steven Pasquale, David Hyde Pierce, and Jeremy Shamos. The understudies for Here We Are are Adante Carter, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Bradley Dean, Mehry Eslaminia, Adam Harrington, and Bligh Voth.
Here We Are is inspired by two films, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel, by Luis Buñuel.
Here We Are will include choreography by Sam Pinkleton, set design and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Tom Gibbons, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, musical supervision and additional arrangements by Alexander Gemignani, hair & make-up design by Wigmaker Associates, and casting by The Telsey Office.
Tickets are on sale on TheShed.org.
For each performance, a limited number of $25 tickets will be available via a weekly lottery, which will open for entries on the TodayTix app each Sunday at 12:01 AM for the coming week’s performances and will close at 12:00 PM on the day before each performance. Winners will be notified by push notification and email between 1 – 4 PM on the day before their selected show, and will have 30 minutes to claim their tickets in the app. Entrants may request 1 or 2 tickets, and entry is free and open to all.
Via TodayTix’s mobile rush program, a limited number of $40 same-day rush tickets will be available for that day’s performance of Here We Are at 9:00 AM each day on a first-come, first-served basis. Users can download the app and “unlock” rush tickets by sharing the program on social media ahead of their desired performance day.
The most award-winning musical of the 2022-2023 season, Some Like It Hot, will play for 13 more weeks through Saturday, December 30, 2023, at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre (225 West 44th Street) before launching a national tour and West End production.
Awarded Best Musical by The Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle, Some Like It Hot received over 20+ major awards throughout the 2022-2023 season, including four Tony Awards for Best Lead Actor in a Musical (J. Harrison Ghee), Best Choreography (Casey Nicholaw), Best Orchestrations (Charlie Rosen & Bryan Carter) and Best Costumes in a Musical (Gregg Barnes). J. Harrison Ghee made history as the first non-binary performer to take home the Tony Award in their category.
A national tour will launch in September 2024 and a West End production will follow in 2025, produced by The Shubert Organization and Neil Meron in partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group.
At the time of the final performance, the production will have played the Shubert Theatre for over a year, for a total of 483 performances.
Will Swenson, who is electrifying audiences with his star turn in A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical, will play his final performance as ‘Neil Diamond – Then’ at the Broadhurst Theatre (235 West 44th Street) on Sunday, October 29. Casting for the role of ‘Neil Diamond – Then’ will be announced at a future date.
The unofficial commencement of “spooky season” takes place this Friday, September 29, when Tony Award® Nominee and Grammy Award® Winner Patrick Page returns to the New York stage in All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain, a new work created and performed by Mr. Page, based on the villains of William Shakespeare. Directed by Simon Godwin, the solo show will play the DR2 Theatre (103 E 15th Street) beginning Friday, September 29, with an Opening Night set for Monday, October 16, for 14 weeks only.
Julie White and Brandon Uranowitz will join Ato Blankson-Wood in a staged benefit reading of The Laramie Project. Moises Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theatre Project’s The Laramie Project, will bedirected by Dustin Wills (Wolf Play, Wet Brain). The event, which will raise funds to support the work of The Trevor Project, will take place on Monday, October 16th at 7:00 PM at Peter Norton Symphony Space, and is being produced by District Productions. Additional casting is soon to be announced. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.symphonyspace.org/events/vp-the-laramie-project-a-benefit-staged-reading
Meet Michel Wallerstein and Spencer Aste of Chasing Happy
Pulse Theatre will be presenting Chasing Happy a new comedy by Michel Wallerstein (Flight, Five Women Waiting, Off Hand). Directed by Pulse Theatre co-Founder Alexa Kelly (Strings Attached).
Video by Magda Katz
The company of Chasing Happy features Spencer Aste (Wake Up, Axis Theatre), Jenny Bennett (City of Ladies, Pulse Theatre), Schyler Conaway in his Off-Broadway debut, Christopher James Murray (The Falling Season, Theatre Row), and Elizabeth Shepherd (Relatively Speaking and Conduct Unbecoming on Broadway; War and Peace and Inherit the Wind in London’s West End).
T2C talked to Michel Wallerstein and Spencer Aste to learn more.
