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We The People The Anti Trump Musical

Flying Elephant Productions is a new company whose premiere production is pointedly political. Following the turbulent 2016 United States Presidential Election, We The People The Anti-Trump Musical is passionate, persuasive and at times, a poignant piece of work. Book writer Sean Chandler and music and lyric composer Leo Schwartz utilized their crafty microscopes, dissecting the dissension of the last election cycle. After all, electing the next head of the government and commander-in-chief is a fundamental American right and privilege. Whether you were “With Her” or wanted to “Make America Great Again” We The People offers a little something for everyone.

We The People The Anti Trump Musical

Director Derek Van Barham, kept the pace lively and the cues loose. The cast of six actors, Dwayne Everett, Bradley Halverson, Timothy Swaim, Elizabeth Rentfro, Carmen Fisher Risi and Alyssa Soto, sang at a fever’s pitch. With an original song list including “Not My President”, “When He Tweets”, and “Where’d the Party Go”, you’ll find your heart breaking by missed potential while simultaneously snickering at the requisite tiny hands and sexist pig jabs that are now the daily fodder to a slew of late night comedians. Lyrics of note included “This man stands for everything I don’t believe in”.  “Should I have been with her?” bemoaned a former Trump supporter whose son is now losing his insurance coverage due to cuts by the GOP’s regime, due to his slew of preexisting medical conditions. The pointed “How did we score this win, but the Party loses?” could just as easily be sung by real world counterparts, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. The song”538″ clearly a jab at the Electoral College, who once again ignored the popular vote by the citizens of this country.

We The People The Anti Trump Musical

With the title The Anti-Trump Musical I was expecting the usual Saturday Night Live type antics. While elements of that were clearly displayed, Schwartz’s score scratched significantly deeper than the surface. Also of note, G. Max Maxin IV’s better than they needed to be projection design’s and Theron Wineinger’s mobile set pieces.

We The People The Anti Trump Musical

Ending hopeful, “Immigrants are as American as America gets”  was a line from the rallying cry “We The People MUST bring change.” We are not an easily defeated country and we do not suffer fools gladly. The idea of this project may have started as parody, but by the show’s conclusion, the audience felt inspired and motivated, far beyond just pink pussycat hats and peaceful community demonstrations. According to the actual Preamble of the United States Constitution “We the People…in Order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility… promote the general welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves.” While it is questionable the members of the current administration has even read The Constitution, the creators of this unique theatrical experience certainly have, and we are all the better for it. The run may be limited, but the rallying cry and message behind carry on far after the curtain closes.

We The People The Anti-Trump Musical is now playing through February 10, 2018 at Stage 773

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.

Out of Town

A Monstrously Intense Double Bill from Playwright Daniel MacIvor at Factory Theatre Toronto




Is this what you expected?” asks Henry. “Is this what I’m supposed to do?

I had no idea what I was walking into, nor did I understand the historical aspects of this double bill of one-person shows that were being staged so magnetically on the two Factory Theatre stages. The significance lies in the contrasting unity and the way the two solo shows changed theatre when they first came into being so many years ago. Daniel MacIvor, a playwright, performer, and filmmaker, fills these two contemporary classics with sparks of phenetic energy, exuding tension and emotional complexities that resonate far beyond the single spotlight, and now, brought to life here at Factory, the gift is full-blown, exacting, and utterly enthralling.

With the 75-minute Monster, the one-man tense wonderment casts us deep into an electric darkness. Its first movement abandons us, forcing us to sink into the tension that bows down before us in the pitch-black void. We sit, wondering, feeling the electric discomfort well up inside, before a voice cuts through the blackness with a “Shhhhh,” “Has it started yet?” It’s a captivating bit of theatrical engagement, forcing a squirm to come compulsively over us, long before the lights come up on the magnificent Karl Ang (Tarragon’s Cockroach) giving us a master class of chaotic exacting intensity.

Karl Ang in Factory Theatre’s Monster. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

As directed with a fine eye to precise moments of dark intensity by Soheil Parsa (Factory’s Wildfire), Monster takes us through, around, and about a tale of tension, anger, and obsession where the ending is as fascinatingly unclear as its beginning. It seeps in from the edges with Ang transporting us through a series of characters and formulations that jump in and out of time and its ever-fluid construct. We are invited into a tense quarreling heterosexual couple’s scenario, filled to the electric frayed edges with passive-aggressive violence. It shifts around before us, led by the exacting and determined Ang, forcing us to lean and pay attention from an angle of curiosity and tension.

There is a young boy, meticulously well-embodied, as Ang does with every one of these complex characters, who is at first, fascinated, then obsessed with an impossibly vicious murder that was committed by the weird next-door neighbours down in the darkness of their basement. Ang takes us through the details, as only a young boy would, unflinching in his compulsive engagement with what happened and horrified/entranced with the act itself. We are also thoroughly obsessed, with him and the whole unraveling, wondering where this is all heading, and what it all means.

