Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘USA Theatre’ Category

The King and I
Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based Upon the Novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Choreographed by Christopher Gatelli, Based on the Original Choreography by Jerome Robbins
The Fox Theatre
November 28, 2017

Jose Llana, Laura Michelle Kelly
Photo by Matthew Murphy

The King and I National Tour

My first reaction when the curtain opened on the national touring production of The King and I, currently playing at the Fox Theatre, was “wow!” Another example of director Bartlett Sher’s celebrated revivals of Broadway classics, this one is immediately impressive from a visual standpoint, even by marvelous coincidence looking like it was designed for the Fox. The visuals are certainly impressive, but what’s even more impressive is the strong cast and cohesive, thoughtful direction for which Sher is well-known.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Sher’s revivals is that they are at once faithful to the source material and also updated, to a degree, in terms of focus. Sher seems to try his best at not re-inventing classics, but rather presenting them in ways that make them more immediate and accessible for modern audiences, which makes sense since a lot of these well-known shows have become somewhat (or sometimes very) dated in terms of their perspective. In the revivals, though, the source material has been updated more in terms of subtext and characterization than in the actual script. That’s the case with The King and I, particularly. The story is the familiar one–of English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly), who travels to Bangkok in the 1860s to teach the many children of the King of Siam (Jose Llana). The relationship of Anna and the King is a complex one, starting with suspicion and even animosity and then growing into a respectful friendship with hints of something more, but not a romance in the conventional sense. There are also poignant subplots involving secret lovers Tuptim (Q Lim) and Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), who want to be together but can’t because she’s been given as a “present” to the King; and also the struggles of Crown Prince Chulalongkorn (Anthony Chan) to learn about the responsibilities and burdens of leadership as he prepares to someday become King. The story is all here, as are the familiar classic songs such as “Getting to Know You”, “Hello, Young Lovers”, “We Kiss in a Shadow”, and “Shall We Dance”. The script is the same, as well, but under Sher’s direction, the focus has been shifted somewhat, making the show appear more critical of the concept of colonialism and “westernization” than previous productions. The central figure is Anna, as always, and her sparring with the King is a highlight of the production, but this production also draws a lot more focus on the King’s court, particularly his head wife Lady Thiang (Joan Almedilla) and his chief official Kralahome (Brian Rivera) than previous productions I have seen. It’s an intriguing, compelling, and thoroughly cohesive production that brings a lot of insight to the source material that may not have been as apparent in earlier productions.

Casting-wise, as far as I can remember, this is the first time I’ve seen the same performers play the same roles in two entirely different productions of the same show. Both Kelly and Almedilla played these roles in the Muny’s excellent production in 2012, but now under Sher’s direction, both excel in this newer vision of the show. In fact, I would say these two are the stand-out performers here, from Kelly’s sure, steely but almost understated determination and strong vocals as Anna to Almedilla’s brilliantly measured, authoritative and also beautifully sung turn as Lady Thiang. Llana is also excellent as the King, coming across as more youthful than other performances of this role that I have seen, and displaying a strong presence and combative, affectionate chemistry with Kelly’s Anna. Lim is also impressive, especially vocally, as Tuptim, and Chan is especially convincing in his portrayal of Prince Chulalongkorn, as is Rivera as Kralahome. It’s a strong cast all-around, with an especially impressive ensemble and strong dancing in various moments, especially in the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet sequence.

Visually, the show is stunning, and it fits very well into the ornate Fox Theatre. Even before the curtain opens, the color scheme and design elements look almost like they were designed for this venue. Then, the curtain does open, and the audience is transported to 19th Century Bangkok, vividly realized by Michael Yeargan’s detailed sets and Donald Holders truly dazzling, emotive lighting. There are also superb period-specific costumes by Catherine Zuber and wig and hair designs by Tom Watson, helping to further transport the audience to a different time and place. The staging is at once “big” and “small” in the sense that it’s expansive but also presented at an accessible scale, bringing the audience into the story with a degree of somewhat stylized realism.

The King and I at the Fox is a memorable presentation of the celebrated Lincoln Center revival directed by one of Broadway’s most lauded directors. Although there are still some dated elements, this production is presented with a sense of immediacy and even cultural critique that I hadn’t seen before in performances of this show. It’s a truly memorable production, with a great cast. It’s worth checking out while it’s in town.

