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May 18, 2009

“Jerry Springer” Reveres God of Trash Talk

The sad exploitation of people in desperate search of celebrity is hilariously but also cleverly skewered in SpeakEasy Stage’s controversial season-ending shocker that gilds our basest behaviors with operatic grandeur.

It’s difficult to comprehend why anyone would parade his or her dirty laundry out onto an internationally syndicated talk show just to achieve that elusive 15 minutes of fame. But television’s Jerry Springer has amassed a fortune exploiting people’s desperate desires for notoriety, Troilo and Fennimoreand vulnerable men and women to this day continue to confess to affairs, aberrations, and dirty little secrets that inevitably lead to on-air cat fights and profanity.

Jerry Springer: The Opera, currently getting a wild and wooly New England premiere at the SpeakEasy Stage in Boston, recreates and amplifies the crazy confrontations that the real Jerry Springer and his team of handlers and security guards orchestrate on a daily basis to the delight of voyeuristic audiences all over the world. Almost completely sung through, this highly controversial and irreverent Olivier Award-winning musical cuts to the heart of the sadness beneath the circus by transforming ludicrous trash talk into a grandly operatic lampoon. An odd-sounding mix, for sure, the contrasting sensibilities nevertheless work hilariously together to deliver surprisingly touching insights into what on the surface looks like simple celebrity-seeking madness.

Act I trots out all of the stock characters and situations that invariably incite Springer’s audiences to cheer and jeer as if they were feeding gladiators to lions. But creators Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas add extreme twists that make the show’s warring guests seem at once ridiculous and sympathetic.Smith Cheating fiancées, crack whores, cross dressers, and fetishists cross paths with pole dancers, spankos, religious zealots and the KKK, all singing and dancing their confessions and suppressed desires in heightened chants and dramatic arias. Cast members play both the parody and the passion deliciously, spewing the crudest of epithets in exquisite operatic voice.

The second act comes as a complete surprise. Instead of spreading the joke too thin by giving us more of the same predictable on-air antics, Lee and Thomas turn Jerry Springer into a scathing morality play. Springer is literally sent to Hell to make restitution for all the lives he’s ruined by using his Jerrycam to feed dysfunction instead of shed healing light on damaged relationships. His contentious audience Warm-Up Man (get it?) now becomes Satan, threatening Springer with a fate worse than death if he doesn’t help him earn forgiveness – and a return to angelic status in Heaven – from a hapless, gospel-singing God. An effeminate baby Jesus, a defensive mother Mary, and a choir of combative angels all become Springer’s other worldly “guests” as he attempts to unite the forces of Heaven and Hell through ersatz conflict resolution.

To read my complete review at BroadwayWorld.com, click here.

PHOTOS BY STRATTON McCRADY: Jared Troilo and Michael Fennimore; Timothy John Smith


May 15, 2009

Spring Awakening: The Bitch of Aging

National tour of Tony Award-winning musical about the emergence of teenage sexuality may not fully satisfy an older audience but unquestionably sings to today’s younger generation by injecting a contemporary pop/rock sensibility into a repressed Victorian Era story

It’s official. I’m old. Despite excellent performances and inspired staging, particularly by innovative choreographer Bill T. Jones, Spring Awakening, the Tony Award-winning musical currently playing at Boston’s Colonial Theatre through May 24, didn’t move me. Altomare and RiabkoWith all its raw pubescent angst and melodramatic sexual posturing, the show still left me emotionally cold. I guess as a person closer to menopause than the onset of menstruation, I simply couldn’t relate.

Not that I ever could. My particular teen obsessions fixated on academics and tennis matches, not the laundry list of sexual concerns and aberrations that drive the thin plot derived from Frank Wedekind’s groundbreaking nineteenth century play of the same name. Child sexual abuse, check. Physical abuse, check. Wet dreams, check. Masturbation (lots of it), check. Sado-masochism, check. Nudity, check. Homosexuality, check. Losing one’s virginity, check. Teen pregnancy, check. Abortion, check. Suicide, check. The notion that teens are inherently good and adults are inherently bad, check.

