Review Roundup for October

If you’re wondering where I’ve gone: nowhere! But I have been really busy at work lately, and had quite a few baseball games to watch over these past few weeks. Plus I’ve been taking dance lessons! Plus I’ve been sewing! Plus I’ve been keeping an eye on Sycamore!

But of course, I’ve managed to sneak a few shows in as well. To eliminate the backlog of shows I had planned to write about, I’ll just spit them all out in one go. My apologies for this: All of these shows deserve a full post. But I was getting so far behind!

Starting with the most recent:

2014-10-21 18.49.56The Fortress of Solitude: “Was that show wankery? Because the book was wankery,” my friend Jeremiah said. I instantly wanted to defend the new musical’s many assets: a fantastic score, wonderful cast, lively choreography, evocative characters. The new musical (based on the Jonathan Lethem novel) is set in the 1970s and is about two boys (one white, one black) growing up in Brooklyn long before it became trendy. Dylan is a smart kid whose hippie parents relocate from Berkeley; his best friend Mingus is the son of a coke-sniffing backup singer who once had aspirations to be the next Marvin Gaye. The Fortress of Solitude beautifully evokes this musical era, with splashes of R&B, 1970s funk, hip hop, and some traditional Broadway mixed in, too. The music (by Michael Friedman) is just outstanding. Now Fortress of Solitude has got a lot of problems, too: the most prominent is the unclear storytelling that had me wanting to find the plot summary on wikipedia to find out all the stuff that wasn’t clear in the show. The (sometimes sexual) relationship between Dylan and Mingus also feels forced — I never understood why these boys connected so deeply with each other. It’s certainly a flawed musical, but it’s nevertheless an entertaining one. And hey, at least it’s not wankery.

My Grade: B Running time: 2 Hours, 45 minutes Ticket price: $40 (with Public membership) Worth it: yes Standing Ovation Watch: 50/50

2014-10-21 19.07.41The Old Man and the Old Moon: I saw this show two years ago at the Gym at Judson, and remember liking it. But I hadn’t planned to see it again, until Cheryl offered me a free ticket. This family show is an adventure story about an old man willing to travel to the ends of the earth to find his wife. The results of his adventure are more or less disastrous — but all turns out well in the end. The show, written and performed by the handsome (erm, very handsome in fact) and talented young gentlemen of Pigpen Theatre, contains all sorts of low-budget theatrical tricks — lots of puppetry, lighting tricks, and the like. It’s also got some terrific songs (All these guys can play instruments as well as act and write — they’re a band as well.) But even with the quick 90-minute running time, I still found this show to drag a bit. The Old Man’s story feels aimless and the troubles he faces aren’t terribly exciting. Even when he’s fighting in a war/swallowed by a whale/discovering an underground city. I just kept thinking these guys should get to the point. What’s interesting is that I remember being charmed by all this the first time I saw the show. Perhaps it just doesn’t hold up all that well to a second viewing. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see what PigPen does next. Perhaps a show for grownups? Or maybe I should just listen to their cd.

My Grade: C Running time: 90 minutes Ticket price: $0 (comp from Cheryl) Worth it: Yes Standing Ovation Watch: Can’t remember! Think it was about 25% standing

2014-10-12 13.58.49Brownsville Song (B side for Tray): Real life kept intruding as I watched Brownsville Song at LCT3. I was thinking of my students (some of whom live in Brownsville); I was thinking of Michael Brown and the Ferguson protests. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in the play; it’s just that a show about a young black man gunned down in the street doesn’t feel like escapism right now. Brownsville Song has an incredibly wrenching opening scene, in which Lena (Lizan Mitchell, who is wonderful) mourns her grandson Tray (Sheldon Best), and informs us that the story shouldn’t begin with her grief. We then travel back in time to several months prior, when Tray was a sweet big brother, a great employee, a promising student. His death, it becomes clear, is the result of a random act of gang violence. Playwright Kimber Lee has a good ear for realistic dialogue, and at 90 minutes the story moves along quickly. To be honest, though, that opening scene had me prepared for a societal indictment that could help me make sense of all the real life issues swirling in my head as I watched the show. Instead, it’s an intimate drama of a close-knit family ripped apart by violence. I didn’t quite connect to it, though, because Tray has few flaws and seems to be more of a symbol than a real person. So this play wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. But man, that opening scene will stick with me a long time.

My Grade: B Running time: 90 minutes Ticket price: $24.75 Worth it: Yes Standing Ovation Watch: No