Review: On Your Feet!

on your feet10

This is a solidly made, adequately entertaining jukebox musical. The Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine songbook is sturdier than I realized, and is more than enough to fill a musical, even to slightly over-stuff a musical (we hear all the verses of only a handful of songs, mostly ballads). Not only does On Your Feet follow the romantic and musical partnership of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, it also gives a peek into the energetic and glamorous music and dance of Miami’s Cuban-American subculture.

It certainly helps that the show has been crafted by some of Broadway’s steadiest hands. Director Jerry Mitchell’s already impressive ability to calibrate the perfect pace for a show grows more precise each time out, and On Your Feet is another step in that trend.

Choreographer Sergio Trujillo is also known for that jukebox juggernaut Jersey Boys, and his work here is even more soulful and energetic, injecting a whole lot of hot salsa into the mix. It doesn’t hurt that the band is incredibly tight – not surprising given that about half of it is made up of long-time members of Miami Sound Machine.

Bookwriter Alexander Dinelaris faces the biggest challenge. While the Estefan’s rise to fame did involve a lot of struggle, it’s a fairly familiar kind of struggle: fighting the system, trying to balance family and ambition, working hard until the big break happens, and then going from strength to strength. To Dinelaris’s credit, he makes these problems feel fresh, largely by focusing on the details and the emotional truths behind individual moments. And the one major unusual problem they did face – Gloria being horribly injured in a traffic accident – Dinelaris narrates in a way that respects the trauma it caused, but doesn’t descend into melodrama.

Just as Jersey Boys requires a charismatic and convincing Frankie Valli, so this show needs a powerful Gloria, and Ana Villafane more than fits the bill. She sounds eerily like Gloria, and is a compelling triple threat in her own right. Broadway has collectively figured out the way biographical jukebox musicals ought be done, and On Your Feet is a thoroughly satisfying example of the form.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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News: Opera I’m directing – “Goyescas” – opens TONIGHT


I’ve directed a new production of Enrique Granados’s 1916 opera Goyescas, which opens tonight and runs through November 22. Tickets available here.

Here’s a promotional video:

Love, death, seductive music, and fiery dance come together this November in the opera Goyescas. Bare Opera presents this bohemian opera by Spanish composer Enrique Granados, inspired by the lush paintings of Goya. Set in the vibrant urban landscape of 1980s Madrid, this tragic romantic tale features rapturous songs and flamenco-inspired dance.

The opera will be paired with charming selections from Isaac Albéniz’s Suite Española, specially arranged for orchestra and dance for this production.

This bold new production is directed by Jonathan Warman, choreographed by Liz Piccoli, and features costumes by fashion designer Laura Kung. Bare Opera’s principal conductor, Sesto Quatrini, leads the performances.

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Review: King Charles III

King Charles III Music Box Theatre Production Credits: Rupert Goold (director) Tom Scutt (design) Jon Clark (lighting) Paul Arditti (sound) Other Credits: Written by: Mike Bartlett - See more at:

This is an engaging, thought-provoking play, that falls a bit short of the goals it sets for itself. King Charles III is set in an indeterminate “near future” just after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, as Prince Charles prepares to take the throne. But is he truly prepared?

On the upside, playwright Mike Bartlett delves very intelligently into the paradoxes of being a monarch in a 21st Century constitutional monarchy. He thoroughly probes the question of how a monarch can wield power at all now, without seeming like – or actually being – a dictator.

The problem is, Bartlett has to really push credibility to make his points. The first bill for the new king to sign is a significant curb on freedom of the press, submitted by a Prime Minister from the Labour party – not a likely scenario, no matter how skeevy the British press is. And the MacGuffins just pile on from there.

I’m not complaining a lot, I’m actually happy to be generous in suspending disbelief to look into the very interesting problems that Bartlett poses. It would be a lot easier to do if Bartlett had set the story in a fictional country, with a fictional royal family. That, however, would probably not sell nearly as many tickets.

Director Rupert Goold has done a good job of evoking these familiar personages, particularly in the work he has done with Tim Piggott-Smith, who captures both the world-weary Charles that we’re familiar with, and the firebrand Bartlett imagines him becoming (or more accurately requires him to become to pose the pertinent questions). All in all, King Charles III is expertly put together, and well worth seeing.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: Dames at Sea

DAMES AT SEA John Bolton and Lesli Margherita in photo by Jeremy Daniel, 2015

Goofy, giddy, silly, old-fashioned fun – this show’s got tons of it. If you find it funny the the male romantic lead is named Dick, then you’ll have a good time. If you get why it’s funny that the female lead is named Ruby, then you are Dames at Sea‘s target audience, and will have a great time. If you know who they’re talking about when they say “That’s not a fat man, that’s Elsa Maxwell,” you’ll have a blast!

Plot? Dames at Sea makes a comic point of it’s gossamer-thin plot. There are sailors and chorus girls, of course. Our chorus girl heroine faints, but is caught by a sailor who just walked in the stage door, and instantly they launch into a love duet. It’s a celebration of the pure unserious entertainment offered on Broadway and in the movies in the middle of the last century, nothing more or less than that.

Director-choreographer Randy Skinner is the perfect person to helm this charmer. His tap numbers from the 2001 revival of 42nd Street still thunder in my brain, and he serves up the same tap-happy madness here, on a smaller scale. He gets the tone almost exactly right.

