A Surprisingly Timely Visit From Jack London

If you are like me, you mainly know Jack London from his nature fiction, like The Call of The Wild or White Fang. The Iron Heel, playing in various venues in New York City (link) introduces us to a side of Jack London, which is overlooked. Jack London was a socialist and active in the party at the beginning of the 1900s. The Iron Heel is a work of future fiction he wrote in 1908. It deals less with science and technological change than with social change, and the promise of a socialist system of government that he was sure would come about.

theironheelIn adapting the work for the stage, Edward Einhorn (also the director) pulls the social and economic threads out of the story and focuses on those. It is the story of a socialist hero, as told through the found autobiography of his wife. The hero, Ernest Everhard, is played by Charles Ouda, a Kenyan born actor whose obvious difference in race and dialect mimics Ernest’s difference in class. Ernest was of the working class, and in The Iron Heel he rebels against the Capitalist class in general, the oligarchs and plutocracy in particular.

Ernest’s wife, well played by Victoria Rulle, was born into the Capitalist class but Ernest brings her and her social circle to the revolutionary cause. He does this by way of an explanation of fairness and social responsability. It is a story that foretells of a class work between the owners of production and the laborers. Written before the World Wars and introduction of communism, it is an optimistic look at a future socialist nirvana, albeit one that takes 300 years of struggle to attain.

To flesh out the story (and to bring the audience along), the show also includes a number of period socialist / unionist songs from the time period. It is a surprisingly effective means to sweep us up into the moment.

The Iron Heel is presented as a reenactment of the autobiography, quite far in a future; a future which we know does not come about. This would be a rather dry piece if it were not for the parallels between London’s time and ours. The struggles are a bit different, but the Jack London predicted the rise of the 1%. The echoes of that era are too strong for anyone to miss.

The Iron Heel is a fascinating story – not always captivating, but always interesting. And I was impressed by how moved much of the audience was – old lefties and younger millennials finding a common bond in a story and songs over 100 years old. It is a fun night.

The Iron Heel | Writer: Jack London / Adapter: Edward Einhorn | Director: Edward Einhorn | Cast: Craig Anderson, Kevin Argus, Charles J. Ouda, Yvonne Roen, Victoria Rulle, Trav SD | website

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A Powerful Visit to A Strange Country

A Strange Country, now playing at the Access Theater on the border of Chinatown and Tribeca, packs a punch. It is unusually powerful because it veers into territory both familiar and unexpected. As a piece of theater, it often signposts where it is going, but it gets there in unique ways. And that is high praise.

The scene opens with Darryl (embodied by Sidney Williams) sleeping it off in an old stained BarcaLounger. As he wakes up and shuffles to the couch, it is obvious Darryl in old and stained as well – in ways we will learn. The room (ugly / beautiful set design by Brian Dudkiewicz) is American lower class, circa Texas. The play is then set in not exactly a foreign country, but a strange country, at least for most of us.

Sidney Williams, Bethany Geraghy and Vanessa Vache in A Strange Country

Sidney Williams, Bethany Geraghy and Vanessa Vache in A Strange Country

Darryl is pulled from sleep by his sister, Tiffany (newcomer Vanessa Vaché – holding her own against these more experienced actors) and Tiffany’s girlfriend Jamie (Bethany Geraghy). Tiffany has come to roust Darryl and take him home for a re-commitment ceremony of their parents. This leads to some great scenes between the three – if a little too Sam Shepardesque. Darryl and his father are violently estranged. Little sister Tiffany plays a rough edged “mom” to the entire family, inserting herself to just bring some peace for the day.

strangetallVarious excuses leave them coupled into changing pairs as A Strange Country drives us through the past of these characters. Jamie is a recovering alcoholic; Darryl is an unrepentant alcoholic who medicates his bi-polar issues with prescriptions. Tiffany’s addiction tends towards family and support, with a healthy dose of drama. And the only way to get Tiffany to leave him alone, is for Darryl to betray her.

