‘If/Then’ at Brown Paper Box Co. is a Timeline-Bending Musical About Personal Struggles

If/Then, written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and directed by Elyse Dolan, is a musical about a city planner named Elizabeth (Amanda Giles) who has just moved to New York after a difficult divorce. In the show’s first moments, she meets some friends in Central Park and is soon presented with a choice: does she go with her friend Lucas (Parker Guidry) to a protest, or does she go with her other friend Kate (Bridget Adams-King) to an outdoor concert in Brooklyn? The following scenes alternate between the two universes created by this seemingly insignificant choice. The Elizabeth who goes with Lucas acquires the nickname of Beth, and soon lands a dream job designing parks in the city. The Elizabeth who goes with Kate soon acquires glasses, and is nicknamed Liz. She does not get her dream job, but eventually pursues a relationship with ex-soldier Josh (Michael Peters), with all the ups and downs that entails.

The ensemble work is incredibly strong; choreographer Katie Capp has created a fast-moving New York City, with all its frantic terror and vibrance, using only the bodies onstage. Music direction (Rachel Hoovler) contributes to the worldbuilding by constructing complex harmonies sung by the ensemble that paint the noise of the city; the singing from the entire cast is excellent. The set, from designer Jeremy Hollis, is mostly brick walls and doorways at odd angles, flexibly portraying a wide variety of locations while also contributing to the general NYC funk. I adore this minimalist approach to musical storytelling; it was thoroughly effective in Brown Paper Box Co’s previous show Little Women last year, and is just as well done here. The small band and barebones design accentuate that this is a show with a very small scope; not about revolutions or worlds, but the inner lives of everyday people.

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Firebrand Theatre Pays Tribute with Always… Patsy Cline

(left to right) Harmony France and Christina Hall. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Patsy Cline is comfort, love, and heartbreak. Her music charms you, wraps you in a blanket and slips you a little whiskey. In Firebrand Theatre’s production of Always… Patsy Cline, Houstonite Loiuse Seger knows this experience all too well. Louise is drawn to Patsy Cline, and on one fateful night, the two meet and forge a friendship that lasts the rest of Patsy Cline’s life. This is the story of a single incredible night when two women found a bit of themselves in each other and director Brigitte Ditmars invites the audience to find themselves in a country song.

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Key Reviews: ‘Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy’

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program is back for our third year, and with a new format! This year’s cohort: Ada Alozie, Alisa Boland, Anyah Royale Akanni,  Hannah Antman, Mariah Schultz, and Yiwen Wu. The third show of our session was Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy produced by Teatro Vista at The Den Theatre. Read selections from each critic below, and click through to their author profiles to read the full critique and learn more about them! The Key is co-facilitated by Regina Victor and Oliver Sava. 

Hannah Antman: “Directors Bruce and Gutierrez landed some evocative and heartfelt moments. Hope is a true period piece, in the sense that it showcases the past in order to illuminate something about our world today. I found Betty’s deep fear of the atomic bomb to be especially prescient, reflecting many young people’s current fears about climate change – in 1961 or 2019, being a teenager comes with the threat of the world ending. As an extension of that fear, Betty (excellently portrayed by Caraballo), has a series of imagined phone calls between herself and JFK (and later, Fidel Castro). I found these fantasy phone calls to be particularly compelling, and I wish the rest of the play delved as deep in its theatrical risk-taking.” –  Read Hannah Antman’s full critique and learn more about the author!  Continue reading “Key Reviews: ‘Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy’”

‘Sundown, Yellow Moon’ at Raven Theatre Exudes a Warm, Comforting Glow

As Sundown, Yellow Moon opens, two sisters in their twenties, Ray (Liz Chidester) and Joey (Diana Coates), have returned to their small hometown in Tennessee to support their father, Tom (Will Casey), as his life seems to be falling apart following his divorce. Ray is undergoing a bit of a reckoning herself after quitting her job — and Joey, petrified at the thought of leaving the country for a foreign study, takes comfort in long runs in the woods late at night.

The script from Rachel Bonds is extremely character-driven; there is not much plot to be found. I have heard some criticism calling this show a bit meandering and slow — which I can’t refute, exactly, except to say that slowness can soar to great heights when done with intention, and I found it absolutely sublime here. Director Cody Estle has managed to craft an evening of enthralling, intimate moments with attention and care, such that Sundown, Yellow Moon feels engrossing and urgent despite its quietness, and stillness.

