By William Wolf

CAROUSEL  Send This Review to a Friend

The second act with heaven and then a return trip to earth in the “Carousel” book by Oscar Hammerstein II is as corny as ever, but what remains truly heavenly is the glorious Richard Rodgers music, with Hammerstein’s lyrics. Add the smart staging by Jack O’Brien, the lavish scenic design by Santo Loquasto, other production skills, splendid updated choreography by Justin Peck, a cast with great voices and you have the special aura of the current revival.

Jessie Mueller makes an appealing Julie Jordan, Joshua Henry is impressive as Billy Bigelow, and there are the necessary romantic sparks between them. Lindsay Mendez is a standout as Carrie, excellent actor John Douglas Thompson plays the Starkeeper, and to top it off in the casting department, there is the operatic voice of Renée Fleming, who acts the role of Nettie Fowler.

Consider some of the beautifully executed numbers: Mendez and Mueller singing “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan;” Mendez touchingly interpreting “Mister Snow;” Mueller and Henry with “If I loved You,” and Fleming, Mendez and the company spiritedly signing “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.” Henry, with thrilling power in his voice, makes the most of the opportunities to show off his vocal and acting talents. There is also the familiar gospel-like “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” given full treatment by Fleming, then again by Mueller, Fleming and the company in a resounding finale.

All that would be enough of an allure, but there is the standout dancing en masse, and especially by Brittany Pollack and Andrei Chagas as a dazzling duo.

The show offers an abundance of visual delights in addition to the score and the musical high points. There are enough of those elements to override the work’s corny trip to heaven and back. This “Carousel” emphasizes the dark side of the story, as well as its fun and uplifting sides. The result is strong appeal for those who have never seen “Carousel,” as well as for those who have and would like to make some comparisons. At the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 15, 2018.

MISS YOU LIKE HELL  Send This Review to a Friend

The effort of a mother to cement a relationship with her estranged daughter and the horrors of immigration crackdowns are blended into a touching, lively musical in “Miss You Like Hell,” with book and lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes and music and lyrics by Erin McKeown. The show, as you can see, taps strongly into contemporary concerns.

The stage set-up is unusual for the Newman Theater at the Public. Audience members are seated on either side of the stage in addition to the audience in front, with supporting performers seated in the rear of the stage and stepping forward into the action when needed. Thus the scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez is a simple one for most of the way, but the creation of a wall, both realistic and symbolic, provides a stunning scenic climax that evokes the present even though the story is set four years ago.

The mother, Beatriz, played by the excellent Daphne Rubin-Vega, has been estranged from her daughter, Olivia, whom she lost in a custody battle, and is living in California. Olivia is portrayed by the intriguing, interesting looking and talented Gizel Jiménez. Beatriz unexpectedly shows up in Philadelphia, where Olivia lives with her father, but is greeted with extreme hostility by her resentful daughter, who has felt abandoned. Olivia has a blog and has given indications of contemplating suicide.

Beatriz persuades her daughter to go on a road trip west and in the process she hopes to forge a new relationship. There is also an ulterior motive. Beatriz, from Mexico, is in the U.S. illegally and she will want her daughter to testify for her in a pending hearing that could result in her deportation. Olivia at first doesn’t know the danger her mother is facing, and when she learns of her mother’s plan, she rages at being used.

The beauty of the show, enhanced by the lead performances, is how well the songs are integrated into the plot and how effectively supporting characters are brought into the story. For example, there is the homosexual couple, charmingly played by Michael Mulheren as Mo and David Patrick Kelly as Higgins. The men befriend Beatriz and Olivia, and inject some musical fizz. There is also the tamale vendor, Manuel (Danny Bolero), whom Beatriz co-opts as a useful helper. Marinda Anderson is effective as Beatriz’s lawyer.

Songs include “Sundays,” “Mothers,” “My Bell’s Been Rung,” “Over My Shoulder,” “Tamales” “Now I’m Here,” and the title one, “Miss You Like Hell,” as well as others, and they are sung meaningfully and, which is important, entertainingly. Director Lear deBessonet integrates story and music smoothly, and the show is brightened by Danny Mefford's choreography. Despite some weak spots here and there, this is a work with originality and heart and appearing just at the right time. At the Public Theater, 425 Layfayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed April 11, 2018.

