TBQ

Jazz Standard Brings the Heat to Fall with the Terence Blanchard Quintet

Nothing can warm up a cool autumn night in NYC like a plate of barbeque, a glass of wine and the sound of live jazz.  With Jazz Standard, you’re guaranteed a night of good food and good music.  Located at 116 East 27th Street, Jazz Standard is one the nation’s premier jazz clubs.  Each month they offer an array of legendary and new talent in an intimate candlelit setting.   This month they started off with the Terence Blanchard Quintet.  In my book Blanchard’s music is the secret ingredient that takes Spike Lee’s films to another level.  Blanchard’s horn can also be heard in the 2001 movie Original Sin.

TBQ4From October 1-5 the Terence Blanchard Quintet enraptured patrons of Jazz Standard with selections off his latest album Magnetic  as well as other selections composed by members of the quintet and other pieces from past albums.  The quintet is comprised of virtuoso Blanchard on the trumpet, veteran Brice Winston on saxophone and upcoming stars Joshua Crumbly on bass, Fabian Almazan on piano and Justin Brown on drums. I was privileged to be in the audience for Blanchard’s last two sets on Sunday.  Both sets were as electrifying as the name of Blanchard’s latest album starting off with an energetic, toe tapping piece, then following up with a more down tempo, melodic number and ending the set on a beautiful, robust note (pun intended).

TBQ3Along with the Terence Blanchard Quintet, Jazz Standard’s features for October include Steve Wilson Quintet, James Carter’s “Django Unchained,” and Edmar Castaneda World Ensemble.  Every Monday belongs to the music of Charles Mingus.  Billed “Mingus Monday,” the regular series presents the genius innovations that made Charles Mingus one of jazz most prolific bassists and composers.  It doesn’t matter whether your jazz exposure has been Kenny G or if you’re lifetime member to WBGO, you’ll be thoroughly entertained at Jazz Standard.  The mix of artists proves why jazz is one of the last true art forms to come out of America and why this music must be preserved and continued for future generations.

To learn more about Jazz Standard, click www.jazzstandard.com.

To learn more about the Terence Blanchard Quintet and view more photos and purchase music, click http://www.terenceblanchard.com/, https://www.facebook.com/TerenceBlanchardJazz .

3042

Walter Anderson’s Almost Home Is on Parade at the Acorn Theatre

If someone were to ask me the proverbial question, “Can you go home again?”  I would kindly reply, “Why yes.” But the real questions are home the same once you get there and are you the same person that left?  These themes are skillfully explored in Walter Anderson’s Almost Home, currently playing at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, located at 410 42nd Street.

3041Almost Home centers on Johnny Barnett, played by Jonny Orsini, a young marine returning home from Vietnam to his parents’ Bronx apartment.  No longer the good kid with a street edge, Jonny has trouble with coming to terms with events that happened in combat and his participation in it.  It is a parallel journey that has plagued his troubled, alcoholic father who served in World War II.  Uncertain about his future, Johnny has three roads he could take.  The first, accept the Marines offer to become a drill instructor.  The second is to go to college in California and the third is to become an internal affairs cop, an offer presented to him by the local police captain who wants to use Johnny’s hero status to his advantage. But before Johnny can  walk down the path of his destiny, he must first grapple with new and old demons that are creating roadblocks, namely his guilt over his best friend’s death in Vietnam, his poor relationship with his father and the police captain who has had his family under his thumb for years.  In the end Johnny makes peace with who he is and is free, in more ways than one, to choose the path he wants.

2896Playwright Walter Anderson crafts a sensitive tale about a boy coming into his manhood and creates the perfect balance of grace and the harsh realities of war and street life. With its autobiographical roots, Almost Home also is a coming home of sorts for Anderson.  Before becoming the editor of Parade Magazine for 20 years and the Chairman and CEO of Parade Publications, Anderson, a high school dropout, enlisted in the Marines attaining the rank of sergeant and serving in Vietnam.  During his time in the Marines, Anderson earned his GED.  Like Johnny, Anderson attended college after his discharge from the Marines attending Westchester Community College and Mercy College.

