Cirque Du Soleil Breaks the Mold With Avatar-Themed Production

Toruk Header

I get off a 32-seat plane in the middle of Lafayette, Louisiana and head almost directly to the town’s Cajundome, an arena that houses the likes of Disney on Ice, monster truck shows, and Frozen sing-alongs. But they’ve never hosted a Cirque du Soleil production, until now.

It’s a low-pressure market to “try out” Cirque’s newest concept, and the locals are ecstatic (the clerk at my car rental window literally could not stop talking about it). Not only was the Cajundome getting Cirque, but they are the second city world wide to premiere a multi-million-dollar risk that involves not only Cirque’s artistic partnership with Hollywood mogul James Cameron, but a completely different style of presentation. Richmond, Virginia is next, followed by Allentown at the start of December.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime to work with Cameron,” says the production’s artistic director Fabrice Lemire. “We are thinking outside the box. The public needs to come in with an open mind. Usually with Cirque, there is a formula. If people are coming in to see that formula, they won’t get it.”

Read more »

The Philadelphian’s Guide to Weekend Theater in New York City


The holiday season is almost here – often a perfect time for a weekend visit to New York City. For me, almost by definition, that includes a trip to the theater.

Well, I have good news and bad news. Bad news first: It will likely cost you more than $1,000 to get into Hamilton (if you even can).

But the good news is there’s more to life than Hamilton. It’s been a fine fall theater season in New York – especially for plays, both new and classic. Here are four current productions you may not know about — all of them thought-provoking (if not entirely festive) and very much worthy of your attention. Take advantage of the holidays to see some of them!

Read more »

REVIEW: Becoming Dr. Ruth at Walnut Street Theatre

Jane Ridley in "Becoming Dr. Ruth" at Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3. | Photo by Mark Garvin.

Jane Ridley in “Becoming Dr. Ruth” at Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3. | Photo by Mark Garvin.

In the 1980s, America collectively fell head over heels in love with Dr. Ruth Westheimer. And why wouldn’t we? The diminutive German-born therapist was a character that no playwright would have the imagination (or chutzpah) to invent — possessing a combination of qualities almost too good to be true.

First, she was everybody’s favorite Jewish grandmother — compassionate, twinkly, stern when it was necessary — but mostly kind and full of folk wisdom and common sense. It was an archetype that recalled Gertrude Berg’s beloved Molly Goldberg character — but Dr. Ruth, being a real live person, was even better.

Read more »

REVIEW: A Christmas Story at Walnut Street Theatre


Craig Mulheron, Jr. (Ralphie) and Lyn Philistine (Mother) in “A Christmas Story.”

It’s an odd thing about holiday season musicals. On one hand, they’re often very successful – at least between November and January – with a large supply of family audiences ready to give themselves over and have a good time. For precisely the same reason, though, critics usually don’t treat them seriously as theatre.

So I’m pleased to report that A Christmas Story – based on the much-adored film, with a tuneful score by up-and-comers Justin Paul and Benj Pasek – is more than just a crowd pleaser. It’s a fine show, well delivered at the Walnut Street Theatre, and likely to entertain audiences of all ages and levels of discernment.

A Christmas Story is quirky and refreshingly unpredictable. Its opening chords have an almost Aaron Copland-esque quality, and seem to promise Americana seen through a nostalgic lens. Sure enough, some of the show – the tale of a young boy named Ralphie (played by endearing, clarion-voiced Craig Mulhern, Jr.) growing up in small town Indiana in the 1940s – is exactly that. There’s a sweetness to this aspect of A Christmas Story that isn’t entirely suited to the Walnut’s shiny, highly animated production – as though a tiny, handcrafted wooden doll had been packaged like an action figure.

Read more »

REVIEW: Matilda: The Musical at the Academy of Music

Photo by Joan Marcus for Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.

Photo by Joan Marcus from Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.

Is a show like Matilda: The Musical too big to properly tour?

That question was definitely on my mind last evening after I left the performance at the Academy of Music. The touring Broadway musical has come a long way since, say, the first national tour of Cats, which pretty much employed a strand of Christmas tree lights on the stage and called it a “set.” But at least that set worked.