MEAN GIRLS  Send This Review to a Friend

There is so much energy expended by the cast of “Mean Girls,” from leads to chorus members, that all must be wiped out by the end of every performance, two on matinee days. One can be pleasantly exhausted just watching it, and also dazzled by the panorama of projections, sliding desks and chairs, flashy lighting and other visual elements that go into this musical version of the film on which this musical is based. Scenery is by Scott Pask, lighting by Kenneth Posner, sound by Brian Ronan, video design by Finn Ross & Adam Young, costume design by Gregg Barnes, with music direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell.

The plot is as dippy and predicable as ever, although Tina Fey’s book includes lots of laugh lines, and Jeff Richmond’s music and Nell Benjamin’s lyrics provide the appealing cast members with opportunity to score big in the singing department. Casey Nicholaw’s high-speed direction and rapid-fire choreography avoid lulls.

Life in high school with nastiness and rivalries is updated to the age of social media. The charismatic Erica Henningsen as Cady Heron, first shown during her life in Africa, is the new girl in the bustling fictional high school. She is shunned and manipulated, but ultimately learns the ropes and tries to emulate the main rival, Taylor Louderman as the sexy, preening and obnoxious Regina, who lords over a group of gals. Louderman is a knockout in the role, although, looking a bit old for high school, she seems more in the category of a Trump trollop. Of course, she gets what’s coming to her before all turns out happily.

The musical is rife with show-stealing thievery. At the outset we meet Grey Henson as Damian Hubbard, and he entertainingly runs rampant with his role. He is thoroughly amusing with his snappy dialogue, gay movements and hilarious singing. Another scene-stealer is Ashley Park as Gretchen Wieners, whose big number “What’s Wrong With Me?” characterizes her inferiority complex.

Others who make up the cast include the excellent Kate Rockwell, Barrett Wilbert Weed, Kerry Butler, Kyle Selig, Cheech Manohar and Rick Younger. They all have their highlighted moments, which add to the overall strength of the production.

There is a specific audience for “Mean Girls,” starting with those who loved the movie and want to see how it turns out adapted into a musical. Others may be current high-schoolers who may recognize the types. There are Tina Fey fans. But for many the milieu will hardly be inviting, although even a skeptic glad to be far removed from the doings depicted, can admire the cast and the staging alive with Broadway expertise. At the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 13, 2018.

LOBBY HERO (2018)  Send This Review to a Friend

At this time when truth and morality loom even more important in light of the daily distortions by our current president, Kenneth Lonergan’s play “Lobby Hero” resonates dramatically in the Second Stage revival. The play has nothing to do with current politics, but it has everything to do with how individuals cope with ethical challenges involving the need to face truths no matter the personal costs. It therefore remains an important play for our time, and it is getting a superb production with the penetrating direction by Trip Cullman and the piercing acting by four splendid players.

Each of the characters comes vividly alive and believable as they are brought together amid personal challenges. The setting, designed by David Rockwell, is a lobby of a Manhattan residence in winter of 1999, and Rockwell has cleverly made the lobby revolving so that varying perspectives can be accented for different scenes, as well as for talk outside the building.

The lobby night security attendant is Jeff (played by Michael Cera), who was booted from the Navy for smoking pot, struggles to boost his self-esteem, hopes for a better job someday, but has a bright sense of humor and likes to say what he thinks no matter the consequences. Jeff is a fascinating character, and Cera gives an especially winsome performance.

His boss is William, an African-American security agent, given a thoroughly convincing portrayal by Brian Tyree Henry. William, who also has hopes of advancement, at the outset threatens Jeff with being fired if he is caught sleeping on the job. Despite the tension between them, they develop a friendly relationship until Jeff blabs about a situation in which William has found himself. His brother has been arrested for a particular brutal murder during a robbery attempt and William feels the need to construct an alibi to help his brother despite what he has done as part of a pattern of screw-ups. He makes the mistake of confiding this to Jeff.

The other characters are two cops. One is Bill, memorably acted by Chris Evans as a self-absorbed, arrogant blowhard, who, although married, makes a habit of visiting a prostitute in an upstairs apartment. But he also comes on to his impressionable rookie partner Dawn, played with charm and sometimes toughness by Bel Powley. She has just had the experience of bashing a perceived perpetrator’s head with her club, knocking out his eye, and there could be a lawsuit. She is attracted to Bill as a mentor and as a man, but is subsequently appalled at his upstairs escapades and his dating demand.

The situation is further complicated as Jeff becomes sweet on Dawn. I never thought I’d describe a cop as cute, but Dawn pleasingly lives up to that description. Yet she earns audience cheers when she flashes her temper in rebellion against Bill.