Sidney Williams and Bethany Geraghy bring some amazing life to the characters of Darryl and Jamie as they ultimately find strength and express it passively, a difficult thing to do well on stage.

Written by Anne Adams, A Strange Country leaves a lot of loose ends lying around. There are echoes and flashes of bits that might have been cut from a longer play, but she and director Jay Stull have distilled this to the essence of the characters. It is a hell of a ride.

Playwright: Anne Adams | Director: Jay Stull | Cast: Bethany Geraghy, Vanessa Vaché, Sidney Williams | Website

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Mr. Robot Meets A Nested Escape Room in Paradiso: Chapter 1

I didn’t even know that New York had a Korea Town. Heading to an undisclosed location for the immersive experience “Paradiso: Chapter 1”, one learns that there is indeed an NYC Korea Town, and one learns a good deal more. Not only about the city, but about yourself and the group of people you share this experience with.

I don’t want to spoil it by sharing too much here, but let’s go with the basics.

A scene from Paradiso: Chapter 1, an immersive thriller created and directed by Michael Counts, happening at an undisclosed location in NYC. (www.ParadisoEscape.com) Photo by Caleb Sharp

A scene from Paradiso: Chapter 1, an immersive thriller created and directed by Michael Counts, happening at an undisclosed location in NYC. (www.ParadisoEscape.com) Photo by Caleb Sharp

Paradiso: Chapter 1 is not a traditional Escape Room exercise. It is an interactive theater / nested puzzle box experience. During your hour you move through a series of rooms not by rewiring or destroying anything. Instead, you must solve mental challenges that open doors and new challenges. Each leads you ever deeper into a complex emergency situation.Paradiso_02

You start as applicants to The Virgil Corporation, greeted by your traditional corporate drones. And your team is giving a basic exercise that is part team building and part level setting. How does your team do under pressure, who are natural leaders? You find out by doing, sweating under a count down timer.

I found the experience to be great fun. I played with a couple people who were, admittedly, bad at group problem solving and some others that had been in traditional escape rooms. Everyone had a great time (although we were ultimately unsuccessful).

Michael Counts has created an experience that is both unique and a huge rush. It is creepy great fun at a great price. I highly recommend it to anyone that might think it sounds remotely interesting. And I, personally, cannot wait for the Chapter 2.

Paradiso: Chapter 1

Creator: Michael Counts (with Rabbit Immersive)

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Phoenix Rising explores the Power of Women to Take Control of Their Stories

Phoenix Rising is a powerful journey of resilience in womanhood. It is a tale that explores the dynamic of strength versus venerability at that point in adolescence when a girl is on the edge of adulthood. And the edge of adulthood is a precarious perch.

Unfortunately, Phoenix Rising starts slowly and only grows into itself over time. For many people, the opening moments with the encouragement of the divine feminine and lyrical character introduction will be off putting and start the piece on the wrong foot.

The story of Phoenix Rising is one of a group of female high school students required to attend mandatory after school counseling with a social worker. The five students have all committed some (unexplained) infraction with the school or the law that has led to this. The women are a pretty standard mix of “troubled kids”: the sassy Latina, the sex pot, the Goth / grunge kid, the artsy one and the nice one. The actresses are very good, with Whitney Biancur and Nichollette Shorts as standouts in the exemble. They are giving a bit more character arc to chew on as Lola and Edwina, and take full advantage of it.

Phoenix Rising with (front row) Nichollette Shorts, Whitney Biancur, Miranda Roldan (back row) Rachel Haas, Julia Peterson

Phoenix Rising with (front row) Nichollette Shorts, Whitney Biancur, Miranda Roldan (back row) Rachel Haas, Julia Peterson

The teacher is Grace (played perfectly on type by Kristen Vaughan). Grace is the type of touchy-feely teacher that will inspire or annoy the viewer. Grace channels the pull of the divine feminine, and has the girls randomly select a “goddess card” to associate to themselves. The idea is that with this association they can reach into the backstory of their particular goddess to tell their own stories. Drawing from the power or perseverance of their goddess, they can then address their own demons.

