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Broadway Review—New Musical “A Bronx Tale”

A Bronx Tale
Book by Chazz Palminteri; music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks; choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Opened December 1, 2016
 
Nick Cordero and Hudson Loverro in A Bronx Tale (photo: Joan Marcus)
Of all the musical adaptations that have cluttered the Broadway landscape recently, I didn’t have much hope for A Bronx Tale. Based on Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical one-man stage show—itself turned into a 1993 film directed by and starring Robert DeNiro—it follows a young Italian boy, Calogero, befriended by a Mafia hood who becomes his strangely credible second father of sorts.
 
But despite such innately unmusical material, A Bronx Taleworks handily onstage. Palminteri’s book nicely balances the comic overtones of a streetwise kid’s growing up in the 1960s with the serious undertones of Sonny’s violent way of life. Even the romantic subplot between teenage Calogero and his girlfriend Jane plays out in an era of racial strife—Jane is black—giving added weight to what would otherwise be frivolous high school happenings.
 
Director Jerry Zaks’ forte is the zestiness of the staging, although the sudden violence and intense confrontations may be co-director DeNiro’s contribution. Always a clever hand with stage movement, Sergio Trujillo provides shapely and vigorous choreography. If Glenn Slater’s lyrics are passable at best and shopworn at worst, Alan Menken’s songs remain pleasantly entertaining al a Jersey Boys, which the framework of this show vaguely resembles.
 
The large cast is uniformly good, even if Richard H. Blake and Lucia Giannetta, both engaging as Calogero’s parents, have too little to do. Ariana Debose makes a winning Jane, and if Bobby Conte Thornton is a little too on the nose as the grown-up Calogero, Hudson Loverro is an irresistibly appealing presence as the young boy.
 
Best of all is Nick Cordero as Sonny, whom Palminteri played in the movie. In a bit of serendipity, Cordero also played Cheech in the Broadway version of Bullets over Broadway, which Palminteri had also played in Woody Allen’s classic movie. So Cordero has always shown adeptness at portraying hoods with a brilliantly uncanny way of simultaneously playing into the mobster stereotype and hilariously, even touchingly, transcending it.
 
That Cordero also has a fantastic stage presence—which he puts to thrilling use in his solo number, “One of the Great Ones”—earns him the overused sobriquet “show-stopper.” A Bronx Taleis a fun diversion, but Cordero makes it well-nigh unmissable.
 
A Bronx Tale
Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street, New York, NY
abronxtalethemusical.com

Writer/Actor Laoisa Sexton Let's Fly “The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal”

The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal
Written by Laoisa Sexton
Directed by Alan Cox
Starring Laoisa Sexton, John Keating, Johnny Hopkins and Zoë Watkins 

Within the relatively streamlined two hours of "The Pigeon in The Taj Mahal," a new play written by Irishwoman Laiosa Sexton, the words spoken by this odd quartet reveals more than just offbeat slangy patter; it presents both a lost inner world and the isolated world of Ireland’s West Country lifers.

When Eddie The Pigeon (John Keating) first appears on stage — a skeletal drink of water with a graying afro rooted on his head — his repetitious babble suggests someone with Asperger’s syndrome. His lives in a decrepit Winnebago — a home once shared with his now-deceased mother — surrounded by Elvis’ music and photos, and not much more. He works as a junkyard security guard and does little else, that is, until the night Lolly (Laoisa Sexton) lands on his doorstep, dropped off there while in a drunken, battered stupor.

Set in a rural trailer park, these two seem to be from very different cultures yet when they confront each other that night they connect in odd ways. He represents an older world of winding roads and lost pathways that not even tourists visit. Though she’s steeped in contemporary accouterment like iPhones and contemporary pop music, Lolly also comes from another kind of isolated life, one of poverty and the seemingly dead-end scene of drunken partying and mutually abusive long-term relationships.

Once Pigeon carries her into his hovel, where she’s revived by a spot of hot tea, the banter shifts from monologue to a dialogue of sorts — two conversations sometimes intersecting, other times passing by with shared misunderstanding. Clearly, he’s excited to find a young woman in smeared makeup and ripped tulle; he exclaims, “You have the uncommon beauty [of] a swan in a dirty lake!” 

