Review: "The Housewives of Secaucus" at the Avenel Performing Arts Center

Review: "The Housewives of Secaucus" at the Avenel Performing Arts Center

Meet the HOS: Housewives of Secaucus flip the script on traditional reality TV drama

Martini-fueled hair-pulling! Snarky and passive aggressive side comments! Sex scandals! Hats! What more could you possibly ask from an evening of indulging in a live version of the shows you love to hate?

Much more, it seems. And Housewives of Secaucus delivers.

Read More

Review: “Blithe Spirit” at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

Review: “Blithe Spirit” at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

Blithe Spirit, directed by Victoria Mack at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, is a classic play by Noël Coward that deals with the supernatural in a humorous way. The novelist Charles Condomine, invites the medium, the eccentric Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. Coward remarkably wrote the play in just six days. The play performed on the West End during World War II, providing audiences with much-needed escapism during this difficult time in history.

Read More

Review: "Mamma Mia" at Plays in the Park

Review: "Mamma Mia" at Plays in the Park

It is hard to argue that Mamma Mia at Plays in the Park in Edison, NJ, directed by Moggie Davis, is not incredibly cheesy but that is exactly what makes this show so much fun. Plays in the Park is an annual occurrence every summer in Middlesex County where over 500 patrons each night come to see theatre under the stars at an affordable price. As I looked around the open-air theatre, at the rows that stretched back past what I could see, I thought of how theatre has the remarkable ability to bring so many different people together on a Wednesday night to enjoy something that is joyful. Mamma Mia doesn’t have much substance to its script but shows such as this one are important to the scope of musical theatre and are needed in this bleak world that we inhabit. 

Read More

Review: "The Servant of Two Masters" at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

Review: "The Servant of Two Masters" at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

Upon entering the outdoor Greek Theatre on the campus of Saint Elizabeth College, the audience is instantly transferred from Madison, NJ to Venice, Italy. This is partly because of the set design by Jonathan Wentz and sound design (Italian guitar pre-show music) by Warren Pace. The set is stunning and looks as if it could actually be a period villa taken out of Italy with its checkered floor with various colors and attention to detail, such as the porch lights with grill work. The set is two levels with many doors that slide open to create even more ways for the actors to enter and exit and allowed for the comedy and chaos that was to ensue.

Read More

Review: "Fun Home" at 4th Wall Theater

Review: "Fun Home" at 4th Wall Theater

Fun Home won the Tony Award for Best Musical back in 2015. This story of a female coming to terms with her sexuality amidst her father’s relationships with men and underage boys is now being produced by community theatres nationwide. I was curious to see if 4th Wall Theatre would give the show the justice it deserved. With Kate Swan’s direction and the cast, it did more than that. 

Read More

Review: "Small Town Story" at SOPAC

Review: "Small Town Story" at SOPAC

"Small Town Story" is a brand new musical, based on a true story and produced by American Theater Group, about a town in Texas putting on "Rent School Edition" in the high school. This choice of musical causes a divide in the town between those who support it and those who do not. This is an important show that teaches that change and theatre are necessary everywhere. The cast is comprised of a range of actors from professionals to high school students. The biggest standout for me was Ilana Gabrielle as Alex, the new student from Brooklyn. Ilana's acting and singing were incredible as she sang some of the best songs in the show, "Live Here," and "One Lone Star." Other standouts included Nick Siccone, as Scott Ames, who plays a believable teen who finally decides to stop hiding behind his camera and show who he really is as he stands up to his father. His father, played by notable Broadway performer Stacey Todd Holt, gave a beautiful performance as a father just trying to protect his son. Jaqueline Neeley, as musical theatre crazed, semi-annoying Caroline Barnes, was relatable to musical theatre kids and gave a likable performance. This character grows on you throughout the show.

Read More

Review: 'Sister Act' at Off Broad Street Players

Spencer Lau

“Sister Act” opened on April 20th, 2011 at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. Based on the 1992 movie by the same name, and produced by Whoopi Goldberg, the musical was another collaboration by Glenn Slater (lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) with a book written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane. Jerry Zaks directed the show with Anthony Van Laast choreographing the show. The Off Broad Street Players production was directed and choreographed by John Stephan with Walter Webster musical directing. In the past few productions OBSP has really elevated their productions and “Sister Act” falls right in line with the wonderful shows that have become a South Jersey community theatre standard.

In case you might not have seen the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, it centers around Delores Van Cartier and her hopes of becoming a famous singer. When she unwittingly becomes a witness to a murder by her boyfriend Curtis Jackson, Delores turns to childhood friend, policeman Eddie Souther. He decides to hide Delores in a convent under the care of the Mother Superior, who begrudgingly takes her in but does not accept her as much as the other nuns in the convent. The story takes Delores, Mother Superior and the nuns on an interesting journey of self exploration, understanding, faith and seeing the signs that surround us and remind us of being who we want to be.

