Friday, May 27, 2011

Introducing...The Tempest Ladies

With so many productions of The Tempest a year, what's special about the production on June 2 (7 and 9 p.m.) at The Players Theatre? Well, it's being performed by six women--Stella Berg, Laura Borgwardt, Julia Giolzetti, Holly Hart, Laura Bess Jernigan, and Jana Stambaugh--who call themselves the Tempest Ladies. Plus, it's only 90 minutes long and $10 a ticket. So, who are the Tempest Ladies?
The Tempest Ladies was formed in 2008 by Syracuse University students studying abroad at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. "Several of us were cast in an all-female scene from Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe (probably more a function of not enough boys in our class, but it was a fabulous experience) as our final presentation," says Borgwardt. "We loved the energy of working together and wanted to bring the work we were doing at the Globe back to Syracuse and put what we were learning into practice."

With this bare-bones version of The Tempest, the Tempest Ladies hope to present an accessible show that will appeal to both children and adults. "It's about taking Shakespeare off of the pedestal. People seem to be afraid of Shakespeare because of the heightened language, but the goal of this production and our productions after is to bring Shakespeare down to its most basic level," Hart says. "In the case of The Tempest, it is simply the story of a powerful man who is seeking revenge but instead discovers that 'the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.'”

So why The Tempest and not any other Shakespeare play? "The fact that The Tempest is a play made up of mainly male roles was an exciting factor for our all-female cast and was a main reason why we chose this play. But we all have our personal reasons for loving The Tempest," says Berg. "I love that it is a comedy with many layers that go much deeper than a slap-stick, funny show. It contains passion, lust, betrayal, redemption, greed, magic, self-actualization… the list goes on and on. I think it is a beautiful tale and it was Shakespeare’s last masterpiece which adds to its mystery."

After the June 2 presentations of The Tempest, the Tempest Ladies not only hope to continue performing the show around the city and country, but also to perform other Shakespeare plays. They will likely tackle Twelfth Night next. They do not plan to limit themselves to Shakespeare, however, and would like to create an entirely new piece as a company. Berg says, "Ultimately, we want to create innovative, physical and musical ensemble pieces that speak to audiences of any and all ages. We want to make theatre an incredibly enjoyable experience and accessible to the masses."

For $10 tickets to The Tempest, visit their website.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

When I first heard about The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World*, a joint production of Playwrights Horizons and New York Theatre Workshop, I was intrigued. How would the creative team--Joy Gregory (book and lyrics), Gunnar Madsen (music and lyrics), and John Langs (director)--handle such an unusual band? The Shaggs were a sister act from Fremont, New Hampshire in the late 60s who achieved a cult following when their music was rediscovered in the '80s. Would Langs cast actors who couldn't sing? Would Madsen's original music be as dissonant as the music of The Shaggs? No and no. Most of the musical numbers in the shows are imagined, allowing the cast to showcase their talents while not betraying the material.

Austin Wiggin (Peter Friedman) formed the Shaggs as a result of his mother's prediction that his daughters--Dot (Jamey Hood), Betty (Sarah Sokolovic), and Helen (Emily Walton)--would form a successful band. He took them out of school, bought them instruments, and forced them to practice and write songs. My theater companion accurately described him as the "male Mama Rose." The band released only one album on Third World Records, but the man running the label disappeared, taking 900 of the 1,000 copies with him.

One of the best scenes in the show is when the girls record their album. You see and hear the girls playing cheerful poppy versions of the songs (also arranged by Madsen) and then what the music actually sounds like as the engineers listen in the booth. Madsen's original music has a haunting quality that blends well with the quirky music of The Shaggs. The musical does not present the Shaggs as a joke, but rather serves to highlight some of the beauty in their seemingly artless music. Take these simple and innocent lyrics: "There are many things I wonder. There are many things I don't. It seems as though the things I wonder most are the things I never find out."

