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  • AmericanTheaterWeb Original News & Reviews

  • Use the calendar above to find ATW News & Reviews for a specific day, or use the list to the right to go to a specific review or article. The site's updated 3-4 times a day generally. For you convenience, links below will take you to ATWTopNews (a quick listing of links to some of the day's top stories) and to ATWClips (the complete digest of the day's news from ATW).

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ATW Digest - Shrek the Musical Has Opened - read the early reviews

AmericanTheaterWeb

Review - Shrek the Musical - Filmdom's Big Green Ogre Takes Broadway

New York Times

The Belching Green Ogre Has a Song in His Heart
“Shrek” is not bad. But it does not avoid the watery fate that commonly befalls good cartoons that are dragged into the third dimension.

amNY

Theater Review of Shrek
It’s not easy being green. Take Brian d’Arcy James, the talented actor who plays the underdog ogre Shrek in a green fat suit and hamlet. He must also adopt the same Scottish accent used by Mike Myers.

Star-Ledger

'Shrek' shows being green isn't as bad as Kermit claims
"Shrek The Musical" wants to be naughty and nice at the same time. Adapted from William Steig's book and Dreamworks' animated film, it bursts with pop culture references and cheekily tasteless jokes, but it also sells a gentle moral about the value of inner beauty.

Associated Press

A mean green ogre named Shrek moves to Broadway
As that old Kermit the Frog standard goes, it's not easy "Bein' Green," but the folks at DreamWorks have done their darndest to make sure we are entertained at "Shrek the Musical," the company's lavish stage adaptation of its hit animated movie.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

"Shrek" a family musical with gay-pride element
The trend of adapting animated movies to the stage continues with this first attempt by DreamWorks to cut in on the bounty that Disney has enjoyed on Broadway. ... Not as transformative as the landmark in the genre, "The Lion King" (to which this production pays playful homage), or as reductive as the mediocre "The Little Mermaid," "Shrek the Musical" is a fun, largely successful musical version of the first installment of the hugely successful film franchise

USA Today

On Broadway, 'Shrek the Musical' is a gas, gas, gas
If you don't think flatulence is funny, chances are you won't buy the theory that it also can be a means of seduction. ... Ah, well, your loss. Because when the stinky, cranky, altogether irresistible title character of Shrek the Musical (***½ out of four) falls in love, scatological humor inevitably is involved. And the romance is as poignant as the jokes are, well, pungent.

Bloomberg.com

Lovable Shrek, Winsome Fiona Bring Cartoon Tale to Broadway: John Simon
As “Shrek the Musical” opens at the Broadway Theatre, starring Brian d’Arcy James, Sutton Foster and Daniel Breaker, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that it is done very well; the bad news is that it is done at all.

Variety

Review: Shrek the Musical
Countless films of recent decades have set out to spin a gently subversive fairy tale with a contemporary edge, but few have succeeded as wildly as "Shrek."

Back Stage

Shrek: The Musical reviewed by Adam R. Perlman
After a decade of somber snoozes, trinket factories, and Disney's family-friendly frauds, the mega-musical has been rescued by the most unlikely of heroes: an ogre in shining armor.

TheaterMania

Review: Shrek the Musical
This live-action musical adaptation of the popular animated film is wrong in very many ways.

Talkin' Broadway

Review: Shrek the Musical
Shrek the Musical, the adaptation of the 2001 Dreamworks film that just opened at the Broadway, is the best animated-film-to-stage transfer since Beauty and the Beast. . . .

ATW Review - Women Beware Women - Jacobean Tragedy With 50s Flair

Thomas Middleton may have written Women Beware Women some 400 years ago, but in adaptor-director Jesse Berger's spirited production for Red Bull Theater, the play feels like a potboiler from 1950s filmmaker Douglas Sirk.

The sense of both the Jacobean era and the days of Eisenhower is made abundantly clear not only by Clint Ramos' costume designs, where a vivid yellow cocktail dress almost resembles a massive corseted top and skirt from the Renaissance and a preppy argyle vest complements a brocaded long-coat, but also by the flourishes in David Barber's scenic design, which actually seems to use padded and studded headboards from the mid-twentieth century (there's even a starburst mirror hanging on one side of his handsome, and witty, balconied set).

