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Bullets Over Broadway Is A Shot To the Funny Bone

Woody Allen has been known to make a good film…or two…or three.  In fact, Cate Blanchet just snagged herself an Oscar playing the tragic protagonist in a Woody Allen film.  In 1994, Allen and Douglas McGrath penned a crime-comedy film titled Bullets Over Broadway.  The film starred John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Chazz Palminteri and Jennifer Tilly with Allen sitting in the director’s chair.  Bullets Over Broadway garnered seven Academy Awards; Wiest won for Best Supporting Actress, the second Academy Award win for her under Allen’s direction.

8.198889If you haven’t seen the film, the gist of the plot goes like this…set in the roaring twenties, a young, struggling playwright named David Shayne gets the break of a lifetime. His play will be produced on Broadway and he will direct it ensuring his vision will come to fruition.  Only problem is producer Julian Marx receives the funds to front the production from gangster Nick Valenti, and to get the money Valenti’s girlfriend, Olive Neal, must be cast in one of the roles.  Olive is no more than a second rate line dancer, but David casts her in the role of the psychiatrist in order secure the funds.  Also, he convinces Helen Sinclair, a legendary stage actress and lush, to play lead role and gets compulsive eater Warner Purcell to be the leading man.  Soon David realizes that getting a play on stage as its director isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  He also learns that he isn’t the great artist he thought he was as all his re-writes, which the cast adore, are written by Cheech, Olive’s bodyguard and Valenti’s hitman.

5.198890In 2012, plans for a musical adaptation were announced.  Allen adapted the film into a book and used songs from the American songbook for the musical numbers.  Susan Stroman was brought on as the director and choreographer.  The cast included Zach Braff as David Shayne, Marin Mazzie as Helen Sinclair, Vincent Pastore as Nick Valenti, Helen Yorke as Olive Neal and Nick Cordero as Cheech.

5.198888The minute the curtain rose at the St. James Theater and I saw the title being shot into the set I thought, “Well this is starting off with a bang, I hope it ends with one.”  What I would come to learn is that Bullets Over Broadway doesn’t overshoot in the laughs department.  It’s a cute comedy that lends itself to a family night at the theater.  The biggest laughs and smiles were delivered by Nick Cordero, Helen Yorke, Brooks Ahsmanskas, who played Warner Purnell and Mr. Woofles, the sweetest little pooch since Toto.  Marin Mazzie offered a good rendition of Helen Sinclair.  I’m sure any members of the audience who had seen the film were just anticipating her saying, “Don’t speak.”  That classic line didn’t fall into the silence of the air. Like the film, it was a hilarious bull’s-eye.

4.198885My complaint with most new musicals as of late is that they are all song and lack dance.  With Bullets Over Broadway, my gripe was the opposite.  Although the songs used in this musical were standards, the use of tunes were flat and was absent of the pop I like to hear, but the choreography, under the leadership of Susan Stroman, assisted in placing the musical numbers on an even-keel.

It seems as if Woody Allen has struck again.  If you want to a good giggle and some good hoofing then Bullets Over Broadway is musical for you.

Photos: Paul Kolnik

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The Bridges of Madison County Crosses Over With Glorious Soundtrack

The root of the word musical is music.  Everybody knows that.  But the word that stands in the shadows of the root word is good.  Songs crammed into a book does not a musical make.  Fortunately, “The Bridges of Madison County” doesn’t suffer from that problem.

10.196053“The Bridges of Madison County” originated as a novel written by Robert James Waller and published in 1992.  It stayed on the “New York Times” best-seller list for three years.  In 1995, it was adapted to a movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep as Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson, the main characters.  The film was equally as commercially successful as the novel garnering an Academy Award Best Actress nomination for Streep.