3045The cast of Almost Home bring you to the edge of your seat.  The audience becomes immediately enthralled with the complicated relationships between Johnny and his family and Captain Nick Pappas.  Neighbor Luisa Jones, Johnny’s elementary teacher, is a constant ray of hope that circles a cloud steeped in various shades of gray.  She, along with his mother, reminds Johnny that he is not limited by his circumstances or his past.  Johnny Barnett is played by Jonny Orsini.  I became familiar with Orsini when he appeared opposite Nathan Lane in The Nance.  I thought he was spectacular in that production and in Almost Home he is equally impressive.  James McCaffrey is masterful as the manipulative Nick Pappas.  His performance made me want to scream, “Where’s Serpico when you need him!”  Karen Ziemba and Joe Lisi bring heart and soul to the roles of Harry and Grace Barnett, and Brenda Pressley shimmers as the sassy teacher with a heart of gold.

3046The tension presented in Almost Home ends on an anticlimactic note, but the subtle ending is more realistic than some puffed out, melodramatic climax. It leaves the audience circling with questions about the future of Jonny and his family and a desire to want to see more, and leaving an audience salivating for more is never a bad thing.  If this show was part of the Bronx Bombers’ roster I would venture to say the boys in pinstripes would have no more worries.  Almost Home knocks it out of the theater. Anderson’s play is definitely a winner.

Photos: Carol Rosegg

20140825_184424

9/11 Reflected Through Color – The Art of Ken Kaminski

One of my favorite childhood fables was the story of Henny Penny.  What always stuck with me was the repeated use of the phrase, “The sky is falling.”  It was the first time I was ever confronted with a tale that dealt with hysteria.  How could I had known that one day I would feel driven to scream those exact words, but when I saw the twin towers ablaze and the mayhem that was unfolding in real time as we helplessly watch on TV,  I felt like that manic chicken wrought with panic and fear.  September 11, 2001 is a mental scar I’ll always carry with me.

20140825_184212As intense as the memories are of that day, I can scarcely remember any color with the exception being the perfect blue sky that offered the delusion that nothing that terrible could befall us.  What I remember most are the feelings that coursed through me at rates so fast I could barely record them, terror firmly placing a grip around my neck, anxiety tapping Morse code up and down my arms, disorientation mushrooming in my brain and grief taking possession of my heart.  I returned home from my job, where we had to evacuate because of a bomb threat, turned on my TV and laid down on my bed to hear the sounds of faint whistles from dying firemen.  I felt absolutely defeated.

The tragedy of 9/11 left this country reeling and sent us all on our own journeys as we tried to reconcile what happened.   Ken Kaminski’s journey took him to the canvas creating a series of work that spans well over a decade. Using the template of abstract expressionists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Emerson Woefler, Kaminski has attempted to record the events and emotions of that day as well as the recovery period that continues to shape us. His efforts also allow those who are too young to remember 9/11 the ability to witness the emotion of that day.

20140825_183455FAMERS I am here to report that his endeavors are wildly successful.  I had the pleasure of viewing a few of Kaminski’s 9/11 paintings at the Edward Williams Gallery, located at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Hackensack campus. The exhibit includes eight selected works that brilliantly convey the events of that day brightly expressed in various hues. The exhibit begins with Blue Sky Day – triptych.  This three panel painting brings you face to face with speed of these flying bombs and the majestic sky that it corrupted. With each panel the viewer sees the countdown of the planes getting closer and closer until it hits making its bloody and destructive impact.

20140825_183549911 The Moment It Happened is an eerie mix of color.  The space surrounding The World Center no longer is colored in blue like the atmosphere painted in Blue Sky Day, instead the blue is muddled with streaks of different colors showing the chaos that followed the impact of the first plane, represented in an explosion of oranges and reds bursting from the side of the tower.  Streams of black cover one of the towers like a foreshadowing of despair to come.

20140825_183614Blindsided shows the line of fire going straight into one of the towers then blasting out of the other side.  Crippled from the blow, the tower bends and the pain is obvious.   All that is missing is the scream, but if you remember the sound of the planes hitting the towers, then this painting will ensure that the awful roar of the plane echoes in your ears.  Blindsided is an acute observation of a drive-by.

20140825_183653Twins! is a stoic, almost haunting, vision of The World Trade Center towers before 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001.  They were proud and victorious, a symbol of might and power.  They represented everything that was great about The Big Apple.  In Kaminski’s painting they appeared alive and vibrant again instead of frozen as they are in photographs.  The yellow background also contributes to the energy of the piece.  It makes you long for the nostalgia of what used to be.  If this painting were a song, it would be called The Way We Were.