Aspects of Middleton's plot, a mix of sex, repression, and violence also might have fueled a black-and-white film. Bianca (Jennifer Ikeda), newly married to a humble clerk, Leantio (Jacob Fishel), becomes embroiled in an adulterous affair with the Duke of Florence (Geraint Wyn Davies). When Hippolito (Al Espinosa) confesses to his sister Livia (Kathryn Meisle) that he's in love with their niece, Isabella (Liv Rooth), Livia concocts a lie that allows not only Hippolito to achieve his amorous ends, but also gives Isabella the chance to follow her heart; she'd rather be with Hippolito than Ward (Alex Morf), the simpleton rich boy, that her father (Everett Quinton) has chosen as her fiancé. Livia's scheming isn't limited to her brother and niece; she's had a hand in arranging the affair between the Duke and Bianca, and she wiles her way into Leantio's heart. Ultimately, all of Livia's schemes backfire, and Middleton's play ends not unexpectedly in tragedy.

Berger's staging zips along for the first half as the stage is set for the bloodshed that generally comes from any tragedy of the era. And even though theatergoers can sense the impending carnage, it's difficult to not savor Meisle's carefully crafted turn as the duplicitous Livia and Ikeda's rendering of the self-confident, and later self-loving, Bianca. Similarly, it's delicious fun to watch as Leantio and Isabella, both sweeter and trustworthy characters, fall in line with the Machiavellian ways of their friends and family, including Leantio's sometimes trusting and sometimes shrewdly suspicious mother (played with comic aplomb by Roberta Maxwell).

Unfortunately, the production (and play) sags after the intermission (which would not have existed in Middleton's time) and it takes time for the momentum, so beautifully achieved during the first half of the production, to return. One reason for this slowness is that two of Middleton’s least interesting characters (and two less satisfying performances) come to the fore: Morf's overly whiney performance as Isabella's intended and Jonathan Fried's turn as the not-as-pious-as-he-appears Cardinal, who attempts to sway the Duke, who's also his brother, from his unsanctified relationship with Bianca. Once the action returns to the more central characters, though, "Women" moves briskly and inexorably to its end, which audiences savor with delight, in the same way they might relish an old black and white film that is simultaneously a guilty pleasure and a delectable bit of artistry.

---- Andy Propst


Women Beware Women continues through January 5. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 3 and 8pm. (Holiday schedule varies see www.rebulltheater.com for complete schedule information.) Tickets are $50-65 and can be purchased by calling 212-351-3101 or by visiting the theater's website.

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ATW Review - Shrek the Musical - Filmdom's Big Green Ogre Takes Broadway

Right now, it's panto season in the U.K. and theaters all over Britain are presenting fairytales on their stages with some minor and major alterations. In America, we don't have the tradition of yuletide pantos, but last night with the opening of Shrek the Musical, Broadway got a pretty good impression of what pantos are like: mischievous, musical, and an awful lot of fun.

After the disappointing musicals developed from animated movies that have arrived on Broadway in the past few years, it's been difficult to get one's hopes up about "Shrek," and though the musical, which has book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, and music by Jeanine Tesori, doesn't always succeed, it is a winning and most welcome entry to the 2008-2009 Broadway season.

Lindsay-Abaire's book sticks pretty closely to the story of the Dreamworks film. Shrek (Brian D'Arcy James) has been happily living a hermit's existence in his swamp since he was seven. Thus, he's more than a little disgruntled when he discovers that the swamp has become a refugee camp for fairy tale characters that have been displaced from their homes by Lord Farquaad (Christopher Sieber), a despot of a ruler who's turned his realm into a Lego-like Disneyland. Farquaad wants nothing more than to be king, but to do so he must marry a princess and he's chosen Fiona (Sutton Foster), who's held captive in a tower surrounded by a moat of lava and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. When Shrek appears before Farquaad demanding that the fairy tale creatures be relocated somewhere other than the swamp, the pompous Lord sees an opportunity; he can use Shrek to rescue Fiona. Should Shrek succeed, well, the swamp will be given back to Shrek in its entirety. Shrek, accompanied by Donkey (Daniel Breaker), sets off on his quest, succeeds, and romance blossoms between the Ogre and the beautiful princess with a secret.

The original cartoon had a grand time spoofing its fairy tale cartoon forebears and Lindsay-Abaire and Tesori, along with director Jason Moore and choreographer Josh Prince who make the show move with fleetness and showbiz acumen, take the comedy of the show one further, adding popular musicals to the mix. Mamma Bear, from the Goldilocks tale, complains about the swamp with a revision to a Gypsy lyric. Shows like Hairspray, A Chorus Line and Xanadu also fall into the mix, and even pop culture – Stevie Wonder for example – gets referenced and sampled in the expansion of the original cartoon.

