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The Prom Musical Glitter Explodes its Inclusive Zaaz All Over Broadway, Netflix, and Edgewater, Indiana



After watching the stomach churning lesbian coming-out pseudo-Hallmark Christmas movie the other day, The Happiest Season didn’t feel so happy, so I knew I really needed a cleansing feel-good lesbian coming-out story that would, basically, make me feel good and happy once again. The Prom on Netflix seemed to be just the kinda ticket required. I had seen the brilliantly funny and smart musical on Broadway when it first opened in October 2018. I remember quite clearly how much it surprised me, happily, joyously. Not really knowing what we, the late great Nashom and I, were walking into, the show found a way to jump ahead of all our expectations, proudly with glitz, glamour, sequins, and simplicity. Easily surpassing its deceivingly stale title with stupendous charm, humor and a whole tour bus full of heart and cleverness, The Prom seemed to reinvent the musical comedy wheel right before my eyes. I don’t think I’ve been so wonderfully surprised in a long long time, but I should have known better, as Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, “Slings and Arrows) and Chad Beguelin (Disney’s Aladdin) wrote the clever book, and Matthew Sklar (Broadway’s Elf) delivered perfect music to go with Beguelin’s hilariously spot on lyrics. The stage musical overflowed the punch bowl with smart and sassy songs one after the other, glorified by magnificent performances, and a heartfelt message of love, connection, and inclusion.

As a stage musical, The Prom premiered on Broadway where it ran for just under a year. It should have run much longer, but for some reason, even after all the super positive reviews, it just couldn’t find enough ticket buyers to keep the party pumping and high kicking. So I was over the moon when the film version was first announced, with Ryan Murphy leading the parade and Netflix giving it their stamp of approval. I had wanted the team to not give in to the movie star allure, and offer the roles to that stupendous Broadway cast, especially both of the Tony Award nominees; the magnificent best of the belters, Beth Leavel (Broadway’s Bandstand) and the always amazing Brooks Ashmanskas (Broadway’s Bullets Over Broadway). But my wish was not heard, surprise, surprise, and The Prom went the way of so many other Broadway stage to ‘screen’ adaptations. The big cinematic names are brought it, for better or worse, and the Broadway stars are left to watch on with the rest of us. Sometimes that decision is a disaster, but other times, like (mostly here) it works, despite itself. Most likely cause the musical can withstand it. 

Streep and Corden, center stage in Netflix’s The Prom.

The film version, like on stage, begins in a land far far away from small town Edgewater, Indiana, in the land of New York City on the brightly lit streets outside a Broadway theatre. Frank DiLella, my favorite ever so handsome Emmy Award winning host of NY1’s “On Stage” is naturally there, microphone in hand beaconing over the glamourous Broadway star Dee Dee Allen for a few choice words on the night her newest big Broadway musical opens. And who is playing this sequined stage star, none other than the legendary Meryl Streep (HBO’s Angels in America), who is everything Dee Dee wishes she was, and more. I must admit I adore or even worship this actress beyond words, but I was a bit hesitant when it was first announced that she would play this narcissistic piece of work. To follow the big and strong voiced Leavel in pretty much anything musical must be quite the daunting task, even for Streep. And from her film versions of “Into The Woods” and “Mamma Mia!“, I wasn’t convinced that she had it in her. They are fun and all (although MM2- beyond Cher’s arrival, was a bit hard to swallow), but to rise up to some of those Prom big numbers, well, that’s a whole other bowl of spiked punch. 