Each of the characters faces a crisis, starting with William’s wanting to lie to aid his brother. Bill is willing to help William in this respect. Dawn feels compelled to tell the truth when she learns it from Jeff, who is pressured to also tell the truth about the false alibi. How each reacts and counter-reacts is at the core of the play.

Would you believe how much laughter Lonergan and the cast evoke from these circumstances? Comedy runs rampant throughout with sharp lines and funny situations. Yet the seriousness of the issues are not overwhelmed by the humor. What makes the play so effective that the characters become so very life-like that by the end of the evening we feel we really know them. The cast functions as an excellent, intertwined ensemble. At the renovated Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200.

THREE TALL WOMEN  Send This Review to a Friend

The appearance of British actress Glenda Jackson on Broadway is a cause for celebration. Having appreciated her talent on screen and stage as well as her political activity in Britain’s House of Commons, I eagerly looked forward to seeing the 81-year-old star at this late stage of her career. In “Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women,” Jackson comes through brilliantly as the major force in this excellent revival.

The performances by Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill are also splendid, but Jackson is especially amazing. At first she is an irascible, partly dotty old lady of 92—she claims to be 91-- complaining about everything, but also providing a steady flow of muddled memories. She dominates the stage as she rattles on and on, including spewing racist comments, but sometimes she breaks down and cries. When she urgently needs to go to the bathroom she demands assistance, but then rebels against the attempt to help her.

It is her stories, delivered loud and clear, with perfect enunciation on every word and timing that leads up to lines that will make an audience roar with laughter. Of course, Albee has created a basically serious play for three actresses named only A, B and C. In the first scene we see B (Metcalf) in the role of exasperatingly taking care of A (Jackson) and C (Pill) there from a law office attempting to get A to overcome her reluctance to signing a stack of papers.

But Albee soon mischievously surprises us as the play veers into all three interacting actresses playing the same woman at different stages of her life. A (Jackson) has died, but she is still with us on stage as the oldest and dispensing more anecdotes and wisdom. Her past includes a bum marriage and a gay son she dislikes. The account of an erect penis and how a piece of jewelry was presented to her is a classic in the realm of receiving gifts.

Metcalf gets her turn to effectively talk about her life as B, who is inevitably working her way toward becoming elderly. Pill plays the youngest and gets her say about her life up to now. On a bed in the background is a replica of A as a corpse, and we see her son, played silently by Joseph Medeiros, come to see his dead mother.

Scenic designer Miriam Buether contributes importantly, first with a large, elegant room, and then, in the second half with the clever use of mirrors. Costume designer Ann Roth has dressed the women in a manner that helps define them.

Director Joe Mantello demonstrates that he understands the play perfectly and that he knows how to make the staging sharp, as well as knowing how to highlight the performances of his special cast. Thus this production, an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, is an excellent revival, and an example of theater at an exceptionally mature and entertaining level. Jackson is to be welcomed wholeheartedly, Metcalf and Pill also deserve high praise, and although Albee is regrettably gone, the cleverness and originality of his work is still with us. At the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. Phone: 21-239-6200. Reviewed April 1, 2018.

ANGELS in AMERICA  Send This Review to a Friend

There is an uplifting moment in the epilogue at the end of Part 2 of the revival of “Angels in America” that is both a chilling reminder of all who died of AIDS in the epidemic and a ray of hope for the future. Taking us back in time and memory, Andrew Garfield, so brilliant in his role as AIDS-stricken Prior Walter, speaks directly to the audience in a capstone to all that has gone before in Tony Kushner’s remarkable, award-winning 1993 play, subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” this time around in a British National Theatre production. (See Search for a review of a previous revival by the Signature Theatre Company.)

Those of us who remember so many individuals who perished from AIDS at a time when activists had to battle for recognition of the epidemic, and in the years afterward, must inevitably be deeply moved by the fresh look at those turbulent years through the eyes of Kushner and the impressive performances under the equally impressive and inventive direction by Marianne Elliott.

Kushner’s sprawling work is a stupendous blend of reality and fantasy, with political perspective and the interaction of characters portrayed in 1985 and 1986, followed by the 1990 epilogue. There is a total of some seven and a half hours of theater, with the first half, titled “Millennium Approaches” and the second half, “Perestroika.” One can see both parts in various ticket combinations. The result is totally unique, given Kushner’s wide-ranging imagination, daring and insight. Yes, there are sections that could be trimmed, but the totality is what hits an audience powerfully. Amazingly, while dealing with situations of the utmost seriousness, Kushner injects massive humor along the way, and the combination works splendidly, making the work often very funny as well as penetrating and upsetting.

