Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Quantum Eye - April 27, 2007

Leave your secrets at the door - the Quantum eye is watching.

Sam Eaton is a warm, friendly, boyishly sweet guy with an easy laugh... and he's also your typical, every day mindreader. Of course, we pooh-pooh at the idea of genuine ESP - we're all too jaded and sophisticated for that nonsense... aren't we? But deep down, admit it: you WANT to believe in magic. For approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, 2 shows every Friday night until December 28th at the Jewel Box Theater, Sam Eaton allows us to believe. And you know what? It's fun!

The atmosphere in the lobby before the show is a mingling of skepticism and a desire to be amazed - and a sense of community. We're all in this together. You are seated after everyone has arrived, and the seating is done with a purpose. So no switching seats! If you're afraid of 'the front row' and you are seated in the front row: get over your fears. Nothing bad will happen to you. Audience participation is a necessity in this performance and volunteers are welcomed... although sometimes not always chosen.

While waiting for our seat assignments I was butting into a conversation with a very nice older couple who were trying to remember the names of recent 'magician movies' (c'mon it was the theme of the evening). I had to open my big mouth and help them out with The Prestige and The Illusionist. During our chat a very friendly fellow with round, dark rimmed glasses came by and asked if we had filled out the brief questionnaire that is included in the program. There are four questions you are asked to answer which play out later during the performance. We assured him we had and then he looked at me and said: "come with me for a minute."

Since I'd scoped out the Quantum Eye website beforehand I knew this was Sam Eaton, our mentalist, so of course, I went along. I had visions of being let in on the big secret. Alas, this was not the case.

He told me he could not see my answers. He wasn't "getting anything from me''. Actually I've been to this sort of show before and I was in fact purposefully NOT thinking of the answers I'd written down... in an attempt to foil the mentalist. Maybe I was blocking him with my astounding ESP. Or something like that.

He asked me to give him the paper I'd written my answers on and start again. For the 'two digit number' question he asked me to visualize a person's age. He asked me to pick someone I had a good relationship with, use their age, and focus on that number. I randomly chose a friend I'd just gotten an email from before going to the show. And focused.

I was seated in the front row - and very happy to be there. The first 'trick' of the evening concerned the very number I had been asked to focus on. Another person in the audience had pulled my seat number from a bag containing all the ticket stubs and so it was my number that would be the focus for the illusion. It's a trick I've seen done before, where a series of numbers are laid out in a grid and no matter which way you you add them up, all columns add up to the same number. In this case MY number. Yes. I admit it: I was very pleasantly surprised.

I very much wanted to volunteer for every illusion after that, but for some reason I was not 'right'. I think it's a matter of some people being less guarded than others, easier to read. I'm friendly, but I'm very guarded and I think someone who is attuned to the subtleties of body language and involuntary reactions can spot that. So I'm not a great volunteer candidate for a mentalist show. This does not in any way ruin my sense of amazement or enjoyment. I want to suspend my disbelief. I want to be astounded. And I was.

Everyone espouses a desire to know "How it's done" - and I would suggest that you can find out how to do any of the illusions you see at any mentalist show by simply doing a bit of research on the Internet, in the library, at a magic shop. But the truth about magic is that no matter how much we say we want to know the secret: we really don't. Those who really want to know become magicians. The rest of us want to believe.

Go see this charming, intimate and astounding show. You will want to know how he does it: but I can tell you right now. If you promise to keep it a secret. Ready? It's magic.

The Quantum Eye

The Jewel Box Theatre
130 W. 29th St., 10th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Updated Location information as of February, 2009
Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street
45 Bleecker St.(Between Lafayette and Mott Sts.)
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 541-8457

Ticket Price: $47
Ticket Information: Telecharge: 1-800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200,
» Buy Tickets

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Keely Smith - April 17, 2007

Keely Smith has come a long way from her role of world-weary, yet ever-tolerant girl singer partner to her husband, Louis Prima. Although their names will inevitably always be linked, Keely Smith certainly deserves to be seen as a legendary performer in her own right. And she proves it every night (until April 28th) at the Café Carlyle.

