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Chita Rivera Stars in New Musical ‘The Visit’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Visit

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

There are a lot of questions begged by The Visit, an unequivocally strange new musical that opened last night at the Lycium Theatre — i.e. “On what dark planet is this story set?” “Who are those blind eunuchs and why are they wearing white-face?” and, “How did this daring but slight musical find itself on Broadway?” There is only one answer, and she is the legendary Chita Rivera: the two-time Tony Award winner known for her half-century-long career and formative place in American theatre, giving what may be one of her final performances on stage.

Visit_4Of course, there are also its creators, John Kander and the late Fred Ebb, the songwriting team behind shadowy mega-hits like Chicago and Cabaret, and book writer Terrence McNally, represented down the block with It’s Only a Play. There is an unmistakable thrill to seeing Rivera in a new work from the storied scribes (the final one for Kander and Ebb), and her inestimable talent comes superbly alive in every moment she’s on stage. That she holds your attention from wandering too far into sea of question marks that surrounds her is probably for the best.

Based on a 1956 avant-garde satire by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, the story centers on a wildly wealthy woman, Claire Zachanassian, making a return visit to her small hometown, which has fallen into destitution. When she ran off in her youth, she left behind a great love, Anton Schell (Roger Rees), who now has his own family. Claire married rich many times to make her fortune, and upon her return, the townspeople are desperate to get their hands on it. She has a sinister plot up her sleeve to prove vengeance is best served cold, which, once revealed about midway through the intermissionless show, helps explain some of its more bizarre elements.

Visit_6An attempted meditation on greed, lust, and revenge, the story feels more like a rickety framework on which to hang an array of mostly unrelated (but not unenjoyable) songs by Kander and Ebb, strung together by characteristically rote dialogue from Mr. McNally. The musical, which first premiered in Chicago in 2001 and is directed here by John Doyle, plants its feet in two camps: one the macabre, cold-hearted revenge story, and the other a sort of wistful, sentimental tale of lost love. The uneasy combination never quite manages to find solid ground.

As befits its outsider-stepping-in story, The Visit’s cast of players is likewise split. The Brechtian company, smeared with sooty makeup, acts mostly like a presentational chorus, speaking in exposition and turns of plot. Rivera, on the other hand is fully flesh and blood (and occasionally fur), delightfully vindictive and coolly droll, commanding the stage with a single lingering look or turn of phrase. Her coyly sympathetic characterization of Claire is the captivating center of an otherwise ponderous and mottled show. Fortunately, she’s likely the reason for your visit, too.

Recent theatre features... 
New Musical ‘Something Rotten!’ Brings Shakespeare and Sex Puns to Broadway: REVIEW
Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Novel Comes to Broadway in New Musical ‘Fun Home’: REVIEW
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Open In Lavish Broadway Revival of ‘The King and I’: REVIEW
Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer Open in ‘Finding Neverland’ on Broadway: REVIEW
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'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
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Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: thom kaine)


OUT NYC Hotel and Fire Island Pines Owner Hosts Intimate Reception for Ted Cruz

Cruz_weiderpass

If you had to pick where Sen. Ted Cruz was last night, you could be forgiven for not guessing the NYC penthouse of two high-dollar homocons. After all, Cruz is the only 2016 presidential hopeful (so far) who kicked off his campaign by asking voters to imagine an America where gays forever stay second class citizens

As The New York Times points out, though, Cruz apparently knows the value of having big spenders on your team on the campaign trail, regardless of sexual orientation. 

ReisnerDuring the gathering, according to two attendees, Mr. Cruz said he would have no problem if one of his daughters was gay. He did not mention his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying only that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states.

The dinner and “fireside chat” for about a dozen people with Mr. Cruz and his wife, Heidi, was at the Central Park South penthouse of Mati Weiderpass (above) and Ian Reisner (right), longtime business partners who were once a couple and who have been pioneers in the gay hospitality industry.

Reisner, the owner of the OUT NYC hotel and nightclub complex near Times Square, recently purchased a commercial strip along the Fire Island Pines. Weiderpass and Reisner's penthouse apartment made headlines back in October when a 23-year-old Hell's Kitchen gay bar manager was found dead of a reported drug overdose in its bathtub. 