There are some moving and powerful performances happening onstage and among those who make the strongest impression are Walton, who balances Helen's tormented soul and youthful spirit, Friedman, as a man the audience both fears and sympathizes with, and Cory Michael Smith as Helen's boyfriend, a positive force among the darker characters.

The off-Broadway season is only just beginning, but other musicals have their work cut out for them as The Shaggs has set the bar high and is truly an original musical.

Special SHAGGS offer:
Order by June 1 with code SHAGGLOG and tickets are only:
· $60 (reg. $75)
· Order online at Use code SHAGGLOG.
· Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
· Present a printout of this blog post to the Ticket Central box office at 416 West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).

*Note: I know that the show has not officially opened yet, but I was invited to see a preview and asked to post my thoughts about it.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Friday, May 20, 2011

Third Annual Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Awards

For the third year in a row, the Independent Theater Bloggers Association (the ITBA) presented awards for excellence in Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway. The awards have been renamed the Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Awards in honor of Patrick Lee, one of the ITBA's founding members. If you've been reading this blog, following me on twitter, or know me in person, you can probably figure out which of these winners I didn't vote for, but it's a pretty good list overall. Here is a video of the announcement, followed by a complete list of the winners. Congrats to them all!

The 2010-2011 Patrick Lee Theater Blogger Award Winners:

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson


Anything Goes

The Normal Heart

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

The Kid

Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches

Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made

Feeder: A Love Story
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Belarus Free Theater's Discover Love
Black Watch

Sleep No More

The Scottsboro Boys

Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday
Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Reed Birney, A Small Fire
Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can
Bobby Cannavale, The Motherfucker with the Hat
Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes
Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon
Hamish Linklater, School for Lies
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Arian Moayed, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Lily Rabe, The Merchant of Venice
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem
Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made
Benjamin Walker, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

La Mama

The ITBA, is comprised of bloggers who regularly see live performances in all its forms in New York City and beyond. Members are in New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and London. For further information and a list of our members, visit our website. If you are interested in learning more about the ITBA, email To invite the members of the ITBA to your show or event, please send an email to

Friday, May 13, 2011

Baby It's Not That Bad

I'd heard some awful things about Baby It's You!, the new Broadway musical that tells the story of Florence Greenberg, the Jewish New Jersey housewife who discovered the Shirelles and created Scepter Records. Some theater circles have even started referring to it as Baby It's Poo. I have to wonder what these people were expecting. It's a jukebox musical meant to offer crowd-pleasing familiar songs, and on that front, it succeeds. I prefer more ambitious works, but sometimes I like to balance that with mindless entertainment, and this season has offered so much of the former that I think there's room for the latter as well.

The story of Greenberg (Beth Leavel) is an interesting one. She was a married woman who had a romantic relationship with a much younger black man, record producer Luther Dixon (Allan Louis)--pretty radical for the early '60s. Unfortunately, the book by Floyd Multrux and Colin Escott doesn't develop the characters and relationships enough, because the point is to cram in as many songs as possible. These are the men behind Million Dollar Quartet, another musical with great songs and performances but a weak book. The show also has a superfluous narrator (Geno Henderson), whose only purpose seems to be to bring up pop culture references (complete with cheesy graphics) of the era to further excite the baby boomer crowd.

As for the music, you not only hear Shirelles numbers like "Baby It's You" and "Soldier Boy," but other hits of the time like "It's My Party" and "Louie Louie." Vocally, the women playing the Shirelles--Christina Sajous, Erica Ash, Kyra Da Costa, and Crystal Starr--sound terrific, but they don't get a chance to do much more than sing. Then again, it's not a musical about the Shirelles, it's about about Florence Greenberg and Leavel does what she can with lame dialogue, but once again, you'd be hard-pressed to hear these songs sung better anywhere, other than digging up your old records.

I like to think of shows like Baby It's You!, Million Dollar Quartet, and Rain more as concerts than musicals. Maybe I'm being too easy on the show--why should jukebox musicals be an excuse for lazy writing? They shouldn't, but as a fan of the music of this era, I was able to enjoy myself.

