During the holidays, or any other time of the year, there is a magical wonder about New York that permeates the air and the senses. There is an indefatigable energy about the people, many of whom may walk on foot until the wee hours of the morning, as they listen to the musical honking horns, and the sonorous sirens. Best of all, there is a work ethic that encapsulates what the “Big Apple” stands for, in not only the attitude of its hard-working inhabitants, but in every avenue and profession. And, like Los Angeles, and most major metropolises, there is a joie de vivre and intensity about its stage productions, which the observer will doubtlessly be compelled by and immersed in.
There is, moreover, a great pride about the entertainment quality that is put out for all to vicariously experience, as attendees get the stimulation and suspension of disbelief they’re looking for, and the performers are contented with their work. Recently, LAexcites ventured out to New York City to not compare, nor contrast such productions and performers with that of Los Angeles, but to forge a connection, founded upon a common bond of passion for the higher arts. The following highlights the versatility of New York’s finest via four eclectic shows – two on Broadway (a drama and a comedy), a cabaret-like extravaganza at the former Studio 54 (now called Feinstein’s/54 Below), and a delightful opera at the Metropolitan Opera House.
“The Children” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre at 261 W 47th St. New York, NY 10036 (running indefinitely)
Having opened on Broadway on December 12th, “The Children,” which is written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by James Macdonald, boasts the same original cast that earned well-deserved praise following a run at London’s Royal Court Theatre. The well-constructed play is for the thinking person, exploring notions of individualism versus the collective good, and ideas of existentialism in the face of self-sacrifice.
The 110-minute production takes place entirely in one setting and in live time. The thought-provoking scenic design – manifested as a tilted portrait of a stage, representing a cottage, and inclusive of a kitchen, a dining table, and plain furniture, highlights the interconnected relationship between three people in their 60s, all of whom are former nuclear engineers. Hazel (portrayed by Deborah Findlay), who is a mostly by-the-book and straitlaced woman, has been married to the fearless Robin (Ron Cook) for several decades. They have raised four children together, one of whom is particularly needy (referred to as Lauren), and has strained their relationship. Their free-spirited friend and co-worker, Rose (played by Francesca Annis), who has no spouse or children, visits them on this particular day, and reconnects with Hazel and Robin, as the trio’s shared past becomes clearer by way of more information being gradually and expertly doled out to the audience.
We soon learn that the cottage is a temporary residence only ten miles out from a disastrous and irradiating nuclear reactor explosion near the sea, and that Hazel and Robin are trying to make do as farmers in the wake of this. But, as Rose’s presence suggests, sometimes the past is irrevocable, no matter how much effort is put into repressing it, or living in spite of it. As the stakes become more profound, the actors all do a magnificent job of teasing out each other’s motivations. We identify with Findlay’s Hazel because she doesn’t “know how to want less.” Findlay successfully gets across Hazel’s desire to simply carry out her life as best she can with her children. On the other hand, Annis’ Rose, who proposes an unimaginable idea to the married couple, is adamant about leaving the world a better place than when she first entered it, and perhaps unencumbered to do so as a result of having fewer allegiances. Annis maintains the earnestness of her message while being both poignant and interestingly humorous at times. Last, but not least, is Robin, a simple, but headstrong man, who is caught in the middle – at once loyal to his wife, but also understanding of the merit of Rose’s request. Cook is touching in how he imbues Robin with a sense of courageous honor, despite his character’s faults and frailties.
Needless to say, “The Children” is a highly recommended production for delving deeper into human consciousness and assessing guilt, rage, responsibility, and necessity. It, additionally, has topical implications, and offers a philosophical and meaningful message that “for the world not to fall apart, we can’t have everything we want.”
For more information about “The Children,” including showtimes, please visit manhattantheatreclub.com/2017-18-season/the-children
“The 10th Annual Joe Iconis Christmas Extravaganza,” which ran between December 15-17th at Feinstein’s/54 Below at 254 W 54th St. New York, NY 10019
As a local Manhattan legend in his own right, the 36-year-old Joe Iconis is a graduate from the NYU Tisch School of Arts, and is a creative mind, vocalist, and pianist in the musical theatre/rock-concert realm. He recently put on his 10th annual Christmas-themed spectacular (directed by John Simpkins and produced by Jennifer Ashley Tepper) at the former Studio 54, which has now been prosperously re-branded as a theatrical venue and restaurant.
Flanked by a full band, and a cavalcade of musical theatre performers, who were decked out in colorful and unique garb, Iconis and company interacted with sold-out audiences, while performing on the red-and-green luminescent stage. Though there were scripted elements, the entire lot of performers made room for improvisational lines and characterizations, as it soon became obvious that they were having just as much fun as the highly entertained and clamorous crowd.