UPDATE: A Facebook page has been launched in the wake of the NYT article calling for a boycott of "[Fire Island Pines] Low Tea, Middle Tea, High Tea, the Pavilion, and Out NYC Hotel."


New Musical ‘Something Rotten!’ Brings Shakespeare and Sex Puns to Broadway: REVIEW

Something rotten

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

A love of musicals is something of a requisite for enjoying Something Rotten, a crowd-pleasing new one that opened on Broadway last night at the St. James Theatre. An origin story in the form of a send-up, the comedy about the first ever musical packs enough references to the Broadway canon to give any theatre queen whiplash. That’s not to say this Renaissance-set romp isn’t also chock-full of enough humor both high (Shakespearean sex puns) and low (regular sex puns) to please a range of tastes, but it saves its biggest winks for the regulars. Though often grossly (and unabashedly) overplayed, overall the show’s on-the-nose wit is disarmingly funny and likely to charm.

Something rotten 3Nick and Nigel Bottom (whose last name is subject to innumerable obvious jokes, for some idea of how this is going to go) are playwriting brothers toiling in the shadow of Shakespeare (Christian Borle, doing his best Mick Jagger). Nick (played by spot-on everyman Brian d’Arcy James) is the ambitious one with the supportive, salt-of-the-earth wife (Kate Blickenstaff, excellent), and Nigel (an endearingly nerdy John Cariani) is the insecure poet. In hopes of outdoing the Bard, Nick visits a soothsayer (Brad Oscar) to find out what the next big thing in theatre will be (you’ll never guess the answer!). Meanwhile, Nigel is busy exchanging verses and innuendo with Portia (Kate Reinders), daughter of this tale’s Puritanical wet blanket (a priceless Brooks Ashmanskas), who speaks exclusively in euphemisms for gay sex.

Something rotten 5The music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick (brothers themselves, with impressive track records in song- and screenwriting) follow in the tradition of musicals like Spamalot and The Book of Mormon, pairing down-the-line melodies with nimbly clever lyrics that would never shy away from, say, rhyming “genius” with “penis.” For the script, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell freely mine Shakespeare’s plays to assemble their framework — from fortune-telling, star-crossed lovers, and F-to-M cross-dressing, to a kvetching Jew and a trial.

Many of the musical’s basest laughs would be plainly eye-rolling (or some even more so than they already are) were it not for director Casey Nicholaw’s deft comedic hand coupled with the cast’s timing and finesse. In true homage to the form, Nicholaw’s choreography is likewise nail-on-the-head (you didn’t think you’d escape without a full-company kick line and a handful of tap numbers, did you?). Eclectic fairy tale sets by Scott Pask flow seamlessly, and don’t expect to covet any of Gregg Barnes’ kooky mash-up of period and fantasy dress (except maybe a wig or two for your next lip sync).

Something rotten 4Something Rotten arrives at the table eager to show off a full bag of tricks — stacked high with insider jokes wrapped in a by-the-book iteration of the form it both worships and spoofs. Like most tongue-in-cheek musicals (and most musicals in general, for that matter), its persistent gesture is more of a wallop than a nudge. And if, one hand in five you pull up, well, something rotten — you came to the table, didn’t you?

Recent theatre features... 
Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Novel Comes to Broadway in New Musical ‘Fun Home’: REVIEW
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Open In Lavish Broadway Revival of ‘The King and I’: REVIEW
Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer Open in ‘Finding Neverland’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Ballet Meets Broadway in Dazzling New Musical ‘An American in Paris’: REVIEW
'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Possessed Puppet Comedy 'Hand to God' Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


1 World Trade Center Serves Up Stunning, Time-Traveling NYC Skyline Elevator Visuals: VIDEO

Manhattan

1 World Trade Center’s elevator to the building’s observatory level offers a time-lapse display of New York’s urban development history that plays within the elevator as it ascends toward the observatory reports The New York Times.

The video is presented from the perspective of where the 1 World Trade Center building stands, spanning from the year 1500 to the present. Although animated displays are hardly new, the elevator’s visuals are composed in a fresh manner including stylish elevator level and timeline indicators superimposed over the developing New York skyline; as the elevator ascends, the visuals progress through time.

