Review: Buster Poindexter

Buster Poindexter

I was surprised at how thrilling it was when David Johanson, arguably the king of early 1970s New York rock, took to the stage of Manhattan cabaret institution Cafe Carlyle. Of course, he’s doing it under the name of Buster Poindexter, his martini sipping, jacket required alter ego. At this point, after retiring and returning to the persona multiple times, it essentially signifies that Johanson will be singing the Poindexter repertoire, while wearing a pompadour. When he talks about himself in the act, he calls himself David.

And there’s nothing particularly ironic about the act, either – this is light years away from, for example, Bill Murray’s campy Nick the lounge singer. The closest he comes to that kind of schtick are the Vegas jokes he tells between songs, and even these gems of bad taste feel somehow lovingly curated.

Johanson clearly has real affection for the pop standards and early r&b that form the backbone of this act. The fun here is hearing these songs given new life with a combination of excellent musicianship and gutbucket energy worthy of Johanson’s original band, glam punk legends the New York Dolls.

Johanson is at his best when assaying international material – a rattling version of calypso standard “Zombie Jamboree” is one of the high points, as is a ragged boogie take on Italo-pop classic “Volare” (made famous by Dean Martin). Sometimes the act veers even closer to pure rock-and-roll, as with his interpretation of “Piece of My Heart” that owes its arrangement to the hit Janis Joplin version (for the record, that’s a very good thing).

Lyrics are occasionally glossed over in the high-octane rush, but these are songs that are all about the groove, so this isn’t even really a concern. This act is a hard swinging good time, and definitely recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: Otello


It’s not my favorite Verdi opera, based on one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays. The story of the macho Moor Othello seduced to jealous thoughts by the evil Iago has just never resonated with me. Much has been made of the fact that the Met is abandoning the practice of having the title role done in blackface, but since I didn’t really care in the first place, that signifies nothing to me. All that said, I far prefer the opera, featuring, as it does, some of the most adventurous and exciting music Verdi ever wrote – it is one gorgeous slab of music, and it is getting a lovely account right now at the Met.

Director Bartlett Sher’s new production is quite handsome, if not particularly deep. It is set in that vaguely Victorian era that so many new opera productions occupy (cue obnoxiously loud open-mouthed yawn). Costume designer Catherine Zuber has, as usual, gotten the details sumptuously right, but is constrained in a direly monochrome palette.

Set designer Es Devlin gets the best of the bargain, shifting luminous Plexiglas intimations of neoclassical architecture in and out. Luke Halls’s projection design is simple but fluid, adding a lot of atmosphere, but not much else.

So, lacking any major innovations or insights, this Otello is all about the music, and in that arena it is glorious. The title role is one of the most daunting monsters in the male operatic repertoire, and Aleksanders Antonenko attacks this mountain with great intelligence.

Željko Lučić is a magnificently demonic Iago, diving into the terrifyingly dissonant, angular role with great zest. Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin masters the near symphonic tone of late Verdi with impeccable skill. Best of all, though, is Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona, supremely lustrous across the board. She is truly a soprano to watch. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: Drop Dead Perfect

DROP-DEAD-PERFECT Everett-Quinton-left-Michael-Keyloun-standing-and-Jason-Cruz-right-in-photo-by-John-Quilty.

Well, this is fun! Drop Dead Perfect may not be the most substantial show ever to pay homage to “Ridiculous theatre”, but it is undeniably frisky and entertaining. It doesn’t hurt that it stars Everett Quinton, the greatest living actor in the Ridiculous tradition (and among the very best in any tradition, as far as I’m concerned).

In a story right out of the Alfred Hitchcock playbook, Quinton plays Idris Seabright, a wealthy, eccentric Key West grand dame with a psychotically unhealthy obsession with decorum and stillness, embodied by her love of painting still life. When Idris’s ward Vivien (Jason Edward Cook) threatens to abandon her to pursue sculpture in Greenwich Village, and handsome young Cuban relative Ricardo (Jason Cruz) turns up out of nowhere, her “still” life erupts into unhinged mayhem.

