Bartenders
John Houseman Theater
Bartending is a classic, noble profession. You have to be everyone in one day to all strangers, you have to make everyone feel at home, welcoming and attentive, and knowledgeable and smart and fast. So says Louis Mustillo in his revelatory opus on the minds and hearts of bartenders he's known and loved.
January 2003
Man Who Came To Dinner, The
Patio Playhouse

After almost 80 years, The Man Who Came to Dinner still has lots of life. That obnoxious man the Stanleys had to host has only gotten more obnoxious. I've dubbed the Patio Playhouse production, running through December 16, "T.T.O.T.T." - Totally Over the Top. And what fun it is!

Robert Hitchcox
Night of the Iguana, The
OnStage Playhouse

The Night of the Iguana is a depressing tale of defrocked Episcopal priest, Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (Rob Conway). Tennessee Williams' play, set in the steaming tropics of costal Mexico at the outbreak of WWII, began on Broadway in 1961, was made into films in 1964 and 2000, and this year, Joni Mitchell's title song on her album, "Shine," is a thematic and lyrical adaptation.

Robert Hitchcox
Shape of Things, The
First Unitarian Church of San Diego

In the '50s, the Detroit Institute of Arts was doing a clean-up on "The Wedding Dance" created by Pieter Bruegel the Elder around 1566. They discovered an overlay paint covering up the men's codpieces. Altering art, it seems, goes back decades as well as centuries.

My name is Adam. I'm shy and about 25 pounds overweight. I haven't had a date in a long time. Then this tall dark-haired woman actually came–on to me. She kissed me! She was sorta weird.

Robert Hitchcox
Christmas Carol, A
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Pabst Theater

One would guess that, after more than three decades of producing A Christmas Carol as part of its regular season, the annual Milwaukee Repertory Theater production may be getting shabby around the edges. Nothing could be further from the truth. A sparkling opening night performance kicked off this annual yuletide treat.

Anne Siegel
Love's Labour's Lost

Following in the footsteps of actor, writer and director Woody Allen's 1997 film, "Everyone Says I Love You," writer and director Kenneth Branagh has fashioned a similar starring vehicle for himself with the 2000 film musicalization of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. You may recall that Allen's 1997 film featured dramatic actors, not known or remembered for their singing abilities, such as Edward Norton, Billy Crudup, Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda (The Apple Tree Broadway 1967), Woody Allen and Julia Roberts.

Ezio Petersen
Gypsy

It is hard to believe that with four active Gypsy CD recordings on store shelves (Merman, Daly, Lansbury, Midler), the film soundtrack album is not among them. This oversight has now been temporarily addressed with the recent release of the complete 1962 film soundtrack score of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's "Gypsy," in a limited CD pressing.

Ezio Petersen
Aida

t has been a unique recording trek for composer Sir Elton John's first original stage score, "Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida" now simply titled "Aida". The fun started with the star-studded promotional studio cast album released in 1999 and its advance promo, three-track CD with John and Leann Rimes performing two alternate versions of "Written In The Stars" (not released on the studio album). This was followed by an unofficial composers' demo CD culled from John's studio takes to illustrate his studio cast album.

Ezio Petersen
Cudahy Caroler Christmas, A
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts - Vogel Hall

For those unfamiliar with neighborhoods surrounding Milwaukee, the name "Cudahy" in the title of I>A Cudahy Caroler Christmas may need a bit of explanation. Located on the south end of the city, it's more than a place; it's a distinctly unfashionable address. It's the kind of working-class area that supports what Milwaukee is traditionally famous for: beer, brats and bowling. In fact, one of the play's characters owns a bowling alley.

Anne Siegel
Christmas Carol, A
Torrey Pines Christian Church

Director Jessica Seaman takes David Wiener's adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to a new level of entertainment. The incorporation of classical and traditional music, off-stage narration, and the use of much of the audience space at Torrey Pines Christian Church as a playing area brings this classic up-close and personal. The venue, which has been used by at least one other theater company, offers an extremely large auditorium and an ample stage area.

