Review: The Bacchae

Bacchae

Originally reviewed for GaySocialites.com.

Avant garde director JoAnne Akalaitis, who has a long and ambivalent history with the Public Theatre (she was its Artistic Director for one controversial, embattled season after founder Joe Papp died), returns from an absence of many years to direct Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae, a sexy, violent and haunting tale of unbending hyper-masculinity undone by a powerful, androgynous, merciless god.

In The Bacchae, Pentheus, king of Thebes, seeks to suppress the worship of Dionysos, god of wine and the theatre, who has possessed the city’s women, including his mother. The offended god offers Pentheus repeated opportunities to relent, but when he doesn’t Dionysos swears his own unrelenting vengeance.

The two primary pleasures of this production are a lush score by Phillip Glass, and a sensuous yet chilling portrayal of Dionysos from Jonathan Groff. Glass’s propulsive music for small ensemble and female chorus gives you a fantastic sense of what the Greek choruses of Euripides’ own time were like. Every word is crystal clear, thanks to Glass’s clean and minimalist style, and yet the music is forceful enough to really fill the Delacorte amphitheatre.

Groff, best know for his work in musicals, also sings small snatches of Glass’s music, often in an ethereal falsetto. He gets a lot of things just right: Dionysos is described as having flashing eyes, and even when you can’t see Groff’s eyes, you can feel him shoot razor-sharp glances to the last row. The sensuality, the wicked sideways smile, its all there in spades (his laughter is the only part that rings a bit false—it should send a chill up your spine, but in the performance I saw it came off a bit “mad scientist”).

Akalaitis’s production leans heavily on its marvellous score and star; the rest of it feels a bit stiffly Modernist, all hard angles where it should be enticing and malevolent shadows. Still, it’s the most hard-hitting show to be staged at the Delacorte in years, and deserves to be seen by just as many people as was the star-studded Twelfth Night.

For tickets, click here.

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Review: Avenue Q

avenueqwebfour

Originally reviewed for GaySocialites.com.

Six years on, and soon to close, Avenue Q is still an extraordinary pleasure. Even though in some ways it’s an intimate, puppet-scaled show, it has such raucous comedy and raunchy energy that it easily projects to the back of Broadway’s Golden Theatre.

In case you don’t know, the musical follows recent college graduate Princeton (originally played by sexy out actor John Tartaglia, now played by the cute-in-a-different-way Robert McClure) as he looks for his “purpose” in New York’s outer boroughs. Audiences are still going wild for it; who knew this nutty show would find such a warm—and commercially successful—reception.

As an added bonus, the production’s original Japan-o-fabulous Christmas Eve, Ann Harada (recently of 9 to 5), is back in the show until it closes. Her contributions to “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and her big solo “The More You Ruv Someone” are definitely still high points of today’s Avenue Q.

In a way, Avenue Q opened the door on Broadway for other adventurous shows like Spring Awakening and Next to Normal in a more immediate way than even Rent did. Plus the creative team—Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, music and lyrics and Jeff Whitty, book—have continued to work hard and tighten the show. A new arrangement here, an expanded or cut line there, small but important adjustments that add up to an even funnier and more moving show. You must see this fantastic musical before it’s gone!

For tickets, click here.

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Review: Klea Blackhurst

KleaBlackhurst-MermanShow-2Originally reviewed for GaySocialites.com.

Singing like Ethel Merman comes very naturally to Klea Blackhurst. Ethel’s voice was one of very few singing voices she heard in her early childhood, so she thought all singers sounded like that. As a result, in Everything the Traffic Will Allow: The Songs and Sass of Ethel Merman, Blackhurst’s oversized cabaret tribute to La Merm, she never stoops to mere imitation or any kind of aping parody of Merman’s more obvious mannerisms. She simply and naturally inhabits the spectacular sunrise-like open-throated style of singing that Merman brought to life.

As such, Blackhurst gives you some inkling of what Merman meant to “The Great American Songbook,” as the woman who became a star when she introduced the Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm” to its first Broadway audiences in 1930—and then went on to become a favorite of such diverse (and great) composers as Berlin, Porter, Rodgers and Hart, right down to such still-living masters as Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim.

