Review: “Stranger Than a Rhino” at Fringe NYC

Review: “Stranger Than a Rhino” at Fringe NYC

While thought-provoking “Stranger than a Rhino” is sure to polarize audience members on either side of the political spectrum with what at first glance is a blunt approach to what anyone would consider incredibly challenging subject matter. But know that the piece does redeem itself in the last five minutes and for the audience member that goes in genuinely assuming no ill-intent it is sure to provoke stimulating conversations on the train ride home.  

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Review: "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Ahmanson Theatre

Review: "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Ahmanson Theatre

The cast is splendid in their roles and the songs soar filling the entire theatre, yet the story line fails at the end with its weak consequence for such a selfish plot by a teenage boy. While creating an important role for himself to feel a sense of belonging, the boy gets girl and then loses girl, disappoints many because of his dishonest actions.

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Review: “Mamma Mia!” Presented by Brick Road Theatre

Review:  “Mamma Mia!” Presented by Brick Road Theatre

Brick Road Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” offered the powerful and energetic blast of warm island air this rain-soaked Dallas-Fort Worth-area crowd desperately needed on an otherwise dreary Friday night. Dynamic choreography, robust vocal stylings and charging musical numbers served as the ideal backdrop for this exuberant story celebrating the joyful heartbreaking and passionate moments life throws our way.

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Review: "Serving Brulee" at FringeNYC

Review: "Serving Brulee" at FringeNYC

Telling a story about the unrealistic expectations of perfection through the lense of  daytime television, an unapologetically plastic-perfect medium, is a brilliant concept. Though, I found myself wishing that “Serving Brulee” would take the time to lean into that concept a little more, peel back on the jokes, letting them come from a place of truth rather than absurdity, and leave us wanting seconds.

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Review: Normal Ave’s “Completeness” Manages to Redefine Normal

Review: Normal Ave’s “Completeness” Manages to Redefine Normal

Normal Ave, a relatively young company has started off their third season with a production of “Completeness” that is sure to affect audiences of all ages. Written by Itmar Moses and directed by Jeremy Landes “Completeness” is a love letter to non-committal relationships with a relevant exploration of how the millennial generation approaches or rather avoids approaching relationships. 

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Review: “Ruffles” at The Tank

Review: “Ruffles” at The Tank

Since 2003, The Tank has earned a reputation as one of the leading venues in New York for presenting some of the most unique work, presented by artists who aren’t afraid to think outside the box. When I say this, this often includes works that take social and cultural issues that are prevalent in society, and thus covered frequently in the arts, but explores them in a way that is experimental and different from most mainstream contemporary works. That is especially true of Ruffles, the latest world premiere to find a home at this venue this month.

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Review: “Give ‘Em, Hell, Harry” at the Episcopal Actors Guild

Review: “Give ‘Em, Hell, Harry” at the Episcopal Actors Guild

“Wouldn’t you like to have someone as honest as Harry S. Truman in office now?”

 At least, that’s the question that was posed by the prolific Ego Actus Theatre Company, as they revived the autobiographical one-man show “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry” this past weekend. Originally written by Samuel Gallu, former President Truman is brought back to life by prolific actor J. Dolan Byrnes, who brings a unique perspective to a role such as this, having once served as a Congressional aide during the Reagan administration.

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Review: “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” at Under St. Marks Theatre

Review: “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” at Under St. Marks Theatre

In terms of contemporary playwrights, John Patrick Shanley is arguably one of the finest, in terms of his ability to constantly write gritty, realistic dramas that explore the human condition and moral dilemmas in an in-depth way on a very human level. Among his works that seems to have been somewhat underrated, however, is his early tragic romance Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, set in 1983 when the play was originally produced, and now, revived in 2018 in the form of this latest indie theatre production.

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Review: "Onaje" at FringeNYC

Review: "Onaje" at FringeNYC

Most people don’t like to be reminded outright of the trouble in the world around them, even if everything is crumbling to the ground. As long as they aren’t being hit with the debris, most people won’t even acknowledge it’s there. At its core that is one of the things that theatre is about, forcing an audience to witness, through the eyes of the play, the trouble that exists in the world every day. This is why Onaje is such an important piece of theatre. It tells a tragic story of riots, racism, and hate that, although it is set in both 1967 and 1980, is unfortunately still very relevant.

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Review: "9 to 5" at Prince William Little Theatre

Review: "9 to 5" at Prince William Little Theatre

Musical adaptations of movies are all the rage right now, and for good reason. They’re easily recognizable, thus drawing in large audiences. “9 to 5” is no exception, with its timeless music and story. Dolly Parton, an original star in the film, penned the musical's lyrics and music, while Patricia Resnick wrote the book. Prince William Little Theatre staged a rather entertaining production of this show which I am glad I saw, over this past weekend.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Black Light”

Off-Broadway Review: “Black Light”

Jomama is the performer and alter ego of Daniel Alexander Jones who created the production “Black Light” now playing at Greenwich House Theater after a successful run at Joe’s Pub. She is a soul sonic superstar and when she speaks of a supernova the audience better listen up because her presence personifies the definition of that phenomenon perfectly.

