Monday, December 04, 2017

A Tale of Two A Christmas Carols - A Christmas Carol Reviews

A Christmas Carol - The Old Vic Theatre - London, UK - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
A New Version Written by Jack Thorne, Directed by Matthew Warchus
Runs until Jan. 20th, 2018

A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical with a Scrooge Loose - Ross Petty Productions at the Elgin Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Matt Murray, Directed by Tracey Flye
Runs until Dec. 31st, 2017

There seems to be productions of A Christmas Carol turning up every December but this year, it feels like theatres are doing Charles Dicken's classic more than ever (including another production at Shaw Fest, another at Soulpepper). A tale of a uncaring miser learning the errors of his ways with the help of four ghosts probably never gets old but seems ever more timely in our current political 2017 world. I happened to see two new productions of A Christmas Carol that are opposing ends of theatrical style, yet both anchored in terrific performances of Ebenezer Scrooge, and ultimately both delightfully joyous theatrical events.


The Old Vic presents a new version of A Christmas Carol by Jack Thorne (still riding high from writing the new megabit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), with some socially modern elements (the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are women in Scrooge's life who control the narrative here). Some psychological explanations help develop our understanding of Scrooge's current behaviour (an abusive father, a terrible boss), but if this sounds all heavy, and despite a slight reliance on group narration (it never truly works unless the entire cast is perfectly in sync), director Warchus and Thorne manage to keep things beautifully haunting yet festive. This new take feels like the modernized version of a classy traditional tale thanks to Christopher Nightingale's gorgeously sweeping music, on Rob Howell's sparse but effective set that cuts through the Old Vic stalls with some surprises to spare.

Rhys Ifans, known best for his comedic roles in films (but was also a terrific Fool in the King Lear at Old Vic), gives a weighty dramatic heft to this psychologically damaged Scrooge, which also makes his transformation to the giddy joyous re-transformed Scrooge, all the more delightful. When we also see the women in his life, like Belle (Erin Doherty), the love of his life, move on away from Scrooge's scourge, living on their own terms, or Scrooge's little sister Little Fan (Melissa Allan) trying to save him for whatever it was worth, there's an element of showing how Scrooge's story can be damaging to those around him, but how they learned from his terrible ways to grow stronger. Ifans is also wonderfully contrasted with young Scrooge (Jamie Cameron, who runs back to the theatre boxes to plays in the band) whose innocence and naivety shows the sense of hope that had been lost (and then refound).


On the flip side over at A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical with a Scrooge Loose, Ross Petty's annual Christmas Panto in Toronto finally takes a traditionally Christmas story and brings out the silliness of Scrooge's fate into a zany tale that includes some time travel, cell phone apps, and Petty Panto regular Plumbum (Dan Chameroy delightfully in Panto drag) who turns out to be all the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Add in the ladies of Ghost dusters (I'm guessing to avoid right issues), and Jane, a counterpart to Crachett, who realizes she's not getting equal pay to the men at Scrooge's company, and we have a clever modern take on a familiar story, with some very up-to-date pop music thrown in as a good Panto would do. The jokes, in keeping with Panto tradition, range from the puns (Scrooge's partner Marley is that of Bob with full rastafarian mode) to the topical (a few jibes at the current administration south of the border, with a particularly funny zinger at Kellyann Conway's expense) to the downright obscure references (the Jenni Burkenstocks did get a good laugh from the opening night theatre crowd).

Written by Matt Murray* (*friends via other theatre friends so thus maybe biased, tho I'm also a fan of his Rumspringa Break! and Myth of the Ostrich), and with Tracey Flye's zippy direction, this A Christmas Carol panto takes us on a kooky journey we've come to expect from a Pantomimed version of a classic yet still feeling fresh and clever in its execution.


