Shakespeare in the Square--Romeo and Juliet

017.jpgShakespeare in the Square, a group of performers that originally began as an NYU student club, is exiting the university setting with a 2-hour (not counting intermission) production of the First Folio version of Romeo and Juliet, and the result is a swift production played by a cast of five that is one of the more captivating R&J’s I’ve seen in years.  

You may not be familiar with the first Folio—it’s the version without the opening “Two Households” scene, so don’t be alarmed if it feels that SITS has cut it.  In fact, they haven’t cut a single word of this edition—the two hours is performed at a speed that creates an energy matched by the excellent performances of this small troupe.  

Being a cast of five, each obviously doubles or triples or quadruples in roles; of particular note are Jack De Sanz, who is hilarious as Juliet’s nurse and equally wonderful as the Friar, and Constantine Malahias who has all the fun as Mercutio but changes himself completely to play Juliet’s father and others.  Each time either of these two actors are onstage they have reoriented their body stance, their every gesture to the point where you begin to lose count how many actors are actually in this troupe.  Unfortunately this only underscores the occasional beginning-of-scene confusions as to who is playing who for some of the other actors, unless you know the play well enough.  Director Dan Hasse has made much of the minimalist platforms in the Judson Gym and his staging is dynamic enough to make up for the sparseness, but he could have done well to have had costume designer Liz McGlone give Elise Kibler something visual to further distinguish her Benvolio from her heartbreaking, affecting Juliet.  

The overall feel of the production is exciting, particularly the way it evokes the feel of a small Shakespearean troupe making the most of so little.  Audience members sit directly on the stage, music is played leading up and during intermission, and you’re bound to catch a cast member beginning a scene standing right behind you if you don’t pay attention.  Of course, this sort of ad-hoc approach is needed when you staunchly refuse to cut a material that sorely needs cutting, even if Hasse insists that cutting is a “crutch”.  In order to squeeze in under the two-hour wire, many of the excess repetitions in speech are simply sped-through, which is a disservice to a very talented troupe.  There are two types of Shakespearean actors, those who convey the general meaning of the lines, and those who understand each word as if it were their first language, and SITS’s comprising of the latter is what makes this production worth seeing.  

ROMEO AND JULIET plays through February 8 2015 at The Gym at Judson.


January Broadway Closings 2014>2015

First off, since I keep getting this question: Broadway Abridged is indeed (obviously) on a break, at minimum.  I'm working on some new works on my own right now, so it's a matter of focus.  Whenever I eventually abridge something I'll surely Tweet and Facebook and RSS it and there's even a Mailing List.

As I've done many years before, I find the list of what's closing in January interesting.  Some shows close because of limited runs that can't be extended, or stars that won't stay around for more than a few months, but each January a large handful of shows decide that they can't weather it through the season that even I hate New York.  I'm proud to say that this year, Broadway looks healthier than it has in years.  But it's only December 11th so we'll see what changes.  

Folks, here's what's closing this January when the tourists leave:

  • A Delicate Balance (well, Feb 22)
  • Gentleman's Guide
  • Aladdin
  • Beautiful
  • Cabaret
  • Chicago
  • Cinderella
  • Disgraced (The question is, will they try to keep this alive for a best play nom? It's a pretty cheap play to run.)
  • Hedwig
  • Honeymoon in Vegas
  • If/Then (I was going to half-strike this one, but it looks like Idina's in contract into the spring)
  • It's Only A Play
  • Jersey Boys
  • Kinky Boots
  • Les Mis
  • Love Letters
  • Mamma Mia
  • Matilda
  • Motown (unless it goes off-Broadway?)
  • On The Town
    (60% at a top ticket price of $85 isn't awful, but the Ford/Hilton/Foxwoods/Lyric/Apollo is kind of huge... although they will likely insist that they keep this open in time for Best Revival nominations and a very possible win)
  • Once
  • Pippin
  • Rock of Ages
  • Side Show [edit]
  • Book of Mormon
  • Curious Incident
  • Elephant Man (Feb 15)
  • The Illusionists
  • The Last Ship (I wouldn't half-cross this out if Sting extended through February, instead of Jan 24)
  • The Real Thing
  • The River (2/8)
  • This Is Our Youth
  • Wicked
  • You Can't Take It With You (2/22) 