As written with an exacting purpose by the masterful MacIvor, the narrator of these stories is a wide-open Adam, who speaks directly to the audience. He draws us in, while keeping us nervous and unsure, giving off the impression of impartiality but not completely convincing us that there isn’t something dangerous lurking in the background. His calculated energy is mirrored and enhanced within the theatrical dynamic, brought forth precisely by the fine work of set, props, and lighting designer Trevor Schwellnus (Factory’s Armadillos) with a dynamic sound designed cleverly by Thomas Ryder Payne (Crow’s Bad Roads). The distinct and sharp reverberations are amplified and muffled, shouted in and whispered out. That sonic energy creates a chaotic realm of interactive intensity, with the movements of the expert Ang unleashing a menacing air of tight, muscular, thrilling proportions, never giving us a moment to relax before the ending pushes itself forward.

Karl Ang in Factory Theatre’s Monster. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Karl Ang is detailed and spectacular in this intense unraveling, giving us exacting constructions of various characters, as he stays solidly center-stage in that sharp pool of light. The neon colors and tightness of the pool of light illuminate the darkness with intent, with Ang transforming himself with cutting definition, emphasized even more by the simplistic costuming by Allie Marshall (Factory’s My Granny the Goldfish). The outcome is razor-edged and distinct, elevating the topography effortlessly with a shift of his head, and a look in the eyes. His performance, with the gift of Parsa’s direction, pushes Monster into a completely entrancing and electric realm, exciting our senses and leading us out of the theatre mesmerized.

The overall effect is honed and powerful, and as fresh as I imagine it would have been back in 1998 when it was first performed at the duMaurier World Stage in Toronto. It faulted and stumbled a bit near the end, somehow missing the connective tissues by only a hair, here and there, but the monstrosity of humanity as a whole lingers within, seeping into our senses, and staying with us, deep under our skin, as we make our way out and up to the next MacIvor master class one flight up (and 45-minutes later).

Cause I’m free, nothing is worrying me.

Damien Atkins in Factory Theatre’s Here Lies Henry. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Here Lies Henry is as spectacular, but quite the different beast, cut from a similar cloth but a very different fabric. Interestingly, it’s layered with another classic old song. In Monster, MacIvor played with the menacing sweet tendencies of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” but in this other one-person beam of captive energy, Damien Atkins (Soulpepper’s King Lear), the central bright white light of Here Lies Henry, uncomfortably delivers to us the happy “…Sunny Side of the Street” as he moves around the broad main stage of Factory Theatre thrilling us with a very different kind of tense complication.

Timed to perfection, a slice of white light and dramatic cueing delivers a hurried Atkins to us. We feel his vibrating discomfort in every pore of that wide nervous face and expressive body and eyes. Atkins unpacks his character with a very different electricity, created from a place of anxious engagement and discombobulation. He has an overwhelming sense of theatrical flourish, singing and trying with all his might to engage, with hand puppet gesturing and scattered, stilted jokes that fail to find the punchline, as if he is completely desperate to get us on his side, for some unknown reason.

He’s that guy that we all feel for but dislike being corralled by at a party. His intense need to connect fills us with a pushing-away discomfort and anxiety, even as we are drawn into his circular thinking and repetitive entertainments. He tries to tell funny stories, with a setup centered around a salad bar at a vegan convention, but then, his anxiety gets the best of him, unnerved by the idea that he might have offended any vegans in the audience.

Damien Atkins in Factory Theatre’s Here Lies Henry. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Is this what you expected?” he asks. “Is this what I’m supposed to do?

He’s an optimist he tells us, and as we internally question that description, he also unpacks another item, that any optimist is also a liar, as there is no way to be one and not the other. He also teases out the idea of a dead body in the other room. He doesn’t tell us who, but we begin to put some of the pieces together. Is the title a reference to his compulsive act of lying or is it a reference to the body that is doing exactly that in the other room? Or maybe it is a bit of both, or a lot of both. He is, in fact, dressed like a corpse caught trying to escape his own funeral and coffin, thanks to some fine work done by wardrobe stylist Allie Marshall. Atkins completely hypnotizes us with his skill, his unwavering talent, and his taxonomy list of lies, one through seven, starting with the clever “just kidding” quip to the highly problematic pathological lie, and ending with the universal one, which is the concept of time, a dynamic framing that gives people hope, something he has little of.

The unmistakable brilliance of the piece is revealed inside Atkins’ skilled portrayal of this desperate man, as he unravels his possible truths before us, pulling at us to enter his domain while keeping us vibrating at arm’s length with his projected anxiety. His mother is a fried egg sandwich, he tells us, and his father is a cigarette pack of specificity. He distracts his vulnerability with some wild dance moves, something that Atkins revels in, and as directed with clarity and comedic brilliance by Tiwiah M’Carthy (Obsidian/Canadian Stage’s Fairview), the personality portrayal is delivered almost perfectly, energized with a nervous self-exposing cycle of existential destructive self-preservation.

Together the two pieces find energy and excitement in their tense unfolding. It’s a master class of one-person acting, directing, and writing, that must be seen and felt to fully understand the power that a one-person show can bring. Don’t miss this electric gift and exciting opportunity, courtesy of Factory Theatre, Toronto. MacIvor’s magnificent Monster and the equally profound Here Lies Henry are just too delicious and disturbing to ignore.

