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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review- Seeing Stars (NYMF)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

It's been a while since I've seen a musical that starts with an overture; they always remind me of My Fair Lady or Oklahoma... the way one song melds into another and gives you a preview of what you're about to hear.  It's a little like starting a speech off with a joke: you get the audience in a good mood and pull them into your world slowly. 

Seeing Stars (Book by Shelly McPherson, Music by Don Breithaupt and Lyrics by Jeff Breithaupt) stars off just this way, with a lilting, rousing, fluttering overture that gets the audience's toes tapping and heads bobbing.  While the tactic may be a bit old hat, this is an old fashioned musical, so it fits.

Seeing Stars is about dames and palookas, about gin joints and hot jazz, about giving the kid a break and winning one for the ole gang.  It's a little bit of any Rocky movie dipped in an East Side Kids caper and set to a Guys and Dolls beat.  In essence - Seeing Stars is a brand new musical that plays like a revival.

Just like any of the old Rogers & Hammerstein gems that followed the same formula, Seeing Stars does a great job at using musical numbers to quickly catch the audience up on each character's back story while moving along the storyline.  The songs also tend to make quick work of exposition, with the requisite internal monologue thrown in for good measure.  Basically, this is the story of an amateur fighter, "Gentleman" Joe Sullivan (Michael Halling) who (the song tells us) had one bad fight and quit before he was really ever able to make it as a pro boxer.  Now he can be found at his old gym, working out and keeping in shape but swearing to never go back in the ring.  Meanwhile, a snappy dame reporter (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in Hudsucker Proxy) named Jean Barker (Margaret Nichols) is trying to move off the women's page of the paper and cover Sports. She works her way into the gym press conference when Eddie McSorely (Kevin Earley) says he'll give her an interview if she'll go one round in the ring with him.  And so, obviously, a love story begins.

Seeing Stars succeeds in terms of presenting a satisfying musical, filled with great songs, rousing musical numbers, three great leads, and a decent love triangle in which you spend a lot of time rooting for the gal to pick the "right" guy... with the "right" guy being which every guy she's with at the moment.

Both Halling and Earley are amazing performers with great voices who really know how to bring home a love song.  Jean Barker, however, as a character, is just a bit too flat to be believable as someone two men would be desperately in love with, let alone fight over... in the ring, no less. Ms. Nichols puts in a decent performance, but I just didn't buy her as a man-killer... nor did I care too much in the end who she chose.  

However, the fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed by Liza Gennaro and the final scene which is played in slow motion over complete silence, save for the sound of breathing, is possibly the best live-action scene I've watched play out in a theatre. It has the audience holding its breath.

Overall, Seeing Stars is terrific, and shouldn't be missed if you're hankering for a good old fashioned musical that you've never seen before.

New York Musical Theatre Festival presents
Seeing Stars
October 7th-17th, 2009
The Theater at St. Clement's

Final Performance Saturday, October 17th at 1pm. For tickets and more information visit

The Theater at St. Clement's | 423 West 46th St | Manhattan.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First Annual New York Musical Improv Festival Nov 6-7

Magnet Theater presents the first annual New York Musical Improv Festival from November 6-7, 2009 at 254 W. 29th Street, ground floor (between 7th and 8th Avenues), NYC.  A detailed schedule and description of each night's line-up will be available at  Tickets are $10-$15 and will be available at

"Musical Improv in all of its forms has become a vital part of New York City's comedy scene. This challenging form of improvisation puts top musicians, singers, actors, comedians and even dancers through their paces, challenging them to create music, lyrics, and movement on the spot.  Audiences have responded to the excitement and urgency of seeing these exceptionally talented singers and musicians creating something amazing - from scratch.  This festival will celebrate a broad range of styles and bring together performers from top comedy theaters," said T.J. Mannix, founder and co-producer of the New York Musical Improv Festival.

Confirmed acts include:

Baby Wants Candy
Once performing only to audiences in Chicago, Baby Wants Candy has now taken on Manhattan full time.   The "grand daddy" of musical improv kicks off with the title of a never-before-seen musical that is shouted from the audience.  With no preparation, Baby Wants Candy cast members and their full band dive right into creating an amazing, hour long musical.  Not to be missed.