She is a 79 year old spitfire, proclaiming of herself "the top half is Cherokee, but the bottom half is Italian" and yes, we all know what she means. She is a sharp and flirty performer who talks to her audience as if they've always been old friends. When she throws in jokes about Louis, or imitates him as she reproduces one of their hits we chuckle: we're in on the jokes.

She started her set with a feisty Let the Good Times Roll finishing with an admonition to the audience "did you expect a QUIET show?" This was my fourth Keely Smith show and I knew that what we should expect was a Keely Show: a perfect mix of rollicking fun and break your heart crooning. And that is exactly what she delivered. Her follow-up was How Deep is the Ocean after which she praised an audience member for ordering a healthy meal "you're a good boy... fish. I'd kill for a meatball sandwich right now." Then she brought the tempo back up with a version of Jump, Jive and Wail that let her brass section (Jerry Vavino on tenor sax and Michael Morielli on trumpet) let loose and made me regret that the Carlyle does not have a dance floor.

Keely brought the mood to romantic and sweet once more with You Go to My Head done in a slow, bluesy arrangement (Dennis Michaels on piano is her arranger, and her son-in-law). She showed how true it is that "age means nothing" by holding a long, unwavering final note.

Can't Take My Eyes Off You was happy and fun with Keely improvising some lyric changes. Then she veered into another Louis-Keely hit Angelina-Zooma Zooma that made the room hop. Laughing at the end she remarked: "It means I've got a fish in my hands... I don't know why people like that song." When the band took too long to move to the next song, she teased "you're not going too fast tonight are you?" She sang a cheery How Sweet it is to Be Loved By You.

The Way You Look Tonight prompted her to say "I love this song, I hope you like it because I really like singing it" the look she gave us defied us to disagree. Then she sang it, and believe me, that look was unnecessary.

She sang Just a Gigolo and again the room was rocking, then she asked for requests which brought us I'll Never Smile Again - where she could just break your heart - and slid into an A capella version of Whippoorwill... you could hear a pin drop as the audience sat in rapt attention. The Man I Love and Embraceable You were followed by a cha-cha arrangement of her poignant signature song: I Wish You Love and possibly her biggest hit with Louis That Ol' Black Magic and a reworked What Kind of Fool Am I (is He).

At one point she remarked, "it took me 40 years to get control of the stage, and I'm keeping it!" I hope she keeps it for 40 more. Keely still sings with her trademark stone-face, but in between songs she is a helluva character full of anecdotes and teasing banter with the audience and her band alike. Be warned, Keely likes the boys: "the younger the better [...] 52 is too old for me"; and if you think sex ends at ... well, ever, listen to Keely Smith - and let the good times roll.

Keely Smith
Café Carlyle
35 East 76th Street
New York, NY 10021
Tickets: 212-744-1600

Through April 28
Tuesday - Thursday 8:45pm
Friday & Saturday - 8:45pm & 10:45pm

Monday, April 16, 2007

Elvis Unbound - April 16, 2007

As Elvis Unbound was a staged reading, it would be unfair and wrong to review it. Even here in such a non-visible space as this little blog. So although I saw it, I'm reserving any sort of critique of the piece.


I don't think it is wrong in any way to point out a couple of really strong performers and give them some credit for a job well done under less than polished circumstances. (No disrespect meant there, it was a staged reading and not meant to be a full-out production.)

That said, I can't resist giving some praise where I feel it is warranted.

Robert Cuccioli (Elvis). Holy Moly and a bag of chips. This guy is amazing. Really. And no, it's not just because he's gorgeous to look at (not that that HURTS in any way). He has a tremendous stage presence, and humor, he moves beautifully and if nothing else: jeez the guy can really SING! I mean SING! Not that bullshit American Idol, Broadway "let's do vocal exercises on stage to wow people with my range" stuff: No. HE can really sing! I saw him once before in Jacques Brel... at the Zipper and he was great, now I see how truly versatile he is and if you can see him perform: do so. You will agree with me.

Raymond Jordan (Preacher/Dr. Nick). I've never seen him before, but I hope I get to see him again. What a beautiful voice on this man. Just great.

