Thursday, April 10, 2014

Disney's Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre

Disney Theatrical Productions have once again dipped into the well of its well-known animated musicals to bring their take on Aladdin to Broadway. A journey of several years with productions along the way in Seattle and Toronto, Aladdin is sure to please audiences with its' high production values, familiar songs and beloved characters.  Many may dismiss the production's shortcomings due to the show's target family audience. Yet, with the quality of such earlier productions as The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Newsies, family audiences would not be amiss in demanding a better evening of theater than Aladdin provides.

Along the road to Broadway the stage concept for Aladdin has evolved. Gone are any talking animals, although one of the film's animals makes a brief, amusing cameo appearance. Going back to earlier concepts for the film, Aladdin now has three thieving friends as his sidekicks. Princess Jasmine still finds herself yearning for true love instead of an arranged marriage, a goal that seems antiquated in the wake of recent Disney/Pixar princesses such as Brave's Merida who decides to fight for her own hand.

The best thing about the decision to bring Aladdin to the stage is the restoration of some of the late Howard Ashman's songs that were discarded for the film. In particular the haunting ballad "Proud of Your Boy" sung by a wistful Aladdin to his recently deceased mother brings some emotional depth to the handsome scoundrel whose story we see unfold.

It is the story that is the biggest problem with Aladdin. Somewhere along the way from film to the stage the heart of the story has become lost. The familiar tale of the "diamond in the rough" street rat who goes on a journey of discovery to happily ever after with the Sultan's daughter is here. Chad Beguelin's book goes for broad comedy and easy laughs over real emotion and character development. The only genuine moments are few and fleeting.  The emotional stakes are low. Remembering the film there was actual conflict for Aladdin in allowing Jasmine to love him for himself without the trappings of feigned royalty. The final confrontation with the evil Jafar was dangerous. Here the ending is anti-climatic, no one is in danger of getting hurt and the threat is over swiftly so we can get to one more big production number and the audience can pour out onto 42nd Street humming the score.

Despite its shortcomings there are good things about this production starting with the high quality that one expects from Disney Theatrical Productions. Bob Crowley's scenic design is appropriately opulent as is Gregg Barnes blinding bright costumes.  Alan Menken's score is pleasantly conducted by Michael Kosarin leading the 18 member orchestra. Unfortunately a few of the numbers, particularly the Academy Award-winning song "A Whole New World" actually sound slight making you wish for a more rich orchestration at times. Casey Nicholaw's direction and choreography is laid on with a broad brush that seems to fit the go for the glitz style of the show.

The cast does as it can with the mostly one-dimensional characters. As the newer characters, Brian Gonzales, Jonathan Schwartz and Brandon O'Neill are broadly comic as the friends and sidekicks Babkak (the hungry one), Omar (the cowardly one) and Kassim (the hot-headed one). Don Darryl Rivera makes Iago an eager little evil apprentice. Jonathan Freeman, reprising the role he voiced in the film, channels a bit of elegant villainy in his Jafar. Clifton Davis is a concerned princess-pecked father as the Sultan.

Courtney Reed has the feistiness of Princess Jasmine and although her singing voice is not consistent when she reaches the famous duet of "A Whole New World" she is fine. Adam Jacobs' Aladdin is handsome and charming with a blazing smile. He gives Aladdin what depth he can, mostly through Howard Ashman's lyrics in "Proud of Your Boy" and the few moments of real feeling he gets when discussing freedom with the Genie of the Lamp.

As for the Genie himself, anyone taking on that role has to live with the fact that the Walt Disney animation team managed to animate Robin Williams' brain. The performance by Mr. Williams in the film is the definition of iconic and it takes an actor of great charisma to put their own stamp on the role. James Monroe Iglehart has done the impossible and makes the audience almost forget the original film performance. He is commanding from the moment he enters to narrate "Arabian Nights." Disappearing for almost the entire first act, when he re-appears he raises the energy whenever he alights. "Friend Like Me" is a true-showstopping number that travels many, many, many tangents to its rousing conclusion. Mr. Iglehart is gregarious and sharp witted, yet his Genie has a heart-ache that yearns for freedom from always being forced to grant wishes. When Aladdin breaks the Genie's heart, you get a pang of real feeling for the Genie that you wish was present in more moments in the show.

Aladdin will enjoy a long run on Broadway. If only the quality of the entire production matched its box-office thus making Aladdin truly a worthy addition to the better-quality Disney Theatrical Productions that it joins.

