I’m directing “Love in the Time of Chlamydia” in the Frigid Festival

I am pleased to announce that I will direct Nicole Pandolfo’s one-woman show, Love In The Time Of Chlamydia as part of the Frigid Festival from February 23 through March 4, 2012. It tells of one woman’s search for love in a world full of absent dads, dirtbag boyfriends, and premature ejaculators. “Once in the hot tub, we take the leftover vicodin Amber has from getting her wisdom teeth removed, wash it down with some Mad Dog 20/20, and pass a joint…” Nicole Pandolfo’s paean to the perils of sex and booze takes her from suburban Jersey basements to Manhattan barrooms, and from morning-after despair to chemically induced ecstasy on a funny, poignant, empowering journey of self-discovery. Love In The Time Of Chlamydia boldly goes there: awkward adolescence, flying bodily fluids, underage drinking – way underage. Aided by projections (and beer), this wickedly funny one-woman bender takes on frat boys, revenge fucking, venereal disease and Valentine’s Day with the comic insight of someone who knows…better.

For tickets, click here.

For more about my directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Hot Mess

The outrageous new Wednesday night drag revue Hot Mess has definitely set a new high bar for drag in NYC. First of all, its the only full-on multi-performer drag revue in a truly gay venue that I can think of in the city. But it’s much more than just that: the queens at the core of this show, Lady Bunny and Bianca Del Rio, are the smartest, wittiest and most fearless in all of drag, and a show that was just them would be legendary in its own right.

But Hot Mess is even more than that. Bunny is the force behind the whole thing, and she has assembled a cast of the city’s most talented drag divas, and the last time she did that, it turned into Wigstock – the annual festival of drag which ran for 20 years. There aren’t as many queens in this but they are truly a choice selection.

Milan, one of the competitors from the last season of RuPaul’s Drag Race acts as the show’s choreographer, and she packs the group numbers with excitement. She’s also a phenomenal dancer herself, serving abundant flash and drama. Jiggly Caliente, also a contestant on this season of Drag Race, is a phenomenally accurate lip syncher and dancer. Skyla Versai specializes in up-tempo stormers from 21st Century pop starlets, and delivers them with infectious high energy. Finally, Sugga Pie Koko brings Andy Kaufman-eque brain-warped comedy to drag, and I feel about her like I did about Andy – she’s often totally annoying, nearly as often brilliant, and never less than compulsively watchable.

On top of all this, you have XL’s crazy sophisticated sound and light system as a backdrop for the ladies. Drag has rarely been this multimedia – and even though it’s truly spectacular, I still think they’ve only scratched the surface of what they can do with it.

Bunny has said of the show, “this is going to be similar to the drag shows I grew up watching down south with production numbers, costumes, choreography, a brilliant emcee (Bianca), some serious dancing, a little celebrity impersonation and of course, lots of laughs!” If that was the plan, she has thoroughly succeeded.

When I saw it on its first night, Hot Mess still had a handful of kinks to work out – it started very late, even for drag time, and the two-hour-plus running time could use some trimming. Even with those problems, Hot Mess is first-class, state-of-the-art New York drag, and not to be missed.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Porgy & Bess

I have never seen Porgy & Bess before this production, I’m only familiar with it through the songs from it that have become standards, as sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Christine Ebersole. Many purists have been carping over how much smaller director Diane Paulus’s adaptation is than the full-blown version done by opera houses, but I just don’t have that to compare it to. Even if this version is diminished, the stunning ambition of composer George Gershwin’s musical vision still takes my breath away.

Based on a novel by DuBose Heyward (who also contributed to the opera’s libretto) Porgy & Bess is set in the run-down neighborhood of Catfish Row, Charleston, South Carolina, where the beautiful Bess struggles to live in a community that shuns her, and the only one who truly, selflessly loves her is the crippled but courageous Porgy.

As a matter of fact the biggest problem I have with the show doesn’t have anything to do with the music or the approach to the story, but with Riccardo Hernandez’s willfully ugly set. I’m a big fan of successful abstraction, but this is far from successful. It neglects the specifics of a poverty-stricken South Carolina neighborhood, for no good reason, replacing those specifics with nothing evocative or even artistically interesting. Just dreary and unwieldy.

As for those wonderful songs, they live all the more vibrantly when you hear them in context – when Norm Lewis, as Porgy, sings “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” it’s like the sun coming out after a grimly cloudy day. Audra McDonald is a vocally thrilling Bess, though for some reason she plays much of the role tentatively. Lewis is a deeply humane Porgy, and David Alan Grier brings out all the colors, light and dark, in the seductively slick Sportin’ Life. This Porgy & Bess doesn’t succeed on every point, but it’s a strong representation of a fascinating, flawed, ambitious work of art. Worth seeing.

For tickets, click here.

Review: Christine Ebersole

People who are only familiar with the fabulous Christine Ebersole from her Tony-winning turn in Grey Gardens may not be aware that she’s also an astonishingly good cabaret performer, who can sing jazz with the same elegant power she brings to musical theater. I’m delighted to report that, in her latest jazzy cabaret act at Cafe Carlyle, featuring a five piece band led by the ever-tasteful John Oddo, Christine is her usual, spectacular self.

Oddo was musical director for the late, great Rosemary Clooney and he worked with jazz legends like Woody Herman, and it shows in the tight, elegant and powerful arrangements and piano playing he brings to the table. Christine refers to the band as “John Oddo’s Society Orchestra” aptly describing this small combo that often sounds like a big band.

