‘Meet Kae Fujisawa, Triple Threat: Director, Actor, Playwright’

Director Kae Fujisawa (courtesy of HB Studio)

It is not often that one meets an individual who is ambitious, talented and pursues the arts after mastering a Ph.D. in another language as Kae Fujisawa has done. Indeed, academia didn’t satisfy Kae. She went on to pursue a dramatic arts career in New York City, which many hesitate to do once they discover the difficulties. Kae Fujisawa, who was born in Hokkaido, Japan, is Japanese. She speaks English with an ever-so -slight charming accent which nearly has disappeared since I met her in 2017 at HB Studio. And I can say unequivocally that she is a “Triple Threat.”

Director Kae Fujisawa in the center with the cast of 7 Shitty Hombres and playwright Ellen DeLisle (courtesy of HB Studio)

I have seen Kae’s excellent directing work at HB Studio in 2018 and 2019. At HB she took classes and workshops with some of the finest teachers in New York City. The first production I saw her direct was a scene from a full-length play The Rules of Unspoken Words. The scene was included in a collection of scenes from longer plays presented by the HB Studio Playwriting and Directing Division. At the HB Studio’s Playrights Theater, I enjoyed her excellent direction of the full-length comedy 7 Shitty Hombres by Ellen DeLisle. The humorous play, the actors and Kae’s direction received plaudits from the packed house as well as from her peers and teachers.

Director Kae Fujisawa with Therapy cast and playwright Susan Jane McDonald (courtesy of the Kae Fujisawa)

Kae’s talents directing live theater were made known to me with one of her earliest directing gambits she initiated, which she also produced via her unregistered company Theatre Borderless at the Jefferson Market Library Auditorium in 2018. The short one-act play by Anton Chekov, Swan Song, featured two actors who she shepherded so beautifully through the difficult piece, that I was impressed. I am a Drama Desk reviewer and have been an entertainment journalist for over a decade. Kae’s work struck me because Chekov can be difficult; the language is archaic. But this wasn’t a problem for her or for the actors. As a result of her direction, one of the actors gained the confidence to try out for more classical theater and after her guidance landed Shakespearean roles.

Director Kae Fujisawa (courtesy of HB Studio)

Other live theater she directed I was able to see before COVID-19 shut down New York City for almost two years. These included a Greenhouse Ensemble play that won its entry into the Greenhouse Play Festival. The playwright John Patrick Bray’s Fix was chosen for Kae to direct. With ingenuity, she was able to convey the snowy setting which amazed me. And the actors once again delivered fine performances because of her diligence and efforts.

Kae Fujisawa with the Lullaby movie cast, crew, and the co-screenplay writer and leading actress Nicole Gut (courtesy of Merciful Delusions Productions)

Kae believes in doing a lot of rehearsals if the actors’ schedules permit this. Importantly, they always are willing to accommodate the rigorous rehearsal schedule because of her easy manner, subtle discipline and high standards. Though she works very hard, she has the personality to gently guide her actors toward excellent results with great good humor and grace. I have seen this with other live productions, Therapy by Susan Jane McDonald and Lullaby by Nicole Gut. Both plays were presented at the New Short Play Festival in the John Cullum Theater. In a span of over one year Kae accomplished a tremendous amount of work and then the pandemic hit.

Kae Fujisawa as Yoko in Sketches of Happiness (courtesy of the Kae Fujisawa)
Kae Fujisawa as Yoko in Sketches of Happiness (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

That did not stop Kae. She has been even more industrious in creating opportunities for herself streaming live films and performing and directing Zoom Theatre and film. I saw her virtual streaming live productions of Falling Awake by Matthew Davis which she self-produced, Prime Real Estate by Joseph Cox for Greenhouse Ensemble and Sketches of Happiness which she wrote, cast, directed and presented for Crossways Theatre. Each of these productions revealed the same level of diligence and perceptive teasing out of the skills of the actors with delightful and profound results.

Because she had directed Lullaby the film, based on the play version, she easily negotiated presenting other productions on Zoom which is a smaller screen, but a screen nevertheless.

Poster for the film Lullaby with its listed award and nominations (courtesy of Merciful Delusions Productions)

Oftentimes, it is more difficult, because you are not always assured that the actors in their own residences have the same WiFi receptivity. So when there is live streaming, one must give attention to additional technical aspects like sound and connectivity, as well as editing, and shot composition.

Kae Fujisawa as Ella in John Gabriel Borkman (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

Kae’s enthusiasm to work in any medium allowed her to get into directing film. In film she brought the same diligence and prodigious effort that she brings to whatever artistic endeavor she accomplishes. I have never seen her efforts not pay off. The film Lullaby was nominated for a number of awards and won an award for Best Short Suspense Film at Culver City Film Festival. She also won a Best Director award for her Zoom film production of Manifesto for Manhattan Rep’s Short Film Festival.

Poster for the multi-award winning Zoom Theatre Film, Manifesto (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

In fact the production won Best Zoom Theatre Film, Best Actress, and Best Ensemble Awards in addition to the Best Director Award. Kae also edited the film, doing a yeoman’s job.

Kae Fujisawa as Mrs. Barker in The American Dream (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

When Kae is not busy directing or writing, she is acting. Most recently she appeared in The Program (Falconworks Theatre), a play, and the movie Mid Autumn (director Rraine Hanson, post production). I have not been able to see her performances except for Sketches of Happiness which she wrote and directed. She was wonderful. Her performance showed nuance, sensitivity and balance.

Kae Fujisawa as Mrs. Barker in The American Dream (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

What continually amazes me about Kae is her energy and her love of all things performance, theater, music, opera, film. The only time she was not herself occurred after she took her Moderna vaccine. In fact it was her acute description of how she felt after the vaccines that largely directed me to take the Pfizer shots for COVID. Otherwise, that is the only time I have seen Kae redirected away from her ebullience and love of the dramatic arts and film.

Kae Fujisawa as Ella in John Gabriel Borkman (courtesy of Kae Fujisawa)

Currently, Kae is working on a few projects. One of them is to direct scenes from The Berglarian, a full length comedic play which I have written inspired by true events. If things eventually settle down with the pandemic, Kae, I and the exceptional actors will continue to workshop it, do readings and perhaps pitch it to producers.

I am expecting great things from Kae Fujisawa during COVID and after. She is continually originating work and creating opportunities with others in the entertainment arts. A tremendous asset to the theater arts and film community in New York City and beyond, she will continue to be a “triple threat!”

New York Jewish Film Festival 2022: ‘We Were the Others’

'We Were the Others' written and directed by Hadas Ayalon, NY Jewish FF 2022 (courtesy of the film)
We Were the Others written and directed by Hadas Ayalon (courtesy of the film)

When the 1970 Stonewall Riots were happening in New York City and Gay Pride was taking off in other cities globally, in Israel, the situation was very different. In a remarkable documentary currently screening at the New York Jewish Film Festival 2022, in We Were the Others, filmmaker Hadas Ayalon interviews six gay men in order to slice open the discriminatory cultural mores and attitudes in 1960s and 1970s Israel. Importantly, with her pointed interviews that delve into the souls and emotions of the men, we understand the very human experience of negative acculturation. And in understanding how these men grappled with their sexual identities and finally accepted who they are, we note incredible human emotions, with which all of us may identify.

Ayalon organizes her documentary around themes, and filters through her subjects by having them discuss how they understood what their sexual identity was at an early age. Interestingly, all admit there was no language, nor was there any frame of reference in Israel for being attracted to the same sex. Indeed, these men were born in the days of the establishment of the State of Israel. Culturally and religiously, the classical values of marriage and children were an imperative to a newly forming state, though the rest of the world was changing. Nevertheless, the religious foundation for marriage and children excluded gay men and women. Indeed, gays were “the others.” They were like alien creatures that needed to be “cured,” and “corrected,” after they were jailed.

As her subjects discuss that they grew up and realized that they were attracted to the same sex, the external culture was nightmarish; they were alone. They couldn’t dare reveal the lifestyle they wanted. One individual states that walking down the street, he always keep his eyes looking at the ground, afraid to “give himself away” if he looked up at another man and showed interest.

A couple together for 40 years watching a gay pride parade. We Were the Others (courtesy of the film)

In each instance the subjects discuss that they were forced to go underground when they found out that there were others like them sexually. To have brief, silent encounters there were looks, signals and gestures as codes. There was a language being conveyed, but without words or speech. Most refer to a walkway along the beach in Tel Aviv that they frequented, but eventually the police patrolled, arrested and ousted the “criminals.” Then they went to a park where they were able to communicate and form a community eventually that led to organization, advocacy and freedom.

However, like in the U.S. in the 1940s-1950s, in Israel in the 1960s and 70s cultural mores insisted that homosexuals were perverted. In familial circles, gays were ridiculed and rejected. As many gays did, one subject, who was made fun of by his family for being effeminate, sought “normalcy.” He wanted desperately to be like other males, who were with women. He went to therapy, got married and had children. However, he was miserable; none of this stopped his desire for men. Eventually, he divorced and when the culture righted itself and being gay was no longer illegal or a great joke to laugh at, he enjoyed his life and was accepted by his family.

The documentarian makes it a point to include a few subjects who founded the Aquda, Israel’s pioneering LGBT organization established in 1975. Yotam Reuveni, journalist/author/poet, when confronted with his own fear and hypocrisy about gays revealing their preference for same sex relationships, discusses how he had a heart to heart with himself. Throwing caution to the winds, which seems like a nothing burger now, he came out in Yediot Ahronot. In a weekly series of articles, he described the how and why of his being gay and he advocated for human rights. Considering the taboo associated with homosexuality, it was a brave, necessary act that changed lives and allowed others to come out and not feel like they were monstrous in their clandestine sexual affairs and encounters.

Writer and director of We Were the Others Hadas Ayalon (courtesy of Hadas Ayalon)

In another instance of the repression involved, two of the subjects discussed how they were forced to go to another country to live without their rights being violated. One was a distinguished army officer and an aviation engineer. When it was discovered he was gay, he was summarily discharged. He emigrated to Canada. Another subject discusses his decision to leave the oppression of Israel, seeking not to live in the shadows of fear and isolation.

In order to enhance the viewers’ understanding, Ayalon uses tasteful reinactments and inter-edits archival footage from that period of time in Israel, which is superb. She also uses Amos Guttman’s gay films from the 1970s and 1980s. What is most heartbreaking is each of the men’s stories about their inner emotional sorrow and aloneness which brought some to the brink of suicide. The culture was a tormentor and after a while, living with torment daily and enduring the negation of who they were was a form of death. Thus, it was difficult to overcome the culture’s emotional brainwashing and former behaviors. Each of the men discuss how they struggled with love and intimacy after years of having to express their sexual desires in places that offered brief clandestine encounters.

It was only until 1979 when homosexual men and women formed advocacy organizations and went public, that the pressure began to be relieved. With mass demonstrations for their rights, the oppression lessened. As people identified, more joined, happy to be done with the nihilism, denial and hypocrisy of hell that the culture made them endure for so long.

Ayalon’s film is an important retrospective indicating how far we have come regarding the LGBTQ community. However, there are still nation states and even parts of the United States that are abjectly retrograde. Thus every film, every documentary, is a step in the right direction to uplift the human rights of all citizens.

We Were the Others is screening virtually. For tickets go to their website: https://virtual.filmlinc.org/tv/alone-together-followed-by-we-were-the-others/1

New York Jewish FF: ‘The Lost Film of Nuremberg’ and ‘From Where They Stood’

Hermann Wilhelm Göring, from Nuremberg: It’s Lesson For Today (courtesy of The Lost Film of Nuremberg)

Two documentaries, screening at the New York Jewish FF are must-see viewing. Both have as their subject the recording of photographic evidence of the Shoah, the Holocaust (the mass murder of Jewish people under the German Nazi regime during the period 1941–45). Considering the rise of white supremacist hate groups encouraged by the former U.S. president, these films provide an important record. Since World War II though the Holocaust has been much written about and over the decades has been the subject of movies, films, articles and plays, the Nazi atrocities in concentration camps throughout Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy and other countries, increasingly have been called into question by global Holocaust deniers.

Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today (courtesy of The Lost Film of Nuremberg)

The Lost Film of Nuremberg chronicles how veterans of the OSS War Crimes Unit, brothers Bud and Stuart Schulberg (Hollywood filmmakers under the command of OSS film chief John Ford) endured obstacles and setbacks on their mission to track down and collect film evidence of Nazi war crimes to be used at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Their work was vital if done assiduously, for it would be used to judge the war crimes of high ranking Nazi officials like Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hermann Wilhelm Göring, Albert Speer, Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg and others, and punish them if found guilty.

Justice Robert Jackson presided over the trials (courtesy of The Lost Film of Nuremberg)

The Schulberg’s collection of Nazi films was used with testimony, documentation and the filmed proceedings of the Nuremberg trials to create Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today. Thus, The Lost Film of Nuremberg shows the discoveries and angst the Schulbergs went through to create the superb pro-democracy film Nuremberg: Its Lesson For Today. It was released in 1948 throughout Germany, but it was never seen in the United States until a decade ago. Indeed, for over sixty years it had been “lost.”

Director/writer Christoph Klotz adapts daughter Sandra Schulberg’s monoaph, Filmmakers for the Prosecution to make The Lost Film of Nuremberg a stirring and exciting revelation about a chaotic period of time after WW II. Klotz includes tidbits from Schulberg’s perspective in letters to his wife. This material is provided by daughter Sandra. What makes the film more intriguing is the inclusion of Sandra’s perspective of her father and this commission which she only discovered after her mom died and she was cleaning out their home.

The defendants at the Nuremberg Trial, Palace of Justice (courtesy of The Lost Film of Nuremberg)

Klotz uses flashback liberally with narration by Sarah-Jane Sauvegrain to tie in the past and the present. Thus, we see clips of the youthful brothers examining Nazi film they’ve received. We hear/see Stuart’s letters to his wife detailing the journey to Germany and his impressions the to find films that the Nazis themselves produced. Stuart (the youngest member of the OSS Team) and brother Bud learned early on that the film they were making must be a compilation of actual films recording the words and deeds of the defendants. Thus, the incriminating films would be used to convict them.

Sandra learns salient details why her Dad’s “lost Nuremberg film,” edited and finalized in 1948 was created. It was to be shown in Germany and Europe for educational purposes. The intent was for the de-Nazification of the attitudes and mores of citizens after the war. It was also to show the difference between Allied Justice leveled against those committing crimes against humanity and Nazi Justice which was no justice if you were not a member of the Third Reich. Sandra’s eyes were opened to another side of her father’s vital work, for surely though it didn’t receive public release, other filmmakers knew of it and the archival Nazi films used to make it. These provided the linchpin around which subsequent films about the Holocaust would be made.

From Lennie Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (courtesy of The Lost Film of Nuremberg)

Klotz adds rare, never-before-seen footage, and reveals why the film was never released in the United States. Also, he includes Sandra’s reflections about what her father must have felt upon seeing the horrors of the camps as a young man. Klotz includes commentary of the older, retired Bud Schulberg giving a lecture about the subject of the film and why the Nazis made incriminating films of disturbing and horrific images. However, other films and Nazi evidence, buildings and documents were destroyed. The Nazis intended to escape justice, which many did, leaving Germany for the US, South America and other safe havens.

In The Lost Film of Nuremberg, Klotz relates the story of how German film director Lennie Riefenstahl was arrested and became a witness for the prosecution. Her propaganda film Triumph of the Will was created for Hitler’s use. The film identified various Nazi officials at Hitler rallies and it also evidenced Hitler’s plans. Another helpful individual was Hitler’s personal photographer Heinrich Hoffman, who had 12,000 negatives they used, after he was picked up, arrested and questioned.

As a result of the film evidence, the 19 out of 22 high ranking members of the Third Reich at Nuremberg were found guilty. Only three were acquitted. The other19 were either executed (Göring committed suicide) or received life or lesser sentences for committing crimes against humanity.

The Lost Film of Nuremberg is screening at 1 pm and 7 pm on 13 January at Lincoln Center, the Walter Reade Theater. Q & As with the director and producer Sandra Schulberg are also on that date. For tickets go to https://www.filmlinc.org/films/the-lost-film-of-nuremberg/

(courtesy of From Where They Stood)

From Where They Stood is French documentarian Christophe Cognet’s unadorned and acute investigation of rare secret photos taken by prisoners in various concentration camps at great risk to their lives. They did this in the hope of documenting the atrocities they witnessed from spring 1943 to the fall of 1944. Examining the negatives carefully with a magnifying glass, Cognet visits the camps where the prisoners took the film and then either buried it to dig it up later or sent it out in a package. Some negatives came with a description that was revealed after the liberation of the prisoners who then wrote down the information. Other photos are of portraits of prisoners with no explanation or names sitting against the barracks. Others are of crematoria.

Many of the photos elucidate and confirm life and atrocities in various camps: Dachau, Buchenwald, Mittelbau-Dora, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz-Birkenau. With a translator, Cognet visits the camps and adjusts the photo negatives so that the viewer can see how the photo depicts what the location looked like. Verified are crematories, burn pits where bodies were disintegrated as much as possible. Interestingly, the bone fragments are present to this day, leaving a record of the great crimes of murder. The bone fragments to the surface after a heavy rainfall.

Unlike The Lost Film of Nuremberg, there is no music or narration or attempt to thread the places together. We hear just the silence of footsteps crunching against the walkways and the sound of birds chirping in the background. The simplicity is haunting and one realizes one is viewing a graveyard where many innocents suffered because they were considered enemies of the Third Reich.

A woman from Ravensbrück showing her injury from being experimented on (courtesy of From Where They Stood)

Cognet also includes negatives which document Sonderkommandos (usually Jewish prisoners who pulled out the naked bodies from the gas chambers and piled them on carts taking them to the crematories) stand in front of a massive pile of bodies to dispose of and burn. Additionally, women who had been used for experiments (referred to as rabbits) also pose for the camera showing the areas of their body where they’ve been experimented on. Reference is made to one experiment: a gash is made and gas gangrene is encouraged by injecting a bacillus into the site. The wound is left untreated to see the progress of the gangrene.

Because Cognet uses straight cinema verite style, the effect of the prisoners’ photographs of the past paralleled with the locations of those places in the camps in the present is stark and shocking. The posting of the enlarged negatives at the location allows the viewer to see what the prisoner saw, to stand in his or her shoes. Indeed, it leaves one numb to consider the risk these individuals, took to sneak out the film to document what was going on so the world would know. For this film Cognet’s minimalism to just see what is in the photograph is remarkable.

From Where They Stood is screening virtually from 14-19 January. For tickets go to https://www.filmlinc.org/films/from-where-they-stood/

The Lost Film of Nuremberg is screening at 1 pm and 7 pm on 13 January at Lincoln Center, the Walter Reade Theater. Q & As with the director and producer Sandra Schulberg are also on that date. For tickets go to https://www.filmlinc.org/films/the-lost-film-of-nuremberg/

New York Jewish FF 2022: ‘Sin La Habana’ review

Evelyn O’farrill and Yonah Acosta between takes of Sin La Habana at the Callejón de Hamel in Havana. Evelyn wears a cloth representing Ochún (the goddess of love and fertility) around her neck.” – Kaveh Nabatian (courtesy of the FB page for Nabatian’s film Sin La Habana)

Sin La Habana, the award winning narrative feature, exceptionally written and directed by Kaveh Nabatian, who also wrote the original music, is a beautifully layered film that completely engages from the opening shot to the uncertain ending. Sin La Habana is enjoying its New York premiere as the Centerpiece film at the New York Jewish Film Festival 2022. The NYJFF 2022 is being presented live and virtually from January 12-25, 2022. For tickets and scheduling see the last paragraph of this review.

The haunting, profound, poetic cinematography by Juan Pablo Ramirez, and the acutely thoughtful editing by Sophie Leblond intrigues us to the story arc of a Cuban ballet dancer and his lawyer girlfriend who loathe La Habana, Cuba. The city of Havana (in Spanish Habana) holds little promise for them, amidst the broken down buildings, squalid impoverished settings and lack of progress evidenced from Fidel Castro’s dictatorship and the decades long U.S. embargo. Leo and Sara envision a better life for themselves elsewhere, but their first world destination country in a time of global immigration restrictions leaves their only route of escape to be marriage to foreigners.

Evelyn O’farrill as Sara in Sin La Habana directed by Kaveh Nabatian (courtesy of the FB page for Nabatian’s film Sin La Habana)

Leonardo (the excellent ballet dancer/actor Yonah Acosta Gonzalez) is the best dancer in the company where he performs, but he can’t catc,h a break for the star role as Romeo because of his “lack of humility,” says the director of the company whom he accuses of racism, and who fires him after he curses the director out. His girlfriend Sara, who is a daughter of Orisha (both Leo and Sara are practitioners of the West African religion of Babalawo which in Cuba resembles Santeria or Vodun) is as ambitious as Leo. Their high expectations and confidence in themselves lead them away from La Habana to achieve material success and new identities, though it will mean leaving their cultural heritage back in La Habana. Their decision is filled with risks, isolation and heartbreak; but with each other, they believe new possibilities are at their fingertips with their talents and skills.

We note that throughout Sin La Habana, Leo always prays and keeps in touch with his faith, practicing it as best he can through his memory when he lives in Canada, “without the influences of La Habana,” the music of the ceremonies, the rituals and the divination which at the beginning of the film he relies upon for guidance. Through flashbacks of Leo’s religious practice in La Habana, Nabatian reveals the importance of Leo’s faith every time he endures a setback on the journey to his dreams. To maintain the connection to hope, he has endowed an object of his goals, a beautiful, crystal clear, large marble as a symbol of affirmation that his dreams will come true.

Yonah Acosta Gonzalez in Sin La Habana (courtesy of the FB page for Nabatian’s film Sin La Habana)

Inspired and persuaded by Sara, Leo works their plan to leave La Habana by sparking the interest of Nasim (the Iranian Canadian Aki Yaghoubi) during his Salsa dance classes for tourists at a Parador (house in La Habana set up for the tourist trade). Leo looks for wisdom from his previous divination sessions with the Babalawo priests and strikes out for a relationship with Nasim, whom he keeps in touch with after she returns to Montreal, Canada.

Though Leo is not particularly interested in Sara’s plan to continue the seduction and marriage to Nasim, he communicates to Nasim even writing down the words Sara tells him that will touch Nasim’s heart. Sara’s words do encourage Nasim. She pays for Leo’s way to Montreal and his expenses until he can find a job with a ballet company. They live together in a house of Nasim’s friend which she has agreed to stay in and watch over while her friend is away. Eventually, Leo discovers Nasim’s backstory; she, too, is an artist; however, he remains unaware of her secret plan for her life.

Yonah Acosta Gonzalez in Sin La Habana (courtesy of the FB page for Nabatian’s film Sin La Habana)

As Leo and Nasim become closer, he tries to maintain his connection with Sara and his religion but it is difficult and Nasim is opposed to him practicing it, though she says it’s because he can’t mess anything up in the house of her friend. While Sara waits for him to earn enough money to send for her, she fears he will disappear in Montreal into a new life with his new girlfriend Nasim. Leo’s fortune changes and he experiences a setback after he bombs out of dance auditions, first with a ballet company, then with a maverick, new wave dance company. At a club with Nasim, he meets a fellow Cuban who hooks him up with a job and a plan to bring over Sara by marrying her off.

At this point complications arise and the risk that both Sara and Leo take intensifies. Leo meets up with Nasim’s parents and runs into racist attitudes from Nasim’s father who is disappointed that his daughter didn’t stay with her X husband who she divorced because he abused her. Nasim seeks another life away from the strict upbringing of her parents and the types of potential husbands that she would meet at the synagogue. Not only is Leo exciting, he is the epitome of the opposite of her former husband; her rebellion pleases her and she intends to make that rebellion permanent, unbeknownst to Leo, her parents and her siblings.