It also helps having Dan Chameroy on hand, and AJ Bridel is back from last year as well to anchor the central female role of Jane, but it's Cyrus Lane, usually known for his dramatic theatrical performances, who runs with this loose Scrooge. It's fun to see Lane get silly and show off his comedic side (as well as some dance moves). Between Lane and Ifans, two terrific actors put in their natural opposing types, shows that putting serious actors in the Scrooge role can pay dividends.

Photo of A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic by Manuel Harlan
Photos of A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical with a Scrooge Loose by Rachel McCaig
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Sharron, Music and Jam! - Unapologetically Me - Cabaret Review

Unapologetically Me: Sharron's Cabaret for Kids - Young People's Theatre Studio - Toronto, ON
Created and Performed by Sharron Matthews
Runs until Oct. 21st 2017
(*I have worked with Sharron Matthews previously so this is a biased review)

Sharron Matthews was the woman who first convinced me cabarets could be great. Her night time cabarets for grown ups is unapologetically Sharron being her fabulous self, and now she's being Unapologetically Me, for kids! Sharron's mix of heartfelt and honest personal stories (this time of her youth) and singing rearranged pop songs that fit surprisingly well into her stories, is a perfect combo to bring to the young audiences of YPT.

Sharron has a special handle on the rambunctious kids who totally grooved to the songs while Sharron cleverly told intimate stories about her childhood days. With her body positive, confidence owning, anti-bullying stance, there's a positivity about the whole show that manages to crack through even some of the more cynical of the kids. Watching the kids and their natural sassiness, it almost seemed like they hadn't heard this type of uncynical positive optimism as you could see their minds churning in how to take in this messaging, all while they were tapping to the beats (and a few head bangers rocking to the grooves). Sharron seems a natural in guiding her show to the very unpredictable audience of kids, and in our showing, ultimately ended up in a big dance party after one particular dancing kid got into the whole proceedings and Sharron happily went with it. And the kids followed!

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reality and Beyond - The Aliens and Mary Jane - Play Reviews

The Aliens - Coal Mine Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Annie Baker, Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Runs until Oct. 8th 2017

Mary Jane - New York Theatre Workshop - New York City, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Amy Herzog, Directed by Anne Kauffman
Runs until Oct. 29th 2017

Watching these plays, The Aliens, an older Annie Baker play now brought to life by Coal Mine Theatre in Toronto, and Amy Herzog's newest play Mary Jane at NYTW, I sat there immersed in these stories and thought, these are not so much plot plays but about people thrown into bad situations and trying to deal with life, and damn is it heartbreaking. It's not obvious at first, but both Herzog and Baker's plays slowly reveal themselves by revealing the humanity in their characters as they deal with life's blows, but also reveal their strength, or "goodness" as we slowly figure out what Mary Jane's life is all about, or how two bro-ish straight "losers" hanging out in a backlot alley reserved for employees only find each other and lend whatever strengths they have to a newbie looking for connection.

Much of what is revealed in The Aliens is unspoken, in the awkward pauses or the silent moments that somehow bond KJ (Will Greenblatt) and Jasper (Noah Reid), two guys who found each other after life sort of failed them. They hang around the employees only backlot alley of someone else's workplace, where they deal with Jasper's latest relationship failure. When a new employee, an awkward 17-year-old Evan Shelmerdine (Maxwell Haynes), discovers the pair behind his new workplace, the older guys take a shine to the newbie and slowly develop a rapport with Evan as Evan answers back in awkward uneasy "cool" while trying to connect. Annie Baker nails the straight guys speak to awkward silence precision and it's in the slow reveals where the 2 older school-drop-outs show their artistic desires, as well as their band (last called The Aliens), who sort of school Evan in whatever advice they can give. It's a beautiful slow burn, and while parts tend to ramble on (much like in real life), it's a fascinating precursor to Baker's Pulitzer-winner The Flick and her latest play john.