The plot of “The Bridges of Madison County” centers on two lonely people that find comfort and true love in one another during a four-day long affair that each carries with them for the rest of their lives.  Robert Kincaid is an aloof photojournalist working for “National Geographic.”  Francesca Johnson is an Italian war bride that was looking for an escape when she married her husband Richard and settled with him in a farming town in Iowa.  Richard takes their teenage children, Michael and Carolyn, to a state fair leaving Francesca alone when Robert pulls up in her driveway.  He was sent on assignment to photograph the covered bridges in the area and was lost.  He asks Francesca for directions to the Roseman Covered Bridge. She shows him how to get there and the two hit it off.  The chemistry between them is palpable and after a conversation and dinner the pair begins an affair.  Realizing each other is the love they had been waiting for; they contemplate sharing their lives together.   Francesca decides that she can’t abandon her family, so the two separate and never see each other again.

9.196055 “The Bridges of Madison County” the film is the quintessential chick flick for an evening in with your spouse or a girl’s get together.  The musical adaptation of this story is no exception.  In fact, the music and lyrics of composer Jason Robert Brown only amplifies its beauty.  The longing and vulnerability that Francesca masks is fully exposed in Kelli O’Hara’s performance.  She was joy to watch in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” the pleasure of seeing her on stage increased triple-fold after seeing her in this production.  Her voice is lovely and the score makes good use of her range.  After seeing Steven Pasquale walk on stage from the audience, I could see why Francesca’s locked desires were released.  He makes for a much sexier Robert Kincaid than Clint Eastwood.  There is no one in the audience that couldn’t understand why Francesca was close to jetting off into the sunset with him.  The synergy O’Hara and Pasquale created onstage was complimented by the score as the two created wonderful harmony together. In this adaptation the music is the third member of this love triangle and the scrumptious singing of O’Hara and Pasquale makes the audience want to root for their romance. Hunter Foster has a sturdiness to him that makes him perfect for the no-nonsense, all-American fellow.  Once again he excels in his portrayal of Bud (Richard).  For me the breakout performance is delivered by Cass Morgan who plays Marge, the nosey neighbor with a heart of gold.  Her solo of “Get Closer” was the hit of the night.

10.196051It’s delightful to see a new musical with a score like this keeping the future of the American musical alive with vibrant energy.  However there are a few components of “The Bridges of Madison County” that fell short.  One was the lack of choreography.  When it comes to musicals I believe music and choreography are what make a musical number and assist in driving the book forward.  There is only one number in this production that has choreography, and while the music is stimulating, the lack of movement makes the entire show somewhat incomplete.  Also, throughout the musical the extras are present on stage, sitting in chairs quietly observing.  But from time to time they are moving about, assisting with moving the set around.  At first I was unsure they were just there to move the set or if their presence had a more artistic meaning.  The optimist in me hopes for the latter, for if not the extras would be an awkward solution to the issue of changing the set and its props.  But these are just minor glitches that can be overlooked when one hears the incredible score and the great chemistry of O’Hara and Pasquale.  All and all “The Bridges of Madison County” is a bridge worth coming to.

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad Head to the Big Screen as Romeo and Juliet

Last fall Orlando Bloom made his Broadway debut playing opposite two-time Tony Award nominee Condola Rashad in “Romeo and Juliet”.  This month the production made its debut in movie theaters nationwide as part of Broadway HD.  Broadway HD combines the experience of The Great White Way with Hollywood, taking a live production and showing it in a different medium.

Filmed at the end of its Broadway run, “Romeo and Juliet” is playing a limited engagement in theaters, which ends on February 19.  Seeing this production when it first premiered at the Richard Rogers Theater, I felt the show was a bit comme ci comme ça, but after seeing this production in the theaters, I felt that it had come full circle.  Both Bloom and Rashad seemed more comfortable with the language.  The production in its entirety, which seemed to not be fully complete when I saw it, exhibited a richness that wasn’t present when I saw it last year.