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U.K. Review: "Cilla: the Musical" at Leeds Grand Theatre

U.K. Review: "Cilla: the Musical" at Leeds Grand Theatre

Back in 2014, Jeff Pope’s hit TV series Cilla caught the hearts of the nation in its touching telling of the early days of Cilla Black’s storied career. The humble beginnings and hardships encountered by the late and celebrated singer made for an inspiring dramatic narrative, which was also shaped by the defining sound of the 60s and changing societal attitudes towards gender. I couldn’t help but feel the inevitability of Pope’s TV series becoming a stage musical, and sure enough, I was delighted when it was announced that the musical was embarking on a new tour after a successful run earlier this year - and I looked forward to seeing how the performances had grown and developed over time.

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Review: “VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE” Brings Sibling Hilarity to South Coast Repertory

Review: “VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE” Brings Sibling Hilarity to South Coast Repertory

Shocking it is to admit, my personal familiarity with the classic works of playwright Anton Chekhov is basically slim to none.

Thank goodness my lack of knowledge of his library of theatrical plays and fictional stories didn't prevent me from enjoying Christopher Durang's wildly hilarious, Chekhov-inspired “VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE,” a modern-set play that won the Tony Award for Best Play back in 2013. Apparently filled with casual allusions to past Chekhov works—from character names and one-off references to thematic motifs—the play does offer, at its core, a laugh-a-minute comedy about a dysfunctional trio of siblings trying to face the apparently troubling onset of middle age…and the possibility that they may not have done enough in their lives to deem it a satisfactory one.

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Review: “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Goodspeed Opera House

 Stephanie Rothenberg (Janet Van de Graaf) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals' The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Stephanie Rothenberg (Janet Van de Graaf) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals' The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Noah Golden

  • Associate Connecticut Critic

I’ve never really cottoned to old song-and-dance musicals. You know, the kind with peppy tap numbers, sunny jokes and conflicts that resolve in a few bars of music. The kind Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut is largely known for. Even though I’m generally a rather sunny guy, my taste in theater veers towards shows that some might call bummers. Your “Sweeneys,” your “Spring Awakenings,” your “Next To Normals.” Shows that might leave you, as the unnamed narrator in “The Drowsy Chaperone” says, “a bit blue.” But between my usual diet of depressing theater and the dire state of our country right now, I have to agree with the so-called Man In Chair and give in to the fact that, sometimes, an old-fashioned musical is exactly what the doctor prescribed.

 “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which closes Goodspeed’s 2017-2018 season is a highly entertaining cream puff of a play. It’s sweet and airy and has just enough heft to not merely float away. Written by Bob Martin & Don McKellar (book) and Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison (music and lyrics), “Chaperone” is a fizzy 2006 Broadway smash that lovingly sends-up the long-forgotten shows of yesteryear. It concerns a lonely, skittish shut-in dubbed Man In Chair (John Scherer, hilarious) who first laments when actors relate directly to audience members during a play (“I didn’t pay good money to have the fourth wall come crashing down around my ears.”) before spending the next two hours doing just that. He introduces the audience to his favorite musical, a (fictional) 1920s show called “The Drowsy Chaperone” which Man In Chair has never seen himself but has listened to obsessively since childhood. Because he’s feeling a bit blue, Man decides to play the entirety of the album and, as he imagines the musical in his mind, it comes to life right in his drab apartment (Howard Jones did the tricked-out set).

The show-within-a-show revolves the wedding of Janet Van de Graaff (Stephanie Rothenberg) and Robert Martin (Clyde Alves). He’s the son of a wealthy oil magnate and she’s a showgirl whose marriage means the end of her stage career. That’s a problem for her harried producer Mr. Feldzeig (James Judy) and his dim-witted protégée (Ruth Pferdehirt), whose business dealings are somehow wrapped up with the mob. The wedding also proves a logistical nightmare for Robert’s put-upon best man (Tim Falter) and Janet’s boozy caretaker (Jennifer Allen, in full grand dame mode). Also staying at the wedding estate is a forgetful society lady (Ruth Gotschall), her straight-laced butler (Jay Aubrey Jones), a bumbling Lothario (John Rapson) and two gangsters posing as pastry chefs (Blakely Slaybaugh and Parker Slaybaugh). Of course, hi-jinks ensue, identities are mistaken, complications arise and then everything is neatly resolved before the final curtain.