OBSP’s “Sister Act” was such a wonderful experience. Carmen Delia Bryant delivers as Deloris and off the bat with the song “Take Me to Heaven” commands the stage. Ms. Bryant brought an emotional range of character and vocals were solid. It is also a pleasure to see a dramatic arts teacher out performing and demonstrating technique that is being taught in the classroom. Mr. Justin Henry delivered a solid performance in his stage debut and played Curtis as a very cool and calculated criminal boss. Domonic Barnes (Eddie Souther) delivers a nice performance, and Melanie Lamanteer delivered a wonderful performance as Mother Superior. Her performance in “Haven’t Got a Prayer” was truly heartfelt as she brought the change of her character’s heart in through the music. What stole the show to me were the performances of Victoria Mozitis (Sister Mary Robert), Lauren Fazenbaker (Sister Mary Patrick) and Shannon Sheridan (Sister Marty Lazarus). The three of them stood out and provided some of the funniest and most powerful performances. Victoria Mozitis is a star in the making and truly should be working her way up the Turnpike and auditioning in New York City soon. The supporting men’s roles played by Shaun Laurencio (Joey), Christian Claudio (Pablo) and Noel Gomez (TJ) really provided some wonderful humor and unexpected nice Doo-Wop moments and Richard Curcio (Monsignor O’Hara) provided some excellent comedic timing and one liners that remind you of the old throwback of William Christopher’s Father Frank Mulcahy from M.A.S.H.

John Stephan’s direction/choreography of this large show was wonderful. The smart use of making simple large set pieces actually made the production feel small an intimate at times but then still had the large production numbers in that grand Broadway style. You could also see that Mr. Stephan took some ambitious choreography with and the ensemble, (especially the nuns) were definitely challenged but you could see had great joy in the challenge. Kudos should go out to Mary Boner for large set pieces giving us that grand Catholic church style and lighting design by Caitlin Du Bois that enhanced that set. The vocals were well directed by Walter Webster, with some great moments of harmonies and solos throughout the show.