Another aspect of this film version was the distinct difference of viewing “Romeo and Juliet” on stage as opposed to seeing it on the screen.  On Broadway the audience is part of the experience; the actors are performing for you.  Watching it on screen I got the sensation of a voyeur – a gate crasher sneaking through the side door who quietly watches the show unfold.  The excitement wasn’t as palpable; however it was still there.

If you ask me Broadway HD is a brilliant concept.  Not everyone has the luxury of living in New York City and those that do don’t always have the opportunity to see productions while they’re making their run.  Broadway HD allows Broadway to be accessible to everyone no matter if you are in Atlanta, Denver or Brooklyn.  I’m looking forward to watching future productions courtesy of this innovative series.

Photo: Carol Rosegg

 

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Macabre and Metaphysics Intertwine in Macbeth at Lincoln Center Theater

We are all familiar with the story of Macbeth, the Scottish warlord who would become king partly on the count of the Three Witches.  After a victorious battle, Macbeth encounters the Three Witches and upon doing so is told he will be king.  Macbeth and his wife then plot to murder Duncan, the current monarch.  Under the guise of merriment and despite Macbeth’s reservations, he and his wife welcome Duncan and his kinsmen into their home, get the king’s chamberlains drunk and assassinate the king.   Newly crowned, Macbeth descends from sovereign to psychopath murdering his loyal friend Banquo.  A second caucus with the Three Witches only heightens Macbeth’s paranoia and prompts him to have the family of Macduff, a fellow kinsman, murdered.  Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth, overcome with guilt, plummets into depression and begins to sleepwalk.  Eventually she commits suicide.  Macbeth is ultimately vanquished by Macduff and Duncan’s eldest son Malcolm becomes king.

MB4No matter the interpretation, the theme of the supernatural is constantly present in “Macbeth”.  You can’t get away from it, but what makes Shakespeare’s work so genius is that the interpretation of his plays depends on the road you take.  Director Jack O’Brien’s offering of “Macbeth” chooses to take the metaphysical path.   In this version, the Three Witches aren’t just a trio of wacky soothsayers convening around a cauldron. Oh no. These conniving necromancers morph into other characters on stage, thus taking on the personas of puppet masters ensuring their marionettes move their strings in the exact order they desire. The witches’ almost ubiquitous presence calls into question the subject of fate and action.  How much of Macbeth’s destiny relied on his own ambition or that of the Three Witches? Was Macbeth’s belief in the witches’ prediction responsible for all the events that followed? How responsible are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth for their actions if their actions were just pit stops along their destined path?  Jack O’Brien’s interpretation of this classic tragedy sets the mind ablaze with questions about the workings of the universe and the individual’s role in it to create good or evil. What I find most intriguing about this production is that O’Brien doesn’t attempt to supply the audience with answers, the answers you must discover for yourself.

The visuals of “Macbeth” only intensify the mystical happenings on stage.  From the moment the audience takes their seats and views the carved mandala, they become keenly aware of the conjuring set to take place.  And just like the actors, we are at the witches’ mercy, forced to watch two lovers plunge headlong into the abyss of destruction.  Along with the sacred symbol of the universe, the production is draped in the primary colors of black, white and blood red – hues that have meaning in the occult.  The lighting provides a stark perception of the actors making the tragic events more exaggerated and the imagery more daunting.  The costumes and sets courtesy of Catherine Zuber and Scott Pask produce a minimalist, sleek quality without dedicating itself to one particular time period.

