THEATER REVIEW: With fun balance overdrawn, cast, music revive ‘Stiff’

“Lucky Stiff” / The Theater Barn

Cast members in the The Theater Barn production of ‘Lucky Stiff’ are (l to r) Mark Shane-Lydon, Joseph Sicotte (in the title role) and Nicole Weitzman. The production runs through September 1 at the New Lebanon stage. Photo contributed

“LUCKY STIFF” IS A MUSICAL FARCE about a man who takes a corpse for a weekend in Monte Carlo. Murder, dogs, romance and a six-million dollar inheritance are involved.

At the Theater Barn, director Robert Schneider has chosen to emphasize a gathering-of-clowns approach to the story. I’ve seen and preferred less stylized concepts applied to “Lucky Stiff,” but it’s a choice, and his staging is clean, clear and consistent.

Set designer Sam Slack has followed suit, giving the set a lively carnival feel rather than the lush look of Monte Carlo. There are giant betting chips, giant tinsel walls, and giant face cards adorned with—yes, royal dogs. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Brothers Size’ brings searing story to stage

“The Brothers Size” / The Ancram Opera House

IT’S A PLAY not a musical, but at one point, Oshoosi, the younger of the Size brothers, sings. He sings an old ballad called “Try a Little Tenderness.” (Oshoosi adds his own Baroque embellishments in the mode that black jazz and pop singers have made their own.)

It is a rare moment in “The Brothers Size,” a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney. At that moment, the character is joyous, free and persuasive, though much of his young life has been none of the above.

Oshoosi has recently come home from prison. At the Ancram Opera House, home has crooked wood slats and a crooked thrusting stage adorned with unidentifiable metal objects and two metal guardians of the homestead—who look surprised to be there. The set is a marriage of African folk art and American car repair. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: 20th century tale reminds us how little has changed

“Ragtime” (the Musical) at Mac-Haydn Theatre

“RACISM!” TURN ON YOUR TELEVISION, open your computer news-feed, your newspaper. There find the word racism nearly in tatters from extraordinary repetition. It appears with subjects of the day: inequality, immigration, police brutality, hate, sassy and abused women, wealth, patriotism! America the beautiful. America the brutal.

In “Ragtime,” the same issues appear, but the show is not about 2019. It’s a musical set in the early twentieth century. The piece is derived from a big thick novel by E. L. Doctorow, musicalized by composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens, and book writer Terrance McNally. It played on Broadway in the late 1990s and won many awards. It’s entertaining, a sort-of history lesson served with a teaspoon of sugar.

Do today’s historical similarities suggest that we Americans are running in place? Growing, not stronger or more civilized, just more out of breath? In “Ragtime,” a number of famous people turn up (Booker T. Washington, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, et al.); however, it is mostly the loving unknowns who fight back against racism. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Loose tale of sleuths’ slapstick unleashed in ‘Baskerville’

“Baskerville” / Theater Barn

“WHAT IS IT ABOUT?” If you’ve just finished reading a book or come from the theater, someone is likely to ask you that.

Ostensibly, “Baskerville,” currently playing at the Theater Barn, is about Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson; and the title promises that the play will be some sort of adaptation or takeoff on Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous novel “Hound of the Baskervilles.”

While it is very smart theater economics for a playwright to piggyback on something famous when creating a new work, Ken Ludwig has ended up making “Baskervile” mainly about something else. Riding on the bones of a Sherlock Holmes story is merely a means. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Cast hits mark, though ‘Curtains’ has drawbacks

“Curtains” / Mac-Haydn Theatre

THE MUSICAL THEATER composer John Kander is 91. We all know his “Cabaret” and his “Chicago,” but there are prolific Kander-years since, before and between. Many of those shows were built for extraordinary female stars (Liza Minnelli, Lauren Bacall, Gwen Verdon, and perhaps most of all, Chita Rivera.)

Kander has become the grand old man of musical creators, admired and beloved for smarts, dignity and old-fashioned human decency by the people who work with him. What does it mean that his main characters are often so bereft of those very characteristics? Witness the unsavory fame- and money-grabbers of “Chicago” and, most of all, the cold, revenge-obsessed woman (played by Chita Rivera) in “The Visit.” What attracted this composer to the pain, depression and sexual-abuse-trauma suffered by the main character in his 2015 show “Kid Victory”?

Now running at Mac-Haydn Theatre, “Curtains” (by Kander, Ebb, and Stone) is Kander’s 2006 musical about a theater company preparing a show called “Robin Hood.” The characters are something of a departure. Read more…