This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

LA SOIRÉE

English Gent Hamish McCann dazzles at LA SOIRÉE (photo by Carol Rosegg)

English Gent Hamish McCann dazzles at LA SOIRÉE (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Union Square Theatre
100 East 17th St.
Thursday - Monday through June 1, $37.95 - $127.95
www.la-soiree.com

If you don’t like La Soirée, well, then you just don’t know how to have fun. The raunchy, risqué mixture of burlesque, cabaret, vaudeville, circus, and Coney Island sideshow that has been touring the world for the last several years — an earlier iteration called Absinthe ran in the Spiegeltent at the South Street Seaport back in 2006 — is playing at the misty Union Square Theatre, where the audience is seated in the round, centered by a small circular platform where most of the often mind-blowing action takes place. Hosted by emcee Aidan O’Shea (among others, depending on which night you go), the two-hour evening features a core group of performers along with special guests. Singer-comic Amy G gets intimate with audience members and uses an unusual part of her body to play an instrument. Rhythmic gymnastics champion Lea Hinz contorts her arms and legs while suspended in the air in a hoop. The self-deprecating Marcus Monroe juggles a home-made combination of dangerous items. Jeans-wearing Joren “Bath Boy” Dawson splashes plenty of water while engaging in acrobatics in and around a claw-footed tub.

LA SOIRÉE is a raunchy romp at the Union Square Theatre (photo by Carol Rosegg)

LA SOIRÉE is a deliciously twisted raunchy romp at the Union Square Theatre (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Marawa the Amazing shimmies with a vast array of Hula hoops. Scrawny, wild-haired Ringling Bros. Clown College graduate Manchego offers a different take on the male striptease. The English Gents (the dapperly dressed — and undressed — Denis Lock and Hamish McCann) dazzle with breathtaking feats of skill and strength, balancing on each other’s bodies; the highlight of the night might just be McCann’s gravity-defying one-man “Singing in the Rain” pole dance. Burlesque star Julie Atlas Muz somehow gets inside a large balloon bubble. Other performers you might catch at La Soirée, which was first presented by Brett Haylock, Mark Rubinstein, and Mick Perrin in London in 2010, include Bret Pfister, Scotty Blue Bunny, Miss Ekaterina, Mooky Cornish, Le Gâteau Chocolat, Ursula Martinez, Cabaret Decadanse, Meow Meow, Jess Love, Miss Behave, and Mario, Queen of the Circus. There’s also free popcorn, a bar that remains open throughout the show, lots of audience participation, and surprises galore in this randy, very adult romp that isn’t afraid to go too low, or too high, to get a laugh, a smile, a gasp, or even a groan.

ROCKY

Rocky

A pair of would-be losers (Andy Karl and Margo Seibert) find love in ROCKY (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway between 50th & 51st Sts.
Through November 23, $39-$143
www.rockybroadway.com

The musical version of Rocky is certainly expected to go the distance, moving into Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, which was home to Cats from October 1982 to September 2000, then Mamma Mia! from October 2001 to October 2013 (before moving to the Broadhurst). And there’s no reason to think this champ won’t be around for a long time too, as the stage adaptation of John G. Avildsen’s Oscar-winning 1976 film, which spawned five sequels over thirty years is a rousing triumph. Rocky works primarily because Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the book with Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Hairspray), has stayed faithful to his story of a local boxer trying to get by in South Philadelphia. In many ways, Rocky is more a play with songs rather than an all-out musical, with lots of dialogue, much of it taken directly from the film’s screenplay, which earned Stallone an Oscar nomination. Andy Karl (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Legally Blonde) puts on the gloves as Rocky Balboa, who lives alone in a small, cramped apartment where he worships undefeated champion Rocky Marciano and hasn’t given up his dreams quite yet, despite his lack of success. He “Ain’t Down Yet,” the show’s first big number announces, after which he proudly declares, “My Nose Ain’t Broken.” He’s lost his locker at the gym and can’t get a date with the mousey Adrian (Margo Seibert), his best friend Paulie’s (Danny Mastrogiorgio) timid sister, but his life takes quite a turn when heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Terence Archie) chooses Balboa to be his underdog challenger in a patriotic battle for the world title.