20140825_183844Wounded Towers is a kaleidoscope of disorder.  The colors vividly capture the confusion permeating the area as people scrambled for safety and the bent, smoldering towers desperately tried to remain the symbols of glory that they once were, a last valiant effort before they ultimately disintegrated into dust.

20140825_183922Collapse is engulfed in a blending of hues that bring chills to the spine.  The voices of those who were lost don’t just whisper, they shriek.  It shows the true potential of visual art.  There are no words necessary, this painting is one of the most telling portraits of pain and suffering that I’ve ever saw.  If someone wanted to understand the mood of the country when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred, all they would have to do is view this painting.

20140825_184108Considering this year will mark the 13th anniversary of 9/11, I believe Kaminski’s exhibit couldn’t visit the New York metropolitan area at a better time.  It allows another way for us to remember and venerate a day that will forever be a part of our history.  Kaminski’s work carries with it a raw, emotional ambiance.  It pulls you in.   No matter how hard the visuals may be to look at, Kaminski’s work burst past your pupils and forces you to deal with whatever memories or residual feelings you may have buried.   For as much as Kaminski’s work is steeped in tragedy, it is also immersed in the resilience of the city of New York and its people.  Yes, the sky did fall, but we didn’t get mired in the pain.   We stood atop the ashes; we rebuilt and honored those we lost.   The 9/11 paintings are not only powerful and healing; they are a testament that when an artist creates from his or her soul the work that is generated is timeless.

 

To learn more about Ken Kaminski and view more of his work check out, http://www.kenkaminski.com/.  Kaminski’s 9/11 Paintings will be on display at the Edward Williams Gallery, located at 150 Kotte Place, Hackensack NJ, until 9/26/14.  Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Photos and Video: F.A.M.E NYC Editor

3.201816

Top Five Reasons to Go See The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera is a Broadway staple.  It’s one of the productions that tourists come to New York City to see.  Last year it celebrated its 25th anniversary on Broadway making it the longest running show in the history of The Great White Way.  With grosses over $800 million, it’s the most financially successful theater production to date.  In May The Phantom of the Opera made history once again by adding the first Phantom of color, actor Norm Lewis.

The Phantom of the Opera began its epic run on Broadway in 1988 and after 26 years it still packs in the crowds.  One might think that after all this time this musical juggernaut might have lost its steam – what with all the new productions dealing with more modern issues – but there is a reason why classics never die.  If you haven’t seen The Phantom of the Opera, I’m here to tell you that you should and I have five good reasons to back me up.

4.2018005. Unrequited Love

The Phantom of the Opera intertwines this theme into the beauty and the beast subplot.  The Phantom in all his grotesque glory loves Christine Daaé, a beautiful young soprano.  So much so that he will kill to ensure her success at the French opera house.  She is his muse and musically they do share a connection, but his disfigured face and criminal behavior prevents her from conceiving of the possibility of returning his love.  Another complication for The Phantom is the reemergence of Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, Christine’s childhood playmate and first love.  Everyone has their favorite fables about unrequited love.  Wuthering HeightsGone With the WindThe Phantom of the Opera definitely ranks up there with the greatest love stories told on stage or screen.

5.2018144. Norm Lewis

There is a new Phantom in town and his name is Norm Lewis.  Stepping into a role as iconic as the Phantom can be quite the undertaking, 25 years and several other Phantoms before you, and every die-hard Phantom fan has their favorite.  But Lewis holds true to magic and sinister nature of the Phantoms before him.  In fact, he adds another dimension to the story of a brilliant man forced to hide in the shadows of an opera house because of the way he looks and is driven mad by the isolation and rejection.

4.2018013.  Sierra Boggess

Sierra Boggess has been playing the role of Christine Daaé in various productions since 2006.  She first played the role in a production of The Phantom of the Opera in Las Vegas.  She played Christine in the sequel to Phantom, Love Never Dies.  On Broadway, she reprised the role in 2013 for a six-week engagement. In March, it was announced that she would return along with Norm Lewis.  As soon as Boggess utters the first note you can tell how familiar she is with the role.  Her voice fills the Majestic Theatre with a power and tenderness that can be felt from the orchestra to the mezzanine.  If you are not a fan of opera, Boggess will make you one or at the very least you will have a greater appreciation for the craft.