Damien Atkins in Factory Theatre’s Here Lies Henry. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

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Out of Town

Jane Austen In The Catskills, An Interview




Laura Cable is a machine. An actress with an immense amount of power, she carries herself with poise and a heartfelt passion for her work. Her determination and high bar for excellence came in handy when she was offered the lead part in the Jane Austen-inspired romantic comedy Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley at Shadowland Stages in The Catskills. There were only two weeks of rehearsal before its first preview. A fast and furious process, to be sure.

Intensity notwithstanding, the play, written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, Pemberley marks Cable’s return to Shadowland Stages (she appeared earlier this year in a production of 39 Steps).

There’s an artistic energy and support that is so unique to Shadowland Stages,” she says. “I love it here.

Directed by Shadowland’s Artistic Director Brendan Burke, Pemberley centers on the bookish and musically-inclined middle Bennet sister, Mary. The play sets her up as eclipsed by the likes of charming Jane, vivacious Lydia, and headstrong Lizzie. She may be the one with the greatest intellect, but still, she’s fighting to find her place in the world. She’s socially uncomfortable. She doesn’t fit in. However, during a family Christmas jaunt at the famed Pemberley estate, an unexpected guest surprises Mary in ways she never thought possible.


Laura Cable in Shadowland Stages’ Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley. Photo by Jeff Knapp

What is your dressing room must-have?

LAURA CABLE: Wide open space! When you spend a considerable amount of your career as an understudy and a swing, you get in the habit of getting in and out of makeup/wigs/costumes very quickly. So, I tend to be in and out of the dressing room like a flash. And, you’re more likely to see a completely empty dressing room station until half-hour for me than one of the more well-decorated stations.

Pemberley marks a return to Shadowland for you. What drew you back?

LC: The moment I started rehearsals for 39 STEPS this summer, I immediately felt at home. This is a community that loves its theatre and the artists who make it. The team here maintains such a fun and light-hearted rehearsal atmosphere that you feel brave to make bold, ridiculous choices. So, when this call came in, it was the rehearsal room energy that made me say an immediate yes. And secondly, it was the role of Mary herself. I have a soft spot for middle sisters who get overlooked in large, boisterous families. The fact that Mary Bennet, the quintessential forgotten middle sister, gets her own Christmas romance story? I couldn’t resist!

Why do you think Jane Austen’s work is still so resonant?

LC: As many aspects of life become more casual in 2023, I think part of our collective unconscious longs for that formality of days gone by. Sure, yoga pants are more comfortable than corsets, but what we lose in the process is the sense of occasion. That going to this dinner downstairs in your own dining room is worthy of a gown. That meeting this gentleman is worthy of a bow and a curtsy. Jane Austen’s characters allow us to go back to that sense of occasion from the comfort of our own homes.

Tell me about your interpretation of Mary Bennet.

LC: Mary is unapologetically herself. She is an intelligent, quick-witted dreamer who longs for a large life in an era when women were trained to make theirs very small. While she learns quite a bit about herself throughout the journey of the play, she never compromises one bit of who she is to find love.

What have Gunderson and Melcon brought to her that strikes you?

LC: They’ve made Mary ever-so human. She has a raging temper, a sharp tongue, and an entire family of married sisters watching as she faces some of the most intimate vulnerable moments of her life. The writing is rich and raw. It’s a great deal of fun to act.

How have you reconciled what Austen wrote about Mary with what they’ve added?

LC: I love it! What they’ve done is not in contradiction to Austen so much as it is giving a character with very little backstory a fully realized story.


Laura Cable. Headshot by J. Demetrie

What is the actor’s job?

LC: To tell the story. It’s that simple.

What is something about the industry that you wish was different?

LC: I wish there were more repertory theatre companies where a group of actors can work and grow together for long periods of time. There’s something thrilling about meeting a new group of cast mates every few months as you book a show. But, working with the same group of actors that you love and trust—maybe for years on end—would be a true dream come true. You really can’t replicate the onstage chemistry of people who have fabulous offstage chemistry.

The holidays are in full swing now. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

LC: I love so many things about the holidays! And New York goes crazy for Christmas. I love the lights in Dyker Heights, ice skating at Bryant Park, and admiring the Rockefeller Center Tree. In my own apartment, I love the glow from my Christmas tree with a fun holiday movie on TV. It’s really not Christmas without IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL, or WHITE CHRISTMAS!

Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley is in performance Dec 1-17 at Shadowland Stages in Ellenville, NY.  To purchase tickets, visit

Shadowland Stages’ Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley. Photo by Jeff Knapp.

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Out of Town

“Angels in America” Cracks the Wall With Intimate Power at BuddiesTO




From the first lines spoken by that aging rabbi, played meticulously well by Brenda Bazinet (Citadel’s Equus), I breathed a huge internal sigh of relief. I had persuaded a good friend from New York City to fly to Toronto to see That Theatre Company‘s production of the epic Angels in America, probably my most beloved play ever written, which is currently playing a much too short run at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. He had never seen a production of this iconic play, and I really wanted his first experience to be epic and meaningful, as powerful an experience as it is to me. And I knew, from those first few spoken moments, that this play, written so beautifully by Tony Kushner (A Bright Room Called Day; Caroline, or Change) and directed with such grace by Craig Pike (Buddies’ Body Politic), was going to rise up as majestically and magnificently as I had hoped.