The plot is purposefully thin, merely a series of songs and shtick connected by a needlessly busy story. But that’s part of “Chaperone’s” charm. If you begin to find yourself tired of a bit of physical comedy or a high-energy dance number, per se, the show quickly careens quickly into another song or a new set of jokes. There’s also the joy of Man In Chair’s narration. He is constantly interrupting the action to offer citations about the fake actors (“The gangsters were played by vaudeville duo John and Peter Tall. They were born Abram and Mendel Mosloskowicz, but were renamed at Ellis Island by a sarcastic immigration official”), personal interjections and even a fair share of meta-criticism. One song’s lyrics, he says, are dumb while the extended spit-take joke is lame and tired. I agree. These interruptions are not just hysterical but also feel like one big, winking in-joke since so much of Goodspeed’s repertoire is made up of the shows “Drowsy” is lampooning. The moment when Man puts on the wrong record, resulting in the presentation of a hilariously offensive “King and I”-esque stage show, is downright genius.

The cast all perfectly mirrors the chipper, overacted style of 1920s-‘40s style musicals. Rothenberg and Allen are a delight, while Falter is in pure Donald O'Connor mode. Rapson makes a four-course meal of the scenery, indulging in a cartoony accent that Man In Chair is quick to point out as being culturally insensitive and passé. In fact, all the dancing and singing is top-notch (the band sounds amazing too). But pulling everything together is Scherer, who plays Man In Chair like a wannabe chorus boy whose Broadway dreams were sidetracked by a troubled childhood and a disastrously short marriage. One might gander that a male companion would have suited him better. His comedic chops are sharp and it’s a joy to watch Scherer mouth the lyrics along to the musical numbers. Perhaps he leans into the fey affections a bit too heavily – a more restrained performance would have been a better contrast to the wacky fake-musical and might have made his few emotionally honest monologues land a bit more truthfully – but nevertheless, he’s a hoot start to finish.

So is the whole production. It’s clear director Hunter Foster understands and has a love for the material. There’s a joy on stage that’s nearly impossible to replicate. It overcomes the occasional lame joke or the shoe-horned intermission which leaves the show oddly lopsided or the fact that sight-lines are sometimes an issue in the beautiful but totally flat auditorium. “Drowsy” isn’t a perfect musical, but it’s a helluva lot of fun, which is exactly the point. As Man In Chair says about the show-within-a-show “It does what a musical is supposed to do: it takes you to another world and it gives you a little tune to carry in your head, you know? A little something to help you escape the dreary horrors of the real world...I just want a story and a few songs that will take me away. I want to be entertained. I mean, isn’t that the point?” In this case, I couldn’t agree with him more.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” runs through November 25 at the Goodspeed Opera House.

 Noah Golden is an associate theater critic and columnist for OnStage based near New Haven, CT. Throughout his life, he has been involved in many facets of theater from acting to directing to playing drums in the pit. When not in or writing about theater, Noah is a video producer and editor. Twitter: @NoahTheGolden. 

Review: “Relentlessly Pleasant” at Theatre 54

Review: “Relentlessly Pleasant” at Theatre 54

The issue of sexual harassment is one that has come up and been discussed more and more frequently, especially in light of controversies surrounding notable public figures such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Brett Kavanaugh, and of course, the man who sits in the Oval Office. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that this topic is constantly being explored in new plays in 2018. Yet what hasn’t been explored as much is how far some individuals will go to defend the people they love when they are accused of such terrible crimes, even to the point of outright denial. However, in the latest outing from Jake Lipman and Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions, that’s exactly what audiences are treated to.

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Review: OC's Chance Theater Presents Intense Drama “THE OTHER PLACE”

Review: OC's Chance Theater Presents Intense Drama “THE OTHER PLACE”

In award-winning playwright Sharr White's intriguing 2011 psychological drama “THE OTHER PLACE,” the play's compelling central figure, 52-year-old laboratory scientist turned drug company marketing exec Juliana Smithton, narrates her own fascinating story directly for the audience.

At first, she is introduced with the poise and prominence of a seasoned TED Talk orator, with even hints of a sharp stand-up comic that's adept at self-effacing observations and commanding an audience of drunken doctors. It certainly makes sense, considering it seems to be what she does for a living, at least for the moment: getting up on stage in front of medical conventions and neurological conferences near and far to pitch her revolutionary miracle treatment to attendees in the same way Tony Robbins, Suze Orman, or even Oprah or Dr. Phil might address a room.

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Off-Broadway Review: “Fireflies” at Atlantic Theater Company

Off-Broadway Review: “Fireflies” at Atlantic Theater Company

It is clear from the start of Donja R. Love’s “Fireflies” that Olivia Grace (DeWanda Wise) is among the disconsolate: Olivia is languishing: Olivia’s wounded heart needs healing. There is a fire in Olivia’s soul that counterpoints the fire in the 1963 Fall sky above the home in the Jim Crow South she shares with her preacher-activist husband Charles Emmanuel Grace (Khris Davis). The first words Olivia shares are those from a letter she is writing to the yet unidentified Ruby: “Dear Ruby, It’s been awhile. The sky . . . it’s been burning so bright since you left. It reminds me of you.” And at this point the stage of the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater reverberates with the sounds of exploding bombs as the sky “cracks open and bleeds.” Olivia admits, “I can’t do this.”

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