Theater 2017

A Sparkling Performance
JOE MORTON is a remarkable performer. In Turn Me Loose, by Gretchen Law, directed by John Gould Rubin, at the Westside Theatre, he plays Dick Gregory, beginning with his performance as a standup comedian in 1963. We watch him grow up and deliver his comments on racial bigotry throughout his career. He is now 83. With the assistance of another actor (John Carlin), who plays small multiple roles, Morton dominates the stage, and reminds us, in spite of all the gains in racial equality, that over the decades, 2016 still, in many ways, looks like 1963. He gives a powerful, exciting performance. Dick Gregory, who attended the Off-Broadway show on opening night, can be very proud.
Strictly For Pie Lovers
SARA BAREILLES is a popular singer/songwriter, nominated for five Grammy Awards. She has now written the music and lyrics for her first Broadway show, Waitress, book by Jessie Nelson, based on a film by Adrienne Shelly with the same title, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The music is pleasant, not memorable, and the lyrics are banal.It is story about an unhappy, pregnant waitress (Jessie Mueller), with a talent for baking pies, working in a diner in a small town. Keala Settle and Kimiko Glenn work with her, and the three sing well. Her husband (Nick Cordero) is fired from his job and verbally abuses her. He also smashes her guitar.However, the story turns sick when she begins having sex with her doctor in his office. The excellent Christopher Fitzgerald steals the show as the lover of one of the other waitresses. The rest of the cast are dull and boring, and for a musical, it has minimal choreography. Diane Paulus directed the show.
A Must See
THE revival of The Color Purple, book by Marsha Norman, music and lyrics by Brenda RussellAllee Willis, and Stephen Bray, based on the novel by Alice Walker, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, is a revised version of the original production. A minimal set design, with only chairs as furniture, makes you focus on the actors, and splendid actors they are.The tale takes place over decades in Georgia, from 1909 to 1940. Cynthia Erivo (Celie) is a 14-year-old who has just given birth to her second child. Both are taken away from her by her brutal father, for whom she is a virtual slave. She is given away as a wife to another brute, who carries a whip. Her life is miserable.Heather Headley replaced Jennifer Hudson, and was superb as a sexy lady, as is Joaquina Kalukango as Celie’s sister and Danielle Brooks as the wife of the only kind male onstage, under the expert direction of John Doyle. Erivo is the leading lady, and has already won the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the Tony Award.
A Thanksgiving Play
I REVIEWED The Humans, by Stephen Karam, Off-Broadway. Seeing it again at Broadway’s  Helen Hayes Theatre, I was delighted to find that the excellent six-member cast, directed by Joe Mantello, is performing at the same high level.At this family Thanksgiving dinner all kinds of financial and health (both mental and physical) problems are discussed by each individual, except the grandmother, who is suffering from dementia and babbles incoherently. She, plus the mother (Jayne Houdyshell), the father (Reed Birney), and an older sister (Cassie Beck), have arrived from Pennsylvania to dine with the younger sister (Sarah Steele) and her boyfriend (Arian Moayed). There is a constant pounding from the apartment above the young couple, who have just moved into their two-level dilapidated apartment in Chinatown. In spite of the gloomy set design, there is much humor in the play.
Not To My Taste
DIRECTOR Ivo Van Hove, has a reputation for re-imaging classics by Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and many others Off-Broadway, and now Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, at the Walter Kerr Theatre. I have seen everything he has done in New York. He obviously is an acquired taste, which I have not been able to acquire. What he has done to Miller’s monumental work is bizarre, to say the least.The play is about the Salem witch trials in the 1690s, in which the lives of falsely accused men and women were ruined. Miller used this to compare with the Senator Joseph McCarthy witch hunt in congress in the early 1950s. This version takes place in a gloomy modern day schoolroom.The costume design by Wojciech Dziedzic is the dreariest ever seen on a Broadway stage. No actor looks good. Ben WhishawSophie Okenedo and Saoirse Ronan are not given a chance to shine in these conditions. Also Luchta, a Tamaskan, is a rare breed of dog that  appears in its Broadway debut as a wolf. For me, it was the highlight of the almost three-hour production, which can be summed up in one word: excruciating.
All About Gloria Estefan
ON YOUR FEET! is the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, book by Alexander Dinelaris, at the Marquis Theatre. Fans of their music will have a great time listening to their hit songs. The largely Latino cast, directed by Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, bring their story to life with their energetic acting, singing and dancing.Ana Villafane is terrific, with a wonderful voice as the superstar Gloria Estefan, and Andrea Burns is superb as her mother. Jose Segarra is equally good as Emilio Estefan. An adorable young little actor Eduardo Hernandez plays three roles, and steals each scene with his marvelous dancing.The production is fast moving, and the audience loved it. They even got to join the cast in the aisles as they performed a conga to close the first act. 
For Lovers of Rock ‘n’ Roll
ALEX BRIGHTMAN as dewey gives an amazing performance as a frustrated Rock ‘n’ Roll musician, who fraudulently becomes a substitute teacher in a private high school, in School of Rock, book by Julian Fellows, lyrics by Glen Slater, and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, at the Winter Garden Theatre.Sierra Boggess is the uptight principal with a magnificent voice, especially when she sings an aria by Mozart with dazzling high notes. Thirteen talented children play the students. They are, without doubt, the finest young actors on the Broadway stage this season.The cast is expertly directed by Laurence Conner, and choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter. The dialogue is funny, the music melodious, and the entire show is a pure delight. The set design by Anna Louizos is a joy to behold, and moves rapidly from scene to scene. You leave the theater smiling and happy.
Leaves You Happy
A REVIVAL of She Loves Me, book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, at Studio 54, is a modest musical, about two employees (Laura Benanti and Zackery Levi) in a perfume shop, who write letters to each other, unknown to each other, in a lonely hearts club, while at work they do not get along. The entire cast is perfect, skillfully directed by Scott Ellis. The music is pleasant, the lyrics are intelligent, and the choreography by Warren Carlyle is fine. It is a warm hearted, theatrical experience. The entire cast is first rate. The audience leaves the theater with a happy heart. The set design by David Rockwell is lovely, and won a Tony Award.
Disappointment At Season’s End
THE final show of the Broadway season is Shuffle Along or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All ThaFollowed, music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, original book by F.E. Miller and Aubrey Lyles, book by George C. Wolfe, at the Music Box Theatre.It features five of the brightest stars on Broadway: Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry.Unfortunately, it is a disappointing musical. Directed by a pedantic pedagogue George C. Wolfe, it proceeds to give the audience a lecture on the history of black musicals on Broadway. The highlight is the closing number, I’m Just Wild About Harry, choreographed by Savion Glover, which closes the first act. At almost three hours, the show needs judicious editing.