Mickey (Dakin Matthews) makes his case to train Rocky (Andy Karl) in new Broadway musical (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Mickey (Dakin Matthews) makes his case to train Rocky (Andy Karl) in new Broadway musical (photo by Matthew Murphy)

His trainer, Mickey (Dakin Matthews), comes crawling back to him, and off Rocky goes, running through the streets of Philadelphia (yes, including the steps of the art museum), pounding meat, and tenderly wooing Adrian, who is slowly breaking out of her shell, as the championship fight nears. And what a fight it is, highlighted by a moving stage that floats into the audience as set designer Christopher Barreca turns the Winter Garden into the Spectrum. Director Alex Timbers has shown he has a unique take on musical theater in such wildly hailed productions as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Here Lies Love, and he does so again with Rocky, bringing visual flair and tongue-in-cheek humor to this familiar tale, led by a strong performance by Karl as the Italian Stallion, balancing toughness with a tender charm. Stephen Flaherty’s music and Lynn Ahrens’s lyrics aren’t particularly memorable and Archie’s Creed doesn’t have the depth displayed by Carl Weathers in the films, but this underdog musical manages to get past a few dull rounds, ending up packing quite a wallop.

I REMEMBER MAMA

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

Ten women play all twenty-two male and female, child and adult characters in Transport Group revival of I REMEMBER MAMA (photo by Carol Rosegg)

The Gym at Judson
243 Thompson St. at Washington Square South
Through April 20, $59-$69
www.transportgroup.org
www.judson.org

The Transport Group continues its 20th Century Project with a lovely revival of John Van Druten’s 1944 play, I Remember Mama. Inspired by Kathryn Forbes’s semiautobiographical collection of short stories, Mama’s Bank Account, the intimate tale is told in flashback by wannabe writer Katrin Hanson (Barbara Barrie), returning to 1910 as her close-knit immigrant family struggles to get by in San Francisco. All twenty-two roles, including men, women, and children, are played by a wonderful cast of ten older actresses who never change costumes as they roam around Dane Laffrey’s engaging set. The inventive production has no stage; instead, ten tables, each covered with a particular type of household item or memorabilia, from photographs and letters to books and glassware, are illuminated by R. Lee Kennedy’s design of five rows of nine low-hanging lights, which strategically spotlight the specific table where the next scene will take place. With all the lights on, the Gym at Judson audience is visible, seated on all four sides, as if they are part of the family as well. Barbara Andres is charming as Mama, a Norwegian-born woman trying to assimilate to the American way of life. She is generally cool and calm while dealing with the daily trials and tribulations of her clan, which includes her pipe-smoking husband (Dale Soules), her daughters, Katrin, Christine (Louise Sorel), and Dagmar (Phyllis Somerville), her son, Nels (Heather MacRae), her sisters, Jenny (Alice Cannon), Sigrid (Susan Lehman), and Trina (Rita Gardner), and family patriarch Uncle Chris (Lynn Cohen). Mama forgoes the winter coat she’s always wanted as she deals with Dagmar’s trip to the hospital; a boarder, Mr. Hyde (Cohen), who is not exactly up-to-date with his rent; Trina’s desire to wed the local funeral director, Mr. Thorkelson (MacRae); finding just the right gift for Katrin’s upcoming graduation; and saving enough money so the smart Nels can continue his education.

Mama (Barbara Andres) is concerned about daughter Dagmar’s (Phyllis Somerville) health in I REMEMBER MAMA (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Mama (Barbara Andres) is concerned about daughter Dagmar’s (Phyllis Somerville) health in I REMEMBER MAMA (photo by Carol Rosegg)

The smaller stories play out almost like individual episodes of a television series, and indeed Mama ran on CBS from 1949 to 1957 with Peggy Wood in the title role; the play made its Broadway debut in 1944 with Oscar Homolka as Uncle Chris and Marlon Brando as Nels and was turned into a Broadway musical in 1979 with Liv Ullmann and George Hearn. In 1948, George Stevens directed the film version with Irene Dunne as Mama, Barbara Bel Geddes as Katrin, and Homolka as Uncle Chris (in addition to Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Ellen Corby, and Rudy Vallee). The play was written by English playwright John Van Druten, who also penned Bell, Book and Candle; I Am a Camera, which became Cabaret; and 1931’s London Wall, which can be seen in its American debut at the Mint through April 26. That’s quite a pedigree, but the Transport Group, under the direction of Jack Cummings III (The Audience, The Boys in the Band), has shed new light on this old warhorse, starting with the casting itself, in which each of the characters can be seen as a different aspect of Mama herself as well as a celebration of mothers and motherhood in general. The 20th Century Project began last year with Michael John LaChuisa’s award-winning Queen of the Mist, set in the first decade of the century; up next will be a revival set in the 1920s.

