Navigating Your Way Through… Othello.

Othello – The Public, Decorate Theater, Central Park NYC — June 6, 2018

This was my first time attending a FREE performance of Shakespeare in the Park, at Central Park. Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s direction of The Public’s Othello seemed to stick to the original play, with very few changes in dialogue. It was noticeable, at times, that the dialogue was simplified, and certain scenes were emphasized (such as Iago forcing Emilia to give him the handkerchief). Nothing particularly special about this production. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable, it just isn’t particularly memorable (except for the outdoor atmosphere, and the fact that it was performed outdoors, in Central Park).

Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Iago was very convincing, and he was the standout for me, in this performance. I am however unsure about Chukwudi Iwuji’s take on Othello. Clearly a dry character, and not very likable from the start, he seemed to overact the part, which irritated me, as interfered with some of the dynamics on stage. Although he attempted to stress Othello’s anguish – it was hyperbolic, and consequently risible. The rest of the cast were fine, but nothing particularly special nor memorable.

I think after the controversy that the previous production of Julius Caesar triggered at The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park season in 2017, I was expecting a new, fresh and modern take on Othello.  Many opportunities to do so, and whether or not they tried to emphasize certain allusions to the modern day, they were extremely subtle, and barely noticeable.

To get your FREE ticket to Othello, enter the TodayTix lottery daily before midday, or wait in line at the Decorate Theater in Central Park.

(3/5)

 

 

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Navigating Your Way Through… Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts One and Two) — May 13th 2018, Lyric Theatre

A good piece of theater should have a grounded narrative, such that it doesn’t rely on supplementary information for an explanation. Skilled actors should be able to convey the narrative, and reveal a new story to an audience. Unfortunately, the anticipated Broadway debut of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child troubled me in this sense. Explicit references were being made to characters from different books (Cedric Diggory, in particular). Hence, is necessary to recognize these echos, to understand the progression of the play. Having intentionally not read up on the play, nor read the manuscript published in Summer 2016, I remained rather confused during the first act, of part one.

While I did enjoy the new theatrical experience the play attempted to convey, it felt like it was still in teething stages. After walking back from the theater at 10:30PM, I felt as if I had just seen a “rough draft” or a workshop of the play. Some food for thought (trying to #KeepTheSecrets):
The play is too long. It does not have enough substance to keep the momentum. With a very narrow plot, two scenarios occur: one, you will either appreciate all the Harry Potter explicit references, and enjoy hearing the lexicon being used. However, if you are like me, someone who is familiar enough with the general plots of each book, however, not a “Potterhead”, you will be left somewhat confused, until you are forced to quickly research the main character references in the intermission.

While many claimed it is not important to know the franchise series, I challenge this view. It is important to know the characters, plots and references from the series, otherwise, all you are left with, is a mundane subplot, of a father and son relationship. The play commences with enough impulse (especially as the music and choreography add a dimension of rapidity to the play, giving it a cinematic affect), however, begins to veer towards a dead end. There is a limit to the amount of magic that can be used, without seeming tacky (thankfully, these were not overused, and a good balance was maintained throughout), and the dialogue was not particularly witty.

As of the individual performers, strong performances from the majority of the cast, particularly Jamie Parker and Sam Clemmett. I thought Noma Dumezweni’s portrayal of Hermione was somewhat calculated and meticulous. Although at times her acting felt slightly forced, it seemed to work quite well in the context of some of the scenes.

The staging and directing was very impressive, and the implementation of fast pace music in a play was something new (to me, at least). While the majority of the play’s success clearly stems from its established name, I strongly believe that the artistic elements of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will serve as a springboard to many more plays to come. With its strong directing, impressive staging and implementation of music and choreography, this production definitely divorces and differentiates itself from current plays and creates a subgenre to classical theater, integrating cinematic elements within theater.

(3.5/5)

Navigating Your Way Through… Hello Dolly!

Hello Dolly, Broadway, July 15th, 2017 – 2:00PM

From the costumes, to large ensemble numbers and sets, Hello Dolly exceeded my initial hesitant expectations. Despite the first act being somewhat slow, the show increasingly improved as it went on. Bette Midler was sharp, quirky and hysterical. Her comic timing was priceless, and her facial expressions and mannerisms are definitely what earned her the Tony Award for this revival. The rest of the leading cast; Creel, Baldwin, Trencsh and Pierce were excellent, and gelled in with the show. I am very interested to see how the show continues once Middler leaves, as she clearly adds a je ne sais quoi to the role of Dolly.