Joan Almedilla
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The King and I National Tour

The national tour of The King and I is running at the Fox Theatre until December 10, 2017.

 

Read Full Post »

On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Featuring Music Produced and Recorded by Emilio & Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
Directed by Jerry Mitchell
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
The Fox Theatre
November 7, 2017

Mauricio Martinez, Christie Prades
Photo by Matthew Murphy
On Your Feet! National Tour

The latest national tour at the Fox is a tuneful crowd-pleaser. On Your Feet! is another in the growing genre of “jukebox bio-musicals”, in the vein of Jersey Boys, Beautiful, and more. This time, the subject is the music and life of Latin-pop music icons Gloria and Emilio Estefan, following their story and featuring many of their well-known hits. With a great cast and an excellent soundtrack, this national tour of the recent Broadway production is an entertaining tribute and a compelling story.

While it’s billed as “The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical”, the focus of the story here is primarily on Gloria (Christie Prades), as well as her personal and professional relationship with musician, producer, and her eventual husband Emilio (Mauricio Martinez). The story follows Gloria as a young child growing up in Miami, where she and her family immigrated from Cuba. Her relationships with her father, Jose Fajardo (Jason Martinez), her grandmother Consuelo (Alma Cuervo), and her mother, also named Gloria (Nancy Ticotin). The young Gloria (Amaris Sanchez and Carmen Sanchez, alternating in the role) starts out playing songs on her guitar, and then grows up  taking care of her father as he suffers the progressive effects of MS. She’s not intending a career in music at first, but her grandmother contacts Emilio, who is part of a popular local act called the Miami Latin Boys, and Gloria and her younger sister Rebecca (Claudia Yanez) go to his house for an audition. Eventually, Gloria becomes the lead singer of the band, which gains fame under its new name, Miami Sound Machine, in various countries and crossing over from the Latin market to the Pop market. The show, punctuated with hits like “Anything for You”, “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and the rousing “Conga”, follows the couple’s rise to international fame as well as personal challenges in relationships with Gloria’s family, and Gloria’s fight to regain her health after a devastating tour bus crash, culminating in her celebrated “comeback” performance of “Coming Out of the Dark” on the American Music Awards broadcast in 1991.

This is a well-produced show, with strong production values including David Rockwell’s versatile set, Emilio Sosa’s detailed costumes, Kenneth Posner’s dazzling lighting, and striking projection design by Darrel Maloney. There’s also vibrant, energetic choreography by Sergio Trujillo, and an engaging book by Alexander Dinelaris that emphasizes the importance of family history and relationships in the Estefans’ lives. The music is the main attraction, with hit after hit well-performed by this excellent cast, but it’s not just a concert. There’s a compelling story here, as well.

The cast is uniformly strong, led by the dynamic, strong-voiced Prades as Gloria, who is well-matched by Martinez in a solid, amiable performance as Emilio. The strength of their relationship is an important part of this story, and both of these two make that relationship work with their excellent chemistry. There are also memorable performances from Cuervo as Gloria’s supportive, persistent grandmother Consuelo, Ticotin as the loving but sometimes overprotective mother Gloria Fajardo, and Jason Martinez as Gloria’s father Jose. The whole cast is strong in support, as well, with an excellent singing and dancing ensemble, helping to bring this story, and the music from the chart-topping hits to lesser-known songs, to life with energy and style.

Although On Your Feet! is going to appeal especially to fans of the Estefans and Miami Sound Machine, the story and music are compelling enough to entertain even those who may not be as familiar with the music. There’s an energetic “Megamix” finale that lives up to the title, as well, bringing the audience member to their feet. It’s a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of that term.

Cast of On Your Feet!
Photo by Matthew Murphy
On Your Feet! National Tour

The National Tour of On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical is running at the Fox Theatre until November 19, 2017.

Read Full Post »

The Bodyguard
Based on the Warner Bros. film Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Choreographed by Karen Bruce
The Fox Theatre
October 2, 2017

Deborah Cox and cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
The Bodyguard US Tour

It’s a “jukebox musical” showcasing songs made famous by Whitney Houston, based on a popular film. That’s basically all there is to The Bodyguard, the musical that debuted in London and is now touring the USA, currently running in St. Louis at the Fox. For the most part, it’s entertaining, with some good performances and well-delivered hit songs that really are the main reason to see this show in the first place.

