Take the A (for Any) Train to “In Transit”

The last time I walked by the TKTS booth on Time Square at 47th Street, 22 Broadway shows were offering same-day discounted tickets, most for half-price plus a two dollar service charge. Several have since closed, but in relatively low-attendance January and February, it’s a Broadway-bargain- hunters’ market.

Except for “Wicked,” which surpassed a billion-dollars all-time in December and the Disney perennials “Lion King” and “Aladdin” and (duh) “Hamilton”, pretty much every other Broadway show will be available over the next six weeks. Long-running musicals (plays are shorter-lived) that are still worth catching include “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Kinky Boots,” “The Book of Mormon” and “School of Rock,” all favorably reviewed. (My ‘tween granddaughter loved “Rock”;  “Mormon” is adult fare.)

A musical that seems to have settled under the radar after opening in December is not only new, but also very different. Sans orchestra or band, or, in fact, any musical accompaniment at all, the proudly a Capella “In Transit” is nonetheless possessed of some delightful music, sung in tight, tight harmony by characters in a half-dozen separate-but-equal NYC vignettes.

The cast of "In Transot" on Donyale Werle's brightly functional set (Photos" Joan Marcus)

The cast of “In Transit” on Donyale Werle’s brightly functional set (Photos: Joan Marcus)

As in the movie “Love Actually,” which “In Transit” resembles in form, the several stories don’t interlock, except that portions of each are set in a subway station or on a train. None of the threads is particularly original, but the fresh-faced (and diverse) cast’s eagerness and their superb close harmonies, tossed off with deceptive ease, more than compensate for their stereotypical characters.

One cliché that hits the mark is the wry, street-wise subway booth attendant, played by Moya Angela, who also plays the fundamentalist mother of Trent (Justin Guarini), whose wedding to Steven (Telly Leung) is on hold, pending mom’s acceptance. Another thread has Ali (Erin Mackey) working off her heartbreak by training for a marathon run after being dumped by Dave (David Abeles).

Justin Guarini, left, and Telly Leung

Justin Guarini, left, and Telly Leung

Jane (Margo Seibert) is an actress whose office day job is “doing what I really don’t do so I can do what I do do.” She and a recently down-sized Wall Streeter meet – where else? – in a subway station. “But, Ya Know” is their discovery duet, composed, as is the entire swingy score (and the book), by committee: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth. Fortunately for the finished product, the estimable Kathleen Marshall handles choreography and direction solo. She keeps “In Transit” in constant motion, not unlike the NYC Subway system.

Margo Seibert, center, as actress Jane at her 'day job' with David Abeles and Moya Angela

Margo Seibert, center, as actress Jane at her ‘day job’ with David Abeles and Moya Angela

There is one “accompaniment” to the vocals, in the person of Boxman, a dude whose throaty, amped-up sound effects create a virtual percussion section. Played alternately by Chesney Snow, whom I saw, and Steven “HeaveN” Cantor, Boxman also offers knowing observations on the passing scene. (You’ll swear you’ve seen him busking underground.)

You might not leave “In Transit” humming the tunes, but you’ll long remember how a string, a brass and a woodwind section were created before your very ears by a Capella arranger Deke Sharon and a vibrant gaggle of Broadway voices.

At Circle in the Square, 235 West 50th Street (between B’way & 8th Ave). Performance schedule and ticket info: Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 

Blog, Broadway, NY Theater

Celebrity sightings with Santa…

A seasonal departure from play reviews to reviewing having played…                                                                  Santa Claus

As a young New York actor, I found employment driving a cab, tending bar…the usual. And every December I’d get out my red costume, fluffy white wig and beard, and make a decent month’s salary playing Santa Claus at corporate and home parties. The most rewarding Santa gigs, however, were not for pay.

After Robert F. Kennedy was elected to the United States Senate from New York in November 1964, he announced that in memory of his brother, the President who had been slain the previous year, he would host Christmas parties for New York City school children. I phoned his office and volunteered as Santa. The next day they called back to accept my offer. (I learned later that they had vetted me with the FBI, the NYPD and Actors Equity. Sheesh.)

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“A Bronx Tale: The Musical” on Broadway

Crafted by Chazz Palminteri from a true story from his 1960s youth, “A Bronx Tale” originated as his one-man show in 1989 (revived on Broadway in 2007, directed by Jerry Zaks). The 1993 film version starred Palminteri as neighborhood gangster Sonny, who took young Chazz under his wing, and Robert De Niro, who also directed the film, as Chazz’s working-class father.