We see the girls interact as high school students, with all the vanity, pettiness and false bravado that accompanies adolescence. But in the relative safety of this small group, they begin to lower their walls and share more of their actual emotions, hopes and fears. As the class progresses, Grace narrates the story of each of their goddess, which the girls will act out. Within the story, the women’s own narratives are explored, lightly at first, and more explicitly as the show progresses. This gives each woman an opportunity to confront their past in a supportive environment.

The strength in Phoenix Rising grows from the ability of each woman to survive their circumstances, and the bravery is displayed by their ability to confront their pasts. It is emotional and very raw, not an easy balance ; but one handled deftly by this cast. Written and Directed by Laura Gosheff, Phoenix Rising is a heartfelt exploration, not for the cynical.

Playwright: Laura Gosheff | Director: Laura Gosheff | Cast: Kristen Vaughan, Julia Peterson, Rachel Haas, Miranda Roldan, Nichollette Shorts, Whitney Biancur | website

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Himself and Nora: A Musical Look at James Joyce

James Joyce, the author’s love for Nora and his journey to get published provides the structure of Himself and Nora. Some beautiful singing provides the breath and soul of the play. Wonderful performances by Matt Bogart (as Joyce) and Whitney Bashor (as Nora) bring these two characters to life. So the question becomes, why is the whole not better.

Himself and Nora isn’t a bad musical by any stretch. It is an involving story that sheds new light on the personality and struggles of the famous author, making him more human and accessible. For most of the two plus hours, it is almost a great show.

It starts with the irascible but charming James Joyce in Ireland, where he fights with his dad, buries his mom, rejects the Catholic Church and meets a charming young woman, Nora. Joyce and Nora share a remarkable emotional and sexual chemistry at the outset, but Joyce won’t marry. He won’t subject himself to the Catholic rite that approves of his choice. Nora, understanding the man she loves and willing to be a partner, not a wife, agrees to the arraignment.

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Matt Bogart and Whitney Bashor in ‘Himself and Nora’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

And just like that, the Joyces are off. First to Trieste, where they struggle and live happily as James writes, teaches, and drinks. A visit back to Ireland to get published convinces him that Ireland will never accept him. Luckily, he finds a sponsor and publisher in Paris, where he and Nora settle down.

The second act is less heartwarming, as many biographical pieces tend to be. IN fact, it is a slog. Success has come, but James Joyce wants more: the next county that will publish Ulysses, the next book and most of all, the American market. Nora, fed up with being the mother of bastards, wants to get married. The children are problems, with the Joyce daughter being sent to a mental institution. World War II rears its head. And then Joyce dies. And, in the worst of biographical musical traditions, he dies for a long time. Three songs at least, and we haven’t been able to make that investment in the character.

The music and the singing are wonderful, and the acting is excellent; Himself and Nora just needed someone to edit it ruthlessly. The supporting cast, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Zachary Prince and Michael McCormick, all shine in multiple roles. Director Michael Bush does a very good job with the spare stage and trappings, focusing the attention onto the cast. It is frustrating, because there is a great musical there in Himself and Nora could unburden itself of the extraneous.

Book, Music & Lyrics: Jonathan Brielle | Director: Michael Bush | Cast: Matt Bogart. Whitney Bashor, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Zachary Prince, Michael McCormick | website

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Indian Summer Works It’s Magic Lightly

With Indian Summer, playwright Gregory S. Moss sets out to capture that fleeting moment of youth on the cusp of adulthood. The moment that feels impossibly real while it is happening and impossibly dreamlike in retrospect. It often succeeds. Indian Summer plays with time and memory like the sand dunes where the play is set – both real and permanent, but constantly shifting.