It's gleeful, if not terribly deep, fun that's served up in an eye-popping physical production. Tim Hatley's set and costume designs are whimsical and extravagant, and Hugh Vanstone's lighting design is lush, vibrant and atmospheric. Rick Lazzarini, of The Character Shop, has managed to bring a huge dragon onto the stage of the Broadway Theatre, and in addition to this achievement, provided some hilarious puppets that literally fly by as Shrek and Donkey journey to the castle where Fiona has been held.

Lindsay-Abaire, whose genius for bizarreness and non sequiturs in non-musicals has delighted theatergoers nationwide, has cleverly opened up the movie, providing some wonderful backstory moments for Shrek and Fiona, even as he's kept some of the movie's funniest lines. (Often he can top what was in the original screenplay, wait for Donkey's thoughts about his potential after Fiona has called him a "steed.")

Tesori uses a wide-ranging musical vocabulary in the show: her score includes pop ballads, rhythm-and-blues numbers, gospel, some razzmatazz Broadway like songs, and more. Generally, the mix-and-match nature of the score works wonderfully, but it does go astray occasionally (almost ironically apt in a fairy tale). A highlands inspired song for Shrek in the second act never soars as one would like it to, and the "Freak Flag" anthem for the fairy tale characters (led by John Tartaglia's fierce – in all senses of the word – turn as Pinocchio) seems heavy-handed in its attempts to rouse audiences with a message that's been heard throughout the show: it's what's inside that counts.

Even the creators' few missteps, though, do not dampen the fun mixture of parody and sweetness which are so much a part of the original film. A great deal of the sense of heart in this new musical comes not only from the loving adaptation of the source material, but also in the performances from the actors who have been charged with bringing their cartoon counterparts to life. James finds the right balance of curmudgeonliness and lovability in his portrayal of the green ogre, who's not really as mean as he'd like others to think. Foster, a spitfire tomboy a few seasons back in Little Women and a grand leading lady in shows like The Drowsy Chaperone, marries the two in her sure-handed rendering of Fiona. Breaker, who was playing the angry young man in search of his muse last season in Passing Strange, channels Eddie Murphy and adds his own brand of neediness and street-wisdom to the role of Donkey, and Sieber, a dashing leading man, brings swagger to the role of vertically-challenged (the creators have found a delightful solution to this visual) Farquaad.

The kids in the audience eat up the visual joke here. Elsewhere they squeal with jokes that might make their adult companions squirm – fart jokes abound. What's important, though, is that there is enough here to please, amuse and charm adult theatergoers. This show, which so resembles a British Christmastime panto, will be around to please all generations for some time to come.

---- Andy Propst


Shrek the Musical plays at the Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway). Performances are Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm; and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $41.50 - $111.50 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com. Further information is available online at www.shrekthemusical.com

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ATW Review - Legally Blonde - It’s, Like, a Non-Stop Energy Bombshell!

Non-stop pink and an explosion of other colors, pop music with a catchy beat, energetic dance and some standout performances from minor players and pooches propel Legally Blonde at the Bushnell into an entertaining bombshell that seems anything but dumb.

Becky Gulsvig, who understudied the role on Broadway, stars as Elle Woods, a Delta Nu Sorority blonde fashion major who gets dumped by boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Jeff McLean) heading to an Ivy League law school. Elle decides to become the “serious” type of girl he wants and trades in parties and shopping for law books, pursuing him to Harvard. There, she runs into a few obstacles, like Warner’s new girlfriend Vivienne (Megan Lewis); a professor (Ken Land) who hits on her; and the fact that law school involves some studying. Another professor Emmett (D.B. Bonds) helps her discover that she has a flair for the law which she demonstrates when she helps beautician Paulette (Natalie Joy Johnson) reclaim her dog from a former boyfriend and later, defends fitness queen Brooke Wyndham (Coleen Sexton) against a murder charge.

The leads are able, but the show's standout performances come from some of the more minor players. Ven Daniel, as UPS delivery man Kyle, brings down the house every time he struts in, strikes some Chippendale-like poses and claims, “I have a package.” Johnson shines as the shy beautician trying to master the “bend-and-snap” to attract Kyle’s attention. Their Irish dance fulfilling her fantasy is a hoot as is Alex Ellis as Chutney, Brooke’s stepdaughter, whose testimony Elle must discredit.

And then, there are the dogs. Elle’s Chihuahua Bruiser (Frankie) and Paulette’s bulldog Rufus (China). They've been trained by Connecticut’s own William Berloni and steal the show any time they are on stage.

Almost the entire plot is told through Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin’s songs and lyrics with a non-stop pop beat energized by pompom waving, rope jumping high energy athletic choreography from Jerry Mitchell, who also directs. The book, by Heather Hack has adapted the movie, which itself was based on a novel by Amanda Brown. Hack's finest contribution is a quirky dramaturgical one: Elle’s sorority sisters appear in her imagination as a “Greek chorus.”

