Category: Theater

Photo by Joan Marcus

Billing in at a little under two hours, King Henry V navigates conquering France while searching for love. Playing through May 13th, Henry V is the latest production from The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit program and again shows the power of acting even with minimal staging.

The Mobile Unit program, a reinvention of Joseph Papp’s “Mobile Theater”, offers people across the New York area the opportunity to see and engage with live Shakespeare. Indeed, every year, the mobile unit reaches thousands of people at community centers, schools, correctional facilities, and even homeless shelters. Its goal is admirable and provides both the cast and viewers a chance to experience theater even in untraditional stagings. Now, the production has settled in a more traditional black box theater for the next few weeks.

As part of the program, tickets to the show are free for everyone with distribution happening 90 minutes before each show and through a TodayTix lottery.

And even though tickets are free, the production leverages its bare-bones staging to transport the audience across the Atlantic and to the world of King Henry V. With a bare bones set comprised of a rug, the show leverages blue and red color coding to switch between British and French players. Although confusing at times, it ultimately works out in helping leverage the small cast to portray such a wide range of characters.

The production also features thrilling acting. In particular the relationship between King Henry (played by Zenzi Williams) and Princess Catherine (played by Carolyn Rettig) is as captivating as it is hilarious. Williams plays Henry as a pensive, partially insecure leader with a desire to both find love and create a grad empire. As Henry strives for love with Princess Catherine, he faces a language barrier as the two struggle to converse between English and French. Along with the rest of the cast, the team has indeed created another beautiful production of a classic Shakespearean work.

Henry V runs through May 13th at the Shiva Theater within the Public. Information on tickets for the show can be found here (https://www.publictheater.org/Tickets/Calendar/PlayDetailsCollection/17-18-Season/Mobile-Unit-Henry-V/)

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

There’s this consistent trope that exists in many stories typically featured on Broadway:  a person falls in love with another character that has unexpectedly entered their life and against all odds, they end up happily ever after. I sat through two-thirds of Once On This Island, seeing this same storyline build up, only to be thoroughly surprised by the ending that unfolded.

As a woman, I see this across media all the time – in TV shows, movies, and more relevant to this article, plays and musicals. For example, “A Bronx Tale,” a musical about Jane, a stunning black woman, and Calogero, an Italian man from a racist Italian community in the Bronx. Despite awful racial tensions, including a scene where he drops the “N” word, the two magically work things out and end up in a “loving” relationship. Though a less extreme example in “Groundhog Day,” Rita Hansen, another successful woman, falls for the main character, Phil Connors, a man who after getting stuck reliving Groundhog Day, attempts to use the ability to emulate what he views as Rita’s ideal lover without her knowing.

Seeing these different examples where it seems characters end up relinquishing their lives and passions for a lover they barely know has always come off to me as traumatic and sad — and seeing this notion challenged in “Once on This Island” was quite meaningful for me. Relationships are meant to be hard, but they’re not meant to be traumatizing. They’re not meant to lack reciprocity and pose burdens on one of the parties. That’s quite simply unhealthy behavior.

Where “Once on This Island” shines is its uplifting collection of songs that emphasize community and belonging. Rather than just another character suddenly finding love, the show showcases a community of people so closely connected that stick together despite the adversity they face living on a small island. In particular, in the song “Part of Us,”  the audience is reminded that a relationship is not the be-all end-all for the lives of women, especially women of color. In a world that consistently emphasizes the importance of intimate relationships, it was refreshing to see a musical emphasize community. Growing up in a Puerto Rican family, it was always ingrained into me that my family came first. And as I grew up and learned to embrace my Caribbean-Latina identity, it became even more obvious to me what was most important to me. Seeing Ti Moune struggle through navigating her own identities and values spoke to my own journey. While her experience doesn’t speak for everyone’s, I was happy to see another story being told.

Beyond the storyline, “Once On This Island” has an amazing cast. One of the show’s breakout stars is Alex Newell. Newell, playing the role of Asaka was absolutely radiant. In particular, his performance of “Mama Will Provide” absolutely blew me away thanks to his strong vocals and jubilance. Along with Newell was Hailey Kilgore in her Broadway debut who was a stunning Ti Moune. Her energy was tantalizing and her voice shined throughout the theater as she helped tell the story of these islanders. Overall, “Once on this Island” was fun, meaningful, and a beautifully nuanced representation of people of color and a reminder of why fostering inclusive communities matters so much.

If you’re a looking for something that will leave you feeling uplifted with a big smile on your face, this is the show to see.

Tickets to Once on This Island can be purchased from the TIC and through the show’s website.

“If you weren’t a Democrat when you were young, you don’t have a heart. If you don’t become a Republican when you get old, you don’t have a brain.”

You haven’t seen Uma Thurman destroy someone like this since Kill Bill. The actress makes her Broadway debut as Chloe, the wife of tax attorney Tom (portrayed brilliantly by Josh Lucas), who is on the short list for a Court of Appeals nomination. The Parisian Woman chronicles his path to nomination in five scenes, as the couple navigate their relationships with their politically minded peers. Martin Csokas stars as a jealous lover, Blair Brown as a conniving Fed Chair, and Phillipa Soo as Brown’s rising star daughter.

One of the most compelling aspects of The Parisian Woman is its relationship to the current political climate, having been rewritten after its original run to accommodate the 2016 election. The changes manifest themselves both in simple callout jokes (at every one of which, no matter how lazy the reference, the audience feels compelled to respond) and a stronger overarching question as to what political actors should be doing in a system in which the rules seem to be simply tossed out the door.

While the former seems to capitalize on the popularity of political commentary springing up everywhere today, the latter is unique in the sea in that it casts doubt as to whether it is truly cynical or genuine about our current system. Most of the characters bask in the grey area between party lines, at once admonishing the President while capitalizing on the ever-increasing vacancies in his administration.

