Susan Granger’s review of “Hughie” (Booth Theatre: 2016 season)


Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, who embodied Dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” makes his Broadway debut in this revival of Eugene O’Neill’s short, one-act play about a down-on-his-luck gambler. Written in 1942, it’s a character study about self-deception.

Set in a spacious, yet shabby hotel lobby in Times Square in a summer’s night in 1928, it revolves around Broadway barfly/gambler Erie Smith (Whitaker) telling the laconic new night clerk, Charlie Hughes (Frank Wood) all about the relationship he shared with the night clerk’s predecessor, Hughie.

Smith has been on a five-day bender since Hughie’s funeral and claims his luck has been jinxed ever since Hughie was hospitalized. Charlie’s obvious disinterest never fazes him, as Hughie drones on, insisting, “Something always turns up for me. I was born lucky. I ain’t worried.”

Former artistic leader of London’s Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage, who has been honored for directing “Frost/Nixon” and “Red,” helms the impressive production, working seamlessly with set/costume designer Christopher Oram, lighting designer Neil Austin and composer/sound designer Adam Cork. But Whitaker’s restrained, somewhat disconnected performance lacks the depth necessary to maintain interest in what amounts to a monologue.

Since playwright Eugene O’Neill had already explored the same concept in “The Iceman Cometh,” this plotless, 55-minute drama has always been considered one of his minor works. First produced in Sweden in 1958, it was staged in English in 1963, when Burgess Meredith played the lead in London. Later moving to Broadway, Jason Robards assumed the role, followed by over the years by Ben Gazzara, Al Pacino and Brian Dennehy.

While serious actors, like Whitaker, are understandably attracted to the meaty role of Eric Smith, audiences may feel they don’t get their money’s worth, particularly when a single Broadway ticket can cost about $150. So it’s not surprising that “Hughie,” originally scheduled to run through mid-June, will close on March 27.


“School of Rock”

Susan Granger’s review of “School of Rock” (Winter Garden Theatre/Jan., 2016)


In this screen-to-stage adaptation, Alex Brightman plays Dewey Finn, the aging wannabe rock ‘n’ roller who is summarily fired by his own band. It’s the comedic role that catapulted slobby, manic Jack Black to fame and fortune back in 2003; Brightman echoes his comic energy and volatile physicality.

Broke and facing eviction, freeloading Dewey impulsively impersonates his ex-bandmate Ned Schneebly to get a job as a substitute teacher at Horace Green, an elite prep school. That’s where he transforms his fifth-grade class into Battle of the Bands contenders.

Following the plot of Mike White’s screenplay, the book been adapted by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey,” “Mary Poppins”) and Disney lyricist Glenn Slater with the score composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Cats,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera”).

It’s oddly reminiscent of Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which was originally written for high schoolers. And this is the first time Webber has opened a musical on Broadway before London since “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1971).

While none of the songs are particularly memorable, Brightman’s enthusiasm ignites the terrifically talented pre-teens, who immediately endear themselves with “You’re in the Band” and “Stick It to the Man” under the direction of Laurence Connor, who staged the current “Les Miserables” revival, and choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter.

Starchy, skeptical Summer (Isabella Russo) is the’ goody two-shoes’ who becomes the band’s manager. Yearning to connect with his father, Freddy (Dante Melucci) defiantly takes out his frustration on the drums. Classically trained pianist Lawrence (Jared Parker) lets loose on the keyboard.  Prodigy Zach’s (Brandon Niederauer) on lead guitar with Katie (Evie Dolan) on bass.

Encouraged by her two gay dads, tiny belter Tomika (Bobbi Mackenzie) emerges from her shell of shyness, joining the back-up vocalists (Carly Gendell, Taylor Caldwell). And Barbra Streisand fan Billy (Luca Padovan) becomes the band’s stylist.

Wailing “Where Did the Rock Go?” Sierra Boggess plays the uptight principal with a secret penchant for Stevie Nicks, while Spencer Moses as the real Ned Schneebly with Mamie Parris as his bossy girl-friend.