Owen Campbell portrays Daniel, a young man of 16 or so, left at his grandfather’s house on the Rhode Island beach in the summer for an indeterminate length of time by a flaky mother. Daniel, friendless and annoyed, takes to the beach to sulk, escape his grandfather and feel sorry for himself in that desperate way only the young can. But the beach throws up the detritus of life: his grandfather, marking time after the passage of his wife, a townie stuck in the rules of masculine preening and Izzy, the local girl that challenges and entrances him.

Elise Kibler and Owen Campbell in Indian Summer

Elise Kibler and Owen Campbell in Indian Summer

Elise Kibler gives life to Izzy. A native Rhode Islander with an Italian working class heritage that is perplexed by the skinny pale “summer people” with an attitude that is Daniel. Together they talk gently and long about life and their future and their dreams. Theirs is that first great summer infatuation filled with possibility, not only of the person you meet, but also of being bigger and more than you are right now. These two actors grow into that moment organically and honestly. One of the most touching moments is as they sit, back to back, role playing a distance future in which they meet with their respective partners.

Joe Tippett brings a sense of playfulness and sweetness to Izzy’s lug headed boyfriend Jeremy. He is the perfect counterpoint to Daniel and Izzy’s relationship and a rebuke to the easy path many writer’s take where the current boyfriend is, for some reason, horrible. Jeremy knows how good he has it, and the role he has to play here. The audience gets the sense Jeremy (the character) has played this scene before and knows the ending. Jeremy is trying to save his own future.

The final role is George, Daniel’s (step) grandfather. Jonathan Hadary does a good job with a tough role. As the wandering narrator, he is wonderful. As the self-absorbed widower, well that is a difficult role to pull off honestly.

Indian Summer does some things so fantastically, that it is regrettable that other things just don’t work. George and Izzy’s sudden role-playing seems whipped up to offer a bookend to the show, not because it is organically driven. Izzy is best and most enthralling when she is the tough local teenager that slowly opens up to Daniel because he is so alien. He is non-threatening and her guard lowers a bit at a time in a believable and touching way.

Director Carolyn Cantor handles these moments of quiet brilliantly. Daniel and Izzy are like too different species to each other, fascinating, beautiful and fragile. Watching Indian Summer is like watching tide pool, everything in that moment is so perfect, but will be washed away at high tide and redone countless times.

Indian Summer | Playwright: Gregory S. Moss | Director: Carloyn Cantor | Cast: Owen Campbell, Elise Kibler, Jonathan Hadary, Joe Tippett | website

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Benjamin Walker Mesmerizes in American Psycho

Expectations play a big role, and I did not have high expectations going into American Psycho.  So the funny and lively show that greeted me was an excellent surprise.  American Psycho is as dark as comedy comes, but I loved it.

American Psycho is an indictment of the ethics of the 1980’s as embodied by Patrick Bateman – or perhaps just an indictment of Patrick Bateman. In a period when greed and over-consumption was celebrated, Patrick lives a charmed life.  He is a moneyman, handsome with a beautiful fiancé, a steady supply of cocaine and sexual conquests; yet something is missing.  There is always someone a bit more successful or a party going on he wasn’t invited to or a restaurant he can’t get into.  And these little failures eat away at him until he does something.  The “something” in American Psycho is killing.  Big, showy murders punctuation by new wave classics.

Benjamin Walker - photo by Jeremy Daniels

Benjamin Walker – photo by Jeremy Daniels

Benjamin Walker plays Patrick Bateman and heis in command every second he is on stage.  He starts the play rising up center stage like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.  Walker’s half shell is a clothes caddy that he uses to describe his wardrobe and state of mind.  The audience enters his head and his point of view at that moment – and Walker never lets us leave it.

