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George Abbott

An (almost) ALL MALE Production of The Boys From Syracuse — Rollicking!


From the moment one enters the intimate Lion Theatre and sees Joshua Warner’s irreverent Set: the giant, clip art, bulb-lit arrow and graphic pointing hand, a broken arc of stage bulbs, black and white cardboard cut-outs signifying Grecian columns and familiar blue and white Greek coffee shop signage, we know this is no traditional production of The Boys From Syracuse.

Director Jonathan Cerullo’s limber imagination shapes the tuneful 1938 show into a vaudeville meets musical romp cast entirely – but for one-of men!  Just as during the Depression, we need what producer Mel Miller calls “a knock-about comedy.” With songs like “Falling In Love With Love,” “This Can’t Be Love,” and “Sing For Your Supper,” to carry one along, the experience is thoroughly enjoyable.

Matt Dengler and Ian Fairlee (Ephesus)

Successfully executing this kind of daft, precision humor in a matter of a mere three weeks is something of a marvel. Ethan Steimel’s scrupulous Lighting Design aides and abets freeze-frames and a waka-waka Harpo horn which punctuates ba-dump-dump moments – not one held too long. The small stage is artfully occupied from the band on a balcony, up and down various ladders, and onto the theater floor by a predominantly talented and entirely game company. Let the shindig begin!

The story, as you may recall, involves two sets of twins separated during a shipwreck seven years ago and mishaps that occur when they all unknowingly find themselves in the city of Ephesus. At the top of the show, the local Duke (Shavey Brown) condemns Aegeon (Jody Cook) to death for being a citizen of Syracuse unable to pay a tithe. Aegeon is father to one set of twins (the other set is their servants). He’s searching for his sons.

Matthew Fairlee and Josh Walden (Syracuse)

Twin Antipholus of Ephesus (Matt Dengler) long ago gave his parents up for dead. He and servant Dromio of Ephesus (Ian Fairlee) live well. The master has a loving wife – Adriana (Jonathan Hoover), and willing mistress, head courtesan of a neighboring brothel (Sam Given). Dromio is married to kitchen maid Luce (Adam B. Shapiro – an inspired piece of physical casting albeit with apparent talent quotient.) Also in their household is Adriana’s sister Luciana (Darrell Marris Jr.).

When Antipholus of Syracuse (Josh Walden) and his servant Dromio-of Syracuse (Matthew Fairlee – yes, the actor servants are real twins) arrive in town, the two are immediately mistaken for their doppelgangers by a tailor, a merchant, the head courtesan (Sam Given), local constabulary, and Antipholus of Ephesus’s household. The hapless Syracusians are even pressed into spending a night with their brothers’ spouses. Realizing it’s unsafe to remain, the visitors plan to return home when Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with Luciana. Got all that? Believe me, it’s clear as you’re watching.

Matt Dengler, Jose Luaces, Shavey Brown holding Ian Fairlee

Both Antipholuses – Matt Dengler (Ephesus) and Josh Walden (Syracuse) are triple threats. They act, sing, and dance well. Both are adroit with comic timing. Whether planned or not Dengler’s more naturalistic acting beside Walden’s somewhat more broad, music hall delivery works wonderfully further distinguishing the two. (Walden could easily play Jolson.) Thespians worth following.

The Dromios, Ian Fairlee (Ephesus) and his brother Matthew Fairlee (Syracuse) are funny, credibly innocent, and physically adept.

Adam B. Shapiro is marvelous as Luce. The performer stakes claim to the stage without going over a prescribed top (mugging is skilled). A big man, he’s light on his feet, deft with a look, playful; in context – believable. And he sings!

Sam Given

Jonathan Hoover makes the most of Adriana with female bearing, movement, and reactions that serve the production admirably. Darrell Marris Jr.’s Luciana is palpably wide-eyed, soft, and besotted. Sam Given’s sinuous Courtesan is aptly sassy but pushes it to abrasive.

Creative Directorial moments include in part: the tale of the shipwreck told in puppet cut-outs, shadowplay, searching the audience for “an honest man,” an unexpected, hat and cane soft shoe, spoken sound effects, clever acknowledgement of lyrics ahead of their time, tongue-in-cheek, synchronized movement, well engineered fisticuffs… Jonathan Cerullo keeps his cast taut and quick, almost none of them self conscious about farce. Staging is aesthetically appealing and fluid, choreography fun; vivacious high spirits sustained.

A scene where courtesans show their “wares” seems less well thought out and the third reprise of a wonderful, harmonized rendition of “Sing For Your Supper” might ditch its blazers and fedoras.