Disney's Aladdin is playing the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. For tickets and other performance information please visit or

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If/Then at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

What a difference a pair of eyeglasses make!

It's a bit more complicated than that, but suffice it to say, the creators of the new Broadway musical If/Then used their tryout in Washington DC and the subsequent months prior to their opening to fix the major problems with the structure of their work. When the show premiered out of town it needed a lot of work. If/Then Pre-Broadway Engagement at the National Theatre.  The creative team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, who had spectacular success with their Pulitzer-prizewinning musical Next To Normal have taken a lot of pains to make the duality of the story of If/Then more accessible to the average theatregoer.

If/Then tells the story of Elizabeth Vaughan, a 38-year-old divorcee moving back to New York City and trying to decide what to do with her life. Meeting Lucas, her best friend from college and Kate, her new neighbor across the hall, both friends offer Elizabeth a choice. From there two tales emerge: one of Liz who follows Kate in search of true love and the other of Beth who follows Lucas towards a dream job in city planning. Each story leads to different outcomes and affects not just Elizabeth's life but the lives of her friends.

There is less confused chatter at intermission about the two stories and how to tell what is going on and in what scene is in which version of the lead character's life. In the DC tryout it was primarily indicated with lighting. Here the lighting changes are still used, but there is less reliance on it. Instead, the opening song now clearly tells the audience how the play will unfold. Liz wears glasses and Beth does not. There are costumes changes, mostly jackets, to emphasize whether we are in the world of Beth's government job or Liz's romance. There is still occasional confusion. Amember of the audience audibly whispered "wait, she has two kids" in a scene in the life of the childless one.

Tom Kitt has reshaped the book to better focus on Elizabeth's life. Certain events that affected the supporting characters have been completely removed or rewritten and in the case of a life threatening event placed in a different part of the show with clarification as to the nature of the tragedy.

Brian Yorkey's music serves to move the plot forward or color Elizabeth's development over the course of the two stories arcs. You will not find a list of songs in the program. It will not surprise you that the best numbers are performed by the leading lady, Idina Menzel. The role of Elizabeth is formidable. Not only is Ms. Menzel portraying two different versions of her character, she gives both Liz and Beth a rich emotional stage life particularly in such songs as "Learn To Live Without" which feature both characters.

Ms. Menzel is given ample support by Anthony Rapp as her fluidly sexual best friend Lucas. His "Ain't No Man Manehatten" is an upbeat love letter to the City and its Boroughs in the middle of Act One and his "You Don't Need To Love Me" is heartbreaking. LaChanze is vibrant as Kate, the no-nonsense believer in destiny, belting her belief in the power of fate ("It's A Sign). In smaller roles, Jenn Colella as Anne, Kate's love interest and Jason Sam as David, Lucas' love interest in Liz's world are solid.

James Snyder as Stephen, the love of Liz's life and the one that was never met in Beth's is simply charming. He will melt your heart as he sings "Hey, Kid" to his newborn son of the hopes and fears of parenthood. Like Liz you will "I Love You, I HateYou" when a fateful moment breaks Liz's heart.

If/Then is a welcome original addition to Broadway in the midst of so many movie adaptations. It is not the perfect show, but it wins the most improved from its out-of-town tryout. Idina Menzel gives a masterful performance in a leading role that requires her to rarely leave the stage for its entire 2 hour and 35 minute running time. If/Then is a great showcase for the return of a Broadway favorite.

If/Then is being performed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. For tickets and other performance information please visit or

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies at The Royal Shakespeare Company Stratford-Upon-Avon

An ambitious world premiere is being presented at The Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Hilary Mantel's Man Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, two parts of her planned three book series on the life of Henry VIII's controversial minister Thomas Cromwell would be a challenge for any adaptation to drama. The BBC plans a miniseries starring Mark Rylance as Cromwell to be broadcast in 2015.  To take these two 500 plus page densely detailed novels and distill them down to two 2 hour and 45 minute dramas takes a steady hand.  Mike Poulton, who previously dramatized the entirety of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales for the RSC proves the right dramatist for the job. Under the well-crafted direction of Jeremy Herrin in the intimate Swan Theater, the company of 21 actors brings this juicy tale of the rise to power of the commoner from Putney to first minister of the realm to vibrant life.