My only real complaint being that it’s not as gay as it could be. Dames at Sea was first performed at the tiny, way gay “birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway” Caffe Cino. Skinner’s production is appropriately campy, but more in a “summer stock” kind of way than a “gay cafe” kind of way. It’s a fine distinction, but one that matters to me, anyway.

Not a big deal – I still find plenty to enjoy in Dames at Sea. Particularly fun is Lesli Margherita’s over-the-top portrayal of diva Mona Kent. Now here’s a performance that hits that “gay cafe” tone I alluded to above, bigger and broader than many a drag queen. Fun, fun, fun, and definitely recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: Tannhäuser


Although it’s always a pleasure to hear maestro James Levine lead the Met Opera orchestra – and Tannhäuser features some of composer Richard Wagner’s most gorgeous music – I don’t think I will ever love this opera. It’s a battle between pagan goddess of love Venus and a clutch of goody-goody Christians over the soul of the titular minstrel, and the Christians win. I’m on Venus’s side, so this is just a plain old bummer for me.

Still, almost all of the best music goes to Venus and her minions – granted, the Christians’ “Pilgrim Chorus” is the most beautiful thing in the show, but everything else good is in pagan-land. Oh, there’s one exception, the young shepherd’s song (divinely delivered here by Ying Fang), which is positioned with delicately balanced naivete between Tannhäuser’s time with Venus and his return to Christian Wartburg.

I can envision a production that follows Wagner’s musical cues, in which the Christian morality would be militaristically enforced but insincere, and the Venusian sensuality voluptuous but dangerously wild. But that is not this production, by a long shot.

Director Otto Schenk’s production is very conservative, but in the best possible way. I’m not personally compelled by his vision of Venus’s realm, but it is arguably very close to Wagner’s own vision. When it comes to Wartburg, however, Schenk has absolutely nailed the feel of that place in Tannhäuser’s time (the early 13th Century).

This is traditional opera at its most sturdy and compulsively watchable, really a vehicle for the singers to shine. My personal favorites on the night I went were Michelle DeYoung as a deeply sensual Venus, and Günther Groissböck as truly noble Landgraf Hermann – largely because they were easily the best actors in an ensemble of uniformly impressive vocal power.

How to put this; I recommend this as highly as I ever could recommend traditionally staged Wagner. Yep, this is as good as that kind of thing gets.

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To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: The Gin Game

Gin Game 3945

It’s a vehicle, nothing more, nothing less. The Gin Game is a light-weight comedy with just enough emotional fuel in it to ignite when you get two great actors in it. James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson are undeniably great actors, and this Gin Game does indeed ignite, even if it doesn’t quite satisfy.

But that lack of satisfaction is no fault of the actors – this play doesn’t so much wrap up as simply stop. Plus, while playwright D. L. Coburn does dig deep enough to find his character’s darker sides, he really doesn’t have anything meaningful to show us about those parts of their personalities.

Weller Martin (Jones) and Fonsia Dorsey (Tyson) meet on the porch of their dilapidated nursing home and they become friends as Weller teaches Fonsia how to play gin. Fonsia wins every hand, leading to a battle of wills that reveals what makes each of them tick. By the end of the play the gloves are off and they are really letting each other have it, and Tyson and Jones execute the verbal boxing with expert skill.

Jones uses that famous deep voice of his mostly to have Weller reassure Fonsia of his basically benign intent. But in an instant that rumble can turn into an authoritative roar, which works very well to communicate Weller’s hair-trigger temper.

On the surface Tyson’s Fonsia seems to be a warmly charming grandmother. However, Tyson has always had a biting sharpness just underneath her elegantly beautiful surface, and that fits the subtly manipulative Fonsia to a “T”.

Director Leonard Foglia has wisely kept things as light as possible – The Gin Game is at its best when we can enjoy the humor of the duo’s repartee. This just isn’t substantial enough material to lean heavily on the more painful truths Coburn every so often dredges up. An enjoyable, diverting evening spent with two expert performers, nothing more, nothing less.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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Review: BenDeLaCreme


Talk about the evolution of drag! BenDeLaCreme may start off with goofy song parodies and wisecracking comedy like other drag queens, but that’s just to soften your senses for something far more sophisticated – her seductive strangeness creeps up on you, and gives you a lot more to chew on than your typical drag cabaret.

Her latest show, Cosmos, plays on both senses of the title: “the universe as a whole” and “an abbreviation for two or more Cosmopolitan cocktails”. It’s a boozy, pun-packed trek through the stars that aims to answer questions like “Why Planets?” and “How Does Science?”

It’s typical of the queen otherwise known as Ben Putnam that these intentionally silly starting points end up taking us to places more profound than the most chin-strokingly serious straight play, without ever being less than belly-laugh hilarious. I’ve gotten very frustrated recently with some of my colleagues in the theatre who look down on the arts of clowning, drag, circus and burlesque as being somehow less, somehow stupid. This is the show they need to see: Putnam takes the best of all those forms and whips them into something new, fascinating and intensely intelligent.

Not only that, BenDeLa uses these popular forms to probe the very biggest questions, switching from deep existential angst to spiritual lightness in the space of a minute – in between double entendres about sex and booze.

BenDeLaCreme is all about fantastic and ridiculous artifice, but also ultimately really about what that artifice can communicate and express about deeper things, like science and our place in the universe. She delivers a show that’s equal parts cheeky fun and insightful art, no small feat. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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