Sandwiched between a liberating, anything-goes feel and ambiance, was a narrative loosely based on Iconis’ past. A flashback sequence underscoring Joe’s dilemma — to be a family man, or to be a respected Broadway icon — lined the conflict. Interwoven in this quandary were a spectrum of roles ranging from the normal to the outlandish. Among the memorable cast of characters were British ragamuffins; the personification of a “Fancy Tree;” Johan, the Swedish star, presented via satellite; Joe’s millenial psychologist, Brittany; the ole barkeeper, Mr. Macabee; the Rock ‘n’ Roll angel; an inconsolable Santa Claus and carousing Mrs. Claus; Sweet Baby Jesus; a seductive Virgin Mary; Krampus, a half-Bavarian, half-beast; and his cousin and main villain, the Cruella de Vil-esque Validia Krampenton, who threatened to level the building by the end of each performance.
As characters appeared from the audience, and from other various nooks and crannies of the establishment, there was never one predictable moment to be found. The zaniness co-existed with an appreciation for the holidays, rock music, and musical theatre. Iconis, who his humble and refreshingly modest, brought the best out of his merry band of performers, and vice versa, as they entertained without any restrictions. The unbridled nature of the festivities, and the desire to have a wild occasion, was infectious to watch, listen to, and even exult in. Laughter and joy are paramount in November-December, or any other time of the year, and Iconis’ 10th annual extravaganza imparted this insight in vigorously vivacious form, as one plot line and persona beget the next, manifesting merriment, and coming together in a swell of applause and confetti raining down like snow.
With non-stop comedy, serious vocal belting, and harmonies of holiday classics galore — not to mention a few of Iconis’ original songs, such as “Celebrate Christmas With Me” — the “Christmas Extravaganza” should definitely see an 11th installment in 2018 to continue its tradition of crazy Christmas fun.
For more information about future shows at Feinstein’s/54 Below, please visit 54below.com
“The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Lyceum Theatre on 149 W 45th St., New York, NY 10036 (running indefinitely)
Once in a while, a show comes along that challenges its genre, upending it ten-fold, and leaving a lasting impression. It is no surprise that “The Play That Goes Wrong” is the longest-running play currently on Broadway – not because it is a terrific spoof, or the ultimate play within a play, but for building upon the laughs, and never once relenting as an intense gut-busting comedy. The uncanny physicality in the Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields-written masterpiece, which is exquisitely directed by Mark Bell, depicts the Cornley University Drama Society production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” which is made on a shoestring budget. It is comically explained as yet another entry in an anthology of minimally funded works, such as “Cat” and “James and the Peach.”
Each of the real-life performers in “The Play That Goes Wrong” effectively plays two parts that come through in the cognitive dissonance of their portrayals. This includes their A) alternate-reality actor egos, and, in turn, B) the characters they inhabit in the murder-mystery.
The talented Mark Evans plays the ambitious “director,” Chris Bean, as well as Inspector Carter, in the telling of his college production. Evans plays the audience like a fabulous fiddle, indignantly beseeching them not erupt in laughter, even though they do, and hyperbolically assuring them that they “will enjoy the murder mystery as much as [you] would have enjoyed ‘Hamilton.’” This sets in motion a series of uproariously unfortunate events, whereby tech personnel are not paying attention, cues are forgotten, props fall apart, lines are said out of order or mispronounced, and doors/objects are accidentally slammed in faces, as actors pass out, “break character,” and for the coup de glorious grâce, end up literally hanging off the furniture to the titteringly bated breath of the crowd.
At first glance, the set of “The Murder at Haversham Manor” (by actual scenic designer Nigel Hook) has a classical British splendor about it, and the actors seem mostly refined and equipped with puffed-out British dispositions. Yet, the polish, as we’re very pleased to find out, is a front for a hysterically incompetent, mismanaged, and misconstrued farce of fantastic proportions where things not only go wrong, but get worse. This is essentially the marvelous irony about “The Play That Goes Wrong.” It works as well as it does because it is so brilliantly choreographed and articulated in its mishaps and errors.
