The Show Must Go Wrong

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Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

Broadway shows and musicals are a defining characteristic of the New York City experience. These shows are held in such high regard because of the immense amount of talent, preparation, creativity and perfection that goes into their production. Thus, when audiences attend a show, they expect to see the most talented and thoroughly trained performers, as well as the most glamorous sets. However, this sense of perfection is not for everyone.

Those looking for a more light-hearted show peppered with hilarious flaws should turn to “The Play That Goes Wrong.” This comedy, which traveled to the United States from London’s West End, opened April 2 at the Lyceum Theater.

In “The Play That Goes Wrong,” the performers adequately introduce the Cornley University Drama Society’s performance of “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” That is about the last time everything seems to go right in the performance. This show doesn’t follow the typical path of other Broadway shows — but that’s not to say that the cast or set are lacking. In fact, the complicated set-up of a play within a play is executed magnificently so that audience members are not confused, but rather astonished at how the actors are able to feign bad acting. If anything, they are even more skilled because they are able to navigate the intentional errors, exaggerations and occasional improvisations.

The set is also exceptional as it breaks down without seeming ramshackle. Sure, sparks may fly, second floors may collapse and performers may be forced to substitute their own bodies for various props and furniture, but it is this excellent handiwork and acting that makes the play so hilarious. The faulty set plays an enormous comical role and the way in which the performers make use of it is equally amusing.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” calls back to a vaudevillian era where simple slapstick ruled in theaters. The play itself is like a mashup of scenes from the Three Stooges and the board game Clue. A number of faces may be smashed by doors, corpses may be caught walking on stage and audiences may have to pretend to see the antics of an invisible dog, but it is all these little details and clumsy bits throughout the show that add to itscharm and humor.

Any audience members who have performed in a play themselves will recognize the common mistakes that this performance amplifies. The performers almost never break character, even if this means having to circle through a certain scene four times to accommodate one of the actors’ forgotten lines.

In a hysterical showcase of Murphy’s Law, in which everything that can go wrong does, the performers carry out an incredibly and unbelievably entertaining feat.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is playing at The Lyceum Theater at 149 W. 45th St. through December 30.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 17 print edition. 

Link to published article.

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History Reclaimed, Identity Redefined in ‘Latin History for Morons’

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New York PremiereLATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS
Written and performed by John Leguizamo
Directed by Tony Taccone
In a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck
Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols
Original Music and Sound Des

Courtesy of Joan Marcus

U.S. history classes have long disregarded the impact and struggles of Latinx people. The result of this neglect is what Emmy Award-winning performer John Leguizamo describes in the program book of his new play “Latin History for Morons” as “ghetto aggression” — repressed anger towards society for ignoring and erasing the significance and contributions of Latinxs. Rather than wallow in this anger, Leguizamo turns to humor to relieve it. His new one-man performance opened March 27 at The Public’s Anspacher Theater.

Leguizamo’s performance and history lesson are structured around a series of conversations he had with his son, who was bullied and unable to identify a Latinx hero for his school history project. Leguizamo embarks on a mission to help his son find a worthy Latinx hero by schooling him on the importance of Latinx people throughout U.S. history. He explains that Latinx people have been soldiers and even leaders in every American war. Yet his son remains unconvinced. Unimpressed by Latinx war heroes, Leguizamo’s son wants a Latinx hero who lives up to his own standards. In response to his son’s dissatisfaction, Leguizamo sets out to grapple with his own issues with his Latinx identity.

During his performance, Leguizamo cites a number of academic texts that cover the Latinx histories passed over by traditional American history curriculums. As he runs around his small classroom-like stage, he picks up and references books ranging from modern texts like, “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn to historical accounts such as “The Florentine Codex” by Bernardino de Sahagun. However, his atypical history lesson varies drastically from a traditional academic setting. Leguizamo’s humor, which incorporates sexual innuendo, Latin music dance numbers and jabs at political leaders, keeps the entire class and audience engaged. The fact that he quizzes audience members — and shames them for not knowing the right answer — is another reason to pay rapt attention.

Although Leguizamo’s humor draws plenty of laughter from the audience, it is unfortunate that he occasionally resorts to sexist or racist jokes — particularly as his material focuses on the erasure of the achievements of a group of people as a result of racism. However, his strongest jokes are those that bring historical references into conversation with current realities. Overall, Leguizamo is incredibly successful in bringing to life the stories of historical figures and peoples by relating them to modern culture. He is a captivating performer, skilled at making the audience contemplate the shortcomings of traditional American history classes and the impact of this misinformation on today’s society and youth. In the end, Leguizamo’s journey with his son ends with a heartwarming message as they both learn to cope with the marginalization of Latinx history and understand what their identities mean to them.