Wolf Hall the novel covers roughly 35 years from Thomas Cromwell's boyhood as the son of the violent Walter Cromwell, blacksmith and brewer in Putney, through the sketchy years he spent abroad possibly as a soldier and working for merchants and bankers in Italy and the Low Countries. It then tells of his return to London, his marriage and children, his work in the mercantile and legal fields, election to Parliament and his coming to the attention of King Henry VIII's chief minister, Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey and Cromwell's eventual joining of Wolsey's staff.   Wolf Hall, the play cuts to the meat of the drama, starting with Cromwell firmly established as a trusted servant of Wolsey at the beginning of Henry VIII's "Great Matter," what would lead to his protracted attempt to annul his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn and the subsequent creation of the Church of England in the process.

Fear not, fans of Mantel's novels, while much of the meticulous detail has to be jettisoned for the drama to shape its focus, a lot of the background details survive, whether in Cromwell guilelessly admitting his humble and rough origins to the members of the nobility who mock him for them, to the edge of violence he must at times keep in check.  Cromwell's wife and son remain as characters, the daughters spoken of fondly with imagery that will be very familiar to readers of Mantel's book.

So, yes, the focus of Wolf Hall the play is that famous focal point of most of the drama and historic fiction on the lives of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  All the great characters are present, but what makes this play and the novel it is based upon unique is in its perspective. We meet Henry VIII and Queen Katherine and Anne Boleyn, but the focus is not on them and the famous trial at Blackfriars remains offstage. We see the events as they impact Thomas Cromwell and his master, Cardinal Wolsey. It is Wolsey's fall from grace and witnessing the disgrace of his beloved master and friend that forever colors Cromwell as he latches himself to the royal household and makes himself indispensable as he succeeds in giving the King what he desires most and where Wolsey had failed.  Yet, as history knows, the tale did not end happily with Anne Boleyn giving the King the male heir he craves. Wolf Hall ends with the King unhappy again readying for the summer progress of 1535 his eye beginning to wander towards Jane Seymour.

Bring Up The Bodies picks up the story during that progress as the King visits the actual Wolf Hall, the home of the Seymour family. It then spirals into an intense chilling evening of theater as everything that Anne Boleyn and her faction gained by her being crowned Queen is lost in a matter of 9 months time. It is a story of killed or be killed as the Queen and Cromwell, whom she sees as her servant that she can destroy become locked into a battle in which only one can survive. It leads to revenge on those whom Cromwell holds responsible for the humiliation of his former master Wolsey and the cementing of Thomas Cromwell, blacksmith's son, as the first minister of the realm and a peer as Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon.  It is horrifying in the way that words spoken in jest and with the intent of the game of courtly love our twisted into evidence of carnal wrongdoing with the Queen. Love turns to ashen hate. Blood freely flows and the scavengers descend to pick the juiciest spoils just as the executioners strip the headless bodies of their clothes in payment for their services.

The Swan Theatre proves an excellent venue for these plays. It is intimate with the audience on three sides,  close enough to eavesdrop on the machinations of the Tudor court. Designed by Christopher Oram,  the plays are starkly staged, only a few pieces of furniture and props are needed to suggest locations whether the humble home of Cromwell or a barge on the river Thames.  Many in the cast of 21 portray multiple roles. While the stunning Tudor costumes and wigs assist, the actors do much with physicality and voice to bring each character to life.

The entire company is outstanding. Joshua James as Rafe Sadler, Cromwell's chief clerk and Pierro Niel Mee as Christophe, Cromwell's hired thug make excellent henchmen. Lucy Briers is a regally haughty Queen Katherine and a sniveling, bitter eavesdropper as Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. Leah Brotherhood is guileless as the honest, bewildered Jane Seymour who uneasily finds herself England's Queen. Lydia Leonard is strong, passionate and vengeful as Queen Anne Boleyn.

Nathaniel Parker is a multi-faceted King Henry VIII showing the growth of the lion learning his power unleashing it on those most close to him to clear the path to gaining what he desires. Yet, there are moments of tender vulnerability in Parker's King that compels the audience to occasionally grant him compassion and pity for his circumstances. Lest you completely sympathize with King Henry Mr. Parker is the centerpiece of the most chilling scene in Bring Up The Bodies. Nearly wordless the King sits at a table and signs individually each death warrant quickly placed by Cromwell and the King's signature swiftly sanded and set by Rafe Sadler. The scene is methodical yet shows the ruthless nature of the lion in power.