Adam B. Shapiro, Darrell Marris Jr., Jonathan Hoover

Hope Salvan’s Costumes intentionally have that rummaged from trunks in an attic aspect. Antipholuses and Dromios look swell. Luce resembles a splendid, lavender-wigged Raggedy Anne. I can’t say I understand sporting jeans underneath dresses and courtesan drapery. Use footless leggings if you need cover. Being tentative with sexual designation works against the preposterous credence of the production.

Also featuring: Joseph Scott Holt, Jose Luaces, Elliott Mattox.
The production’s token and completely extraneous female, actress Madeline Hamlet, wears a “The Future Is Female” t-shirt and mostly speaks in irritating squeaks. I would encourage the role dropped in any revivals.

The Band: Cupid & The Arrows– Evan Rees—Conductor/keyboard, Michael Bagby-second keyboard, Matt Watson-drums/percussion, Joseph Scott Holt- cello/violin/percussion

This is Musicals Tonight’s 98th revival of an American musical. It deserves our support.

Photos by Milliron Studios Photography
Opening: The Company

Musicals Tonight! presents
An (almost) ALL MALE production of
The Boys From Syracuse
Adapted from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors
Libretto- George Abbot
Music- Richard Rodgers; Lyrics- Lorenz Hart
Directed by Jonathan Cerullo
Music Director/Conductor- Evan Rees
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through February 26, 2018
NEXT: Anything Goes- February 27-March 11, 2018

Listen to Alix Cohen talk about reviewing theater on WAT-CAST.

Colored Lights – KT Sullivan Aglow


A good show is a good show. Colored Lights, directed by Eric Michael Gillett, was originally performed at The Algonquin’s Oak Room in 2007. It’s cohesive, well written, and personal to performer KT Sullivan who dives into multiple genres like a happy salmon knowing where she’s going. Intermittent parlando is effective, anecdotes charming.

Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones’ “Try To Remember” provides soft intro into recollections of the artist’s years as an actor. “In the theater, a season can be a lifetime and a lifetime can be a season,” she quotes acerbic critic Addison DeWitt from All About Eve. A 1986 Cleveland production of The Boys From Syracuse during which Larry (Lorenz) Hart straggled in to supply late lyrics on a bar napkin, gave Sullivan the opportunity to sing “Falling in Love With Love” (written with Richard Rodgers) for director George Abbott. Here she performs it perhaps more wisely, looking back, as if bemused. We sway.

“I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock” (Jule Styne/Leo Robin- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes- in which she played Lorelei ) showcases the vocalist’s familiar, wide-eyed innocent persona flirting masterfully with audience. The next number alternates caustic reviews out of Diana Rigg’s collection ‘No Turn Unstoned’ with verses from the eclectic “Well, of All the Rotten Shows” (Irving Berlin –Face the Music). A perfect sequence. Jon Weber contributes vaudeville piano.

Three sincere, deftly understated ballads culminate in “And I Was Beautiful” (Jerry Herman- Dear World.) Sullivan is so credible she almost blushes. Wistfully telling us she would’ve liked to have been cast in the Angela Lansbury role, she quips, “I don’t play girls anymore. I find it- cleansing.”

“Autumn in New York” (Vernon Duke – Thumbs Up) arrives a wolf in sheeps’ clothing. Sullivan starts by melodically relishing each conjured image. Suddenly the number erupts full-fledged, complex jazz as Weber’s finger-flying instrumental. I find this and the vocalist’s attempt to resume above it, jarring.

Musically difficult theatrical turns include “Barbara Song” (Kurt Weil/Bertold Brecht- The Three Penny Opera) which appears to be a wink-wink parody and the more successful, quite moving “Dividing Day” (Adam Guettel- The Light in the Piazza.) While I don’t believe the emulated character in Stephen Sondheim’s “Who’s That Woman?”(Follies), a sharp, poignant “One Halloween” and soaring, take-me-or-leave-me “But Alive” are splendidly presented (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams-Applause).

Dick Gallagher’s adroit arrangement of “Another Op’nin, Another Show” (Cole Porter-Kiss Me Kate) and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (Irving Berlin-Annie Get Your Gun) is prefaced by Sullivan’s signature Mae West turn. Phrases are vividly savored in this slower mounting. When the second tune erupts like a brakeless train, it’s come from somewhere.

With reference to husband Steve Downey and a brood of grandchildren, Sullivan declares her life rich, “and yet…” leads us into four bars of “Much More” (Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones- The Fantastiks), which in turn, opens sluice gates to “Colored Lights” (John Kander/Fred Ebb-The Rink). The beautiful title song is given its due with evocative phrasing and lush accompaniment. Weber almost folds onto the piano keys.

New to this iteration of Colored Lights is a mash-up of 29 songs from 1929. A cavalcade of clever connections pepper the stop/start medley with not a stitch dropped. Impressive. Sullivan and Weber have reached a point where they finish each other’s sentences.

