New World Stages

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange has developed a life of its own. It doesn’t have the worldwide instant-recognition factor of a Wizard of Oz or a Mickey Mouse, but the opening image of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex deLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film is etched in the consciousness of anyone who’s even tangentially encountered the film: chin tucked, eyes leering under the brim of his bowler hat, mouth an inscrutable half-simper, flamboyant fake eyelashes ringing his right eye. No company Halloween party is complete without a Brad or a Dave in deLarge drag. The latest in a long line of theatrical adaptations of A Clockwork Orange, which opened this week at New World Stages, both banks on and challenges this brand awareness, refining the narrative into a piquant, overheated slab of physical theater about the roots of white violence that is part male revue, part alt-rock dream ballet.

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If I Only Had a Heart

Many people are familiar with Hollywood’s The Wizard of Oz and the Tin Man—found in the woods with an ax in his hands and rusted in place from a storm that had passed. But did you know that this man was not always made out of tin? In fact, this Tin Man was once a woodsman made of out of flesh, blood and a real heart.

In the play The Woodsman, the audience is taken back to the days before he turned into tin and the house dropped on the Wicked Witch of the East. Writer James Ortiz constructed his version of the life of the Woodsman. Ortiz collected information from the original book and film and the history of the town that the Woodsman lived in up until the day Dorothy took her first step in Oz.

Playing the leading role as Nick Chopper the Woodsman, Ortiz is also the creator, co-director, set and puppet designer. Although not alone in making this performance possible, Ortiz’s talents are shown not only in his great acting abilities but also in bringing such a memorable childhood story to fruition.

In this production it is the ensemble and the violinist Naomi Florin who bring this performance to life. With Florin and the majority of the ensemble remaining on stage for the entirety of the performance, they are the ones who control the sounds and music. The ensemble manages the set changes and they contribute to the lighting with flashlights. The ensemble also creates sound effects, performs magic, and becomes parts of the set.

The puppets are one of the most important features in this production. Puppet designer Ortiz created puppets that add life to the magical people and creatures that exist within this world. In addition to their other duties, the cast members are also the puppeteers. Although the audience can see the ensemble controlling the puppets, the group of talented actors do a fantastic job at working seamlessly together. The puppets are like an extension of the actors as they move throughout the space and even appear from the shadows. With the help of one to four cast members the puppets become bigger than life. The voices of the puppets come alive by having multiple actors control these magical beings. Layers of sounds and eerie, enchanted sounds are also used.

Audiences are transported into a different world when they enter the theater. The ceiling and aisles are lined with lights, that are encased in mason jars, and hanging from trees. The space feels mystical and like when a story is about to be told to a child. Lighting designers Catherine Clark and Jamie Roderick use lighting delicately to create various shadows and the enchanted forest.

In order to allow quick transitions, Ortiz uses acting blocks that can be moved easily throughout the space to create various settings. Audience members who are not seated in the front row will probably not see one or two of the moments that happen on the stage. However, not seeing these moments will not prevent theatergoers from understanding what is happening.

Overall, The Woodsman is a heart-touching play that brings to life a story that has not been told. With the great music composed by Edward W. Hardy, meaningful lyrics by Jen Loring, and strong visuals envisioned by Ortiz, this play will remind any audience member of The Wizard of Oz and the infamous Tin Man. 

The Woodsman runs until May 29 at New World Stages (340 West 50th St. between 8th and 9th Aves.) in Manhattan. Tickets range from $45-$105. To purchase tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or visit thewoodsmanplay.com.

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A 'Mansplanation' Set to Music

The legendary director Harvey Cocks once claimed, “An actor must never be afraid to make a fool of himself.” And real men shouldn’t be afraid to be fools, either. At least that is the perspective of the creators of Real Men: The Musical, the playfully vaudevillian show at the New World Stages, an Off-Broadway multi-theater venue in Midtown Manhattan. This new award-winning musical comedy has been brought to New York City from the Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables, Florida. The show is cleverly written by Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria, with impeccable musical direction by Martin Landry and exquisite arrangements by Manny Schvartzman.

Real Men: The Musical is a man’s view of men. As the characters read to us from the Book of More Men, we learn the truth about what goes on in a real man’s mind. Apparently, not much besides sex and sports. At least they are able to laugh at themselves about it. And sing about it. And play with puppets (and themselves) about it. As the piece follows the men in their journey into married midlife suburban crisis, we learn that they do want to understand why they are so stupid. According to the playbill, the play is set in “Present Day” to suggest that some things never change. It also reads that the place is "Everywhere," but Boynton Beach and Boca Raton sure are recognizable. Jerry Seinfeld's parents would love it. And who doesn't love South Florida?

The musical stars Stephen G. Anthony (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) along with the writers, Louis (from the 1995 TV series "Jelly Bean Jungle”) and Maria (Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know). Under the manly guidance of award-winning director David Arisco, these performers give us a hilarious and harmonious examination into the minds of men. All three performers effortlessly mastered the melodies and harmonies; a real twisted Rat Pack with the Three Stooges. While they were campy at times, that was what they were striving for and they did it well. The inclusion of puppet women heightened their point that men see women as objects with talking heads, breasts and derrières. 