Mitchell Cushman's production is beautifully set in the transformed Coal Mine Theatre space with a set by Anahita Debonehie and lights by Nick Blais that places the audience into the back alley (with a clever window detail for the stage manager). Sam Shouldice's sound design adds to the realism that lets Cushman bring Baker's ultra-realism theatre as we spend times with these guys we would normally overlook.

Will Greenblatt is particularly fun as KJ, the college-drop out with a drinking problem. Greenblatt's KJ exudes a cheeky bravado that masks his hidden disappointments and plays nicely against Maxwell Haynes shy awkwardness. Haynes, in a breakthrough debut, manages to convey so much of Evan's hopes and emotions in the very little actual dialogue he has, and his responses to KJ and Jasper help us learn to connect with the two "The Aliens". Noah Reid's Jasper is the "smarter" of the pair, but he seems less enthused by Evan while still showing he secretly cares underneath his cool loner exterior. Reid, who is naturally a warm likeable actor, tries hard to be the slightly hardened artistic type, and while at times his readings start to ramble (of Jasper's writings), it's obvious his Jasper wants to care about his friends, old and new.

There's a lot of talk about nothing (or what seems like nothing at first) but Baker's clever reveals slowly showcase the deep connections these guys have with each other, and their new found friends. They're ultimately depending on one another despite exuding loner independence as they try to exist and understand the reality they were given.

In Mary Jane, we slowly discover the daily life Mary Jane lives through right now, trying to take care of her highly sick son while surviving the reality of life and the health care system on a low income job that she's been rarely attending. In another hyper real setting with the awkward moments of silences and pauses as those around her try to help and understand but ultimately, Mary Jane's sad story is a good person in a terrible situation, and the play just displays that reality as the plot itself.

We see Mary Jane (Carrie Coon) in her apartment survive daily life with help from her super (Brenda Wehle), one of the various nurses (Liza Colón-Zayas) and the nurse's niece (Danaya Esperanza), and as she guides a fellow mother with a child with a similar case (Susan Pourfar). It should all be a big downer with little happiness or hope left in the story but Herzog imbues Jane's story with an internal sense of humour, as Jane's optimism, despite the lack of good news, buoys our own view of Mary Jane, both the person and the play.

The ensemble cast is unifyingly excellent and take on double roles that seem specifically geared to match their first roles. Colón-Zayas is a gentle angel as the home-nurse, but then seems particularly pointed and careful as a doctor on the case. Pourfar meanwhile breaks hearts twice as a mother of a newly diagnosed child, and then a Jewish mother of a child who seems to know the drill too well, and yet also does not. Esperanza is the plucky but heartfelt niece, and then returns as a genteel music therapist. Wehle is the snappy but understanding superintendent and then later doubles as a priest.

At the heart of it, Coon is refreshing as a no-nonsens Mary Jane who keeps advocating for her child without losing her optimism, but in doing so, slowly questions her place in the world, and how it all fits in.

Herzog's Mary Jane presents some very realistic moments in the title characters life, and through her interactions with others, we see the hidden heartbreak she tries to bury with an optimism that only enhances the emotional pull. While the realism is upended with a dramatic change to the story, it continues along moving from dealing with reality to questioning the beyond.

Photos of The Aliens by Tim Leyes
Photos of Mary Jane by Joan Marcus
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

God Bless You For New Cast Recordings!

I'm giving away more new cast recordings!

New recordings of lesser known shows are being released on CD by Sh-K-Boom Records Friday, July 28th 2017, giving us these shows for posterity with some incredible cast members.

The Encores' Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, the first little heard musical by iconic duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid) had a recent Encores presentation at New York City Center and now it's been recorded so that we can listen to early Ashman/Menken through the glorious voices of Santino Fontana, Skylar Astin, Brynn O'Malley, Rebecca Naomi Jones and even James Earl Jones!