It is no surprise that this show is booked out until November, with the average seat costing over $300. I went to the box office at 10:30, and requested a standing room seat, for $47. I stood at the back of the stalls for the first act, and moved to sit down for the second act. I advice you to do the same. Tuesday nights tend to be cheaper as Bette Midler does not perform, instead the role of Dolly Levi is played by Donna Murphy.

Navigating Your Way Through… Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Apollo Theatre, London, 7:30PM, July 26th, 2017.

Despite the critical reviews, I genuinely enjoyed the Young Vic’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, playing at the Apollo Theater in London’s West End. This was my first time seeing Tennessee Williams’ hit, and it did not disappoint. At first, I was slightly hesitant about the idea of making it modern, and yes, I knew why they were trying to ‘modernize’ it — however, it was very tasteful, with mentions and features of modern objects in the show such as iPhones and radios — all of which just gave it a lite sprinkle, a flavor or modernization – and gave the audience a feel of the time period. Regardless, as proven, the show proves to be applicable in any time period, which was obviously the main notion behind the critically acclaimed ‘modern’ aspects of this production.

Sienna Miller is brilliant as Maggie, and I am sure she will continue to develop and explore the role more thoroughly as the show continues its run into October. The fact that she was a very vocal female character was interesting, as my initial impression was that she would ultimately be manipulated and dominated by her husband (which to a certain extent she was). She always seemed one step ahead of her husband, as if she knew exactly what she was doing, almost outsmarting him in a way. It was suggested that she acknowledged the dynamics between Big Daddy and his wife, and feared that to happen to herself (as it was already accruing). Her skepticism and use of voice contributed to her overall portrayal. Jack O’Connell was also very good, and had a strong, intact performance, and successfully conveyed the internal conflicts and struggles , seeking, yet failing to escape from his issues with Maggie, Big Daddy and himself. His accent was very peculiar, and sounded somewhat Australian whilst attempting to sound southern. Colm Meaney’s depiction of Big Daddy was intense, and from the moment he entered the stage in the second act, one could sense the tension between him and the other cast members. I was enthralled by his domination. He successfully conveyed the similar dynamic between himself and Big Mamma, Lisa Palfrey, to Brick and Maggie.

I do not completely comprehend  the directors intent with the utilization of nudity throughout the show, as it only distracts from the essence of Williams’ masterpiece. It was clearly suggested that the nudity suggested vulnerability and connection, yet it failed to communicate that notion with the audience, and if anything, it only opposed its initial intention.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is selling out quickly at the Apollo Theatre. I managed to buy a last minute seat in the dress circle, restricted view (which was not restricted at all), for £35. I would recommend sitting slightly closer and more central for this production, as many of the scenes are on the side, which can be missed if sitting on an angle. Stage door was a nightmare, as the paparazzi were there, but Sienna Miller was very friendly to those who were shoving a camera in her face 🙂

Navigating Your Way Through a Trap…. The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap – London, West End – July 25th, 3:00PM

To be fair, I had read the play of The Mousetrap for school a few years back, so I was familiar with the main notions, and of course, the famous and surprising ending. Therefor, I did not really enjoy the show. For starters, the theater is one of the oldest I have been to, and it seems that the St Martins Theatre has not been renovated – the seats creaked tremendously throughout the show, and were very uncomfortable. Despite having big signs on the doors saying that the theater was equip with air conditioning, it was unbearably hot inside.

The show itself is very clever, however, I was not as enthralled by it this time, again, probably since I read the play prior to seeing it. The cast were good, but could easily be replaced, no one particularly stood out for me, and therefor I will not be going into a character analysis or praise in this blog.

I am still very fond of the play, I was just let down by my overall experience, and thought the play would have some more pizazz to it. It seemed when reading it, I imagined it differently and it was more exciting than what I witnessed on stage, Tuesday afternoon. The costumes and the scenery were all very dated, and looked dirty. Everything (including the theater) could have used a bit of a clean.

If you have not seen The Mousetrap, catch it before it closes, which will probably be in the next 20 years. I was lucky enough to attend performance number 26,968 – very significant (not). I purchased a seat in the rear stalls for £35 however, the theater was depressingly empty upon my arrival, and many others (including myself) moved around after the show had started. Top tip – buy the cheapest seat in the theater and move shorty after the show begins. Don’t let this review put you off from this masterpiece, it is an incredible mystery, I guess I was just a little let down from the performance I attended. The play proves to still stand strong 65 years later.