“Latin History for Morons” is playing at The Public’s Anspacher Theater at 425 Lafayette St. through April 23.

Link to published article.

The Barber is Back on Barrow Street for ‘Sweeney Todd’ Revival

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Courtesy of Author

“Sweeney Todd,” originally a 1979 Broadway musical, has returned to New York City after more than a decade. The revamped off-Broadway production by the Tooting Arts Club, which opened at the Barrow Street Theater on March 1, follows a popular run in London’s West End. While Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics remain classic, the location’s intimate space allows for some flexible and astonishingly creative audience set-up. Replicating Harrington’s Pie and Mash shop, the real-life shop and stage for the “Sweeney Todd” production in London, the Barrow Street Theater was remodeled to allow audiences the experience of sitting and dining in an actual pie shop.

The show’s plot follows a bitter barber driven by revenge who plots to kill the man who took his wife, along with anyone who gets in his way. His landlady, the owner of a failing pie shop, wonders what to do with the dead bodies that keep appearing. In an absurdly nifty way, the pair decide that grinding the corpses and baking them into meat pies is the best way to both dispose of the bodies and make pie-baking cheaper and more filling.

With firm tongue-in-cheek humor, the theater sells pie slices to audience members to enjoy before the show. Even more astounding is the fact that the pies are baked by former White House Executive Pastry Chef, William Yosses. Those with dietary restrictions prohibiting cannibalism need not worry — the deliciously rich pies contain no traces of human meat.

When the pie munching is over, the tables are completely cleared — and for good reason. The show’s brilliant choreography calls for the performers to jump, stomp and slide along the communal tables throughout the performance. Jeremy Secomb, who plays the protagonist Sweeney Todd, has a thunderous voice that pervades the theater and makes his character all the more intimidating. The narrow stage area means plenty of audience members have the opportunity to make eye contact with him — a terrifying experience as his piercing eyes reveal a convincingly tormented soul.

This isn’t the only form of audience interaction. Spectators can expect to be shouted at by actors standing inches away, have their heads rubbed with miraculous hair growth formula or to be jostled unceremoniously by actors who never break character.

If they’re not too terrified, viewers will certainly find the humor in the performances of actors like Siobhan McCarthy, who plays the eccentric pie maker Mrs. Lovett, and Betsy Morgan, who plays rival barber Adolfo Pirelli. Both have beautiful voices that may only be outdone by their devilish comedic genius.

However, this thrilling play isn’t all blood and games. A purer love story than Mrs. Lovett’s lethal romance does exist for the young lovers Johanna and Anthony, played by Alex Finke and Matt Doyle respectively. Their soft and sweet voices are a stark contrast to the rest of the play, slicing through the bittersweet tension.

All in all, the performance is a wonderful revival and everything from the intimate space — occasionally lit only by candlelight — to its small cast and incredibly talented three-person orchestra make it a truly enjoyable and lively experience.

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is playing at the Barrow Street Theater at 27 Barrow St. through Aug. 13.

Link to published article.

Porn Pays Tuition at a Cost in “Exposed”

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Courtesy of Andrea Alton PR

In 2004, Duke University freshman Miriam Weeks made headlines as the Duke Porn Star, Belle Knox, after she was outed by fellow students. Scandalized reporters, parents, and students condemned Weeks for funding her education by making pornography. But Weeks, a Gender Studies and Sociology major, defended her decision, causing a country-wide media frenzy.

“Exposed,” a new play, tells Miriam’s harrowing story, as it spreads from her dorm room to television sets in millions of households. Conceived by director Kristin Heckler and written in collaboration with Sarah Raimondi, Pauline Sherrow and Jacob-Sebastian Phillips, “Exposed” was originally written for an Adaptation class at The New School for Drama. The controversially charged performances and thoroughly developed characters are brought to life by Raimondi, Sherrow and Phillips. In the stage adaptation, Raimondi plays Lauren — also known as Ariel Cox, the Duke Porn Star — while Sherrow and Phillips play a multitude of roles, including Lauren’s best friends, parents, other porn stars and reporters.

