Review: Time and the Conways

This sturdy, smart play from 1937 is equal parts philosophical rumination on the “time” part of the title, and rigorously observed family drama about “the Conways.” In 1919, at the 21st birthday party for Kay Conway (Charlotte Parry), the titular upper-middle class British family see a sunny future ahead – I mean, the worst war in human history had just ended, how could it ever get as bad as that again? Then we jump to 1937, in what is either the actual future, or Kay’s dark premonition, or both.

In addition to its philosophical and “family psychology” themes, J. B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways is rich with political thoughts that range from the most idealistic socialism to the most mercenary capitalism, which speaks loudly to the anxieties of 2017 America. Director Rebbeca Taichman, fresh off her Tony win for Indecent, is an ideal match for this thoughtful material. Just as with Indecent, she creates several coups de théâtre that express Priestley’s ideas in breathtakingly simple theatrical moments.

The star in this production is Elizabeth McGovern, much loved as Downton Abbey‘s Lady Gratham, Cora Crawley. Here she plays family matriarch Mrs. Conway, a “monster mother” type familiar in American dramas from such characters as Tennessee Williams’s Amanda Wingfield or O’Neill’s Mary Tyrone – well-intentioned perhaps, but blinded by self-interest to the ways she damages her children. McGovern plays the positives here, going full-force into Mrs. Conway’s often unwarranted optimism to heartbreaking effect.

But as with the Williams and O’Neill characters referenced above, Mrs. Conway is not the central character of Time and the Conways. Though the play is in many ways an ensemble show, Kay is the character who holds the story together. Parry does a marvelous job with this sensitive, troubled yet hardy soul. The outstanding performance, though, is Gabriel Ebert as the quietly thoughtful and stoically content Alan. Quiet as Alan is, it’s clear when he does speak that much more is going on inside his head than those of the rest of the family combined. Ebert reflects every nuance, and gives a performance that shines from inside. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

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Review: Rita Wilson

This lady is right in the middle of a sound that has run through the blood of Los Angeles since two midwestern boys – Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark – met while gigging in L. A. in 1964, and formed the group Jet Set, later to become the Byrds when they added native Los Angeleans David Crosby and Chris Hillman. The Eagles perfected the sound in the the 1970s, and it has continued to be hugely influential. A native Los Angelean herself, Rita Wilson most resembles – in both her singing and her songwriting – Sheryl Crow, a singer / songwriter heavily influenced by the Eagles.

In the evening’s first song, from her self-titled first album, is “Along for the Ride” Wilson invites the the audience to “Roll the windows down / Come along for the ride.” Wilson is a fine, powerful singer in the folk and country inflected L. A. Tradition, and her band are highly polished professionals.

A handful of songs come from her self-titled 2015 album, but the bulk of the evening are new songs that presumably will be on her new album, forthcoming in the new year. The most memorable ones are ode to jealousy “New Girl,” the mildy trashy dive bar anthem “Pay Me in Wine,” and the attitude-serving “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” All point to increasing songwriting strength from this long-time actor, just recently turned singer /songwriter. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Lee Roy Reams

He’s the archetypal gay chorus boy made good. In 1970, Lee Roy Reams played arguably the first openly gay character with lines in a Broadway musical (Margo Channing’s hairdresser Duane in Applause!), and in 1980 he got one of the biggest breaks of his career, originating the role of Billy Lawlor in the Tony Award-winning musical 42nd Street. Just like the eternal gypsy queen he is, he has all the good dish on that show, and knows just how to spill it.

While Reams may have some choice words for certain people, there is not a single drop of malice in his storytelling. He tells the whole truth, but he tells it entertainingly and with an underlying warmth. He may admit he doesn’t know to this day whether Tammy Grimes is a good actress, but he also admits she has some kind of fascinating “star quality” and once he let her know he knew where to get laughs (but was willing to share the laugh) they became fast friends. His harshest words are for producer David Merrick, but even those are mixed with an admiration with Merrick’s unparalled ability to get the show up and get the tickets selling.

Reams intersperses the backstage human comedy (and drama and tragedy) with his own take on a hefty chunk of the show’s score. All of the interpretations are a pleasure to hear, but things lift an extra amount when he takes on the songs he personally sang in the show; it’s like some kind of muscle memory kicks in, and Lee Roy gets an extra BOOM to his sound. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Storm Large

What a voice! Storm Large has a vocal instrument that pairs the thunderclap power and clarity of Darlene Love with the bluesy grit of Janis Joplin. Her sensibility turns up what that voice can do with strong images of madness and gleeful violence running through everything she does. In her current cabaret act at Feinstein’s / 54 Below, she applies that instrument and sensiblity to a wide variety of material, from hard rock originals and covers to a pair of Cole Porter songs.