Sister Act
Levoy Theatre
3 out of 4 Mother Superiors

~~~~~

Spencer Lau is a fourteen-year public school teacher, producer, music education advocate, clinician, writer and musical theater director. He can also be followed on Twitter (@njdlau)

Review: 'Urinetown: The Musical' at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology

Spencer Lau

OnStage New Jersey Critic

“Urinetown The Musical” opened on September 20, 2001 at the Henry Miller’s Theatre (now the Stephen Sondheim Theatre) and was nominated for ten Tony Awards that season and winning Best Original Book, Best Score and Best Direction for John Rando. The music was written by Mark Hollmann, book by Greg Kotis and lyrics by Hollmann and Kotis. The original Broadway cast featured Hunter Foster (The Bridges of Madison County), Jennifer Laura Thompson (Dear Evan Hansen), and principal changes that included James Barbour (Phantom of the Opera) and Carolee Carmelo (Finding Neverland).

The story of Urinetown centers around a water shortage that was caused by a long drought that has caused a government ban on private toilets. The citizens must use public amenities that are controlled by a company that profits by controlling the government, bribing the police and charging the public to meet their most basic need. After a series of events, the show’s protagonist, Bobby decides he must do something about this and lead an uprising against the greed of this fictional city in this musical satire.

This is the first musical I have seen at GCIT in a couple of years, but the quality of  their shows are still some of the best in South Jersey. Katie Knoblock’s direction of this show reflects many of the Broadway intentions of the show while raising the bar on how high school productions should be performed. Kris Clayton should be recognized for the phenomenal set design and Stage Rates LLC for the set construction. The vocal work by the ensemble is wonderful but the choreography by Erica Paloucci is amazing. In the GCIT production’s second act,  “Snuff That Girl” and “Run, Freedom, Run!” are quite possibly my favorite versions that I have seen of these songs. Kudos go out to the ensemble for their work in that difficult choreography in back to back songs. Their commitment to their characters through their choreography was exceptional as well.

There are some cast members of special note. Joey Bennett (Officer Lockstock) has incredible comedic timing makes Lockstock a wonderful comedic villain and narrator. I adored the work of Alana Kopelove, whose portrayal of Little Sally brings the wit and delivery of many veteran child actors on Broadway and TV. Spencer Petro brings such heart to the role of Bobby Strong. He brings such energy to the role and some nice depth as well. You see his transformation from meek assistant, to love struck reluctant hero. This evening Haley Watson played heroine Hope Cladwell very well and Dylan Glick brought an edgy Caldwell B. Gladwell to the stage that seems to be inspired by many politicians we see on the news daily. Sydney Sheehan (Penelope Pennywise), Dylan Martone (Senator Flip), Michael Schaffner (Hot Blades), Rachel Masselek (Little Becky) and Ashley Birdsall (Officer Barrel) all turn in nice performances in supporting roles. 

Urinetown was a welcomed couple of hours of musical satire for the society we are living in. It takes the real time issues America is having (legal system, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, politics, environmental and social irresponsibility) and roles them into an evening of comedic musical theatre. If you have become increasingly frustrated how the news and arts have been treated, this is an evening well worth the admission. GCIT captures the intent of the Broadway show and the students show their understanding and attention to the small details that make productions special.

Friday/Saturday 7pm
Gloucester County Institute of Technology

3 out of 4 Urinals

Spencer Lau is a fourteen-year public school teacher, producer, music education advocate, clinician, writer and musical theater director. He can also be followed on Twitter (@njdlau)

Review: 'The Will Rogers Follies' at the Broadway Theatre of Pitman

Spencer Lau

  • New Jersey Critic

“Never met a man I didn’t like”, the opening line sung by Will Rogers in 1991, is one of the most relevant lines from this show that applies to our society today. In this final week before “the most important election of our time,” or so the media tells us, has been filled with political rhetoric, blame, hate, and excessive amounts of scandal. A night at the Broadway Theatre of Pitman is a wonderful reminder of a man who always found the best in all people around him.

The Will Rogers Follies opened on Broadway May 1st, 1991 at the Palace Theatre. The book was written by Peter Stone, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by Cy Coleman and directed by Tommy Tune. The show is a biography of American icon Will Rogers and is performed in a first-person narrative by the lead actor playing Rogers set to his time as the headline act of the Ziegfeld Follies between 1916-1925. The show won multiple awards at the 1991 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Direction, Best Choreography, Best Costume Design and Best Lighting. 

At the Broadway Theatre of Pitman the show is directed and choreographed by John Stephan, musical direction by Jack Hill, lighting by Shawn McGovern, sound by Chris Schenck, costumes by Donna Gibilisico and props by Tracy Jones. The iconic set piece of this musical was designed by John Stephan and built by Alden Wright. The show stars Michael DeFlorio as Will Rogers, Katie Hughes as Betty Blake, Paul Weagraff as Clem Rogers and Kelly Boeckle as Zeigfeld’s Favorite. 

The Will Rogers Follies is just a fun night of theater. It tells the story of America’s greatest ambassadors, kindest man and genuine person who never forgot his Native American roots. Michael DeFlorio did a wonderful job playing Rogers and even learned rope tricks to make his performance more authentic. His individual timing and interpretation of Will Rogers is youthful, naive and energetic, much like a Rogers who grew up in Oklahoma to modest means.  Katie Hughes’ portrayal of Betty Blake was quite enjoyable because of her big stage voice (My Unknown Someone and No Man Left for Me), and ability to convey how much Betty wished to have Will with her and the family more than on the road performing and Kelly Boeckle’s portrayal of Ziegfeld’s Favorite was so well timed with a hint of sass that we come to expect of showgirls of the era. The man who stole the show was Paul Weagraff’s portrayal of Clem Rogers. He was able to mix his comedy with true humility in telling the audience what Peter Stone felt Clem would have told his son Will. There were also some wonderful dance moments as the Follies Dancers (who double as the sisters of Betty and of Will) and clear musical moments by the Wranglers. There are also performances by Jacob Long, Abby Murphy, John-Luke Witting and Ryan Vaites as adorable Rogers children.

14907158_917145025086173_5887630946183092861_n.jpg