Meanwhile, Sara, marries Julio (Leo’s friend) and goes to Montreal. Leo and Sara see each other. Upset by Leo’s long time away from the house, Nasim turns detective and discovers Leo’s mail exchanges to Sara. Through Nasim’s expert detective work she discovers Sara is in Montreal. Meanwhile, Leo has lost his symbolic dream token, his pure marble which signifies that perhaps he has subverted his culture, his dream and the individual he wishes to be via his faith. All three stand on a precipice with no way forward except to plunge into uncertainty stoked by each other who they eventually must confront.

Evelyn O’farrill as Sara in Sin La Habana directed by Kaveh Nabatian (courtesy of the FB page for Nabatian’s film Sin La Habana)

Nabatian’s screenplay realized through Ramirez’s cinematic ingenuity and Le Blond’s editing of close-ups, blurred montages of color, black and white shots of Leo dancing solo, contrasted with closeups of each of the characters provide an ethereal connection with this cultural world we are not familiar with. The director’s vision is fascinating, beautiful and surreal, as he reflects the minds of the individuals, especially Leo’s struggles at defining himself in place and time. The director also gradually reveals the plots of each of the individuals separate and apart from each other. Highlighting their perspectives and relationship to each other, the result is always surprising along the arc of each of the character’s developments.

Aki Yaghoubi portrays Nasim in Sin La Habana (courtesy of the FB page for Nabatian’s film Sin La Habana)

The music throughout is lyrical, the rituals of Babalawo are rhythmic and the dance scenes are engaging. All of these musical and ritualistic scenes contrasted with the classical ballet add to the haunting portraits of Sara, Leo and Nasim who pursue their own journeys. We empathize with the paths Leo and Sara have chosen as they try to settle far from La Habana, carried by their hopes and memories. Likewise, the scene where Nasim is at her sister’ son’s Briss is revelatory; we empathize with Nasim’s plight as she must deal with her father’s viewpoint of her divorce and present partner, Leo. The characters’ journeys are wonderfully manifested by the performances, the cinematic compositions of each frame, the editing, music, overall design, all with a nod to Nabatian’s direction.

Nabatian’s artistry coupled with the talented crafting by Ramirez and Leblond and the actors’ heart-felt performances create a memorable film deserving of it awards. It is being shown in person at the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th St.) at Lincoln Center, Monday, January 17, 4:00pm. This is definitely a must see. For tickets and scheduling to the New York Jewish Film Festival go to their website at: https://www.filmlinc.org/festivals/new-york-jewish-film-festival/

New York Botanical Garden’s GLOW and The Holiday Train Show® Are Not to be Missed

Coney Island, New York City replicas, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
Coney Island, New York City replicas, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
Grand Central Terminal and NY train station replicas, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)

The winter season is in full swing with the NYBG’s 30th Year Milestone Celebration of The Holiday Train Show® (Saturday, November 20, 2021 – Sunday, January 23, 2022 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.)

The beautiful exhibit which features over 1 mile of train track and a 360 degree surround space in an added gallery is a favorite of New Yorkers. This year’s show features new additions to its collection which now number over 191 miniature structures of New York City and New York State landmarks.

Once again as part of the Train Show on a new combination ticket is the expanded light exhibit GLOW. As the sun sets and the moon rises on select dates, family and friends can wander through the Garden’s festively illuminated landscape and enjoy the 1.5 mile color-and-light extravaganza that begins at 5 pm and ends at 10 p.m.

NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)

Tickets are available for the following dates: Thursday, December 23, Sunday, December 26 – Thursday, December 30. In January, these dates are available: Saturday, January 1, January 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22.

NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)

When you buy your combination ticket for NYBG GLOW and the Holiday Train Show® expect to be dazzled on two fronts. Indoors, you will enjoy the shimmering lights that ethereally pierce through the foliage of lovely plantings and New York replicas of Applied Imagination’s architectural structures perfectly arranged so that a variety of old model trains, trolleys, whimsical streetcars can speed by the miniature iconic New York landmarks.

Leading into the NYBG The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
Lining up to enter NYBG The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
Belevadere Castle in the Central Park Display, NYBG The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG, The Holiday Train Show®
Edgar Allen Poe cottage in the Bronx, 1 mile from the Garden, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)

And along the outer garden pathways, you will be entranced by the beauty of the striking colors projected against the landscape of trees, bushes and buildings forming colorful patterns of light against the shadows. I went on a moonlit night and the effect was spectacular.

For The Holiday Train Show® look for the new additions celebrating the 30th year of the exhibit.

LuEsther T. Mertz Library, Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life, John J. Hoffee Tulip Tree Allee, NYBG The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)

Showcased are the replicas of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building, the Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life, and the John J. Hoffee Tulip Tree Allee, collectively designated a New York City Landmark in 2009. The Allee that leads up to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library is comprised of four rows of distinguished native trees that were planted beginning in 1903 and have grown to a great height.

Laura Busse Dolan, the CEO of Applied Imagination who created the replicas for The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)

When I spoke to NYBG staff and Laura Busse Dolan, the CEO of Applied Imagination, she mentioned that the Tulip Tree Allee replica in front of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building are live topiary myrtle trees very ingeniously sculpted to scale.

LuEsther T. Mertz Library, Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life, John J. Hoffee Tulip Tree Allee, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)

The Mertz Library is the most important botanical and horticultural library in the world. It houses more than 11 million archival items spanning 10 centuries. In a style reminiscent of a Roman Baroque palace and capped with a green copper dome, architect Robert Gibson designed the striking building in 1901.

Detail of the John J. Hoffee Tulip Tree Allee, constructed of live myrtle topiaries, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
LuEsther T. Mertz Library, Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life, John J. Hoffee Tulip Tree Allee, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)

The Applied Imagination miniature is constructed with natural materials; the facade is made of horse chestnut bark, representing the structure’s stone blocks. Accented by mahogany pods, cinnamon pods and black walnuts (donated by a patron of NYBG) the replica is a beauty in its own right, worthy of the 900 to 1000 hours for its fabrication.

LuEsther T. Mertz Library in the distance in NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)
LuEsther T. Mertz Library in the distance in NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)

A part of the display, The Goldman Fountain of Life is the dramatic composition of mythical figures in front of the Library. American Renaissance sculptor Charles E. Tefft designed the fountain in 1905. It was restored in 2005, 100 years later. Like the real fountain, the replica mirrors the Beaux-Arts sculptures including charging seahorses, a lively nymph and a startled mermaid and merman. These figures are covered in tobacco leaves with grape vine tendrils for their hair. Incredibly, the fountain’s basin is created from large shelf fungus.

Detail, The Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life, in front of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, NYBG The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)

Some interesting facts about the structures featured in this year’s exhibit that you may not know are as follows. The Lillian and Amy Goldman Stone Mill, one of my favorite NYBG buildings dates around 1840 and can be rented out for weddings and other catered affairs. It was designated a New York City Landmark in 1966 and a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Applied Imagination’s team used tobacco leaves, cork, alder seeds, grape vine tendrils, and Brazilian and turkey tail fungi to the replica.

Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory features prominently on the other side of the display with the LuEsther Mertz Library Building. The Conservatory which is also a New York City Landmark is considered one of the most superb glasshouses of its time. Lord & Burnham Company completed its construction in 1902. Comprised of 11 interconnected galleries that feature different habitats and plant specimens from around the world, the conservatory also features seasonal galleries, presenting annual floral displays and special exhibitions highlighting world renowned artists. The replica finished in 2014 was constructed of birch bark, cinnamon bark curls, wheat husks and acorn caps. The cupola rests on a ring of large pine cone scales and is topped by a mahogany seedpod and lotus seedpod. If you take the time to look closely, you will recognize these plant parts and gain a new appreciation of the genius Applied Imagination manifests in is miniature structures.

NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)
Dimming out, NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)

The NYBG The Holiday Train Show® has included the seven bridges around the New York City area. Model trains and trolleys trundle along the tracks along the train trestles. the tallest replica is The Brooklyn Bridge that comes in at 16 feet. Even Hell’s Gate Bridge is included.

There are seven bridges; in NYBG The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)

Downtown Wall Street area is one of the favored exhibits that New Yorkers enjoy seeing as the recognize the iconic buildings which include the Woolworth Building, the ferry building, the Oculus and One World Trade Center. The Staten Island Ferry and Statue of Liberty replicas are recognizable globally.

Downtown exhibit, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
The ferries and the ferry building, NYBG The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
Downtown New York City, another view, NYBG, The Holiday Train Show® (Carole Di Tosti)
NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)
Leon Levy Center, Gift and Plant shop, NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)
The conservatory in NYBG GLOW (12/23, 26-30, 1, 6-8, 14, 15, 21,22) (Carole Di Tosti)

NYBG’s 30th Year Milestone Celebration of The Holiday Train Show® on a combination ticket with GLOW runs from (Thursday December 23, 2021 – Sunday, January 23, 2022 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.) For tickets and times (and by now, you should purchase a membership, you know you always wanted to) go to their website by CLICKING HERE.

‘Company’ A Sensational, Triumphant Revival

The Broadway cast of Company (Matthew Murphy)

Five days before his passing on November 26th, and almost two weeks after the long awaited Broadway opening of director Marianne Elliott’s West End transfer of Company to Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Stephen Sondheim discussed the revitalization and revision of Company’s updated music and lyrics (with book by George Furman and additional dialogue taken from his work). During this time when many question the direction of theater going forward, we need to remember Sondheim’s parting words.

“What keeps theater alive is the chance always to do it differently, with not only fresh casts, but fresh viewpoints. It’s not just a matter of changing pronouns (related to the protagonist gender switch from Bobby to Bobbie) but attitudes.”

Beyond refreshing, the revival of Company is thought-provoking, expansive and groundbreaking. The female character update of Bobbie (the entrancing, adorable Katrina Lenk in a full on bravura performance) is the linchpin around which five couples revolve and have their being, conceptualized in Bobbi’s mind. As the ironic magnifier and savvy observer of her friends’ relationships, during Bobbi’s quest for herself, the shibboleths of marriage, divorce, partnerships, love and their attendant fears and isolations become exposed with LOL insights and revelations. Then, Bobbie kicks herself clear of them.

Katrina Lenk in Company (Brinkoff Moegenburg)

Bobbie’s “surprise” thirty-fifth birthday, which her friends hold for her at her apartment initiates the conflict and sets Bobbie musing about herself at “35,” after she listens to their phone messages “spilling the beans” about the party. These are her crazy friends, her company which has been imprinted in our minds with the neon signage “Company” vibrant against the dark before the musical begins.

As her “company” emerges from the recesses of her mind arriving with gifts “she won’t like,” as they humorously excuse their selections telling her to “return them,” they importune her. They underscore how they love her and need her in their lives, singing over and over the searing refrain “Bobbie baby, Bobbie Bubi, etc.” (the phenomenal titular song “Company”). Only when she tells them to, do they wish her “Happy Birthday,” but she can’t blow out the candles of her cake with them watching, ever.

The neon lights in the lettering and bars that swiftly form into frames around the rooms in hers or her friends’ apartments (flashback events) are symbolic and thematically clever, carrying throughout the musical. They suggest the compartments in her mind which consider the strictures binding the couples’ relationships as she reflects about who they are, what they mean to her and whether she wants to be married like them, as they insist she be.

Katrina Lenk as Bobbie in Company (Matthew Murphy)

A square neon box frames Bobbie’s grey one-room kitchen in her NYC apartment where the couples crowd in like in the Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera as she doesn’t make a wish for a husband and the candles don’t go out on the cake when she tries to blow them out. For some of the couples, Bobbie visits later in the musical, the neon boxes symbolically underscore that the couple has placed their lives in their own defined “box,” confined, without freedom. For Peter (Greg Hildreth) and Susan (Rashidra Scott) the definitions and ties that bind are inextricable, even after they divorce.