Ben Miles has his work cut out for him as he is rarely not on stage during the entire 5 hour and 30 minute running time of the combined plays. His Thomas Cromwell is charming and charismatic and can turn on a pinhead into a cold, calculating unmoved monster if it gets his King what his King desires. Only during Bring Up The Bodies do you see Thomas Cromwell really demand the reward of a peerage for the years of being the King's legal bully. Yet, what makes Mr. Mile's Cromwell so complex is that we see the turmoil of his entire life, from the loss of Wolsey to the loss of his wife and daughters that has colored and shaped the man he has become. He stands triumphant at the end of Bring Up The Bodies, Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon, at the height of his power, bathed in a cold unflattering light, leaving the audience to ponder when will it become his turn to fall.

Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies adapted by Mike Poulton from the novels by Hilary Mantel are being presented at The Swan Theatre by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon through the 28th and 29th of March, 2014. The productions are sold out, but returns may be available. For information on any return tickets please visit the Royal Shakespeare Company box office. For information on the Royal Shakespeare Company's productions, exhibitions and other activities please visit their website

Saturday, December 7, 2013

No Man's Land and Waiting For Godot at the Cort Theatre

Who knew that existentialism could be so much fun?

To call a veteran actor a master thespian can come off as a bit of a cliche. Yet, that term applies to Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. The two have known each other for decades and their long friendship deepens their performances. Particularly as Samuel Beckett's tramps, Estragon and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot (God-oh)  Day after day the two meet on a desolate landscape entertaining themselves and the audience with discussions both sacred and mundane, always waiting. Beckett's script makes reference to Didi and Gogo knowing each other for 50 years. In this production, you genuinely believe they have known each other and supported each other through the terrors of the nights they spend alone into the interminable days they spend together. Their philosophical sparring brings forth the humor of the script. Yet, the hopelessness of their situation is ever present. Given strong support by Shuler Hensley as the bombastic slave master, Pozzo and Billy Crudup as the heavily burdened Lucky, Waiting for Godot is a triumphant production.

The playwrights Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett can be challenging for the average audience. In particular Pinter's No Man's Land, written in 1974 and first produced in 1975 is a difficult script. In brief it takes place in the home of Hirst, a alcoholic upper-class man of letters where he is served by two men, Foster and Briggs, who are very protective of their status as his secretary and bodyguard. One night Hirst meets Spooner, a failed poet, at a local pub and invites him home.  Over much alcohol the two men engage in lengthy reminiscences about their past discussing their university days and their acquaintances and relationships.  The question becomes are they really friends from long ago? Or is Spooner feeding Hirst the conversation he seems to desperately craves?

No Man's Land ultimately is the less satisfactory production. That is due to Pinter's abrupt endings to both acts. The relationships between the four men are quite engaging, particularly Stewart as the bon vivant Hirst, mired in an increasing alcoholic haze and McKellen's Spooner, all threadbare in appearance, yet spry in words and movement.  Here, Mr. Hensley and Mr. Crudup are more menacing, always seeming to wish to maintain their control of Hirst and thus seeing Spooner as a threat to their cozy existence.   The set, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, is deceptive in its spaciousness, revealing itself as the evening wears on as cold and prisonlike.

For a crowd pleasing and easily satisfying foray into existentialist drama see Waiting for Godot. For a more challenging and thoughtful experience see No Man's Land. For the opportunity to see two esteemed master thespians at the top of their craft, do not miss rare opportunity to see either play or both this Broadway season.

No Man's Land by Harold Pinter and Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett are being performed in repertory at the Cort Theatre on Broadway through March 2, 2014.  For ticktets and other performance information please visit

Monday, November 25, 2013

If/Then Pre-Broadway Engagement at The National Theatre in Washington DC

Washington DC audiences have the opportunity to see The National Theatre being used as it once was in the golden age of musical theater, as a try-out location for new works headed to the Great White Way. Bit of trivia: for those too young to remember when it was normal for musicals and plays to iron out their kinks with several stops prior to opening in New York the wonderful opening number from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate is a love letter to this practice ("in Philly, Boston, or Balti-mo"). The creative team behind the Pulitzer-prize winning musical drama Next To Normal have chosen as their next project another original story. The challenge is that the way the story is told still needs to be clarified so that audience members who purchase tickets without knowledge of the format do not walk out hopelessly confused. The good news is that there is an ember of a potentially great musical on the stage of The National Theatre. By the end of its run, it may be ready for the big time.