The play offers a bonanza for actors, and this cast comes through admirably. Garfield gives a great, memorable performance as Prior, flamboyantly gay, suffering AIDS intensely, and filled with burning anger at the abandonment by his lover, Louis, played with impassioned, broadly expressed conflict by superb James McArdle. Louis cannot cope with illness and impending death, and although wracked with guilt, he walks away from the stricken, hospitalized Prior.

Much of the drama deals with coming to terms with being gay, a theater contribution to the evolution of gay rights and openness. The problem is epitomized by Lee Pace as Joseph, a judicial clerk in a painful marriage to Harper (Denise Gough). He becomes attracted to Louis despite his reluctance to face the truth about himself in violation of his being raised a Mormon. Gough gives an astonishingly vivid performance as Harper, who is a psychological mess, and needs to find herself.

But the great scene-stealer is Nathan Lane’s dynamic performance as lawyer Roy Cohn, who refuses to recognize that he is dying of AIDS and insists it is liver cancer. The villainous Cohn, who is disbarred for unethical behavior, becomes a larger-than-life character in the play, and we watch him doomed and hospitalized, but still fighting against recognition that he is gay.

Kushner’s imagination brings the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg into Cohn’s room, a reminder of how he helped prosecute her for conspiracy to commit espionage, resulting in her execution over which he gloats. Now it is her turn to haunt him, to the point of saying Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, as he dies in misery. (Ethel’s accuser, her brother David Greenglass, admitted on television that he lied about his sister to save himself and his wife, thus indicating that Ethel was innocent and wrongly convicted and killed.)

Ethel is played with stoic calm by Susan Brown, who deserves special praise for the multiple roles she assumes. In addition to Ethel Rosenberg, we also see her as a rabbi, as a Russian making a speech about change in the then Soviet Union, as the mother of Harper and as an angel.

Another standout is Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the sharp-tongued, larger-than-life hospital nurse administering to both Cohn and Prior. Kushner has given him an array of sure-fire laugh lines, and Stewart-Jarrett makes the most of them, his gay characterization and his attitude toward life and his patients.

One of the playwright’s most lavish concoctions is the descent of a wide-winged angel, played to the hilt by Amanda Lawrence, with all of the accompanying costume and effects trappings. She confronts and battles with Prior, who sees her as the angel of death. Some of the long dialogue between them in “Perestroika” could be cut, but the imagery brought to the play by The Angel is surely memorable.

The scenic design is by Ian MacNeil, who excels in helping to facilitate the action, real and imaginary, sometimes in the form of cubicles, sometimes with a room rising from below the stage, at one time with a dropped ladder that Prior ascends and always with a huge overhang that can light up when highlighted. There are many other key contributions—costume design by Nicky Gillibrand, lighting design by Paul Constable, music by Adrian Sutton, sound design by Ian Dickinson and more.

This is a rare opportunity to see one of the most important plays of modern times, one difficult to stage and unlikely to be re-staged any time soon. It is a revival to be cherished, and missing it would certainly leave a gap in one’s theatergoing. At the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed March 31, 2018.

A WALK IN THE WOODS (2018)  Send This Review to a Friend

Lee Blessing’s play, given yet another revival after many past productions, this time by the Barrow Group, doesn’t get dated. That’s because whatever the political permutations of the moment, the United States and Russia are locked in a never-ending armaments race, as recently evidenced by Russia demonstrating missiles that can hit Florida. The fate of the world remains at stake.

Thus, when an American negotiator and a Russian negotiator meet informally over an extended period on a mountain slope outside Geneva in 1983, their discussions resonate today in the dialogue provided by Blessing. The Russian in particular tries to cement a friendship, although the American wants to press more for agreement than friendship. The Russian is fatalistic, realizing that no matter what agreements they might make, there will be the same old same old among the two countries. Meanwhile, much of their banter is entertaining.

In this revival K. Lorrel Manning convincingly plays Honeyman, the American, and Martin Van Treuren is Botvinnik, the Russian. Both act effectively overall, although there is nothing about Van Treuren to indicate that he is Russian. He comes across more of a Brit with his speech and demeanor and that is problematic.

I wasn’t looking for any clichéd attempt at a Russian accent. However, in a 2014 production in which the Russian was played as a woman by Kathleen Chalfant, she memorably provided a very believable effect as a Russian, and that made for more realism.