Thanks to Elliott’s conceptualizations effected by her technical team (Bunny Christie {scenic design} Neil Austin {lighting design} Chris Fisher {illusions}) the clever, sliding neon staging (frames, lettering) becomes the driving force/development of the musical as we realize that the frames contain Bobbie’s reflections about herself in the company of her friends who are married and who push the institution on her to be as “happy,” as they are in their quasi misery and resentment of her freedom as a single person in New York City.

Additionally, Elliott uses door frames as a set backdrop for the men she has relationships with, all of them well built and gorgeous, but of a superficial type. These include the dim flight attendant Andy (the riotous Claybourne Elder) the nice Theo (Manu Narayan) the young, hip PJ (Bobby Conte). Each get to harangue Bobbie superlatively in the “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” ironic song and dance number choreographed by Liam Steel. Interestingly, they do not see Bobbie for who she is, perhaps, because she doesn’t want to be seen for they wouldn’t accept it.

(L to R): Claybourne Elder, Manu Narayan, Bobby Conte in Company (Matthew Murphy)

The question of safety and security in a relationship, dependence upon a man, the need to be nurturing and maternal by becoming a mother are thrown into chaotic array during Sondheim’s incredible exploration of Bobbie’s inner self, as she expresses her need to define herself beyond the traditional folkways which her friends have unequivocally embraced and expect her to as well. Importantly, we note her journey on this increasingly dire thirty-fifth birthday (check out the sinister balloon in Act 2) in flashback vignettes prompted by songs which reveal her perspective of the couples’ relationships as she questions their experiences pegged against her own choice to be single.

Katrina Lenk as Bobbie in Company (Matthew Murphy)

The songs and cast are spectacular without any dead spots to slumber the audience. Highlights occur as Bobbie visits with each couple and we find out Bobbie’s perceptions about these crazies. Indeed, they are fortunate they have her love as Lenk’s Bobbie is charismatic and sweet, though probing, traits which belie her courage, independence and questing heart for a worthy partner who will really “get her.”

With Harry and Sarah in a comfortable living room, boxed in the defined neon frame, Christopher Sieber is Harry, a “recovering” alcoholic who slides a drink down his throat when no one is looking. Jennifer Simard is Sarah who exercises on chairs and sofas to continue her weight loss regimen while scarfing a brownie or two quickly in secret openness because she’s (emotionally) “starved.” This couple’s scene reaches the height of hysteria as both compete in a wrestling match with each other, while Joanne (the unparalleled Patti Lupone) serenades their gyrations, blocks and flips, ironically singing “The Little Things You do Together” which adds “fun” to the marriage.

Lupone’s assurance about “the neighbors you annoy together, children you destroy together that keep marriage intact,” with Sieber’s and Simard’s enthusiasm for felling each other with each toppling twist more extreme than the next is well choreographed, paced and utterly priceless. As the other couples in Bobbie’s company sing their “wisdom” (“people that you hate together, bait together, date together make marriage a joy”) we note the evolution of Bobbie’s singularity and marriage avoidance. The couples’ sardonic refrain “shouting ’til you’re hoarse together, getting a divorce together that make perfect relationships,” closes out the song with a directed punchline of “kiss kiss.”

(L to R): Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Katrina Lenk, Patti Lupone in Company (Matthew Murphy)

As Bobbie thanks Sarah and Harry for an “entertaining” evening, her quest bubbles up and she asks Harry about regretting his marriage. His, David’s (Christopher Fitzgerald) and Larry’s (Terence Archie’s) reply in the lovely and humorous “Sorry-Grateful” confuses Bobbie with its opaque conflicting uncertainty: “Why look for answers where none occur? You’ll always be what you always were. Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.”

From the husbands’ perspective in their marriages, there’s terrible regret intermingled with gratefulness which puts Bobbie no closer to defining her life differently than she already has. Being single is the best selection for her at this point in her 35th year review, but she acknowledges that despite her “company” wanting to introduce her to someone in “Have I Got a Guy for You,” she must choose for herself, a combination of the men she has gone out with and the someone out there just for her, “Someone Is Waiting.”

Matt Doyle in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Bobbie’s fear and confusion about marriage referenced by her zany friends is paralleled with Jamie’s in the vignette of Jamie and Paul’s marriage preparations. In Jamie and Paul’s kitchen, dressed in white for their wedding, Jamie has a panic attack and refuses to go through with it. As Jamie, Matt Doyle is riotous in his lightening speed delivery, spewing out his terror to Bobbie’s listening ear.

(L to R): Etai Benson, Matt Doyle in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Doyle is letter perfect, articulate, not dropping one word, making “Getting Married Today” a show stopping number that raises the stakes for Bobbie whose reply is “Marry Me a Little,” which Lenk sings with sylph-like tenderness and beauty. Her adjurations along with the couples popping out of various doors in Jamie and Paul’s kitchen appliances, another brilliantly funny feature, help stir Jamie back into Paul’s arms. Elliott has outdone herself in the direction, pacing and staging of this scene which Lenk, Doyle and the “company” perform to perfection.

By the time Act II rolls around, the balloon “35” is hugely sinister, almost crowding out Bobbie from her kitchen, and the lighting shifts to a Satanic reddish glow. As she attempts to get rid of the balloon, questions in her conflict continue: where is her life heading and who can she mentor when her friends are wacko? Jamie comments they are different,, that she is afraid of not getting married, when indeed, he has misread her; as she tells him, we feel the same about marriage. But when he marries, this, too, proves he is following in the footsteps of their friends, the coupled company. She is solo and alone. This may be a good thing, for as her company has sung, it is not that being a couple prevents alonenness, it just magnifies that in a couple one is more alone. The questions continue, who is Bobbie like and why are these individuals her “friends?”

Katrina Lenk, Claybourne Elder in Company (Matthew Murphy)

Andy is a possible marriage partner, until after sex, she realizes what their marriage would be like. The extraordinary sequence begins with “Poor Baby” sung by the couples projecting her “deficiency” as a single person, but actually envious of her freedom to be with many partners, in this instance Andy. It ends in “Barcelona,” where Bobbie convinces Andy to stay longer delaying his trip to Barcelona. How Elliott paces the scene with humor, coordinating the triptych of action that morphs to the scene when in bed she envisions her life (“Tick Tock”) haplessly drain its vibrancy into vapidity with Andy if she marries him. “Tick Tock,” unfolds as wives standing in for Bobbie, dressed in similar red outfits, go through various robotic motions of her marriage with Andy: routines of work, children, the drudgery, housewifery, etc. And thus, with him she watches as married, her life ebbs away into nothingness. But as a love partner, he’s just fine (“Barcelona”).

To top off her understanding of what she would become, Joanne spells it out for her toasting to the squandering of her own life in the iconic song Lupone steps into with grace, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” This is another show stopper; the night I saw it, the audience cheered for about 2 minutes while Lupone waited as Joanne with wry “dissatisfaction,” because Joanne has a lot more to say and do and the clapping interfered. Lupone configures the dour, lush as part kid, part sadist, part ironist and altogether vulnerable in her sardonic snappishness. She is just grand.

(L to R): Patti Lupone, Katrina Lenk in Company (Matthew Murphy)

As she portrays what Bobbie will become married (her fourth time) she duns the idea of Bobbie getting hitched, with some of the funniest lines that Lupone expertly delivers with wit and pace. Interestingly, Larry (Terence Archie) reveals who controls and who gets the blessing from their union by the end of the song. When Joanne suggests that Bobbie and Larry “make it” Bobbie says “make what?” Indeed, at Joanne’s control, Bobbie would “take care of Larry.” Once again, Bobbie charmingly side-steps her friend’s manipulation, as she has side-stepped all her friends’ manipulations and influence with distractions and silence. In this instance, Bobbie cleverly replies, “but who will take care of me?” Joanne replies bluntly attempting the drunk’s insult, but Bobbie proves herself a sophisticate with humor, a high emotional IQ, disarmingly, subtly. It is a fantastic scene revealing the inner character of Joanne, Larry and Bobbie which Lupone, Archie and Lenk smack down with precision.

Joanne and Larry have presented an unwittingly convincing portrait of what their marriage is like and what marriage could be like for Bobbie, however uncertain and tripped up with problems, issues and unhappiness. And after acutely watching them, she arrives at the understanding that “alone is alone, not alive.” And unbounded with just herself and the darkness behind her, outside of any neon frame of bondage, Lenk’s Bobbie opens herself: “somebody let me come through, I’ll always be there, as frightened as you, to help us survive, being alive, being alive, being alive.”

(L to R): Rashidra Scott, Katrina Lenk, Greg Hildreth in Company (Brinkoff Moegenburg)

Lenk delivers an incredible moment, beautifully sung with heartfelt emotion and joy. And then it rains on her, proving it doesn’t matter what she does: it rains on the just and unjust. Though her “company” has attempted to control and influence her, her life’s decisions are wholly hers. She will be happy apart from their influence; she has that strength to know the difference and she has an incredible sense of humor which we have been watching through her flashback “frames” of neon reference.

In the end scene Bobbie leans against the proscenium outside the neon frame of her kitchen as in the first scene all her company crams in waiting and wondering “where” she is. The musical has been a reverie and an evolution toward affirming what the picture frames of her friends have shown her. She is her own person. After they wait for her, realizing the surprise party is over, they have the good sense to leave. Only then, alone, Bobbie is able to blow out the candles of her cake after making a wish, a wish that only Bobbie will ever know.

Katrina Lenk in Company (Ahmed Klink)

Elliott’s and Sondheim’s updated conceptualizations can be taken as far as the inner eye can see, into immutable human truths and modern trends of how women shape their being today. Unfortunately, some will not get this revival of Company which is smashing and with a female protagonist, audacious and courageous. What effrontery to show Bobbie with a smile on her face at the end when she alone blows out her candles without her “company” watching, carping and “wishing” for her. Such a simple yet profound look/gesture indicates Bobbie is satisfied with herself for being who she is. Indeed, this sly, smart, engaging protagonist might actually love herself, as she has shown throughout with her wry, ironic, humorous selection of crazy-funny portraits of her “company” “determining” her life for her. What an end stop to this wonderful, humorous treasure of a Sondheim revival.

The score with music supervision and music direction by Joel Fram soars into the heavens. Kudos to all creatives aforementioned which made this revival praiseworthy in its ethereal conceptualization of Bobbie’s interior being. For all of the cast, nothing more can be added except they seamlessly flowed as a “company,” thanks to the shepherding of their director Marianne Elliott. Company should be witnessed a number of times because all in the cast mirror “being alive” onstage. God, they are so on point!

Company should be seen at least twice. There is so much to see or to miss the first time around. Some audience members mentioned the night I was there that this was their second or third outing. That’s about right for this production which is written in the stars thanks to Sondheim’s forward thinking encouragement to revise, expand and deepen. This production should be digitally recorded. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ a Family Musical Comedy That Is Present and Sorely Needed

Jenn Gambatese and Rob McClure in Mrs. Doubtfire directed by Jerry Zaks (Joan Marcus)

It is to the credit of the producers and creative team that they have taken another approach to the iconic 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire (starring beloved Robin Williams) by enhancing its vibrant situational humor with emotional musical resonance in an adaptation currently on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Thankfully, Doubtfire (music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick; book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell) reminds us of the vitality of timeless verities, unity despite division, love despite differences, compromise toward the best solutions possible. Mrs. Doubtfire reveals that with love and faith all things can work together. And a sense of humor helps.

How the actors, director, technical team configured the book and music to emphasize these themes is the focus of this reviewer. If you are looking to be entertained by Doubtfire opprobrium, stop reading now. I thought the production of Mrs. Doubtfire, shepherded by the always fine director Jerry Zaks, hits its mark. Audiences are loving it, if critics are twisting its worth unjustly and inanely to make it their footstool to appear “clever” and in vogue.