I hadn’t seen the film, but based on the synopses I’ve read, the show’s story has been modified slightly to work better on stage. The story is the same as the movie, though, as superstar singer Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) starts getting disturbing letters from a mysterious stalker (Jorge Paniagua) who breaks into her dressing room during a concert, taking one of her dresses without being noticed by her security team. As a result of this scare, Rachel is persuaded to hire a new bodyguard, the experienced but somewhat secretive Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), who makes fast friends with Rachel’s sister Nicki (Jasmin Richardson) and son Fletcher (Kevelin B. Jones III, alternating with Sebastian Maynard-Palmer), but who is initially distrusted by Rachel herself. Of course, if you know much about the film, you know where this is going, with a somewhat unlikely romance and more intrigue as Frank and the rest of Rachel’s security team zeroes in on the stalker. This all happens with soundtrack of songs from the film as well as other Houston hits, such as “I Have Nothing”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, “One Moment In Time”, and of course “I Will Always Love You”, which is set up in a humorous way, first being sung awkwardly by Frank in a Karaoke bar before making its more iconic appearance later in the show.

This is a fairly by-the-numbers plot, and some of the scenes are disjointed–particularly the brief opening scene that isn’t particularly necessary. Still, it’s enjoyable enough, with some good performances–particularly from Cox as Rachel and Richardson as Nicki, who sing the Houston hits impressively. There’s also a strong performance from young Jones as Fletcher, and Mills is fine although a bit one-note as Frank. There’s an energetic ensemble, as well, and the group dance numbers featuring Karen Bruce’s choreography are among the highlights of the show.

Technically, the show has a cinematic look befitting an adaptation of a film. Tim Hatley’s set features many pieces that change out smoothly, representing Rachel’s well-appointed house, a rustic cabin, the karaoke bar, and various concert locations. Hatley’s costumes are also well-suited to the characters, and there’s effective lighting by Mark Henderson. The use of video, designed by Duncan McLean, is particularly impressive, as well.

Overall, I would say if you’re not expecting to be dazzled by the story, and if you want to have a reasonably enjoyable evening at the theatre and listen to some well-sung Whitney Houston hits, The Bodyguard won’t really disappoint. As “jukebox” musicals go, it’s not in the top tier, but it has its moments. The music is really the star here.

Deborah Cox, Judson Mills
Photo by Joan Marcus
The Bodyguard US Tour

The US Tour of The Bodyguard is running at the Fox Theatre until October 15, 2017.

Read Full Post »

The Lion King
Music and Lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice
Additional Music and Lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, Hans Zimmer
Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Directed by Julie Taymor
Choreographed by Garth Fagan
The Fox Theatre
April 20, 2017

Mukelisiwe Goba
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The Lion King North American Tour

The Lion King has become a massive hit on stage since first opening on Broadway in 1998. An adaptation of the popular Disney film, the stage version caused something of a sensation with its innovating staging and use of puppetry. Believe it or not, I had never actually seen the stage show before. I had only seen the film, and that was a long time ago. Now on stage at the Fox, the latest national tour of this grand, stunningly staged musical is an impressive spectacle for all ages, whether you are familiar with the story or not.

The story, at least partially inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is one of parent-child bonds, difficult family ties, personal responsibility and more, with a cast of characters who are wild animals living in the African savanna. It centers around Simba, played as a child in the performance I saw by Jordan Williams and as an adult by Dashaun Young. Simba is the son and heir of the current king of the lions and various other animals, the wise and brave Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey). Mufasa’s scheming brother Scar (Mark Campbell) wants to be king instead, and orchestrates events so that  he can take over the kingdom.  The story then leads to young Simba’s growing up under the tutelage of fellow “outcast” animals, meerkat Timon (Nick Cordileone) and warthog Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz), and eventually being reunited with childhood friend Nala the lioness (Nia Holloway as an adult, Meilani Cisneros as a child), and encouraged to return to Pride Rock and reclaim his rightful place as king. Presiding over all the action is Rafiki (Mukelisiwe Goba), a wise, mystical mandrill who also encourages Simba on his quest to challenge Scar and his hyena cronies for leadership.