After a while one can better accept Van Treuren because he otherwise an excellent actor, and director Donna Jean Fogel keeps up the play’s intensity. Always lurking is the topicality.

Edward T. Morris has a simple set design for the small theater—a rectangle of painted trees as background on stage, with trees also painted on the sides of the theater, and a circular playing area mid-stage. The actors also make use of the aisles at times.

Would that Blessing’s play became obsolete in the face of nuclear disarming. Alas, that is not about to happen. At the Barrow Group, 312 West 36th Street. Phone: 212-760-2615. Reviewed April 3, 2018.

FROZEN (DISNEY)  Send This Review to a Friend

The Disney juggernaut “Frozen” has swept onto Broadway in full force based on the popular film and what critics have to say is unlikely to carry much weight. The elaborately staged and well performed show, with a book by Jennifer Lee, who wrote the film, and music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, is designed to appeal to fans of the film with the extra kick of a stage spectacle.

The scenery, designed by Christopher Oram, is stunning, intertwined with the lighting design by Natasha Katz, the sound design by Peter Hylenski, the video design by Finn Ross, and special effects design by Jeremy Chernick. The costuming, also designed by Oram, is attention-grabbing, and other behind-the-scenes pros contribute to the overall visual coup, abetted by Rob Ashford’s amusing choreography and the impressive direction by Michael Grandage.

I didn’t much care for the story in the film, and it is just as absurd here. But the production provides the necessary sparkle, and although the second act is too long as the silly plot is worked out, the ultimate result should please the “Frozen” fans and those who head for hyped Broadway musicals.

The plot involves two princesses of Arendellle, the young Anna played by Mattea Conforti and the young Elsa played by Brooklyn Nelson on the night I attended. Elsa has a strange power to turn everything into ice, thereby endangering her younger sister, who must be kept separate from her. When their king and queen parents die at sea, Elsa becomes the new queen.

How all can be unfrozen and solved via the gift of love becomes the ongoing plot, cumbersome to say the least. But the pleasure afforded by the show, in addition to the overwhelming effects, partly lies in the singing by the leads. Caissie Levy as the grown Elsa is a knockout with her “Let it Go” number that closes Act I. Patti Murin as Anna has her big number, “True Love” in Act II. Levy and Murin succeed in injecting the musical with vibrancy by their characterizations.

Various diversions are amusing, including Olaf the snowman (Greg Hildreth), who longs for sunshine, Sven the reindeer, inhabited by Andrew Pirozzi, and people pouring in and out of a sauna in an icy environment. There are magical stage moments in which scenery is covered in ice and costumes suddenly change before our eyes. All of this is expertly delivered, with the production itself becoming the an important “character.”

Critics were advised that if they brought along a youngster, the child should be at least 12 years old. But in the general audience at the performance I attended, there were many tots. Although they might have found the story hard to follow, they would most likely be captivated by the visuals, as well as by the snowman and reindeer. The souvenir counter was doing a brisk business with people lining up before the show to buy the kids keepsakes.

There you have it—a guide for you to determine whether this is a choice for you and family members. As a critic, I commend the Disney organization for coming through with the colorful extravaganza expected of it. At the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Streeet. Phone: 866-870-2717. Reviewed March 28, 2018.

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR 1947 AND 1966  Send This Review to a Friend

The Broadway musicals of 1947 and 1966 were so different, and that made for the interesting pairing in the latest “Broadway by the Year” concert at The Town Hall last night (March 26). Creator-writer-director-host Scott Siegel dispensed his customary affability as he refreshed our memory of all that was happening in the world during those years, and also introduced the ultra-talented performers who brought the songs to life.

The first act was devoted to the imaginary worlds of “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Brigadoon,” and the second act concentrated on dynamic shows that included “Cabaret,” “Mame” and “Sweet Charity.”

While this concert did not have as many especially well-known performers as some in the past—the best known this time around were the superb Tony Yazbeck and Eddie Korbich—all of the contributors were standouts. Take the opener, for example. A very pregnant Jenny Lee Stern rocked the place with her “Necessity” from “Finian’s Rainbow.” She wore a tight black dress that accented her condition and even threw in some sexy body moves to show off her self-assurance as she made the number a zinger.

We saw Stern later wringing emotion out of “If He Walked Into My Life” from “Mame” and doing more than justice to the iconic “Cabaret.” Among the women, Betsy Wolfe, whose recent credit was taking over the lead on Broadway in “Waitress,” proved to be a charmer with a gorgeous voice and inviting stage presence. She did a lovely rendition of “Look to the Rainbow” from “Finian’s Rainbow” and a saucy “You’ve Got Possibilities” from “It’s a Bird...It’s a Plane...It’s Superman!” Wolfe toyed with Siegel, sidling up to him to suggest in song the possibility of his possibilities.

