Non-Registered Critics: Tony Frankel

Feb

Two Trains Running at Matrix

Two Trains Running exists not for any high-risk conflicts it presents or even its snapshot-sharp details about the Hill District of Pittsburgh circa 1969, mired in need and convulsed with change. It’s here to let seven souls speak. And listen you must.

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Feb

SWEENEY TODD – THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

And this production could have used more oomph. It’s just not as terrifying, funny and romantic as it should be. With an eleven-member cast handling all the roles and also serving as the chorus, something is lost in terms of scale and impact. Yet having a small ensemble means we hear all the lyrics, normally a difficult feat when a huge cast tries to spew Sondheim’s tricky words simultaneously — although Cricket Myers’ sound is praiseworthy. But this is handily one of the most difficult scores in musical theater history, as many numbers are operatic in nature, so while the vocals easily impressed, the 160-minute show seemed to tax some on opening night. David O’s 10-person orchestra sounded awesome — aided greatly by Mr. O on keyboards — but some of the orchestrations didn’t pummel us as they should.

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Feb

HELLO DOLLY

These near three hours display spunk to spare, even heart. And Tony-winner Betty Buckley’s beautifully modulated and indomitable Dolly Gallagher Levi offers poignancy and perkiness to spare — but her voice was raw on opening night in L.A. (she cancelled most of her performances last week in Costa Mesa). Yet even if that wasn’t the case, she doesn’t seem to own the fun factor that we got from Midler, Peters, Streisand (too young for the film, maybe, but exceptional), and the late, great Carol Channing, whose star right in front of the theater on Hollywood Boulevard was bedecked with a red rose, red feathers, and a sparkling tiara…

Yet the show remains indomitably jubilant because Dolly exists to make life flourish, not fester, and her chosen fertilizers are money and matchmaking.

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Jan

middle8

There’s much to recommend about writer/director Stefan Marks’s musical play, Middle8. Refreshingly original with even more exhilarative acting, the premise basically follows Adam (a vulnerable Matt Kaminsky), who in mid-life is still trying to create that great rock opera, which he falters at — even with the support of wife, Cassidy (a multi-dimensional Brittany Joyner).

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Jan

1776 THE MUSICAL

Glorious moments of this production are multitudinous, but even though we all know how it turns out in the end, it’s a true nail-biter. …1776 remains highly recommended, especially to those parched individuals who need to be slaked from America’s current dearth of inspiration.

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Dec

SHE LOVES ME

This must-see, beguiling, gem of a chamber musical will leave you giddy with love, almost as if you gorged on sweet confections but magically had neither stomach ills nor toothache (it has been referred to as the “Ice Cream Musical” after a musical number made famous by original star Barbara Cook).

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Dec

SOUTH PACIFIC

With a simmering stew of disgust, anger, and desperation combined with a mysterious merriment and weary wisdom that makes her both playful and sad, Kimura is a revelation. As if this show wasn’t a wondrous journey on it own, her extra-exotic performance is a travelogue in itself. Do not miss this South Pacific, which only runs through December 23, 2018.

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Nov

Hughie & Krapp’s Last Tape

Dennehy paints a heart-wrenching portrait of what it means to see — or more accurately, hear — oneself as one truly is.

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Nov

COME FROM AWAY

With book, music and lyrics by married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein — Torontonians themselves — Come from Away truly embodies the spirit of Canada’s denizens as I’ve come to know them: Generous, authentically nice people with little sense of entitlement. Under Christopher Ashley’s seamlessly fluid direction on Beowulf Boritt’s minimal set, there are many stories crisscrossing each other as 12 adaptable thespians portray dozens of folks — both homebound and dispossessed — with the switch of an accent or a hat (the quick-change costumes are by Toni-Leslie James).

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Nov

VALLEY OF THE HEART

For 160 minutes, the show vacillates between compelling, sometimes touching, storytelling and characters who spout statistics, facts and figures, right down to the type of food they’re eating for breakfast. Sometimes, the script smacks of agit-prop a la The Normal Heart, as if to incite us to anger; but the tactic backfires, because the information-drenched speeches, rife as they are with artificial dialogue, aren’t always character-defining.

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Nov

VIETGONE

The writing is super solid, as are Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson’s sets and projection, but the production is shakily recommended because it almost works too hard to unearth the play’s universal core and loopy gifts.

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Nov

BABY EYES

While the specifics go all over the map, some of the acting is awesome (Mr. Rivera sure knows how to cast a show): Mr. Monte is menacing and absolutely frightening as the threatening, ticking time-bomb father, and Mr. Ward is spot-on as the conflicted, loving Tremaine. The Billie Holiday-drenched soundscape by Jesse Mandapat is equally effective.

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Oct

The Woman in Black

Pasadena Playhouse’s production of The Woman in Black is a delicious, handcrafted thriller of the classic style, at once dingy and disturbing.

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Oct

Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta

One of the most bemusing, bewildering affairs in recent memory, Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta is an incredibly imaginative, immersive, interactive outing suffocated by convoluted storytelling and juvenile acting. While it’s rated “PG-13” the entire shebang of snippets — aided by puppets and wide-eyed, Disney-esque narrators — feels aimed at kids.

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Oct

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

…the miracle that is Dear Evan Hansen, the justifiably praised Tony-winning show which began at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles last Friday — the second stop of it’s first of possibly five or six national tours to come. Even without a great score by Pasek & Paul, this justifiably crowd-pleasing juggernaut is poised to become the new Hamilton… I dare anyone not to get misty-eyed sometime during the show. It’s one of the most haunting depictions of teenagers — and their unassailable confusion, chaos, and disconnection — that I have ever seen in the theater.

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Oct

ROPE

…despite some dated references and creakiness, a heightened sense of reality evolves credibly within the frame of the real-time play, aided by Hellen Harwell’s set — an intelligent fusion of austere dried-blood-red furniture and astute period features — all complemented by Matthew Richter’s film noir-style lighting, Adam R. Macias’s scary sound, and Paula Higgins’ flapper-era costumes. Rope – filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1948 — remains an engrossing black comedy, highlighting the pitfalls of intellectual vanity and the dangers of the superman complex – quite perfect for our times.

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Oct

Gloria

It’s thought-provoking, gut-churning, blood-pounding theater, a rare commodity these days. Give me director Chris Field’s extraordinarily well-cast nail-biter over easy escapism any day.

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Sep

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE

While the horror and suspense aren’t as delectable as previous productions of The Beauty Queen of Leenane — Martin McDonagh’s 1996 black comedy — the dark humor, bleakness, and romance positively boil over, making Capricorn Eleven Productions’ revival a recommended trip.

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Sep

The Other Place

Sharr White’s riveting and affective play, The Other Side, concerns Juliana, a neurologist and holder of a billion-dollar patent, whose life suddenly starts crumbling before her eyes. The show begins with her — confident, sophisticated, impregnable — lecturing to a convention hall full of doctors. By the end she is in a very different place, and the transformation this character makes is awesome and heartbreaking.

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Jul

Pump Boys and Dinettes

The pleasing, diverse, and often infectious songs play like a trip to Mayberry. Under Sean Paxton’s extraordinary music direction, the show features excellent harmonies and fine acoustic sounds. Aside from having eye-candy crooners in the cast, Cori Cable Kidder, Emily Kay Townsend, Mr. Paxton (piano), Michael Butler Murray (guitar), Jimmy Villaflor (guitar), Kevin Tiernan (bass), and Jim Miller (drums) nail every slice of humor, tenderness, and bounce (among the up-beat songs was the swinging “Drinkin’ Shoes,” a country-rock song that includes a breakout tap routine from Ms. Kidder).

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