Clifton Duncan, who plays Robert Grove as Thomas Colleymoore, is a revelation in his Broadway debut. His comic timing is otherworldly, made even more impressive by how he precariously handles physically inopportune situations. Harrison Unger, who depicts Dennis Tyde as Perkins the Butler, is effortless as a waggish ham, who tries so hard to persist in the wake of his mispronunciations and hazy memory. Jonathan Fielding, who is Jonathan Harris as Charles Haversham, plays “dead” perhaps better than anyone in history, determined to stick to the script even when his character’s self-awareness riotously betrays the authenticity of his performance. Alex Mandell (Max Bennett as Cecil Haversham, brother to Charles) is a laugh-out-loud phenom, who is able to get a rise out of the audience by merely using his astounding facial expressions. Amelia McClain (Sandra Wilkinson as Florence Colleymoore, sister to Thomas) ingeniously plays the ingénue and fiancée to Charles, and has a rousing resourcefulness about her. Finally, Akron Watson (Trevor) and Ashley Bryant (Annie Twilloil) are the stage operator and manager, respectively. They hilariously do their jobs terribly, and get caught up in the mayhem when they least expect it.
Suffice it to say, “The Play that Goes Wrong” receives the highest recommendation for not just the above-and-beyond effort and commitment of its performers, or for breaking the comedy mold, but for shattering it into a million magnificent pieces.
For more information about “The Play That Goes Wrong,” including showtimes, please visit broadwaygoeswrong.com
Franz Lehár’s “The Merry Widow” at the Metropolitan Opera House at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023 (through January 11th)
The historic Metropolitan Opera, which debuted in the late 19th century, before taking its place at the Lincoln Center since 1966, is a majestic venue in all its six levels of seating. It offers a plethora of shows on a rotating repertory schedule, and one of them is the funny, exuberant, and heartfelt “The Merry Widow” (1905) composed by Franz Lehár and written by Victor Léon and Leo Stein. Although the original work is in German, this English spoken and sung Broadway-esque and bountiful three-act operetta (translations are by Jeremy Sams) is the winsome vision of five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman. It is adeptly conducted by Ward Stare, and features mezzo-soprano icon, Susan Graham, in the headlining role. The narrative is centered on the millionaire Pontevedrian widow, Hanna Glawari (Graham), and her countrymen of Pontevedro, who are desperate to marry off one of their own to her, and secure her funds for the sake of their motherland.
One man whom Hanna had previously known on an intimate level, the philandering Count Danilo Danilovitch (played by tenor Paul Groves), once again becomes the focus of Hanna’s affection, and a push-and-pull, playing-hard-to-get façade by both parties makes the journey of their romance all the more engaging. Graham and Groves duet many times, crafting their compelling arc together, with many true-to-life aphorisms being exchanged, such as when Graham’s Hanna provokes Groves’ Danilo with “Silly man, you’ve missed your chance!” Of course, Graham also shines on her own with the allegorical foreshadowing provided by the wistful “Vilja Song.” Groves, too, has a robust tenor timbre that resonates when he passionately sings of his love of the nightclub, Chez Maxim (“You’ll Find Me at Maxim’s”).
Throughout the story, the aforementioned two characters, as well as the other four main players (Baron Mirko Zeta, Valencienne, Camille De Rosillon, and Njegus) become amusingly caught up in the mystery of a fan that has “I Love You” written on it. Zeta (Sir Thomas Allen) is married to Valencienne (Andriana Chuchman), yet she is having an affair with the young Frenchman, Camille (David Portillo), who receives the scandalous note. Njegus (Carson Elrod), messenger and confidant to Zeta, often acts as the go-between in the suspense of this discovery. Elrod’s appropriately awkward and indiscreetly blithe traits infuse these romantic-comedic moments with a playful, modern-influenced mischief.
Though the production is mostly lighthearted, the duets between Chuchman’s Valencienne and Portillo’s Camille run deeper, emphasizing the heartbreak of a furtive passion that is fettered by the obligation to live under the pretense of a different existence, weighed down by the incompleteness of their love (e.g., “A Highly Respectable Wife.”) On the other hand, Zeta is oblivious, or perhaps unwilling to admit the possibility of infidelity by his wife, and instead takes solace in the “unpredictable enigma” that is women, to rollicking effect. In fact, “Who Can Tell What the Hell Women Are?” – involving Allen and the male ensemble – is one of the operetta’s best numbers.
Other notable qualities include the three immersive sets by set-designer Julian Crouch, and the enthralling choreography by Stroman, who fabulously captures the whimsicality and firepower of the can-can dancers at Maxim’s — The Grisettes – in Act III. They capture the imagination of the viewer with inventive and precise dancing that is sensual, jovial, and purposeful. Even more so, they fuel the momentum of the main plot up until the satisfying conclusion. All in all, “The Merry Widow” is a multifaceted production that honors a classic with enjoyable scenes, singing, and dance segments.
For more information about “The Merry Widow,” including showtimes, please visit http://bit.ly/2prBttx