Juliette Garrison (Leah/Gladys). She was simply charming. Just adorable. There is one thing that is absolutely essential in a performer and that is humor. I don't mean everyone has to be a comedian - but you must have some sense of humor, a sense of joy, an inner life, it touches the audience and we feel connected. And she has it. And she has a very lovely voice on top of it and is cute as can be.

Jess LeProtto (Young Elvis/Child Singer). Jess is a youngster, and with luck we'll get to see him grow up onstage. For someone so young, he has a wonderful confidence onstage and how a kid can have a voice like this is simply amazing to me. Normally I cringe at 'actor-kids' because they have that fake thing going on. But I didn't sense that from him at all. He was 'doing his job' and he was a pleasure - plus he does an awesome "Elvis". At the finale he and Robert Cuccioli sang together, they seemed to be having so much fun together it was great to watch.

Remember: this is not a real review. I just wanted to give a little praise.

Staged Reading (musical): Elvis Unbound
book and lyrics by Sandra Hochman
music and lyrics by Rob Stoner
Directed by G.Beaudin

Elvis Unbound
37 ARTS THEATRE, Theatre "C"
450 West 37th Street
New York NY

Saturday, April 14, 2007

American Fiesta - April 14, 2007

First impulse when attempting to write this review of American Fiesta is to simply post a complete transcript of the play. That wouldn't be a review, but in my opinion it would be a helluva lot more entertaining than anything I could say here. It is so rich and its complexities explored so subtly I could never do it justice in a brief blog review. There are so many good lines I filled my notebook... Alas, that's not how this stuff works (and I don't have a copy of the script!) so here's my review.

American Fiesta is a prime example of why I have a particular fondness for one-person shows; it's especially fun when the playwright is the performer, as is the case here. Steven Tomlinson is making his New York stage debut with American Fiesta and as an avid theater-goer in New York all I can say is WELCOME STEVEN!

On the surface this is a play about a man obsessed with vintage Fiesta Ware "the Manhattan Project of dishes". It's a thin veneer for the complex issues this wonderful story deals with. The deeper meaning, under the pretty "pearly glow" of the colorful Fiesta Ware is: how do we learn to love each other. Not just on a one-on-one basis, but as a country, as a world.

Steven's taking on some mighty deep topics here, but according to the bio in the program he is a teacher of Economics AND Theology, among other pursuits, so tackling a broad, seemingly unrelated, range of issues is apparently par for the course for him. And his blending of these topics here is seamless.

In broad strokes the story is about Steven and his partner Leon planning to get married in Vancouver, Canada and Steven's parents resistance to accepting it. (I have to stop here and say that I want to meet Leon right now - he sounds like a dream... and he can cook!)

As to the production, crisp and sumptuous are the words that come to mind. The set by Neil Patel fed my own lust for the gorgeous Fiesta Ware that I cannot afford. It was a delight to see it displayed on such a beautiful clean-lined, yet luxurious set. It has a Frank Lloyd Wright appeal without the inherent chill of a Wright design. The lighting by David Lander is a perfect complement and projection design by Jan Hartley is simply wonderful, funny and clever.

Direction by Mark Brokaw is as crisp and clean as the set - every movement, every placement of a dish is well-thought out (the cradling of the blue 'sacred soup' bowl was particularly nice). Steven describes the collecting of Fiesta Ware: "whatever you've got, thoughtfully arranged, makes a set"; Mark Brokaw should be very proud of the set he has thoughtfully arranged here on the stage at the Vineyard.

I must note that I saw this show on the first night of previews, which means it will only get better - if such a thing is possible - and 'official' reviews will not be out until it opens on April 26th... Still.

American Fiesta
Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15th Street
New York, NY 10003
Tickets: 212-353-0303
running time: approximately 1 hour 20 mins no intermission

Monday, April 9, 2007

Gutenberg! The Musical! - April 8, 2007

My preference when seeing anything is to not read reviews beforehand. I do like to read them after I've seen a show to compare opinions. But sometimes I fall into a reading a review before... it happens. And I admit that I read a review of Guttenberg! The Musical! some months ago when it was at 59E59. It was not a glowing review. I put off seeing this show until it was recently recommended by a friend.