If/Then tells the stories of Elizabeth, a divorcee in her late 30's who has left her marriage and life in Phoenix to return to New York City. Yes, I meant stories. In a fateful encounter in Madison Square Park she meets with both her best friend, Lucas and her new neighbor Kate. Both of these friends make her an offer, Kate to simply go out with her and Lucas to attend a protest. Whichever offer she accepts will change the path of her life over the next five years. The challenge of If/Then is that these tales unfold simultaneously. It is not yet 100% clear for the audience that this is happening. Yes, the film Sliding Doors had the same concept, but Elizabeth's story is a unique tale of the possibilities of chance.

There are two devices used to keep the story straight.  In Kate's story Elizabeth decides to call herself Liz. Background lighting for Liz's story is pink. In Lucas' version Elizabeth decides to adopt her college nickname of Beth. Beth's story lighting is blue. Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments when different lighting is used (and at least one instance at this performance where the pink storyline had the blue lighting). Anything the director and writers can do to continue to iron out the ambiguity would be a plus.

Within each tale are several supporting characters. Not all of the characters appear in each story and those that do have very different arcs. The most affected are Kate (LaChanze) and Lucas (Anthony Rapp). Kate, a lesbian kindergarten teacher has a romance with Anne (Jenn Colella). The ups and downs of their romance are documented with very different outcomes. Lucas is a bisexual man who in Liz's story develops a romance with David (Jason Tam), a doctor. In Beth's storyline Lucas' life is much more tied to Beth's and David simply appears in his role as a physician. Beth hires a personal assistant in Elena (Tamika Lawrence). Elena does not exist in Liz's story at all. A last pivotal character that appears in both stories is Stephen (Jerry Dixon) another of Elizabeth's friends from college who serves as a mentor in both stories, and potential love interest only in one.

The most significant difference is the character of Josh (James Snyder). Josh is a doctor and Army reservist who briefly encounters Liz in the park at the beginning of the show and only Liz. By choosing the Liz story Josh becomes the love of Elizabeth's life. Yet, book writer Brian Yorkey has not made If/Then into a simple tale of love and family in one direction, powerful job in the other. That is what elevates If/Then's intertwining stories to another level.

As with Next To Normal, the songs, music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Brian Yorkey, serve to either advance the plot or deepen character development. There is no song list in The National Theatre's Playbill reflecting the nature of the constant changes that occur during an out-of-town production. Suffice to say that LaChance and Anthony Rapp both receive good songs that truly enliven their characters. James Snyder's Josh has a wonderful heartfelt song about the joys and terrors of parenthood.

The best material goes to our girl Elizabeth, portrayed by the perfectly cast Idina Menzel. Her act one song "WTF" (spelled out in the show) is a comedic highlight that straddles both storylines. Her act two ballad, "Learn To Live Without" is raw with heartache.  Given that she is playing two very different stories, but the character development must be possible for the same woman, Ms. Menzel rises to the challenge with aplomb.

If/Then shows the growing pains inherent in new work. We should rejoice that this is a work intended for Broadway that is not based on a film. If/Then in its infant stage is challenging and its twists and turns are not always crystal clear to the average audience member. Give it a chance to grow up, the potential to shine is there.

If/Then is in its pre-Broadway engagement at The National Theatre in Washington DC through December 8, 2013. For tickets and other performance information please visit

Note: the performance reviewed was in the second week of previews. As with many new works, changes were being made to the show prior to its official opening on November 24, 2013.

Maurice Hines is Tappin' Thru Life at Arena Stage

Wanna be charmed for a couple of hours by a master entertainer? Maurice Hines, a true theatrical treasure, takes his audience on a trip down memory lane that is by turns suave, sophisticated, rousing and poignant. Tappin' Thru Life is not a standard autobiographical show. It does not travel simply from point A to point B, although the reminiscing by Mr. Hines makes you want to grab some coffee and just pick his brain about all of the wonderful performers he has worked with and gives glorious glimpses of as the evening progresses.

The structure of Tappin' Thru Life is staged as if it was a headlining act from the heyday of the Las Vegas strip. Backed by the incredible Diva Jazz Orchestra, musical direction by one of the best drummers alive, Dr. Sherrie Maricle, Mr. Hines uses a bit of big band, bit of swing, a sprinkling of jazz and some golden age Broadway tunes to bring this love letter to his family to life. For, yes, you will be treated to some very adorable baby pictures and really sweet portraits of his parents, Maurice, Sr. and Alma Hines. His late brother Gregory seems to be hovering in the wings waiting for his turn to take his natural place as part of Hines and Hines (and Dad). While we get treated to tales about performing or simply meeting Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Tallulah Bankhead and Judy Garland, it is the stories of Maurice's family that deepen the meaning of this production. Do not be surprised if a tear or two sprinkling into the joy that the audience will take away from seeing this show.