Some of the lyrics were hysterical; some were a bit dated—heard them from my ex-husband and his father, in South Florida years ago. But again, they reiterate the point that men are limited in their thinking and that it is a universal disease. The production definitely caters to the older bridge and tunnel crowd. Married and divorced couples will get it but younger theater-goers might need variety in the music and a younger perspective (maybe the son in the song "That’s My Boy" could appear). The music was well-written and performed, reminiscent of the old great standards—but a bit repetitive in certain spots. There was most certainly room for a rock song, or other style of music, too. And while the men can sing, and move well, an audience does like to see nice legs. Not that Anthony's legs weren’t nice—he looks great in drag. While it was especially delightful to hear these real men’s confessions, the character development could have been further expanded. 

Particular songs that really hit the mark were "I’m Not with Nick" and "Married Man’s Lament," a hysterical number sung by Louis with help from Maria, Anthony and a giant penis. "That’s My Boy" was a real surprise. It was flawlessly carried by Nick, who has a real sense of character, comedic timing and honest acting. Anthony had a powerful voice, nice hair and could really move his hips. Paul was a hoot with the puppets; he really knew how to work them smoothly into his performance. Plus, he looked great in his cowboy outfit and tutu. They all had undeniable chemistry and it was clear they were enjoying themselves. So we enjoyed them, too. We all knew these fellows. They were our fathers and husbands in true form. It was nice to laugh at them and not get in trouble.

Real Men: The Musical is running through Jan. 2, 2016 at New World Stages (340 West 50th St. between 8th and 9th Aves.) in Manhattan. Check the performance schedule here. Tickets range from $59-$79 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or visiting Telecharge.com.

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Whose Lyric Is It, Anyway?

Back when I was in high school, my cousin and I made up an impromptu jazz-age musical called Loser: The Musical, wherein a lowly, poor broom boy (based on a broom boy at the local Dunkin' Donuts whom my cousin and her sister insisted I had a crush on — don't ask) falls in love with a rich girl he stumbles upon one day. As one could expect, there were cheesy numbers galore, with inclusion — of course — of the musical's title theme, "Loser," which our hero would sing forlornly as the rich girl drove away with her Also-Rich-But-Also-A-Jerk fiance.  Needless to say, Loser never got past my living room couch in Queens (thank God), though I do regret we never recorded any of the hilarious tunes my cousin made up off the top of her head. Such is life, as the poets say — and apparently, such is theater.

It is practically biblical testament that in theater, not one performance is ever the same night after night. Theater is ephemeral. A new show currently playing at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street) called Blank! The Musical is taking this idea to a whole new level, with the clever inclusion of an iPhone application. Yes, you read that right. In an age where everyone can personalize everything from music playlists to their social network profile pages (all hail the invention of cover photos), an app with which a different audience night after night can create their own personalized musical seems long overdue.  

And how! 

Created and produced by Second City and ImprovBoston alums Michael Girts, T.J. Shanoff and Mike Descoteaux (who here also serves as the show's music director and deserves a kudos-filled shout-out; you'll find out the reason why in a minute) in conjunction with Upright Citizens Brigade, Blank's conceit is simple enough: come to the show fully equipped with an iPhone and, when prompted, log onto the show's wi-fi connection with the password provided and visit the Blank! App. As the show's emcee T.J. Mannix greets you onstage (all the while charming the pants off you), you are told to follow his instructions carefully and get ready to create your own musical!  With the show's spiffy app — designed by LiveCube — audience members get to choose the musical's title, its signature songs, the score's signature theme and even a dramatic piece of dialogue (this night's choice line, taken from a brave dude who shouts it out hilariously from the back of the theater: "There's nothing left for us here in this storage locker"). As a result, we are left with Is This Supposed to Smell? The Musical, about the life and times of the good people (and whales) who frequent a local car depot in Portland, Maine.  By the time the actors come out and the show finally gets going ("Maine is (The Maine Thing)"), all you need do is sit back and watch your weird but wonderful creation come to life.

Here, the cast of characters of Is This Supposed to Smell? range from a couple of cabbies (Douglas Widick and Andrew Knox), who fall in love with two best girlfriends who wish to go out on the road and change their life ("Think Bigger"), to a rich May-December couple who take on the decision of having a child, only to have it backfire in ways they could never imagine ("We Were Way Off"), to the endangered whales of the Pacific Northwest whose only problem seem to be some literally stinky and painful dental work ("Ouch! My Baileen"). Tackling material that was never-before-rehearsed until this night is no doubt a difficult task, and the actors pull it off effortlessly, if by breaking out of character every once in a while to let out a chuckle or two themselves. It's perfectly ridiculous fun watching them come up with the stuff they do; Dufresne and Van Colton, in particular, are hilarious as the elder(ly?) wife recently deceased from failure to carry a child — which should be heartbreaking, if not for Van Colton's turn as the husband who somehow manages to carry a child himself (the child ends up being a weird whale-human half-breed).

Yep, it's that kind of show.

Just as with the book and lyrics, none of the music has been rehearsed, either. Descoteaux and his band (which also consists of Daniel Bennett on reeds and Al Vetere on drums, with Descoteaux himself on piano) do a fantastic job not only in keeping with the night's chosen chord structure (D/E/F/G) thematically throughout, but also in following along the each of the actors' whims, especially when Hastings goes on one of her signature let's-jam-some-extra-syllables-into-the-lyrics-because-this-is-all-totally-made-up-so-why-not riffs, garnering some extra giggles from the crowd.  

For the irregular theater-goer looking for an unconventional musical to check out, Blank! The Musical is the show to see. To put it in tech-speak: it'll not only make you "LOL," but also "ROTFLYAO.".. and then some!  

Blank! The Musical is running in a special limited engagement at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street) through Dec. 14. Performances are Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m; and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $29-$69 and can be purchased at Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or at www.telecharge.com. For more information, visit www.blankthemusical.com

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