Dressed like a rumpled-yet-glittery punk-ified bride, Lolly wakes from her addled state acting aggressive yet also intrigued. At once threatening and manipulative, she alternates between being a waif and seductress who can’t quite get a handle on her mark. And when her pal Auntie Rosie (Zoë Watkins) arrives in an equally shattered-and-tattered state, frenzied interplay ensues. Within the banter lies both comedy and pathos. The dynamic between both camps — one lost in the past, the other in the present — highlights how both have become disconnected from realities that urbane city dwellers like us New Yorkers — are normally linked to. 

In a funny way, there’s a relevance to this play, as if it’s about people who could be considered the “deplorables.” Especially once coke-head boyfriend Johnny (Johnny Hopkins) arrives to retrieve his consort/victim and joins in on the “dis-assemblage.”

Without stating any profundity here — especially because not much really happens  — Sexton’s clever text and Alan Cox’s tight direction keeps the shambling conversation going. While they don’t really say anything that substantial, they survive in their various addled states without knowing exactly what to say — or think. They just drive forward without much reason or purpose but somehow we, as an audience, get it. The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal shows just how much these four people, and those whom they represent, try to survive — at least through this one night. 

Rush to see “The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal” at the Irish Repertory Theatre (132 W. 22nd St., NY NY) before it closes this December 31st for its uniquely Irish verbal gymnastics; this convoluted and arcane wordplay makes it worth catching.

To learn more, go to: https://irishrep.org/

The Pigeon in the Taj Mahal

November 27 -December 31st, 2016

Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd St.
New York, NY 10011

Leading Ladies On Stage—Sutton Foster in “Sweet Charity”; Laura Osnes at 54 Below

Sweet Charity
Music by Cy Coleman; lyrics by Dorothy Fields; book by Neil Simon
Directed by Leigh Silverman; choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
 
Laura Osnes: The Roads Not Taken
 
I’ve said it many times: we are in a golden age of sublime theater singer-actresses, and two of our very best are Sutton Foster and Laura Osnes. It’s always a treat whenever either of them are on stage, and when they appear in smaller spaces, so much the better. That’s what we get as Foster is killing it in Sweet Charity in the cozy confines of the Signature’s Linney Theater, while Osnes recently performed her captivating cabaret show at the intimate club 54 Below.
 
Sutton Foster (center) in Sweet Charity (photo: Monique Carboni)
 
Foster and director Leigh Silverman must deal with long shadows in Sweet Charity, based on Federico Fellini's classic 1956 tragicomedy The Nights of Cabiria, which starred the director’s beloved wife Giulietta Masina in the title role; Bob Fosse’s original Broadway production starred the director/choreographer’s beloved wife Gwen Verdon. So four legends of film and theater tower over this proto-feminist musical, whose tuneful and hummable score is by Cy Coleman, clever lyrics by Dorothy Fields and amusingly sassy book is by Neil Simon.
 
Foster’s Charity—the put-upon but endlessly optimistic dance hall hostess whose every romantic relationship ends in tears—is a dazzling creation, filled to the brim with the star’s bottomless well of charisma, pizzazz, charm and spunkiness. She can drop Simon’s sharp one-liners like nobody’s business, she can sing like a dream and her dance moves can put most of her peers to shame. As one example of many, her scintillating tap number during “If My Friends Could See Me Now” is such a show-stopper in every sense that it threatens to topple the tenuous hold Silverman has on the material.
 
Apparently, Sweet Charity must now be tweaked to make it palatable today: no one would believe such a beguilingly sweet thing as an almost willing doormat for men, so this hopeless romantic has been turned into a slightly more hopeful realist. Foster’s sass is less naïve ingénue and more bruised lover, and the show’s final number has become “Where Am I Going?”, originally sung by Charity before, not after, her final amorous entanglement ends in disappointment.
 
Such directorial intrusion doesn’t totally destroy the show: Derek McLane’s spare set, Jeff Croiter’s moody lighting, Joshua Bergasse’s serviceable choreography, the solid supporting cast and tight six-piece (all-female!) band contribute to its entertainment quotient. And Silverman knows enough to leave her star front and center, and she makes Sweet Charity as much her own as she did Anything Goes, Violet and The Wild Party. No one can do it all quite like Sutton Foster.
 