Jeff Calhoun is listed as the director, but it is clear that Mr. Calhoun has merely guided Mr. Hines in the shaping of this show. Mr. Hines tells the love story of his parents, his partnership with his brother and the amazing opportunities he had to mingle with famous performers over the years. Mr. Hines does not shy away from mentioning the natural prejudices that he faced as a child growing up in the 1940's and 1950's. Not many younger audience members may realize that even Las Vegas in the 1950's was segregated. The relating of that dark reality is not heavy-handed. Simply using the story of that time as he remembers it, coupled with poignant images and a heart breaking rendition of the old standard Smile suffices.

Maurice Hines is a generous performer and firmly believes in passing down his incredible body of knowledge to the next generation of tappers. To that end he shares the stage with the Manzari brothers, who were featured in Arena Stage's revival of Sophisticated Ladies at the Lincoln Theater a few seasons back. He goes one step further and adds the even younger Heimowitz brothers to the mix. Tap is an American institution that needs to be nurtured. With Mr. Hines as mentor and inspiring performers like the Manzari and Heimowitz brothers the future of tap is in great hands, or perhaps more appropriately, in great feet.

Audiences will laugh, clap along and sing along with Maurice Hines, the Manzari Brothers, the Heimowitz Brothers and the Diva Jazz Orchestra. For an energetic evening of theater that's a bit different than the usual holiday fare you could not do any better than to unwrap this hot chestnut from under your theatrical tree this season.

Maurice Hines is Tappin' Thru Life is being performed in the Kreeger Theatre at Arena Stage's Mead Center for American Theater through December 29, 2013.  For tickets and other performance information please visit

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Glass Menagerie at The Booth Theatre

Tennessee Williams' 1944 play The Glass Menagerie is the very definition of a classic chestnut. After all it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948.  It is very likely that we read the play in high school or college. Esteemed actresses of a certain age via to put their stamp on the overbearing mother Amanda Wingfield. Yet, it is a rare production that succeeds on every level as does the current revival on Broadway. The cast of four is simply perfect. The direction of John Tiffany is sublime. The set, designed along with the costumes by Bob Crawley evoke a dream state.

For The Glass Menagerie is famously a dream play. Tom Wingfield, author and poet,  is haunted by his past. He relates to us the tale of how and why he abandoned his family, his faded belle of a mother, Amanda and his pathologically shy and crippled sister, Laura. It is Laura who truly haunts him. The Wingfield apartment floats on a black sea of stars. The fire escape entrance stretches abstractly to the heavens. The score by Nico Muhly settles our minds into the nostalgic past.  Yet, it is not a happy nostalgia that Tom invites us to revisit with him.

The story that Tom Wingfield relates is set in 1930's St. Louis. Tom is the main breadwinner for his mother and sister, the family having been abandoned by their salesman father years ago. Tom and his sister Laura are adults, yet Laura is incapable of any meaningful socializing with outside people. When Laura fails to tell her mother that she dropped out of business school weeks before, her mother becomes determined to get her daughter a husband. Fatally Amanda, wishing the same popularity with young men that she enjoyed decades before, ignores that such an encounter may emotionally ruin her daughter's life. Tom agrees to invite a co-worker home for dinner. That co-worker's effect on his sister leads to heartbreak for all.

Where does one begin to praise the performances of this quartet of perfectly cast actors. Brian J. Smith, as Jim O'Connor the gentleman caller is charismatic and charming, yet with a sweet gentleness as he weaves his romantic spell on shy Laura. Celia Keenan-Bolger breaks our hearts as we long to comfort her disappointments and grant her the happy ending we know will not occur.  Zachary Quinto gives narrator Tom an intriguingly complex performance. We understand his anger with his situation, his heartbreak for his sister and his needs and wants that he can only express to his mother as his desire to constantly "go to the movies." Cherry Jones is the definitive Amanda Wingfield for this generation. Driving her children to deeper despair by her well-intentioned actions, we still see a mother trying to do her best for her unhappy adult children, never realizing that her choices damage them all forever.

As Laura literally fades from our view and Tom forces the candles to go out, we are left with our own memories. Leaving the Booth Theatre we ponder the tragedy that has unfolded, wishing for a better outcome that we know can never be.

The Glass Menagerie is being performed at the Booth Theatre in New York City through February 23, 2014. For tickets and other performance information please visit