Blackhurst’s tribute to Broadway’s original broad makes you wonder why this singing marvel hasn’t had a turn on the Great White Way herself.

For tickets, click here.

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Review: Dirty Stuff

DirtyStuff-DickMitchell

Originally reviewed for GaySocialites.com.

Jonny McGovern’s high-energy one-man romp through pop culture and gay New York nightlife, Dirty Stuff is probably one of the best shows at this year’s FringeNYC, and maybe one of the best in the city.

Jonny—of Big Gay Sketch Show and “Gay Pimp” fame—has stripped this version of Dirty Stuff down to just the essentials. No bedazzled “gay pimp” wear, just black t-shirt and (admittedly fashionable) jeans. No go-go boys (from the man who revolutionized New York gay go-go, for the better)—just DJ TekShur playing a minimal soundtrack that helps emphasize the joy of club-land utopia at the heart of this very funny show.

McGovern immediately launches into his first character, Zarzuffa, a rich gay Arab hanging at the clubs. His parents are under the impression he’s designing haute nightlife couture, but “really my friend I’m just getting fucked up!” Suddenly, his parents want to see his fashion line, so he has to pull a collection together in two weeks—the incident sets McGovern’s wacky, convoluted plot in motion.

Other key characters (all played by McGovern) include Lurleen Famous (pronounced “famm-ooze”) a trailer-park Britney wannabe; Chocolate Puddin’, a nasty down-on-her-luck blaxploitation empress who will “cut you, cut you, cut you” at the drop of a hat; Jimmy, a shy, closeted gay boy with a “soccer team” fetish; and Velvet “Gay Pimp” Hammer, Jimmy’s oversexed pretty-fly-for-a-gay-guy alter ego…oh yeah, and lest we forget, Kevin Aviance-ish Latrice Bootleg and the House of Bootleg (yes, he plays the whole house at one point). At the very end, he’s playing the whole cast interacting—the effect is amazing and gigantically hilarious.

Dirty Stuff’s complex structure reminds me very much Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent life. It’s not as serious as Search; it’s more belly laughs than “make in ya think” comedy, though it’s very nearly as smart as Tomlin’s masterpiece.

With Dirty Stuff McGovern reminds us just how immensely talented McGovern is as a writer (he’s more than proven himself as comedian and singer). The original run helped launch McGovern into his current fame, we can only hope that this run helps him reach superstardom!

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Burn the Floor

burn the floor

Originally reviewed for GaySocialites.com.

First things first: Burn the Floor features several, extended, lusciously gratuitous displays of male flesh. Tight, mostly European dancer flesh. That, and a couple of hours of always energetic—and occasionally stunning—dancing, makes it worth seeing as hot summertime fun.

Just fun, not anything deep, or anything particularly sophisticated. First conceived as a special performance at Sir Elton John’s 50th birthday celebration in 1997, the show has been touring the world for 10 years.

So this first show of the new Broadway season is similar to the show that opened Broadway’s last season (Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy): It’s part of a successful stage franchise that is looking for nothing more than the words “direct from Broadway” to spruce up their tour brochures. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! And it bears saying that Burn the Floor does “ballroom” a good sight better than Cirque Dreams did “circus.”

Jason Gilkison’s choreography, as well as the show’s entire cast, comes from the world of dancesport, and Burn the Floor is nothing more or less than an evening length celebration of Ballroom dance. If you are, as I am, a bemused but appreciative fan of dancesport, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had seeing these hot, razor-precise moves performed for the simple love of doing them (and, okay, a pay check), not in competition.

I was underwhelmed by singer Rebecca Tapia; she has a great voice but sings every song the same way. She’s good for “History Repeating” but not so much for the bluesier numbers. Her limited stylistic range is especially obvious in contrast to the show’s versatile “boy singer,” the supple-voiced Ricky Rojas. A few of Janet Hines’s costumes even approach elegance, and even the showiest dress avoids the terrifying garishness of some outfits seen in competition.

But high art it ain’t—it’s like a sexy, cheesy, athletic, ever-so-slightly tacky guy: you might be a little bit embarrassed, but you’ll definitely have a good time.

For tickets, click here.

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