But as it turns out, that wasn’t the thing I should have been worried about. The opening night of this Broadway musical about Franklin D, and Eleanor Roosevelt, called Eleanor!, is also the night of its closing, as the show, by almost all accounts, is an unmitigated disaster, although you’d never know it by the two lead’s delusion. Her costar, Barry Glickman, wheeling around the stage as Franklin D. is as full of himself as his co-star. He’s played by the very fun and appealing James Corden, who seems to be the go-to for stage-to-screen adaptations as often as Meryl. The two are stupendously perfect together, especially as the flame is snuffed out on opening night at Sardi’s. Their pity party of narcissistic befuddlement is deliciously designed with their friends falling over themselves to get out of room in case ‘failure’ was transmittable after having their devastatingly bad reviews are read out loud. The critics accuse the actors of complete narcissism, which is a pretty sly joke, because it not only delivers the obvious truth, it also lets us all into the joke, giving us complete permission to laugh with, and at, these flamboyantly self-involved thespians. Their agent, Sheldon Saperstein, portrayed with an extra slice of disappearing ham by Kevin Chamberlin (Broadway’s Dirty Blonde; Public’s The Low Road), has basically had quite enough of the delusional duo, so he, like the rest of the hangers-on quickly depart, leaving them to drown their sorrows in booze at the bar. With some heavy pouring help from waiter, actor, and proud Juilliard graduate, Trent Oliver, played to cinematic perfection by Andrew Rannells (Broadway/Netflix’s Boys in the Band), they bask fully in their narcissism, feeling ever so sorry for themselves as the twinkling lights of their Broadway show, “Eleanor!”, go dark. 

Corden, Streep, and Kidman in Netflix’s The Prom

Since, quite naturally, “nobody likes a narcissist“, the two feel the desperate need to find some sort of salvation, or at least a new angle for the P.R. machine of Broadway to portray them in a more positive, caring, well angled spotlight. At a loss of what to do, in struts the still gloriously beautiful aging showgirl with the longest damn legs in showbiz, Angie, dynamically played by the pretty astounding Nicole Kidman,shimmering like she’s making her Chicago entrance on the Fosse stage, It is she who finds them a cause to dig their heels into, after bypassing the boring too big problem of ‘world hunger’ with a flip of a finger. They find Emma, a mid-western Indiana lesbian high school student who after stating that she wants to take her girlfriend to their high school Prom, the PTA cancel the party, just to keep her kind in the proverbial shame closet. Sweetly and magnetically played by the gentle but fierce Jo Ellen Pellman (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel“), Emma bravely stands up for her right, even when denied. She’s a brave soul, almost too brave given the (off balanced) treatment she does and doesn’t get in the halls of her high school. All this, even though her girlfriend, Alyssa, played cautiously by the engaging Ariana DeBose (Disney+/Broadway’s Hamilton) is too scared to come out to her control freak mom and PTA powerhouse, Mrs. Greene, played proudly and strongly by the well heeled Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere“). It seems Emma, with the help and support of school Principal Tom Hawkin, handsomely portrayed by the wonderful Keegan-Michael Key (Broadway’s Meteor Shower), has the will and the strength to assert herself, even when harrassed. 

It’s clear where this is heading, especially when Dee Dee and Barry pull out their theater-award trophies in front of the small town motel clerk to try to get themselves upgraded. They have no idea where they are, and even less of an idea as why or how they can help. When these four Broadway ‘celebrities’, escorted in by a traveling bus show of Godspell, saunter in to that gymnasium, demanding the spotlight, the lights and energy of The Prom rev up, even as they belt out (with glory), “It’s Not About Me“. “What is happening?” the others demand, both in horror and excitement, in sing song precision, but with Meryl demanding center stage and the follow spot, there is just no denying her. Dee Dee commandeers the room with a song that is thick with self-delusion, one that we can’t help but laugh and applaud loudly. Streep delivers it with a powerful hysterical punch that I didn’t really know she had in her. All hesitations about Streep’s vocal capacities are quickly tossed aside, as assuredly as that red cape in front of that glorious backdrop. It’s a hilariously magnificent moment, and one that makes us all know for certain that Netflix’s The Prom is in some very good hands, and that we, its ardent fans, have nothing to worry about…or do we?

Rannells, Washington, Street, Pellman, and Corden in Netflix’s The Prom.

What follows next is pretty much heaven on a overtly colorful, well-lit stick, especially when each of these stars get their moment to shine. Thanks to cinematographer Matthew Libatique (“Black Swan“); production designer Jamie Walker McCall (“Into The Wild“); and art director, Sarah Delucchi (“Avatar 2“), the look is flashy and fun, giving us theatricality and home grown appeal all rolled up together in two hours. As directed by Murphy (“Glee“) and choreographed with glory by the superstar director of the stage musical, Casey Nicholaw (Broadway’s Mean Girls), everyone, even those pesky bratty high school students, gets their spotlight number to garner our adoration wholeheartedly. It’s quite fun watching Streep and Corden as Eleanor and FDR flinging themselves around on stage in parady formulations, as this song flips between that and the post-show neon glow, but “Changing Lives” is what the theatrical four are there for, sort of, after their damaged egos needs a ton of external validation. 