John Stephan’s direction of The Will Rogers Follies is wonderful. If you have read some of my previous articles, I have reviewed his work before and I believe he is an up and coming community theater director in southern New Jersey. This show is no easy task. Included in the show rights are some stipulated choreography from Tommy Tune that must be incorporated into the show. John has shown a brilliant ability to blend his own originality along with the choreography by Tommy Tune. In addition to that, the hardest technical piece was the iconic rainbow stairs from the Broadway production. Stephan’s concept of using LED lighting that was built by Alden Wright gives this show a luminous “WOW” factor. The technology allows the stairs to change colors as Will sings Diamonds for Mrs. Rogers and it is a modern enhancement that makes that song even greater on stage. Lighting this show is quite a challenge as the stairs take up most of the stage and Shawn McGovern’s work makes it easy to follow the actors and appeared easy for actors to maneuver them throughout the show. There is a phenomenal pit lead by Jack Hill that would rival many regional theaters in Philadelphia. The costumes were wonderful and looked authentic to the time. There have been many community productions that turned this biographical piece into a costumed comedy but you won’t find that with Donna Giblisico’s work. The costumes matched the period and were color schemed properly so that it helped enhance the actors’ character storytelling.

There were some minor issues I hope to see enhance the show more. I believe that the show is paced a bit faster than it needs to be. A show like this is all about the connections in Will Rogers’ life and how he was able to settle a crowd down and relate to them. The show also showcased how he was willing to change life for his wife Betty. Both roles are played very well and I would love for it to be more of a love story that grows organically and not pushed through rushed songs and dialogue. I also hope to see a bit more confidence in the male quartet. They sing so well and are having fun but you can also feel the nerves and uneasiness in their choreography. Finally, I’d love to have Wylie Post’s position slightly better lit as he was in the dark a bit.

Overall I truly enjoyed and appreciated the work done by the cast and crew at the Broadway Theater of Pitman’s The Will Rogers Follies. It is a welcomed show right before this year’s elections. Everyday for the past two months we have turned the television on and see people pointing out the worst in the opposing candidate. Will Rogers saw the best in people, he brought people together and told wonderful stories and taught life lessons through humor and respect of all people. Towards the end of the show Rogers is asked to address the nation after an address by Herbert Hoover and inspired a nation while addressing the economic inequality that was occurring during the beginning of the Great Depression. How interesting that people were inspired to action back then. Maybe we all need a little Will Rogers Follies in our lives nowadays.

The Will Rogers Follies
Broadway Theatre of Pitman
http://thebroadwaytheatre.org/
Oct. 28th- Nov. 20th, 2016

Review: 'Disney’s The Little Mermaid' at Off Broad Street Players

Spencer Lau

  • OnStage New Jersey Critic

If you are in your mid twenties to thirties, and grew up on Disney movies, then one of the tent pole movies of your childhood was Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson story that was produced by Howard Ashman and John Musker and brilliantly scored by Alan Menken. In 2008, Disney brought The Little Mermaid to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre with Menken’s music, lyrics by Howard Ashman & Glenn Slater and the book written by Doug Wright. While by today’s standards it wasn’t a huge success, it was bound to be a community theatre standard when Music Theatre International released it for licensing. What I saw with the Off Broad Street Players was how I believe Disney and MTI envisioned the show when they released it.

Victoria Mozitis Photo by Bill Horin/ArtC

Victoria Mozitis Photo by Bill Horin/ArtC

As the show opens after the overture, we get to meet Ariel, portrayed by Victoria Mozitis. She portrays Ariel with wonderful childhood innocence and earnst that Sierra Boggess brought to the Broadway production which is because she’s only a sophomore in high school! Many times community productions done with Ariel portrayed by an adult female and sometimes that role comes off as less believable. For a teenager, the role is much more true to life and therefore the acting becomes more authentic. I believe this young woman has a bright future for herself. Playing Prince Eric is Benjamin Frost and he is a wonderful compliment to Victoria’s Ariel. Both of them express that longing for more in life than King Triton (Rocco Barbera) and Grimsby (Richard Curcio) want for them. Both Rocco and Richard play wonderful caretakers of Ariel and Eric. Rocco has a wonderful physical and acting presence as Triton but shows his range as a doting and caring father balancing parenting and ruling the seas. Richard’s Grismby balances comedy and life lessons like a TV father veteran. Domonic Barnes portrayal of Sebastian is wonderfully fun and will remind those who saw the show on Broadway as what Tituss Burgess did as the lovable crab.

Rounding out the lead cast and portraying Ursula is Toni Mayo. She brings to that role such a devious, sarcastic, and comedic nature to it that you are mesmerized by her performance. She is equal parts Eartha Kitt and Rita Moreno in this role and it is perfect. The rest of the ensemble shows so much talent and promise. There will be no shortage of future lead talent for Off Broad Street Players in the future.

The Little Mermaid production is wonderful and for you South Jersey readers (especially with children), this is a must see. If you’ve only seen the movie, then be prepared for some great additional songs that were added to the theatrical production. Adults and children will be singing (Part of Your World, Poor Unfortunate Souls, Kiss the Girl) and dancing (Under the Sea, She’s in Love, Les Poissons) in their seats, but marvel at songs not from the movie (Daddy’s Little Girl, Positoovity, If Only) and enjoy the story as it is told in a bit more depth than it takes in a movie (what did happen to Ariel’s mom?).

Mike Grubb, Chris Martinez, Victoria Mozitis and Jada Mayo. Photo by Bill Horin/ArtC

Mike Grubb, Chris Martinez, Victoria Mozitis and Jada Mayo. Photo by Bill Horin/ArtC

Director/Choreographer John Stephan smartly staged the show without it being an imitation of the movie. The show calls for a bit of Disney magic, imagination and difficult transitions which OBSP does very well. John Stephan is a wonderful director and choreographer.  His choreography is quite impressive as it touches multitudes of styles, using ballet, some modern, with elements of pop/hip-hop and his signature tap. His directing/choreography reminds me of Casey Nicholaw. He work as the Cumberland Regional High School Dramatic Arts coordinator, direction of various shows in different community theatres in South Jersey have earned him a well respected reputation of getting the most out of his actors to establish his clear story telling vision. The Little Mermaid has a few really tricky parts in it: Prince Eric being thrown overboard, Ariel’s transformation come to mind right away and he pulls them off very well. His casting of the leads show his ability to recognize chemistry and gives all of them their moments that allow them to shine on the stage. The show relies a lot on the lighting and major kudos to designer Caitlin Du Bois. Her lighting designs along with John Stephan’s staging, give moments of the show “WOW” factors. Both Du Bois and Stephan are 2016 NJACT Perry Award nominees. Credit also has to be given to Erin Barbeck’s wig design as well as they are wonderful.