A new musical based on the cult 2001 film is now a new musical Bubble Boy by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio. It was presented as a special concert at Feinstein's/54 Below with a cast that includes Alice Ripley, A.J. Holmes, Matt Doyle, Richard Kind, Nehal Joshi, and Gerard Canonico. Now preserved wonderfully in this recording, also out Friday, July 28th 2017

Here's your chance to WIN a CD or digital copy of the musical cast recordings! Follow @tapeworthy and ReTweet the tweets linked below:

To win the God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater PCR, retweet this tweet or any subsequent tweets about the contest.

To win the Bubble Boy OCR, retweet this tweet or any subsequent tweets about the contest.

The Details: -
The God Bless You Mr. Rosewater PCR contest closes at 11:59pm PST on Sunday July 30th 2017.
The Bubble Boy OCR contest closes at 11:59pm PST on Sunday, July 30th 2017.

Must be following @tapeworthy on twitter to be eligible.

Only winners will be contacted directly the day following contest closing. Winners will be randomly drawn from all entries. If winner does not respond within 5 days, another winner will be chosen.

Only one prize per person. - Contest is open to residents of USA and Canada for the CD copies. Worldwide for the digital copy.   - There will be 2 winners, one for the God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater PCR contest, and one for the Bubble Boy OCR contest, each consisting of your choice of a digital copy or a CD copy. Tapeworthy is not responsible for the shipment of the prize and will solely pass on the shipping information to Sh-K-Boom Records.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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Sunday, July 09, 2017

Win the Holiday Inn Musical or War Paint OBCRs!

I'm giving away some Original Broadway Cast Recordings! Thanks to Ghostlight Records and Sh-K-Boom Records, we're going to celebrate the release of the new CD cast recordings for new musicals War Paint and Holiday Inn. Both are currently available digitally, with War Paint OBCR set for CD release on July 14, 2017, and the Holiday Inn OBCR on CD out on July 21, 2017.

Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn OBCR stars Bryce Pinkham, Megan Lawrence, Danny Rutigliano, Megan Sikora and Corbin Bleu. The music is of course Irving Berlin's classic music from the film of the same name, now with a book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge.

You probably think of Holiday Inn being famous for its Christmas song "White Christmas" but the musical takes us through all the seasons and every major American holiday with some of Berlin's most famous classics including "Easter Parade", "Blue Skies", "Stepping Out With My Baby", and "Holiday Inn/Happy Holiday"!

War Paint OBCR stars Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, in a new musical with music by Scott Frankel, Lyrics by Michael Korie, and a book by Doug Wright.

The new musical from the writers of the musical Grey Gardens, "tells the remarkable story of Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden—fierce rivals who defined 20th Century beauty. In creating an industry, they reinvented themselves and revolutionized how the world saw women."

Here's your chance to WIN a CD or digital copy of the musical OBCR's!:

To win a copy of Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn OBCR, Quote Retweet (or Retweet and reply) this tweet and tell me what your favourite holiday is, and include the hashtag #HolidayInnMusical

To win a copy of War Paint OBCR, Retweet this tweet.

The Details: -
The War Paint OBCR contest closes at 11:59pm PST on Thursday July 13th 2017.
The Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn OBCR contest closes at 11:59pm PST on Thursday, July 20th 2017.
Must be following @tapeworthy on twitter to be eligible.
Only winners will be contacted directly the day following contest closing. Winners will be randomly drawn from all entries. If winner does not respond within 5 days, another winner will be chosen.

Only one prize per person. - Contest is open to residents of USA and Canada for the CD copies. Worldwide for the digital copy.   - There will be 2 winners, one for the War Paint OBCR contest, and one for the Holiday Inn OBCR contest, each consisting of your choice of a digital copy or a CD copy. Tapeworthy is not responsible for the shipment of the prize and will solely pass on the shipping information to Sh-K-Boom Records.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Send in the Clowns - Morro and Jasp In Stupefaction - Theatre Review

Morro and Jasp in Stupefaction - Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Created by Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, Directed and Dramaturged by Byron Laviolette
Runs until Jun 29th 2017