Allister MacDonald and Kaleb Alexander in That Theatre Company’s Angels in America. Photo by Nathan Nash.

The art of the play lies in the poetry of the words and the honoring of them all. If we can believe in them wholeheartedly, the play will fly forward on strong wings. Pike does exactly that. It’s not revolutionary, his approach, but it does play strong tribute to the words and how they are delivered. The rabbi tells us that he did not really know this woman who is being buried in that rectangular box of light before him, courtesy of some brilliant lighting design by Bonnie Beecher (Young People’s The Darkest Dark), but he knew her in a larger and more meaningful way; a grander idea of knowing, that this play resonates most profoundly outward with all of its cleverly constructed characters. We know them all, in some way or another, and believe in their words and actions. They carry emotional connections that feel personal; to ourselves and our loved ones, parts of those still with us and some that are not, and it is in the power of those words spoken at a funeral for a woman who plays no role in this majestic piece of theatre, we find our connection to Angels in America.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to have the opportunity to sit through another 7 1/2 hours of Angels in America this past weekend at Buddies with my friend from NYC.  I have seen this play numerous times before; on Broadway, twice (the original and the 2018 revival), the HBO film, the NTLive’s screening of the National Theatre‘s production that eventually transferred to Broadway, and an off-Broadway Signature Theatre production, all compelling in their own ways and means, but now, with my friend, I was going to be able to see it fresh through his eyes and in the glow of this magnificent play once again, this time in Toronto at the “largest and longest-running queer theatre in the world“, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. It seems completely appropriate, and if anyone doesn’t already have tickets, I suggest you get up off your butts and get them now.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of production that will move you beyond anything that you’ve seen before.

It is true that other actors and their performances in this play continue to haunt me as I take in any new production, whether I like it or not.  The Broadway stage ghosts of Stephen Spinella, Kathleen Chalfant, (the spectacular) Marcia Gay Harden, and Jeffrey Wright watch over me, as well as the HBO television spirits of Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Mary Louise Parker, poking around in my head, asking me to not forget them. But I must say that as I sat and watched this current production at Buddies, I quickly set aside anything beyond what was happening before me on that simple cracked runway of a stage, designed most magically by Brian Dudkiewicz (Neptune’s The Last Five Years). The music and electric soundwaves, courtesy of sound designer John Gzowski (Tarragon’s Post-Democracy), play with our senses, vibrating through us and ushering us in so completely that I lost my sense of time and space. The cascading of the soundscape within the highs and lows forces the past to leave me alone, and not intervene with this epic viewing.  Whatever the reason, this current revival is as solidly compelling and complete as one could wish for, and this is quite the understatement, if you ask me. Words can barely describe its wonder. And there shouldn’t be an empty seat in the house for this revival.

Listen to the world, to how fast it goes. That’s New York traffic, baby, that’s the sound of energy, the sound of time.


The heartbreaking and powerful 7 1/2 hours fly by, born on the energy and excitement of the audience and the intense power of an angel in battle, wrestling with a mortal for his salvation, and I was honored to be in its presence. Part One: Millennium Approaches is by far the most beautiful and far-reaching introduction to our shared History of Gay America in the 1980’s. The opening monologue mysteriously tells us all we need to know for the next 3 plus hours, and maybe for the entirety.  Not in terms of the old Jewish woman laying in the coffin, which it does, but about the world and people we are about to embrace.  It’s such a sly and wonderful piece of writing that sneaks into our collective soul and sets us up on almost all levels for what is in store.  It’s about death, love, and life, but it’s also about pain, suffering, guilt, and abandonment. One thing you can say about Kushner and his writing of Part One is that there isn’t a moment of excess or a wasted scene that could be edited out.  Every word seems meaningful and essential in this over three-hour beginning, and it is delivered to us compassionately and honestly.

The cast, as directed most beautifully and dynamically by Pike, is utterly connected, deepening and engaging our connection to them with every simple breath they take. Allister MacDonald (Neptune’s The Rocky Horror Show) as Prior gives us everything we could ever have hoped for from 1980s camp to the angry black-shrouded stalker looking for revenge, bruising, and a deeper understanding, artfully masking the frightened young gay boy beneath. His armored front is something exacting, and quite commonly donned as a shield against all that would want to harm in the world he lives in.  It’s a powerful statement against oppressive forces and one that feels as authentic and real as any.

MacDonald leads us through the dark and heaviness of this play with power and hysterical grace, giving us an unforgettable portrayal that is as deep and meaningful as it is funny and smart. Ben Sanders (Showtime’s “Fellow Travelers“) as his guilt-ridden Jewish boyfriend, Louis is fantastically annoying in his defensive wordplay, hiding quite simply behind the intellectual waterfall of concepts and ideas. He dutifully tries with all his might to be present, but those theories and conjectures don’t, in the end, protect him. This stalemate of sorts is most beautifully pointed out by Belize, archly portrayed by the absolutely perfect Kaleb Alexander (Obsidian’s Pass Over), who lets him know, quite clearly, that it does distract him just long enough for him to see how far he is from being engaged with the world around him.