Photo credit: Ari Mintz

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Review: The School for Lies at CSC

You don't expect characters in a play taking place in 1666 France to use words like "dude" and "LOL" while speaking in highly-entertaining verse, but they do in The School For Lies, David Ives's adaptation of Moliere's The Misanthrope. These kinds of anachronisms can come off as annoying, as if the playwright is trying too hard, but here the rhymes are so clever that they work.

Aside from language choices, Ives takes some liberties with Moliere's story, but the basic gist is the same. Frank (Hamish Linklater), renamed from Alceste, abhors the hypocrisy of society and likes to speak his mind. He falls in love with Celimene (Mamie Gummer) despite her habit of ridiculing her friends behind their backs. Director Walter Bobbie is a frequent collaborator of Ives and they clearly understand each other such that the show runs effortlessly. So much of the pleasure of the show comes from the language and it takes a skilled cast to speak intelligibly while not slowing down the pace and the ensemble is up to the challenge, but Linklater is clearly the star, delivering each line to comic perfection. The School For Lies is a visual treat as well, thanks to William Ivey Long's brightly colored costumes which fit in with the fun nature of the show.

It appears that nobody told Ives about the rule of three, and a running joke involving flying canapes starts to wear out its welcome (for me anyway, the audience never seemed to tire of it). Still, during this time of year when everyone is rushing to see Broadway shows before the Tonys, there are some gems that you can only find off-Broadway.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Do You Have Tony Fever Yet?

I wonder if the Tony nominating committee got Hunter Foster's memo and decided to not nominate any stars this year. Also, shows from the fall were not completely overlooked, with The Scottsboro Boys getting a surprising 12 nominations, but I'm sad about the total shutouts of The Pitmen Painters and A Free Man of Color. Here's the complete list of nominations, followed by my thoughts in most of the categories:

Best Play
Good People, David Lindsay-Abaire
Jerusalem, Jez Butterworth
The Motherf**ker with the Hat, Stephen Adly Guirgis
War Horse, Nick Stafford

This is a really strong year for new plays. I haven't seen War Horse yet, but Good People, Jerusalem, and Motherf**ker are all deserving. Still, I'm extremely disappointed that Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo and John Guare's A Free Man of Color (both Pulitzer finalists) were overlooked. From what I've heard, War Horse might be the one to beat, but I'm rooting for The Motherf**ker with the Hat (note: I hate the use of asterisks, but I think that's the official spelling of the play's name now).

Best Musical
The Book of Mormon
Catch Me If You Can
The Scottsboro Boys
Sister Act

The biggest snub here is Priscilla Queen of Desert, which I haven't seen yet. I also haven't seen Sister Act, but I did enjoy Catch Me If You Can, even if it's not in the same league with The Scottsboro Boys and The Book of Mormon. Nothing is a sure thing at the Tonys (just ask Raul Esparza), but I expect The Book of Mormon to win and deservedly so.

Best Book of a Musical
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Alex Timbers
The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone
The Scottsboro Boys, David Thompson
Sister Act, Cheri Steinkellner, Bill Steinkellner, and Douglas Carter Beane

I wasn't the biggest fan of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson's book, but I can't deny that parts of it were very clever. It's nice that two closed musicals from the fall (Bloody Bloody and The Scottsboro Boys) were not forgotten. The Book of Mormon had some of the offensive humor you'd expect from the South Park/Avenue Q guys, but overall I found that it wasn't mean-spirited and it had a surprisingly sweet story, so I hope they take it.

Best Original Score
The Book of Mormon, Music & Lyrics: Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
The Scottsboro Boys, Music & Lyrics: John Kander and Fred Ebb
Sister Act, Music: Alan Menken Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Music & Lyrics: David Yazbek

My love for David Yazbek is no secret, and even if I didn't think Women on the Verge was his best work, Yazbek not at his best is still better than a lot of other composers out there. Again, I'd be happy if either Mormon or Scottsboro won.