When the caravan of Broadway types bus themselves out of their homeland into middle America and try their mightiest to save “one lesbian at a time“, it all seems as perfect and ridiculous as it could be, much to the initial delight of the progressive musical-lovin’ principal, Mr. Hawkins, an avid Dee Dee fan. He gets his dream and his disappointment all rolled up in one singular sensation, and Dee Dee knows it and seizes on those starry eyes like a drug addict. She is taken out by the principal to Applebee’s, or as she calls it quite honestly, Apples and Bees, for a meal. He is star struck, and without missing a beat, tells her about why he loves Broadway, and her, through song that is so genius it’s almost shocking. “We Look to You” is his number, and it reminds us all how much we miss live theatre during these lockdown days of the pandemic. It’s nostalgic and heartfelt in a way that it never intended to be, but it tells the truth, bigger and stronger than it initially intended. We do look to Dee Dee and other theatre stars to give us a place to dream and see the world differently, and Key sells it fully with wide-eyed love, singing well and true. 

Corden, Kidman, Street and key in Netflix’s The Prom.

Meryl’s Dee Dee sells us her story soon after with one of the film’s highlights, “The Lady’s Improving“. It’s her unapologetic manipulations that somehow works its magic on us and the principle, as Streep delivers the dual nuances with fierce determination and a big voiced sound. Kidman’s Angie, along with the nervous, albeit wonderful Emma, kicks it up with the fabulously fun “Zazz“, selling it as only that “sweet MILF ass” can. It’s not as well crafted, this ode to Broadway’s Chicago and to showbiz itself, as that Fosse girl (Angie Schworer) did on Broadway, but it certainly knows how to give it to us in theatrically colored spades. James Corden (NT’s One Man, Two Guvnors) is given line after witty line to bring us in. “I had to declare bankruptcy after my self-produced ‘Notes on a Scandal,‘” giving us more into his character and his failings than twelve words ever did before. Starting off strong, Corden finds a way to balance the self centeredness with some form of humanity, and even though this casting choice is being criticized by some for portraying Barry as a gay stereotype, he generally, at least in the first half of the film, comes off both funny and touching. It’s in the later part that I feel he falters, or maybe the fault lies more in the hands of the creators of The Prom. In the stage production, one could feel the intimacy between the shy Emma and the seemingly unflinching Barry slowly developing. Their connection becomes emotionally tender and real, but in the film as Corden’s Barry does his best makeover attempt on Emma, the two never fully bond in the way they did on that stage in the hands of Ashmanskas, and that’s a damn shame, because their attachment is what gives the musical its caring heart and soul. It’s only really Kidman’s character that truly connects to Emma, and marching out Tracey Ullman as Barry’s sad remorseful mother just doesn’t do the trick in the same way. It feels to separate and detached from the central core. It’s as if they are saying, it’s not about those lesbians. It’s really about me and my pain, once again.

Pellman’s Emma gets her moment with the fantastic bed spinning “Unruly Heart” going viral online. It’s a bit of fun, but the number also spreads the true message of this tale to millions of people with a much purer heart. It’s humble and guitar-strumming sweet, but it does showcase that ever moving camera that Murphy sometimes spins us away from actually feeling attached to the story. The lesbian sweethearts are never outshined by the Broadway big-egoed scene stealers though. Pellman’s “Just Breathe” quietly relates us instantly to her through her “Note to self: don’t be gay in Indiana.” It’s clever and authentic, while not to much of a downer. “You Happened” is energetically epic, with heavy duty theatrical choreography and themes of high school candy colored romance that is completely fun and on fire. Although singing engagingly out of view, the hidden sweethearts steal our hearts with “Dance with You“, as the couple daydreams of a different place and time, other than the one they are living. Pellman infuses Emma with a clear hearted radiance, giving us a vision of what could be that is achingly honest and hopeful. But it’s “Tonight Belongs to You” that, despite Corden’s performance, the dual layers of giddy excitement and the darker cruelty of those around her blend strongly together. The heartbreak, though, of watching Emma walk excitedly into an empty balloon littered gym, while the others, after stepping in and out of their identical white limos into the ‘real’ prom somewhere else, takes the cake, slapping the wind out of our hopeful sails, as we systematically feel the weight of hate winning, at least at half time. 

