Monday, September 22, 2014


Zeitgeist Stage is honoring the 35th anniversary of the Holocaust play, BENT, Martin Sherman’s frightening, ultimately redemptive play about the gay men who perished, along with the Jews and gypsies, in Hitler’s concentration camps. Director David Miller’s production (running through Oct. 11th) features two powerful performances by Victor L. Shopov and Brooks Reeves as the imprisoned men who will be each other’s salvation.  

Zeitgeist is known for its tightly knit, compact productions in the Black Box at the BCA. For BENT they have moved to the comparatively spacious Plaza theater, next to the box space but with the move come some complications. The first scene in Max’s living room makes it seem like a sprawling penthouse. Just using the imaginary bathroom takes precious seconds to get offstage. And placing the decadent, cross-dressed cabaret chanteuse (whom Miller uses for running satirical effect) in front of the apartment space puts “Greta” much too close to the audience.

Some opening weekend jitters distracted from the story early on but by the time Shopov and Reeves are the sole players on stage (except for the Nazi guards), the horror and the beauty of their relationship carries the play toward its chilling conclusion. A lovely performance by Robert Bonotto, as Max’s closeted uncle is one of the pleasures of Miller’s productions. Mikey DiLoreto, too, scores points as the dancer who, like the uncle, thinks the Nazis won’t come for him.

Thomas Grenon is terrifying as the sadistic lieutenant who forces Max to perform unspeakable acts in order to save himself. Shopov’s transformation, in response to Reeves’ luminous humanity, more than makes up for the small production problems. This is a major play which deserves to be seen. The German phrase, “Nie wieder” meaning “never again” serves as both apology and pledge but we know full well that it has happened again, all over the world.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


FAR FROM HEAVEN (@ SpeakEasy Stage through Oct. 11th) is a musical remake of the 2002 Todd Haynes movie of the same namewhich itself is an homage/remake of the 1955 Douglas Sirk Technicolor soap opera, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (which was also adapted, brilliantly I might add, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder but that has nothing to do with this). They all center round a woman whose “picture perfect” life is turned upside downwho then turns to her gardener for support, thereby scandalizing friends, family and, it seems, the whole world: Certainly, her whole world.

The scandal in the 1955 film stems from the difference in their ages and social positions: The housewife is considerably older and wealthier than the gardener. In the 2002 FAR FROM HEAVEN movie, the scandal is race and social status. I’m swept away every time I see the corny Rock Hudson/Jane Wyman vehicle (Turner Classic Movies loves Sirk) but the musical, alas, just didn’t do it for me. It should have. The book by Richard Greenberg avoids a whitewash of the 1950s. I grew up in the homophobic, racist, republican decade: No picnic if you were poor or gay or African-American. All I can say about the ‘50s is thank God for the ‘60s.

Director Scott Edmiston and music director Steven Bergman have a talented cast to interpret the material but the problem, I think, with FAR FROM HEAVEN is the material. No matter how you approach it, you’re still stuck with Michael Korie’s impossible lyrics. Poor Jennifer Ellis rhapsodizes about “Heaven [having created] Connecticut” and being “sure they broke the mold.” It’s supposed to show her naïveté but it’s so bloody bland and it works against the story. Ditto her dialogue: She wants to go to Florida because everything there is “pink!” Good Lord.

Scott Frankel’s score is so dissonant, I didn’t think I could weather another distorted merry-go-round plunge down the scale. I had high hopes for the song, “What’s it like being THE ONLY ONE” (for the white housewife and the Black gardener) but then they did it to death. Charles Schoonmaker’s period costumes (some more 40s than 50s) are gorgeous, especially the chocolate/mocha/beige cocktail dresses and I got a kick out of David Connolly’s hipster, jazzy “chair” choreography for the guys on a bench outside the office.

For me, the acid test is whether or not other musicals cross my mind while I’m watching. I’m truly sorry to say they did and when Maurice Emmanuel Parent boards the train for a better life in Baltimore, all I could think of was: He’ll meet John Waters and be in a much better musical there.

Friday, September 12, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Funnier Than Ever

Director Leigh Barrett’s production of the Maltby/Shire revue, CLOSER THAN EVER (playing @ New Rep through Sept. 28th) soars when the women are front and center. (Barrett has split the songs among two male and two female singers.) The men mostly have the angst ridden and sentimental songs but the women get the plum comic numbers. When you have Barrett and Kathy St. George interpreting the material you’re home free.