Overall, I can’t say enough how impressed I was with the work of the Off Broad Street Players. This might be one of the best production I have ever seen them produce and is a must see in South Jersey. What John Stephan, cast and crew have done is tell the story of Disney’s The Little Mermaid but did it without overdoing the jokes and attempting to make the show a Las Vegas spectacle. It also made my night to see OBSP’s respect of the work as it is given to them. There have been a few times I have attended other theatre productions in South Jersey where they or the directors have stepped out of bounds with their “creativity” and it was uncomfortable. The production and respect Off Broad Street showed is a model of how other companies should do it. I declare OBSP production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Levoy Theatre a summer must see!!!

3 ½ Shells out of 4

Off Broad Street Players Presents:
 Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Levoy Theatre
http://levoy.net
August 4-14, 2016
Friday and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sunday at 3pm
Thursday, August 11, at 7:00pm

“Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival

David Roberts

"Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” is a powerful new musical that takes considerable risks in exposing the flaws in the United States Immigration System (USCIS). Noemi de la Puente’s engaging book personalizes the “nightmare” of USCIS as a knock-down-drag-out boxing match between a young illegal Manuel (played with a powerful grace by Gil Perez-Abraham) and the Statue of Liberty (played with cloyed playfulness by Shakina Nayfack). This fight symbolizes the larger struggle all illegal immigrants (including those awaiting Green Cards) experience when attempting to gain legal status. 

Ironically, the Statue of Liberty represents the “American Nightmare” reminding Manuel that “It’s Against the Law to Be Here Illegally” and doing all she can to defeat Manuel’s spirit and his attempts to become a legal citizen. This is gritty theatre: the Statue is the enemy of freedom not the ally of the immigrant she seems to welcome. Watching Ms. Nayfack portray the “Statue’s” redemptive transformation is cathartic and electrifying.

The system seems designed to make the naturalization process not only difficult but impossible. Manuel came to the United States with his mother and his sister Yolanda (Alicia Taylor Tomasko) who was born in the United States and is therefore a legal citizen. It is Manuel and his Mami (Tami Dahbura) that face deportation if they do not get Green Cards. Manuel is not willing to live in hiding and with the encouragement of his mentor Mr. Walsh (Michael Marotta) he wants to go to Princeton then, upon graduation, to study abroad at Oxford on a scholarship from Princeton. If he leaves the country, he realizes he will not be able to return. 

The ensemble cast under Jose Zayas’ impeccable direction skillfully portrays Manuel’s journey from his high school graduation through his decision to turn himself into USCIS authorities. Although things go well for Manuel, they did not go well for the inspiration for this musical Dan-el Padilla Peralta. Despite the requisite happy ending for musical theatre (not all but most), “Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” remains a scorching critique of immigration policies in the United States and a resounding celebration of the human spirit, the confirmation that “nothing good comes easily,” and the importance of fighting for the values upon which the United States was founded.

MANUEL VERSUS THE STATUE OF LIBERTY

For complete information on "Manuel versus the Statue of Liberty” including the creative team, the cast, the performance schedule, and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/manuel-versus-statue-liberty. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with one intermission.

Going Medieval ~ A Review of Medieval Times in New Jersey

Danielle Joy

Game of Thrones season five premiered last night, and if you are like me, this was a highly anticipated event. I spent weeks brushing up on my canon knowledge, and clearing my Sunday night schedule for the next ten weeks. 

But, once that long-awaited-for hour ended, I found myself thinking, "What am I to do while I wait for the next episode?!" 

In this day and age, we are spoiled by the ability to watch whole seasons of TV shows at once with the click of a button. It can be maddening when we must wait a week (or heaven forbid, two weeks!) for the next installation. 

Thankfully, there is a place, not far from New York City (a twenty minute bus ride, in fact) that can satisfy our thirst for more battles, competition, knights and of course – royalty.

When one usually thinks of Medieval Times at 149 Polito Ave, Lyndhurst, NJ, one usually associates it with a class trip for elementary school children. This was not the case of my most recent visit.

A friend of mine turned 31, and she sent us all a link to get half-priced tickets through Groupon.com. A click, and $40 later, I had my ticket. On the day, I traveled twenty minutes by car while some friends elected for the $5 shuttle bus, also journeying for about twenty minutes.

We entered the castle, and received our seating assignment. We were to sit in the Red and Yellow Knights’ cheering section. 

We walked past the entrance where the King and his daughter, the Princess, were greeting guests and taking photos (for a princely ransom!) and continued into a large and high ceilinged room. Trinkets were being sold – mostly children’s toys and costumes. There were plenty of bars lining the room for what looked like harassed parents of spoiled children, and of course, adult birthday parties. We walked around for a bit – skipping the $2 per entry “Torture Room” because – who carries cash?

Finally, we were called to our seats. Directly across from our Red & Yellow cheering section was the Black & White Knights’ cheering section. The four corners of the room housed the supporters of the Yellow, Blue, Green, and Red Knights.

We were served soup and bread as the horses put on a show for us. As our plates cleared (my stomach rumbling for more food) and the horses disappeared, a falconer came out to do some tricks.

Once the bird flew around the stadium one million times, it was time for the feast and jousting! 

The sound system in the stadium was not very clear, and I missed part of whatever story was supposed to be happening, but the competition works very well as a spectator sport. 

While you wait for your next hbo bloodbath, you can feel like royalty about to conquer the Iron Throne by visiting Medieval Times and seeing the battles in person! 

Review ~ “Woyzeck, FJF” at the New Ohio Theatre

David Roberts / Critic  “When you’re poor like us sir … It’s the money, the money! If you haven’t got the money … I mean you can’t bring the likes of us into the world on decency. We’re flesh and blood. Our kind doesn’t get a chance in this world or the next. If we go to heaven they’ll put us to work on the thunder.” - Woyzeck to the Captain in “Woyzeck, FJF”

