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I’m Not Rappaport

Susan Granger’s review of “I’m Not Rappaport” (Aug., 2002 – Booth Theater)

When the curtain opens on this revival of Herb Gardner’s Tony Award-winning comedy, you see Judd Hirsch and Ben Vereen as two old geezers sitting in Central Park, bathed in an autumnal glow, as they battle the ravages of age. You sense immediately that you’re watching two old pros at the top of their game. Indeed, 17 years ago, Judd Hirsch won a Tony playing the feisty 81 year-old New Yorker who spends his days on a park bench. And now he seems to have an even better grasp of the part, while Ben Vereen makes the perfect foil for his hilarious repartee. They’re so convincing that it’s hard to believe they’re still only 67 and 54 years old, respectively. Under Dan Sullivan’s direction, the geriatric dilemmas the characters grappled with in the ’80s seem to have even more insight and relevance today in our aging society, as does the old vaudeville routine from which the title comes. Judd Hirsch plays Nat, the rabble-rousing Marxist, who can fend off muggers but has more trouble with his well-meaning daughter (Mimi Lieber) who is determined to relocate him to a suburban retirement. Ben Vereen is Midge, the almost-blind building superintendent, who’s hiding from the tenants’ committee chairman (Anthony Arkin) who plans to fire him. While Nat brazenly drives the narrative, Midge gives it a dignified, poignant balance. (The late Cleavon Little played Midge in the 1985 Broadway production, and there was a 1996 movie version, starring Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis.) Tony Walton’s set, Pat Collins’ lighting and Teresa Snider-Stein’s costumes add to the gentle ambiance. Not only is it an impressive, highly entertaining revival but the witty, warm and wise “I’m Not Rappaport” leaves you laughing – and a bit happier to still be alive.

MAMMA MIA!

Susan Granger’s review of “MAMMA MIA!” (Wintergarden Theater)

This whimsical musical comedy celebrates the happy marriage of rock ‘n’ roll with theater. Utilizing the songs of the Swedish pop group ABBA, the show is a delightful crowd-pleaser. So it’s critical carping to point out that the sitcom script is ridiculous and the dialogue cliché-drenched. Audiences love it! The predictably corny story – remarkably similar to the 1968 movie “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” – revolves around the upcoming nuptials of 20 year-old Sophie (Tina Maddigan) whose free-spirited, hippie mother Donna (Louise Petrie) owns a taverna on an idyllic Greek island. Sophie longs to be walked down the aisle by her father, but she doesn’t know who her biological father is. By studying her mother’s diary, she narrows the field down to three men with whom her mother was involved when she was conceived. So, unbeknownst to her mother, she invites all three of the them to the island, each unaware of her true motives. Also on hand are Donna’s two best friends, played by Judy Kaye and Karen Mason. Director Phyllida Lloyd rejoices in Catherine Johnson’s concept’s campy quality, plunging into “Dancing Queen,” “S.O.S.,” “Money Money Money,” and “Chiquita” with bouncy exuberance. Van Lasst’s artful choreography scores high marks, particularly “Lay All Your Love On Me,” performed by a male chorus clad in flippers and snorkels. And credit Mark Thompson’s simple yet flexible set. With her bombastic energy and mature sensuality, Louise Petrie is sensational, stopping the show in the second act with the poignant “The Winner Takes It All.” Like “Saturday Night Fever,” warm, wacky “Mamma Mia!” scores pop-solid at the box-office which, after all, is where it counts.

RICKY JAY: ON THE STEM

Susan Granger’s review of “RICKY JAY: ON THE STEM” (Second Stage Theater)

In 1994, astonishing sleight-of-hand showman Ricky Jay sold out the entire run of “Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants” (i.e.: a deck of playing cards) in just hours; in 1998, he repeated the trick again. So for me to recommend that you run, not walk, to the box-office to get seats for his current limited run at the Second Stage may be an exercise in futility; then again, the box-office seems to do its own amazing tricks to squeeze people into the small theater. If you manage to wangle a ticket, you’re in for a treat! Written by Jay and directed by David Mamet, this production pays homage to Broadway (“the Stem”) with Ricky Jay flawlessly performing his magic and memory tricks while spinning intriguing tales about the legendary scammers, gamblers, pickpockets, grifters, spiritualists and burlesque stars who formulated the seamier side of New York City’s bygone entertainment history, illustrated by a rolling backdrop of illustrations designed by Peter Larkin. Jay’s dexterity remarkable – evidenced by his juggling and card-throwing – and he has charm to spare. Who else could slyly persuade an audience member to sign a written contract for the purchase of the Brooklyn Bridge or slyly go down the aisles hawking $5 cardboard boxes filled with candy? (His book, “Jay’s Journal of Anomalies,” is also on sale.) The one-man show culminates with the “Automaton Orange Tree,” a magnificently complex optical illusion invented in 1848 by Robert-Houdin, whose name was later adopted – in homage – by the great Harry Houdini. And if Ricky Jay already looks vaguely familiar to you, yeah, you’ve seen him as a character actor in David Mamet films, like “Heist,” “State and Main” and “House of Games.”