Now, in addition to relating his story on stage and seeing it portrayed on the screen, Chazz can also hum its tunes: “A Bronx Tale: The Musical” has opened on Broadway (following its shakedown run at Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ). In this era of movies-to-musicals, this one stands out. Palminteri’s own-authored book is supported by a creative dream team: music by Alan Menken (“Little Shop,” “Beauty and the Beast”), lyrics by Glenn Slater (“School of Rock,” Little Mermaid”) and direction by the tandem of De Niro and Zaks. The basic material dates from 1989 (and is set 25 years earlier), but the musical is anything but stale; it’s a fresh take on a bygone era, a characteristic it shares with a certain mega-hit, just with doo-wop, not hip-hop.

Nine-year old Calogero witnesses a murder in front of his tenement. When he doesn’t finger local gangster Sonny in a police lineup, a bond is formed between Sonny and “C,” as he dubs Calogero. C’s bus-driver father tries to discourage the relationship, but the pull of street-life is irresistible.

Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton), center, Sonny (Nick Cordero), right, and the Belmont Avenue denizens of "A Bronx Tale"

Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton), center, Sonny (Nick Cordero), right, and the Belmont Avenue denizens of “A Bronx Tale”

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Blog, Broadway, NY Theater

Sutton Foster in “Sweet Charity”: Up Close and Personal

How cool would it be to have Sutton Foster come to your house to sing and dance in your living room? And suppose she brought some talented friends to perform with her?

Well, that’s not gonna’ happen, but you can come close by seeing the mega-watt star – and her pals – in “Sweet Charity” in the most intimate musical-theater venue in NYC these days: The Pershing Square Signature Center, where no seat is more than a few rows from the lip of the stage. And while The New Group production is scaled down, it doesn’t miss a beat of the terrific Cy Coleman (music) and Dorothy Fields (lyrics) score. It even seems to have improved Neil Simon’s book, still set in the 1960s, but somehow less dated than I recall.

Sutton Foster is Sweet Charity

Sutton Foster is Sweet Charity                       (Photos: Monique Carboni)

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Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway

“The Lion in Winter” Heats Up Two River Theater

Set over Christmas Eve and Day in the year 1183, “The Lion in Winter” is based on events in the lives of seven historical figures: Henry II, King of England, Scotland, Wales, etc.; his Queen-wife-prisoner Eleanor, late of Aquitaine; their three sons; Henry’s mistress Alais; and Alais’s brother Philip, King of France. Real people, yes; but it’s not a history lesson. “The people,” wrote James Goldman in the preface to his play, “while consistent with the facts we have, are fictions.” In that context, concocted as it is out of fact, rumor and inference, “The Lion in Winter” is a flavorsome entree, served up in a thoroughly engrossing staging at Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ.

Written 60 years ago and set eight Centuries earlier, neither its style nor its setting is stale. Its “anachronisms in speech, thought, habit, custom and so on…are deliberate” (Goldman again), and the concept of a family squabbling (or worse) over mulled wine at Christmas might just as well be next month as 800 years ago.

King Henry (Michael Cumpsty) to Queen Eleanor (Dee Hoty): Well - what shall we hang? The holly or each other?

King Henry (Michael Cumpsty) to Queen Eleanor (Dee Hoty): Well – what shall we hang? The holly or each other?

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Blog, Professional, Regional

“A [Tuneful] Christmas Story” in Red Bank

Beginning at 8PM on Christmas Eve, you can watch the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” twelve times in a row on TBS-TV, screening on the even hours up to 6PM on the 25th. Sans song and dance. On November 18, 19 and 20, you can see the tale played out live on the stage of the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ. Avec song and dance. Based on the enthusiasm of the opening night audience and the reported advance-ticket sales, Phoenix Productions could probably run their own “24-Hour ‘A Christmas Story’ Marathon,” as TBS bills it.

Movie maven Leonard Maltin calls the film, adapted from radio personality Jean Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” “a delightful memoir of growing up in the 1940s…truly funny for kids and grown-ups alike!” My assessment of the musical is less enthusiastic than Maltin’s of the movie, but in this case the messengers, Phoenix’s energetic cast, transcend the message.

The cast

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Blog, Community, Regional