All the way from Chicago, the home of all things improv, comes Bash.  This critically acclaimed show is a fully improvised, multi-character, one-man musical starring Improv Olympic alumnus Blaine Swen and pianist Dave Asher.

Broadway's Next Hit Musical 
Is a two-act musical created in real time. As always, the show's first act is an award ceremony spotlighting nominees for "Best Musical" based on audience-written song titles, and the second act is the entire musical based on the favorite nominee from act one. Every melody, lyric, plot twist and jazz hand is made up on the spot.

Is a bold, four-man (and a musician) improv group who blow the doors off of what's "legal" in spontaneous performance.  From their roots with Chicago's Second City Improv and the legendary Burn Manhattan, Centralia has delighted and stunned audiences around the country.  They regularly sell out the hippest underground improv, theater and comedy joints in NYC.  Centralia is Matt Higgins, Jay Rhoderick and Kevin Scott. Music by Stuart Bogie.

Don't Quit Your Night Job 
Is where Broadway and improv meet . . . and make out. After the curtain comes down on their Broadway shows, these veteran performers create a late night happening of improvised music, sketches and offbeat performances you won't see anywhere else. Who needs a composer, when these Broadway actors can craft their own songs instantaneously?

I Eat Pandas 
In just minutes, Eliza Skinner and Glennis McMurray do what it takes Andrew Lloyd Webber YEARS to do: crap out a hit musical from start to finish.  With one audience suggestion, the ladies of I Eat Pandas improvise three entire musicals in under an hour - complete with dancing and melodrama. Along with their pianist, the trio belts out original, hilarious, and surprisingly catchy songs on the fly.

The Made-Up Musical 
One lucky audience member talks about where they grew up, and that town gets the spotlight and the "Chicago" treatment - a brand new musical, improvised in the moment.   The cast of The Made-Up Musical breaks out with all the songs, dances and wit you'd expect from a hundred dollar ticket uptown.

Once Upon A Time 
Proving that there really are two sides to every story, a squadron of 16 musical performers weave an audience member's suggestion into two instant musical fairy tales that tell what happened from the viewpoint of both the hero and villain.  All the music and magic of a Disney flick (or the darkness of the Brothers Grimm).

For more information, visit

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's A Wrap! The Fab Marquee's coverage of The 1st Irish Festival

While some shows have closed, others are still playing through the month of October. Below is  a compiled direct link to the shows we reviewed in this year's 1st Irish Theatre Festival. To learn more about these shows and the complete festival visit

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Review- Blood Guilty (1st Irish)

The Fab Marquee review by Diánna Martin.

As the lights come up in Antoine O Flatharta's drama Blood Guilty, we are introduced to Pat (Vincent Dowling) and Dan (Christopher Joseph Jones), whose home life is the stuff reminiscent of the Collier Brothers and Grey Gardens. Time seems to have stopped in the cluttered house. Dan, who appears feeble-minded, but we later find is simply blind, constantly enjoys annoying his other elderly brother, Pat, by constantly switching the radio. The two older men bicker (well, Pat bickers and Dan simply listens as his bickering turns emotionally and psychologically abusive) about the radio and their life. I was actually fascinated by the relationship between the two actors...and felt such sympathy for Dan, who is at his brother's mercy, though we really don't believe that Pat will "send him to the nuthouse"...or do we?

The story begins to move forward a tad when Pat leaves the house on an errand and leaves his blind brother to enjoy the French station on the radio that he seems to be obsessed with; because it is now that he is alone that The Strangers come calling. Tom (Paul Nugent) and John (Aidan Redmond), his older brother, come by offering to sell blankets that they have no doubt stolen. They let themselves into the house, and once seeing that there is nobody but a mentally feeble, elderly blind man there, begin to threaten his life for money as they ransack the house. Much to their chagrin, there is nothing of value, which begins to enrage John, the elder of the two hooligans. Just as one thinks John might actually strangle Dan for fun, Pat walks in and assesses the situation.

And here is where the play ended for me. Let me start by saying that I was delighted to see beautiful work by the two older actors at the beginning of the play; their relationship was one that I bought and I felt for. It held a world of possibility for me; how did it get this way? Why was Pat such a bastard? Was Dan really so feeble or just sick of fighting? And in a theatrical world where the stage is often dominated by young actors, it was refreshing to see two seasoned older gentlemen have their day.