This also finds her reuniting with top class cabaret director Scott Wittman, who has his own Tony for co-writing the score of Hairspray, and who has directed several acts for Christine. In a new twist, Christine has conceived and written the show herself, and like everything else she has turned her hand to, she’s done an amazing job, creating patter that is witty and cuttingly satirical. She structures the evening with a loose conceit that she’s performing a “cabaret at the end of the world”, and delivers the whole thing with an utterly natural, sparkling élan.

The big showstopper here is her genuinely breathtaking version of “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” She intensifies all of this Depression-era ballad’s power, evoking whole worlds of drama and dreams deferred, displaying more interpretive power than just about any other singer I can bring to mind. Wow.

For tickets, click here.

Review: Boeing-Boeing

For unadulterated, if slightly adulterous, entertainment , it’d be terribly difficult to top Boeing-Boeing, currently playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse. The play itself is gossamer-flimsy, a 1960s sex farce by late French playwright Marc Camoletti: Bernard, the proverbial American in Paris, has been successfully juggling three air hostess fiancées, one from TWA, one from Air Italia and one from Lufthansa.

His French housekeeper Berthe grudgingly cooperates in his erotic “air-traffic control” scheme. When Bernard’s hapless, provincial school pal Robert drops in to visit, the turbulence begins, as schedules change and bustling bed-hopping bedlam follows.

This kind of lightweight entertainment flies or crashes on the strength of its cast and production, and this Boeing-Boeing flies hilariously high, even it doesn’t quite soar like the hit Broadway production in 2008. Of the three nubile stewardesses, Anne Horak makes the strongest impression as the insanely Teutonic Gretchen – probably because this is easily the showiest and funniest of the three roles. John Scherer is very funny indeed as Robert, even if he isn’t as crazy good as Mark Rylance was on Broadway. But that’s such an unfair comparison, like comparing an above average movie star to Meryl Streep.

In this production it’s Beth Leavel, as the laconic Galois-puffing Berthe, who walks away with the biggest laughs, mining character comedienne gold. She rockets past the rest of the cast, right into the stratosphere. Her hamming is shameless, her slapstick, scene-stealing – both entirely appropriate for this kind of show. This proves that the Broadway production wasn’t a fluke, that Boeing-Boeing is a sturdy, belly-laugh-inducing sex comedy that should be entertaining audiences for years to come.

For tickets, click here.

Review: Petula Clark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Petula Clark is best known as a singer, but on the basis of her cabaret show at Feinstein’s – her first such show in the city since the 1970s – I’d venture to say she’s even stronger as an actor and writer. Sure she’s won two Grammy Awards, and one of the evening’s high points is a beautifully sung “La Vie En Rose” (on which it should be noted, Petula accompanies herself gorgeously on piano).

But that “La Vie” is stunning in part because she so clearly acts, in both her singing and playing, the emotional story behind the song. And the very highest point of the evening is Clark’s reading of her own poem “The Theatre” – a refreshingly honest love letter to that art form. She prepares the audience for it very cleverly, comically anticipating their groans of “oh God, a poem”. Even though people generally think of Clark as as phenomenon of the 1960s, she in fact had been acting since her childhood in the 1940s, and that shines through.

The evening didn’t start out so promisingly, with Clark singing a terribly cheesy arrangement of Cole Porter’s “I Concentrate On You”. But then she went on to perform her chart-topping pop hits like “Downtown,” “I Know A Place” and “My Love,” generally in ways that were intriguingly more bluesy that the originals.

Even stronger though, were songs from her theatrical career from shows such as Sunset Boulevard, Blood Brothers and Finian’s Rainbow – these are where Petula, the committed actress, gave the most help to Petula the pop singer. All in all, this act is a pretty fun entry in New York’s cabaret world, and for someone who hasn’t done this kind of thing in decades, pretty damn good.

For tickets, click here.

Review: Lady Bunny

Riotously funny “Dean of Drag” Lady Bunny doesn’t put limits on what she’s going to say or do in her new cabaret act “That Ain’t No Lady”; sure there are plenty of pre-planned numbers and videos – like her famous, zany Laugh-In style routines – but one of the great charms of this show is its spontaneity. Bunny is one of the smartest drag queens ever, and she is equally likely to launch into incisive political rants (my favorite parts of the show) or a steady stream of dick and poop jokes. She’s a powerful presence who also posses a terrific sense of when to keep it light. Girl knows just how to milk it!

She never stays in one mode for too long, and while she might go all stream of consciousness at certain points, she never quite seems to ramble. The Lady isn’t afraid of sentiment, but she’s not sappy – a heartfelt tribute to Amy Winehouse is followed by jokes about her death that are in the worst possible taste. It’s a terrific balance, and probably the only way you could tell those jokes in a way that’s funny rather that truly offensive. She does the same thing with Cher, praising her talent and drive just before satirizing her as the monstrous “Scare” in a wicked spoof of BURLESQUE.

In the same way that Varla Jean Merman does, Bunny covers her costume changes with her YouTube videos. These include her rap debut – “Watch your back, Cazwell!” she warns – in a parody of “Like A G6” turning it into an ode to uncircumcised men entitled “Like A Cheese Stick”. That’s the hilariously low level of most of this energetic, mostly-for-the-laughs winner – definitely the funniest gay show in town!

For tickets, click here.

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