Author: Michael Hillyer

Intermission

It’s hard to know precisely what to say about “Intermission.” What’s real and what’s not real are difficult to tell apart in this clever, light Pirandellian melodrama by Daniel Libman, now playing at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row under the direction of Wayne Maugans. “Intermission” takes place in the Spartan lobby of a theatre on the opening night of “Intromission,” a new play written by “author unknown”. The lobby is dominated by an upstage wall of corrugated siding, which, along with some large cardboard boxes piled randomly at left, seems to define the playing space as a small,...

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THE BAR OF AVON – Three Day Hangover’s Big Boozy Benefit

I responded in person to Three Day Hangover’s press invitation to attend their Big Boozy Benefit at the Rockwood Music Hall because I have read some good things about this intentionally goofy young theatre company, whose productions mingle an unconventional, contemporary musical approach to mounting Shakespeare with fraternity house-style drinking games in a bar-room setting.  I am not kidding.  The favorable NY Times review of their 2013 production, The Hamlet Project, noted that by the fifth beer, the proceedings had turned “even funnier,” which is not your everyday post for a Hamlet review in the Old Gray Lady.  I wanted to see for myself what they were up to, and since they were fund-raising for their upcoming 2014 season, perhaps also give them a plug and some positive publicity if it turned out to be as interesting and fun as I thought it might be.  As it happens, I am completely in favor of drinking as well as Shakespeare, so I fancied myself well equipped to mix booze with the Bard along with the best of them. The excellent band — Justin Aaronson (drums), Scott Davis (keys), Phil Pickens (guitar), Richard Thieriot (bass) — started the evening off with a funky, cheeky number, Vienna Sucks, from the company’s production of Beyond Measure, adapted from Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure by Raife Baker, Phil Pickens and Lori Wolter Hudson, featuring droll...

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Burlesque To Broadway – Part 2

So here it is, a very rainy, depressing Saturday afternoon in New York, and I am following an audience into the back of a theatre near Times Square in midtown.  I am carrying my wet umbrella, as well as a nagging sense of guilt. We are all going in to see a burlesque show, that’s right, a striptease.  I feel a sense of embarrassment as I realize I am just another man in a raincoat.  But instead of the sad strip club environs that normally house such steamy enterprises, we are entering into the Florence Gould Hall on East 59th Street, a spiffy and legitimate performance space and concert hall, and to my genuine relief the women in the audience seem to well outnumber the men in raincoats.   As I take my comfortable, clean seat, my mood lifts at the sight of the bandstand in front of me; a baby grand piano dominates stage right in front of an electric keyboard, a drum set is raised on a platform at center, and several music stands placed elsewhere around the stage are set out for saxophone, electric guitar, bass, clarinet, trumpets and trombone.  Nothing seedy about this set-up, I thought, and as the tuxedo-clad band members take their entrance, the classiness of this modern-day celebration of yesterday’s world of Burlesque becomes apparent, and the silly sense of faux-guiltiness has...

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Six By Sondheim

A beautiful piece of theatre happened tonight on television.  SIX BY SONDHEIM, a 90-minute documentary produced by Frank Rich and James Lapine and directed by Mr. Lapine, premiered on HBO tonight and charted its way through Stephen Sondheim’s musical theatre career with a loose focus upon six of his songs.  Naturally, those songs are from different points of Mr. Sondheim’s long and celebrated six-decade career as a composer and lyricist, and in-between them Mr. Lapine interweaves a fascinating patchwork of old and recent interviews, as well as still photographs of Sondheim at work, at rest, and at play, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that come together into a cohesive picture only at the end.  That final image is a photograph of Sondheim behind his desk, working and smiling. It is a mesmerizing and emotional hour and a half, beautifully directed and edited; a few minutes into the documentary we are watching Larry Kert’s pretty much complete performance of “Something’s Coming” from WEST SIDE STORY and I am already reaching for the tissues, completely done in.  There was another hour twenty to follow, during which Stephen Sondheim appears on camera quite often, of course, talking to a whole slew of interviewers about his life, his craft, his points of view.  We see him as a much younger man, chain-smoking cigarettes and seeming somewhat sour and gloomy, but always bright...

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Nephew’s Night Out – Lincoln Center, Jack O’Brien and Joe Allen

I took my nephew, now a sophomore at Columbia, to see Ethan Hawke in the Scottish Play at Lincoln Center last night.  My nephew is far from my sister and home, and the Columbia campus is a tad remote from the cultural hub of the city, so I thought we’d make an entire evening of it.  I booked a reservation at Joe Allen after the show.  He has seen a couple of musicals on Broadway, but that’s pretty much the extent of my nephew’s theatre-going experience.  This was the first time, he said, that he was seeing “a drama.”  I liked that he dressed up for the occasion. Jack O’Brien’s production of MACBETH indeed provided plenty of drama.  Both acts begin with the house lights on, and in both instances the director lets us know that we are entering a world of darkness and hurt.  The opening sound and light effects that begin the evening seem to hammer the very light out of the room; something wicked this way comes.  The cast is, on the whole, quite good, and this director’s control over his milieu is complete and masterful.  His staging is imaginative, fluid, and visually stunning.  He is aided by wonderful designers, and by the cavernous thrust arena of the Vivian Beaumont.  I mean really, it is thrilling to watch his work, and I am glad that my nephew’s...

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