DeBose and Pellman, center stage in Netflix’s The Prom.

Over at the mall, one of those pesky high school students tells Rannells’ Trent, “We don’t have a drama program,” causing him to exclaim quite profoundly, “That explains your general lack of empathy.” Rannells, who has basically been cast aside for most of the film, finally is given his moment to shine in the perfectly timely and smartly written song, “Love Thy Neighbor” raising the roof of that suburban mall like it was a church on Sunday. His ability to point out the hypocrisy of these kids cherry picking which rules from the Bible they feel like following expertly registers at every high kicking moment within this big agenda choreography moment. “There’s no way to separate,/Which rules you can violate…Love thy neighbor trumps them all!” It’s hard not joining in on that anthem, as it rings solid and tru. I’m thrilled to report that The Prom is a full throttle joy to behold, “fighting for the right” for everyone, no matter what, to attend their high-school dance. The movie takes on that battle, fighting the good fight for the right to love and be loved, just like everyone else. This Netflix Prom is an exciting colorful adventure ride, telling us a tale of what intolerance can do to those who don’t feel accepted. It makes me want to insist that everyone out there get a date and go to this festive and fun Prom, especially if you didn’t get a chance to go to your own because of feeling like a loser, an outcast, or an oddity. Don’t hide your love away to fit in. Dress yourself up in your personal prom-best, pin on that corsage, push aside that evil bigoted mother of Alyssa’s, and dance with all the joy you can muster, as all are welcome to The Prom. “Is this what not failing feels like?“. Yes. It. Is. No regrets here.

The cast of Netflix’s The Prom.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to


Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Sondheim



Stephen Sondheim birthday was March 22nd and somehow I missed it. His masterpiece Sweeney Todd opened on Broadway originally March 1, 1979, at the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin). His newest revival opened Sunday, March 26th at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. So here’s to you Steve.

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Broadway’s Parade, a Masterpiece and Master Class, Not to be Missed.




With a blast of bright white light, the Broadway revival of Parade marches itself forcibly onto the stage, surging from the sidelines once the love-making center stage comes to an end. It’s a compelling beginning, one that, as it turns out, doesn’t really add a whole lot to the proceedings. But the show finds its strong footing soon after. No doubt about it. I didn’t really understand the full need for the sexual interaction between the young soldier (Charlie Webb) and his pretty young companion (Ashlyn Maddox) that takes place in those first few moments, as well as the consistent reappearing of that same soldier, 50 years later, as an old man (Howard McGillin) throughout, other than to remind us that the old Confederate way of thinking still flies its flag strong and true. Even if the flags they are waving in this production of Parade make us feel uneasy and unsure.

Overall, the compounding effect is captivating and intense, as this musical, with a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy), music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (Songs for a New World; The Last Five Years), and originally co-conceived by Harold Prince (West Side Story), stands strong, taking on race, antisemitism, and prejudice in “The Old Red Hills of Home” South. It dutifully dramatizes the disturbing but true story of a 1913 trial of a Jewish factory manager who was wrongly accused and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old young girl and employee of the factory. The musical revival is as timely as can be, and as surefooted as one could hope for. And as directed carefully and artistically by Michael Arden (Broadway/Deaf West’s Spring Awakening), Parade delivers on all fronts.

After a well-received short run as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series, this tense and sharp musical finally has made its way back. I didn’t really know much about this musical, but I was surprised to hear that it first premiered on Broadway in December 1998 starring Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello in the two lead roles. It won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score (out of nine nominations), not surprisingly, and six Drama Desk Awards. And I’m guessing the accolades will come pouring in once again when the Tony Award nominations are announced.