MB3And what of the thespians who resurrect the bubbling and boiling characters full of toil and trouble? Color me impressed.  The vernacular of Shakespeare is a language we learn in high school and unless you take courses in it in college, there it stays. If not performed correctly, the rich wording of Shakespeare’s prose can come off like pubescent ramblings of students looking for a mid-term grade.  Some reincarnations of Shakespeare’s plays I have witnessed as of late have possessed this puerile quality.  Not so with this production.  Led by Ethan Hawke, the cast as a whole is more fair than foul.  I’ve viewed productions where actors performed Shakespeare as if they were competing for top prize in “Who Can Scream Loudest.”  Hawke’s Macbeth is a combination of shrewd underplaying offset by fierce outbursts of emotion.  He is the personification of a man slipping into darkness.  As Lady Macbeth, Anne-Marie Duff is sensational.  She embodies the grace of a queen and psyche of a sociopath. Together Hawke and Duff brilliantly represent one word…karma.  Malcolm Gets, John Glover and Byron Jennings portray the pied pipers of wizardry in this numinous production.  Although they look like rejects from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, the sorcerers don’t just play to win, they play for keeps.  The havoc they render adds the spice that makes this supernatural gumbo complete.  On a surprising note, I was pleased with Daniel Sunjata’s Macduff.  Though a bit heavy handed in his delivery at times, he proved to me that he is more than just a pretty face.   What I enjoyed most about the production was its fluidness.  It moved like a choreographed dance, constantly adding layers.

MBChristmas hovers in the air, tis the season to be jolly, but for Hawke and company tis the time to be wicked, the naughty reign supreme at The Vivian Beaumont Theater.  “Macbeth” has a limited run and ends on January 12.  Take a break from tidings of cheer and take a walk down the paranormal path.  Without a doubt, this production is worth seeing.

Photos: T. Charles Erickson

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Several Incarnations …One Life- Becoming Dr. Ruth

Holocaust survivor, sniper, sex therapist, author, mother of two, widow, grandmother of four all packed in 5-foot-4-inch frame, can anyone say #WOW?  While some sit and contemplate how to get one life going, Dr. Ruth has had several and at 87 this force of fierceness is still out and about every night.  Listen up Millennials, before there was a Carrie Bradshaw there was Dr. Ruth.  When she launched her radio show, “Sexually Speaking”, in 1980, the idea of a woman speaking so candidly about sex was still taboo. Dr. Ruth is a trailblazer, but what led her to become America’s favorite sex therapist?  That journey is poignantly explored in Becoming Dr. Ruth.

3.192955The one-woman production takes place in 1997 at Dr. Ruth’s apartment in Washington Heights.  Recently widowed, she is preparing to move and talking on the phone when she realizes she has company (the audience).  Dr. Ruth, colorfully played by Debra Jo Rupp, then breaks the fourth wall to lead the audience through a narrative of the events of her life before we came to know her.  Born Karola Ruth Siegel in Wiesenfeld, Germany, Dr. Ruth was forever separated from her family when her mother and grandmother decided to send her to Switzerland as part of the Kindertransport.  She details the harsh reality of living in that environment while still dealing with the issues of childhood.  At 17, she was a member of the Haganah in Jerusalem serving as a scout and sniper.  In 1950, Dr. Ruth moved to France studying and teaching psychology at the University of Paris.  In 1956, she immigrated to New York City, moving into the same apartment she inhabits today.  And if that wasn’t enough, she divorced two husbands, gave birth to a daughter, married her beloved Fred Westheimer, became a mother for the second time, earned a master’s degree in sociology and completed her-post doctoral work in human sexuality before the name Dr. Ruth became synonymous with sex. The play also chronicles what life was like after she became the most famous sex therapist of the 20th century.

Four-stars usually signify that a creative endeavor has achieved an A+ grade.  Well in my opinion, four stars don’t adequately display how wonderful this production is.  Becoming Dr. Ruth is triumphant – a soul-hooking display of the resiliency of the human spirit.  From the time Debra Jo Rupp acknowledges the audience until the lights dim, spectators are swept-up in a tale so epic Homer would be envious that he hadn’t written it.  The narrative is so engrossing that no other characters are necessary.  Dr. Ruth’s story makes for the quintessential one-woman show.