Our beloved clown sisters Morro and Jasp are back in their new show Stupefaction. Still can't exactly explain what it's about and what happened (also, spoilers), but it's quite stupendous and there are snazzy special fx, projections (ooooh) and OTHER CHARACTERS IN THE SHOW! Or well not quite a show since Morro and Jasp enter the beautifully spacious new Guloien Theatre space at Streetcar Crowsnest as late coming audience members only to find themselves at the ire of the usher (Elliot Loran!) who tries to hurry the sisters into their seats. Shenanigans of course ensue until an technical problem ensues and Seften Jackson comes out to fix the mysterious electrical problem.

Eventually Morro and Jasp find themselves in a deliriously surreal situation but their comic warmth (and hilarious asides) takes us along for the ride as the clowns try to figure out what and why this is all happening, eventually questioning a sort of existential theatrical raison d'être. It's a darker turn for the clown sisters, but after growing up and doing Puberty, becoming mice or Morro, going to work, baking, it seems natural in life's progression that the sisters reach that point in life where we question our positions in the world (or in the theatre space). The sisters continue to fight, and at one point Jasp becomes a bit of a dictator (well, more than usual), but all the while the amusement peaks through the darkness (with some help of some snazzy lighting effects).

Add in a Fedex guy (the always comical Anand Rajaram) trying to get a signature for a mysterious package, the zaniness slowly builds with a bit of audience participation and lots of cheezies. Stupefaction is less straightforward than our past encounters with Morro and Jasp but still just as heartwarming and smile grinning. Plus it made me so happy to see Elliot Loran a part of the Morro and Jasp universe (and spoiler: I do agree he should be part of a big Broadway musical with that talent)!

Photos of Morro And Jasp: Stupefaction by Alex Nirta
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Need to Travel?

Finally saw the Canadian modern classic Banana Boys (pictured above with Darrel Gamotin, Matthew Gin, Jeff Yung, Miquelon Rodriguez, Oliver Koomsatira) for the first time with the remount of Factory Theatre's terrific Naked Season production and I finally understand why it's now a modern Canadian classic. Also saw Young People Theatre's adorable new show Musnchtime!, based on a collection of Robert Munsch stories, Canadian children's classics in themselves.

Both great shows from local Toronto companies and both also seemed like natural fits to tour and to bring these companies to a wider audience. Factory Theatre will be touring another Naked Season show Saltwater Moon (including a transfer to a larger Toronto theatre for the Off-Mirvish season) and I hope this begins to be a continued effort with the reinvigorated Factory Theatre under Nina Lee Aquino. In fact the Naked Season was so terrific I would highly advocate for a tour of A Line in the Sand as well (which I placed in the top spot in my Best of Stage from last year).

Meanwhile Young People's Theatre has brought in many wonderful productions from other companies in other cities but I still love their home grown productions the most and wonder if they've had the opportunity to tour them. They've been able to remount some popular musicals (with James and the Giant Peach and Seussical returning this season alone), and while they build some impressive sets to fill the vast main stage at YPT, many could be easily scaled down to tour, including their current Munschtime! show (pictured above with Dov Mickelson and Lisa Nasson).

With Soulpepper now bringing some of their faves to New York City this summer on their 42nd Street residency at Signature Theatre's space, and with the success of some Canadian shows in New York City, including both Come From Away and Ride the Cyclone both getting Drama League nominations this season, it feels like finally there is some movement of Canadian shows getting recognized and seem beyond our city limits. Even within Canada, it's thrilling to hear Obsidian Theatre/Shaw Theatre's fantastic Master Harold... and the Boys (also on last year's Best of List) which already got mounted in both Niagara-on -the-Lake and Toronto, will now be seen at Segal Centre in Montreal.