Portraying that doomed factory manager, Leo Frank, Ben Platt (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen) once again finds power and passion in abundance, striding back onto the Broadway stage both sheepishly and strongly. He grabs hold of the part, demanding justice and the truth for the man who tried his imperfect best to live a dutiful life. Married to his loving wife, Lucille, played spectacularly by Micaela Diamond (Broadway’s The Cher Show), the pair seems well-matched, both in their characterizations and their vocal expertise. Their singing and emotionality soar, especially in Lucille’s “You Don’t Know This Man” and Leo’s captivating Statement, “It’s Hard to Speak my Heart“, as the piece gets darker and darker, breaking apart our collective hearts as it marches to the end. We all know this is not going to end well for this innocent man, but we are drawn in completely as the two begin, quite quietly, finding a simple and tender, yet complicated connection in their marriage.

We feel their bond as Leo gets ready and makes his way to the office on this odd day of celebration in Atlanta. He sidesteps the parade, which is oddly celebrating the confederacy and a war lost, leaving his wife to picnic alone. We collectively wish he’d stay home, giving in to the gentle pleas of his wife. Things might have turned out so differently if he had. But this is the tale that must be told, to be witness to, as we are simultaneously given a glimpse into the soon-to-be shortened life of Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle), being flirted with by a young boy (Jake Pedersen) about “The Picture Show“, as she rides a trolley car on her way to the factory to collect her wages, at ten cents an hour. The white balloon floats above her head, just like her spirit, simple and buoyant, until it escapes her hand, and floats away from her into the heavens above.

Erin Rose Doyle and Jake Pedersen in Broadway’s Parade. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Dream of Atlanta” isn’t so true, fair, or right, as it doesn’t take long for that Jewish factory manager to be accused of the raping and murdering Mary Phagan, even as we see clearly that it wasn’t, and couldn’t possibly be Leo. The “Hammer of Justice” isn’t honest, that becomes obvious, but it is the way it works, as we watch the unhonourable Hugh Dorsey, an ambitious politician with a “lousy conviction record,” played to perfection by Paul Alexander Nolan (Broadway’s Slave Play) decide, regardless of proof, to convict, at least one of the two men who were around the factory at the time. Would it be the simple black man, Newt Lee (Eddie Cooper), the night watchman who discovered the body, or the Jewish man who wrings his hands and looks down at his feet? This is “Real Big News“, we are told, by the opportunist reporter, Britt Craig, dynamically portrayed by Jay Armstrong Johnson (NYCC Encores’ A Chorus Line), as we watch the spin gets spinning. Dorsey, with the blessing of Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton, as played strongly by Sean Allan Krill (Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill) with his wife, Sally (Stacie Bono), standing at his side, turns the accusing finger towards Leo Frank, for no other reason than not wanting to hang another black man. “We gotta do better.

A Rumblin’ and A Rollin’” towards the trial, this wrongly orchestrated circus is sensationalized by the newspapers and arouses some pretty disturbing antisemitic hatred across the stage, and the whole state of Georgia that sometimes, as a whole, gets a bit lost inside the jumble of the large cast of characters. Yet, despite the messiness of grieving mothers (Kelli Barrett) and observing servants (Douglas Lyons, Courtnee Carter), the “That’s What He Said” testimonies are a thoroughly uncomfortable parade to bear witness to, as a musical game of justice chairs is performed, most fascinatingly by the cast that includes Sophia Manicone, Maddox, and DeMartino, as members of the community, the factory, and another one straight from Frank’s own home, Minnie McKnight (Danielle Lee Greaves). It’s played out strong and deliberate, particularly and most strikingly when Platt’s Leo takes on the alternate guise of the evil Jewish man-character that is being portrayed by the witnesses, orchestrating the murder and rape of a young girl, untruely formulated by the ambitious Dorsey.

William Michals, Jackson Teeley, Paul Alexander Nolan, Eddie Cooper, and Max Chernin in Broadway’s Parade. Photo by Joan Marcus.