3.192957Playwright Mark St. Germain wrote my favorite play in 2010, Freud’s Last Session, and I believe he has done it again with Becoming Dr. Ruth.  To create a character in your head, infuse him/her with a dose of humanity and make him/her relatable to an audience isn’t an easy commission, but the best writers can make the transformation seem effortless.   What is even more difficult is converting a real person into a character. This is St. Germain’s genius.  He can translate a story, real or fiction, of historical figures that preserves their human quality without making them caricatures.   When St. Germain wrote the play, he knew he wanted Debra Jo Rupp to portray Dr. Ruth and he was so right.  Rupp’s performance is magnificent – she nails the amalgamation of Dr. Ruth’s German, Hebrew, French and English accent with the accuracy of a sharp shooter (pun intended).  To say she is a delight to watch is a gross understatement; her presence is its own spotlight.  She fills the stage warmth.

Becoming Dr. Ruth encompasses everything you want in a play – it tells a powerful story with candor, humor and sophistication.  It’s a brilliant artistic representation that mirrors a life that is equally as brilliant.   Many of us have followed Dr. Ruth’s advice, now take my advice…go to the Westside Theatre and see this play!

Photos: Carol Rosegg, Lanny Nagler

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Lady Day Illuminates The Little Shubert Theatre

I always knew that Broadway was haunted. Apparitions of playwrights, producers, actors and famous characters skulk around theaters and are as eternal as the neon lights that electrify the Great White Way.  Each season we are revisited with the ghosts of productions past, but this fall two New York City theaters are being visited by the spirits of iconic vocalists past.  On Broadway, Janis Joplin and her musical influences rock The Lyceum Theatre from floor to roof, and Off-Broadway the music of one of her influences is receiving its day.   Lady Day, the musical about Billie Holiday, provides its audience with a stunning visual and aural lesson in tragedy and triumph.

hc-billie-holiday-20131023Anyone who has seen or read Lady Sings the Blues knows the calamitous story of Billie Holiday’s life.  Overflowing with agonizing memories, abusive men and addiction, the pain Holiday experienced habitually showed in various aspects of her life – most often in her music.  Her sound carried listeners through the valleys of the blues transforming agony into musical ecstasy.  You don’t just hear Billie Holliday…you feel Billie Holiday, and that essence is fabulously represented in this production.

Lady Day is an overwhelming emotional tribute to the legacy of Billie Holiday.  The musical takes place at a theater in London.  Billie Holiday and her band are playing the final leg of her European tour.  The first act consists of the rehearsal and the second act is the show.  Woven between 25 of Holliday’s most famous songs is the recounting of her troubled life.  Through music Billie tries to fight the demons haunting her in rehearsal, but winds up still fighting them during the show – something I suspect that happened repeatedly during her brief life.  As Billie exposes her scars, the audience bears witness to an unflinching portrait of pain, but it is how her hurt is translated into song that makes this production shine – each song helps to build the story.  Like Billie Holiday’s music, this production burrows underneath the skin and lingers in the pit of your gut.

lady_dayThe success of this musical is largely due to the performance of Grammy-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater.  She plays the role of Billie Holiday as if she is possessed and her voice is spot-on.  I have never heard anyone capture the timbre of Lady Day as she has.  Bridgewater is simply amazing; you won’t be able take your eyes off of her.  And you won’t soon forget Lady Day the musical.  All artists are tasked with the frightening aspect of revealing their souls to the scrutiny of the masses, but there is something in the way a jazz musician does it that is undeniably raw and palpable.  Billie Holiday’s voice was an instrument that could rival the bent notes and artistry of any of the jazz greats.  She was the voice of her time.  Her influence can still be heard in singers today.

A good story and good music will always yield promising results.  It is as simple as saying one plus one equals two.  At The Little Shubert Theatre, the life of Billie Holiday (which includes her music) and the brilliant showcasing of Holliday’s work (courtesy of Dee Bridgewater) make for compelling theater and two good reasons to see this show.

