Review: Justin Vivian Bond

I’ve often referred to Judy Collins as a river of song – it just flows out of her in a gorgeous shimmering stream. Justin Vivian Bond is more like a tower of song – mysterious, imposing, beautiful, powerful and sometimes explosive. JVB’s current show “Under the Influence” is a tribute to Collins, part of Collins’ 2019 Vanguard Award and Residency at Joe’s Pub.

V considers Judy Collins to be v’s own spiritual baby sitter and music teacher. Collins significantly if indirectly educated Justin in music – all by the songs and songwriters Collins covered. So, with only a couple exceptions, Bond performs songs written by songwriters she discovered through Collins – but which Judy herself did not sing.

Bond’s taste in songs is impeccable, and v approaches them with the touch of a very careful curator. A curator, that is, who finds what is most explosive in the art they’re presenting, and then promptly detonates it. V turns David Crosby’s “Almost Cut My Hair” into something more rawly emotional, and fiercely sharpens the danger in Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” (in probably the best version of that song I’ve ever heard). V’s climactic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” truly burns down the house.

One of the best features of all of Bond’s shows is v’s acidly funny, stream of consciousness, between-song patter (which has had the downside of making certain shows marathon length, but not here). As always Bond is hilariously entertaining, wildly imaginative and vividly expressive. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: The Gentleman Caller

Wow, the prose in The Gentleman Caller is purple! That’s not a negative; when your two characters are Tennessee Williams and William Inge, two gay literary lights know for their loquacity, purple captures something important about them. It also means that the play, while loosely based on fact, isn’t exactly realistic – but it was Williams’s own Blanche DuBois who said “I don’t want realism, I want magic!” So let the queer magic begin!

The play takes place in 1944, while a “known” but not yet famous Williams is having out of town tryouts in Chicago for the play that will become known as The Glass Menagerie. In the first act, Tennessee is visiting his family in St. Louis, and agrees to be interviewed by local arts reporter William Inge. At this point Inge is firmly in the closet as both gay and playwright.

In playwright Philip Dawkins’s telling, they size each other up pretty quickly and engage in a game of sexual cat and mouse. Whether Inge and Williams ever had sex is open for debate. Dawkins hedges his bets by presenting some awkward sexual lunges at each other: awkward because of booze for Williams, awkward because of innate awkwardness (and booze) for Inge. But these never quite end in consummation.

This is less a story about them having a sexual or romantic encounter, and more about their artistic sensibilities colliding, and them sharing some queer warmth and mutual support. Director Tony Speciale has staged the play somewhat athletically, and with a strong sense of what Williams described as “plastic theatre” – a theatre that is simultaneously sculptural and kinetic. This is especially true in the sexual byplay, but pervades every moment of the production.

Juan Francisco Villa clearly relishes playing Williams as an unbridled sexual and verbal Dionysus, while Daniel K. Isaac captures both Inge’s tightly-wound nerves and the surges of emotion and desire that well underneath. It took a while for my ear to tune to the purpleness of Dawkins’s prose, but once it had, The Gentleman Caller had many pleasures to offer. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Tammie Brown

After seeing a live show of Tammie Brown, I finally have a bead on this surrealist drag queen’s artistic core. She is, more than anything, a hippie chic queerpunk singer-songwriter. There’s a hint of classic movie queen in her looks, but it seems that’s the equivalent of Debbie Harry or Grace Slick making something fabulous out of what she found in a thrift shop.

And while Tammie’s sense of humor is disarmingly unique, she’s not truly unprecedented. I could see her comfortably do her left-of-center thing at the Pyramid Club in the 1980s, at Club 57 or Max’s Kansas City in 1970s, or even in a Jackie Curtis extravaganza at LaMaMa in the late 1960s. However, queens this tripped-out are in short supply these days, so we should treat her, to quote the title of her show, as a National Treasure.