Well, not necessarily. A couple of months ago I saw an ill fated production of COMPANY. I could hardly wait for Barrett’s “Ladies Who Lunch.” It’s always the showstopper. I’m sure it would have been, were it not for a sinister sound system which entirely cut out the audio on the “Ladies,” leaving the audience in misery. So here’s kudos for New Rep’s acoustics and their impeccable sound system (something I used to take for granted).

Some of the songs are ho-hum but a few are inspired: Barrett’s cheeky “The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster and the Mole” is a scientific rundown of the female of the (animal) species, where “the male has control for one moment only,” (and that would be the mating moment). We’re in hysterics even before the song arrives at the ambidextrous oyster who can fertilize her own eggs, thank you very much!

St. George acts the heck out of the not so demure “Miss Byrd” who flies away at lunchtime, unseen, to refresh her, let’s say, enthusiasm for the rest of the workday. And St. George sizzles in her sexy paean to the musicians who play the bass fiddle: She purrs, she scats and she playfully messes with John Styklunas’ hair as he’s accompanying her on base. The incomparable Jim Rice on piano makes the show tick and he even sings a little harmony.

Brian Richard Robinson gets laughs with “What Am I Doing” (up on her roof) as the guy who can’t move on and David Foley gets to tug at our heartstrings with the tender “Fathers of Fathers.” The singers spend a good deal of time pushing Jon Savage’s multiple doors into place or carrying on (what look like) heavy stuffed chairs and I began to worry that someone would pull a muscle. This is, after all, a show about “getting older” and one would hope, wiser than that.

See CLOSER THAN EVER for the ladies who are indeed funnier than ever.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


A SWEENEY TODD without camp? Who knew Sondheim’s exquisite musical had so much to say about the human condition? Director Spiro Veloudos’ SWEENEY TODD (playing @ Lyric Stage through Oct. 8th) is still Grand Guignol but this Todd is human, a reflection of the sorry state of the world.

I’ve seen a passel of SWEENEY TODDs (It’s my favorite musical) and never once did I consider Todd to be anything but the bogeyman parents invoke to make naughty children behave. Never once did I connect myself emotionally with the “demon barber.” Not once did I feel he was real. The macabre material always felt like fantasy to me—which served to keep the horror at bay. The outrageous humor, too, allowed me to distance myself. Now the musical resonates way beyond Victorian England to our very own “desperate times.”

As I watched, I thought of the Innocence Project: Todd was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I thought about the corruption which eats through our justice system: The powerful judge in the musical has gotten away with rape and more. Even Ferguson came to mind when the parish officer instructs a policeman to clear the street and “bash” a passerby’s “head” in. And I thought about the depth of Todd’s pain, losing his whole family. When Christopher Chew as Todd discovers too late a loved one’s true identity, you cannot stop his despair from passing across the footlights and into your stomach. Chew makes Todd’s descent into madness the only path he has.

As much as Todd wants to “wish the world away,” it intrudes at every turn. He’s come home from Botany Bay to find his wife and child and instead finds that Mrs. Lovett has kept his razors all these years. Amelia Broom as Mrs. L seduces him into resuming his old profession, lies about his wife and even initiates their cannibalistic partnership. (I had always accepted them as equals before. Now I’m much more keenly aware of Mrs. L’s machinations. What a difference a fresh approach can make!)

Music director Jonathan Goldberg makes Sondheim’s glorious dissonances soar. The singing is enhanced in the intimacy of the small Lyric stage and Janie E. Howland’s black, receding, almost disappearing set piece: The chorus becomes the set, moving about in Franklin Meissner’s foggy purples and muddied reds. Rafael Jean’s dark, layered costumes mirror the hues in Meissner’s lighting.

The singing is superb, with exciting performances all around but special attention must be paid to Phil Tayler as the innocent Toby who slowly realizes that Todd is killing his customers. Tayler makes Toby heroic and that’s a significant change from most productions. Davron S. Munroe, too, makes Todd’s mountebank rival a posturing know-it-all deserving comeuppance.

Sam Simahk and Meghan LaFlam are lovely together as the lovers in peril, at the hands of Paul C. Soper’s evil judge. Every musical number reverberates but I’m still humming the judge and Todd’s “Pretty Women” and LaFlam’s bird song and Simahk’s lovely “Johanna” and marveling over the two quartets. And of course, there’s the inimitable “A Little Priest.”