Photos: Carol Rosegg

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John Grisham’s A Time to Kill Is Broadway Ready

A Time to Kill has been captivating audiences for over 20 years.  The novel, which eventually became a best-seller, was first published in 1989.  In 1996, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey starred in the film version.  Adapted for the stage by Tony award-winning playwright Rupert Holmes, A Time to Kill explores the undercurrent of race in our justice system.  A 10-year-old black girl is savagely raped, beaten, almost lynched and left for dead.  The two perpetrators are shot and killed at the courthouse by the girl’s father, Carl Lee Hailey.  Hailey is arrested and charged with first degree murder sparking tensions that had bubbled underneath the surface of a Mississippi town and subsequently gained nationwide attention.   Hailey hires Jake Brigance, a white attorney, as his defense lawyer.  Receiving advice from his disbarred mentor and much needed assistance from a pushy Bostonian intern, Jake begins to build an insanity defense for Carl Lee, while receiving death threats from Ku Klux Klan.  In court he tangles with Rufus R. Buckley, a superstar district attorney on his way to the governor’s office.  And while explosions erupt in and out of the courtroom, Jake uses an impassioned plea to get the jury to acquit Carl Lee.

timetokillThe plot of A Time to Kill is well-known, it’s robust and meaty.   I liken Rupert Holmes’ A Time to Kill to a fillet – some parts are stripped away but there is still enough meat for the audience to sink its teeth in.  The actors of this production had some pretty large shoes to fill considering some of the biggest names in Hollywood performed these characters on screen; the comparisons to the actors of the film are inevitable.  Led by Sebastian Arcelus, who plays Jake Brigance, each member of this cast turn in a fair performance.  Veterans Tom Skerritt and Fred Dalton Thompson offer great portrayals of Lucien Wilbanks and Judge Omar Noose.  Skerritt was as charming as ever as Lucien and Thompson’s feisty Judge Noose was a pleasure to watch, however it’s still the relationship between Jake Brigance and Carl Lee Hailey that drives this story.  Sebastian Arcelus and John Douglas Thompson showed promise as Jake and Carl Lee.

A Time to Kill received negative reviews when it played in D.C. in 2011, but the creative team appears to have worked out some of the kinks and the Broadway version is more solid.  Whether you have read the novel or saw the movie, this adaptation of A Time to Kill ultimately provides its audience with a thought-provoking experience and is a good addition to the legacy of one of John Grisham’s most recognized stories.

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VIVA JANIS!

Holy revival Batman!  There is a nightly resurrection going on every night at The Lyceum Theatre.   In an era when rock titans such as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison walked the earth and groups like The Who asked to die before they got old, a little lady from Texas with extraordinary chops offered up pieces of her heart and become just as legendary as the boys –her name was Janis Joplin.

J3Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1943.  She was raised in a cocoon of various musical influences courtesy of her mother and father.  When she finally did spread her wings, she flew to San Francisco in 1963.  She briefly returned to Texas only to go back to California in 1966 to join Big Brother and the Holding Company as their lead singer.  By the time of Joplin’s untimely death in October 1970, she had ensured her legacy as a rock goddess and with her unique interpretation of songs, one of the most recognizable voices ever.

I don’t think the world needed any reminders about the raw power and beauty of Janis Joplin’s voice, but in case it did A Night with Janis Joplin served a stunning aide-mémoire.  This production is a hot rocking time capsule.  Once it starts the audience is shuttled back to the Age of Aquarius with one of its most colorful figures as mistress of ceremonies.

J2I expected A Night with Janis Joplin to typical a jukebox musical chronicling the highs and lows of Joplin’s life with the musical numbers accentuating the book.  I was pleasantly surprised.  A Night with Janis Joplin is more like a concert and is all about the music, mainly the singers that influenced Joplin’s sound – singers like Nina Simone, Bessie Smith and Etta James.  Even the Queen of Soul was present to do a number with Janis that injected everyone in the audience with the spirit. Mary Bridget Davies is nothing short of phenomenal as Janis Joplin, it’s like she comes from another plane.  For an individual who didn’t get the opportunity to experience Janis Joplin when she was alive, Davies’ performance is awe inspiring. Taprena Michelle Augustine, De’Adre Aziza, Allison Blackwell and Nikki Kimbrough round out the cast of ladies on stage playing The Joplinaires as well as The Chantels, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin –their voices soar to right out of the theater and up to heaven.

