Review: Three Tall Women

I’ll call it: chances are very good that Dame Glenda Jackson is going to get a Tony nomination for her spectacular performance in Three Tall Women. In the current Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s 1991 play, Jackson plays a wealthy widow looking back on her life, first to a captive audience – a 56-year-old caretaker and a 26-year-old legal professional – then in an impressionistic dialogue with herself at those women’s ages.

Jackson returns to the Broadway stage after a 30-year absence, giving a masterful performance that is by turns imperious, hilarious and mesmerizing. Laurie Metcalf also rivets your attention with her drolly nuanced take on the middle-aged role. Alison Pill has much less to work with in the remaining role, but she acquits herself well in this impressive company, no small feat.

Joe Mantello’s direction is supremely tidy. He’s cast the play with talent that’s beyond incredible, and he just lets the actors go about their work while keeping them out of each other’s way. Honestly I think that its really easy for Pill and Metcalf to throw their focus to Jackson – they’re as excited to see her do her stuff as we are.

Mantello’s work dovetails beautifully with Miriam Buether’s elegant and functional set design. The set suggests taking steps in and out of “reality” in a marvelously understated way. The production is exquisite in every possible way: visually, intellectually, emotionally, artistically and on and on. Very highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

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Review: Rocktopia

As corny as this might be, there is no resisting the visceral power of an amplified symphony orchestra blasting the most crowd-pleasing classic rock out there. The concert opens with Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from the film 2001 A Space Odyssey and segues directly into The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” which is tantamount to saying: “Yes, this is exactly what you expected it would be.” Which is a whole lot of cliched yet still powerful classic rock fun.

Rocktopia takes a slightly surprising turn when it pairs Handel’s aria “Lascia Ch’io Pianga” – which also appeared earlier this season as the thrilling finale of Farinelli and the King – with Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Less obvious and genuinely clever. The evening as a whole leans toward the pleasantly accessible.

The only real failure is a too-gentle version of Led Zeppelin powerhouse “Kashmir” accompanied by images, not of the region of India that gives the song its name and sound, but of Egypt. Wha? The only right-on element in this song was the gorgeous vocal of Pat Monahan from the band Train.

Which bring me to the most rock-solid part of the show: the vocals. Guest star Monahan makes several appearances, mostly covering Zeppelin which is perfect for his voice. The most consistently magnificent – and versatile – singer is Chloe Lowery, who pairs fantastic range with a flair for dramatic builds. Tony Vincent, a personal favorite, brings his soaring tenor vocals and incandescent glam-rock fire to lots of Freddie Mercury material, but also, most unexpectedly and thrillingly to Muse’s “Uprising.” Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Piramo e Tisbe

What a gorgeous piece of music from an unjustly forgotten composer! Johann Adolph Hasse was one of the most important opera composers between Handel and Mozart. He was a proponent of a style of music called galant or empfindsamer stil (“sensitive style”), more interested in melody than the earlier Baroque style, but more ornamented than the Classical style that would follow. By the time he wrote Piramo e Tisbe (1768) – based on an ancient tale of star-crossed lovers that inspired Romeo & Juliet – this style was falling out of fashion, but Hasse bucked prevailing trends to write an opera that was among the most melodically elaborate he ever wrote.

Director Phillip Shneidman sets the action in a vaguely contemporary setting to mixed effect; Alex Basco Koch’s subtle projection design gives the production some appropriately melancholy atmospherics. Musically, this luscious opera is being given a gorgeous account under the baton of New Vintage Baroque’s Elliot Figg.

Most of the vocal pyrotechnics go to the cross-dressed “pants role” Piramo, and mezzo Kristin Gornstein makes a musically brilliant and powerful impact in the role. Soprano Kelly Curtin’s role Tisbe is full of expressive passages, and she delivers them with elegance and strength. In the role of Tisbe’s father, known only as Padre, tenor Glenn Seven Allen deftly negotiates a role that demands a balance of galant lightness and a father’s stony fury. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Lena Hall

This show is all about auditioning, which Lena Hall has been doing from a young age, often as part of a teen musical theatre troupe. The present-day Hall sings beautifully in a spectacular range of styles – vocally she brings to my mind Christine Ebersole, which is a big compliment. Hall performs with a glee and verve that’s gotten her pegged as the rock and roll singing actress. She doesn’t mind that, but does mind a bit that it keeps her from the full range of roles she could own.

This show, entitled “The Art of the Audition,” features songs from shows that Hall auditioned for (City of Angels, Oklahoma!, Legally Blonde) and shows from which she took her audition songs (A Chorus Line, Follies, Die Zauberflöte). That’s right, she goes from “Dance 10: Looks 3” to Mozart’s devilishly high Queen-of-the-Night aria “Der Hölle Rache.”

She’s too self-depricating about the Mozart aria; she, in her own words, “nails it.” And for everything she turns her hand to, be it rock, classical or traditional musical comedy, shows her to be an actor-singer who is equally excellent at acting and singing, which is rarer than you might think.

Her singing, whether load or soft, is never anything less than full-throated. And her rapport with music director Brian Nash is warm and engaging, a very entertaining side show by itself. When she’s singing, no matter the style, she is an unquestionable fierce ruling diva. Overall, the show was a genuine pleasure, and Hall an immensely engaging performer. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Paige Turner

To paraphrase drag legend Chad Michaels, Paige Turner is a professional, dammit! This showbiz spitfire’s current show Drag Me To The Top is thought out down to every second and every step, and yet never feels less than completely fresh. She’s also confident enough to be completely spontaneous – she can handle audience reaction with the best of them. If there’s a moment that doesn’t land like she wanted, she’ll be the first one to tell you, and then do it again, the right way. Plus, she never gives less than total commitment. You get the feeling that she’d give the same performance for an audience of one that she’d give for a full house.

Now lest all this sound too stiff, be assured that Ms. Turner is first and foremost a comedy queen, and often a very raunchy one at that. In fact, in an extended and hilarious slide presentation about the different varieties of bottoms, she involuntarily guffawed and happily blurted “this is so fucking stupid!”

She also is a first-rate singer, mostly in the service of the sort of relyricized song parodies that are the bread and butter of singing drag queens. She also plays a couple of songs completely seriously, and does some impressive belting that you might not even notice because it serves the moment in the song so perfectly. Now, that is professional! While she doesn’t do any complex or flashy choreography, she is in constant motion, and rarely relies on being downstage center to make her points. The director in me was absolutely tickled that this girl really knows how to use her diagonal crosses, bless her. One of the more enjoyable drag shows I’ve seen in a while, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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