Last week I had the pleasure of taking in "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" in its new uptown location. I sort of had no idea what I was going in to see; I knew it was based on a section of War and Peace, a book I will probably never pick up, but other than that I walked in unaware of much beyond the great word of mouth I'd generally heard. 

The story isn't really the important part compared to the immersive atmosphere, but it mostly centers around Natasha, a young Russian girl who finds herself smitten with another man while her fiancée is off fighting in a war. The story is told in a Russian café setting where you can order food and drinks before the show and during intermission, and the atmosphere, costumes, and music all skillfully employ that thing where one foot is grounded in 1812 and the other foot in modern day setting. 

This was one of those shows I truly enjoyed despite myself. The lyrics don't even attempt to rhyme or hit any recognizable meter, as if an untouched translation forced to fit uncomfortably in music, occasionally making much of the words hard to discern. But the music is wonderful and evocative of the time period without being cliche or pastiche!  The entire character of Pierre barely deserved to be in the title as he was almost a nonentity. But the atmosphere was fantastic and rich!  Pierre could have had more time for an arc to be developed if some minor characters were cut, as they were not as much fun as the prologue advertised they'd be. But look, your waiter brought you some pirogies!  You love pirogies!  I imagine that future "traditional" stage productions of the show may not fare quite as well as what elevates the show to worthwhile is the truly stunning production and atmosphere.  

The show might be worth seeing just for the rousing prologue alone. Aware that the Russian source material is teeming with characters who are difficult to keep track of, each one is hilariously introduced through an opening number that occasionally assures you that if you get lost, your program's relationship diagram will get you back on track. It's like an Ahrens and Flaherty opening if they had traded sentimentality for sarcasm, and it's brilliant. I wish that sort of focus had been afforded to some other parts of the show, but nonetheless it remains a wonderful evening and I recommend seeing it quickly before it closes, which I've heard rumors of.... 


Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

After an acclaimed run, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 has transferred to the theatre district. The show "invites you to join Tolstoy's brash young lovers for an evening you'll never forget, as vodka flows and passions ignite in Dave Malloy's electropop opera, ripped from a slice of 'War and Peace'."   
Ghostlight records is releasing a two-disc cast album to preserve the original score, which merges Russian folk and classical music with indie rock, electronica and organ-influenced cadences. I am hosting a giveaway for an exclusive first recording of the cast album.  To enter, either 
Contest ends Monday, November 25th!

Review: Quidam

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There is a joke about every Disney theme park ride in the world being the same thing over and over again, to the general tune of "you've been invited to experience a new creature/technology/magic/exotic locale, which should be a wonderful problem-free experience except for that SOMETHING HAS GONE HORRIBLY WRONG!". Having now seen four Cirque Du Somehow shows, I can attest that Cirque's formula is something more like "life is dull and drab, but nothing is dull and drab IN YOUR LSD-INFLUENCED DREAMS!". Fortunately the expert performers at Quidam are never anything short of jaw-dropping... and besides, it's not like formulaic plotlines have kept anyone off the Tower of Terror. 