TALES FROM RED VIENNA

(photo by Joan Marcus)

A war widow (Nina Arianda) and a Hungarian journalist (Michael Esper) consider a dangerous romance in TALES FROM RED VIENNA (photo by Joan Marcus)

Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center Stage 1
Through April 27, $189
212-581-1212
www.talesfromredvienna.com
www.nycitycenter.org

Inspired by the real-life story of desperate German war widows who turned to prostitution in the 1920s, David Grimm’s Tales from Red Vienna begins with a powerful scene: From behind a loose black curtain that evokes a widow’s veil, a gentleman enters a woman’s living room and promptly has sex with her against a table; he leaves money for her, but her distaste is clear. The curtain is then pulled back and we learn that she is Heléna (Nina Arianda), a formerly well-off married woman who has taken to extremes to earn money after her husband was killed in WWI. Instead of a mansion, she now lives in a small apartment but still manages to be served by her longtime housekeeper, the quick-witted and cynical Edda (Kathleen Chalfant). When Heléna’s best friend, society doyenne Mutzi von Fessendorf (Tina Benko), hatches a plan in which Heléna will join her on what is supposed to be a blind date but is really a way for the married Mutzi to meet with her potential lover, Heléna is shocked when the fix-up turns out to be her most recent customer. Hungarian journalist Béla Hoyos (Michael Esper) instantly takes a liking to Heléna, and her eventual reciprocation leads to major problems as the story takes an unexpected yet utterly clichéd and extremely disappointing turn.

Kathleen Chalfant and Michael Goldsmith offer support in TALES FROM RED VIENNA (photo by Joan Marcus)

Kathleen Chalfant and Michael Goldsmith offer support in TALES FROM RED VIENNA (photo by Joan Marcus)

Directed by Kate Whoriskey (Ruined, Magdalena) with procedural attention across three acts with two intermissions, the Manhattan Theatre Club production at City Center is highlighted by John Lee Beatty’s (The Nance, Other Desert Cities) inventive sets, particularly the middle-section cemetery where Heléna and Bela have their secret rendezvous. But the promise of the first act slowly falls apart as predictable scenes mix with overacting (Benko, Hoyos) and underacting (Arianda, who was such a force in her Tony-winning role in Venus in Fur). Meanwhile, a subplot involving a Jewish grocer’s son (Michael Goldsmith) as a portent to the rise of Nazism essentially just fades away, emblematic of the play as a whole.

TARTAN WEEK: THE KELPIES

(photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Andy Scott’s Kelpies will stand guard in Bryant Park through April 23 (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Bryant Park, Fountain Terrace
Sixth Ave. at 41st St.
Sculptures on view through April 23
Festival runs through April 27 at multiple locations
www.thekelpies.co.uk
the kelpies slideshow

A pair of “proud equine guardians” have been posted at the Sixth Ave. and Forty-First St. entrance to Bryant Park, one at rest, head bowed, the other rearing up, neighing toward the sky. The fifteen-foot-high models, constructed of laser-cut steel plates, are the work of Scottish sculptor Andy Scott, smaller versions of the one-hundred-feet-high Kelpies — mythological waterborne equine creatures — he created for the Helix Parkland on the Forth & Clyde Canal near Falkirk, the artist’s father’s hometown, in central Scotland. The Kelpies, which will remain on view in Bryant Park through April 23, are part of the annual Scotland Week (Tartan Week) festivities, a celebration of Scottish culture taking place all over the city. On April 6, there will be a special Tartan Day Observance in Bryant Park at 12:30 with the New York Metro Pipe Band, the Highland Divas, and others, followed by a talk with Scott about the Kelpies at 3:00. That night, the Caledonian Collective will be hosting a concert at Webster Hall with the LaFontaines, Nina Nesbitt, Lau, and Hector Bizerk. Iona in Brooklyn will be presenting a Scottish fiddle workshop on April 7 with Katie McNally, followed by a Live Trad Session with McNally and Neil Pearlman; on April 8, Scottish Octopus with piper Andrew Forbes will be there, and on April 9 Troy MacGillivray will lead a Cape Breton fiddle workshop and a live session with Scottish Octopus. Also on April 9, Whisky Live takes place at Pier Sixty in Chelsea, with tastings, exhibitors, master classes, live music, and more. On April 10, Celtica will play Drom, while the Cape Breton Scots at Jalopy is highlighted by the work of musician and photographer Matt Diaz. Pop International Galleries is showing “As Others See Us” through April 10, and the 92nd St. Y is presenting “Scots Jews: Identity, Belonging, and the Future” through April 27, consisting of photos taken by Judah Passow. And you can see the double bill of Douglas Maxwell’s A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity and Sabrina Mahfouz’s Clean performed by Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre Company through April 27 at 59E59.