Laura Osnes
 
Minnesota native Laura Osnes made her auspicious Broadway debut in 2007’s revival of Grease, then consolidated that with winning turns in shows as varied as South Pacific, Bonnie and Clyde, Cinderella and Bandstand (coming to Broadway in the spring). For her current solo show at 54 Below—which she’s performed several times in the past couple years—she has looked at other musicals which, for various reasons, ended up not panning out for her, under the cute title Laura Osnes: The Roads Not Taken.
 
Opening with “Not for the Life of Me” from Thoroughly Modern Millie—which gave Foster her first Tony in 2002—Osnes proceeded through an alternate career that, in its offbeat way, is almost as impressive as what she ended up doing. Punctuated by thoroughly charming explanations of why this or that show didn’t turn out right for her (something else came along, she didn’t get called back, etc.), Osnes beguiled the audience with her bright, clear soprano in numbers from classic musicals like Fiddler on the Roof, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady and a pair of Sondheims, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd—all of which sounded tantalizingly right when she performed songs like “Show Me,” “Soon” and “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.”
 
Equally satisfying were her forays into more recent shows: she agily brandished the puppet Kate for “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” from Avenue Q, sang the hell out of the title song from Bring It On (which is not in the show any more, she wryly noted) and dueted with guest star Rob McClure in a sensitive “What I Meant to Say” from My Paris. There was of course the requisite “Popular” from Wicked, but that was offset by “Let Me Your Star” from TV’s Smash and a lovely “What Baking Can Do” from Waitress, which she was in the running to take over from Jessie Mueller. Instead, she’ll return to Broadway in Bandstand, which she gave the audience a taste of with “Worth It.” When I saw it at the Paper Mill last year, Osnes’s emotionally focused performance was the show’s highlight, which it undoubtedly will be on Broadway as well.
 
Sweet Charity
Performances through January 9, 2017
The New Group @ Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
thenewgroup.org
 
Laura Osnes: The Roads Not Taken
Performances through November 30, 2016
54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, New York, NY
54below.com

Director Peter Berg's Illuminating Look At "Patriots Day"

Patriots Day
Directed by Peter Berg
Screenplay by Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff.

With workman-like efficiency, veteran director Peter Berg uses his latest film, Patriots Day, to provide some insight into what happened, who it affected, and how everyone reacted to the 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist bombing. This action-packed "whodunnit" offers an opportunity to make a little sense of something that should never have had to be understood. Dramatizing the dual remote explosion of two pressure cookers placed near the finish line serves several purposes — to celebrate survivors, first responders and investigators while providing a breakdown of just what took place before that day, at the bombings’ moments and the week that followed. 

patriots day posterThough he’s not a director who does things with an “arty” touch, his sure-handed work here offers enough details and nuance that makes this film a bit more than just a big-budget TV movie. From the start, stories of the essential participants — Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) and nurse Carol Saunders (Michelle Monaghan) — are interwoven as the day begins. Once the bombs explode — unflinchingly shown in graphic detail — Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) joins this visceral chronicle that suspensefully delineates the ever-expanding manhunt for the culprits. 

Included in the cast is Berg regular Mark Wahlberg as Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders — a composite of several key figures — who joins other law enforcement figures in a race against time to track down the bombers before they try again, even possibly, in New York. Though Wahlberg’s sincerity gives life to this stitched-together character, we could do without his mundane speech-ifiying.

Much to Berg’s credit, he tried to give attention to one or another detail that lends insight into most of the players, from those who died, who were maimed, and who discovered the killers, or contributed to the capture of the Tsarnaev brothers; he even examines their lives as well  including that of converted Muslim wife Katherine. But this film doesn’t delve that deeply into their motives or psychology; it instead focuses more on how the aftermath of the bombing impacted on the lives of everyone involved — and how they’ve survived ever since. 

Without being overbearing about it, Berg’s Patriots Day serves several notions so that this a film worth viewing and talking about afterwards — especially since incidents like this one keep happening. It’s no work of profundity but the more we can analyze what happened before, the better we can get at preventing future attacks.

 

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