Alexander as Belize, the nurse and friend of Prior (and travel agent for Harper) grounds the piece in sharpness and clarity that echoes throughout the play, filling it with an emotional heart that forever stays within. Wade Bogert-O’Brien (Grand’s Controlled Damage) is organically exacting as the desperately unhappy Joe, unearthing layers of skin and authentic pain throughout. The battle that plays out inside this Marlboro Man’s head ricochets throughout the theatre and into our hearts, clawing at us with his need, both to crush and live fully inside his darkness and sexuality. He is the one truly tragic figure of this play, left desperate and in need without any support or care from any one soul in his sad, unhappy life.

Christine Horne (Tarragon’s Light) as Joe’s tortured and torturing wife, Harper, tackles one of the hardest parts in this complex play and triumphs. Her dementia is clear, thoughtful, and profound, leading us carefully through her fear and mistrust with an intelligence and bravery that is awe-inspiring. “Weird stuff happens”, she knows. “Like you,” she says to the travel agent who appears out of nowhere offering her escape from the monsters that wait for her in the bedroom. Once again, I was awestruck by the scene that unfolds between Harper and Prior. Something about these two coming together as we watch MacDonald’s Prior gently caress her face with his makeup brush, is by far the most electric and emotionally engaging tie in the play, making that lump in my throat rear itself up for the first of many times. The thin hair of connective tissue between these two holds the piece together in the same way that their “threshold of revelations” sinks deep inside, destroying and freeing themselves all within the same breath. The fragile and intimate way they can see inside the other and know their pain is what creates that added weight and meaning to the whole. And it adds layers and layers of fierce and unfair constructs to the two that electrify their existence in the world.

Bazinet and the magnificent Soo Garay (Factory’s Belle) have the joy and the difficulty of playing numerous roles spanning from a caring nurse, a distraught Mormon neighbor, a perplexed male doctor, a homeless disturbed woman, a patient Ethel Rosenberg, Joe’s angry mother, to a Rabbi and an angel. Horne also is given the sweetest of opportunities to showcase her profound skills playing a smarmy male friend of Roy Cohn, as does Bogert-O’Brien and Mezon as previous Priors coming back around to help guide and enlighten. But some of the finest work in this play is done by both Bazinet in her assortment of characters, especially the doctor who knows that hooker wasn’t a female, and Garay, who majestically embodies both the thoughtful nurse and the compelling angel (and Harrah’s real estate agent and friend) with a power and force that is out of this world magnificent. They all perform Kushner’s profound poetry with an ease that makes it look so effortless, yet deeply personal and authentic. Jim Mezon (That Theatre Company’s A Number) is exacting and deliberate as the closeted horrible Roy Cohn. His Roy Cohn is as layered and fiery as one could hope for, devastating and cruel but desperate for some sort of masculine connection. He, and the others, bring clarity and connection to the front without distancing themselves from the pain and suffering that surrounds them all. For a production running fast and furious forward, their work is unparalleled.

I want the voice, it’s wonderful. It’s all that’s keeping me alive.

Kushner spoke often about Angels in America‘s need to be seen as artificial in a theatrical framework, with all the strings and artifice showing. And in that stance, That Theatre Company’s tender and intimate production succeeds gloriously. The landscape plays perfectly with space and time, with expert framing of light by Beecher and perfect costuming by Louise Bourret (DWYT’s The Producers), expanding and highlighting all aspects of this play. It engages the characters through effortless transitions and authentic arrangments, blending the emotionality expertly from one moment to another through connective tissues of delivery that feel simple and true. The intimacy is palpable, especially in the intricate engagements.

Greetings, Prophet. The Great Work Begins. The Messenger Has Arrived.

One of the striking things about Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika is just how epic and large Kushner’s stroke is as he paints his complicated and captivating canvas. He opens this second half with the oldest living Russian Bolshevik (Bazinet) delivering a speech about revolution, passion, and theory. It’s captivating in its wordplay, painting a deep psychological meaning about living life and moving forward. Not just for Russians, or people with AIDS, but for humanity as a whole. The Bolshevik spins words and ideas out into the space that are sometimes overwhelming in the moment, but never without passion and a heavy meaning on its even bigger canvas. Hanging on to these ideas and ideals for the next four hours through heaven and earth only adds to their power and brilliance.  Kushner shapes our minds with an expert hand, preparing us for what is to follow, unconsciously, and brilliantly, because the work really has begun for these souls, and we are ready to follow along.

I have heard from many theatergoers that Part Twoshould be edited down well beyond its four-plus hours’ length. They say the story could and would still be told with a good 30 minutes at least cut, and I agree with that point if story-telling is all we are here for. But like great works of Shakespeare and others, the piece would lose a great deal of its magic with each subtraction of text. Every poetic word and utterance feels utterly important somehow, and I truly believe they are in a way that is unconscious or unfathomable. When it is all said and done, the piece carries its weight well into the heavens, and beyond. The canvas is brilliantly textured; sad, terrifying, and confusing, but filled with desire, long after the last stroke is applied. And I wouldn’t want to lose one phrase for the sake of a few minutes here and there.

 “The fountain’s not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter. Ice in the pipes. But in the summer…it’s a sight to see, and I want to be around to see it. I plan to be, I hope to be.

Ben Sanders and Allister MacDonald in That Theatre Company’s Angels in America. Photo by Nathan Nash.