He narcissistically describes his apartment, his clothes and his job as a definition of himself.  He is great because he dresses great, has great things and a beautiful life.  He is 26 and compares himself to a gold standard constantly.  Even his body, worked and molded to perfection, is a reflection of his personality, more a costume than a self.  And his perfection only punctuates his insecurity – and he takes the audience right along with that journey.

As his girlfriend, Courtney, Helene Yorke is hilarious.  She is seen through Patrick’s filter as a stereotypical Long Island airhead, aspiring only to be beautiful, rich and married.  If Ms. York dropped the façade or winked at the audience ever, this whole thing would fall apart.  But she, like Benjamin Walker, plays the show straight and so it works.

The worst of the 1980s is mirrored perfectly, a sea of white privileged faces ignoring the world around them.  The sets are wonderfully designed by Es Devlin – suggesting the 1980s overstated opulence without the tackiness.  And when the sets turn red, the imagery is minimal but wildly effective.  The costumes, by Katrina Lindsay, are perfect with enough shoulder pads to play football.  The songs by Duncan Sheik are not particularly memorable, but functional.  However the remixed 1980s tunes vary from catchy to haunting.

Director Rupert Goold captures the American Psycho moment in time and delivers it to us perfectly.  It is distant enough to be a memory, but with just enough resonance for the zeitgeist of today.

American Psycho | Book: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Music & Lyrics: Duncan Sheik, Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis | Director: Rupert Goold | Cast: Benjiman Walker, Helene Yorke, Jennifer Damiano, Drew Moerlein, Alice Ripley

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Passion, Hysteria and misplaced Certainty are a lethal mix in The Crucible.

There are, it seems to me, three very specific groups interested in the latest incarnation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Walter Kerr Theater. The first group is interested in the amazing star power on stage. To them I will say, you will not be disappointed. Stars Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okonedo, Ciarán Hinds and recent Academy Award winner Saorise Ronan are fantastic. Ms. Ronan, new to the stage, handles herself excellently with this experienced group of British actors, who seem to deliver wonderful performances effortlessly.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw (photo - Jan Versweyveld)

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw (photo – Jan Versweyveld)

The second group are those people looking for a great show and a fun night out in town. The Crucible is definitely a great show, but calling the nearly three-hour play a “fun night” might be pushing it. It is an examination of manipulation, hysteria and the inability of men in power to accept they might be wrong. Originally viewed as an allegory of the McCarthy Communist Hearings, it is just as relevant today as we rush headlong into a political system that is part charade, part theater and part revenge. It is one of those plays that is both “important” and excellent.

Saorise Ronan is Abigail Williams, girl on the cusp of womanhood, with the destructive caprice of a teenager and the sexual appetite of a young woman. As The Crucible opens she and friends were discovered in the woods dancing with a Barbados woman, perhaps playing at Voodoo. Two of the girls feign illness to avoid the repercussions. When traditional medical solutions don’t work, one of the girl’s fathers – the local Reverend, calls in a more experienced Minister (a splendid Bill Camp as Reverend John Hale) to see if ‘spirits’ are at work. The older black servant, the one from the Barbados, is brought in and threatened with beatings or excommunication if she doesn’t ‘tell the truth’. After explaining her innocence – but not being believed, she takes the bait offered to her and lies that it was the devil who tempted her. Abigail and the other girls not only follow her lead but name various women in town that might be witches and who have influenced them with their spirits. From there, things spiral out of control.

The chief target of Abigail’s vengeance is the wife of John Proctor (Ben Whishaw), Goody Elizabeth Proctor (Sophie Okonedo). While briefly in the Proctor’s employ, Abigail and John had a physical relationship. Abigail is convinced it is love and, if only Goody Proctor were out of the way, she and John would be happily together. John is obviously very attracted to the young woman, but is fighting himself for the sake of his wife, his family and the farm.

The results of the girl’s lies are that women rounded up as witches. And the Salam Witch Trials begin. The trials are not shown, but the results are clear as more and more women are forced by the Deputy Governor Danforth (a regal and heartless Ciarán Hinds) to confess or die. And, in confessing, they are forced to name other witches. The number of women accused of witchcraft swell from 5 to 69 to over 130.