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The Human Experience Rings True in Passionate Fairytale ‘Head Over Heels’

Head Over Heels, infused with the classic pop hits of The Go-Go’s as well as original music, has instantly become a musical theater standard. Based on the pastoral prose-poem The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, this jubilant and thoroughly modern piece of theater delights and entertains on a grand scale. Replete with powerhouse songs, dance numbers, and an engaging story, Kokandy Productions’ Head Over Heels is a must-see summer musical. Continue reading “The Human Experience Rings True in Passionate Fairytale ‘Head Over Heels’”

‘Now and Then,’ Paints A Queer Love Story

Now and Then is a musical gay love story that tells the tale of one relationship between two men, Greg and Daniel, over forty years. Three different pairs of actors play the two men at different points in their lives: Will Fulgintini and Benjamin Walton play the young Dan and Greg when they’re first meeting in college; Alex Smith and Carl Herzog play the couple in their thirties, as the relationship has grown stale and must be saved; and Skip Sams and Dennis Manning play the couple in their sixties, having reached a steady equilibrium in the relationship, which is challenged by Greg’s battle with cancer. Continue reading “‘Now and Then,’ Paints A Queer Love Story”

Drury Lane’s Ambitious, Entertaining ‘Matilda’ Leans Toward the Chaotic

I love Matilda. Specifically the musical which I’ve seen twice on the West End, which is why I was so excited to review Drury Lane’s production directed by Mitch Sebastian. Part of my love comes from nostalgia as I grew up watching the 1996 movie and reading Roald Dahl’s classic novel. The other part of my admiration for Matilda comes from the fact that Roald Dahl wasn’t afraid to tackle tough issues in his books, and this musical doesn’t shy away from those issues either, unlike the 1996 movie. The show themes range from revenge, abuse, power hierarchies, loneliness, trauma, and the loss of adolescence. Continue reading “Drury Lane’s Ambitious, Entertaining ‘Matilda’ Leans Toward the Chaotic”

I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying!: The Edifice of Self in Next to Normal at Writers Theatre

I don’t need to tell you how good of a musical Next to Normal is; it won a Pulitzer. Nor is it a surprise that Tony-winning director David Cromer has created a masterful evening of small and terrifyingly intimate moments with a deft, spare, and nuanced hand. Instead, I’d like to focus on why this show had me weeping uncontrollably for most of its second act, and how I think it got there.

For those unfamiliar, Next to Normal is the story of the suburban, middle-class, normal-seeming Goodman family. Our central character, Diana (Keely Vasquez), struggles to live her adult life while dealing with severe and often crippling bipolar disorder. Her husband Dan (David Schlumpf) and teenage kids Natalie and Gabe (Kyrie Courter and Liam Oh), meanwhile, must deal with the side effects of Diana’s dysfunction. Continue reading “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying!: The Edifice of Self in Next to Normal at Writers Theatre”

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is Rib-Cracking Fun

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, takes place in London at the turn of the 20th century, and concerns the adventures of middle-class stockbroker Monty Navarro (Andrés Enriquez) — who, upon learning that his recently deceased mother was disinherited from the obscenely wealthy D’Ysquith family (all played by Matt Crowle), sets out to murder his relatives as revenge. And also so that he can, not uncoincidentally, become next in line to be the Earl of Highhurst. Continue reading “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is Rib-Cracking Fun”

Love, Life, and Loss: ‘Little Women’ at Brown Paper Box Co. is a Balm for Troubled Times

Strawdog Theatre is always a lovely space to walk into; I’m a sucker for small, intimate blackboxes, and the alley seating and soft music playing as you file into Little Women, produced by Brown Paper Box Co., is quite calming. The set (designed by Jeremy Hollis) is simple and straightforward in all the right ways, with just a few leather trunks serving as both scenery and furniture. On the ceiling and by both entrances are panels of darkened wood that are evocative of 1800’s New England architecture while remaining unobtrusive. Continue reading “Love, Life, and Loss: ‘Little Women’ at Brown Paper Box Co. is a Balm for Troubled Times”