4 Stars to THE 12 by Neil Berg at the Denver Center

The cast brings a vigor and inspired diversity of voices to "The 12."

“Something visceral and vivid is taking place at the Denver Center, where the musical THE 12 is receiving its world premiere.  Robert Schenkkan wrote the book and Neil Berg the music. The two share credit for the lyrics of this boldly compassionate work that imagines the disciples’ very human angst in the hours after their teacher was executed.  Let there be long shadows. Let there be anguish and suspicion. Let there be deep fear and hard-wrought faith. So might go the promise of this beautifully performed work.”

Reviewer Lisa Kennedy gives THE 12, a musical explaining the anguish-filled moments after the Disciples learn what has happened to Jesus, a 4-star rating.

To read the full raving review, or to learn more about ticket information and the musical, click HERE.

 

“Get Swept Into” Robson’s PLAYING THE ASSASSIN

Hartford, CT – “Get swept into the devastating verbal and physical encounter between two men determined to put the past at rest by whatever means at their disposal.”

David Robson‘s PLAYING THE ASSASSIN, based on the true story from 1978, when Oakland Raider star Jack Tatum tackled New England Patriot wide receiver Daryl Stingley with such force that Stingley never walked again. Here, the action picks up two and a half decades later, when Frank Baker is given a golden opportunity: CBS wants him for a pre-Super Bowl interview where, for the first time, he will confront Lyle Turner on air.

To read the full review and for ticketing information, please follow the story HERE.

BWW Reviews: Mills and Reichel’s THE UNDERCLASSMAN Dazzles With Wit, Melody and Intelligence

by Michael Dale

Nine and a half years ago, tucked away in the tiny Connelly Theater at the further reaches of the Lower East Side, The Prospect Theatre Company premiered a dazzling new musical – full of wit, intelligence, cleverly written theatre songs and dynamic staging – suggested by F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s semi-autobiographical debut novel This Side of Paradise.

BWW Reviews:  Mills and Reichel's THE UNDERCLASSMAN Dazzles With Wit, Melody and Intelligence
Jessica Grové and Matt Dengler (Photo: Richard Termine)

The Pursuit of Persephone had its flaws, but they were flaws of ambition overshadowed by the evening’s exceptional display of musical theatre craft and freshness; a story set in the years just before this country’s entry into The Great War that stayed true to its era but showed a contemporary understanding of the unique storytelling qualities of the American musical.

Peter Mills (book, music and lyrics) and Cara Reichel (book and direction) have been responsible for high points in several theatre seasons since then (Iron Curtain, The Rockae) but Persephone, and the promise of what it could be, remains their zenith.

Retooled and renamed The Underclassman, their smart and fizzy charmer has reached Times Square’s Duke on 42nd Street in a limited Off-Broadway run that, sadly, ends the day this review is posted. Slightly less daring, but smoother in delivery, The Underclassman has its minor second act quibbles but is still vastly above all but a handful of musicals that have had major New York productions since, well, The Pursuit of Persephone.

Less of a romance than a musical comedy of manners, the narrative begins with Fitzgerald’s sophomore year at Princeton, where his interest in studies takes a back seat to his interest in writing a musical for the college’s all-male traveling theatre troupe, The Triangle Club.

For the sake of artistic inspiration, he takes up the challenge of meeting Ginevra King, considered by Ivy Leaguers to be one of the country’s four most desirable debutantes. (A title she plays for all it’s worth.) Being a relatively poor artist with no financial prospects beyond what talent and luck can provide, he sees himself as the lowly Hades pursuing the goddess Persephone. (Which winds up being the subject of the musical he writes.)

Because of distance and social standards, Scott and Ginevra have spent, as one character points out, less than 24 total hours with each other before becoming a serious item. Their relationship is sustained through regular correspondence but, as explained in one of the many clever musical scenes, letter writing in their social circle is not exactly an expression of honest emotions, but more of a courtship game with its own rules and strategies.

When we see the two together, they are surely falling in love with something; perhaps the youthful urge to feel something as poetic and romantic as described in the literature they read. But while Ginevra is drawn to the rebellious act of taking up with a poor scribe, she’s also wary of giving up her accustomed lifestyle.

Since real life provides the well-known ending, it’s not giving anything away to reveal that all F. Scott Fitzgerald gains from the affair is what he sought out in the first place, artistic inspiration. Who knew at the time that her artistic inspiration would motivate him to write an era-defining novel?

BWW Reviews:  Mills and Reichel's THE UNDERCLASSMAN Dazzles With Wit, Melody and Intelligence
Jessica Grové and Company (Photo: Richard Termine)

Though Mills’ score contains hat tips to the styles of upcoming composer/lyricists of the day, like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, and a muscular rag of Scot Joplin’s ilk, the character-driven words and music stress immediacy over nostalgia. He saves the pastiche for the Gilbert and Sullivan and Offenbach salutes performed by The Triangle Club.