3.2017992.  Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart

The music of The Phantom of the Opera was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics written by Charles Hart and additions from Richard Stilgoe, who also wrote the book with Webber.  The music and lyrics are one of the reasons why The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful theater productions on Broadway and around the world.  Just hearing the entrancing number “The Music of the Night” is enough to fill seats or the beautiful exchange between Raoul and Christine in “All I Ask of You”; the music and lyrics captivates the audience from beginning to end and gloriously illuminates the genius of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

3.2018101.  It’s an authentic theater experience

From the lavish sets and costumes, the music and lyrics, to the performers, The Phantom of the Opera harkens back to a time when going to the theater was a complete transformation into another world and the audience felt lucky to be a part of it because it was happening live in front of them.  The pageantry and opulence of The Phantom of the Opera holds a mirror to the mediocre productions that somehow get backing and land on Broadway and says, “Tisk…tisk…tisk.  This is how you create theater.”  Simply put, they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore and no matter your age or generation quality is quality.  And the fuel that runs The Phantom of the Opera is excellence.

Photos by Matthew Murphy

4.201703

Holler If Ya Hear Me Adds to the Legacy of Tupac Shakur

It’s official kids… the force of nature that is hip hop has crashed down on the Great White Way.  The music and culture that was created in the Bronx has changed the course of music and pop culture and influenced the world.  Hip hop and I grew up together.  When it was still a burgeoning form of music, hip hop served as a medium to convey the joys and sorrows of one’s neighborhood.  It was through hip hop that I learned how folks got down in Cali, of Bloods and Crips and low riders.  I learned what it meant to be chopped and screwed.  Through the vivid stories of MCs nationwide, I got to see what made all impoverished areas different and the same.   No MC reported the tales of the streets and the ills of society more poetically than Tupac Shakur.  When Tupac passed away on September 13, 1996 of respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest in connection with multiple gunshot wounds, a part of my heart and youth died.  Since his untimely death at the age of 25, Tupac rose to the heights of icon status.  His lyrics and life inspired college courses and he is considered one of the greatest artists and MCs of all time.  Now the music of Tupac Shakur is the driving force of a new musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me, playing at the Palace Theatre.

5.201699Holler If Ya Hear Me uses Pac’s music to tell the story of urban plight, love and change.  John, played by the Saul Williams, has just returned to the neighborhood after serving a stint in prison.  With his hustling days behind him, he is hell-bent on changing his life for the better, but it’s hard to find change when the cycle of poverty keeps circling.  John’s friend Benny is murdered by a rival gang and the neighborhood is reeling.  Revenge weighs heavy on the heart of his brother Vertus and the homies that are left behind.  Violence seems imminent.  Even John has appeared to have discarded his plan of peace, until he is reminded there is a better way.  As John and Vertus decide to abandon any notions of retaliation, the neighborhood is rocked by another senseless death, which proves how the cycle of violence will only continue if strides aren’t made to break it.

5.201697The jukebox musical is a sure fire way of guaranteeing a successful theatre production.  The music and lyrics already have a legion of dedicated listeners, which promises at the very least the ability to recoup the monies invested in bringing a production to a Broadway stage.  One can almost argue that a jukebox musical is cheating because half the work has already been done.  The struggles of inner-city life and the desire to break away from its hopelessness isn’t a new theme.  In fact, one the most brilliant productions to ever explore this topic, A Raisin in the Sun, is currently enjoying another revival on Broadway.  Even the idea of hip hop isn’t entirely new.  Lin-Manuel Miranda introduced elements of the musical genre to the stage in In the Heights. But what is new is a jukebox musical based off of hip hop, and now rap has one with Holler If Ya Hear Me.