He pulls out all stops to get what he wants and needs from the jury in a masterclass of duplicity and dishonesty. But the final blow comes from the dynamic and magnetic coerced testimony by Jim Conley, as portrayed magnificently by the super talented Alex Joseph Grayson (Broadway’s The Girl From…) that brings the musical theatre roof down on the audience in the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The hypnotizing performance of Grayson is completely unstoppable. It’s clear. There is no other way this trial would go in front of the complicit Judge Roan, portrayed by McGillin (Broadway’s Gigi), and as we sit and watch Act One swing its way horrifically toward the verdict, we cannot help but feel the sickness in our stomachs grow. And the disgusting smell of injustice fill the interval air.

The “Pretty Music” and “The Glory” lyrics spiral out as strong and true as the cause, delivering the ideals forward beautifully and emotionally thanks to the fine work of music director/conductor Tom Murray (Broadway’s Anastasia) and music coordinator Kimberlee Wertz (Broadway’s The Music Man), is laid out bare. The sound is magnificent, pushing out the intricate story with a rhythmic and complicated style that contains so much meaning within the array of numerous complimentary musical genres. The formula is intense, enhanced by the strong straight-shooting choreography of Lauren Yalango-Grant and Christopher Cree Grant (OBS’s King Kong). As the stage is crowded to the rim with benches and chairs, infused with impeccable tension by scenic designer Dane Laffrey (Broadway’s Once on This Island), with solid costuming by Susan Hilferty (Broadway’s Funny Girl), deliberate lighting by Heather Gilbert (Broadway’s The Sound Inside), and a clear sound design by Jon Weston (Broadway’s Paradise Square). The large squared statement at the heart of the piece gives a strength to the sentencing, which is only enhanced and elevated by the stellar work of projection designer Sven Ortel (Broadway’s Thoughts of a Colored Man), who gives a historic face to the profiling and to the proceedings.

Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond in Broadway’s Parade. Photo by Joan Marcus.

But the true heart of this intricate and wise musical lies in the very capable and talented hands of Diamond, who takes charge of the stage, even as her character’s husband insists he needs to “Do It Alone.” It’s her under-estimated passion and incredible voice that drives this story to its history-making conclusion, as we rally behind the determined Lucille as she pushes on the departing Governor Slaton to commute Frank’s death sentence to life in prison after a further, and more fair, investigation. Leo Frank is transferred, thankfully, to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, and even though that is where the story should have found a more peaceful ending, the most tragic part of this true-to-life tale comes knocking, somewhat due to the hate-mongering of a writer for The Jeffersonian, an extremist right-wing newspaper, by the name of Tom Watson, played strongly by Manoel Felciano (Red Bull’s The Alchemist). Leo Frank, the wronged and innocent man, pulled from his life by antisemitism and racial hate, was hanged from an oak tree in the hometown of Mary Phagan. For no other reason than being a Jewish man who happened to be working on a holiday in the same building on the day this young girl was killed.

On a side note, the events surrounding the investigation and trial led to two very different groups emerging from the fray; the revival of the defunct KKK and the birth of the Jewish Civil Rights organization, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Parade, the revival musical that has stormed onto Broadway, brings all of that complicated energy to the forefront, expanding and enlightening, while not shying away from the horror of the events. “Where Will You Stand When the Flood Comes?“, the musical asks. And in the hands of Arden, its director; its fantastically talented two lead players, Platt and the incomparable Diamond; and the entire cast and crew, Parade marches ever-so strong and true. A masterpiece and master class, not to be missed. Thanks again, Encores! You’ve delivered once again.

Alex Joseph Grayson in Broadway’s Parade. Photo by Joan Marcus.
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Broadway’s A Doll’s House Meticulously Stunning Revival Soars Like a Birdie Above That Clumsy Cat on a Hot Tin Roof




For a revival to find its footing, it has to have a point of view or a sense of purpose far beyond an actor’s desire to perform a part, whether it suits them or not. It needs to radiate an idea that will make us want to sit up and pay attention. To feel its need to exist. And on one particular day in March, I was blessed with the opportunity to see not just one grande revival, but two. One was a detailed pulled-apart revolutionary revival of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that astounded. The other, unfortunately, was a clumsy revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that fell lazily from that high-wired peak – not for a lack of trying, but from a formulation that never found its purpose.

Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House. Courtesy of A Doll’s House.