Large thoroughly reinvents Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” teasing out the song’s dark stalkery side, with a highly dramatic “classic rock” arrangement that works surprisingly well. Also up for reinvention is Olivia Newton-John’s “Hopelessly Devoted” delivered with a whacky introduction that (almost) makes sense of the insane venomousness that she forceably injects into the soft rock nugget.

Her original songs are each and every one passionate, each in different ways. The show opener, “Call Me Crazy” kicks things off with rousing fury and joy. The title of the cheerfully bawdy “8 Miles Wide” refers to her vagina. On the other end of the scale is the ballad “Angels In Gas Stations” which conveys the sense of spirituality she acquired when caring for a dying woman who had been a second mother to her.

Storm Large delivers a show that bristles with exquisitely controlled wildness. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Laura Osnes

Seeing how she marked a major artistic progession in her Broadway career with her turn as the conflicted war widow Julia Trojan in Bandstand, Laura Osnes would be perfectly within her rights to go the Broadway diva route and create a cabaret act that was all about her. It’s very refreshing, then, that her current Carlyle engagement is actually more of a group show devoted to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Songbook. Called “Cockeyed Optimists,” the show equally features Osnes, fellow Broadway ingenue Ryan Silverman, and her sometime colleague and freind — and Tony-Award-winning orchestrator and music director — Ted Sperling.

They all are deeply musical people with classical music ambitions. In fact Sperling and Osnes worked together most recently on a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. That makes for a musically rewarding show that includes terrific songs from every phase of the legenardy songwriting team’s partnership, plus a lovely, breif medley of songs that Hammerstein wrote with Jerome Kern and Rodgers wrote with Lorenz Hart.

The good news is that Sperling is a terrific singer, if not quite in Osnes leading-lady-worthy league. As well sung as it is, the act could definitely benefit visually from a director’s touch. For example, when Osnes and Silverman are singing an immaculately delivered “Some Enchanted Evening” they stand to face to face, which means that in the intimate thrust stage arrangement of the Carlyle, maybe three people get the full impact of the moment.

Still, when Laura sings such sweeping songs as “Hello Young Lovers” and “A Wonderful Guy” — or her and Silverman play legendary sequences like the “bench scene” from Carousel or a scene from Oklahoma for Laurie and Curly — all set to Ted’s equally grand arrangements, this is pretty hard to resist. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Justin Sayre

The chairman of the International Order of Sodomites is back in town! This time with a solo cabaret act called I’m Gorgeous Inside, on the topic of “bad girls.” Mostly about prostitutes, but also about strong rebellious women of all types. And of course, how Justin has looked at these “bad girls” as great role models, after a fashion.

It’s mostly the kind of storytelling “stand up” Sayre became noted for in his popular variety show The Meeting*, with a few songs interspersed. It’s less directly gay than The Meeting*, but with a whole lot more gowns and wigs for Justin to wear. His tough yet femme persona remains in glorious effect, brassy and bellowing as ever.

He does much more singing than he ever did in the variety show, and has clearly been hard at work honing his chanteuse skills. A haunting take on the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” was particularly well-sung and moving.

If this very entertaining show has a flaw, it’s that it can get a bit rambling. Sayre’s stories and thoughts are engaging at every turn, but the show as a whole is a bit of a butt buster for the audience. A minor flaw in a witty, hilarious show I can happily highly.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Trixie Mattel

Drag Race fan favorite Trixie Mattel is out to prove her versatility with this new show, entitled Now with Moving Parts! The majority of the show sticks to her main talent: stand-up filled to the gunnels with comedy that’s either perverse or dark. She clearly has a natural aptitude for the form, and she’s been paying attention to how the best stand-up acts have been built for some time now – circling in from a highly topical and satirical beginning to a very personal and more thematically serious ending. Trixie’s also very gifted at meta-comedy, getting a secondary laugh when she reads the room’s reaction – or freely admitting she loves a certain bit so she’s keeping it, audience reaction be damned!

However, there is an extended, virtuoso lip-synch about “good christian bitches” that stitches together fragments of songs and movie dialogue in a manner that owes a lot to the legendary Lypsinka, which ends with a costume reveal that owes a lot to Lady Bunny. This girl pays homage to tradition, but also makes these moments uniquely Trixie.

Mattel also injects more music into her show this time – generally folksy comedy songs that prove “just how fucking white I am” – that include a hilarious acoustic take on a RuPaul dance track, some impressive live-sampled duets with herself, and as some autoharp fun for the finale. It’s all good clean dirty fun, and definitely recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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