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Review: Alaska Thunderfuck 5000

alaska-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 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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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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News: I’m directing a reading of a P!nk musical

Meangraphic

I will direct a developmental reading of the new musical Mean at Emerging Artists Theatre. The musical, with book by Kerri Kochanski (1,001 People That Suck, The Food Monologues), features music and lyrics by Grammy Award winning pop icon Alecia Moore (aka P!nk). The workshop features choreography by Liz Piccoli (Spandex the Musical), and musical direction by Luke Williams.

Mean tells the story of Jinx, an up and coming rock star in Hollywood, using some of P!nk’s biggest hits as its soundtrack.

The reading is open to the public and will take place on Saturday, May 30th at 2:00 PM at the TADA Theater, 15 West 28th Street in NYC.

The cast features Rock of Ages star Justin Mortelliti (Broadway World Award nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical), Meghan Leathers (Scenes From An Execution), Luis Villabon (Reefer Madness), Elyssa Brette Mactas (A & E’s “The Haunting of Beverly Mitchell”), Jay Reum, Michael Fisher, Jennifer Roderer, Espen Sigurdsen, Tim Realbuto, Zach Wachter, Jon Garrity, Charly Dannis, Madeline Acquaviva, Shaina Vencel, Loulu Luzi, Thea Lammers, Mary Bolt, Shannon Burke, and Kevin P. Sullivan. Vanna Richardson will serve as the Production Stage Manager.

Tickets, priced at $10, are available here.

For more about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Judy Collins

Judy Collins 2015 KJukKyt

No one sings a folk song more beautifully than Judy Collins, and few people sing more beautifully, period. She’s an authentic river of song, in truly golden voice in her seventies. She’ll be talking about a song in passing, and then launch into three or four lines, singing with breathtakingly casual grace and beauty. And then continue with her story “and so I told Leonard Cohen that yes, ‘Suzanne’ is a good song and I’ll be recording it tomorrow…”

When she sings a song in earnest, she’s truly arresting, imbuing each line with subtle style, implying stories behind stories. She’s known as one of the best interpretive artists in pop music, and in this act she brilliantly illuminates songs ranging from traditional folk to Dylan and the Beatles to Sondheim and Jacques Brel. She also reminds us that she went on to truly earn the singer/songwriter epithet by giving heartfelt renditions of her own songs “My Father” and “Arizona.”

The stories she actually tells are truly entertaining, varying from the touchingly personal to the hilariously bawdy. She is so enthusiastically invested in the music – her spectacular, undiminished talent always gives me an amazingly intense cabaret experience. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

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Review: Gigi

Gigi 3435

Bottom line: Vanessa Hudgens doesn’t embarrass herself. She’s perfectly fine as a beautiful girl coming of age in the glamorous and morally ambiguous wold of belle epoque Paris (though honestly at Broadway prices, “perfectly fine” isn’t quite enough). The best thing about this production, however, is Victoria Clark as her youngish grandmother Mamita.

When acting the role of Mamita, Clark gives the evening’s most shaded performance – we see her stern concern for Gigi, but always colored with a warm feeling of deep love. But it is when Clarke sings that Gigi really takes flight, her solo “Say A Prayer” being the one moment in the show with undeniable emotional pull and musical theater magic.

The show does have other virtues: Dee Hoty delights as Gigi’s courtesan aunt, who tries to persuade the girl to follow in her footsteps. Joshua Bergasse’s elegant and vivacious choreography continues his winning streak, giving the show a shot of exuberance that it doesn’t otherwise possess. I’ll even give an odd moment of anachronistic Fosse-esque jazziness a pass since the rest of Bergasse’s work is just so darn good. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are deliciously sensual, reminding us in detail just what was so belle about that epoque.

As to the score, it’s by those “golden age of musicals” masters Lerner & Loewe. It definitely isn’t their best work, but it nonetheless has all the virtues of classic Broadway, and there’s no denying the pleasure of hearing it sung by the likes of Clark, Hoty and Howard McGillin.

In the end, though, this is more of a diverting musical than one that’s deeply satisfying in any way. This bon bon really left me wanting something more substantial.

For tickets, click here.

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

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Review: On the Twentieth Century

On the 20th 0903- Karl, Chenoweth

Witnessing Kristen Chenoweth at the top of her form and perfectly cast is the whole reason to see this revival. 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 is nobody’s best work. Don’t get me wrong, the musical is very entertaining and quite well-crafted, but it finally works best as a star vehicle. And, thank goodness, Chenoweth is one hell of a star!

Chenoweth plays bawdy and chic Hollywood star Lily Garland, whom bankrupt theater producer Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher) wants to cajole into playing the lead in his new, yet-unwritten epic drama. This madcap pursuit takes place aboard the Twentieth Century, a luxury train travelling from Chicago to New York City. Chenoweth is truly incandescent here, her frisky comic chops ideally matched to Comden and Green’s smartalecky wit.

Gallagher is far nuttier and better looking than David Belasco, the fading impresario on whom Jaffee’s based. Not to mention hammier, in a good way (although he would be hard pressed to out-ham Andy Karl as vain, muscle-bound movie leading man Bruce Granit)! Director Scott Ellis is having a lot of success this season combining fearless comic actors with suitably over-the-top characters, both here and in You Can’t Take It With You. His staging also imparts a much needed impish energy to the show.

There’s also an adorable quartet of train porters – who execute some of the best moves I’ve seen from choreographer Warren Carlyle. They even get a showstopping number of their own, the Act II opener “Life’s a Train”. The whole show is never less thans a giddy good time. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

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