The staging is famously innovative with its use of puppetry and stylized costumes in the portrayal of its animal characters, and also for its stunning production numbers such as the spectacular “Circle of Life” opening number, which drew enthusiastic applause from the audience. The production values here are excellent, especially for a production that’s been touring for so long. Richard Hudson’s set design, Julie Taymor’s costumes, Donald Holder’s lighting design, and Taymor and Michael Curry’s mask and puppet design are all dazzlingly memorable. The choreography by Garth Fagan is energetic and well-executed by the strong ensemble here.

The lead performances are also strong, led by Goba (the understudy) as the wise, sometimes mischievous Rafiki, who in the stage production is essentially the star of the show, as far as I’m concerned. Goba brings a great deal of energy and personality to the role, spurring on Young’s earnest adult Simba. Young and the equally strong Holloway have good chemistry as Simba and Nala, and young Williams and Cisneros give fine performances as their younger counterparts as well. There are some fun comic performances from Codileone and Lipitz as Timon and Pumbaa, and also by Tony Freeman as Mufasa’s bird advisor Zazu. Ramsey carries a strong sense of authority and general goodness as Mufasa as well. Campbell is also memorable as the scheming Scar, with a leering tone and strong voice, and he’s ably supported by Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Keith Bennett, and Robbie Swift as the opportunistic hyenas Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed.  The dance ensemble is especially strong, as well, bringing a sense of fluidity and grace to the stage in the various dance numbers.

This is a good adaptation of the film, but with a few changes that actually make it work better on stage. It’s still The Lion King, though, and its memorable story and characters are on clear display here at the Fox. It’s an excellent show for audiences of all ages, and the audience I saw it with was definitely appreciative. It’s a story with humor, drama, and a strong message of redemption, responsibility, and hope. It’s well worth checking out.

Nia Holloway (Right) and Ensemble
Photo by Joan Marcus
The Lion King North America Tour

The North American Tour of Disney’s The Lion King runs at the Fox Theatre until May 7, 2017.

Read Full Post »

Something Rotten!
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
The Fox Theatre
February 7, 2017

Josh Grisetti, Rob McClure and Cast Photo by Joan Marcus Something Rotten! National Tour

Josh Grisetti, Rob McClure and Cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
Something Rotten! National Tour

I love Shakespeare, and I love musicals. Something Rotten! should be right up my alley, then. I had been looking forward to this show since I found out the tour was coming to the Fox. I’ve also loved the production’s funny advertising campaign (like bragging about losing Best Musical at the Tonys). It’s a great concept, with lots of potential and a great cast.  I’m glad that, for the most part, the show has lived up to my lofty expectations.

After a flashy intro of “Welcome to the Renaissance” led by Nick Rashad Burroughs as the Minstrel, we are introduced to Nick (Rob McClure) and Nigel Bottom (Josh Grisetti), a pair of brothers and theatrical collaborators whose theatre company is constantly in the shadow of the rock star-like William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal), who is the talk of the town and whose plays are always smash hits. The frustrated Nick and poetic Nigel struggle to produce a show that will get the attention of the Shakespeare-obsessed public, as Nick struggles to make ends meet and his outgoing wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) announces that she’s expecting. Nigel’s struggle is more with artistic integrity, wanting to write from his heart rather than just pandering to the demands of the public. He also finds himself attracted to the spunky Portia (Autumn Hurlburt), who shares Nigel’s passion for poetry against the wishes of her strict Puritan father Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote). And then there’s the problem of Shakespeare himself, who seems oddly obsessed with the Bottoms’ latest work despite his own success. When Nick hires a soothsayer named Nostradamus (Blake Hammond)–not that one, but his nephew–to tell him what type of show people will want to see in the future, as well as what Shakespeare’s greatest hit will be, the Bottom Brothers begin their development of their innovative new show Omelette: The Musical, and much intrigue and hilarity ensues.

It’s a fun show, with some great jokes and chock full of witty musical theatre references and lots of innuendo and double entendres. The music is memorable, with standouts like the seriously showstopping “A Musical”, “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and “To Thine Own Self” as well as the hilarious “Make an Omelette”. It does seem a little derivative at times, though, with the influences of Monty Python and Mel Brooks being the most obvious, although the characterizations are great and the story manages to be heartwarming and a whole lot of fun. The cast is great, led by the terrific McClure as the determined Nick and Grisetti as the sensitive Nigel, with excellent support from Lakis as the forward-thinking Bea and Hurlburt as the plucky Portia. There’s are also great comic turns from Hammond as Nostradamus and Cote as Brother Jeremiah, and Pascal hamming up a storm as the self-absorbed but insecure Shakespeare.  There’s a top-notch ensemble as well, lending lots of charm and energy to the fabulously staged production numbers dynamically choreographed by director Casey Nicholaw.