(L to R): J. Harrison Ghee, Rob McClure, Brad Oscar in Mrs. Doubtfire, directed by Jerry Zaks (Joan Marcus)

Based on the titular Twentieth Century Studios Motion Picture, the Broadway adaptation deepens the comedy and characterizations of Daniel, Miranda and the children with its musical numbers (“I Want to be There,” “What the Hell,” “Let Go”). In these we understand the emotional price and the grind that a family endures in the grip of a painful divorce when it is too arduous to work through the seemingly limitless difficulties.

Lydia, the eldest daughter, leads the ensemble, Miranda and Daniel to expose the conflict between her parents and indicate how it is derailing all of their lives. This happens during a photograph sitting Miranda has arranged in the hope of cataloguing the kids’ ages. Daniel upends Miranda’s wish for a family photo when his shenanigans, which are funny and endearing, work the opposite effect on Miranda and ultimately destroy the photographer’s camera, disappearing any chance for a photo. Lydia (the excellent, on-point Analise Scarpaci) and the others note the handwriting on the wall and imminent divorce in the opening song “What’s Wrong With This Picture.”

(L to R): Kaleigh Cronin, Casey Garvin, Brad Oscar, Erica Mansfield, Rob McClure, Jaquez Andre Sims, J. Harrison Ghee, Alena Watters, Cameron Adams, Aaron Kaburick, Calvin L. Cooper in Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

The irony is that Miranda wants a reassuring picture of a happy family, and Daniel, despite himself, is not able to give that photo, representative of the family she wants. Both parents are disunited, not in sync, skewed. One is reminded of the Facebook photos people post of themselves, i.e. the “wildly loving couple” who behind closed doors, is completely miserable. Fronting on Facebook and inciting jealousy in their “friends” is the only modicum of happiness they can suck out of the relationship which is doomed.

Likewise, the symbolism of the scene and the song are clear; the differences between this couple run deep into life approaches and right brain, left brain schematics. Miranda is organized and ambitious, intending to be her own entrepreneur. Daniel, a voice actor is highly imaginative, creative, his own person and all heart. The kids are the bridge, but instead of being the way to cross over and make the most of each parent’s attributes to benefit the family dynamic, the “adults” exploit the kids who become the linchpin to make each other miserable, incapable of navigating productive “family” roles and interactions. Each sees the other as “obstructive” and wants the other to be more like their own perspective of a “Dad” and a “Mom.” Their inflexibility is ultimately self-destructive and as in many families makes divorce inevitable.

(L to R): Avery Sell, Jake Ryan Flynn, Analise Scarpaci, Jenn Gambatese, Rob McClure in Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

Lydia gets it; her parents and siblings are in denial; the ensemble concurs in the refrain. Daniel is belittled and made to appear unfit by Miranda who casts herself in the role of mother superior, a termagant. She ironically justifies herself, placing the blame on Daniel’s behavior, annoyed that “he” has made her into the woman she “swore she’d never be.” Clearly, both are revving each other’s engines and are at fault, but circumstance, Daniel’s fears and Miranda’s overwrought nature lay the brunt of the fault at Daniel’s door, and he accepts this, a clue to his heart and future flexibility to change.

When he breaks her rules by taking the kids out of school to have a birthday party for son Christopher (the appropriately gangly, awkward Jake Ryan Flynn) and a stripper shows up by mistake, Miranda is provoked beyond forgiveness. It will take a miracle for Miranda to ever compromise with Daniel again. Thus, the set up for the miracle of Mrs. Doubtfire is born after the divorce is finalized by the end of the song “What’s Wrong With This Picture.” However, the irony of Daniel’s wacky “picture” continues when unsuspecting Miranda hires him for the Nanny position and his appearance and gender is skewed but not his heart. The photograph metaphor which threads throughout (Daniel is even removed from Miranda’s photo wall) is finally corrected by the musical’s end (“As Long As There is Love”).

(L to R): J. Harrison Ghee, Brad Oscar, Charity Angel Dawson, Rob McClure in Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

Miranda (the lyrically voiced Jenn Gambatese who gives a nuanced performance showing Miranda’s growth in forgiving Daniel) remains unmoved when Daniel pleads his case in family court to receive joint custody in “I Want to Be There.” As Daniel, Rob McClure’s petition to the judge is beautifully heartfelt and stirring. Indeed, throughout, McClure’s skills (singing, voices, break dancing, dancing, rapping, looping, hand puppeteering) and exhaustive energy and enthusiasm in a role that requires he be present in season and out are incredible. He makes Mrs. Doubtfire his own, and as a result she is authentic and real.

This authenticity McClure conveys to the hilt so that you forget he IS Doubtfire and are surprised when he isn’t. This switcheroo becomes all the more hysterical when he uses the voice of Daniel, dressed up as the plump but extremely agile elderly Scotswoman and then reverts to Doubtfire’s voice when he is in the role of himself as Daniel. This occurs a number of times i.e. auditioning for Miranda on the phone, with son Christopher when he blows his cover and as he prepares for a surprise visit by court liaison officer Wanda Sellner (the extraordinarily voiced Charity Angel Dawson) who is checking his apartment to make sure it is fit for visitation with his kids.

When we see the transformations and costume (Catherine Zuber) wig (David Brian Brown) make-up and prosthetic changes (Tommy Kurzman) which occur in the twinkling of stage time’s eye, we are amazed at the “seamless” effort it takes. Kudos to the team for making it so. The switches are humorous and crucially revealing: each time McClure’s Daniel redeems himself being Mrs. Doubtfire, we know it is for the love of his children and to gain his self-respect. Though the deception is morally questionable, it is forgivable because his portrayal is award winningly brilliant and endearingly wise. Ultimately, it is the step which fosters understanding, allows Miranda breathing room to be her own person, and brings the family closer together.

Peter Bartlett as Mr. Jolly in Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

Humorously wonderful scenes occur throughout. One is when Daniel calls on his brother Frank (the hysterical Brad Oscar) and his partner Andre (the magnetic J. Harrison Ghee) for help to make him into the iconic Nanny that Miranda cannot refuse. After costumers and hair and wig designers Frank and partner Andre run through a roster of amazing women (female ensemble members show up as Cher, Jackie O., Donna Summers, Diana Spencer, etc.) that emerge from their talented fingertips in “Make Me a Woman,” Daniel avers that his role is a Scottish born widow past 60. Changing course, they produce versions of their perception of iconic women of a certain age who are the antithesis of the glamorous fashion icons that paraded across the stage minutes before.

Out come tall, diesel men dressed in the same outfit (a forerunner of Doubtfire’s) pronounced to be Janet Reno, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher, Julia Child and a masked Oscar Wilde in a farcical getup. The irony is hysterical: it twits Andre’s and Frank’s viewpoint and disdain of the unfashionable but formidably strong women as not being the “feminine” ideal. The idea of what constitutes a “woman” and genderism is turned on its head by Andre and Frank, which reveals lightening wit that certainly will offend some critics because it is daringly in your face.

Tragically, what is “politically incorrect” in one part of the country is searingly popular in another; so the criticism of the production being outdated in terms of genderism is slim-sighted, considering that culturally/geographically not even sections of New York City maintain the current “correct” views (i.e. Staten Island, Beach Channel, Breezy Point) related to gender. Many in these areas, including upstate New York (one of the supposedly most liberal states) take offense at “political correctness.” What to do?

Rob McClure in Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

In another LOL scene when Frank and Andre visit Daniel to deliver an additional wig for his new Nanny role, Wanda Sellner (the coldly autocratic court appointed officer) visits Daniel’s apartment, interrupting Frank and Andre’s mission. What ensues is a fast-paced quartet of dramatic irony as Frank, Andre and Daniel try to front an increasingly suspicious Wanda Sellner about whose sister the elderly woman is and why Daniel as Doubtfire (who has lost his prosthetic device out the window) won’t look directly at Wanda Sellner, which he finally does with banana creme pie on his face that makes him unrecognizable.

That the audience has been let in on the truth about Doubtfire’s gender, his “losing face-out the window” and Frank’s shouting nervously to cover his lies, makes the scene all the more riotous. Dawson is superb in her fierceness which escalates the humorous tension that the men and the audience feel as they fear Sellner’s hound-like nose will sniff out Daniel’s deception.

Brad Oscar’s priceless screaming delivery is tuned to rhythmic sonority with assists by straight woman Charity Angel Dawson and J. Harrison Ghee to bring on the belly laughs. Their crack-fire delivery accompanies Rob McClure’s costume and voice switches portraying two individuals at once in split second lag time. The tension only subsides with the audience’s audible sigh of relief, when Andre (Ghee) posing as the FBI on a phone call to Sellner rescues Daniel from Sellner’s adversarial, witchy clutches which gain steam and develop in Act II.

Rob McClure in Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

Zaks’ direction to shepherd the quartet’s superb pacing achieves a rhythm that is glorious and pitched for gales of laughter. By this point the audience is rooting for Rob McClure’s Daniel, taken over by his incredible sincerity and loving father/mother, man/woman Mrs. Doubtfire. Indeed, men do well as women, a gender trope that one must not miss if one is “getting it all in,” “going with the flow” and not luxuriating and indulging one’s sensibilities in offense at the genderisms the writers play off of. Importantly, another theme underscored by Mrs. Doubtfire is that that rigidity (from the political right or the left) whether it be in forcing others to adhere to one’s expectations or deeming “the way one should be” provides no easy answers or road to compromise. It indeed takes time and openness and flexibility and kindness for compromises to be reached.

Daniel masters Miranda in an area of vulnerability by making himself invaluable as the Nanny and housekeeper assuming motherly roles, while Miranda stokes her entrepreneurial skill. Additionally, he attempts to satisfy his court requirements to maintain a job, securing one as a janitor for a TV station. It is in this scene that we are introduced to an outdated children’s program which steers us into hilarity provided by the exceptional Peter Bartlett as Mr. Jolly. As Jolly, Bartlett bumbles and fumfers telling time with puppets Ratty and Mousey. His producer boss Janet Lundy (the stone-faced, funny Jodi Kimura) groans about being fired unless the Mr. Jolly Show is updated to snap and pop. Bartlett’s pauses, musing and timing as the near doddering Mr. Jolly is smack down LOL organic. This scene is cracker-jack great!

(L to R): Jake Ryan Flynn, Analise Scarpaci, Rob McClure, Avery Sell in Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

In attempting to bring order out of chaos at the Hillard home, as Doubtfire, Daniel sets the kids doing their homework (turning off their phones, etc.) and receives cooking lessons from Chefs Amy, Ann and Louis who appear from his tablet magically to show Doubtfire how to cook a “nutritious, delicious meal,” in record time, including how to spatchcock a chicken. In “Easy Peasy” Rob McClure and the ensemble in well coordinated, rapidly timed moves gyrate around the stage. He grandly catches a chicken and sticks of butter that fall from the ceiling as the ensemble sings and dances. During this wild cook-off, look for the hysterical pharmaceutical commercial break by a Rectisol Doctor (David Hibbard) complete with list of side effects including death.

The meal which smokes Daniel out (a take-off on the film when Williams sets Doubtfire’s breasts on fire) gives him an appreciation for Miranda’s home cooked meals. Failing once more, he orders take out which he then arranges in a finely set table for Miranda, the kids and her work partner Stuart who intends to be her beau. The hilarity ends in revelation; he lost his place at the table, and Mrs. Doubtfire won’t replace him there. He has the growing realization that he will never be back at that table as their Dad, and in fact Doubtfire is an encumbrance to what he really wants, back in Miranda’s good graces. The impetus becomes if he is to see his children at all as their Dad and not the character he has created, he must get a job that can pay an affordable living wage.

Analise Scarpaci in Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

The opportunity arises when beat box artist Loopy Lenny, a guest on the Mr. Jolly Show, leaves his “loop machine” which Daniel cannot resist playing with as he mops the area. In “About Time,” Daniel loses himself in remastering a cooler version of telling time with Ratty and Mousey that crackles with his exceptional voice skills. Upon hearing his genius at work Janet Lundy is impressed to offer him the possibility of a job on the show. With hope of this new job, Daniel digs in as Mrs. Doubtfire having reversed all he had contributed to making a disaster as their Dad. In “Rockin’ Now” Mrs. Doubtfire leads the ensemble in Daniel’s self-affirmation, lifted out from Miranda, his kids and Frank and Andre’s perception of him as a loser. He sees himself as a brilliant fixer and vital, purposeful individual.