The production design is superb – from Anna Louizos’ flexible sets and imaginative costumes to Natasha Katz’s lighting and Mick Potter’s sound design. One suggestion: since the music is very, very loud, it would be merciful if ear plugs were sold in the lobby, along with drinks and candy.



“King Charles III”

Susan Granger’s review of “King Charles III” (Music Box Theatre: November, 2015)


“Game of Thrones” has moved from the Middle Ages into the House of Windsor via Mike Bartlett’s audacious, satirically provocative “future history” drama, set just after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Told in Shakespearean blank verse with occasional rhyming couplets, the politically potent story revolves around the refusal by King Charles (Tim Piggott-Smith) in the weeks before his Coronation to sign Parliament’s new privacy bill that would restrict freedom of the press.

The more the Prime Minister (Adam James) presses, the more adamantly the King asserts that an unrestricted press is “the way a just society should work” – which is curious, given his previous phone-hacking angst and scandalous affair with conniving Camilla (Margot Leicester).  Despite having waited in the wings for most of his life, Charles’s highly principled conscience prevails, as he expresses fear that censorship will lead to governmental corruption.

When the ghost of demure Princess Diana (Sally Scott) visits him, she flirtatiously proclaims in a whispery voice that he will be “the greatest King.”  Not surprisingly, she voices the same assurance to her elder son, Prince William (Oliver Chris), whose fashionable, now emboldened, wife Kate (Lydia Wilson), the Duchess of Cambridge, turns out to be a manipulative, 21st century Lady Macbeth.

Meanwhile, feckless Prince Harry (Richard Goulding), weary of being “a ginger joke” among his Falstaffian friends, ignites a romantic relationship with socialist art student Jess (Tafline Steen), prompting his desire to reject his Royal heritage to become a commoner.

Eschewing impersonation, Tom Piggott-Smith delivers a subtly nuanced, poignant performance, aided and abetted by a strong ensemble, culminating in a chilling ceremonial climax.

Adroitly directed by Rupert Goold, its moral complexity is treacherously clever – and riveting, beginning with a solemn funeral procession and composer Jocelyn Pook’s Requiem. Designer Tom Scutt’s set consists of a brick-walled chamber with a carpeted dais, evoking Buckingham Palace; his costumes include traditional regalia – with protesters in Guy Fawkes masks.

Winner of London’s prestigious Olivier Award, it’s the most exciting new play on Broadway since “The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time.”  In a Limited Engagement through January, 2016, it’s a must see for Anglophiles!

“Ugly Lies the Bone”

Susan Granger’s review of “Ugly Lies the Bone” (Roundabout Underground Black Box: Oct.,2015)

In the World Premiere of this new drama, writer Lindsey Ferrentino confronts the topical dilemma of the wounded female soldier whose biggest battle is on the home front.

Jess (Mamie Gummer) has just returned to her hometown on Florida’s “Space Coast” after her third tour in Afghanistan. After being nearly killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), she’s in a pain management program, bravely trying to stretch her limbs and move her scarred skin – since third-degree burns cover over 90% of her body.

But it’s her deeply scarred face that reflects her enduring emotional agony.

After the suspension of NASA’s shuttle program, Titusville’s economy has plummeted. Jess’s mother (Caitlin O’Connell) suffers from dementia. Her schoolteacher sister Kacie (Karron Graves) is struggling to make ends meet, while Kacie’s boyfriend, Kelvin (Haynes Thigpen), lives on disability for a knee injury.

Jess’s former boyfriend, Stevie (Chris Stack) is now married and working as a gas station/convenience store clerk. He shares a memorably poignant scene with Jess, as she asks him to describe what she looked like before the burns disfigured her.

Helping her tenuous grip on sanity, Jess is participating in a new form of therapy which involves Virtual Reality headgear and a disembodied vocal guide to psychically take her out of the painful present and into tranquility.