Technically, this show is impressive as well. The versatile set by Scott Pask is a colorfully cartoonish representation of Elizabethan London, with a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as a centerpiece.  There are also whimsical period-style costumes by Gregg Barnes and brightly striking lighting by Jeff Croiter. The sound, designed by Peter Hylenski, is crisp and clear and the small musical ensemble conducted by Brian P. Kennedy represents the score well, sounding appropriately big and grand despite its size.

This is a fun show. It’s not quite as original as I had been expecting, but it’s bold, witty, and a whole lot of fun, with a truly wonderful cast. For fans of musical theatre and especially those who also like Shakespeare, Something Rotten! can be a real treat.

Adam Pascal (center) and cast Photo by Joan Marcus Something Rotten! National Tour

Adam Pascal (center) and cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
Something Rotten! National Tour

The national tour of Something Rotten! is playing at the Fox Theatre until February 19, 2017.

Read Full Post »

An American in Paris
Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Craig Lucas
Directed and Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
The Fox Theatre
January 18, 2017

Garen Scribner, Sara Esty Photo by Matthew Murphy An American in Paris North American Tour

Garen Scribner, Sara Esty
Photo by Matthew Murphy
An American in Paris North American Tour

I have to admit that although I saw the classic film An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly, when I was a small child, what I most remember about it is being somewhat confused and bored by the iconic dance sequence that ends the movie. I guess I was too young to appreciate it. Now, the tour of the stage version with the classic Gershwin score and a revised book is on stage at the Fox, and viewing the story and its dazzling dance sequences as an adult, I’m anything but bored and confused. Although the story has been modified somewhat from the film, this production is visually stunning, emotionally stirring and musically sensational.

The setting, as the title suggests, is Paris. The time is just after the end of World War II. Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner) is a young US Army vet and aspiring painter who finds himself intrigued with the City of Light and with a mysterious young woman that he meets but whose name he doesn’t learn at first. He decides to stay in Paris and wanders into a cafe where he meets fellow American veteran Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), who plays the piano and writes music, hoping to become a successful composer. He also meets Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), the son of wealthy French manufacturers, who harbors the secret dream of becoming a song-and-dance man in America. Eventually, they cross paths with Jerry’s mystery woman, the gifted young ballerina Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), whose mother had been a famous dancer. Lise herself has a secret that ties her to Henri, although both Jerry and Adam find themselves drawn to her and she herself feels drawn to Jerry.  There’s also wealthy heiress and arts patron Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), who forms an attachment to Jerry as well. All the complicated love polygons are only part of the plot, as the ghosts of the past and the spirit of the future battle within the various characters who strive to make something of their lives, and the world, after the war. It’s a well-constructed plot that revises and fleshes out some of the stories from the film, adding extra Gershwin songs in a celebration of life, art, and ultimately hope.

This is such a dance-heavy show that I have to mention that director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s wonderful, lyrical work here. The strong influences of ballet, jazz, and occasionally tap are here in evidence, expertly, energetically, and emotionally danced by the top-notch ensemble and perfectly cast leads. The cast is ably led by Scribner as the outgoing, charming Jerry and Esty as the somewhat mysterious, conflicted Lise.  Their chemistry is outstanding, and their dancing is simply wondrous, especially in the dazzling “An American in Paris” ballet near the end of the show. There are also strong performances from Benson as the sweetly snarky Adam and Ferranti in a witty, sympathetic performance as Milo. Spangler as Henri is also excellent, making the most of a spectacular showcase production number in “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise”. The whole cast here is incredibly strong, showing of incredible dancing skills on such Gershwin classics as “I Got Rhythm”, “S’Wonderful”, and more.

Technically, this show is just plain beautiful. Bob Crowley’s glorious set design is remarkable in its simplicity and its elegance, relying largely on movable set pieces that flow onstage as if they are part of the dance, augmented by truly stunning projections by 59 Productions. Crowley also designed the gorgeous, stylish costumes that add much to the 1940’s air of the production. There’s also spectacular, atmospheric lighting by Natasha Katz that enhances every scene and production number.