What if – instead of drowning while trying to dispose of the knife he used to murder his unfaithful wife – Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck ended up in an insane asylum wondering why he was there and what it was he had done to result in his hospitalization? And what if the things Woyzeck actually wondered, questioned, and imagined were instead surmised, evaluated, and fantasized by his army mate Andres? There is no need to guess any longer for this is what occurs in Jeremy Duncan Pape’s and D. L. Siegel’s clever retelling of Georg Buchner’s unfinished play “Woyzeck” currently running at the New Ohio Theatre. The adapters (really they are playwrights) attempt to finish what Buchner’s death in 1837 left unfinished with their inventive “Woyzeck, FJF.”

Instead of the multiple settings of Buchner’s play, there is only one setting: the “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” insane asylum which brilliantly serves as a trope for Woyzeck’s inner life as he attempts to come to terms with his poverty and his hopelessness. Alfred Schatz has designed a space that serves stunningly as Woyzeck’s inner sanctum of thoughts, fears, memories, and hopes. From this inner world, Woyzeck “plays out” the scenes with Marie (Evangeline Fontaine) at her home, with The Drum Major (Mackenzie Knapp), with The Doctor (Alessandro Colla) who pays Woyzeck to participate in his medical experiments, with Andres (Isreal McKinney Scott), and with The Captain (Jason Wilson) who also pays Woyzeck.

Under Jeremy Duncan Pape’s diligent and exacting direction, the ensemble cast – in an extended dream ballet – splays the contents of Woyzeck’s disheveled and unraveling mind in a series of surreal “paintings” and “videos” that engage the audience in significant ways. Indeed, it is the rich and enduring questions “Woyzeck, FJF” raises that emerge from the performance that linger and await “answers” long after the curtain call. How does the political climate of Woyzeck’s time compare/contrast to the contemporary political climate? How can individuals living in poverty hope to achieve success? Do religions offer hope to the poor or simply expose dysfunction of the culture of wealth?

James Kautz’s well-modulated Woyzeck is the perfect canvas for Everyman to project her or his “troubles” upon. Mr. Kautz skillfully crawls, dances, crouches, and cries to the beat of the tormented Woyzeck whose desperation leads him to destroy rather than follow his creative spirit and lash out rather than embrace his thoughtful nature. Woyzeck is cautioned that to “think too much” is less than ideal since “people die of it.” Mr. Kautz’s portrayal of Woyzeck is stark, authentic, and honest.

In Buchner’s play, Woyzeck is silenced by accidental death. In this adaptation, Woyzeck is silenced by a frontal lobotomy, eyes bleeding from the procedure, doomed to live out his days in a state of stupefaction and emptiness. How like Woyzeck might the contemporary Everyman be? All of the institutions of society - political, religious, and medical - fail Woyzeck miserably. “Woyzeck, FJF” leaves the audience wondering whether much has changed at all. One also wonders if, when in heaven, the poor will still be remanded to “work on thunder.”

WOYZECK, FJF

By Georg Buchner, Adapted by Jeremy Duncan Pape and D. L. Siegel and directed by Jeremy Duncan Pape. The production team includes Alfred Schatz (Set Design), Evan Roby (Lighting Design), Lux Haac (Costume Design), Jeanne Travis (Sound Design) and Kayla Tate (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Russ Rowland. “Woyzeck, FJF” is presented by No-Win Productions in association with Fractured Atlas and the New Ohio Theatre in a limited engagement at the New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City. Performances are Wednesdays – Sundays at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online athttp://NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 1-888-596-1027. The running time is 70 minutes. For more information visit https://www.Facebook.com/NoWinProductions.

WITH: Alessandro Colla (“Richard III” with Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, “Hamlet” with Bryant Park Shakespeare), Evangeline Fontaine (“Twelfth Night” with Shakespeare in the Parking Lot), James Kautz (“The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side,” “The Bad and the Better”), Mackenzie Knapp, Isreal McKinney Scott, and Jason Wilson.

This piece also appears at http://www.theatrereviews.com/

Review: "Catch Me If You Can" at The Eagle Thatre

by Briana Brown, OnStage Guest Critic Extra credit must be given to the cast and crew of Catch Me If You Can at the Eagle Theatrefor elevating the material to the point where I started to believe it was actually a good musical. Without the incredible talent of this cast and vision from director Ted Wioncek III, this would be a shallow, noisy and forgettable production. But with this cast, this will be a production that I won't forget anytime soon.

The plot for the most part follows the movie it's based on. A young con man takes on a variety of careers, transforming his identity as he blazes a trail of bounced checks around the world, aided and abetted by his good-for-nothing father, Frank, Sr. Unfortunately for Frank, FBI agent Carl Hanratty is on his trail by the time that Frank makes his final mistake, namely falling in love.

As Frank Abagnale Jr. , Adam Hoyak is a strong performer with plenty of charisma that could make anyone believe he is who he says he is. He shares some very nice moments on stage with Bob Kelly as Frank Sr. Marianne Green as Paula turns in a beautiful performance as well.

Although his role is underused, Jeffrey Coon makes the most out of his portrayal of FBI agent, Carl Hanratty. He gets some fantastic numbers to work with and provides much of the comic relief.

But the real find here is Jenna Pastuszek as Brenda Strong. Pastuszek gave a draw dropping rendition of "Fly Fly Away" which made me circle her name as one to watch out for in the future.

The ensemble did a fantastic job having to juggle their many respective roles and performed some complex choreography from Dann Dunn, with ease. While there aren't a lot of memorable songs in the score, Trevor Pierce does a fine job with his music direction. Mr. Wioncek III, keeps the pace and humor up and with the use of some 21st century techniques, finds some creative ways to stage the piece.

The biggest obstacle for this production will certainly be overcoming its thin story and forgettable music. But the Eagle Theatre has pulled it off before and it looks like as long as you're not too much of a cynic, you're going to love this one as well.

The show runs thru Feb 21. For tickets and info visit, theeagletheatre.com

New Jersey ~ Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona at Spicy Witch Productions

by Noelle Fair, OnStage New Jersey Critic “Don’t forget” said Meghan Blakeman, director of the Spicy Witches’ Production of Shakespeare’s early comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  I haven’t. . . . .

Two Gentlemen of Verona is the story of Valentine (Nick Bombacino), a young gentleman, who sets off from Verona for Milan to see the world. Despite Valentine's best efforts to persuade him to come too, Proteus (John Hardin), his best friend, stays at home because of his love for Julia (Mia Canter). She is in love with him too, but neither knows of the other's love until Lucetta (Rebecca Weiss), her maid, shows Julia a love letter from Proteus. Julia denies her feelings to her maid, but once alone reveals how strongly she feels about Proteus. Proteus is reading her reply when his father, Antonio, informs him of his decision to send him to Milan and the duke's court to join Valentine. The lovers take their leave and swear eternal constancy.