Although the play contains several sensitive themes and messages, the team does an incredible job respecting the original story. The play draws from original dialogue, text and audio from Weeks’ personal interviews, blog posts, tweets and porn videos. This research adds authenticity and creates thought-provoking and emotional dilemmas. Raimondi fully embodies her character and her subtle mannerisms evoke the turbulent thoughts and conflicts that plague her character throughout the performance. Meanwhile, Sherrow and Phillips convincingly play a number of multifaceted roles, ranging from her supportive best friends to her distraught and disappointed parents.

Coupled with tasteful porn scenes, the group does an excellent job of incorporating extreme — if not harsh — imagery. Perhaps the most powerful images are the mock radio and television interviews in which Lauren is humiliated and slut-shamed for the sake of national entertainment. Her measured and smart responses make her an admirable character, who is after all, a student of Duke University. This reminds the audience that Lauren’s choices are driven by the costs of higher education.

“Exposed” manages to empathize with Weeks’ experiences while still highlighting the concerns and issues regarding feminism and pornography. The play does not treat the consequences of porn stardom lightly but does challenge viewers to see it a new light. Overall, the play is an effective way to promote discussions about misogyny, sexual discrimination and the rights of sex workers. Furthermore, it brings attention to the extremes some students will risk to afford higher education.

“Exposed” is playing at The Sonnet Theater at The Producer’s Club through Feb. 18.

Link to published article.

‘Nutcracker Rouge’ Not for Kids

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Courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Company XIV’s revival of the production “Nutcracker Rouge” brings fiery passion to a ballet usually for younger audiences. In the sensuous reimagining of the show, director Austin McCormick gives new purpose to the various lingerie-clad dolls that engage the protagonist, Marie-Claire, played by Laura Careless, in several fantastical dances and dreams.

Following in the footsteps of its previous production of Cinderella, Nutcracker Rouge is a glitzy baroque-burlesque, opera, circus and theater all tied into one glamorous show. Shelly Watson drives the show as Madame Drosselmeyer, acting as an emcee and amping up the crowd. Her insanely impressive singing skills and the energy she brings to the stage makes the audience shout and cheer her on like no other character.

Brett Umlauf, Marcy Richardson and Jacob Karr are other performers that really shine in this production. Umlauf, who personifies candy such as turkish delight and licorice is an incredibly talented singer, dancing while belting songs like Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” in Persian. Richardson, the pole doll and champagne, combines current pop hits such as “Chandelier” by Sia in French and “Alejandro” by Lady Gaga in Spanish with incredible aerial work while playing the lyra. The glitter storm that hits as Umlauf twirls in the air makes the moment ever so magical. Karr drops jaws in his performance as the marionette doll, cake and in the corps de ballet, flexing, bending and kicking in an upbeat dance as if his bones are nonexistent. The audience laughs and whoops when he emerge as a cake, shimmying and strutting in a comical dance.

The incredible pointe dancer who opens the performance, Hilly Bodin, portrays a ballerina doll and a cherry and is in the corps de ballet. Bodin explained why she loves this particular style of theater.

“There is a sense of confidence and sensuality combined with theatrical elements that makes everyone so open with their bodies,” Bodin said. “Burlesque is a lot of external work but internally there is a lot of confidence and power. It’s anartistic explosion.”

Bodin also added that the choreographer and director McCormick gives the performance certain artistic freedom.

“He gives us the canvas and color palette, and then we can play with the choreography while he oversees it,” Bodin said. “It’s challenging, especially with the costumes because sometimes they are so heavy, up to 20 pounds, and we have to make it seem real, like the costume isn’t there but also be mindful so it doesn’t get damaged.”

Nonetheless, the performers certainly create a wonderful dream-like atmosphere with singing and dancing that is unbelievably intricate but appears effortless. A must-watch performance, Nutcracker Rouge runs until Jan. 17, 2016 at the Minetta Lane Theater.

A version of this article appeared in the Dec. 7 print edition.

Link to published article.

Gallatin Senior Stars in Solo Show

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Courtesy of Lily van Leeuwen

In an intimate theater in Hell’s Kitchen, Gallatin senior Johanna Duk stands in the center of a near-empty stage wearing a bright dress and an ice cream cone necklace with matching socks. She stares wide-eyed at the audience and clutches a bucket of popcorn. The pigtails above her ears swing as she questions where she is and why she is there.