I decided to let go of the bad impression I had from the review and went in hoping for the best.

That has worked in the past.

Not so much this time.

I know it really should not be considered in terms of the show itself, but I really have a difficult time with late starts or other House Management issues. It really taints the experience for me, and while I know that is not the show: first impressions do indeed count.

I arrived at the theater one-half hour prior to performance time, which was 3:00PM. I picked up my ticket and wandered around the neighborhood for about 15 minutes, seeing no point in going into the theater earlier than that. Silly me. At 2:45 there was a line half-way down the block in front of the theater and they were not yet seating people. At 2:58 they finally opened the house. I got to my seat at 3:05. At 3:15 an announcement was made that they would start in 5 minutes.

So a 3:00 show was starting at 3:20. THIS is really inexcusable. It was going to take an awful lot to win me over to this show. But still, I tried to keep an open mind.

I shouldn't have bothered.

This was a waste of my afternoon from beginning to end. I hate to be cruel, but it's the truth. And I cannot blame it all on the poor house management.

This 1 hour 40 minute show would have been a wonderful 15 minute sketch - at most an amusing One Act short. It is a one note joke with none of the ingenious writing that it would need to make it work for almost two hours.

The performers did what they could with this piece, but the vehicle itself is the problem. The premise of a staged reading for backers and producers is a good one, again: for a 15 minute sketch not for a full length Off-Broadway show.

I understand that this is supposed to be a parody, a dig at Broadway musicals - and trust me, I'm all for THAT as I hate those big overblown productions that pander to the lowest common denominator. Agreed "musicals about vampires do not work". But please, if you intend to write a parody, a satire, a dig... make the music better than the crap you're making fun of. This was done beautifully, and hilariously, in The Musical of Musicals.

I admit there were several very funny lines in Gutenberg! and Ryan Karels (Doug Simon) who stepped out of his role of understudy (he understudies both roles - that's a lot of work Ryan! Good work!) has a charming voice and did a great job. But again, this show was at best a funny sketch that went on far, far too long.

The biggest irony for me, is that the best part of this show was a wonderful performer who I had first seen in possibly the worst Broadway musical I've ever seen.

David Turner (Bud Davenport) was the only shining light in In My Life and he is, once again, the saving grace here. Odd that he should be the glint of hope in both bad shows. I would love to see him in a play (or musical) that is worthy of his talent. This guy is wonderful, funny, silly, sly, extremely versatile and has a terrific voice - his Monk is particularly amusing. It is my misfortune not to have seen him in a worthwhile show. I hope one day soon that will change.

As Bud and Doug ask continuously during Gutenberg!, "are there any Broadway producers out there?" If so, grab Mr. Turner and put him in a GOOD show. Please!

Gutenberg! The Musical!
Actors' Playhouse Theatre
100 7th Avenue South
New York, NY 10014
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250

Friday, April 6, 2007

Be - April 5, 2007

According to their press materials Eylon Nuphar and Boaz Berman, of Mayumana have created a show which combines elements from various art disciplines based on music, movement, acting, dance and rhythm.

Perhaps they have. But I'm pretty sure that isn't the show I saw tonight.

What I saw, bluntly, was one hot mess.

I will admit that I am not a fan of 'international clowning' right here and now. But this took it a step further. This was international clowning ... with no interest in the audience.

It was masturbatory clowning. For a show that is, at least in theory, predicated on syncopation (I make this bold assumption from the fact that they spent the entire show pounding or banging on things or stamping in rhythm... usually in rhythm, any way) there was a severe lack of synergy. Or even cohesion.

I could gather a group of friends and bang on pots all night long and I wouldn't call it a show. I would call it messing the fuck around. Just because you do it in front of people does not give you the right to call something 'a show'.

I saw this type of thing done a thousand times better - it was called Drumstruck. There was a clear communication with the audience, a feeling that these people were performing for us, and for themselves, and loving every minute. In BE ... well, let me get some friends and some pots to bang.