In Milan, Proteus finds that Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia (Kelly Karcher), the duke's daughter, and plans to elope with her to foil her father's plan to marry her to Thurio (Maren Fsiher). When Proteus sees his friend's beloved Silvia, he too falls completely in love with her and puts aside his feelings for Julia. Valentine confides his plans to elope to his friend but Proteus, who is now infatuated with Silvia too and betrays the plan to the duke (Danielle Jorn).Valentine is banished from Milan. In the wilderness Valentine encounters a band of outlaws and is elected their leader.

Meanwhile Julia, disguised as a page named Sebastian, comes to Milan in search of her beloved Proteus. Overhearing him declare his passion for Silvia, she is devastated but, under cover of her disguise, enters his service as a page. When Proteus sends Julia/Sebastian with a message to Silvia, Julia is encouraged to find that his advances are rejected and that Silvia remains faithful to Valentine. Silvia escapes into the forest to join Valentine. The duke and Thurio (Silvia's betrothed) set out in pursuit, followed by Proteus and Julia (still disguised as a page). Silvia is captured by the outlaws but then rescued by Proteus who, seeing that she still spurns him, tries to force himself on her. Valentine intervenes and Proteus is forced to confront his act of betrayal. Julia faints and in so doing reveals her identity and prompts Proteus to remember his feelings for her.

Reconciliation begins.. . . .or, in this case, does it even begin?

The problem with mounting this show has always been that tricky fifth act. For those who do not know the show, let me back up and explain why it is tricky.  When Proteus declares his intent to rape Silvia, Valentine jumps in, Proteus declares his shame and guilt towards his intent.  Valentine immediately forgives him and all is good with the world.  But what about Silvia?  She says nothing else, nor does the text imply that she is as forgiving as Valentine.  And as for the girl who also witnessed the rape – Julia – what does she say about it?  Also, how far does the rape go?  As there is no stage direction to indicate this, each production must individually choose what they do with it.  A majority of productions I have witnessed or been part of only have Proteus grab Silvia before Valentine immediately steps in to save the day. To a contemporary audience, this is more forgiving and we can all move on and have our happily ever after.  However, this production did something I’ve never seen done.  They took the rape further.  Proteus forcefully kissed Silvia and then forced her to the ground before Silvia cried out for Sebastian’s help.  It wasn’t until Proteus unbuckled his fly that Valentine jumped in.  Then, to add to the severity, Valentine claimed Silvia in front of the Duke and Thurio, and dared Thurio to put his hands on her, with the threat that he would kill Thurio.  Lastly, Valentine, NEVER, once, went over to his “beloved” to comfort her, to make sure she was okay, and Silvia was left in a puddle of tears and shame as everyone left for their dual weddings.  The only one left onstage at the end were the two women. The two women held a final glance until Julia walked off after her man, Proteus. 

All the cards were on the table.  Silvia knew Julia had been disguised as a man and did nothing.  Silvia was left to ask “As a woman, why didn’t you help me?” and also “Why would you want to be with him?” and Julia stood unsure of what to say or do to make this situation right – only knowing she had worked so hard for something, and wanted it desperately, and even in knowing what she had seen, she still did not want to give up on it.  I was left with questions, too.  Mostly, WHY do that?  Why would you spend two hours playing at this comedy only to slap me in the face?  I knew Proteus was a jerk, but Valentine?  I hated him by the end of the show.  I was deceived in him.  I thought “Wow, Thurio ain’t looking so bad, is he?” Two Gentlemen of Verona?  No, two douche bags of Verona.

Whether or not this choice validates or invalidates the text is a moot point for me, as I feel Shakespeare is open to interpretation. To be honest, I personally didn’t like the choice.  Then I asked myself why?  Why didn’t I like it?  Because it was disturbing?  Yes.  Because it destroyed my enjoyment that I was having of the comedy presented?  Yes.  All of the above, I also want to admit my own personal bias when it comes to these things.  My background of study is in Early Modern theatre – and everything that comes with it.  While I may not like it as a contemporary woman, as an actress I find that I must make sense of those fifth acts where I become silent.  My own personal bias would lead me as the actor in that role to look to at my man (or lord) for how to forgive, accept, and to let him protect me and guide me through that process.  These are unfortunately, the guidelines one must follow a majority of the time when playing a Shakespearean woman.  And from an Early Modern gender perspective, I really have a hard time separating myself from the acceptance that I have as an actor and academic. I understand, however, that the Spicy Witches are wishing to challenge that way of thinking, and to critique these gender structures from a modern woman’s perspective of the Silvia and Julia’s silence.

However, on that note, I don’t think that the violent rape which was presented made much sense from a character perspective.  As it was occurring, yes, it did make sense that Julia, disguised as both a boy and servant, didn’t step in.  He is subservient to Proteus as Sebastian and disguised as a woman, not only that, but a woman who loves him – she has a lot to lose if she does step in either way.  Valentine, however, doesn’t have anything to lose.  Valentine is of the same station as Proteus, and to top it off, they were best friends (and I believe by this point in the play, Valentine is well aware of Proteus’ deception) and he is watching and hearing him state his intentions to rape the woman he loves. Any man in that particular scenario would not have sat by and watched this for too long before jumping in.  Another added factor that was presented here, the actor playing Valentine was physically taller and bigger than Proteus, so there was NOTHING to prevent Valentine from making a speedier entrance into the moment.  You can still leave us with the same effect however, without going that far physically with the sexual assault.  As Silvia has no other lines in the fifth act to indicate how she is feeling, the actress can still choose to not agree with what is happening.  I know that if one of my man’s friends had stated their intentions to rape me, I would never be okay with them again.  Just the threat of violence would be enough.  I think the same affect and desired outcome could still have occurred without making that specific choice.