“Waiting for What?” is a dark comedy written by Duk and director Tisch senior Lily van Leeuwen. Duk, who is a writer, director and actress, stars in the one-woman show, playing a young 12-year-old girl in the waiting room between life and death. Throughout the fifteen minute performance, flashing numbers counted down to the main character’s revelation of her death.

Although performed as part of the 2015 United Solo festival, the largest solo theater festival in the world, “Waiting for What?” has been seen by audiences before. It premiered at the Gallatin Arts Festival in Spring 2015 where Duk was happy to receive what she called “a great response from the audience.” The play was originally van Leeuwen’s idea, but transformed into something both writers felt strongly about through a collaborative effort.

“It is hard to share thoughts openly,” Duk said. “ In the show the little girl doesn’t have to worry. I see it so much — people focus on what other people are thinking. It’s unnecessary. I wanted to let my thoughts run. She doesn’t always say what the audience wants to hear. She says more than she should.”

Duk warned the audience will most likely be confused at various points but urged them to listen carefully. At some points, it is difficult to understand how such a young child could fabricate such deep thoughts, speak with such an extensive vocabulary and be so worldly about current events.

When the countdown projected behind her reached one, it seemed like the audience should be shocked — it was the moment the character finally wrapped her head around her death — but instead, most viewers were expecting more. The play ended literally at zero, with no afterword or final note. Certainly a bit confusing, the play felt somewhat unfinished as audience members silently waited for the next scene although the performance was over. Although unclear at points, it is Duk and van Leeuwen’s intention and they are successful in making misunderstood, often avoided topics the central theme of their show.

“Waiting for What” was performed on Wednesday at Theater Row.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 16 print edition.

Link to the published article.

Scandalous ‘Cinderella’ Takes Stage

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Courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Company XIV’s eclectic production of “Cinderella” would make Walt Disney to blush. While in the film she is the protagonist, Cinderella is everything but the star of director and choreographer Austin McCormick’s interpretation — that is, she functions as a prop in the show, both literally as a table and stool and figuratively, to tie the various plots together.

Previously minor characters, such as the Step-Mother, step-sisters and Fairy Godmother are the ones who truly shine in this performance. Running at the Minetta Lane Theater, “Cinderella” is the ultimate vaudeville act — incorporating everything from burlesque and ballet to opera and circus with a gender-bending and scantily but ornately clad cast.

The combination of acts truly feels like a dream. The show exudes an air of antiquity, especially during every scene change when a silent movie-esque letter board is carried across the stage by performers wearing Louis XIV heels and not much else. There is an overall lack of dialogue throughout the show, with most characters relying on sensual and risque movements in combination with a pastiche of music ranging from opera and classical music to retro music infused with modern songs by Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Nicki Minaj.

The production is an incredible work of art with so many beautiful details that it is difficult to take everything in without missing any details. Perhaps most immediately visible are the actor’s costumes, comprising mostly nude-colored undergarments, all embellished in a magnificent baroque style. Over their toned and muscular bodies lie a combination of burlesque bustles, cages, panniers and rhinestoned codpieces. The collection of wigs, balloons and masks only add to the charm of the production.

The stand-out character in this show is most definitely the Step-Mother, brilliantly and superbly played by Davon Rainey. Rainey brings a perfect mix of femininity and masculinity to the character that no one knew was missing before. The Step-Mother ran the show from the very beginning and everything that happened seemed to be a direct result of her devious plan — to get the Prince for herself. Rainey’s sensual dances, vogue attitude and ruthless conquering all while wearing killer high heels made him a wonderful and titillating villain, as well as an instant favorite.

The Fairy Godmother, played by Katrina Cunningham, is another fantastic character who truly astounds. Her Marilyn Monroe look and demeanor were just the tip of the iceberg. Her dancing and singing are mesmerizing and chilling to the bone. Cunningham has a powerful voice and does an unbelievable impression of Lana Del Rey, adding hints of seductive charm to the songs to go along with the piece. Her scenes incorporating balloons, glitter and alcohol effectively render her a dreamy fairytale character.

Cinderella, played by Allison Ulrich, is redeemed as a main character in the play of her namesake only in the end when she dances with the Prince, played by Steven Trumon Gray, in mid-air on a lyra. They are spectacular as they twist in and out of the hoop at an amazing pace and with incredible grace as they perform some of the riskiest moves of the show, ending the show with a beautiful
ever after.

“Cinderella” finishes its run next week on Nov. 15 at 5:00 p.m. at the Minetta Lane Theater.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 9 print edition.

Link to published article.