Director Patricia McGregor was wise in casting talented, versatile Mamie Gummer. The oldest daughter of Meryl Streep, Mamie made her New York stage debut 10 years ago in “Mr. Marmalade” and recently appeared on-screen opposite her mother in Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and the Flash.”

But any play is only as good as its script – and Lindsey Ferrentino needs to do more work. Clocking in at 75 minutes without an intermission, it’s overly bleak and needs to be fleshed out, particularly the supporting roles.

FYI: The title is allegedly derived from Albert Einstein’s couplet about the impermanence of beauty.

Apparently, Ferrentino was inspired by a therapeutic video game called Snow World, in which burn victims are immersed in a wintry landscape, complete with penguins. After the show, audience members can try the game in the lobby.

“Ugly Lies the Bone” has been extended at the Roundabout Underground’s Black Box through December 6. For ticket information, call 212-719-1300 or go to roundaboutheatre.org.


“Other Desert Cities”

Susan Granger’s review of “Other Desert Cities” (Hudson Stage Company: Oct., 2015)


Truth hurts – it stuns, shocks and stings. That’s why Jon Robin Baitz’s dazzlingly dry, witty observations about parents and children, secrets and blame have such resounding resonance.

Patrician former movie star-turned-United States Ambassador Lyman Wyeth (Malachy Cleary) and his self-righteous, Jewish wife, Polly (Colleen Zenk), are Old-Guard Hollywood conservatives, now living in retirement Palm Springs. Polly’s bitter sister, Silda (Peggy J Scott), a recovering alcoholic and Polly’s former screenwriting partner, has just moved in with them.

It’s Christmas, 2004, as their grown children gather for the holidays.  Depressive Brooke (Brenda Withers) is an anguished novelist whose upcoming memoir spills long-kept family secrets, while Trip (Davy Raphaely) is a laid-back ‘reality’ television producer. An older son, Henry, is there in spirit only; he committed suicide after being implicated a fatal Weather Underground-style bombing which mortified and socially ostracized his parents during the Reagan era. This shame is the subject of Brooke’s book.

Creator of ABC-TV’s “Brothers & Sisters” (2006-2011), Baitz is in familiar territory, exploring social dysfunction, hypocritical politics and tantalizing drama. His barbed dialogue crackles as the family painfully probes its past.  Ironically, Baitz was fired in 2007 by ABC executives because he wanted the series to take a darker, more dramatic tone, while they insisted on retaining its sit-com sensibility.

Familiar to TV audiences from “As the World Turns,” Colleen Zenk embodies the ferocious matriarch who is determined to protect the family from her daughter’s betrayal. She’s an extraordinarily witty actress who can deliver a good line like a stiletto through the ribs.

As her combative, liberal offspring, Brenda Withers is determined to breaks the barrier of things that polite, well-bred Republicans simply don’t discuss – supported by her diabolical aunt, Peggy J. Scott. Davy Raphaely and Malachy Cleary add satisfying support as voices of reason.

Deftly directed by Dan Foster, who staged the play in Nantucket this summer, it’s a redemptive tale of reconciliation, made even more believable by the entitled authenticity of David L. Arsenault’s sleekly chic set, Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s costumes, Andrew Gmoser’s lighting and William Neal’s sound.

(For those unfamiliar with California geography, the title comes from a roadside sign on Interstate 10, indicating the way to Palm Springs and Other Desert Cities.)

“Other Desert Cities” runs through Oct. 31 at North Castle Public Library’s Whippoorwill Hall in Armonk, New York. For ticket info, call 914-271-2811 or go to www.hudsononstage.com.

“Clever Little Lies”

Susan Granger’s review of “Clever Little Lies” (Westside Theatre, off-Broadway: 2015-16 season)


Marlo Thomas headlines Joe DiPietro’s domestic comedic about infidelity – not hers, her son’s.

Set in the suburban Connecticut living room of Alice (Ms. Thomas) and her husband Bill (Greg Mullavey), it revolves around their wayward son, Bill Jr. (George Merrick), and daughter-in-law, Jane (Kate Wetherhead), whose three month-old daughter gurgles off-stage in another room.