Last evening’s Matilda was plagued with technical malfunctions throughout the performance, including one that literally stopped the show during act one, causing an announcer to broadcast that the set was having difficulties. The other major malfunction took place during the climax of the show. I won’t give the plot away, but the moment was supposed to involve a piece of chalk magically writing a message on a board. Let’s just say the chalk stopped working. Read more »

Playwright Chad Beckim Reacts to Inquirer Critic’s Claims of Racism

Chad Beckim

Chad Beckim

“Who is to tell me what I can and cannot write? Who are you to tell me that?”

I caught New York City playwright Chad Beckim on a stressful morning. The author, whose work Lights Rise on Grace just opened at Azuka Theatre, was upset over Inquirer critic Toby Zinman’s review of his play, in which she wrote that the show could seem homophobic and racist based on his development of several characters in the script.

Zinman wrote: “If one didn’t know that Azuka ‘loves outsiders’ as Kevin Glaccum’s director’s note says, Chad Beckim’s play would seem to be both homophobic and racist. Also, classist, as everybody’s poor, which apparently (yet again) means all families are cruel and abusive to their children. This judgmental play seems to endorse the prison mantra both [male characters] learn: ‘Admit, take the blame, apologize.'”

Read more »

REVIEW: Lantern Theater Company’s Underneath the Lintel

Peter DeLaurier in 'Underneath the Lintel'| Photo by Mark Garvin.

Peter DeLaurier in ‘Underneath the Lintel’| Photo by Mark Garvin.

In my crankier moods, I think “one-person play” is an oxymoron. I’ve seen plenty, and some have been delightful – The Belle of Amherst with Julie Harris, for example, where Harris’s extraordinary, luminous brilliance (and quite a bit of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, inserted into William Luce’s banal script) lifted the show.

But that’s also the problem. Since there’s no opportunity for conversation and dramatic action is at a minimum, most one-person plays stand or fall on a couple elements – the interest level of the basic story, of course. But maybe even more, on the skill of the actor.

Read more »

REVIEW: Azuka Theatre’s Lights Rise on Grace

Bi Jean Ngo and Ashton Carter in Lights Rise on Grace | Photo by AustinArt.Org

Bi Jean Ngo and Ashton Carter in Lights Rise on Grace | Photo by AustinArt.Org

Lights Rise on Grace by Chad Beckim arrives at Azuka as part of the National New Play Network’s ambitious Rolling World Premiere initiative, in which several theaters produce a work in succession. The idea is that each production is an opportunity to continue the development process. In this case, Azuka is the third stop – previously it was done at Woolly Mammoth in Washington, D. C., and at Stageworks in Florida.

It’s easy to see the value for Beckim and all the artists involved. As for what audiences are getting – that’s a different question.

Read more »

REVIEW: Disgraced at Philadelphia Theatre Company

Pej Vahdat and Monette Magrath in "Disgraced."

Pej Vahdat and Monette Magrath in “Disgraced.”

There’s one word that I can use to describe the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of the Pulitzer-winning drama Disgraced: polarizing.

And if I wanted to add a few more words, I’d say it was polarizing for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve, quite frankly, never felt so divided about a piece of theatre in my life. Some parts of the PTC staging were simply brilliant, while others were so bad, it left several audience members who I talked to after the 85-minute play nearly running out of the theatre to escape. Read more »

DO THIS: Kiss of the Spider Woman

11th-hour-kiss-spider-womanThe rise of 11th Hour is one of Philly theatre’s great success stories. Now in their 11th season, they’ve grown from a fledgling group of recent college graduates, to the most significant force for new musical theatre in the city.

A relatively recent innovation is their Next Step Concert Series, in which musicals — sometimes well-known works, sometimes premieres — are done without costumes and scenery, and with minimal staging.

But don’t think for a minute this means they’re not theatrical! I saw two of their concerts last year — Cy Coleman’s The Life, and Pasek and Paul’s Dogfight — and they were more vibrantly alive than many fully produced shows I’ve seen. The young casts, brimming with talent, are a special pleasure. Sure enough, this series has become a Philly season highlight for those in the know. Performances nearly always sell out.

Read more »

« Older Posts