The lead actors are as magnificent in Part Two as they are in One. Not surprisingly, they dig deeper into our souls with each overlapping scene and interaction. MacDonald’s Prior becomes much more than a victim of AIDS but a prophet and brave forger for life and love. His surprising entanglement and deepening connection to Horne’s Harper makes my heart ache every moment these two souls collide with each other, noticing all the pain, grief, and desire that exists within. But the truly spectacular connection is the one Prior has with Bazinet’s Hannah Pitt, Joe’s mother. It’s “messy, but not dirty” on could say, as Hannah finds herself lost and adrift in Manhattan, with no connection to her absent son or her lost daughter-in-law. She has been abandoned by them just like Prior has by Louis, making it one of the most touching bonds formed in all the hours of Angels. At first, it is one helping the other out of an emergency need, but in the end, their comradery is equal and deeply needed by both. Watching Hannah open up to the magical possibilities of the world and beyond is compelling to witness, even if a bit underplayed, both in terms of the piece as a whole and for her character.

hat being said, a lot of the real magic of the second half lies in the hands of the two women who feel like supporting roles in Part One. Bazinet is not only perfect as the Mormon mother breaking the stereotypical mold and becoming more than the least-friendly Mormon out there, but she is equally mesmerizing as the Bolshevik and as Ethel Rosenberg watching over the hellaciously fantastic Mezon on his deathbed. There is forgiveness is the world here, even if it comes when no one is noticing. But it is Garay’s angel that carries the largest weight on her back next to those ripped-away wings.  As the angel that cracks the walls open and strides forward with power and pain, the actress creates something altogether that is stupendously theatrical and out-of-this-world fragile and in pain. The angel’s beauty and resplendent majesty resonate beyond the dramatics, especially when climbing over the bed to engage with the frightened Prior. The desperate pain hits deep, much deeper than one might expect.

Then there is that beautiful moment when Prior leaves Heaven for the real world, choosing life over freedom from suffering, making his way back to the discomfort in his body and his hospital bed. It’s inexplicably emotional, resonating down into our animalistic urges for survival as we see his walk shift from strong to sickenly weak as he gets closer and closer to that hospital bed.

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all. And the dead will be commemorated, and will struggle on with the living and we are not going away.

Heaven, it seems in Angels in America, is something far more than what is described in the text. The Shakespearean quality of the dialogue echoes through the theatre, adding a dynamic that connects Prior with the omnipresence of all, and to our collective spirit.  His desire to live, even with all the pain and suffering that he will have to endure, pulls on our heartstrings. It lives in that desire to stay in his body over all else, even when given a chance to end his suffering and remain in heaven. Just like many other moments in this wondrous conclusion, an overwhelming desire to live, move forward, and connect, even if that connection will bring pain, is the choice that is held onto. Harper’s beautiful monologue as she flies off through the sky in search of meaning, speaks, once again, to the collective.  The dead will rise, and join hands in a hopeful act of saving others. The level of forgiveness for all, except maybe fore Joe, is revealing. Fierce, and unfair, but plausible and revelatory, playing with the ideas of monsters and Mormons hiding under the bed with knives. So in the end, it is really just about creating something more meaningful and beautiful than what and how life is initially seen. Forgiveness and gloriousness can be found, even at the end of a person’s life, and at the end of this lovely heart-wrenching story.

We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.

Maybe it doesn’t feel as true as it did when I first heard those words thirty years ago. The world, at least in this America, feels less safe or less progressive than it did a number of years ago. I thought America, a country where I continue to spend a good chunk of my life, was heading somewhere better, but in these dark times, we have to believe, I guess, in the bigger picture of civilization.  We need to look beyond what we are stuck with now, just like these complex characters had to do back then. To “NOT STOP MOVING“, and as Pike writes in his director’s note: “to welcome with bravery and courage a new world rooted in love.

We can’t stand still. We will move forward. With all our might.

Bye now, you are fabulous each and everyone and I bless you. More life, the great work begins.

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Out of Town

Boop! Leaps To Life In Chicago



Boop! the new musical officially opened its pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago last night. This is a delightful entertainment. Tony winning director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell has assembled a terrific cast, stunning visuals, strong movement and a heartfelt score into a seamless production that keeps the audience smiling at her antics.

Anastacia McCleskey (Carol Evans), Angelica Hale (Trisha), Jasmine Amy Rogers (Betty Boop), and Erich Bergen (Raymond Demarest)
Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Betty Boop was first introduced to the world by the Fleisher Studios in 1930.  As a comedic representation of the free spirit of jazz age women. Betty has entertained and inspired audiences for over ninety years, even after being sanitized by the Hayes Code. Betty also has some real historical precedents, which are ignored by this creative team. As such, the character of Betty herself remains no more than a cute cartoon in the end.

Jasmine Amy Rogers (Betty Boop) Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Betty is introduced in a brilliant montage of projections and cardboard cut outs, as if we are seeing her perform in a series of her black and white, 1930s cartoons. She recaps the scenarios in which she got to save the day with her song, “A Little Versatility”. Jasmine Amy Rogers, as Betty is a sexy, cuddly, and touching musical theater dynamo, who adds her own considerable personal warmth to the character.