This uncertainty, though, is better manifested in the nature of the relationships between characters, which reveal new layers with every scene, forcing the audience to analyze every interaction for notions of sincerity. It is in this limbo of truth that the play finds its real merit theatrically, not in the hollow dramatics of political warfare reminiscent of a Scandal episode. (Much of the nomination drama seems to rely on the basis that Trump is only loyal to the person he mostly recently spoke to. Which makes for a joke, but not the most clever or dramatically inclined one.)

Go into The Parisian Woman with an open mind about its politics. Revel in its pockets of tenderness in an overwhelmingly cold political environment. Appreciate the subtle Bannon digs. Just don’t expect to find firm insights into the Trump era.

Perhaps in the entirety of human history, never before have the phrases “Christmas music” and “electrifying” existed in the same sentence. Home for the Holidays completely breaks precedent.

The premise of the show is so simple that it’s genius: put an American Idol winner, an America’s Got Talent winner, and a winner of The Voice on stage together, and then — wait for it — have them all sing Christmas carols together. What you get is your favorite Christmas album on steroids, live to boot.

Visually, the show is stunning. Boughs of holly deck the halls of August Wilson Theatre, and the stage itself looks like a Broadway-ified winter wonderland, with five sleek metal Christmas trees standing tall and shimmering under the neon lights. A multi-level staircase platform stands on top of the stage, allowing the band to play right behind the front-stage singers while remaining ever in full sight — a spectacular way to showcase saxophone solo after trumpet solo after saxophone solo while the audience catches its breath between choruses.

As beautiful as the show looks, the real gem, of course, is the music, and each singer really brings his or her own special something to the classics. American Idol’s Candice Glover, of course, effortlessly delivers her famous R&B runs and riffs. The Voice’s Josh Kaufman also comes in strong, infusing the old-timey carols with his signature blues sound. Bianca Ryan from America’s Got Talent, in turn, really maximizes her theatrical voice to remind the audience at every stop that they are, in fact, on Broadway.

For the most part, I found that the three titans of American music demonstrated great musical rapport, harmonizing beautifully and playing off of each other to bring the music to new heights. However, there were some moments when their competitive sides seemed to take over — perhaps national singing champions can’t help but steal the spotlight, or perhaps this was actually a choreographed demonstration of just how much they could each blow us away with their impossible-sounding vocal stunts.

A word of warning: this show is not for the faint of heart. If you like your Christmas music pure and simple, go put your earbuds in and listen to Elvis, Michael Buble, or Mariah Carey. Even I found that, as much as I loved the show, no single number was my all-time favorite rendition, likely because the impressiveness of it all actually distracted from the nostalgia that Christmas music usually brings in bucketloads. However, if you like your Christmas music electrifying — or even if you think you might — definitely run and go see Home for the Holidays before it’s too late. Even if you end up liking your go-to album better, you certainly won’t regret this one.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

When Dina (played by Katrina Lenk) beautifully sings “Welcome to Nowhere,” a song introducing the audience to the show’s location, she doesn’t portray it to be one of the most exciting places. In fact, she goes so far as to sing “Such a city, nobody knows it. Not a fun, not an art, nor a culture. This is Bet Hativka.”

And her character is right: this show, like it repeatedly describes, is a simple story about how ‘’Once not long ago group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Yet, in this charming 95-minute show, audiences are thrust into a story that is so simple yet so complex, just like the human experience. Indeed, like life, the show begins with a slow start, in which we are introduced to the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra from Egypt, which, due to a misunderstanding of their final destination, end up spending a night in Bet Hatikva rather than Petah Tikva.

Stuck in a new place with nothing else to do, we see these strangers begin to connect. Part of the experience of meeting new people is finding out more about them: at first, you don’t know much about each other, but as time goes on, you learn more and begin to feel more for one another. The same is true for characters in shows. While The Band’s Visit eventually introduces us to all of its characters, unfortunately, we only get to really know a few. As the show progresses, though, we see extraordinary songs and heart-wrenching moments from most of the characters that, when the characters we as the audience get to know are involved, leave us tearful and filled with emotion.

For the characters we don’t get know as well, moments of truth — revealed in admittedly beautiful songs — can be a little confusing. Why does the man who waits by the telephone wait so obsessively for his girlfriend to call, to the point of being agitated when someone else uses the phone? Just because he misses her? Knowing nothing about this man except that he waits and waits and waits, it felt as if his behavior fell closer in line with someone who is unhealthily obsessed rather than in love. While this too can be part of the human experience, it was frustrating to see this moment aggrandized as it leads into the final grand moment of the show in which the entire cast harmonizes beautifully, singing about longing, love, and human connection. If we had gotten to know this man better, perhaps the final wouldn’t have felt as if it came out of nowhere.

That being said, the final song (“Answer Me”) is still beautiful in its own right, highlighting the show’s strongest component: its music. With lyrics and composition by David Yazbeck, every song pulls at the heart, making you laugh and leaving you contemplating your own desires. Each song is stunning and invites the audience members into the moment, allowing them to connect with the music on a personal level, even if they’re not familiar with the musical style, which is inspired by Arabic culture — something rarely seen on Broadway.

In a time that feels incredibly divisive, this production shows that, despite differences in our languages, our backgrounds, and our heritages, we all still are united in one human experience. We still all have a desire to love and be answered, and The Band’s Visit is such an important musical because it reminds us of just that. Rather than focusing on gaudy, ostentatious sets, colors, and music, it strips down these elements and focuses on the simple, the ordinary. This ordinariness actually produces something  unique and extraordinary, and, accordingly, the show should be seen by all.

Tickets to The Band’s Visit can be purchased from the show’s website.