Best Revival of a Play
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Merchant of Venice
The Normal Heart

I overall loved this production of Arcadia, but it had its share of haters, so I'm surprised with its nomination. The Merchant of Venice and The Importance of Being Earnest were also very strong productions. I haven't seen The Normal Heart yet, which got some of the best reviews of the season, so I expect that to win. That Championship Season was rightfully shut out, though I did enjoy Born Yesterday and La Bête.

Best Revival of a Musical
Anything Goes
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

No surprises here as there were only two musical revivals this season. I have to say that I preferred How To Succeed, but Anything Goes (which I also liked) is generally considered to be the better production, so I expect it to take the award.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Brian Bedford, The Importance of Being Earnest
Bobby Cannavale, The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Al Pacino, The Merchant of Venice
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem

I was hoping Mark Rylance would get two nominations, the other for La Bete, but it was such a competitive year, that it almost wouldn't be fair for him to get two slots. As much as I liked Brian Bedfored, I don't understand how he is considered a lead when he's only in a few scenes. I was really hoping Bobby Cannavale would get nominated, so I'm super excited for him. I was very impressed with Robin William's understated performance in Bengal Tiger, so it's a shame he was left out, as was Dan Lauria for Lombardi.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday
Frances McDormand, Good People
Lily Rabe, The Merchant of Venice
Vanessa Redgrave, Driving Miss Daisy
Hannah Yelland, Brief Encounter

Biggest surprise here is Hannah Yelland for Brief Encounter. I was one of the few people who didn't like Lily Rabe's Portia (I only saw her performance in the park, not on Broadway). I hope Nina Arianda wins and I think she has a really good shot. Her biggest competition is probably Frances McDormand.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can
Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon
Joshua Henry, The Scottsboro Boys
Andrew Rannells, The Book of Mormon
Tony Sheldon, Priscilla Queen of the Desert

I'm so torn in this category. I'm sad to see that Daniel Radcliffe was snubbed again (the first time was for Equus). He is giving his all up on that stage and he deserves to be recognized for it. The other big snubs were Aaron Tveit for Catch Me If You Can--but if only one male from the show was going to be nominated, I'd rather it be Norbert Leo Butz--and Benjamin Walker, who was the best thing about Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I'm pleasantly surprised that both Gad and Rannells were recognized as well as Joshua Henry. I really have no idea who will win this one.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes
Beth Leavel, Baby It's You!
Patina Miller, Sister Act
Donna Murphy, The People in the Picture

This was such a weak year for women in musicals that there were only four nominations. I've only seen Sutton Foster so far, so I have little to say here, but I think she's looking at another Tony win.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Mackenzie Crook, Jerusalem
Billy Crudup, Arcadia
John Benjamin Hickey, The Normal Heart
Arian Moayed, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Yul Vázquez, The Motherf**ker with the Hat

Probably my favorite category this year. I'm surprised with Crudup's nomination, since his performance got some of the more mixed reviews out of the actors in the show. As much as I love Crudup, Tom Riley deserved it more. Still, I'm glad to see that Crook, Moayed, and Vázquez were all recognized, especially Vázquez, who is so hilarious in Motherf**ker, but also delivers the sweetest moment in the show.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Ellen Barkin, The Normal Heart
Edie Falco, The House of Blue Leaves
Judith Light, Lombardi
Joanna Lumley, La Bête
Elizabeth Rodriguez, The Motherf**ker with the Hat

I'm so glad that Light was nominated since Lombardi was shut out of most categories. It is I believe the only show to open in the fall that is still running, so in that sense, it's the little show that could (of course, it does have NFL power behind it).