But over at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre, a reformulation chirps most wisely and wonderfully, bringing depth and focus to a classic Henrik Ibsen (Hedda Gabler) play that I didn’t realize was in such need of an adaptation. With no extravagance at its core, Amy Herzog (Mary Jane) dynamically takes the detailed structure and beautifully adapted it with due purpose. It hypnotizes, dragging in a number of light wooden chairs, Scandinavian in style, I believe, onto the stage, one by one, by their black-clad counterparts in a determined effort to unpack what will unfold. There is no artifice to hide behind in this rendering, as designed most impeccably by scenic and co-costume designer Soutra Gilmour (NT’s My Brilliant Friend; Broadway’s & Juliet) and co-costume designer Enver Chakartash (Broadway’s Is This A Room), only A Doll’s House’s celebrated star, Jessica Chastain (Broadway’s The Heiress; “The Eyes of Tammy Faye“) rotating the expanse of the bare stage before the others join her slowly and deliberately. She sits, arms crossed, staring, daring us to look away, while knowing full well we won’t. Or can’t. And without a word, it feels like she has us exactly where she wants us. Needs us to be. And all that transpires before the play even begins.

They sit on that bare and stark stage, waiting, in a way, to be played with, like dolls patiently wanting some children to come and give them a voice through their imagination. As Nora, Chastain delivers forward a performance that is unparalleled. To witness what transpires across her face during the course of this extra fine adaptation is to engage in a dance so delicately embroidered that we can’t help but be moved and transported. She barely moves from her chair, as others, like the equally wonderful Arian Moayed (Broadway’s The Humans) as Torvald, are rotated in to sit beside her, conversing and delivering magnified lines, thanks to the brilliant work of sound designers Ben & Max Ringham (West End’s Prima Facie), that dig deep into the underbelly of the complicated interactions. This pair of actors find a pathway through the darkness, never letting us come to any conclusions until they are ready to unleash a moment that will leave you breathless. This is particularly true for Moayed’s Torvald, who seems decent enough at the beginning, but once the shift occurs, when the beautiful thing doesn’t happen as it should, his unveiling is as gut-wrenching to us as it is to Nora. Even though we knew it was coming long before the play even began to spin forward.

Arian Moayed, Jesmille Darbouze, Okieriete Onaodowan, Tasha Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Patrick Thornton in A Doll’s House. Courtesy of A Doll’s House.

The art of the unfolding is steeped within the whole, refocused inside the brilliant shading, shadowing, and starkness of the cast. As Krogstad, the powerful Okieriete Onaodowan (Broadway’s Hamilton), alongside the deliciously tight Jesmille Darbouze (Broadway’s Kiss Me, Kate) as Kristine, find an engagement that sits perfectly in the structuring. They push the reforming to the edge, approaching and receding away from Chastain’s brilliant centering helping move the piece towards the required conclusion.

The same can be said of the wonderful Tasha Lawrence (LCT’s Pipeline) as Anne-Marie, and the exquisitely emotional turning of Michael Patrick Thornton (Broadway’s Macbeth) as Dr. Rank. Thornton, in particular, finds a telling and emotional space to connect, unearthing an engagement that breaks the circle apart, leaving Chastain’s Nora and all of us observers shattered and broken in its black X’d finality.

As directed with the same magnificently detailed energy and flat-walled framework as the previously seen Betrayal on Broadway and the West End, Jamie Lloyd gives us A Doll’s House that will never be forgotten. The focus is so deliberate, and the formulations are just so strong, pushed forward in black and white by the exacting lighting design of Jon Clark (West End/Broadway’s The Lehman Trilogy). Forced while remaining ever so intimate, the cascading of the statement delivered registers in a precise way, more exacting than I ever remembered, and I’ve seen numerous renditions of this epic play. And even though, from what I hear, many on the left couldn’t see the epic exit of Nora, a moment that typically registers throughout theatre history, the symbol of a woman, steadfast and true, leaving the safe and simple artifice of A Doll’s House for engagement in the hard cruel reality of the world outside is as clear as can be. The delicacies of this birdie trapped inside a cage, poisoned with lies and excuses, and beautifully brought forth by Chastain, registers the reasonings for this revival to exist. It has found a new and deliberate place to sing, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Arian Moayed and Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House. Courtesy of A Doll’s House
Matt de Rogatis in Ruth Stage’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo by Max Bieber.