Spring Awakening: The Musical (not to be confused with the recent Zeitgeist Theatre production of Spring Awakening the play that just ended a well-received Boston run) tries so hard to make an “important” intellectual impact that it sacrifices sustained storytelling for episodic point making. Not that there aren’t moments of great theatricality to be savored in this much touted touring production. There are. But the credit for engaging the audience empathetically in the characters’ alternating pain and tenderness goes to the choreographer and exceptionally committed cast, not the writers Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik. If it weren’t for the tremendously expressive physical and vocal interpretations delivered by a stunningly talented group of young actors, the inner conflicts that torment the show’s repressed private school boys and girls on the brink of adulthood would be lost in a haze of obscure lyrics and repetitive musical phrases. Michael Mayer’s bold direction, Bill T. Jones’ anguished choreography, and the cast’s uniformly uninhibited performances make Spring Awakening stronger than it really is.

To read my complete review at BroadwayWorld.com, click here.

PHOTO BY PAUL KOLNIK: Christy Altomare as Wendla and Kyle Riabko as Melchior

May 07, 2009

Picasso at the Lapin Agile: The Future Is Relative

New Rep’s beautifully designed and perfectly acted production of Steve Martin’s mercurial comedy looks at the future from different perspectives, rendering Picasso’s art and Einstein’s science as two sides of the same life-altering coin.

In Picasso at the Lapin Agile, talented actor, comedian, writer, and SNL alum Steve Martin has fashioned a mercurial, heady and intelligent comedy that weaves its way in and out of time as agilely as the rabbit in its title might bound across the beautiful French countryside. Casey and SweattSupposing what it might be like if visionary young geniuses Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein were to meet in a bohemian Parisian café at the turn of the 20th century, Martin engages his characters in a sharp philosophical debate that ultimately leads the artistic and scientific adversaries to discover surprising common ground.

New Rep’s beautifully designed and perfectly acted production captures all the flair and flavor of Martin’s piquant script, serving up 75 uninterrupted minutes of smart and sassy humor. But in addition to Martin’s patented quick-witted joke-making, Lapin Agile possesses an almost cosmic aesthetic that celebrates through clever analysis and droll wordplay the life-altering impact that both Einstein and Picasso had on modern civilization.

To read my complete review at BroadwayWorld.com, click here.

PHOTO by Andrew Brilliant: Neil A. Casey as Einstein, Scott Sweatt as Picasso

May 04, 2009

In “Miracle at Naples,” “F” Isn’t for Funny

Huntington Theatre Company’s world premiere of David Grimm’s ribald sex comedy gets mired in ugly language despite game performances.

Playwright David Grimm apparently went to the George Carlin School of Comedy. Repeat the seven words that can’t be said on television often enough and people might start to think they’re funny.


Dick_LatessaGrimm’s new play, Miracle at Naples, receiving its world premiere at the Huntington Theatre Company’s Wimberly stage at the Boston Center for the Arts now through May 9, is an offensive, boring, self-indulgent waste of perfectly talented actors, all stridently punctuating every other – no, make that every – sentence with crude swears and even cruder epithets. In an attempt to be oh, so smart and oh, so clever, Grimm substitutes crassness for wit, unsuccessfully cloaking his tasteless bathroom humor beneath the brazen mask of commedia dell’arte.

Set in Naples circa 1580, Miracle aspires to create a cockeyed comic tribute to our eternal search for love and companionship by crashing together the contradictions between sex and romance, cynicism and faith, cunning and innocence, and street theater and vaulted poetry. It’s an interesting premise, revealing the simple goodness that lies in the middle ground between saints and sinners, but Grimm’s non-stop barrage of unfunny juvenile slapstick leaves such an acrid taste in the mouth that it’s impossible to savor the few sweet, redeeming moments that are available.

To read my complete review at BroadwayWorld.com, click here.

PHOTO of Dick Latessa by T. Craig Erickson

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