Watch the elevator ride for yourself, AFTER THE JUMP

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 11.45.09 AM

Continue reading "1 World Trade Center Serves Up Stunning, Time-Traveling NYC Skyline Elevator Visuals: VIDEO" »


Original Cast of 'A Chorus Line' Honored by Cast of 'Hamilton' in Singularly Sensational Moment: VIDEO

Chorusline_hamilton

Last Thursday Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton, one of off-Broadway's hottest tickets, paid tribute to the 40th Anniversary of the iconic Broadway classic A Chorus Line which also played at The Public Theater.

After a rousing rendition of "What I Did for Love", Miranda had The Public Theater audience squealing in its seats when he invited the original cast of A Chorus Line onstage to join them.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Original Cast of 'A Chorus Line' Honored by Cast of 'Hamilton' in Singularly Sensational Moment: VIDEO" »


Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Novel Comes to Broadway in New Musical ‘Fun Home’: REVIEW

Fun_Home_0450_Sydney_Lucas__Michael_Cerveris_-_Photo_Credit_Joan_Marcus

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

The dizzying rush of the first time we had sex or set eyes on a dead body aren’t the sort of memories most of us try putting into boxes (the cropped squares of Instagram can only hold so much); such is the task laid out on the pages of Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed memoir and graphic novel. The author’s coming-of-age story about growing up as a lesbian with a closeted gay father, who killed himself just as she embraced her own self-discovery, comes vividly to life in a new musical that opened last night at Circle in the Square — one of the most stirring and inventive on Broadway in years.

Fun_Home_3980_-_Beth_Malone__Emily_Skeggs_-_Photo_Credit_Jenny_AndersonFirst produced at the Public Theater last season, the transformative adaptation presents an adult Alison (Beth Malone) as the writer and cartoonist trying to make sense of her formative experiences by distilling them into captions as they unfold on stage. The show lights on key moments in her relationship with her father (an unknowable character played with aching conviction by Michael Cerveris), particularly the intertwining paths of her sexual awakening with his struggle to suppress the shame and consequences of being gay himself. His end is her beginning, and telling their stories together becomes an integral part of her identity.

Fun_Home_0088_-_Sydney_Lucas__Beth_Malone__Emily_Skeggs_Photo_Credit_Joan_MarcusA young Alison (a poised and buoyant Sydney Lucas) appears in scenes of her 1970s childhood spent in an elaborately restored home, which her father curates like a museum, and which also houses the family business, the Bechdel Funeral Home (she and her brothers call it “fun home” for short). A post-adolescent Alison, played by a searching and lovable Emily Skeggs, makes her way through the often magically awkward rites of young adulthood (including an effusive morning-after song that’s a delightful high point), and faces sobering revelations about her father’s secret life and sudden death.

Music by Jeanine Tesori (Violet, Thoroughly Modern Millie) and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron (Well) lend lifelike dimension to the already rich story, adding new and compelling layers in both dialogue and song. Tesori and Kron brilliantly transpose the graphic novel’s focus on the author’s search for her voice, as well as its framework of visual recollection. Like Bechdel’s drawings, Kron’s lyrics capture the way memories are often marked by specific, often random visual details — like a ring of keys on someone’s belt loop, or the rise and dip of telephone wires rushing past a car window.

Fun_Home_0493_-_ITR_Photo_Credit_Joan_MarcusDynamically staged in the round by director Sam Gold (The Real Thing, Picnic), the production has the nostalgic palette and warm, faded hues of a ‘70s photo — as though we are watching Alison thumb through a family album. By the end, you may feel you know the family as well as if the album belonged to you — their story may be a far cry from yours, but its extraordinary telling touches on emotional truths that will surely hit home for everyone.

Recent theatre features... 
Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Open In Lavish Broadway Revival of ‘The King and I’: REVIEW
Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer Open in ‘Finding Neverland’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Ballet Meets Broadway in Dazzling New Musical ‘An American in Paris’: REVIEW
'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Possessed Puppet Comedy 'Hand to God' Opens on Broadway: REVIEW
Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW
Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs Open on Broadway in ‘The Heidi Chronicles’: REVIEW


Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


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