And bringing the two thieves/potential murderers in was an interesting ordeal, for you saw a similar dynamic between both sets of brothers - and I know that that is what the playwright and director Kevin Collins may have been going for; I know that that is what I walked away with.

However, after Pat was able to get a stab in to Tom and wound him, and John does nothing to overpower him, I just did not buy it. I didn't. There was no way, physically or psychologically (as the way John's character was set up) that he would not attack - and 98% be able to overpower Pat. One section is he strangling Dan; the next he is too hysterical to grab a small knife from a man who's obviously not his match in strength or power. Or the fact that he wouldn't just move his brother out of the house, carry him, and take him to get aid. I was completely thrown out of the play. If it came down to him not loving his brother enough and thinking of him as a burden (again, the link between the two sets of brothers), then he should have left him there and let us all go home.

What added salt to this theatrical wound...what truly ruined the play for me, was the lengthy soliloquies that Pat had as Tom was dying. As John stayed and did nothing, really, but listen to this older man rant about this and that - there were points made that would have been moving had there been some basis of reality to ground them on, since this play was established as a drama, not some stylized piece. The days of youth versus the plight of the old, of watching your dreams fade and how Pat came to where he was in life had no interest for me anymore because I no longer believed the play.

The only thing I believed...what kept me holding on...was the beautiful far away look in Dan's eye. Jones had a life going on in his character as he remained silent that was so much more intriguing for me than 98% of the show - I wanted to be where he was, in his mind. And unfortunately, we were not.

A valiant effort, but alas, potential wasted, on what could have been a good show.

The Bronx Company, Whole in the Wall & First Irish present
Blood Guilty
The Players Loft Theater

This show has now closed. For more information about the festival, visit

THe Players Loft Theater | 115 MacDougal Street, 3rd Floor | Manhattan.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review- Whatever Man (NYMF)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

Whatever Man, (book, music and lyrics written by Benjamin Strouse) is the story of hapless Charlie (Colin Hanlon) in love with got-it-all-together Anna (Kristin Maloney) who attends group counselling at her request so that they can take their relationship further.  Anna's a go-getter, Charlie's a couch potato but somehow they're in love.  At group therapy Charlie meets a gaggle of misfits, one of whom turns out to be "The Swan" (Paolo Montalban) who is hiding in our world from Mr. Perfect (David Andrew Anderson) who has followed him here from another universe (multiverse) and starts attending group therapy too in an effort to get The Swan to go back.  Mr. Perfect tells everyone that if The Swan doesn't come back to where he belongs, the Evil Singularity will devour the world.  The Swan just wants to hang out on earth and learn from Charlie how to be funny.  As the story progresses more and more super (or less than super) heroes reveal themselves which is great for Anna who is this story's own little Lois Lane.  Eventually good and evil meet and it all ends with a battle that's been done a million times before.  Think Harry Potter battling Voldemort in The Goblet of Fire - but with less special effects.  Think Gandalf battling Saruman in Lord of the Rings - but lower to the ground. Think Krystle Carrington and Alexis Colby on Dynasty - but with less shoulder pads. You get it.

Paolo Montalban | photo credit: Julian Rad

This musical is more of a paradox that constantly contradicts itself than a well constructed musical.  While the message of the show (that even a little guy, a woebegone "loser" still finding himself  can save the world) is a good one, the way it is told is more comical than funny; the premise is all right but the execution needs work.  Scenes flow one into another and seem to have no reason to them.  We are given a lot of needless repetition, but nothing much gets accomplished.  One by one, more "superheroes" are unveiled but they all just want to open stores or brand products.  No one wants to save the world, though they all have the power to do so.  To make that point twice reinforces it.  To make that point five times is simply needless.  

Benjamin Strouse is obviously a talented composure; his music was complex, lush, toe tapping, catchy and enjoyable, with perfectly entwined harmonies.  His lyrics, however, relied on such old rhyming chestnuts as strong/wrong ... end/friend ... honey/funny ... sea/free.  Fabulous voices of the very talented cast were left to wander through songs that seem to pause the show rather than advance it at all, and even though the house was packed at the end of each musical number the audience waited a beat before applauding, more out of duty than in appreciation.  Again, the extremely talented cast deserved more for their efforts.