A number of points are made during this hysterical number where McClure’s mobility with 30 pounds of rubber dancing and twirling Doubtfire’s plaid skirt is beyond funny and delightful. One is that Daniel could only change and express his loving heart with a wall of rubber separating him from those who saw him negatively and didn’t know how to encourage his goodness (a shortcoming of theirs). Secondly, as a character he is able to do that which he resisted as Daniel, who continually provoked Miranda. Conning her and the kids is a weird kind of payback proving he is as superior as she presented herself to be. However, when Lydia and Christopher discover who is under the rubber, the question remains, how long will Daniel be able to front Miranda and Sellner who hold the power of his rights as a father?

In Act II the risks of discovery become greater as Lydia and Christopher watch their father pull off Mrs. Doubtfire as a plus size model, showing Miranda’s sportswear line as he and the Ensemble models sing and dance in “The Shape of Things To Come” for an audience of buyers and store representatives. Dressed in a colorful skimpy outfit revealing a sports line for “all shapes and ages,” once again Daniel’s phenomenal talents save the day and get deep pocket customers for Miranda kicking off her entrepreneurship. In the song’s lyrics, the shift from actors with BMI 20 figures proud to look in the mirror to Mrs. Doutfire’s 30 BMI figure that can do extraordinary moves is a telling slap in the face to the guilt inducing diet and weight loss industry: a great irony.

The cast of Mrs. Doubtfire (Joan Marcus)

Mrs. Doubtfire has made a world of difference for Miranda who is beginning a relationship with Stuart (“Big Fat No”) and resolving the end of her relationship with Daniel (“Let Go”) who is miserable (“Clean Up The Mess”). In a conundrum obstructed by having to be Mrs. Doubtfire as he grows invisible with his children, he faces a reckoning with Sellner who puts together the viral Doubtfire sports model video and other information she receives from Miranda about Daniel. The reckoning begins in Sellner’s office when Daniel is supposed to appear with “his sister” Mrs. Doubtfire and turns into a surreal scene with Sellner as a magical, witchy type spirit proclaiming his doom in “Playing With Fire.”

Charity Angel Dawson pulls out all the stops wailing retribution for him in a shimmery red/orange dress against a fiery backdrop as a chorus line of Doubtfires send off Lydia, Chris and Natalie (Avery Sell) away from him presumably forever. Then the ensemble Doubtfires close in on him, singing the refrain, “The Truth Will Make You Free,” while sweeping their brooms in a haunting dance as Sellner sings her glory. And eventually the power of Sellner’s presence and voice along with the Doubtfires circling, engulf him dressing him in the hated Doubtfire costume and persona. The backdrop and set returns him to Miranda’s house where the final arrangements are set in motion for his big reveal that ends the charade once and for all (“He Lied to Me,” “Just Pretend”).

However, the truth with his reveal results in his redemption and Miranda’s acknowledgement that his true heart had to masquerade as Doubtfire for a time to show her and him what he was capable of. Additionally, with his new job on a TV Show starring Mrs. Doubtfire, the family is reminded of Daniel’s goodness. With the help of Sellner who shows her true colors and acknowledgement of Daniel’s love for his children, Miranda is convinced that Daniel must see and take care of Natalie, Christopher and Lydia with a joint custody arrangement (“As Long As There is Love”).

I have nothing but praise for Mrs. Doubtfire which is a whirlwind of emotion, comedy, farce, genius pacing, singing, dancing and crisp dialogue acutely directed and performed by the prodigiously talented Rob McClure who is breathtaking, as the other actors shine equivalently in their roles to assist him. The music, a combination of pop, hip hop, ballad and more functions to raise the emotional stakes at each turning point and grows from Daniel’s and Miranda’s struggle with each other. Mrs. Doubtfire’s book is well adapted by Kirkpatrick and O’Farrell and runs deep in this production because of the songs (Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick) their symbolism, the hybrid comical farce and continual pushing of the envelope to embrace Daniel’s guilt and imagination (“Playing With Fire”) (“Easy Peasy”).

Kudos to Ethan Popp for musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations. Special kudos to Lorin Latarro for her choreography. Both bring a myriad of new elements to Mrs. Doubtfire and make it shine greater than the film.

The technical aspects (movable sets) are well devised for speed, and are well thought out and wrought for the quick scene changes and farcical, magical moments mentioned. Kudos to David Korins (scenic design) and Philip S. Rosenberg (lighting design) and Brian Ronan (sound design) as well as aforementioned Catherine Zuber, David Brian Brown and Tommy Kurzman. I loved the lighting and outlines of the cityscape, the Hillard household and touches needed for the success of various scenes (“Easy Peasy”).

The production is a superb adaptation combining the known and the new. It should be seen a few times because inevitably, there is so much to glean you will miss the symbolism and the profound characterizations which appear stereotypical initially, but are resonant and vital as are the themes mentioned. For tickets and times go to their website: CLICK HERE.

‘Clyde’s’ by Lynn Nottage, a Devil of a Comedy at 2NDSTAGE

Uzo Aduba and Ron Cephas Jones in Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s presented by 2ndStage (Joan Marcus)

Lynn Nottage’s talent combining humor and depth in her play Clyde’s presented by 2nd Stage, currently at the Helen Hayes Theater, is an intriguing switch off from her dramas for which she’s won Pulitzer Prizes, the first woman to ever do so. That her breadth encompasses ironic and other-worldly elements with comedic twists galore and an expose of cultural issues that empathy and social unity can resolve in this hysterical play, lights a path for playwrights who want to stretch their own talents. Additionally, her uniquely defined characters and situations, which show she is unafraid to push the envelope, is a further revelation that she will continue to evolve as an exceptional playwright. Clyde’s exemplifies the best of Nottage in “spades.”

Acutely directed with precision and grace by Nottage’s long-time collaborator Kate Whoriskey, Clyde’s highlights a group of down and out former convicts newly released from prison who can, to their great misfortune, only find work as cooks at the greasy spoon, truck-stop diner in Berks County Pennsylvania, known as Clyde’s. The joint is named for its owner (the electric and terrifying Uzo Aduba) who operates it with a hands on approach and who is an insidiously bullying and unapologetic former convict herself.

Nottage has humorously configured Clyde as the mythic female biach employer, hyperbolic and cruel in all her ways. You know, the type that sends grown men screaming into the toilet to do a line of coke not to brain her with a meat mallet; the type that sends women weeping back into the arms of their former brutal lovers looking for financial support, so they don’t have to work at Clyde’s. Indeed, the sadistic dominatrix is the last person on earth you would ever want to work for. And as such, she’s an outsized and marvelous character, as delicious as Montrellous’ noteworthy sandwiches.

(L to R: Uzo Aduba, (foreground) Kara Young, Edmund Donovan, Reza Salazar (behind) Ron Cephas Jones in Clyde’s (Joan Marcus)

Uzo Aduba as Clyde brings the laughter and fear, having a blast violating every politically correct action and attitude toward the new ex-con addition to her three cooks. Hysterically, he is, a white supremacist in hiding (portrayed beautifully by Edmund Donovan), who is laying low to keep the job, and trying to make the peace with his three black/hispanic co-workers, who at another time in his life, he would have scorned and abused.

The veteran staff Clyde breathes fire over like a dragon-lady are the chef guru sandwich maker/leader Montrellous (the wonderful Ron Cephas Jones) Rafael (the hot-blooded, sensitive, full of life Reza Salazar) and the empathetic, dynamic Letitia who stands up to Clyde, beautifully portrayed by Kara Young. By the end of the play, we come to know the deep, resilient and loving core of each of these former convicts down to the reason why they went to prison. And we understand that in each of their former lives, there, we might have been.

(L to R): Reza Salazar, Kara Young, Ron Cephas Jones, Edmund Donovan in Clyde’s (Joan Marcus)

Nottage’s craft and Whoriskey’s incisive shepherding of her actors to encourage their spot-on authenticity allow us to stand in these ex-cons’ shoes and wish that every good thing might happen to them, most of all, that they escape the clutches of the sinister Clyde. Indeed, though Clyde appears to be looking for any excuse to fire them and return them to the Arctic reaches of emotional devastation from where they’ve come, perhaps her tough discipline and brutality does reveal a knowledge of how to help ex-cons succeed. At the least this betrays a good heart somewhere behind the wall of titanium armor she’s had to create to confront a callous society that would see her dead and forgotten, rather than help her succeed and climb out of the abyss ex-cons face upon release back into the culture that indirectly exacerbated their landing in prison.

The explosive situation yields a myriad of possibilities as Nottage and Whoriskey unspool the relationships among the cooks who eventually form their own solid community led by their sensei Montrellous. Cephas Jones is masterful as his Montrellous quietly motivates the staff toward the goal of making a sandwich which expresses the goodness of life and manifests the sublime taste of everything beautiful one might wish of the creative force we all yearn for. Montrellous is likened to a Chris figure of love, peace and encouragement against Clyde’s Satanic, sardonic, sadistic boss woman, reputed to have made a “deal with the devil” to keep alive Clyde’s her reason d’etre.

(L to R): Edmund Donovan, Reza Salazar in Clyde’s (Joan Marcus)

It is rollicking fun to watch Jones’ Montrellous and Aduba’s Clyde as they confront each other in a dynamic relationship that begins at the top of the play. Montrellous tantalizes Clyde to taste his delectable sandwich as he shares a story of his past. She humorously resists him in never sampling the goodness he’s created, nor agreeing with how he conducted himself in the situation. Immediately, we understand who both are; Clyde is unrelenting in her icy, dark approach toward humanity. Montrellous is open-hearted, light-filled and clever in understanding the fastest way toward amity is through the hospitality and deliciousness of something home-made with love.

Nottage moves the play briskly forward as Clyde, the ever-psychically draining task-master compels her cooks to sling out food that attracts truckers hungry from their long hauls. Montrellous peacefully resists her attitude and encourages his mates to their high calling of making the perfect sandwich to bring them the pride and strength of this new calling. As the food is plated, Clyde pops up at the window where she collects their sandwiches, dishing abuse, quips, taunts. And when she enters their foody space, they must watch out for her quips may turn physical to keep her charges in line.

The intricacy of how, when and where our favorite ex-cons become the chefs that Montrellous inspires them to be, despite working in hell hole and at cross-purposes with a seemingly malevolent tiger-lady who pushes them to the emotional brink to fail, is a humorous and profound sight to behold. You will just have to see the play for the organic process of how this marvel of hope in humanity spins out by the conclusion.

The themes are all there in Nottage’s merry-go-round of humanity. Indeed, the culture has ground down these sterling individuals and deprived them of hope that landed them in prison through a single act. This is an indictment Nottage presses. Additionally, individuals like Clyde can become like devils pressured to abuse their staff in order to tow the bottom line.

Reza Salazar, Kara Young in Clyde’s (Joan Marcus)

Even a small dive like Clyde’s reflects a microcosm of the corporate macrocosm of abuse. What happens in Clyde’s, as humorous as it is, speaks volumes. It is representative of the monumental struggle that exists between the “right to work” tyrannical employer for whom constitutional rights do not exist and those who need to survive and will take any job that they can get. Indeed, Nottage’s sub rosa theme is there must be a better, more decent way. And of course, through the attitude and mien of Montrellous we see it enacted, encouraged and through it, a way of escape.

Clyde’s works on so many levels. One may appreciate the raw humor, the symbolism, the characterizations which are priceless and memorable and the vital and current themes. This is a play of everyman and everywoman, of who have had to work terrible jogs to put food on the table. And it is for those professional or amateur chefs who love to eat and prepare “the food of life” so that others may come and receive health, wholeness and love. Look for the especially profound themes. You will not be disappointed and may even fall in love with this unforgettable production.