Jasmine Amy Rogers (Betty Boop), Ainsley Anthony Melham (Dwayne), and Ensemble Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

When the song ends, we are in the monochromatic world of the Max Fleischer cartoon movie studio. Betty complains to her director (Aubie Merrylees) and his megaphone-toting assistant (Ricky Schroeder) that she is suddenly feeling the pressures of cartoon stardom. She says she needs a vacation from herself. She also says she needs to find out who she really is, although nothing in particular has happened to incite that decision.

Stephen DeRosa (Grampy), Jasmine Amy Rogers (Betty Boop), Phillip Huber (Pudgy) Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Actor Stephen DeRosa, in a deliberately cartoony depiction of Betty’s grandfather character, Grampy, who introduces Betty to a time and space machine, which is a Rube Goldberg contraption wedded to an overstuffed armchair. In an instant, Betty is transported from the world of black and white cartoons to the real world. She appears magically at the New York City Comicon 2023, which pulsates with Mr. Mitchell’s energetic choreography. There, Betty discovers the joys of life in living color.

Angelica Hale (Trisha), Jasmine Amy Rogers (Betty Boop), Ainsley Anthony Melham (Dwayne), and Ensemble Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

At Comicon, Betty is befriended by a preteen girl, Trisha. This character is given a theater-shaking performance by petite sixteen year old Angelica Hale, who wowed the world on America’s Got Talent. Whenever she opens her mouth to sing, she literally brings the house down. If you are the parent of an aspiring young performer, you must bring your child to see this amazing young role model.

Jasmine Amy Rogers (Betty Boop) and Angelica Hale (Trisha) Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

The problem is the story puts baby, or Betty, in the corner. Betty tells Trisha that she doesn’t want to be recognized as famous, she just wants to be normal. Betty asks Trisha to help her remove her signature makeup and make her look like a real girl, so we expect to see that happen. But it never does. Betty continues throughout the show looking and acting just as cartoony as she does from the beginning.

Ainsley Anthony Melham (Dwayne), Jasmine Amy Rogers (Betty Boop) Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Also at Comicon, Betty meets Dwayne, an aspiring jazz trumpeter played with unforced charm and appeal by Ainsley Anthony Melham. Dwayne turns out to also be Trisha’s baby sitter, who comes over when her Aunt Carol (Anastacia McClesky) has to go to work as campaign manager for Raymond Demarest, a former city sanitation superintendent now running for mayor. Erich Bergen as Demarest is very funny and perfectly sleazy as this shady character, whose excremental campaign slogan is to “Doo doo” what needs to be done.

Anastacia McCleskey (Carol Evans) and Erich Bergen (Raymond Demarest) Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Dwayne invites Betty to join him at a jazz club where he sits in as a trumpeter. After saying she doesn’t want to be recognized, Betty inexplicably outs herself, belting the joyous song, “Where I Want to Be.” As the first act closes, our expectation is that Betty will be pursuing a career as a performer in modern times. That doesn’t happen either. Instead, the second act opens with Dwayne doing another jazz number on the stairs in Times Square for Betty’s benefit. Betty just sits on the sidelines, watching passively. Then, Demarest enlists Betty to be his assistant mayor, and help generate publicity for his campaign. In her innocence, she allows Demarest to exploit her fame as a cartoon character because she hopes to help women’s causes. Demarest does not allow Betty to speak or express an opinion. This again makes Betty just a passive observer of the story she should be driving.

Young Trisha supposedly admires Betty for the various roles she was given to play in her cartoons, however Betty shows none of the initiative and accomplishment in New York which inspired her young fan from watching her cartoons. That’s a story shortcoming which could have been turned into a positive, if it elicited disappointment on Trisha’s part, and created a crisis between her and Betty in the second act, but the book skips over this issue, and misses a great opportunity to raise the emotional stakes in its story.

Stephen DeRosa (Grampy) and Faith Prince (Valentina) Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Grampy is given an old flame to fan, in the form of Tony winning Broadway legend Faith Prince, as a once young scientist, Valentina. She is reunited with Grampy after a supposed forty year absence (an inexplicable timeline, given that the play takes place ninety years after the cartoons). They rekindle their romance with a charm song,“Together, You and Me”, and a little suggested senior sex. But Ms. Prince’s considerable comedic talents are vastly underutilized here.

Finally, Chicago puppeteer Phillip Huber of The Huber Marrionettes brilliantly and unobtrusively manipulates his marionette puppet of Betty’s dog, Pudgy. He delights us all with this fluffy white creature.

Apart from the wonderful cast, the real star and saving grace of this show is lyricist Susan Birkenhead (Jelly’s Last Jam, Working). Literally all the emotion and character development in this show are in her outstanding lyrics. Ms. Birkenhead says everything in song that the show’s book writer, Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaparone, The Prom), should have said in his libretto. Together with Grammy winner David Foster’s excellent music. This fine score is the beating heart of this musical, as it should be.

Mr. Martin’s book makes a joke or two about Betty’s cartoon origin as a dog character. But the glaring omission here is the lack of any reference to her real life origin story.