I wish I could say the same about Ruth Stage‘s modern take on the Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire) classic, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, currently being re-delivered at the Theatre at St. Clements. As directed by Joe Rosario (Hemingway and Me; Ruth Stages’ The Exhibition), the play doesn’t find its rationale for existing in the modern day beyond the simplistic sexualization of its boxing-ring corners. Matt de Rogatis (Austin Pendleton’s Wars of the Roses) as the tense athletic Brick stays broken and damaged in his corner, riding out the moment, waiting for the click, while in the other corner is the tense Maggie, played without hesitation by Courtney Henggeler (Netflix’s “Cobra Kai“) poised and ready for the bell to ring.

The battle is only heightened by the presence of two other fighters in the opposing corners, Big Daddy, played with determination by Frederick Weller (Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird) in the third, and Big Mama, played with a strong intent by Alison Fraser (Gingold Theatrical’s Heartbreak House), in the fourth. And watching and cheering for their own personal perspective wins are the obnoxious Mae, typically portrayed by Christine Copley (although I believe I saw an understudy), the weasely Gooper, played by Adam Dodway (Theatre Row’s Small Craft Warnings), Rev. Tooker portrayed by Milton Elliott (Ruth Stage’s Hamlet), and Doc Baugh, typically played by Jim Kempner (“The Girlfriend Experience“) (although, once again, I believe I saw an understudy).

Frederick Weller and Alison Fraser in Ruth Stage’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo by Max Bieber.

Generally, this is a battle that rages deceptively strong and subtle for the length of the play, swimming cruelly in the hazy heat of its Southern charm. But somewhere in this modernization, the reasonings never get fully realized, leaving the cast to wander in their stereotypical delivery without a sharp focal point in the horizon to zero in on. Hidden behind the bar and the drink, de Rogatis finds a Brick to be engaged with. He’s definitely handsome and desirable, especially in the eyes of the far-too-straightforward Henggeler’s Maggie the Cat, and his occupation of drinking rings more true than most. I’m not sure if the modernization has been created to fit his chest-baring delivery of a broken Brick, but I will say that his artful approach to the part is one of the stronger components of this otherwise clunky reimagining.

Given so much to unpack, Henggeler runs a little too fast and furious, not weaving a pause into her thoughts and actions. It’s all forward flowing, ignoring the laws of silence and deliberation. Big Mama and Big Daddy, ignoring the fact that they don’t seem to fit in with their surroundings or the set-up, find their way into the same cage as the two central figure fighters, giving us something else to contemplate in their constructs, beyond their tight fitting jeans and dress. There’s not much of a father/son connection, nor does their familial energy register, even as it moves and twitches within the pauses well. The details of attachment are lost, as they talk around things, with everyone else playing at high volume, courtesy of a sound design by Tomás Correa (Hudson Street’s Adam & Eve), delivering the Southern drawl with the intensity of an SNL skit. That’s a problem to the whole and one that doesn’t work for this rendering.

Courtney Henggeler in Ruth Stage’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo by Max Bieber.

Most of the cast is all hock and no spit, moving around the room with a strange case of physicalized mendacity while never really finding a reason for their existence. The artifice gets in the way of the movement, especially in Matthew Imhoff’s (off-Broadway’s soot and spit) busy and overly clumsy set, with some distracting fading in and out by lighting designer Christian Specht’s (SSTI’s Cabaret). The storm approaching is as false as the formula and the reasoning for this retelling. It showcases some basically good actors embracing the chance to play iconic Big roles that I’m sure they have always wanted to dig their Southern-accented chomps into, possibly because one or two of them might never otherwise get the chance as they don’t exactly fit the literal sashaying of the “fat old” bodies out and around the staging of this play. The idea breeds curiosity, but one that doesn’t save this Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from falling quick and hard from its perch, I’m sad to say. While the birdie in A Doll’s House flies strong out into the cool Broadway air, with solid reasoning on its stark wings, reminding us all what makes for a worthy reimagining of a classic.

Frederick Weller in Ruth Stage’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo by Max Bieber.
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