5.201700With the music of Tupac Shakur fueling this production, Holler If Ya Hear Me was poised to blow the roof off of the Palace Theatre.  However, there was one thing that stopped this production from rocketing off into the stratosphere, the book.   The neighborhood, which is set in the present day, could be any ghetto USA.  I’m in total agreement that Tupac’s lyrics are timeless, but the story could’ve benefitted by setting it in a specific city or region of the country.   One can argue that the story is clichéd taking cues from Menace to Society and Boyz in the Hood as well as West Side Story.  Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s just challenging to create an original story in this century, but the book didn’t deliver on the dynamism reflected in Pac’s music making the production unbalanced.    The choreography wasn’t as explosive as I had hoped and the lack of a set left the actors drowning in on a half empty stage.  But even with these flaws, Holler If Ya Hear Me still shines because of Tupac’s music and the ability of Saul Williams to transcend past an overdone story to deliver a powerful performance.  Williams is no stranger to exuding passion on stage, after all he is one of the world’s most well-known slam poets.  Williams rage, sensitivity, charisma and presence were felt in every corner of the audience.

5.201701When it is all said and done, Holler If Ya Hear Me will join the long list of musical productions made during this millennium that teeters somewhere in the middle, not disastrous but not reaching the glorious spectacle of what musical theater used to be.  But I know very well that the people won’t come to this musical because they love musicals or Broadway.  They will come to pay homage to Tupac Shakur – a man who indeed was like a spark and through his ignition he succeeded in changing the face of hip hop and the world.  If nothing else this production shows how relevant Tupac still is. Holler If Ya Hear Me roars and I holler back, “Viva Tupac Amaru Shakur!”

Photos: Joan Marcus

THE OUTING

MEET THE CAST OF THE OUTING

headshot2Stone Hubbard (Salome) Stone is honored and grateful to play the role of Salome in the production of THE OUTING.  Stone is also known for his role as Bontemps in The Devil, Kerry in Damaged Goods, and Manolo in The Odd Couple.  Stone studied acting at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts before moving to Los Angeles to pursue his career. He is also a talented designer with a specialty in handbags. He loves live music and good company. Stone wishes to thank his Mom and Victoria for their unyielding love and guidance.

ChablisChablis Quarterman (Jizelle) Chablis is a freckly, 21-year-old, half Puerto Rican, half English native New Yorker. She studied Theater at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and has been performing stand-up comedy around the city for the past two years. She is excited to be a part of Manhattan Repertory Theatre Company’s festival.

EileenRyckman_Web1Eileen Ryckman (Jasmine) originally from Michigan, Eileen has performed on stage in such plays as 12 Angry Jurors and The Water Engine.  She has also worked on a number of short films and has an acting credit on Celebrity Ghost Stories.  She has studied acting at T. Schreiber Studio and NYU.  Eileen is also a marathon runner having officially completed three 26.2 mile races including the 2013 New York City Marathon.

ImanIman Ward (Robin) Iman is a Southern California girl now calling New York City her home. She is a recent graduate from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in the Studio Acting program. During her training, she’s been blessed with the opportunity to play the roles of: Veronica in The Motherfucker With The Hat, Helena in Alls Well That Ends Well, Rose in Fences, and Young Laveer/Laveer in Long Time Since Yesterday.  Prior to her training at AMDA, she extensively studied improvisation at The Second City, which led to her own improv troupe playing on the theater’s main stage weekly. Iman is now currently studying at The Pearl Theatre by instructor Dan Daily.

Natalie Birriel (Train) Natalie is so excited and grateful to be working on such a significant and beautiful piece of theatre.   Theatre credits include: Christopher Ashley’s Dram of Drummhicit at La Jolla Playhouse, Three Sisters:Awake at New York Theatre Workshop,  Man Hat Wife, Baldwin New Play Festival, Marisol(ws) at Williamstown Theatre Festival. Natalie possesses a MFA from UC San Diego and sends infinite love and gratitude to my family.  

Luis Cardenas 8_20_07125 (2)Luis Reyes Cardenas (Director) Off-Broadway: Fools in Love; Manhattan Ensemble Theater/BAM. NY: Balm in Gilead, Barefoot Theatre Company, Tempest Toss’d,NYMF. Playwright: Last Exit in New York, Aint Gonna B E Z, Play the Papers for Lupe, Boys Like Me. Film: Shakespeare High, Executive Producer, Kevin Spacey. Regional: The Drowsy Chaperone, Evita, Tommy, Big River, Little Shop of Horrors, Angels in America. Producer:  FutureFest, FNAM, Co-Artistic Director/Founder of Open Hydrant Theater Company/Director of SNFI Individual Events at Stanford University. www.openhydrant.org and www.shakespearehigh.org.