Robert Hitchcox
Off The Ground
New Village Arts Theater

Playwrights Amy Chini and Tom Zohar's Off the Ground may well become the alternative Christmas play. It has the elements that make for a good holiday play. There is conflict, there is personality, and there is a happy ending. Why alternative? There is also profanity. Lots of it, but not one word gratuitous.

Robert Hitchcock
Off The Ground
New Village Arts Theater

 It would be easy to copy last year's review of Amy Chini and Tom Zohar's Off the Ground, change the names, and call it a day. But that's impossible. New Village Arts' seasonal offering is different this year. Aside from being a wee bit shorter, John Decal and Jo Anne Glover took over the roles of Joel and Donna this year.

The action takes place in 80-something Grandpa Dick's home, currently occupied by him (Charlie Riendeau) and grandson Joel (John DeCarlo, another new actor).

Robert Hitchcox
Season's Greetings
Theater Three

Theatre Three opened the funniest play in all of 2007 with their production of Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings downstairs in Theater Too.

Rita Faye Smith
Farnsworth Invention, The
Music Box Theater

Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention is a fascinating play that is surprisingly engaging for this serious look at the theft of Farnsworth's invention - one he even thought of the name for – "television" -- by David Sarnoff and RCA. It is awfully good writing as the conflict grows, sprinkled with good humor. But it's seriously flawed by the intrusion of anachronistic vulgarities that destroy the reality of the time. It would have been unthinkable back then to sprinkle speech with "the F word." That expletive came into common use well after World War II.

Richmond Shepard
Nutcracker, The
Dallas Children's Theater

Kathy Burks Theater of Puppetry Arts opened its month-long run of The Nutcracker November 24, 2007, but make no mistake; this is not your grandmother's "Nutcracker." All the characters are puppets and inanimate objects, grown larger than life, embarking on a familiar adventure at a Christmas Eve party at Clara's home. If you're expecting to see ballet, well, you won't; unless you consider as ballet a large standard poodle executing some fancy pirouettes to the gleeful accompaniment of howling laughter from the moppets in the audience.

Rita Faye Smith
Bartenders
John Houseman Theater

There are 1,259,874 bartenders working in the United States today. This is a show about six of them. That's the official-line on Lou Mustillo's <I>Bartenders.</I> I have no idea who did the counting: Can this million-plus number have been derived from Bartenders Union records? Living a simple and abstemious life, I have no familiarity with sitting at bars and chatting with bartenders. If I go to Kennedy's or another Irish Pub for Shepherd's Pie, I always try to find a quiet table in the back, away from the multiple TVs, the noisy arguments, the guff, and the occasional fights.

Glenn Loney
Bat Boy: The Musical
Union Square Theater

The pastiche score isn't one for the ages (though you'll remember the "Hold me, Bat Boy" refrain), but this is cleverly crafted, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kitsch that grabs an audience and never lets go. And if you think - as with so many musicals - the second act will run out of ideas and steam, you're in for an invigorating surprise.

David Lefkowitz
Bat Boy: The Musical
Union Square Theater

A few weeks ago, I remarked to a friend that I was deeply envious of anyone who got to see the megabomb musicalization of Carrie years back. There's something exciting about a live show that appears destined to flop hard; in fact, in theater communities, they are even more memorable years later, long after the latest sham revue musical has won the Best Musical Tony.

Jason Clark
Be
Union Square Theater

<I>BE</I> [sic] now at the Union Square Theater, performed by Mayumana, is an amazing show. It's drumming and action, and is as tightly choreographed as a Busby Berkeley musical, with precise Mime exercises, precision drumming, planned wildness, and great contemporary/futuristic costumes by Neta Haker. It has a bit of <I>Cirque, Stomp, Blue Man</I> flavor, but it is its own thing and includes hamboning, black light, acrobatics, Flamenco and belly-dancing, all with great creativity, universality in movement and sound, order and chaos with order.

Richmond Shepard
Beauty of the Father
Manhattan Theater Club
Nilo Cruz's Beauty of the Father, now at Manhattan Theatre Club, is about a Spanish painter who converses with the ghost of Federico Garcia Lorca, the young man he is sexually involved with, his long-lost daughter whom he deserted as a child, and the woman friend with whom he shares his house.
Richmond Shepard
Belle Epoque
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

Martha Clarke's Belle Epoque is an impression of an Impressionist, Toulouse-Lautrec, and the costumes, dances, atmosphere of late 19th-Century French Cafe culture. Clarke creates living paintings with four-foot-tall Mark Povinelli as Lautrec. Stories about Lautrec range from the sentimental to the bizarre.