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys
Adam Godley, Anything Goes
John Larroquette, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Forrest McClendon, The Scottsboro Boys
Rory O'Malley, The Book of Mormon

Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon!!!! I wish there was an ensemble award so The Scottsboro Boys could be nominated in that because the whole cast deserves recognition. I would have also loved to see John Cullum get nominated, but these two guys were outstanding. Rory O'Malley won me over in one of the show-stopping numbers in The Book of Mormon, "Turn it Off." Same with Adam Godley's "The Gypsy in Me."

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Tammy Blanchard, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Victoria Clark, Sister Act
Nikki M. James, The Book of Mormon
Patti LuPone, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

All I have to say is I really hope Benanti wins. She was the best thing about Women on the Verge. I'm not really sure why LuPone was nominated, to be honest. It was a fun performance to watch because she was enjoying herself so much, but she didn't have much to do.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Todd Rosenthal, The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Rae Smith, War Horse
Ultz, Jerusalem
Mark Wendland, The Merchant of Venice

Again, I haven't seen War Horse yet, but I loved all three of the other nominated sets. I would give the edge to Ultz. But where are Bengal Tiger and Born Yesterday?

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Beowulf Boritt, The Scottsboro Boys
Derek McLane, Anything Goes
Scott Pask, The Book of Mormon
Donyale Werle, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

This is the one category Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson really deserves to win.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Jess Goldstein, The Merchant of Venice
Desmond Heeley, The Importance of Being Earnest
Mark Thompson, La Bête
Catherine Zuber, Born Yesterday

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Tim Chappel & Lizzy Gardiner, Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Martin Pakledinaz, Anything Goes
Ann Roth, The Book of Mormon
Catherine Zuber, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

This is the one place I thought Wonderland might get a nomination. Oh well.

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Paule Constable, War Horse
David Lander, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Kenneth Posner, The Merchant of Venice
Mimi Jordan Sherin, Jerusalem

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Ken Billington, The Scottsboro Boys
Howell Binkley, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Peter Kaczorowski, Anything Goes
Brian MacDevitt, The Book of Mormon

Best Sound Design of a Play
Acme Sound Partners & Cricket S. Myers, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Simon Baker, Brief Encounter
Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Jerusalem
Christopher Shutt, War Horse

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Peter Hylenski, The Scottsboro Boys
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Catch Me If You Can
Brian Ronan, Anything Goes
Brian Ronan, The Book of Mormon

Best Direction of a Play
Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, War Horse
Joel Grey & George C. Wolfe, The Normal Heart
Anna D. Shapiro, The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Daniel Sullivan, The Merchant of Venice

Sullivan made some brilliant choices in The Merchant of Venice, so I'm glad he was recognized. I really need to see War Horse and The Normal Heart.

Best Direction of a Musical
Rob Ashford, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes
Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, The Book of Mormon
Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys
The best direction of a musical category is almost the exact same as best choreography (with the exception of Trey Parker). Musical theater history buffs, has that ever happened before?

Best Choreography
Rob Ashford, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes
Casey Nicholaw, The Book of Mormon
Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys

Marshall's choreography is impressive, but a little too by-the-book for me. It's exactly what I'd expect in an Anything Goes revival. Ashford did some interesting things with his choreography, but I'm pulling for Nicholaw or Stroman.

Best Orchestrations
Doug Besterman, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Larry Hochman, The Scottsboro Boys
Larry Hochman and Stephen Oremus, The Book of Mormon
Marc Shaiman & Larry Blank, Catch Me If You Can

What do you think of the nominations? Did I forget to mention any snubs?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Live Tony Nominations Webcast

Watch the 2011 Tony Awards nominations live!

Later today, I'll post my thoughts on the nominations--who I'm excited for and who got snubbed. Come back and let me know whether or not you agree.

The Tonys Are Coming!

I'm pleased to announce that for the first time, you'll be able to watch the Tony nominations here on Pataphysical Science via live webcast. Tune in tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. EST to watch the nominations, announced by Matthew Broderick and Anika Noni Rose.