Saoirse Ronan, Elizabeth Teeter, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Erin Whilhelmi and Ben Whishaw (Jan Versweyveld)

Saoirse Ronan, Elizabeth Teeter, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Erin Whilhelmi and Ben Whishaw (Jan Versweyveld)

Later, with over a hundred women charged of witchcraft and dozens rotting in prison, including his wife Goody, John Proctor tries to present evidence that would clear the women. His plan relies on the girls breaking down and agreeing to tell the truth. When it looks like it might, Abigail uses the rest of the girls to accuse the only truth teller of being held in Satan’s thrall. Despite Reverend Hale’s support, John Proctor and the other men are seen as liars and obstructers of justice. The mad rush to judgment and punishment cannot be slowed, much less stopped.

The final group of people that is waiting for this show are the dedicated theatergoers, who wonder how this show compares on a number of criteria. Here the verdict is mixed. Philip Glass’ score is amazing, and this is from someone with a preset disposition against Philip Glass. Here his music is elemental, hypnotic and organic in all the right ways. It builds on tension without ever over-powering the piece. Ivo Van Hove’s direction here is excellent, but not the staggering success of the recent View From a Bridge. The Crucible is longer, bigger and more complex than A View, so it cannot be stripped and deconstructed the same way. I have never seen the show done before, but Mr. Van Hove seems to have streamlined the sets and costumes to bring the immediacy to it, but it does take a long time to get to an ending that we know will happen at the end of act III.

The Crucible | Playwright: Arthur Miller | Director: Ivo Van Hove | Cast: Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okonedo, Ciarán Hinds, Saorise Ronan, Bill Camp, Tavi Gevinson, Jason Butler Harner, Tina Benko, Jenny Jules, Thomas Jay Rayn, Brenda Wehle

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Wolf In The River Teeters Between Fantastic and Overwrought

Adam Rapp’s new play at The Flea, Wolf in the River offers episodic glimpses at people on the brittle edge of America. Broken by abandonment, these flickering images sometimes offer insight and other times only confuse the audience. It is theater for those who like their theater to challenge them with ideas and images as much as story. Wolf in the River is lifted highest by the work of Jack Ellis as “The Man”, in a role that is part preacher and part carnivore.

Wolf in the River takes place somewhere in the isolated American South of hick accents and jobless boredom. Here a Lord of the Flies mentality has taken over, exemplified by the mud hill on which much of the action takes place. As King of this particular mud hill, we meet chief sadist and bully Monty (a frighteningly effective Xanthe Paige), who keeps her charge in line with taunts, threats and occasional bursts of violence. And then we are introduced to the target of her anger, young Tana (Kate Thulin in a role that doesn’t get to truly shine until much later in the proceedings). Tana wants to leave this hill, this village and this life that stifles her.

Kate Thulin, Jack Ellis, and Mike Swift photo by Hunter Canning.jpg

Kate Thulin, Jack Ellis, and Mike Swift photo by Hunter Canning.jpg

Slowly, the audience is pulled into the world through imagery and words. Primarily the words of The Man, Jack Ellis, working as a narrator and guide. He gives Adam Rapp’s words the cadence and punch of a revivalist preacher, only in service of something altogether different.

The audience knows, right from the beginning that Tana doesn’t make it to her promised land, but the show slowly and deliberately charts her course. Tana stays in deference to her brother, who’s soul was damaged in Afghanistan. But Monty has taken over care of her brother’s soul, leaving her with nothing.

Wolf in the River changes course in the later part of the show to flashback to earlier in Tana’s live. A “perfect day”, in which she meets a fisherman on the river, Debo (played with charm and likeability by Maki Borden). On a warm sunny day, Debo’s attention and flirtation Debo offers Tana the way out of this life. It is a path she cannot take today, but promises herself she will someday. And she starts on the path, but it doesn’t end where she expects.

Wolf in the River has a few problems inherent in the play and some that the audience brings in with them. The portrayal of these people may be meant as impressionistic, but it borders on vicious stereotyping of them as dumb-ass southern hicks. While the playwright stays well out of meanness, the audience often laughs inappropriately like a mob watching a gladiator meet.   This isn’t nervous laughter, but the scornful laughter of the most entitled people laughing at the least entitled among us. It is off-putting and depressing.

The staging has the audience in the mist of the actors, which is mesmerizing. The Flea theatre is uniquely endowed to mount an intimate production like this. None of the cast shies away from holding your gaze, daring you judge them. But it requires an audience that participates, or at least doesn’t lazily ignore the goings on and chat, checking their phone. Perhaps Monty should throw some of them back to Brooklyn.

Wolf in the River | Playwright: Adam Rapp | Director: Adam Rapp| Cast: The Bats (the resident company of The Flea), Jack Ellis, Karen Thulin, Maki Borden, William Apps, Xanthe Paige, Karen Eilbacher, Mike Swift

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She Loves Me: Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski Steal The Show

The Roundabout Theatre’s new production of She Loves Me is very much a wonderful and traditional revival. It is sparkling with Technicolor sets, lovely dancing and familiar songs delivered beautifully. It is also very old fashioned. You could take your grandmother and she would tell you this is how shows used to be, lovely confectionary delights. Your enjoyment will depend on your tolerance for sweets.

The story is familiar not only from previous incarnations of this show, but from the movies Little Shop Around The Corner and You’ve Got Mail. Zachary Levi is Georg, working at a parfumerie in Budapest in the 1930s. The parfumerie is like a small family, the employees all great friends and the owner is a father figure. Georg is carrying on a penpal love affair with a woman he hasn’t met. In due course Amalia (a lovely voiced Laura Benanti) comes into the Parfumerie to apply for a job. She wins the job – over the objections of Georg, with starts their relationship off on a terrible footing. They dislike each other from their first meeting. However Amalia is the mystery woman Georg is corresponding with. Their work relationship goes downhill as their correspondence relationship gets better. Mr. Levi and Ms. Benanti are both fine in their roles, except by comparison. Their bland pleasantness and lack of sexual chemistry wouldn’t be a problem except that the secondary characters are marvelously handled by Gavin Creel and Jan Krakowski.

Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski in She Loves Me at Studio 54

Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski in She Loves Me at Studio 54

Mr. Creel plays womanizing Kodaly, a male vamp who has captured the eye of Ilona (Ms. Krakowski) among others. Their shared numbers are the very picture of joy and lust. Together and apart they tend to dominate every scene they are in, leaving little investment in the main story between Georg and Amalia.

There are other nagging issues with the show, small but annoying. The big production number at the end of Act 1 is amazing, but feels a part of a different show – kind of a slapstick version of what felt risqué in Lucy and Desi’s day. And, in the course of the show, Georg finds out the truth, but rather than share his information with Amalia, he uses it to his advantage. This was probably charming in 1930 and 1963, but it feels a little stalker-y today.

That said, She Loves Me is a wonderful throwback to the big splashy musicals you heard about but haven’t seen before. The intimate size of Studio 54 welcomes this production wonderfully (as opposed to Broadway Theatre where Promises Promises felt a bit thin for the space). She Loves Me does not feel thin at all!

The direction by Scott Ellis is very good. The sets and lighting designs are wonderful (David Rockwell and Donald Holder). She Loves Me delivers exactly what it promises in an excellent manner, you just have to want what it delivers.

She Loves Me | Book: Joe Masteroff, Music: Jerry Block, Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick | Director: Scott Ellis | Cast: Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski, Gavin Creel, Byron Jennings, Michael McGrath, Nicolas Barash | Website