David Rockwell's modular scenic design has been lit by designer Paul Miller, whose work will need some adjustments as this touring production moves on. Glare off a beauty shop mirror hinders theatergoers’ ability to watch some scenes. Additionally, the sound design (from ACME Sound Partners) makes it difficult to discern some dialogue and lyrics. During a pivotal trial scene crucial testimony could not be heard at all over the music conducted by Jan Rosenberg.

Gregg Barnes’ costumes are an explosion of color (and a lot of Elle’s signature pink) in youthful designs. Overall, it’s a production focused on appealing to the teen fans who made the movie a box office smash. Like Elle, that’s not so dumb after all.

---- Lauren Yarger


Legally Blonde the Musical plays at The Bushnell (166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT) through Dec. 14. Performance times are Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $25-$75 and can be purchased by calling 860-087-5900 or by visiting www.bushnell.org.

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ATW Review - A Civil War Christmas - The Celebration Gets Lost in the Crowd

Paula Vogel’s A Civil War Christmas strives to live up to its billing as an “American Musical Celebration,” using a 14-member cast to portraying more than 35 characters in a myriad of stories amidst countless songs. Unfortunately, the Pulitzer-prize winning playwright’s two-and-a-half-hour long work leaves us confused and wondering just who’s doing the celebrating and why as this "Christmas" has its world premiere at Long Wharf Theater’s Stage I.

One of the stories unfolding in the piece, which takes place on Christmas Eve 1864, involves Hannah (Bianca Laverne Jones) and her daughter Jessa (a role shared by Faith Philpot and Malenky Welsh). They escape slavery and head to the White House where they believe the president will help them. Simultaneously, President Lincoln (Jay Russell) and wife Mary (Diane Sutherland) worry about what to get each other for Christmas, even as John Wilkes Booth (Guy Adkins) and conspirators plot to kidnap the president. From the world of arts and letters, Walt Whitman (also Russell) and Clara Barton (Rachel Shapiro Alderman) make appearances in Christmas, and we see them comforting wounded soldiers.

Vogel centers on other, less historic characters as well including seamstress Elizabeth Keckley (Ora Jones), who tries to bury memories of her lost son and her days as a slave in her work. Decator Bronson (Marc Damon Johnson) busies himself as a blacksmith for Union soldiers as he searches for his wife, sold into slavery. Young Raz (Susannah Flood) steals the family’s best horse and heads off to join the Confederate boys in battle.

With “and others” added in the program following the list of multiple characters portrayed by each actor, it’s no surprise that it can get rather confusing to keep track of who’s who. Some women portray across gender, simply donning a top hat while still in full Victorian hoop dress to morph into one of Lincoln’s war cabinet advisors, for example (costumes by Toni-Leslie James as exquisitely detailed and in soft, dark tones capturing the mood of the stories). Two actors amusingly portray a horse and mule in some of the drama’s few comedic moments. Young Raz is portrayed by a woman, giving fuel to the thought that he will be revealed to be a female by his Confederate troops à la Mulan, but it turns out to just to be more multiple casting. When young Jenna, separated from her mother, returns in search of the White House, we realize that we’d forgotten about her in the midst of all of the other stories and songs that had taken place.

The most compelling aspect of "Christmas" is Keckley’s story, which contains Vogel's richest character development. Vogel's writing is made deeper by Jones’ moving portrayal and grand singing voice. When "Christmas" focuses on this woman, we witness her days as a slave and feel her hate for the master who abuses her. She’s haunted by the memories of her college-educated son who was lost in battle. Ultimately, she becomes a confidant of Mrs. Lincoln, who along with Lincoln, is seen in an exceptionally unflattering light. Vogel depicts them as a couple of buffoons oblivious to the dramas taking place around them.

The music, traditional songs mixed with spirituals is supervised, arranged and orchestrated with incidental music by Daryl Waters. The musical is directed by Tina Landau, who makes good use of set designer James Schuette’s multi level wooden planks which give dimension and definition to the various scenes on the deep thrust stage.

All of the stories conclude and everyone sings around a Christmas tree and the message seems to be that though we’re a nation of many experiences, we are one people with one voice and that giving the gladness of your heart is the best gift of all. It's a simple message that's almost lost in the crowd here.

---- Lauren Yarger


A Civil War Christmas plays at Long Wharf Theatre Stage I (222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, CT) through Dec. 21. Performances are Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesdays at 2 and 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 and 7pm. Tickets start at $32 and are available by calling 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.

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