Betty Boop was a parody created by animator Max Fleisher of a white performer named Helen Kane. Unknown to Fleisher at the time, Ms. Kane had stolen the act of a very real black performer, 1920’s jazz singer Esther Jones, known as  “Baby Esther,” who first popularized the phrase, “Boo boop a doop”.  Ms. Kane had seen Ms. Jones in performance in 1928, and copied her signature expression. A lawsuit brought by Ms. Kane against Mr. Fleisher finally brought out the truth. Casting Ms. Rogers, a black performer, as a character who was initially a white misappropriation of another black performer’s identity, and give her no awareness of it, skirts the most sociologically and dramatically important story opportunities in the show. What if Trisha were to tell Betty that she is really based on a black singer who received no credit from history? What if Betty doesn’t know what color she really is? What if she feels white on the outside and black inside? So many interesting possibilities. Sadly, there is no consideration of any of them here. Even the program note, “About Betty Boop and Fleischer Studios,” blithely whitewashes her history and makes no mention of this.

In the beginning, Betty says she wants to take this journey to learn who she really is and yet, the creative team fails to let her explore the real answer to her question. Color is used in the end only to illustrate romantic passion. The story Bob Martin has crafted is cute, but insignificant.

The show ends with squeaky-voiced Betty inexplicably delivering a throaty power ballad, which states “I know I want something …but I don’t know what I want”.  That might have made sense for Betty to sing at the end of the first act, but it’s ridiculously out of place at the end of her story. Yes, Ms. Rogers stops the show with that song, just because she can, but they should cut the song, or move it to the first act, and give Betty a final number where she gets to really express what she has learned.

Chicago audiences are not easily manipulated by flash over substance. We’ve seen too much smart work. We demand depth, even from our cartoon characters.

There is much to appreciate in the fine sets by David Rockwell, delicious costumes for Betty by Gregg Barnes, flashy lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg,  clever projection design by Finn Ross, hair and wig design by Sabana Majeed, makeup design by Michael Clifton, and musical supervision by Daryl Walters.  The performances are all great, the songs are fun, and Mr. Mitchell makes everyone’s work look its best.

If Mr. Mitchell came to Chicago, as he has done in six previous productions, he would have learned something which only this city can teach him about Boop!, and that would be that Betty’s own story still needs a lot more fleshing out.

Jasmine Amy Rogers (Betty Boop) and Ensemble Photo’s by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Boop! continues through December 24 at the CIBC Theater, 18 West Monroe Street, in Chicago.  For tickets visit

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Out of Town

Unpacking Frontmezzjunkies’s London Theatrical Trip 0f 2023




It was one of those spontaneous but well-planned cross-Atlantic journeys, fueled by a one-show idea that blossomed into something bigger. Antonio and I (two theatre junkies of the highest order) typically would find ourselves traveling to London, meeting there for about five nights, give or take. That is after I spent one evening with a good old friend and his longtime husband. Which was a personal requirement, and then, Antonio and I would dutifully schedule one theatrical event after the other, building a theatrical plan that would make others weak in the knees. But for the two of us, a London trip was exactly that. As much theater as we could fit in, with a few museums mixed in with at least one tourist attraction that was new to at least one of us. And a lot of great breakfasts made up of coffee and baked goods, as well as dinners with friends or just the two of us. Close to the theatre that was housing that night’s show. That was also a requirement. Born out of one too many breathless runs through Times Square trying to get to that scheduled curtain on time.

This year’s trip started with a casual statement about Andrew Scott doing a one-man Vanya in the West End. And the rest, as they say, is history. What soon followed was a Mark Rylance-starring play, Dr. Semmelweis, courtesy of a long-waiting National Theatre credit from March 2020. Then an immersive Guys and Dolls, and a quick grab at some standing-room-only tickets for a sold-out Next to Normal that we thought we had missed out on until we got that early morning email announcement. An Ian McKellen-starring Frank and Percy soon followed, as did the play Hamnet, based on a book I’ve never really heard of (but it seems many others had, including Antonio).

That was the plan. But I decided to stay even longer than normal. Surprising even myself. Usually, I would EasyJet myself off to some locale in Europe that I’ve never been to before, or to someplace I wanted to revisit after a far too long absence. But this time I just wanted to stay put a wee bit longer. And to give myself some time to see others that I might not have had the chance to see or spend time with. And of course, some more shows followed. The British farce Noises Off and a new musical The Time Traveler’s Wife with friends that weren’t Antonio. A matinee at the National Theatre on the day Antonio would fly home. And a last-minute day-of TKTS purchase in Leicester Square for a musical about an old English woman going to Paris to buy a dress from Dior. I probably wouldn’t have gone to see that one. Maybe I would have seen the Stephen Sondheim songbook show Old Friends starring Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga, or the recently transferred National Theatresoccer play, Dear England, starring Joseph Fiennes. But the new musical, Flowers for Mrs. Harris starred Jenna Russell, one of my all-time favorites, and that was just too good to resist. So why would I?

So ten shows. In about ten days. Not a record mind you. But a pretty satisfying theatrical and social undertaking. And here are a few words about each of the shows. If you’ve managed to get through this long-winded introduction. So here it is: My London theatre trip of 2023.

London Theatrical Trip 2023





Ian McKellen and Roger Allam in The Other Palace’s Frank and Percy. Photo by Jack Merriman.





Sasha Frost, Felicity Kendal, Alexander Hanson, and Tamzin Outwaite in West End’s Noises Off. Photo by Nobby Clark.



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