A Night with Janis Joplin is a loving tribute to music of the Pearl and the strong, mainly unsung women that inspired her.  There was never a point in the show where I wanted to be contained in my seat, my feet never stopped tapping.  I wanted to sway, shake and move in the aisle and enjoyed watching the audience becoming part of the show and singing along.  Hearing “Me and Bobby McGee”, “Ball and Chain” and “Stay with Me” performed live brought me to tears.   Mary Bridget Davies doesn’t just sing she performs a séance.  A Night with Janis Joplin is a prime example of how music can transport and uplift the soul.  It’s a must see.

Photos: Joan Marcus

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Romeo and Juliet, #TheBomb or #Bomb…

When it comes to love stories, none is more well-known than that of Juliet and her Romeo.  William Shakespeare literally wrote the book (or should I say play) on the notion of star-crossed lovers.  The adaptations of this classic are endless, yet the public never tires of the story of love gone awry.  So it goes that after 36 years, William Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet has returned to the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

0306_Romeo&Juliet (c) Carol RossegDirector David Leveaux’s version of Romeo and Juliet takes Shakespearian English and injects it into modern setting.  Another added twist to the original plot is the subject of race – the Montagues are a white family and the Capulets are black.  Hollywood hottie Orlando Bloom and Broadway sensation Condola Rashad play the young, ill-fated lovers.  All these elements should’ve have produced results that were more explosive than a NASA rocket launch to the moon.  Instead, it was more the equivalent of high school chemistry nerds experimenting after class – yeah; there was a little smoke, but no real fire (except for the random bursts of fire on stage).

Although I wasn’t expecting Romeo and Juliet to declare their love on Facebook, I also didn’t expect the term ‘modern’ to be interpreted in such a banal fashion.  The set, which consisted of a ginormous bell, an elevated plank of wood for a balcony, and a wall that contained a Renaissance secco, was uninspiring and a poor match for the lush verse of one of William Shakespeare’s greatest works.  The first time Orlando Bloom appears on stage he is riding a motorcycle, and while that might be modern it is also clichéd.  At the Capulet’s soiree, I thought the choreography would carry an element of hip-hop or krunking, something other than the interpretations of African dance that were exhibited on stage. The nurse walking a bicycle to deliver a message to Romeo and the parkour climbing of the graffiti-ridden mural does add a nod to a more modern era; however these devices failed to deliver on such a promising idea.

0024_Romeo&Juliet (c) Carol RossegThe cast seem to hurry through the dialogue as if they were just trying to get it over with.  Shakespearean English is a mouthful, literally, but the pace was so rushed that some of the beauty of Shakespeare‘s poetry was lost in this interpretation.  While Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad certainly looked as if they had the potential to rival the flames that occasionally appeared on stage, their scenes together were undersupplied of the heat necessary for me to believe that these two would rather die than live life apart.  Brent Carver, Christian Camargo and Jayne Houdyshell’s portrayals of Friar Laurence, Mercutio and the Nurse were an absolute pleasure to watch and brought balance to this production.

Director Baz Luhrmann attempted a modern interpretation Romeo and Juliet on screen in 1996, back when I thought modern versions of Shakespeare were a sacrilege, and it actually became one of my favorite depictions of this classic love story.  Perhaps Leveaux should’ve taken a few notes from this film.  After 36 years, this Romeo and Juliet ascended to no grander heights nor did it plateau to a great theater low.  All and all it was steady and flat, just like the boards of the balcony – wooden and just plain regular.