There seems to be more networks of theatres building up and with the announcement of the cross-Atlantic theatre network to produce new plays with theatre giants CTGLA (Los Angeles), National Theatre (London), Royal Court (London), The Goodman Theatre (Chicago), Second Stage (NYC), seems like an exciting venture to share resources to present new works of theatre which Canadian Theatres could benefit from, or emulate.

Photo of Banana Boys by Joseph Michael
Photo of Munschtime! by Cylla von Tiedmann

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Need for Musicalization? - New Musicals Reviews

Sousatzka - Elgin Theatre - Toronto, ON - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by David Shire, Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., Book by Craig Lucas, Directed by Adrian Noble
Runs until Apr. 9th 2017

The Girls - Phoenix Theatre - West End - London, UK - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, Directed by Tim Firth

A Bronx Tale - Longacre Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater, Book by Chazz Palminteri, Directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks

War Paint - Nederlander Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Music by Scott Frankel, Lyrics by Michael Korie, Book by Doug Wright, Directed by Michael Greif
(Preview performance)

The View Upstairs - The Lynn Redgrave Theatre - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Max Vernon, Directed by Scott Ebersold

Sousatzka, the new musical from producer by Garth Drabinsky, seems to have enough intrigue behind the scenes for another show, but lets talk about the musical itself here. Sousatzka is an ambitious new musical that feels like it is from another era. With a cast of 57 trying to tell the tale of Holocaust survivor Madame Sousatzka, a brilliant piano teacher who has taken on Themba, a young prodigy who escaped from Soweto, Africa and brought to 1982 London to pursue his talent. Themba is torn between the world of classical music and strict training from Sousatzka and the ferocity of his mother, who was one of the leaders against Apartheid.

There is a compelling tight story with the clash of different worlds, and the unifying experience of survival. The musical tries to mine it, but then layers it with backstories for everyone, including Themba's father currently imprisoned in Soweto. Then just to keep padding the show, we get the colourful characters of a boarding house where Sousatzka lives, their lives, a look into the classist system in London and the ultimate attempt to get Themba his debut concert. There is a compelling tight story somewhere at the centre of this megasized show.

There are three musicals in the show and while the alternating musical styles could have been an interesting juxtaposition, especially between Sousatzka's classical ways compared to Themba's African musical roots, the creative team have also thrown more typical Broadway music to enrapture the era of early 80s London and moments that satirize the classist art world of the riche. All of which have little to add to our understanding of Sousatzka and Themba themselves (and I had to keep reminding myself that the show was apparently titled Sousatzka and who we were supposed to be focusing upon).

Still, in it's current form, we get to see the always wonderful Victoria Clark in a meaty central (if not focused) role, and Montego Glover in the underused and under examined role of Themba's mother. Judy Kaye, Fuschia!,  and local/Stratford's Jonathan Winsby are terrific in their secondary, if unnecessary roles, while newcomer Jordan Barrow is extremely talented and tries to fill out Themba despite the sketch of the central role. Everyone sings gloriously, but many of the side characters get their own songs that add little to the central story.

Many of the songs are quite lovely, especially those for Victoria Clark, and the African music by Lebo M sound glorious with the large cast (although the staging with a rising sun and the music by Lebo M has been iconicized already in The Lion King). There is a compelling story buried somewhere in this gigantic show, but the emotional effectiveness may have worked better as a smaller, simpler chamber piece, with a smaller cast.

A few years back there was a stage play version of Calendar Girls based on the film based on a true story. Lacking the charms of the film version, the play felt like an unnecessary transition to the stage, and wondered why it wasn't at least turned into a musical, since it felt like it had all the right elements to become one. Well, Gary Barlow (Take That) and Tim Firth apparently felt the same and have written The Girls, the new musical version of the now famed story of a group of older women who decide to make a nude calendar for charity.

What results is an utterly charming musical that uses the calendar theme, a year in the life of this small town in Yorkshire, to follow a group of women struggling with various issues as they get older. The musical also makes the idea of the calendar as a rallying effort as the pinnacle of the first half, and then the courage to actually do the nude calendar as the pinnacle for the whole show, and dramatically it works far better than the play that had the calendar shoot in the middle of the show.