Surprising, but oh-so-right rhymes populate his lyrics, but they contain the kind of cleverness that’s appropriate for the people he’s writing for. So when Ginevra rhymes her own name with “clev’ra,” or when Scott improvises a love song where the melody is dictated by the notes mentioned in the lyric (“Improvising in the key of A flat / Thinking how it’s gonna be / When the two of us are sharing a flat / Residents of NYC.”), it’s the characters who are showing off, not the wordsmith.

The multiple musical gems are enhanced by Reichel and choreographer Christine O’Grady’s smart and imaginative staging, highlighted early in Ginevra’s “To Beat The Band,” where she twirls through a dance card full of potential suitors while singing of her carefree lifestyle and a drag can-can by the Triangle boys that’s danced for skill instead of laughs.

Matt Dengler makes for a gutsy, empathetic Scott with a charmingly impish humor. Jessica Grové, repeating the role she played at the Connelly, mixes sophomoric worldliness with giddy girlishness and sings and dances up a storm as Ginevra.

Another Connelly vet, Piper Goodeve, is terrifically wry as Scott’s high school sweetheart who is now Ginevra’s best friend, especially when matched with the droll Billy Hepfinger as Edmund Wilson, Scott’s pal who later becomes the noted literary critic. Fine work is also done by Marrick Smith, who nicely underplays his affection for Scott as poet John Peale Bishop.

The Underclassman is set in an era when people would go to Broadway to enjoy the musical theatre offerings the best emerging artists had to offer. This is no longer the case, as season after season Off-Broadway’s musicals show superior craft, talent and inventiveness. The Underclassman is among the best in all three categories.

 

UNCANNY VALLEY by Thomas Gibbons reviewed in The New York Times

Continue reading the main story Video

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Excerpt: ‘Uncanny Valley’

 

Excerpt: ‘Uncanny Valley’

Alex Podulke and Barbara Kingsley in “Uncanny Valley,” by Thomas Gibbons, at 59E59 Theaters. (Courtesy of the Contemporary American Theater Festival.)

Video by Mimi d’Autremont on Publish Date October 19, 2014.

 

He who dies with the most toys wins, or so they say. But what’s the point of having all those playthings if death is going to rip you from them anyway?

In Thomas Gibbons’s futuristic two-hander “Uncanny Valley,” presented by the Contemporary American Theater Festival at 59E59 Theaters, a very wealthy man named Julian hasn’t quite found immortality, but he has bought a means to forestall his demise for at least a couple of centuries.

With pancreatic cancer about to kill him, Julian plans to download the contents of his mind into an artificial human that carries his DNA and looks just as he did at 34, more than half a lifetime ago. The machine will assume his identity and his existence.

“I haven’t had enough,” Julian tells Claire, a neuroscientist who has spent her career working on artificial consciousness. “This world, this life! I can’t even imagine having my fill.”

The simulated Julian (Alex Podulke) is at first little more than a talking head in Claire’s office. Soon he gets a torso, then one arm and another, eventually an entire body. Schooling him, before the download, in the ways of our “skittish species,” Claire (Barbara Kingsley) explains the phenomenon of the uncanny valley: People get creeped out when something — such as the android Bina48, which inspired this play — looks almost, but not quite, human.

Photo

“Uncanny Valley,” with Alex Podulke as an android, and Barbara Kingsley as a scientist who grooms him. Credit Seth Freeman

Mr. Podulke’s alert, sympathetic performance never elicits that shuddery sensation. Instead, he makes Julian a recognizable Mitt Romney type — even in the stiff, mechanical manner Julian has early on. Post-download, endowed with an oligarch’s smooth, entitled confidence, he retains a faint androidal echo in his speech and seems just disconnected enough from the concerns of ordinary humans.

The notion of human consciousness transplanted into machines is in the air right now. In Brooklyn, a different play called “The Uncanny Valley” features two actors and a RoboThespian, which is exactly what it sounds like. In Los Angeles, holograms substitute for dead loved ones in Jordan Harrison’s “Marjorie Prime.”

Mr. Gibbons’s “Uncanny Valley” is set perhaps 40-some years in the future but deliberately, somewhat jarringly, designed to look like now. It’s a techno take on the Pinocchio story: We watch Julian become an almost-real man, with Claire as one of a team of Geppettos. At 70, worried about her ailing, older husband, she’s familiar with the ravages of mortality that the wealthy can now escape.

Yet, as directed by Tom Dugdale, Ms. Kingsley seldom seems truly present, so it is difficult to believe in Claire the way we do in Julian. He is only a simulated human, and there may be a void where his ethical compass ought to be. But we’re sort of rooting for him just the same.