THE OUTING

The Outing Is Coming OUT This Summer

Ten years ago playwright Afrika Brown decided to use an assignment to take a decade’s worth of experiences and combine them into a one-act play, thus THE OUTING was born.  After 10 years, THE OUTING made its premiere this spring at Open Hydrant Theater Company’s Urban Waves Spring 2014 Short Festival in the Bronx.   But the coming out party for this one-act drama hasn’t stopped there.   THE OUTING is taking Manhattan by storm, first playing at Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s Summerfest this month and in August THE OUTING will appear in the Strawberry One-Act Festival.

In THE OUTING Afrika Brown poses one question: What’s the “T”?

What is truth?  Everyone knows what the truth is, but when the truth is revealed….how easy is it to accept?  Can you accept your truth or someone else’s truth when it finally comes out?

THE OUTING is a captivating drama centering on three individuals who reveal a certain truth about themselves and the acceptance or nonacceptance of life outside the closet.   Brief yet penetrating, THE OUTING aims to hit the audience straight between the eyes with the speed and power of an Ali punch. As these characters learn to deal with the truth about themselves, the audience is also left to determine how the hidden truths of their life would affect the course of their life if they were to expose them.

Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s Summerfest is located at 303 West 42 Street, 6th Floor.  Performance Dates and Times for are as follows:  Wednesday June 18 at 7 pm, Friday June 20 at 7 pm, Saturday June 21 at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at MRTRESERVE@GMAIL.COM.

The Strawberry Festival will play at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46 Street. Performance Date and Time for the festival is:  August 24 at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at www.therianttheatre.com.

Urban Waves Summer Shorts

Urban Waves Has The Bronx Simmering With It’s Summer Shorts

The unofficial start of summer is here and Urban Waves @ Open Hydrant is raising the temperature uptown with their Summer Short Play Festival. The three day festival begins on June 6 and ends on June 8.  The plays participating in this festival are  The Three Joys of Mary, Heat of the Moment, Last Exit in New York, Billboard’s Greatest Hits and Fire.

Founded by Luis Cardenas, Sarah Rosenberg (stars of the Showtime documentary Shakespeare High) and Deborah Pautler, Open Hydrant’s mission is to vitalize the Arts and Theater scene in the Bronx. Their wish is to create an ensemble based company of actors, directors, playwrights, producers and artists to better serve the cultural invigoration of the South Bronx. The creative spirit of New York City doesn’t just reside in Manhattan.  As the Bronx’s first professional AEA ensemble theater company, Open Hydrant is determined to make the BX a destination for citizens of all five boroughs and the tri-state area. Urban Waves, a subset of Open Hydrant, explores material that contain edgier themes.

Urban Waves @ Open Hydrant Summer Short Play Festival will be held at The Point, located at 940 Garrison Avenue.   Advance tickets can be purchased for$12 online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com.  The ticket price also includes one drink.  Don’t be afraid to haul your cookies to SoBro to view  good theater.  Open Hydrant and Urban Waves are the best thing to come out of the Bronx since hip hop!

5.200105

Under My Skin Provides A Healthy Dose of Laughter

I don’t think there is a person alive that hasn’t heard the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  As for myself, I prefer “Laughter is the best medicine.”  Laughter may not have the ability to cure all ailments, but it definitely heals the soul.  And a prescription filled with laughs is what the members of the audience at The Little Shubert Theatre will receive when they view Under My Skin. 

6.200106Taking cues from Switch, Big and Freaky Friday, Under My Skin adds a whole new chapter to the old body exchange tale. So here’s the story… Mr.  Harrison Badish III is the CEO of Amalgamated Healthcare, the nation’s leading healthcare provider.  He’s a cold, shrewd business man who cares more about making money for the company than making a difference or knowing his employees, one of whom is Melody Dent.  Melody is a single mom from Staten Island who works part-time at Amalgamated with her best friend Nanette.  Both she and Nanette had a problem being seen by Badish until one fateful day when a cup of coffee sets off a chain of events that leads to Melody and Harrison coming face to face with an angel.  The angel, compassionate to their pleas, decides to bring them back to life, but there is a catch, their souls are placed into the wrong bodies.   And while the pair waits for the angel to switch them back, they discover what life is really like for each other and learn more about the trials and tribulations of the opposite sex. By the time Melody and Harrison are themselves again, they realize they can’t live without each other.