FIRST SATURDAYS: WITNESS

Philip Guston

Philip Guston, “City Limits,” oil on canvas, 1969. (© The Estate of Philip Guston)

Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, April 5, free, 5:00 - 11:00 (some events require free tickets distributed in advance at the Visitor Center)
212-864-5400
www.brooklynmuseum.org

For its April First Saturdays program, the Brooklyn Museum turns its attention on the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which many Americans want to get rid of completely), in conjunction with the exhibition “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties,” which features painting, sculpture, video, and installation by such artists as David Hammons, Philip Guston, Barkley L. Hendricks, Robert Indiana, Sam Gilliam, Norman Rockwell, Jae Jarrell, and Norman W. Lewis. The evening will include live music by Gedeon Luke & the People, Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely, and CharlieRED; Ping Chong + Company’s Brooklyn ’63 theater piece; a curator talk with Kellie Jones about “Witness”; a Hands-On Art workshop in which participants can make protest posters; pop-up talks on activism and art; Jennifer Scott discussing the Weeksville Heritage Center and oral history; a screening of Stanley Nelson’s 2013 film Freedom Summer, followed by a Q&A with the director; an interactive performance with Aisha Cousins, Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy, and Yolanda Zama; Kevin Powell lecturing on “Civil Rights: Then & Now”; and a dance party with DJ Mursi Layne. In addition, the galleries will be open late, giving visitors plenty of opportunity to check out “Revolution! Works from the Black Arts Movement,” “Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt,” “Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas,” “Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn,” and other exhibits.

KING LEAR

King Lear

Lear (Michael Pennington) accepts praise from daughter Goneril (Rachel Pickup) in beautiful TNA production (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Theatre for a New Audience, Polonsky Shakespeare Center
262 Ashland Pl. between Lafayette Ave. & Fulton St.
Through May 4, $60-$85
866-811-4111
www.tfana.org

Another Lear? Really? That is sure to be one of the central topics of discussion at the April 4 Drama Desk luncheon panel discussion “Why Shakespeare? Why Now?” at Sardi’s. Over the last seven years in New York, the Bard’s aged ruler has been portrayed by Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Frank Langella at BAM, Kevin Kline and Sam Waterston at the Public, and currently Michael Pennington at Theatre for a New Audience, with John Lithgow scheduled to take on the role at the Delacorte this summer, directed by Daniel Sullivan. (Both Pennington and Sullivan will participate in the “Why Now?” panel at Sardi’s.) For a supposedly difficult play, there have not only been a lot of Lears lately but a lot of excellent Lears, each with its own nuanced lead performances and unique staging. “Why Lear? Why now?” Perhaps the answer should be “Why not?” as evidenced by yet another outstanding production, at TNA’s sparkling new Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, around the corner from BAM’s Harvey.

Regan (Bianca Amato) declares her love for her father (Michael Pennington) in stunning new KING LEAR at TNA (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Regan (Bianca Amato) declares her love for her father (Michael Pennington) in stunning new KING LEAR at TNA (photo by Carol Rosegg)

In a 2012 interview with OffWestEnd.com, Pennington said, “I want to do King Lear in a small theatre. I would really like to see how intimate you can get.” Pennington got his wish, starring in the beautifully spare TNA production directed by Arin Arbus. The heart-wrenching tale of fathers and children takes place on a thrust stage, the tiny audience of 265 sitting on three sides. Aside from an occasional chair, table, or bench, the only prop on Riccardo Hernandez’s set is a giant slab of rusted metal hanging in the back, slowly making its way down as if it will eventually crush the performers while also evoking the sad fall of the king. The twenty-two actors enter and leave through three corners of the stage, two of which are walkways that go right past the audience. Pennington, who has played myriad Shakespeare characters for his own English Shakespeare Company as well as for the RSC, arrives in a fabulous fur-lined purple coat and golden crown (the costumes, which include a great collection of boots, are by Susan Hilferty), asking his three daughters to publicly praise him in order to each receive a third of his kingdom. While Regan (Bianca Amato) and Goneril (Rachel Pickup) are clearly overeffusive with their love, the youngest, Cordelia (Lilly Englert), merely states her true emotions, so her furious father banishes her, setting off a series of tragic events that tear multiple families apart. This Lear is more human, more down to earth, allowing Shakespeare’s lush, complex text to shine. The language and story are key here, the characterizations and plot clearer, with less artifice, than in other recent productions. And Pennington is nothing less than grand, acting with his eyes as much as his body as he realizes that his mind is going and that he has made a terrible mistake. There is nary a wasted moment in the show, which features fine support from Christopher McCann as Gloucester, Chandler Williams as Edmund, Jacob Fishel as Edgar, and Timothy D. Stickney as Kent, although Jake Horowitz’s reduced Fool is a minor misstep. Perhaps what is most fascinating, and keeps us coming back for more, is that each of these Lears feels like a different play, not merely the same work with various changes and interpretations. It’s hard to believe, but I’m already looking forward to seeing what Lithgow and Sullivan have to say on the subject at the Delacorte this summer.