Also a divine singer, Mia Gerachis captivated the audience with “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” from “Finian’s Rainbow” and also impressed with the cry-of-despair number “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” from “Sweet Charity.”

Lesli Margherita is in an entirely different category, an over-the-top performer who lights a fire with her numbers, as in her “The Gentleman is a Dope” from “Allegro,” and even more so with her egomaniacal “Gorgeous” from “The Apple Tree.” She also dynamically led the show’s closer “It’s Today” from “Mame,” with snappy dancing by the Broadway by the Year Dance ensemble, choreographed by Danny Gardner. Members of the ensemble include Bailey Callahan, Tricia DeSario, Drew Humphrey, Bryan Hunt, Corrine Munsch, Phoebe Pearl, Jake Primmerman and Joseph Sammour. The dancers also wowed with the second act opener, “Wilkommen” from “Cabaret,” also choreographed by Gardner, with Siegel chiming in a few words with a German accent from his sideline perch.

Now to the men. Tony Yazbeck, an admired Broadway star, gave an unusual and very effective interpretation of “Old Devil Moon” from “Finian’s Rainbow,” and was even more sensational concluding the first act by dancing to his own choreography and singing “Almost Like Being in Love” from “Brigadoon.” Getting him was quite a coup.

Eddie Korbich, also a Broadway veteran, can handily switch gears for different type numbers. He gave a comic touch to “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love” from “Finian’s Rainbow,” provided a romantic lilt to “Go Home With Bonnie Jean’’ (“Brigadoon”) and teamed with Sal Viviano without mikes to sing “There But for You Go I,” also from “Brigadoon.” Then in the second act he was back comically cavorting as “Father of the Bride” from “I Do, I Do!”

Speaking of Viviano, he is a real catch. Impressive looking to start with, he has a commanding voice matched by the passion he puts into a song, and he has had an international concert career. His participation was a highlight of the evening, evidenced by, in addition to his duet with Korbich, his singing “Come to Me, Bend to Me” (“Brigadoon”) and “My Cup Runneth Over” (“I do!, I do!”).

This was a show in which the performers were especially well-matched to their numbers, and a fresh perspective was provided on the years covered. As customary with the series, Ross Patterson was the savvy music director as well as the expert pianist. His top-notch “Little Big Band” members were Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. Other credits: Holly Cruz, staging consultant, Gina Thompson, stage manager, and Rick Hinkson, assistant director and assistant stage manager. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed March 27, 2018.

THE STONE WITCH  Send This Review to a Friend

Good performances trump the overwrought play “The Stone Witch,” written by Shem Bitterman and directed by Steve Zuckerman. The basic situation is not particularly credible, but the author has created characters who give the three-member cast a field day for attention-getting dramatics.

Carolyn McCormick plays manipulative publisher Clair Forlorni, and I especially enjoyed watching her in light of knowing her especially for her performances on TV’s “Law and Order.” It is always enjoyable to see what that show’s stars can do in different contexts. Here the attractive McCormick does an excellent job embodying an editor with determination to achieve her goal of the moment.

Forlorni’s aim is to get Simon Grindberg, a renowned author and illustrator of children’s books to overcome 12 years of writer’s block and produce a new work again. When she interviews an aspiring young writer, Peter Chandler, she concocts a scheme to get Chandler to work with Grindberg at his isolated cabin deep in the woods in hope that will help get him out of the doldrums.

A section of the play depicts the antagonism Grindberg has for the newcomer, an antagonism we know will eventually turn into respect. Rupak Ginn as Chandler is earnest and modest but frequently exasperated. Dan Lauria as Grindberg acts up a ferocious, over-the-top storm as he embodies the character of a thwarted genius, raging at life, envying Chandler’s talent and frustrated at his own lack of productivity.

Despite the acting, this all seems a bit ridiculous. I don’t want to underestimate the expertise needed in writing and illustrating books for children, but after all, this is not a creator of a “War and Peace” about whom the play is talking. All of the great man stuff seems absurdly inflated, although Lauria rants and rages effectively as the character.

The publisher achieves what she wants in the end, but not in the way that was expected. I left admiring the cast trio but feeling less so about Bitterman’s tempestuous play. At the Westside Theatre—Upstairs, 407 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed March 27, 2018.


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