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

Goyescasgraphic

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 jonathanwarman.com.

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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 jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Alaska Thunderfuck 5000

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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 jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Ginger Minj

Ginger+Minj_Rupauls+Drag+Race-5550_final

The Minj is quite the little singer! Well, maybe not little…Ginger has genuine article musical theatre training and chops, and has made the intelligent move of structuring her cabaret act Crossdresser for Christ: The Musical, A Drag Queen Confessional around a songlist made up exclusively of showtunes. She made the equally smart choice of going for variety within that songbook, using tunes from shows as disparate as Oklahoma and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The act is in the very traditional mold of “this is my life” autobiographical cabarets. It tracks Ginger’s life from a childhood in Southern Baptist Lake County, Florida to adventures in New York to his discovery of drag’s power in an unpromising Orlando Fringe Festival show. There is biting humor throughout – the Minj comments that the Orlando Fringe is an unjuried festival “so you know most of the shows are shit!” – and she cleverly builds the singing from the folksy and simple (“I’m Just A Girl Who Cain’t Say No”) to the complex and bravura (Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark”, a favorite of divas from Betty Buckley to Patti LuPone).

It’s not a perfect show, for sure. Parts of it were polished to a high sheen, other parts seemed under- or un-rehearsed. There were precious few backstage stories from Drag Race, which is a big part of what we want to hear, isn’t it? Her dress was not truly ugly, but definitely not “glamour toad” fabulous either. And her wig, though suitably big, was brown for goodness sake! These are quibbles, though – Ginger is a real show biz pro, and had the audience in the palm of her hand for the great majority of the evening. Recommeded.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Cast CD Review Roundup

golden apple

The Golden Apple (First Full Length Recording)

When The Golden Apple premiered in 1954, its blend of American folklore and Greek myth, popular entertainment and high art, and musical comedy and operatic drama was revolutionary. After some initial success, however, The Golden Apple all but slipped into obscurity. In November 2014, the Lyric Stage of Irving, Texas, mounted a fully-staged revival of the musical, featuring an orchestra of 38 and a 43-member cast. PS Classics has released a live recording of this production, making commercially available all 135 minutes of this through-composed musical for the first time ever. While it has some problems one would expect from a live recording of a regional production – moments that don’t quite land, some bum notes and straining voices – overall it is a lush, majestic account of composer Jerome Moross’s ravishing score, a lost masterpiece really. Highly recommended.

To purchase, click here.

Fun Home CD

Fun Home (A New Broadway Musical)

Richly emotional yet rigorously unsentimental. Lyricist Lisa Kron’s astringent wit and surging music by Jeanine Tesori make for a score that, while sometimes dark, is never depressing. The way Tesori’s music pushes urgently and sincerely at Kron’s mordantly funny lyrics produces a truly exciting tension, not to mention Tesori’s best musical theatre writing to date. Three women actors play Alison at various stages of her life and their performances are the beating heart of this CD: Beth Malone as the introspective and retrospective adult Alison, Emily Skeggs as the girl-crazy college age Alison, and Sydney Lucas as the young tomboy Alison. Michael Cerveris is pitch perfect as the closeted Bruce, especially in the climactic “Edges of the World”, capturing both the love of beauty and the ultimately destructive perfectionism of this very complex man.

To purchase, click here.

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On the Twentieth Century (New Broadway Cast Recording)

Hearing Kristen Chenoweth at the top of her form and perfectly cast is the whole reason to get this cast recording. The show’s creators, composer Cy Coleman and wordsmiths Betty Comden and Adolph Green, were all masters of musical theatre, but On the Twentieth Century finally works best as a star vehicle. And, thank goodness, Chenoweth is one hell of a star! She is truly incandescent here, her frisky musical comedy chops ideally matched to Comden and Green’s smartalecky wit. There’s also an adorable quartet of train porters – who even get a showstopping number of their own, the Act II opener “Life’s a Train”, which is definitely a highlight of this recording. The whole score is never less than a giddy good time.

To purchase, click here.

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Review: An Act of God

Act Of God - Jim Parsons chalice

The setup for An Act of God is that the King of the Universe has come to speak directly to the Jewish people – which is why he’s chosen to appear on Broadway. He’s brought along a new set of Ten Commandments that confirm mostly that a) humans should be nicer to each other and b) they shouldn’t bother him. Jim Parsons plays the deity, and he is the primary reason to see the show, combining the effortless winsomeness he’s known for with a more authoritative edge. His comic timing is razor-sharp as always, made even sharper with the danger of an all-powerful deity slowly realizing something is seriously wrong with him.

An Act of God is the most recent outgrowth of a “Tweet of God” twitter account written by Daily Show scribe David Javerbaum, and it does have the tart-tongued directness of a series of funny tweets. Does this a Broadway show make? Well, Javerbaum is a savvy satirical writer, and has done a workmanlike job of molding this material into something more substantial. He ends up making some very thoughtful and thought-provoking points. Nonetheless, Javerbaum isn’t aiming for the stars here – he’s set out to write a pointed but lightweight satire on organized religion, and he pretty much nails that modest goal.

Director Joe Mantello is every bit as polished a craftsman and artist as Javerbaum, and has dealt with this light piece with an appropriately light touch. He’s passed this lightness onto the design team. Set designer Scott Pask has given us heaven’s posh waiting room with a stairway to greater heights, and Hugh Vanstone’s witty lighting design puts storytelling in the forefront. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Ever After

Ever After 6

This is totally charming! And with a cast that features personal favorite Christine Ebersole as well as Julie Halston, Tony Sheldon and a slew of similarly singular talents, Ever After is also eminently watchable. Oh and did I mention that the score by composer Zina Goldrich and lyricist Marcy Heisler is one of the more tuneful and solid I’ve heard in a while. I guess I’m a fan!

Paper Mill Playhouse is getting in the habit of doing several world premieres a season, and this new musical is based on the 1998 film starring Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Huston. It rings another change on the Cinderella story, this time taking the magic and fantasy element out of it. Instead of a fairy godmother you have Leonardo da Vinci, instead of “Prince Charming” you have a Prince Henry who resmbles a historical prince of that name (they stop short of total historical accuracy – that Henry actually married Catherine de Medici).

Happily, Ever After is a thoroughly satisfying entertainment. The score to Ever After is effortlessly in a traditional musical comedy vein, without even the slightest whiff of pastiche or nostalgia – no minor accomplishment. Ebersole is delicious as stepmother Rodmilla, playing her as more bitter than truly wicked. The creative team know what they have in Ebersole, and have given her the suitably dramatic “After All”.

Halston and Sheldon are toned down a bit from their more flamboyant performances; you won’t catch me complaining, however. If you can cast the very best, why not. Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall has delivered a sturdy and attactive production focused squarely on storytelling. There are a couple of numbers that seem to be there strictly to serve as dance spectaculars, but they are so much energetic fun that it is hard to quibble. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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