6.200111Cheeky and chock full of humor, Under My Skin lodges itself directly into the marrow of the audience’s funny bone.  Husband and wife writing team Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser harmoniously weave comedy and social commentary with this production.  The good ole “make ‘em laugh” approach is a tried and true method of slipping in points of view that require introspection.   Along with adding new layers to the age old battle of the sexes debate, they also weigh in on the state of healthcare, or lack thereof, in our nation and how it affects the everyday, working American.

6.200112The neon lights of Broadway do burn bright. But sometimes they shine even brighter Off-Broadway. Under My Skin is one of the most dynamic shows I’ve seen in a while.  If you find yourself on 42nd Street, take a walk down to The Little Shubert Theatre for an thoroughly enjoyable 90-minute laugh-fest.

Photos: Joan Marcus

top-3-large

The Cripple of Inishmaan Is Straight-Up Funny

What do you think would be funny about a cripple orphan, a remote town in Ireland and a Hollywood documentary?  If you’re thinking how I was thinking, then you’re answer is probably not very much.  But like me you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that my first thought was totally off the mark.   Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan is a total laugh riot.

top-7-largeMcDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan is a dark, delightful comedy, think of Peyton Place with razor blade roads.  This play is as twisted as Forrest Gump’s back before the braces.  Set in the small community of Inis Meáin off the western coast of Ireland circa 1934, McDonagh uses the real life filming of the documentary Man of Aran as the foundation of the play.   A Hollywood film crew arrives in the neighboring town of Inis Mór to make a film about life on the islands.   The news, carried by town gossip Johnnypateenmike, sets the town ablaze and gives Billy Claven or “Cripple Billy” as he is called by the townsfolk, the idea to finally escape the place that treats him like a poor orphaned outcast.  Billy finds out that local bully Helen McCormick has finagled Babbybobby Bennett, a boatman, to sail her and her henpecked brother Bartley over to Inis Mór for an audition. Billy conjures a heartbreaking tale to secure a seat on the voyage and winds up getting the opportunity to take part in a film in California.  Billy’s sudden departure puts his adopted aunts Kate and Eileen Osbourne into a tailspin.  Kate begins talking to a stone and Eileen devours all the sweets in their shop to try to avoid worrying about the fate of Billy.  But you know what they say about the grass being greener, missing home Cripple Billy returns to face the place he tried run from, the hurt that was left in his wake and the secrets that have haunted him no matter where he traveled.

top-4-largeThe Cripple of Inishmaan first opened December 12, 1996 at London’s Royal National Theatre.  In 1998 the play opened in NYC and L.A.  The play returned to London’s West End in 2013 with Michael Grandage at the helm directing and Daniel Radcliffe as Cripple Billy.  The production was a hit and fresh off the heels of its sold-out run across the pond, The Cripple of Inishmaan opened at the Cort Theatre on April 20 for a limited 14-week engagement.  And this is one engagement that is not to be missed.  This play is may be about a cripple, but there is nothing deficient about this production.  Daniel Radcliffe truly shines in this revival.  The more he sheds his Harry Potter skin the more we are able to witness how his talent has matured.  He is a wonder to watch live, whether he is singing and dancing or using a crutch, Mr. Radcliffe is rad!  In fact, the whole cast is exceptional.   An awesome ensemble, they authentically project the intimate bonds that are created in a small town.  Sarah Greene is a terror as Helen McCormick, but as frightening as she is, she is equally as charming.  Pádraic Delany radiates brooding appeal as Babbybobby.  Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna are equally delightful as Cripple Bobby’s smothering adopted aunts. The zingers delivered by June Watson and Pat Shortt, who play Johnnypateenmike and his alcoholic mom, are absolutely scandalous and some of the best shade (insult throwing for those of you who don’t know) that I’ve heard on stage in a long time.  The scene and costume designs created by Christopher Oram transported the audience to that 1930’s Ireland and aided in projecting a close-knit community aesthetic.

top-1-largeIrreverent in all the right ways, The Cripple of Inishmaan is a winner and with the support of a great cast, this production stands with the best that Broadway has to offer this season.

Photos: Johan Persson