Final kudos go to the creative team whose set design, props (real sandwiches…yum) lighting effects, sound and costumes help to hit this out of the theater ballpark. These include Takeshi Kata (scenic design) Jennifer Moeller (costume design-loved Clyde’s jazzy, sexy outfits for a truck-stop hostess) Christopher Akerlind (light dimming for Montrellous’ sacred, life-changing sandwich) Justin Ellington (sound design, eerie music for the sacred sandwich) Cookie Jordan (hair and wig design-especially for Clyde and Letitia) Justin Hicks (original music).

This is the perfect production for this time of year, any time of year. Beyond a must-see. For tickets and times visit the website: CLICK HERE.

‘Cullud Wattah’ The Flint Water Crisis, Advocacy Theater at Its Best

(L to R): Andrea Patterson, (behind) Lizan Mitchell, (foreground) Alicia Pilgrim, Lauren F. Walker, Crystal Dickinson in Cullud Wattah The Public Martinson Theatre (Joan Marcus)

Flint, Michigan’s water crisis is ongoing as Erika Dickerson-Despenza clearly establishes in the world premiere production of Cullud Wattah currently at The Public Theater. Directed by Candis C. Jones the play is evocative, heartfelt and praiseworthy in its power to shock and anger the audience, as it clues them in to the Cooper family’s stoic struggles to get to the next day. Their trials become more laborsome and earth-shattering as they confront the irreparable contamination of their water supply that is slowly killing them because they were notified too late by city and state officials of its toxicity.

Alicia Pilgrim in the world premiere production of Cullud Wattah, by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones, at The Public Theater. (Joan Marcus)

Dickerson-Despenza gradually evolves the situation acquainting us with three generations of the Cooper family of women who live in the house that Marion (the edgy Crystal Dickinson) and her deceased husband purchased through their hard work at the GM plant which outsourced, downsized and ended his job. Thus, to make money, her husband joined the military where he was later killed in the U.S. war with Afghanistan.

Living in the Flint house with Marion are her mother, Big Ma (the humorous and no nonsense Lizan Mitchell) her pregnant sister Ainee (the superb and empathy evoking Andrea Patterson) and Marion’s two daughters Plum, the totem-like representative for all Flint’s younger children, portrayed by Alicia Pilgrim, and Reesee. As Reesee, Lauren F. Walker delivers an apt portrayal of the strong, self-determined older daughter, who loses faith in her relationship to the Yoruba water goddess Yemoje, who doesn’t protect the family from hardship and injury.

(L to R): Alicia Pilgrim and Lauren F. Walker in the world premiere production of Cullud Wattah, by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones, at The Public Theater. (Joan Marcus)

Dickerson-Despenza’s work is culturally powerful. Her characters establish their ancestry through dialect and dialogue using an easy Black accented speech, save Marion who has been influenced and perhaps soulfully compromised by working at the General Motors plant for most of her life.

Though General Motors has provided opportunity, it has been responsible for abusing its employees when they protested for better working conditions and wages. During the play Ainee reminds Marion that GM polluted the Flint River for years and abusive workers (members of the Klan) killed their father and took vengeance out on their mother, Big Ma, for her work actions against the company which left her disabled.

(L to R): Lizan Mitchell and Lauren F. Walker in the world premiere production of Cullud Wattah, by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones, at The Public Theater. (Joan Marcus)

As the family discusses the situation and with the news Big Ma listens to running in the background, the facts of the crisis are manifest. City and state officials are accountable for switching the water supply to the toxic Flint River from Lake Huron running on a platform to “save money.” Their MO for reelection (fiscal responsibility) did the opposite negligently and incompetently. They discounted that the Flint River had been polluted with toxic sludge from GM for years and was completely undrinkable and unusable. However, since the water was mostly going into the black community and since that community contributed less in property taxes, officials wantonly ignored the danger lurking in their unresearched, inherently racist and negligent actions.

Andrea Patterson in the world premiere production of Cullud Wattah, by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones, at The Public Theater. (Joan Marcus)

Interestingly, the city and state grew a conscience when GM noted that the water needed for their industrial process building engines was corroding and destroying their product and bottom line. GM screamed to change the water back to the clean Lake Huron. Rather than for GM to close or sue Flint, immediately city officials and the state responded. However, only GM received the clean water. And when word of the situation leaked, city officials and then Republican Michigan Governor Snyder wickedly lied. They declared the water was safe to drink. Their lies killed, destroyed families and cost billions of dollars in medical bills and future liabilities for sick adults. The financial burden to educate and medically care for young children brain damaged by lead poisoning and confronting other ills (cancer) from the water is ongoing and especially egregious.

(L to R): Crystal Dickinson, Lizan Mitchell in the world premiere production of Cullud Wattah, by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones, at The Public Theater. (Joan Marcus)

We learn during the play that Marion, knowledgeable about this situation at GM, withholds the secret from her family. Though she attempts to bring the water from GM to their home, it is too late. Eventually, her silence backfires on her through Plum’s sickness and the ill effects of rashes, hair loss and other conditions the family endures from being poisoned by the toxic soup.

Dickerson-Despenza uses Ainee as the foil in the arguments supporting the “good” that GM did for Flint versus their criminal behavior in not protecting their workers and their abusive acts against the union. Ainee’s stance is an indictment against GM and those workers who allowed themselves to be compromised and exploited as she argues with Marion that she owes GM nothing, and must become involved in a Class Action lawsuit against the city and officials for their negligence and responsibility in decimating the Flint community via the toxic water.

As the situation unfolds, we learn how each of the women respond in dealing with the crisis on a personal level and as a member of the Cooper family. Ainee attempts to become an activist, though this runs counter to Marion who is moving up at GM, despite their initial attempt to lay her off. How Marion manages to finesse herself an opportunity is revealed later in the play.

Alicia Pilgrim in the world premiere production of Cullud Wattah, by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones, at The Public Theater. (Joan Marcus)

Marion’s daughter Reesee attempts to keep sane during the crises by praying and giving offerings to the Yoruba goddess of water which she reveals to Plum as a secret because Big Ma is religious and doesn’t approve of black folk gods. Plum attempts to take control of the situation with her mathematical skills, figuring out how much daily water they need for each of their activities.

Big Ma prays to the Christian God and helps with the chores and generally chides each of them if they step over the line of decency, especially with regard to vulgar language. However, the rock of the family is Marion. She is the only one able to work. She takes care of their financial burdens with no help from the others and is pressured by their debts: Plum’s medical bills, the upkeep of the house, their great quantity of water purchases, utilities and more.

The playwright’s details about the bottles of water required to wash vegetables, the turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving dinner, to clean up and take care of their daily needs is a staggering reminder of how much we depend upon water in our lives. Wherever you turn in the theater, you see the reminder of the importance of clean water via Adam Rigg’s wonderful set design. Through Plum, who is dying because of the corrupted water, we note the numbers. At the play’s beginning, she chalks off the days Flint’s water supply has been corrupted since 2014: it is in the thousands surrounding the walls of the theater. On sides of the stage, Riggs has suspended bottles of water hanging down against the walls. It looks clean, but is it? The stage is filled with bottles of yellow, toxic water that the women label as a record that their water supply is still contaminated.

Crystal Dickinson in Cullud Wattah, by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones. (Joan Marcus)

Dickerson-Despenza’s themes are paramount: timeless as well as politically current. What happens when an elite power structure controls the resources all of us need to thrive? What happens if they are discriminatory, partisan, bigoted killers at heart? What happens if the people they put in power in the government are those who they pay off to continue destroying the communities they despise, the voices that must be heard, but are killed off to keep them silent and the power structure intact?

Cullud Wattah is essentially a play about water as a life source spiritually, psychically and materially using the horrific backdrop of Flint, Michigan to show how Republicans and corporates (represented by GM) amorally decimated the black community with impunity safeguarded by bought corporate-backed politicos for decades. Breaking down the will, soul and spirit of a community, oppressing it, makes it easier for politicians and their donors to overcome their righteous voices and resistance. Soon, unable to maintain and uphold their rights in a country whose laws guarantee “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but judicially allows oppressors to staunch their rights, democracy, one voice one vote, becomes compromised.

Dickerson-Despenza leaves no stone unturned in claridly, unapologetically dramatizing the painful, terrible crimes against humanity represented by the Cooper family as a microcosm of the macrocosm. The abomination not only concerns Flint, Michigan, it threatens every community in the US and globally. The higher ups briefly mentioned on Big Ma’s newscasts are as invisible in the play as a clear glass of water looks clean. You have to get up close and examine the molecular structure to note the contamination, corruption, poisonous, corrosive toxicity.

Lauren F. Walker in Cullud Wattah, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones. (Joan Marcus)

Indeed, though Dickerson-Despenza and Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s lighting design and Sinan Refik Zafar’s sound design and composition includes a digital blow up of the litigation against the city and state officials, that the blow up is not visibly large enough for the back row to see the fine print is symbolic. Such litigation is not enough to recompense what the Cooper family has endured in psychic and emotional suffering. And indeed, lengthy jail terms for the Republican officials, including the former disgraced Governor Snyder, must be leveled, if not as a deterrent to Republicans seeking positions of power to line their pockets, but as a warning for citizens to not elect such wanton, miscreant criminally minded individuals, regardless of political party.

To elect moral, efficacious officials, one has to bring out a microscope and “test the waters.” With the lies politicos glibly use to get elected, and the collusion between them and corporations to abuse the public and communities where they settle, this appears to be impossible. However, thanks to Republicans, you can see whether the water is clean or dirty and can assess if the politicians have the public’s interest at heart. Republican extremists which govern their party are making it very obvious that their water is filthy and toxic.

Cullud Wattah covers much ground and speaks volumes about victims, activists and the unseen criminal politicos who abuse their citizens. In its unabashed indictment of racism that emerges from the discussions and conflict between Ainee and Marion, are the warnings. If this happens in one community, it can happen in every community, because certain parties don’t care who is hurt, who dies as long as they 1)make money 2)get away with murder. The title is symbolic inferring the beautiful spirit and resilience of these women who are black. Of course, it refers to Flint’s water which is yellow, and the fact that officials criminally saw “fit” to let the blacks (the cullud) drink it, a hate crime which the federal government must address.

(L to R): Andrea Patterson, Lizan Mitchell, Crystal Dickinson in Cullud Wattah, by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, directed by Candis C. Jones. (Joan Marcus) 

The play is heartbreaking with terrifically current themes. The particular irony and idiocy of white supremacists is that they believe their bought “Republican” politicians will always have their best interests at heart. Those white folks who lived in Flint also drank contaminated water and suffered, but predominately, the black community was hit: this is a crime of federal proportions.

Polluted water, like COVID, is not subject to race. Regardless of your heritage, you get sick. Polluted politicians are subject to race to get elected. Once in office, in their amoral perspectives, the election gives them the legitimacy and impunity to harm citizens regardless of race, creed, religion. But the truly wicked ones unleash their hatred on specific communities, deemed to be too “weak,” to protest and be heard. Flint is emblematic of this. It is to her great credit that Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s Cullud Wattah, its director Candis C. Jones, the wonderful actors and the astute creative team brought this play to The Public. It needs to be seen across the U.S.

Kudos to the creative team not heretofore mentioned: Kara Harmon (costume design) Earon Chew Healey (hair, wigs and makeup design). Cullud Wattah is a must see that runs until December 12th at the Public Theater. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

‘Diana the Musical,’ Starring Jeanna de Waal, a Foray Into the Tabloids

Jeanna de Waal in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

Billions of words and their attendant photos have attempted to characterize The Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer, including the statements she contributed in her well publicized television interviews. Regardless, the many iterations of her life (Diana the Musical, Spencer, The Crown, documentaries, etc.) are fictionalized. We will never know the true details of her story nor move beyond the tip of the iceberg, though much has been made of The Crown’s accuracy.