Chasing Happy is a modern comedy about personal identity, love, acceptance …and the elusive pursuit of happiness. Nick is in love with another man’s boyfriend. (Oops.) Nick’s mother says George Clooney wants to date her (Really?). Nick’s ex-wife says she has to have surgery.( Now?) …It’s a laugh a minute on an unexpected merry-go-round when you’re chasing happy.
The limited engagement will play a five-week limited engagement, October 11 through November 11, at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, NYC). Opening night is Thursday, October 19 at 7PM. Tickets are now on sale at TheatreRow.org or by calling the box office, 212-714-2442 ext. 45.
For more information visit www.ChasingHappyOffBroadway.com.
Primary Stages’ “DIG” Does Exactly That Into What’s Underground
By Dennis White
The theater is filled with eerie almost tribal music with birds chirping as the audience finds their seats for Primary Stages’ production of DIG at 59E59 Theaters. It’s a new play written by Theresa Rebeck (Bernhardt/Hamlet) who also directs and as the name implies, DIG is not going to let us just see what’s on the surface. This story wants us to DIG to find out what we don’t see going on underground. The play’s setting is a garden shop that we’re told is failing but is filled with what looks like thriving plants.
Roger, the owner, played with elegant restraint by Jeffery Bean (Broadway’s Amadeus, Bells Are Ringing) seems content with keeping his shop even though developers are buying up the neighborhood. But Roger is unaware of how his complacent life is going to change thanks to his longtime friend Lou played by Triney Sandoval (Broadway’s Bernhardt/Hamlet), a man who reluctantly has his tormented daughter Megan come live with him. Megan deftly played by Andrea Syglowski (Broadway’s Pass Over) is a woman lost but even though it seems futile, she has not given up – completely. Entering the shop Megan takes a seat in the corner facing the wall attempting to camouflage herself in greenery covering her face with a hoodie.
She has committed an unforgivable act that has made national headlines. After a failed suicide her father agrees to supervise his daughter’s release even though he cannot forgive her. Megan reaches through her pain and within minutes she offers to repot a plant hoping to convince Roger he needs her help and she’ll work for free. You can feel how Syglowski’s Megan feels caught like the plant’s bound roots pushing against the sides of the pot, trapped and in pain. But she sees hope in the garden shop and Roger. The relationship between Roger and Megan is tenuous at first but the actors reel in the audience. The garden shop is coming alive as a place where they can both grow but it’s not as easy as they find out.
The rest of the cast is vital as they build the grotesque puzzle pieces of Megan’s horrifying past with pros like Mary Bacon (Public’s Coal Country) as Molly. Bacon does a good job as the judgmental nosy customer who turns into a helping hand. Stoner Everett aptly played in what can be described as a life lived in a pot cloud haze by Greg Keller (Playwrights Horizons’ The Thanksgiving Play) seems like a comical diversion but there’s a darker side coming. A surprising element is the appearance of Adam, Megan’s ex-husband, played with the intensity of a caged animal by David Mason (Broadway’s Pictures from Home) who makes the most of this small part. You can feel the audience cringing through the entire scene as writer/ director Theresa Rebeck finally gets her chance to see her play fully realized as she saw it in her mind, line by line.
DIG takes us to places we could not imagine when we first meet the characters. She builds relationships, tears them down, and then gives them some hope by the end. The play’s surprising revelation leaves the audience stunned, gasping at the turn of events and the secrets revealed. Rebeck’s direction seems effortless, moving her actors in the garden shop through this story of realization, forgiveness, and redemption. The scenic design by Christopher and Justin Swader (Off-Broadway’s The Boy Who Danced On Air) fill the garden shop with life, growing and changing reflecting the events of the play. Lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins (MCC’s Space Dogs) helps set the mood with deep shadows and the original music and sound design by Fitz Patton (Broadway’s Choir Boy) give us an ominous melody to add to the tension, giving DIG a chance to get a lot of it right. The cast led by Syglowski and Bean hit all the right notes as they travel through tormented waters, some raging, while others swirl below the surface. Rebeck’s play with its unexpected twists and turns wrenches our guts and we follow gladly to the end.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Dracula: A Comedy Of Terrors
Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, is now playing at New World Stage, 340 West 50th Street, until January 7, 2024 or beyond.
In this caricature you will find James Daly’s Dracula and clockwise: Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Arnie Burton, Ellen Harvey and Jordan Boatman who make up this amazingly talented cast.
You can read T2C’s mouth watering review here.
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