Richmond Shepard
Polly Bergen
Feintein's at the Regency

I know what you're thinking. You thought I was dead, says Polly Bergen, the 70-year-old, still-quite-beautiful-and-svelte singer who greeted the audience that was packed in like sardines at Feinstein's at the Regency. Bergen, who, for whatever reason, chose to leave the professional stage thirty five years ago at the peak of her popularity, has retained the smoky sensual and strong voice that made her the undisputed queen of smoke-filled (the good-old days) cabarets.

Simon Saltzman
Best Sex of the XX Century Sale, The
Theater For The New City
Experimental Theater doyen Lissa Moira's latest version of her creation, The Best Sex of the XX Century Sale, now at the Theater for the New City, is an amusing, absurdist history of sex in the 20th Century, with a lively cast of singers and dancers doing songs, decade by decade, of the progressing century -- movies, pop music and culture. Included are a "Boop-boopy-do" by Betty Boop and writer/director Moira herself as Mae West. Choreography by Mariana Bekerman is delightfully in tune with the proceedings.
Richmond Shepard
Betty Rules
Zipper Theater

Girls with electric guitars - even after Chrissie Hynde, Heart, the Bangles, etc. - it's still a relatively rare and empowering sight. So when Elizabeth Ziff cranks up her Gibson and giraffe-like Alyson Palmer thumps her thumb to the bass, there's a gusto and freedom present that goes beyond just the basic energy you get from hearing rock and roll. BETTY Rules follows the 17- year history of the New York trio, sisters Elizabeth and Amy and their partner in harmony, Alyson.

David Lefkowitz
Beyond the DMZ
Theater For The New City

In Beyond the DMZ, director Eu-Hee Kim and choreographer Natasa Trifan have created a powerful dance drama about Korean history, the separation of North and South, the Korean War, the Demilitarized Zone, and its impact fifty years later on families who were separated. Well-conceived and artistically well executed, DMZ shows off the supple,well-trained bodies of agile dancers in the company, using Modern Dance form to clearly communicate the pain, the joy, the lives of these people.

Richmond Shepard
Bhutan
Cherry Lane Theater

Daisy Foote's Bhutan is a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from past and present jumbled together until, gradually, the picture of a Massachusetts working-class family and its dynamics, its conflicts with each other and with the world, becomes clear. It's a domestic drama with realism underlined by the stylized presentation.

Richmond Shepard
Big Apple Circus
Damrosch Park Tent

With a nod to 1950s music and kitsch and a typical array of acrobatics, animals and clown antics, the latest installment of the Big Apple Circus is, while not especially thrilling, still a guaranteed-good- time family night out. Big Apple veteran clown Barry Lubin (as "Grandma") wins our affection as ever, especially with an amusing bit on a stairmaster.

David Lefkowitz
Pumpgirl
Manhattan Theater Club

Pumpgirls would not be the first play to interweave monologues to tell the same story from different points of view (e.g., Brian Friel's Faith Healer), nor would it be the first play to illustrate the adage that "the wages of sin is death," so Abbie Spallen's new Irish drama, currently at Manhattan Theater Club's second stage, lacks both the thrill of surprise and the kick of heated conflict.

David Lefkowitz
Big Top Machine
Collective Unconscious

Garnering a well-deserved award for Overall Excellence - Solo Show, this tour-de-force by Kevin Augustine was a frequent sell out at the New York International Fringe Festival. Augustine is an inspired creator and performer who moves easily from text to mime to bunraku-style puppetry (with the aid puppetry assistants Josh Cohen and Anna Kramer in black from head to toe). Big Top Machine captures some of the less glamorous aspects of the traditional circus.