As a result any commentary, criticism and discussion about the fictions that are presented with or without music related to her life are disingenuous. It is a sly continuation of what raised her to glory and contributed to her death. Recognizing that I am one of the hundreds of journalistic hypocrites, I prefer not to pile on adding to the glossy, hyperbolic, acerbic criticism that has been written about Diana the Musical, directed by Christopher Ashley, currently at the Longacre Theatre.

(L to R): Judy Kaye, Anthony Murphy, Roe Hartrampf in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

In this review, I look “through a lens darkly” at the musical with the intention of praising what may be the salient artistry of the production and avoiding the “critics’ mess.” At the least, Diana the Musical will add to the overall evolution of musical theater, for good or ill. As such it should be peered at with more than blindly gleeful excoriations and wrong-headed thinking, albeit critics may assert they have more cache and heft than this humble writer.

The musical, backed by the Schubert Organization and a boatload of other renowned producers, including La Jolla Playhouse, is the work of the creative team of Joe DiPietro (book & lyrics) and David Bryan (music & lyrics). The team won Tonys for Memphis (2010) and other awards, including DiPietro’s Drama Desk for Best Book of Nice Work If You Can Get It. Bryan, a founding member of Bon Jovi (keyboardist) is a Grammy winner. And both have teamed up on their next musical Chasing the Song, also workshopped at La Jolla Playhouse.

Jeanna de Waal and Company in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

The key to understanding their perspective about Diana The Musical is at the top of the production. Right before it begins with its bang-up opening number, “Underestimated”, six PAPARRAZI dressed in tan, flared overcoats with matching hats, looking like “spies” appear amidst flashes of light. Rapidly, like Thespis, the first actor to go solo from the chorus in ancient Greek theater, one PAPARRAZI steps out and says, “Was there ever a greater tabloid tale?” Then all race off.

From the bright light backdrop emerges Diana, the golden-throated Jeanna de Waal who pulls off the waggish theatricality and endearing Diana persona with great flare and emotional nuance. As she sings “Underestimated,” we are reminded that she, the Diana avatar, upended everyone’s expectations and made waves, changing the nature of the monarchy as perceived by the British tabloids and vulture media, astutely turning their word swords into their own “proper entrails.”

Jeanna de Waal, Roe Hartrampf and Company in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

Thus, with this PAPARRAZI’S “greatest tabloid tale” establishing the “smart-alecky,” flippant tone, approach and poignant conclusion, we understand the creators’ vision and the development of Diana The Musical as a “tabloid story” in what follows to be a flashback of the press’ “facts” of her life with the royals. Importantly, we are thrust into examining ourselves as the consumers, predators, voyeurs that kept and still keep that story “alive,” the facts confused, and lines, between fictionalized gradations of truth, blurred. As the production infers, the tabloids of the time, principally those of the Murdock empire, became the staging ground for the launching of the princess. They keenly, exploited this image for its money-making potential with suppositions and crass lust for gossipy sensationalism that the public and above all “journalists” “ate up” and still consume in musical plays.

To confuse the medium that the creators expose in all its lurid tawdriness with the conveyance of the subject matter (the production) which twits and exposes the tabloid’s boorish insensitivities is an arrogant presumption. It’s as bad as Facebook’s misinterpretation of sardonic irony. Facebook’s algorithms don’t “get” irony; their robotics are literalists incapable of understanding nuance, irony, sarcasm, ridicule.

(L to R): Erin Davie, Roe Hartrampf, Judy Kaye, Jeanna de Waal and Company in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

Likewise, to view Diana The Musical as a literalist caught up in the arc of the story, clicking off the remembered events one may have consumed from the tabloids, papers, TV series or documentaries, one misses the humor, irony and the sometimes intentionally sophomoric rhymes and cleverly repetitive music. The repetition implies Diana copy was all of the same piece. Additionally, one will miss the unfolding of the final revelations and themes: that tabloids spread misinformation because they can with a believing populace; tabloids act as an equalizer of the great to bring them low to sate the sub rosa jealousy of the “little people;” tabloids mine humiliation, create torment and demean by erecting idols then smashing the “adored” with their humanity. Murdock’s tabloids propelled the Diana “story” and gossipy dirt like no other.

Revolting? Indeed, and that’s one of the points of the musical. Enjoy it and burn yourself with understanding. Don’t enjoy it, see its “messy crassness,” you miss the production’s reason d’etre, and specifically miss this point: the tabloids encouraged the spin of the public’s belief in “the people’s princess,” then damned her for being what they created. They adored her above the Queen and royal family but were jealous of her and backed slapped her continually each time they covered her. Ironically, they yearned for her death, indirectly causing it so they might mourn a tragedy of their creation in perpetuity. To view the monstrousness of the tabloid’s process in Diana The Musical as anything but ironic is daft, dumb and blind.

Roe Hartrampf, Judy Kaye and Company in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

The tabloid portrait of Diana is what the musical delivers, the glorious creation to please the masses and journalists. She was beautiful copy in all her forms as was the monarchy whom they pitted as her foe. But the production reveals that tabloids refused to take responsibility for their cause in her death. DiPietro and Bryan, in keeping with the phenomenon they criticize and expose (the public’s obsession with her, the press’ sensationalism which exacerbates it) never connects the PAPARRAZI directly to her death. None of the actors dressed as PAPARRAZI appear on stage at the conclusion for she doesn’t die. Diana steps from flashing lights into the upstage darkness as the ensemble sings about her “lighting the world.” It is the image, her persona that “lights the world,” as she lives forever immortalized in fictionalizations: movies, plays, TV series, etc.

In Diana The Musical it is the tabloid’s creatures we see as the well-publicized events of her life are hyperbolized for public consumption. In the musical we witness her dating Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf is wonderful as Charles in his development as the unmarried beleaguered, sometimes loving, then increasingly unhappy, angry, Diana nemesis) encouraged by Camilla (” Whatever Love Means Anyway”). Erin Davie is the perfect avatar for what we believe Camilla would be, do and act to keep Charles allured rather villainously. There are enough jokes concerning her looks and strange sustainability with Charles as she bests Diana in his affections.

(L to R): Holly Ann Butler, Jeanna de Waal, Roe Hartrampf in Diana The Musical (Michael Murphy)

The tabloid’s cultural obsession with Diana’s looks, mien and beauty outshining the unfortunate looking Camilla is twitted throughout. The question floats over the relationship as the tabloids played up Diana’s beauty and Camilla’s ferocious mediocrity: how could Charles choose to be with Camilla and not Diana? Clearly, those are the manifestly superficial, shallow cultural mores of tabloid journalism which value appearance over soul. They are not Prince Charles’ values.

Di Pietro and Bryan take us through the Diana chronology, from the marriage (the quick change up of wedding dresses is excellent) the two children, Prince Charles being unable to give up Camilla as Diana must give up the dashing James Hewitt (Gareth Keegan). The crises mount until Diana voids her royal position by becoming a fashion icon who scandalously controls the media (the hysterical “The Dress”) as DiPietro and Bryan make their scathing critical ironies with facetious lyrics and buoyant music. It’s not all rock/pop upbeat cadence. Only the humorous waggish songs. Indeed, some of the harmonies are luscious (“If”).

Jeanna de Waal and Company Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

Throughout, Charles’ relationship with Camilla holds, while Diana establishes a solid relationship with her maturing self apart from him, a lost cause. Interestingly, the Queen editorializes about the overwhelming oppression of the monarchy in her own life (“An Officer’s Wife”) which Kaye sings affectingly in the song that identifies how the monarchy’s institutions changed Elizabeth’s relationship with Phillip. In her quasi empathy with Charles and Diana and Charles and Camilla, Judy Kaye’s rendition recalls a similar pathos expressed in The Crown. Only for duty did Elizabeth give up being the demure wife.

The tabloid wind-up dolls act exactly as we expect them to. And there’s even an over-the-top interjection of Barbara Cartland (Judy Kaye dressed in fluffy pink from top to toe). Cartland introduces us to James Hewitt as the instrument of vengeance in Diana’s life,”Here Comes James Hewitt”. Kaye as Cartland plies her influence on Diana and comments on Charles and Camilla’s affair, and Diana’s affair with Hewitt (“Him & Her (& Him & Her).”

Jeanna de Waal in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

Having Kaye do double duty as Queen Elizabeth and Barbara Cartland, both the head of empires in their own right, is brilliant and humorous; Kaye plays it off, enjoying the ironic joke. In the beginning of Act II Kaye gives the Queen’s tiara to the music conductor to hold as she switches roles. Cartland’s advice to Diana (a former romance fan) is that her novels are fantasy, romance is dead and in real life, men lie and cheat. The irony that an avatar of romance fiction warns the reigning fairy tale princess of the time that her prince is a cad is priceless.

Finally, the interjection of Andrew Morton (Nathan Lucrezio) who Diana “spills her guts” to (“The Words Came Pouring Out”) is an important addition in the evolution of Diana’s maturing persona as she moves from under the oppression of the monarchy and gains her own revenge. From replicas of the royal’s iconic clothing (William Ivey Long) to the tell-tale hair (Paul Huntley) to the pat twists and turns in the Diana story, all unwind with irony and humor. Interestingly, the ravenous audience and the press are the butt of Di Pietro’a and Bryan’s joke in addition to the royals. Indeed, no one escapes their bullseyes being hit, not even Cartland and Andrew Morton (Zach Adkins).

(L to R): Jeanna de Waal, Erin Davie in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

In keeping with the antic, amused and ironic perspective, many of the songs knock it out of the park. Kelly Devine’s choreography for the “Snap, Click” sinister twirling of the PAPARRAZI around Diana with spinning movement as they thread out their “tabloid tale” is excellent. It conveys the momentum of how storytelling gains a life of its own, as the PAPARRAZI and press become impassioned in their hunt for the prize statement, photo, revelation which they encourage then weave into Diana iconography.

“She Moves in the Most Modern Ways, sung by Kaye’s Queen, Davie’s Camilla, Holly Ann Butler as Sarah Spencer (Diana’s sister confident) Hartrampf’s Charles, Andre Jordan as Colin and Paul Burrell (Anthony Murphy who is also hysterical singing “The Dress” with De Waal, Kaye and the ensemble) works well. It codifies the press’s indictment of the monarchy as stuffily dead with Diana shaking things up as both a benefit and possible liability.

Of course, the theatricality Diana creates is marvelous copy. Throughout the production, Jeanna De Waal does not drop a stitch of the persona in the arc of the press’ vision of her. Her irony, sweetness, fury and flippant attitude beautifully captures the creatives’ vision. The song “This Is How Your People Dance” when Diana listens to Bach with Charles and the others, while imagining a rock concert with her favorites, where all but Camilla “shake it up” is riotous. From that point on it was clear to me what Di Pietro and Bryan were about.

Jeanna de Waal, Anthony Murphy in Diana The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

Finally, the creators emphasize the bare bone facts referenced by the media that, understanding what she was up against in her marriage, suffering without proper allies to rescue her, Diana Spencer carved out her own approach to her position in the royal corporation which had “winked at” Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. Growing into her own burgeoning identity, she empowered herself, using the media for great causes (the scene in the AIDS ward is poignantly done) that had not been taken up by anyone until she became involved.

Allegedly, for the royals, this was an embarrassingly mischievous and rebellious turn. To the media this was laudatory, though perhaps, self-serving. For Diana personally, we will never understand the mixture of altruism, concern and self-interest. Throughout, the press not unlike with Marilyn Monroe, helped create her charismatic persona which to this day is hot copy. And it is that which Diana The Musical makes very clear with ironic twists that at bottom are an indictment of us all.

This is one to see if you remember that the tastelessness is all on the press and the public who clamored for the avatar Diana and the royals they received. Despite that underlying terrible truth, Diana The Musical expresses that message with humor, silliness, waggish irony and brilliance. Kudos to the creatives: David Zinn (scenic design) Natasha Katz (lighting design) Gareth Owen (sound design) the musical team and Ian Eisendrath (music arrangement and supervision). For tickets and times visit the website by CLICKING HERE.

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