As a big fan of Gary Barlow and his boy band days with Take That, I was disappointed with his music for Finding Neverland, but he redeems himself here with a musical score that fits with the story.

The cast of Girls, with Joanna Riding and Claire Moore as the leaders of this calendar idea, and Debbie Chazen, Sophie-Louise Dann, Michelle Dotrice, and Claire Machin are wonderful, as well as Josh Benson, Ben Hunter and Chloe May Jackson as their teenage kids with their own problems.

A Bronx Tale is a new musical based on Chazz Palminteri's play, but it also owes a lot to Jersey Boys and West Side Story (no seriously, how much are they paying in residuals?) and every Italian American cliché you can fit into a "new" musical that feels done. The show feels lazy with cheap laughs in a story about a young Italian boy whose devotion is torn between his father and a gangster but luckily sharp casting of Nick Cordero (Waitress) and Richard Blake (Legally Blonde) makes the most of what they can. The music by Alan Menken feels phoned it but it's still Menken music so still enjoyable.

Eyes kept rolling along with the clichés but then Ariana DeBose (Hamilton) appears as our young lead's potential love interest and her chemistry with Bobby Conte Thornton brings a new glow to the heavy handed show. Despite the hoary cliché´s and the lazy script and songs, watching Thornton and DeBose was enough to make the show enjoyable and I ultimately left the Longacre with a huge smile on my face.

War Paint tells the story of Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden's lifelong rivalry in the cosmetics industry and their contributions during the war. It's a fascinating story but this musical solely exists to see Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole diva-it out on stage as Rubinstein and Arden, respectively. As their male sales partners (gay BFF, husband respectively) swap bosses and allegiances, the drama of these two women moguls in a time of male dominance is nicely mined, with pleasant, if forgetable songs from Frankel and Korie (with songs that have more mainstream appeal than their Grey Gardens) that give LuPone and Ebersole chances to one-up each other until the characters finally meet in the end.

But for a musical called War Paint, with Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole as rival cosmetic icons, it's surprising that it takes until the end of the show before their characters appear in the same room together. It may be more true to life, but it makes the show a tedium of back and forth scenes between Rubinstein and Arden. While the creative team figure out a way for them to have some moments together, particularly with the final Act 1 song, it lacks any true fireworks you would expect about a rivalry between two divas.

Without LuPone or Ebersole in the main roles, there's a generic traditional musical at its core that is only skin deep. LuPone throws out the zingers but the show isn't fun and campy enough and tries to respect the story yet does not go deep enough to truly understand the characters. The show even starts with the rivalry already in place, and does not really try to explain how it all began. For such a colourful premise, War Paint feels surprisingly flat. It's beautiful to look at, with a beautiful set by David Korins and costumes by Catherine Zuber, but there's very little contour in the show.

The View Upstairs is at its best when it regales in the regular patrons of a 70s gay bar the Upstairs Lounge in the French Quarters of New Orleans. The twist however throws a time-traveling loop, throwing a young millennial entitled fashion designer into the old bar as he learns what it's like to be gay when it wasn't as open as it is now. Lessons are learned and the future boy becomes a better person yada yada but the real fun is with the characters from the bar, especially when Frenchie Davis or Nathan Lee Graham speak or sing. And boy does the cast sing, with some lovely songs by Max Vernon, showing a lot of promise for the future of musicals. Michael Longoria, Ben Mayne, and Randy Redd are excellent as some of the other bar regulars.

Photo of Sousatzka by Cylla von Tiedemann
Photo of The Girls by Matt Crockett
Photos of A Bronx Tale and War Paint by Joan Marcus
Photo of The View Upstairs by Kurt Sneddon
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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International Jock Crocs, Inc. Bare Necessities>