Photos:  Carol Rosseg

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Cross Connection to Stardom, a Conversation with Nathaniel Ryan

The lights of New York City lure artists from all over the globe like moths to the proverbial flame.  Hundreds flock to this concrete jungle in search of big game.  But the starry-eyed  desire of fame isn’t just a dream for those who migrate to The Big Apple.  Before Jennifer Lopez was reminding everyone that she was just Jenny from the block, she rode the six train from the Bronx into Manhattan in search of her big break.  Maxwell rode the J train before he ascended on top of the music charts.  Nathaniel Ryan is a New York City artist poised to make the transfer from anonymity to prominence.  Singer, actor, model, playwright…Ryan has several conduits that can take him to the Promised Land.  If his future is as bright as his smile, then Ryan’s prospects are as vast as The Milky Way.  And his humble demeanor only make him more intriguing.  50 Cent asked 21 questions, but I only ask 10…

Usually I don’t begin interviews with this question, but after reading your biography I just have to ask…what is an actor, singer and model doing with an MBA from Clark Atlanta University?

While in High School and College I never thought about acting, drama or singing.   I went to Morgan State University and studied Finance.   While there I also modeled in the school’s Fashion shows.  After an internship on Wall Street, I went back to school and studied finance at Clark Atlanta University.  After I graduated I soon found that being behind a desk was not an ideal life for me.  I met a photographer who took pictures for my first comp card. From there I started getting work.  I started taking classes.  And as they say I was hooked.

Your bio stated you were born in Brooklyn.  Were you also raised in Brooklyn and if so, how did growing up in a borough known for being eclectic influence you artistically?

I am a native New Yorker.  Born and raised in Flatbush Brooklyn.  Flatbush was a great area to grow up in.  I grew up around West Indians, Jews and a lot of other cultures and races.  My mom made sure she took me to see Broadway shows, the museum, and the library.  Subconsciously I think that it has had a profound impact on me and the way I think and how I perceive art.  It’s not something I appreciated growing up but I am glad I did those things now as an adult.

Who are your three biggest acting influences?

My three biggest acting influences are: Don Cheadle, Forest Whitaker and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

You have acted on film and stage.  Hollywood is the Mecca for film, but Broadway is the Mecca of the theatre world.  Which medium do you prefer and why?

I love [the] theatre.  Being on stage keeps you on your toes.  And every show is different.  I ultimately would like to do more film and television, but as of right now I am enjoying my pursuit to be a working actor on Broadway.

Out of all the roles you have played, which one has been the most fun? Which has been the most challenging? And why?

Every role has played has given me an opportunity to grow as an actor.  I love working on original thought provoking pieces.  Bringing a character to life is a challenge in itself.  I would say my greatest challenge has been playing a survivor of the holocaust in Rwanda.  Truthfully playing a man who survived such horrors was a challenge and humbling to say the least.

Name your dream role on stage and on film?

A dream role would be to play an original character or [a] historical person Huey Newtown, Marcus Garvey [or] Emperor Haile Selassie.  Men who have taken on impossible odds and thrived.

As a singer, who are your influences?

As a vocalist I am growing and coming into my own.  Some of my influences are Donny Hathaway, Daryl Coley and Ella Fitzgerald.

How would you describe your vocal style?

My vocal style is still growing.  Right now I would say my favorite style is Jazz and Gospel.  But I would say I am not clinging to one particular style.

Are you in the process of recording a demo or an EP?

No.  I am not recording a demo or EP at the moment.

If Diddy and Tyler Perry came to you and offered you the opportunity to sign a three album contract and a world tour or a deal for six films and a starring role on a TV show, which would you choose and why?

If Diddy and Tyler Perry came to me and offered me the opportunity to sign a three album contract and a world tour or a deal for six films and starring role in a TV show I would choose Diddy.  I love Diddy’s work.  I grew up listening to him and his artists.  I also like his work ethic.  I respect him and his work.   As a recording artist I could parlay that into commercial, co-star and other acting opportunities.

Check out more of Nathaniel Ryan at www.nathanieljryan.com.

Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Ryan