However, in juxtaposition to this, what I do find important here, is this young company (which was started by five young women) are reaching for something bigger and beyond the scope of just presenting Shakespeare in its regular platform for the umpteenth million time. These young women, through their current season, are looking to critique gender structure and power dynamics within relationships between men and women. They not only wish to present classic and contemporary works, but hope to provoke debate, and ignite a discussion.  I like theatre which entertains (who doesn’t?) but I APPRECIATE theatre which strives to do something different. Appreciation in this case means more than ‘like’.

Additionally, there seems to be a desire and need for this type of choice to be made.  And also, this is theatre – you need to take risks and go for the big bold choices, even if they might upset or bother people, so I appreciate their attempt to do so.  There were about five women of my generation seated around me, and at the end of the play, they expressed their excitement in the choice and they felt that FINALLY, the women’s voice spoke through the men’s.  In a majority of Shakespeare’s Act Five’s, once the women characters get their men, they become silent and let the men resolve the rest of the plot.  However, in this case, the women’s voice was wrung loud, and echoed through the men’s.  I barely listened to the rest of the act as I watched Silvia’s tears roll down her face and Julia stare in bewilderment.  And at the very end, when everyone left, the silence that lasted between Julia and Silvia was deafening. Bravo, for making this bold, unique choice that obviously inspired debate beyond the evening’s performance but getting to that point wasn’t always coherent.

For all of this gender critiquing, though, I found some of the gender casting choices to be a bit bewildering.  See, when you wish to do one thing, specifically in critiquing gender and gender structures, if affects how you view everything else, and throughout the show, I actually didn’t have too much of a problem figuring out who was a playing a man, who was playing a woman, etc, but the cohesion of these decisions didn’t work for me in the end. The leads were kept in their gender specific roles, whilst smaller roles along the way were all changed.  The Duke, Antonio, and Pantino (all played by women) played their characters as women.  Thurio (Maren Fischer), Silvia’s foppish suitor, was played by a woman, as a man, but dressed in a woman’s equestrian fashion. However, Sir Eglamour was played by a woman, but dressed in a man’s pant suit.  And Launce, Proteus’ servant was played as a little girl of about 7.  So, all in all, you had men playing men, women playing women, women playing men as men, women playing male characters as female characters, women playing male characters as little girls, and women playing feminine men – whew! I wasn’t sure why all the gender flops and flips.  Was their a larger reason I missed or was it just who was available for casting?  Were you going for non-traditional casting in the male roles?

All in all, this is fine, however, when you do this, you need to make a cohesive choice, or, if you’re going to make the switch, be VERY specific about why you’re doing it, and what it says about the overall message of your show.  For example, a moment I was extremely disturbed was when Proteus angrily took Launce’s prized stuffed dog, Crab, and threw him away from Launce after admonishing her verbally.  Now, you’ve just yelled at a little girl and took away her stuffed teddy bear.  As an audience, we now hate you – and I knew the rape was coming up.  For me, there was no going back for Proteus at this point.  Also, I have to ask, WHY was Launce played as a little girl?  I think it made sense from how playful Launce’s language is and the actress, (Isabella Russo) made sense of it creatively using Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, and shoes to tell us her little tales – but if Launce is a little girl, then what does that mean for her relationship to Proteus? 

Director Meghan Blakeman chose to update the setting of the play to 2014 – and when you do that, you need to re-define the relationship of some characters.  For example, I found that the servant to master relationship in this was a bit unclear.  Like I mentioned above with Launce – was Launce a little girl who followed Proteus around adoringly, or was this his little sister, niece, or cousin – or a kid from the neighbourhood?  I wasn’t sure what her function was and how that in turn would affect her relationship with Proteus.  Equally as confusing, Lucetta’s maid function towards Julia was a bit unclear.  In 2014, Lucetta really can’t be tightening corsets or brushing Julia’s hair – but what is she now?  A nanny?  A Personal Assistant?  A friend from school?  I just didn’t know and there was very little to indicate what her function was.  Speed (Aidan Kinney) was the clearest, but in that, but still somewhat vague.  He was some sort of messenger, or gofer.  He wore a messenger bag, jeans, and a sweater.  However, at times, he seemed on par station wise with Valentine, so I also thought they might be equals in this scenario.  Again, I just don’t think the choices were specific enough in this regard.

However, what I do think was specific and clear in this production was the casts use of language.  Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of the few plays which relies very little on tricks, magic, witches, and large battle scenes.  You basically have the language, the actors, and their relationships with each other.  It was very apparent and clear that Blakeman and the cast worked tirelessly and endlessly to be specific and clear in how they used the Shakespearean language.  Special attention was given to building the ideas within the larger construct presented in the speeches and scenes.  The cast also had to work doubly as hard vocally in the Solo Velez caverness theatre space, as it ate a lot of their consonants. However, the cast combated this challenge marvellously and still delivered the text with dexterity, clarity, range, and specificity.

Another thing that was done well was Blakeman’s choice in clarifying which servants belonged to which master. With all the travelling and change of locations, the text of ‘Two Gents’ is sometimes unclear about which servant is in Milan and who is in Verona, and who belongs to whom.  Blakeman combated this by putting servants in scenes with their masters which they may not have been present in before, and also giving some text which belonged to one, to another which made a lot more sense for where the scene took place and who was in the scene.  Blakeman and the cast solved some textual confusion by doing this and it helped us along the journey.

This is a young, vibrant, agile group of young performers who are obviously passionate about the work they are doing, and truly, are ones to be watched out for.  They are presenting Two Gentlemen of Verona in rep with Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw with members of the same cast.  It’s an ambitious undertaking, and the Spicy Witches should be applauded for their boldness, energy, and for making others think.

Two Gentlemen of Verona is presented in rep with Becky Shaw at Flambopyan Theatre, at 107 Suffolk Street, NYC, NY.

Two Gentlemen of Verona

December 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 @ 8pm

December 13, 14th @ 2pm

Becky Shaw

December 4, 10, 12, 13 @ 8pm

December 6, 7th @ 2pm

To learn more about the company, please go to www.spicywitchproductions.com