Blue Man Group: Revisited

"Is there anything I need to know about Blue Man Group going in?"
How do you even describe Blue Man Group?  It's three guys, painted blue, who do a series of vignettes that are funny or visually engaging, and they're painted blue, and.. well...
"Heck, I don't think you even really need to know English."
In the 13 years since I've last seen them at the Astor Place Theater, lots has changed for the Blue Men.  Their downtown off-Broadway NYC success was parlayed into much larger venue'd shows in Orlando, Vegas and elsewhere, spawning a few music albums and resulting in some newer vignettes of a grander scale.  Some of these additions have recently worked their way back into the off-Broadway production, much of the new material cetering around 3 human-sized iPhones which occasionally lower from the ceiling for the Blue Men to interface with.  These new setpieces often involve clockwork-perfect timing to produce some hilarious choreography in the interaction with the technology.  In fact I would say that the added elements seemed to take up half of the running time, making a revisit absolutely worthwhile for those who haven't seen the show in a decade.
And yet, for those who never got to see some of those earlier incarnations, a partof me laments the passing of the pre-ADD version I saw back when.  The new stuff is indoubtably cool, but the simplicity of the original--three dudes painted blue, entertaining you with nothing more than paint and plumbing and drums, a handcrafted feel--is now replaced by rock concert movements and a lot of whatever you can call the non-90s word for "Multimedia".  The sketches about Captain Crunch and Twinkies still hold up, but how can they not feel quaint when compared to in-show "apps" and LED screens that suddenly come alive and begin dancing?

But Blue Man Group has to be commended for keeping up with the times.  Perhaps I'm kidding myself to say I could enjoy myself with the "quainter" version nowadays; when the Blue Men ventured into the audience halfway through the show to stare at various audience members, I found myself restlessly impatient for for Rock Concert Movement Number Two.  So kudos to the creators for keeping up in an era where it's difficult to focus on just one thing at a

Macbeth on Broadway

Alan Cumming is back on Broadway doing a limited run of his tour-de-force almost-one-man Macbeth, and it is a must-see.  Set in a psychiatric ward, Cumming plays a deeply disturbed man who impersonates almost every character in the Shakespeare classic, occasionally leaving clues as to who this poor patient is, why he is recounting this story, and what has led him to become so tortured. 
Typically when I go into a Shakespearean play it takes me a few minutes for my ears to get accustomed to the diaalect, much like hearing a foreign language or accent and re-adjusting your listening habits. At first you found yourself doing a similar sort of thing in deciphering the various characters Cumming plays. That is, until you start noticing how he holds himself differently for each character, takes on different affectations, and that these subtler differences perfectly bridge the line between Cumming playing multiple characters and playing one madman who embodies each of the characters in the story.  It is nothing short of amazing, and when you join the rest of the audience for a standing ovation afterwards it is because of a truly spectacular performance, not because you liked the guy in The Good Wife.
I would recommend reacquainting yourself with the storyline and characters first if you're not too familiar with Macbeth, as this production adds a full layer on top of Shakespeare's text. Myself, I only had two small complaints with the show:

Complaint # 1. Towards the end, when Cumming is playing Lady Macbeth in the "out, out damn spot" scene, the lines where others describe Lady Macbeth's madness become the two asylum workers' commentary on the madness of Cumming's patient. I'm all for changed readings and meanings in Shakespeare's language, but since the lines were originally referring to Lady Macbeth, they instead continue to mis-comment on Cumming's male patient as a "she". If I presume that this particular patient's diagnosis includes Disassociative Personality Disorder--and that is a reading that may not be intended--it seems like this could be solved so simply by making the first instance of "she" more emphasized, almost in air quotes, as if referring to a side of the patient's personality.

Complaint # 2. Alan Cumming didn't get nominated for best actor? Wtf.


Les Miserables The Movie: Abridged

"Papa, Mister Hooper's camera is getting awfully close. "
"Yes Cosette, that's called a 'bad touch'."


Shakespeare in the Square--Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare in the Square, a group of performers that originally began as an NYU student club, is exiting the university…
January Broadway Closings 2014>2015
First off, since I keep getting this question: Broadway Abridged is indeed (obviously) on a break, at minimum.  I'm working…
Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
Last week I had the pleasure of taking in "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" in its new…
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
After an acclaimed run, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 has transferred to the theatre district. The show…




Volume 1: Even More Musicals comedy album available for sale on iTunes/Amazon.