This is such a wonderful show. It’s poetic, balletic, and dramatic with just the right amount of humor to move the story along. The characters are well portrayed and their stories are convincing, but what is mostly evident about this production is its celebration of life, art, and music in a visual, auditory, and emotional sense. It’s a screen-to-stage adaptation that honors its source material and manages to expand it in a richly compelling way, and it fills the Fox stage superbly.  It’s definitely a show not to be missed. Now, I need to see the movie again.

Cast of An American in Paris Photo by Matthew Murphy An American in Paris North American Tour

Cast of An American in Paris
Photo by Matthew Murphy
An American in Paris North American Tour

The North American tour of An American In Paris runs at the Fox Theatre until January 29, 2017.

Read Full Post »

Driving Miss Daisy
by Alfred Uhry
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
New Jewish Theatre
December 4 2016

Kathleen Sitzer, J. Samuel Davis Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Kathleen Sitzer, J. Samuel Davis
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

Driving Miss Daisy is one of those plays that has become so well-known for its film version that it may become difficult to abandoned preconceived notions when going to see the stage version.  I personally had never seen the play before seeing the current production at New Jewish Theatre, although I had seen the film several times.  I know that a good production can easily make one set aside other versions if you give it a chance, and NJT’s production is an excellent production. It’s a story of a 25-year relationship and a specific time and place, challenging assumptions and more preconceived notions, and the casting is ideal.

The familiar story, based on playwright Alfred Uhry’s own family history, centers around widowed retired schoolteacher Daisy Werthan (Kathleen Sitzer) and chauffeur Hoke Coleburn (J. Samuel Davis), who is hired by Daisy’s son Boolie (Eric Dean White) after Daisy crashes her car and becomes too much of an insurance risk to drive. The proud Daisy insists she doesn’t need a driver at first, but Hoke is persistent and their initially rocky relationship grows closer over the years. The relationship dynamic is the centerpiece of this show, but the context is also extremely important, and although it’s not primarily a play about social commentary, it can be challenging in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  The rich, Jewish Daisy insists that she isn’t rich and that she isn’t prejudiced against African-Americans, although the way she treats Hoke, especially at first, often belies that declaration. Even the seemingly easygoing Boolie is too afraid for his reputation to attend a dinner in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been invited to speak. The effort here is more to portray a specific relationship as it unfolds in the time and place–Atlanta, Georgia from 1948 until 1973–within the context of the highly restrictive and often volatile culture of the time. The relationship is the  centerpiece, however. The characters are well-drawn and the play tells a compelling, believable story in its roughly 90 minute running time.

Uhry’s play is well-structured and serves as an excellent showcase for its actors, led by NJT’s Artistic Director Sitzer in a rare acting role as Daisy.  Sitzer is excellent in portraying the complex character of Daisy, who is proud, stubborn, and set in her ways, but whose stubbornness masks an underlying vulnerability.  Davis is also excellent as Hoke, convincingly portraying the character’s developing relationship with Daisy and displaying a great deal of personal strength and determination. Both performers excel in the witty banter as well as the more dramatic moments of the piece, and the growth of their relationship from antagonistic to affectionate is convincing, as is their characters’ aging over the years as presented in the story. White also gives a strong performance as the personable, conciliatory Boolie.

The set, as is usual for productions at NJT, is impressive. Scenic designer Dunsi Dai has created a believable, elegantly appointed house fronted by a representation of a car in which Hoke and Daisy make their various excursions. The costumes, by Michele Friedman Siler, are detailed and appropriately evocative of time and place, as well as the changing styles over the years. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Mark Wilson that helps to evoke the changing of time and season, and strong sound design by Zoe Sullivan. Music from the times is effectively used to help set the scene in various moments, as well.

This is a well-known play that I think is more complex than is often perceived. It can be sharp, challenging, and convicting as well as funny and heartwarming in moments.  Mostly, it’s a portrayal of particular distinctive characters and their growing, complex relationship.  New Jewish Theatre’s production is an excellent presentation of this memorable story.

Kathleen Sitzer, Eric Dean White, J. Samuel Davis Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Kathleen Sitzer, Eric Dean White, J. Samuel Davis
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting Driving Miss Daisy at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until December 18, 2016.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »