Posts Tagged ‘Off-Broadway theater’

A Tale of Two Epochs: Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn

Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? In the case of Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn, it all depends. That is, it depends on whether you’re looking to reality to find the answer to the question, or to the fantasy created as an extended reality in this new hilarious off-Broadway show. The best answer is to suspend belief altogether and go with the flow. That’s really what this quirky, fun romp is all about.

The musical is one long exercise in romance.  At the beginning, Romeo is a character in a cheesy version of the traditional Shakespearean play, attended by a Brooklyn couple on a date. Brooklyn Girl is markedly affected by the story, while Brooklyn Guy — who could have been plucked right out of Saturday Night Fever or Grease — has other ideas. He doesn’t quite understand the emotional reaction that’s now limiting his after-date possibilities.  How does he rectify this?  By creating a second Romeo tale, one in which Romeo and Juliet are not dead at the end of the story, but are transported instead to a different reality where a different outcome is possible.

Therein lies the plotline, the extended fantastical tale of the very-much-alive Romeo who meets his revived Juliet (or so he thinks) and transcends time and geography to pursue her. Where the story goes is a tale of hilarity, confusion, and misunderstood and mistaken identities – in effect, a modern-day Montague and Capulet feud with a much sunnier ending.

En route from Brooklyn to Verona and back to Brooklyn, you’ll meet an assortment of stereotypical and atypical Brooklyn characters: a Bobby Darren lookalike, two warring mob patriarchs, a foul-mouthed bride-to-be and her best friend, two men vying for the attention of the beautiful  “Juliet,” a thug at-the-ready, and a dance teacher-priest-dressmaker-florist rolled into one. Costumed by Joseph Shrope and Fabio Toblini, even Romeo sheds his Veronese garb and goes full-on Brooklyn. Action and dialogue are all played out with an over-the-top Brooklyn accent in which Shakespearean English is replaced by a fuggedaboutit version, and the refinement of Italy’s La Scala and Verona disintegrate into scenes with Sal in his underwear and Bernadette in a bow-bedecked wedding dress.  If Shakespeare could have re-imagined his oeuvre as an exercise in camp, he couldn’t have done it any better.

Newcomers to off-Broadway Nikita Burshteyn (Romeo), Anna Kostakis (Bernadette), Michael Notardonato (Dino Del Canto/Brooklyn Guy) and Ari Raskin (Donna/Brooklyn Girl) shine in the show , along with veterans Judy McLane (Mamma Mia, Kiss of the Spider Woman), Zach Schanne (City of Light), Carlos Lopez (Man of La Mancha, Grease)and Viet Vo (Carousel, Evita) as Camille Penza, Tito Titone ,Sal Penza and Lips with winning vocals that soar in light opera motif. Think Gilbert and Sullivan meets the Mafia with a dash of Puccini and Volare. Lyrics by Mark Saltzman are set to songs derived from classic Italian music. Throw in some Guys and Dolls, a few malapropisms, spot-on characterizations and adept staging and you have the makings of two hours of spoofy fun.

Tickets are available through February 16 at the Mezzanine Theatre at A.R.T./NY, 502 West 53rd Street.  The play was produced by Amas Musical Theatre, a performing arts pioneer in promoting  diversity and multi-ethnic casting, currently serving as a not-for-profit laboratory for new musicals.

Oh My Fellow Droogies, This Is a Show for You: A Clockwork Orange Opens Off-Broadway

If you remember seeing the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange and might have possibly read Anthony Burgess’s chilling version of a dystopian society in England, this play should be on your must-view list. You’ll completely understand the plot and be enthralled by the energetic, theatrical treatment given it Off-Broadway at the New World Stages.  If you’re a newbie to the story, you might want to grab a copy of Burgess’s landmark book with its glossary in the back pages and read a bit to prepare you for the play. The experience is somewhat like seeing a Shakespearean play for the first time: it takes you a while to understand what’s being spoken and to follow the story line.

Photo By: Caitlin McNaney

Little Alex and his band of delinquents are committing mayhem throughout England, responsible for a good deal of the “ultra-violence” so prevalent during this time period. In the movie, the establishing shots occur over a much longer time frame than in the play, making it easier to understand the underlying threat to society that this gang poses.  Here, the set-up is quick, and the ensuing events are also fairly quick. The general result is clear, but it will take some paying attention to follow.

Additionally, Burgess has created his own language for droogies Alex, Dim, Georgie and Billy Boy. It’s a mix of Russian and English, morphed into words that Alex frequently uses as verbs, nouns, and situational descriptors. That’s where having some familiarity with the book’s glossary is useful. I speak Russian and could figure out what the words meant, but they will sound like gibberish to most.

Photo By: Caitlin McNaney

The comparisons between the movie and the show are notable, with some exceptions. This version, brought over by director Alexandra Spencer-Jones of London, is even more stylized than the movie (which was already visually arresting and somewhat surreal).  In another creative digression from the movie, the all-male cast takes turns playing various roles, including some female ones, cued by a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes, for instance. Again, concentration is needed to follow these changes and to understand the role of music in the storyline.

Alex is played by a British actor, Jonno Davies, with a background in Shakespeare at London’s West End. Others in the cast hail from the US and include Broadway veterans Matt Doyle (The Book of Mormon, War Horse, Spring Awakening) and Jordon Bondurant (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Mamma Mia!) as two of Alex’s counterparts in crime. The ensemble is also the most physically fit group of performers that I’ve seen together on a stage, using striking choreography to tell significant parts of the tale.

Photo By: Caitlin McNaney

Brush up on your Burgess and get a ticket for this limited-run show playing, through January 6, 2018. New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, 800-447-7400.

Off-Broadway Week: 2-for-1 Tickets through October 6

If you’re a theater lover, you know that there’s much more to see than the mega-hits running on Broadway. Off-Broadway is equally inventive and gives you a chance to be more up-close and personal in smaller venues.  For those of you who have been lax in buying tickets to these shows, now’s the time to go:  NYC & Company, New York City’s official marketing, tourism, and partnership organization has announced the opening of Off-Broadway Week. Through October 6, two-for-one tickets to 43 of New York City’s popular Off-Broadway shows will be available to a wide range of theatrical genres including comedies, dramas, musicals, family-friendly entertainment and more. Tickets are available at  Be sure to check the dates, as some blackout dates apply.

Some of my favorites are listed below including Avenue Q and the wildly inventive iLuminate: Artist of Light, a dance troupe seen on “America’s Got Talent” with fabulous music, artistry, light, drama, and, above all, incredible creativity. Others like Stomp and Blue Man Group aren’t new to the Off-Broadway scene, but they’re definitely worth a re-visit if it’s been a while since you first saw them. Thank you to The Off-Broadway League for offering this fantastic list of shows at these special prices.

Productions participating in Off-Broadway Week include:

  • Avenue Q
  • Avi Hoffman’s Still Jewish After All These Years
  • The Awesome 80s Prom
  • Bad Jews
  • Bayside! The Musical!
  • The Berenstain Bears in Family Matters, the Musical
  • Bill W. and Dr. Bob
  • Black Angels Over Tuskegee
  • Blue Man Group
  • Breakfast with Mugabe
  • Buyer & Cellar
  • Cougar the Musical
  • Cuff Me: The Unauthorized Fifty Shades of Grey Musical Parody!
  • Doña Flor y sus Dos Maridos
  • En el Tiempo de las Mariposas
  • The Fantasticks
  • Fetch Clay, Make Man
  • Final Analysis
  • Fuerza Bruta
  • Gazillion Bubble Show
  • iLuminate: Artist of Light
  • It’s Just Sex
  • La Gringa
  • La Nena Se Casa
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Me and Jezebel
  • The Model Apartment
  • My Big Gay Italian Funeral
  • My Big Gay Italian Wedding
  • NYC Dueling Pianos
  • Perfect Crime
  • Peter and the Starcatcher
  • Philip Goes Forth
  • Piggy Nation The Musical!
  • Romeo & Juliet
  • Sistas: The Musical
  • Tennessee Williams’ “Two-Character Play”
  • Thokoza: I Sing For Freedom
  • Unbroken Circle
  • Women or Nothing
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Song: The Music of Harold Arlen
  • You Never Can Tell

Last Call for Two Wonderful Off-Broadway Plays by Shakespeare and Potok

The Public Theater’s acclaimed Shakespeare in the Park series concludes on August 18 with a rollicking musical interpretation of the bard’s early comic masterpiece, “Love’s Labours Lost” .  This time set as a reunion at a prestigious college, with the beautiful Belvedere Castle as a fitting backdrop, the play takes the story of young men willing to forego the pleasures of the flesh (to find truer meaning in life) to a level that true Shakespeare fans may not appreciate.  It could be called a “Saturday Night Live” mashup with Shakespeare – it even features SNL’s fabulous Rachel Dratch as one of the professors – and it’s a lot of fun.  With a terrific band playing 30 or so memorable songs ranging from rock to rap, and a super-talented cast with two of the stars from the Public Theater’s successful “Passing Strange”(Daniel Breaker and Rebecca Naomi Jones), the production guarantees a wonderful evening.

Tickets, as usual, are distributed free in a democratic manner: you must line up early in the morning near the Delacorte Theater in Central Park to await distribution for the performance of the same day.  Two per person.  Alternately, you can donate to support free Shakespeare in the Park through the Public Theater’s website for $175 per person and receive one ticket to this show.  The song “Rich People” pokes fun at this with a wonderfully hilarious song.  The show is a must-see. Delacorte Theater in Central Park, Manhattan, enter at 80 Street.

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“My Name is Asher Lev” at the Westside Theater is a powerful adaptation of Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel about a Hasidic boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 50s.  The story about Asher’s conflicts with his father, his drive to be an artist (painting subjects taboo in the Hasidic world), and the role of his Hasidic mother as intermediary is a portrayal of tradition versus passion. Asher’s relationships with his art mentor Jacob Kahn, his mother, and his father form the backbone of the story.  Performances by Ari Brand (Asher) and Mark Nelson (Aryeh) are gripping and often disturbing, with Asher looking almost possessed at times.  Chaim Potok’s daughter, Naam Potok, is the understudy for Rivkeh, a rare and especially meaningful theatrical tribute to the author.  Closing September 1. Westside Theater, 407 West 43rd Street, Manhattan.

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