Idris is a delicious gargoyle of a role, and Quinton attacks it with high energy, maniacal precision and an almost supernatural conviction. Quinton expertly adds a sense of real danger and moments of sudden deep seriousness into the mix as well.

Director Joe Brancato has successfully led the other actors to a similarly vivid, kaleidoscopic acting style. Cook, for one, has created such a believably feminine character that other audience members I spoke with were surprised to see the name Jason in the program.

Both Jasons (Cook and Cruz) have a gift for athletic comedy, which Brancato uses to great advantage. Timothy C. Goodwin, who plays both the narrator and Idris’s lawyer Phineas, has a more wry, low key demeanor, which acts as a wonderful anchor and foil for the loons bouncing of the walls around him.

As the names Vivien and Ricardo suggest, this frothy concoction owes at least as much to I Love Lucy as to Hitchcock. Indeed there are Lucy references laced liberally (and comically) throughout the story. Drop Dead Perfect succeeds as a lighthearted tribute to Ridiculous theatre, and is in any event lots of fun. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: Hamilton

Hamilton Richard Rodgers Theatre Cast Lin-Manuel MirandaAlexander Hamilton Javier Muñoz Alexander Hamilton Alternate Carleigh Bettiol Andrew Chappelle Ariana DeBose Alysha Deslorieux Daveed Diggs Marquis De Lafayette Thomas Jefferson Renee Elise Goldsberry Angelica Schuyler Jonathan Groff King George III Sydney James Harcourt Neil Haskell Sasha Hutchings Christopher Jackson George Washington Thayne Jasperson Jasmine Cephas Jones Peggy Schuyler Maria Reynolds Stephanie Klemons Emmy Raver-Lampman Morgan Marcell Leslie Odom, Jr. Aaron Burr Okieriete Onaodowan Hercules Mulligan James Madison Anthony Ramos John Laurens Phillip Hamilton Jon Rua Austin Smith Phillipa Soo Eliza Hamilton Seth Stewart Betsy Struxness Ephraim Sykes Voltaire Wade-Green Standby: Javier Muñoz (Alexander Hamilton) Production Credits: Thomas Kail (Director) Andy Blankenbuehler (Choreographer) David Korins (Scenic Design) Paul Tazewell (Costume Design) Howell Binkley (Lighting Design) Other Credits: Lyrics by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Book by Lin-Manuel Miranda

This is above all an excitingly ambitious musical, all the more exciting because it sets its sights very high and more often than not hits its mark. It’s a hip-hop-centric evocation of Alexander Hamilton, who was chief wartime staff aide to George Washington, an influential promoter of the U.S. Constitution (in his Federalist Papers), founder of the nation’s financial system, and the founder of the Federalist Party, the world’s first voter-based political party.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics (those I could make out – more on that shortly) are stunningly smart, funny and well-crafted, and as a composer he has a terrific ear for melody, as well as rhythmic and harmonic “hooks.” As contemporary as the show’s sound might be, Miranda is old-school where overall structure is concerned, which is exactly what allows him to be so experimental with the details.

Thomas Kail’s sharp-eyed direction is so seamlessly interwoven with Andy Blankenbuehler’s complex, kinetic choreography, that it is sometimes hard to know where one begins and the other ends. Generally speaking, I can say that Hamilton truly deserves the critical praise it has received, moreso than say, Matilda.

But it’s not perfect. Miranda lyrics are pretty dazzling, but due to a combination of factors – inelegant sound design moments, occasional under-enuciation on the part of the otherwise marvelous cast, and a love of speed – many of them are difficult to comprehend. Miranda’s craft is developed enough that anything truly key is heard clearly and repeated. Still, it’s a disservice to those great lyrics to let so many go unheard.

Also, while Hamilton‘s racial politics are smart, virtuous, evolved and nuanced, its sexual politics are vague and maddeningly inconsistent. They are at their best in the number “Satisfied” in which Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry) coolly and intelligently lays out the options available to a woman in late 18th Century America. However, Hamilton follows the hip-hop playbook in that for the most part masculine men rap and pretty women sing.

Worse, Hamilton’s enemies, be they George III or Thomas Jefferson, are played as effeminate sops and fops. It’s not as bad in that regard as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (which pissed me off so much I couldn’t write a review). Also, this tendency is ameliorated by the performers choosing powerful androgynous pop culture figures as their models – Jonathan Groff’s George III has the intensity and danger of Ziggy Stardust, and Daveed Diggs’s Jefferson is like a fleet-footed and sharp-tongued Prince. Still, it’s fundamentally a jackass move, Miranda, and doesn’t go unnoticed.

These problems are not enough, though, to derail this musical theatre juggernaut. Its virtues handily outweigh its flaws, so much so that I highly recommend you see it.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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News: I’m directing Granados’s opera “Goyescas” this fall


This fall I will be directing Enrique Granados’s opera Goyescas with an exciting new opera company Bare Opera. The story of Goyescas is based on a series of six paintings from Francisco Goya’s early career, inspired by the young men and women of the majismo movement. These majos and majas are known for their bohemian attitude and stylish dress.

Bare Opera is an alternative opera company in New York City with a fresh, modern take on the opera experience. They believe that the bare essence of opera is the magical experience created through different art forms coming together. Bare Opera brings this collaborative spirit to the 21st century through innovative cross-arts productions.

Bare Opera cares deeply about the future of opera and believes that there’s an immense need for innovation in the art form to bring in new audiences. They strive to break the stereotypes around opera and create a casual and intimate experience in unusual spaces like art galleries and warehouses. By promoting emerging artists and unique cross-genre collaborations, Bare Opera hopes to be an active agent of change in the cultural landscape of opera and classical music, helping to create a sustainable future for the art form. More about them at their website here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: The New York Story

Colin Quinn TNYS+crate2

Colin Quinn is one of the better comics doing political satire – he communicates highly complicated ideas through the most mundane and absurdly funny examples. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his previous shows Long Story Short and Unconstitutional, which brought enormous issues wittily down to a comprehensible human scale. So I got excited when I heard about this new show about the the history of New York.

Quinn quite rightly sees the “the New York story” as being about different layers of attitude arising from each new immigrant ethnic group. He goes right for the jugular, humorously eviscerating political correctness, perhaps most deftly by observing that people talk about having a conversation about race instead of actually having that conversation.

As such, there is plenty of ethnic humor in the show, but it’s generally gentle and often actually complimentary. As, in, how do you know the building on the corner is a “Puerto Rican building”? And there are plenty of self-deprecating jabs at his own Irish Catholic background.

Quinn’s manner is engagingly off-hand – this is bigger and smarter than your usual stand-up, but it never totally leaves that sphere. He’s a sharp-eyed satirist, his take decidedly coming from a working class point of view, or at least from the point of view that’s been formed by being around working class people. The New York Story is jaunty and fun with a biting edge, a thought-provoking good time that I can easily recommend.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: Alaska Thunderfuck 5000


This girl is big!!! I mean for one thing, Alaska’s just very, very tall!! For another thing, her greatest gift as a performer is a knack for imaginative exaggeration. One would hope so: her full drag name is Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 from the Planet Glamtron, and that’s a lot to fill out. More than anything else, Alaska T5ftPG is a talented caricaturist.

Not to say that’s she’s amateurish or sloppy – not remotely! Caricature has room for precision, wit, intelligence and creativity, and Alaska displays all of this and more. She’s entitled her latest cabaret “The Gayest Show You’ve Ever Seen”, and though she admits that the truth of that title depends on the viewer, it certainly strives valiantly to earn it. (For the record, it’s probably not the gayest show I’ve seen – I’d have to think long and hard about what that would be).

As befits a caricaturist who goes for size, Alaska goes for suitably exaggerated (not to mention way gay) targets: Cher, Bette Davis and Liberace, among others. Alaska has a pretty good voice, but she’s well aware that she’s not what you would call a song stylist. Indeed, her pianist Handsome Jeremy – actually more like girlishly pretty Jeremy – introduces her using the phrase “song-like stylings”, which is pretty spot-on.

Plus, the show was snappy and short! That never happens in drag cabaret! I’m almost tempted to say she should flesh it out a bit and make it longer, but that seems like tempting the fates – and there was at least one song that went on too long. Very gay, a lot of fun, and definitely recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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