Photos by Maryann Lopinto

KT Sullivan: Colored Lights
Directed by Eric Michael Gillett
Musical Direction/Piano- Jon Weber
The Laurie Beechman Theater
407 West 42nd Street
Venue Calendar
Additional Shows: August 16, September 13, October 15, 2017

Fiorello! – Sheer Delight!


In an election year full of worst possible behavior and damaging convictions, it’s uplifting to be reminded of a man of principle. (The bad guys seemed easier to identify then.) That Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning Fiorello! is a terrific piece of writing (a master class, really; don’t just watch, listen), with, in this production, adroit direction, artful visuals, droll choreography, and a company of notably young, talented players, is a veritable treat. Getting past their youth takes a minute. After that, it’s clear sailing.

Julius Reese, Michael Brahce, Ben Dallas Redding, Ryan Morsbach

If you’re familiar with Fiorello H. LaGuardia, it’s probably as the progressive, three-term Mayor of New York who helped quash a corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. Few are aware the lawyer was Deputy Attorney General, a decorated Army airman, served in Congress with firebrand commitment sponsoring labor legislation and railing against immigrant quotas, and was one of the first outspoken critics of Hitler.

Fiorello! concentrates on vicissitudes of city politics, LaGuardia’s personal life and character. There are three love stories – two based on fact, one, comic relief, lost as well as won elections, and a look at politics which, though couched in humor, is likely not too far from the truth.


Katie Birenboim and Chelsea Cree Groen

The longshot nominee is chosen at a poker table (“Politics and Poker,” one of musical theater’s cleverest numbers) presided over by party head Ben (Ryan Morsbach who especially shines in “Little Tin Box,” another whiz-bang funny song). Women of The Nifty Shirtwaist Factory, including the sweet, obtuse, Dora go on strike. (Chelsea Cree Groen – endearing comedienne, good singer, lovely dancer.) In retaliation, their leader, Thea (Rebecca Brudner – beautiful voice, lyrical spoken Italian, winning actress), is arrested for solicitation by on-the-take cop Floyd (Dan Cassin, a little too duh.)

Beleaguered employees Neil (Michael Sullivan – fetching tenor), Morris (Matt McClean, who could make more of this), and Marie (a spirited Katie Barenboim) – secretly in love with her uber-ethical, scrappy boss, put up with long hours and erratic behavior because LaGuardia is “On the Side of the Angels.” Dora unwittingly falls for Floyd: “I Love a Cop” which almost has dire consequences.


Austin Scott Lombardi, Rebecca Brudner and The Company

We see “The Little Flower” (a translation of his name, not to mention diminutive height) campaign in Italian and Yiddish: (“The Name’s LaGuardia: L-A-G-U-A-R-D-I-A”), fall in love with what the audience may perceive as the wrong girl, go to war, lose the girl and an election to the flashy, shallow-sound familiar?  “Gentleman Jimmy” (James J. Walker), then win on both those fronts.

As LaGuardia, Austin Scott Lombardi is earnest and attractive, but rather more a leading man than charismatic character type which is a bit disconcerting. Like the company’s youth, one simply has to let this go.

The show is warm, tuneful, charming, wry, and wise. You’ll have a good time.


Matt McLean and The Company

Director Bob Moss stages with great freshness and an eye to visuals. The large cast moves seamlessly from scene to scene as does furniture. Pacing is nimble. Small moments as when each soldier salutes his girl before boarding the ship and Thea singing the beautiful “When Did I Fall in Love,” wrapping herself in LaGuardia’s robe, add intimacy.

Evan Zavada’s Music Direction offers the illusion of an orchestra with only 2 pianos and a violin. Brendan F. Doyle’s Sound Design is utterly crisp. Deft Choreography by Michael Callahan ranges from graceful to rollicking.


The Company

The city is made up of group of miniature (about 5’), two dimensional buildings on which photography of actual structures has been printed. These are supplemented by tall, portable street signs so we know where we are. A montage of newspaper clippings from the period covers the floor. If you’re sitting up high enough, perusal is fun. Incidental furniture is well chosen. Love the switchboard. Carl Sprague’s Scenic Design is original and effective. Matthew E. Adelson’s Lighting is playfully colored or dappled in all the right places.

By the look of it, Costume Designer David Murin had a great time dressing the company, not the least because of variety (chorus girls to cops, immigrants to  servicemen) and multiple changes rarely seen on a production of this scale. The stage looks swell.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s freezing in this theater. Bring a jacket or sweater.

Photography by Alexander Hill
Opening: Austin Scott Lombardi

Berkshire Theatre Group presents
Book- Jerome Weidman & George Abbott
Music- Jerry Bock
Lyrics- Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Bob Moss
Choreography- Michael Callahan
Music Direction- Evan Zavada
The East 13th Street Theater
136 East 13th Street
Through October 7, 2016