Brown also proudly wears her South Texan origins, singing a couple of songs in Spanish, and showing love for all things Mexican (maybe there’s a Frida Kahlo influence here, too, eh?). Tammie sways happily about the stage while her faerie fey guitarist Michael J. Catti converts all of her original oddball techno-pop songs from that style into something much more pleasant: SoCal-flavored psychedelic and/or “soft” rock. And her in-between patter veers between gleeful non sequiturs and political commentaries from the silly to the venomous. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Travesties

The plays Tom Stoppard wrote in the 1960s and 1970s are too clever by half, and Travesties is no exception. I mean that as only half a compliment: Stoppard spends so much time showing off his erudition and technical skill as a writer that it’s quite easy to lose the thread of his characters and themes. And those themes are often so compelling on their own that you wish the man would, I don’t know, take a breath. What Stoppard actually has to say – in this case about art, war and revolution – is very intelligent, so it’s worth the effort. But, really

Thank goodness, then, that director Patrick Marber has engineered a production that leans heavily on fun, visceral, and visual excitement. Travesties examines Zurich circa 1916 though the eyes of a dilettante working at the British consulate named Henry Carr. Zurich was the largest city in Switzerland, which remained neutral in the World War then raging everywhere else in Europe. As such it was a magnet for expatriate artists like Irishman James Joyce and Romanian Tristan Tzara.

The cast is uniformly terrific, the best being Seth Numrich as Dadaist poet Tzara. He thoroughly embodies both the smirking suavity Tzara displayed socially, and the feral charisma he brought to performing his poetry. Dan Butler is an appropriately steely Vladimir Lenin (also in Zurich at the time, plotting the Bolshevik revolution), and Butler’s fellow Frasier alum Patrick Kerr is acidly hilarious as hyper-intellectual butler Bennett. Tom Hollander as Carr ably carries the majority of scenes with marvelously nutty brio. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Interview: Sven Ratzke

Dutch singer Sven Ratzke had a sparkling opening night a Joe’s Pub last night, with a whole bunch of East Village glitterati in attendance, including nightlife legends Chi Chi Valenti and Johnny Dynell, pioneering performance artist Penny Arcade, Matthew Crosland and Dan Fortune. Ratzke was doing the American premiere of his club act Homme Fatale, and I had this brief exchange with him about the show.

For the purposes of this show, what is your definition of Homme Fatale?

A Homme Fatale is a man that you can compare to a femme fatale. He can be dangerous, wild, and seductive: a pimp, hustler, womanizer, Casanova, Mephisto and many more characters. A Homme Fatale can be also get lost in his own mystery or his own role. But a Homme Fatale means also a man that overcomes fate, that gets in a fatal situation. That can be very feminine and mysterious. So it’s open to interpretation!

Does the idea of Homme Fatale have anything to do with androgyny?

Yes, of course it can. Seduction is always associated with females, while males are more the predator. I totally do not agree. I think especially in our time, these lines are crossing.

Are you a Homme Fatale?

Yes, of course. It’s a title I got a long time ago from the European press. In the beginning, I didn’t know what they meant. I was intrigued.

What, musically, should we expect from this show?

A lot of original new songs. I asked amazing songwriters to write stories and songs for me. And I wrote many songs myself, alone or in collaboration, for example, with the New York-based Rachelle Garniez. And we give new interpretations of the “Hommes Fatale” of pop: Lou Reed, David Bowie, Joy Division and Iggy Pop.

What, theatrically, should we expect from this show?

I take the audience on a trip, like LSD. But you will have no hangover the next day! A trip into the night, around the world with crazy storytelling, swinging songs and intimate ballads. And I’m an entertainer, a stage animal.

This show is about “pimps, lovers, thieves, legends, angels and devils” – that sounds like Jean Genet’s world. Is he an influence here?

Oh yes! A wild Genet dream with a touch of Oscar Wilde, Fassbinder, Bowie and many more.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Jenůfa

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For me, the luminous sound of the score is the main appeal of Jenůfa, the watershed 1904 Czech opera by Leoš Janáček. In the current revival at the Met, Conductor David Robertson delivers a gorgeously polished account of the piece, making singers and orchestra feel almost like a single virtuoso instrument.

Finnish soprano Karita Mattila is the established star here, playing the title character’s stepmother, the Kostelnička, the moral guardian of the small village in which they live. She delivers on her reputation, singing with great clarity and passion, but it’s a credit to the quality of this production that she doesn’t particularly stand out.

Oksana Dyka is equally marvelous as Jenůfa, a victim of the village’s hypocrisy – a role which helped Mattila make her reputation. The stepbrothers in love with Jenůfa both shine as well, Daniel Brenna showing great dynamism as Laca, and Joseph Kaiser as Steva is exactly the kind of dazzling high tenor the role needs.

I’m not so in love with the story of the opera – which includes jealous men disfiguring women and infanticide – but do appreciate its psychological subtlety. The people you thought were evil turn out to be good, and vice versa; there is much redemption going around. Jenůfa is a beautiful, unique piece of music, and this is a must-hear rendition. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Casting Call: Drag Stars needed for Fringe Musical I’m directing!

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CASTING CALL: “That’s MISS FITS, to YOU!”.

5 Performances, NYC Fringe Festival, August, 13, 15, 19, 22 & 27, various times. Rehearsals, July 15-opening, evenings.

Auditions: July 6, 7 & 8, 2016. 7p.m. to 10p.m. At BoConcept: 144 W. 18th Street, NYC.

For audition appointment:

* look for us on http://actorsaccess.com/ (preferred), or
* contact Jonathan Warman directly at contact@jonathanwarman.com

More info and music samples: http://thatsmissfitstoyou.weebly.com/

Seeking big drag personas, gender-funk, trans-actors, for a poly-gender, spiritual, mystery musical. Singers, dancers, comedians, lip-sync. 6 roles, age 20-40. 6 roles, age 40-70. Big characters. Plus one young muscular male, and one Judy Garland impersonator.

Audition in drag/gender-funk, or bring a photo.

Roles:

YOUNG MISS FITS
20 to 40 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). A starring part with singing and silent acting only — no lines. A powerful queer spirit guide.

MRS COUNTERPOINT
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Always the show-woman / show-off, but also very tough. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS ALLITERATION
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Sweet and a bit mystical, comedian, very funny. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS SERVICE WO-MAN
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities male (could be FTM trans) in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Military type, some severe up in here. Lead role, singer/actor.

MISS CONSPIRACY
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities MTF trans or cisgender man in drag. Fierce, fierce, fierce. Lead role, singer/actor.

SERGEANT GRIM
40 to 70 years old, all ethnicities Policeman, stately and stern, butch yet androgynous, with secrets to spare. Lead role, singer/actor.

POLICE BOY
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Gorgeous young muscle stud eye candy. Has a solo song and some dialogue.

YOUNG MRS COUNTERPOINT
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Always the show-woman / show-off, but also very tough. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS ALLITERATION
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male. Man in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Sweet and a bit mystical, comedian, very funny. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS SERVICE WO-MAN
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities male (could be FTM trans) in drag (room for “gender-funk”, a beard is possible but not required). Military type, some severe up in here. Major role, singer/dancer.

YOUNG MISS CONSPIRACY
20 to 30 years old, all ethnicities. MTF trans or cisgender man in drag. Fierce, fierce, fierce. Major role, singer/dancer.

JUDY GARLAND
20 to 50 years old, all ethnicities male or female. Impersonator of the legendary singer. Must give a convincing illusion of Miss Garland’s vocals, appearance and mannerisms. Has a featured song.

ROSA PARKS
40 to 45 years old, African American male or female. Woman or man in drag. Non-speaking dignified impersonation of the legendary civil rights activists. Depending on acting and vocal abilities may double as Service Wo-Man, Counterpoint, or Alliteration.

DURATION

July 15, 2016 – June 27, 2016

Review: Lady Bunny

Lady Bunny Trans Jester

Lady Bunny sings! In the past, she lip-synched her own voice for her song parodies, both medleys and single-song versions but now she does them live. It’s skipping a step and she’s a decent singer, so this new arrangement works well. Of course for her famous, zany Laugh-In style routines, she still lip-synched, and there was a number where she performed the attitude in her voice-over, but didn’t actually mouth the words. This “Lady” doesn’t put limits on what she’s going to say or do in her new cabaret act “Trans-Jester” – 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. This show also explores her own complicated relationship with the wider transgender community, especially in the light of political correctness, which finally comes down to a more sophisticated version of “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

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 – It’s a terrific balance, and probably the only way you could tell these on the edge jokes in a way that’s funny rather that truly offensive. She’s an 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.

Review: La Bohème

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Director Franco Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème, is, to me, the very height of traditional opera. He captures both the details and spirit of 1830s Paris, the exact time in which the opera is set. There’s a gesture in the direction of realism – we see real places from unusual and oblique angles. But there’s also a nod in the direction of Romanticism – these places are rendered with a misty painterly touch. Gorgeous.

And I’m not just talking about the scenery either. Amidst a realistic crowd scene showing the bustle of Paris, a soprano begins a beautiful aria, and suddenly all of the hurrying crowd stops moving. Zeffirelli is a master of stage effect and his use of it here is every bit as artful and painterly as the haze of falling snow.

Ramón Vargas’s Rodolfo was strong and solid, confident throughout his range, conveying more than anything his character’s warm compassionate core. Barbara Frittoli’s Mimi was affecting as well, even if vocally she seemed insufficiently warmed-up in the first act.

Ana María Martinez gave us a Musetta that was all sparkle and heat, both visually and vocally. The supporting cast were notable above all for their acting skill; Levente Molnár was a expansive and charming Marcello, Christian Van Horn a dryly amused and amusing Colline, and Alexy Lavrov a cheerful and soulful Schaunard. Paolo Carignani conducted with great zest and brio, creating a seamless bond between singers and orchestra.

The late, great Zeffirelli has created a very seductive world where I was happy to spend three hours. The production in general, and the performances of this cast in particular, are thoroughly entrancing. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Review: Buster Poindexter

Buster Poindexter

I was surprised at how thrilling it was when David Johanson, arguably the king of early 1970s New York rock, took to the stage of Manhattan cabaret institution Cafe Carlyle. Of course, he’s doing it under the name of Buster Poindexter, his martini sipping, jacket required alter ego. At this point, after retiring and returning to the persona multiple times, it essentially signifies that Johanson will be singing the Poindexter repertoire, while wearing a pompadour. When he talks about himself in the act, he calls himself David.

And there’s nothing particularly ironic about the act, either – this is light years away from, for example, Bill Murray’s campy Nick the lounge singer. The closest he comes to that kind of schtick are the Vegas jokes he tells between songs, and even these gems of bad taste feel somehow lovingly curated.

Johanson clearly has real affection for the pop standards and early r&b that form the backbone of this act. The fun here is hearing these songs given new life with a combination of excellent musicianship and gutbucket energy worthy of Johanson’s original band, glam punk legends the New York Dolls.

Johanson is at his best when assaying international material – a rattling version of calypso standard “Zombie Jamboree” is one of the high points, as is a ragged boogie take on Italo-pop classic “Volare” (made famous by Dean Martin). Sometimes the act veers even closer to pure rock-and-roll, as with his interpretation of “Piece of My Heart” that owes its arrangement to the hit Janis Joplin version (for the record, that’s a very good thing).

Lyrics are occasionally glossed over in the high-octane rush, but these are songs that are all about the groove, so this isn’t even really a concern. This act is a hard swinging good time, and definitely recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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