Finally, if you're not going to have actual choreography, employing a number of shudders and tics that go in time to the music should be avoided.  Choreographer Dax Valdes may have been a bit compromised due to the smallness of the stage, which I understand, but what was finally played out on stage looked less like dancing and more like American Sign Language.  It distracted rather than enhanced, and in songs that needed everything to come together in order to bring it home, distraction was the last thing the songs could afford.

With a little tweaking, some shortening, and perhaps another lyricist, Whatever Man could have some promise.  But for now, it evokes no more of a reaction than its title predicts.

The New York Musical Theatre Festival presents
Whatever Man
45th Street Theater

Final performance: Thursday, October 8th at 1pm. For tickets and more information visit

45th Street Theater | 354 W 45th Street | Manhattan.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Activate! Benefit for Theatre C, Nov 2-

Artistic Director, Carlos Armesto, launches a new theatre company, Theatre C, at The Barrow Street Theatre on November 2, 2009.  Theatre C’s purpose is to create vibrant theatre through the fusing of different forms of expression.  The company will meld puppetry and burlesque, video and dance, acrobatics and installations, hip hop, rock and salsa, and much more.

"Theatre is evolving into a medium of mixed disciplines," said Artistic Director Carlos Armesto.  "The line is fading that separates theatre, dance, film, sculpture, music, circus or even sporting events is fading.  I want to be a part of that evolution – in a very focused way.  That’s why I’m creating Theatre C."
Throughout the evening performers will present short numbers that evoke the style and work of the company. Emceed by award-winning book writer/lyricist Sammy Buck, the performance will include a number from Aaron Jafferis and Ian Williams' powerful hip hop/rock/salsa musical, Kingdom, acrobats from FuerzaBruta pirouetting in a live installation, Sesame Streets Nitya Vidyasagar frolicking with puppet monkeys in a scene from David Zellnik's Serendib, members of the Bessie Winning Third Rail Projects careening away, songs from christopher oscar peña and Parker Ferguson's gender-twisted rock-concert adaptation of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, and more! 

ACTIVATE! A launch benefit for the brand new theatre company, Theatre C will be on Monday, November 2 at The Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue, south of Christopher Street). The evening will begin at 7pm with an open bar and complimentary hors d’oeuvres. Performances will begin promptly at 8pm. Tickets to this exciting evening of live theatre are $100 and can be purchased at Enter the word ACTIVATE and follow the online instructions. For more information visit or call 212-491-3084. 

CARLOS ARMESTO is Artistic Director of Theatre C, a New York based theatre company devoted to creating innovative and arresting theatre through the unexpected fusion of different artistic forms.  A director and producer, Mr. Armesto is a former Associate Artistic Director for The Ensemble Studio Theatre. Current Projects with Theatre C include Kingdom, by Aaron Jafferis and Ian Williams, DisOriented by Kyoung Park, (e)vaporate by christopher oscar peña and Parker Ferguson, and Displacedby Lori Fischer.  Notable credits include: Kingdom (ReVision Theatre; Best Musical of the Season - Star Ledger); Pinning Hope by Matt Schatz (Creative Destruction, Obama Drama Festival); The Seven Year B*tch by Sammy Buck and Dan Acquisto (York Theatre and NYMF); Serendib by David Zellnik (EST-Sloan Mainstage 2007);The Bus to Buenos Aires  (EST Marathon 2006) and Triangle (Williamstown Theatre Festival) both by Curtis Moore and Thomas Mizer. Mr. Armesto also served as Artistic Associate for the 2004 Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts.  Education:  MFA Directing, Carnegie Mellon; BS Theatre & Chemical Engineering, M.I.T. Honors:  Bill Foeller Director's Fellowship (Williamstown), Audelco Award Nomination 2006 (Dramatic Production of the Year, Relativity); Princess Grace Award 2005.  Affiliation:  SSDC

Theatre C exists to create vibrant theatre through the fusing of different forms of expression.  Through the organization's Associated Artists, Theatre C joins the next evolution of theatre by melding puppetry and burlesque, video and dance, acrobatics and installations, hip hop, rock and salsa, and much more to tell the most compelling and moving of stories.