The first thing about seeing any theatrical endeavor that puts me off is lateness. I understand that in live theater things can, and do, go awry. But when you begin your show 11 minutes late: baby you'd better make my wait worthwhile.

BE did not.

Their website shows video clips that are charming, lively and fun - it's the reason I went. But that little clip on their site takes place one hour 15 minutes in and it is the only time there is a feeling of a finished product. Then we're back to bad hand clapping and discordant 'dancing' and tumbling and god-help me Mime. Bad mime and clowning.

The costumes looked as though someone had seen the movie Godspell a few million times too many. The performers had no rapport with the audience, and not all that much with each other.

This show was so non-riveting that I didn't even think about Chinese food - all I could think about was how could I manage to escape.

BE with that.

Be, Mayumana
Union Square Theatre
100 East 17th Street
New York, NY 10003
Tickets: 212-505-0700 or 212-307-4100

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Rearviewmirror - April 3, 2007

I went to Rearviewmirror hoping for the best. I always attend the theater hoping for the best. Unfortunately I am all too often disappointed. I am very happy to say that Rearviewmirror was one of those times when a show exceeded my hopes.

At the pre-set I was slightly concerned as the stage was set with nothing more than 3 stools and... hey... wait... a cute, shoeless guy. Okay, I'm 25% there if there's a cute guy. Good sign.

The pre-show music was encouraging, there was a great mix with a healthy dose of Elvis Costello. Rarely is that a bad thing. And in checking the program I saw that the sound design was by Ryan Rumery who had done other shows I loved, Based on a Totally True Story, at MTC and The Roundtable Ensemble's The Seagull, at the Blue Heron.

The show began and ended and was performed entirely by three people sitting on those stools. And I was riveted the entire time. Not once did I think: I could pick up some Chinese on the way home... Usually I know a show is tanking when I'm running through Empire Wok's take-out menu in my head instead of paying attention to the action onstage. With Rearviewmirror there was nary a thought of steamed broccoli or egg fu young.

Playwright Eric Winick has done a masterful job of pulling together themes so seemingly unrelated you'd think he got them from a round of Trivial Pursuit. Pop music, film school geeks, Orthodox Judaism, and The Bacchae??? Yet he made them seem as though they were always meant to be together. That this is a story as old as time.

The three characters are (in order of speaking): Penn (Mark Alhadeff) the aforementioned cute and barefooted one, Agatha (Audrey Lynn Weston) and Inez (Sarah Nina Hayon). Although all three are key, this is a nice lean production with no excess, Penn is the primary narrator and he is as charming as you could want and sets the tone right from the start. "What is it about Orthodox girls?" he asks plaintively. Seems Penn has himself a little fetish.

We meet Agatha as an innocent - yes she is buying condoms for her Junior year abroad in Israel, but she is, in fact, an innocent. She is a tabula rasa waiting for something to believe in, a passionate woman who needs a focus. She finds it in Israel as she discovers her Judaism. "This is a big deal for a [Jewish] girl from Massachusetts who grew up singing O Tannenbaum every Christmas Eve."

After Agatha is brought back to the U.S. by her family, with the help of a deprogrammer, she and Penn meet at a party. He falls for her in her Orthodox garb, she falls for him and his passion for movies.

Last we meet Inez, a young Orthodox woman whose mother was, "... from Spain and she didn't think how odd Inez would sound here." Her story is the most poignant and disturbing. She is devoted to her life, her religious upbringing, her family, and she loves her klezmer music. Inez knows who she is and what she wants. Until she has the rug pulled out from under her. I will not give away more except to say that she has a journey to make, and where it ultimately brings her surprised me.

The three characters interact with each other from time to time, but primarily they speak directly to the audience. Each telling their own stories, which then become connected into one story: with a disturbing climax that is at once shocking and inevitable.

These three actors were wonderful. Each character fully drawn and alive. The direction by Carl Forman was subtle, those missing shoes... nice touch. The writing was lively, clever and as Mr. Winick is working on the screenplay for Rearviewmirror it seems we'll get to see more of his work. I for one, am delighted.

59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St.
New York, NY 10022
Tickets: 212-279-4200