David Lipfert
Billy the Mime
Players Theater
Did you see "The Aristocrats"? The sequence by Billy the Mime was one of the funniest. Billy the Mime is now playing in the NY Fringe, and it's a "Don't Miss!" He's one of the best mimes in the country with clean clear technique, a great sense of humor and perfect timing.
Richmond Shepard
Bindlestiff Family Cirkus
Theater For The New City

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, now at the Theater for the New City, offer the real deal: unabashed, old fashioned vaudeville and sideshow, without embellishments, performed by an accomplished duo with great circus skills: Keith Nelson and Stephanie Monseu. Also on hand in From the Gutter to the Glitter are the fun musical duo, pianist Peter Bufano (who also juggles) and zippy violinist Kathe Hostetter.

Richmond Shepard
Bitterroot
La MaMa ETC

LaMaMa presented, in June, a new music-theater work by the Talking Band company called Bitterroot, which offers a clever play-within-a play. The frame: after Lincoln's assassination closed the theaters, the company that had been performing My American Cousin at Ford's Theatre (Abe was shot during a performance) goes on tour with an historical play about the Lewis and Clark expedition. They never get more than fifty miles from Washington, but we're always rooting for them.

Steve Capra
Blabbermouths, The
Present Company Theatorium

(see Criticopia off-Broadway review of "Habladores")

David Lipfert
Blind Alley
Puerto Rican Traveling Theater

This is a trio of one-acts, each with realistic female characters in a contemporary urban setting. Hopscotch shows teenagers Haydee (Monica Read) and Dee (Mariana Carreno) dickering over how to spend Christmas. With a mother doing time, Haydee has "graduated" from school dropout population to petty crime, so Dee's more stable situation of separated, inimical parents makes her seem a bastion of stability. Add to that Dee's vestigial moral schema, and she is on her way to escape from the squalid life depicted. Maybe.

David Lipfert
Blogging About Cat Stevens
Shetler Studio Theater

Monologues appeal to the voyeur in us. Details of someone else's life - we can't ever get enough of them - especially when they're presented in such a persuasive way as in this collection. A few themes run through the 12 lives on view. Blogging is one. Private thoughts made public; it's as if blogs were invented for exhibitionists. Just like these actors. Another theme is pain, but usually that's told to us only after the character gets us through the more mundane part.

David Lipfert
Bloomer Girl
City Center

A year after the success of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (the pioneering musical that dealt profoundly with box lunch socials), musical theater collaborators Harold Arlen (composer), E.Y. Harburg (lyricist) and Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy (book writers) would opt for more social significance with their 1944 tuner, Bloomer Girl. Bloomer Girl did not achieve the immortality of "Oklahoma," but its quaint charms, enlivened by adapter David Ives, were recently revived for the popular Encores! Series at the City Center.

Simon Saltzman
Blue
Gramercy Theater

Phylicia Rashad makes a triumphant return to the stage in Blue, a breezy, wonderfully pleasing new work by Charles Randolph-Wright. Seeing how effortlessly she commands the stage, you wonder why she isn't on one more often. Best known as Claire Huxtable on the wildly popular "Cosby" shows, Rashad seems born to the stage, with her unmistakable presence and quiet gravity.

Jason Clark
Blue Man Group
Astor Place Theater

Gonzo performance art that may be the most fun you've ever had with your clothes on. Even if the thought of paint-filled marshmallows, cascading waves of toilet paper and fish-as-art doesn't fill you with anticipation, go anyway; maybe they'll let you wear the spurting gorilla suit. A recent look-in saw Blue Man going ever-so-slightly more commercial (including an opening sequence of verbal messages to the audience) and still burdened with one too many musical interludes, but hey, even heaven must have a rusty harp or two.

David Lefkowitz
Blue Surge
Public Theater

I'm not one of the several theater critics quick to hail Rebecca Gilman as the playwright du jour and savior for the social-consciousness play.

Jason Clark
Blue Surge
Public Theater

Blue Surge is a rare bird: a first-rate, working-class drama. It's a hot, very funny, contemporary comedy, perfectly cast: Rachel Miner, Joe Murphy, Colleen Werthmann, Steve Key, Amy Landecker are directed with energy and great timing by Robert Falls. The show's well designed by Walt Spangler, costumed by Birgit Rattenborg Wise and lit by Michael Philippi.

Richmond Shepard

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