Navigating Your Way Through… OZ

Wicked – July 22nd, 7:30 PM, Apollo Victoria Theatre

Even after seeing it five times, seeing it a sixth time, Wicked did not disappoint. The show, as a piece of literature simply fascinates me. The ballad, the way it ties back from the end to the beginning, employs elements and alludes to The Wizard of Oz throughout and uses witty, sharp and poignant dialogue forces me to relive the show, as if it is the first time spectating.

It was a rather emotional night in Oz, as 21 cast members were leaving. Many of the cast members were in tears at the end of the show, after the bows and during the speeches (which lasted for a good 15 minutes). From the commencement of the performance, as the curtain began to rise, the audience were on their feet, clapping away and cheering — throughout the entire performance. The ensemble were as strong as ever before. Suzie Mathers (Glinda), who has been a part of 8 Wicked companies , concluding her long journey with the show on Saturday. Her presence from the very start, added a new dimension to the character which I had not originally witnessed prior to this. Her ability to win the audience over with her comic timing was superb, and her contrast between act one and act two was clearly noted — her character maturity and development, psychologically, was very unique. I don’t think I have ever seen a Glinda who truly understood the significance of the opening number No One Mourns the Wicked, and the Final — yet Mather’s successfully tended to express full emotion and comprehension, demonstrating that she was confident with the meaning behind the song, singing it as if it were about herself.

Willemijn Verkaik, Elphaba, who has played the role over 2000 times, began her journey in Germany in 2007, and moved on from Stuttgart to Oberhausen in 2010, continuing to her home country, Holland in 2011, leaping onto Broadway in 2013, and finally embarking on the West End initially in November 2013, which was cut short due to health reasons, and she concluded her first run in July 2014. Luckily, as part of the second 10th Anniversary cast, she assumed the role of the green girl for one last time — from January throughout July 2017. She did not hold back , and gave a performance of a lifetime.

The ensemble were strong as always, and so were the supporting cast. Sue Kelvin as Morrible was deliciously evil, and Mark Curry was a comedic Wizard. Typically the roles of The Wizard, Boq, Nessarose and Morrible are oftentimes forgotten about as they tend to hold less presence on stage in comparison to the two leading ladies, however – this time, each individual managed to connect with the audience in a different way, something I have yet not seen previously.

Many people ask me why I enjoy seeing the show, and the truth is, it is not because of what people might think. In interviews that I have watched, cast members from the show are often asked why they think people come back to watch the show again and again. The typical answer they give is due to the friendship between the two girls, the story, the bond, the music and costumes etc. That is true, however, my reasoning is slightly different. I find the wording immensely sophisticated , especially in the opening and closing number. The use of rhetoric and the essential question brought up at first ‘Are people born Wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them” (Act One, Scene One) is probably why I enjoy the show so much. The writers successfully convey that question throughout the entire show. I am not disagreeing with anyone who believes the show is about the dynamic between the two leading ladies, but I think the story line is ultimately used as a device to convey a much larger meaning, which I am sure many people are oblivious towards. This idea is just as significant now (if not more) than when the show was originally written in 2003. Wicked ultimately remains one of my favorite musicals, and this cast (and evening in particular) was very special.

Tickets are not cheap for this show, so I would recommend sitting on the side of the stalls, starting from row H, which is further back, so you can appreciate all the sets, costumes and lighting, without being too restricted. I sat in row N, on the side, and paid 52GBP, which I am sure isn’t the cheapest price.

Navigating Your Way Through…. Dreamgirls

Dreamgirls – London – Savoy Theatre – July 21st 2017 (7:30 PM)

Initially, devastated that Amber Riley was not performing, I had a strong instinct that her understudy Marisha Wallace would be equally as good, if not better. And I was right. The energy elicited from the performers on stage was electric from start to finish and the interaction with the audience was fantastic. The songs and dance compositions, as expected, were flawless, with many new stars in this show. It was interesting to note that the majority of the principal cast were in fact American , noticing certain dialects and accents which would be hard for a Brit to identically mimic.

The audience felt Effie’s internal struggles , successfully portrayed by Wallace. She stopped the show numerous times, with the intense and lengthy applause and positive response generated by the audience.

The ensemble and the rest of the cast were excellent , and I hope to see the show transfer to Broadway very soon.  I entered the TodayTix £15 front row lottery for this show — which I strongly recommend. The stage was very high, and would have involved looking up — however, the ushers were kind enough to note my request to move, and gave me an aisle seat in row K, slightly further back, which provided a clear, full view of the stage. Good bargains can be found , by buying a seat in the rear stalls.