When Bill returns from a tennis match with their New York-based son, busybody Alice immediately senses that something’s wrong. Determined to delve into whatever dilemma’s bothering him, she insists that Billy and his wife drive up to New Canaan for cocktails, cheesecake and espresso.

It seems that Billy’s canoodling with a sexy 23 year-old personal trainer named Jasmine, an adultery concept that has already become a cliché. Observing his gym-honed abs, Alice notes: “There’s no reason for a straight married man to be in that good a condition.”

Bookstore owner Alice then reveals an extramarital secret of her own, a kind of randy mind game or parable – which may or may not be true.

“In the long run,” she says, ruminating on the merits and perils of marriage, “people always stop showing you their shiny side and reveal their unpolished truths.”

Daughter of comedian Danny Thomas, Margaret Julia Thomas is perhaps best known as ABC-TV’s “That Girl” (1966-71) – and now, at age 77, Marlo hasn’t left her wide-eyed sitcom sensibility far behind, meaning that the audience can anticipate the punchlines long before she delivers them.

Director David Saint does his best to make these genial but obviously stock characters likeable, primarily by astute casting. After seasons of sparring with Louise Lasser on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Greg Mullavey has mastered a deadpan expression, while Kate Wetherhead, who co-created her own web series “Submissions Only,” exhibits quiet strength and George Merrick’s distress is palpable.

First presented in 2013 at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey, this trifle follows Joe DiPietro’s last year’s “Living on Love” with Renee Fleming. Previously, DiPietro authored the long-running comedy “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and wrote the book/lyrics for the musical “Memphis.”

Running 90 minutes without an intermission, “Clever Little Lies” plays at the Westside Theatre through January 3, 2016.

“Broken Glass”

Susan Granger’s review of “Broken Glass” (Westport Country Playhouse)


Westport Country Playhouse concludes its 2015 season with this respectful revival, celebrating the centennial of the birth of playwright Arthur Miller, who lived in Roxbury, Connecticut, for many years.

Set in November, 1938, it evokes Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in Germany, when Nazi mobs burned synagogues and looted stores belonging to Jews, forcing the elderly to scrub the streets with toothbrushes.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, New York, Philip Gelberg (Steven Skybell) is concerned about a strange paralysis that has suddenly afflicted his wife, Sylvia (Felicity Jones). For the past two weeks, she has been unable to stand, walk or feel anything but numbness in her legs.

After running a full battery of tests, attentive Dr. Harry Hyman (Stephen Schnetzer) concludes that Sylvia’s problem is psychological. To that end, he quizzes Philip about their sexual relationship and begins visiting bedridden Sylvia at home, much to the chagrin of his wary nurse/wife (Angela Reed).

In talking with fragile Sylvia, Dr. Hyman realizes that she’s obsessed with brutal Nazi oppression of Jews in Germany. And that neither she nor Philip have been intimate or honest with each other for many years, an observation confirmed by Sylvia’s sister (Merritt Janson).

Felicity Jones is subtly riveting as the emotionally vulnerable wife, while Steven Skybell embodies the anger, frustration, and resentment of a Jew coping with an anti-Semitic boss (John Hillner) in WASP-dominated banking. Propelling the complexity of the plot, Stephen Schnetzer epitomizes an empathetic physician trying to unravel the cause of his patient’s mysterious malady.

Under Mark Lamos’s astute direction, this intense, affecting play runs for 90 minutes without an intermission. Written in 1994, it’s one of Arthur Miller’s lesser-known works and his only exploration of the conflicts inherent in Jewish/American identity. Its world premiere was at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater before a brief Broadway run, starring Amy Irving, David Dukes, Ron Rifkin, and Frances Conway.

Michael Yeargan’s abstract set of shard-like, reflective glass panels is stunning, as are Candice Donnelly’s period costumes, Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting and David Butler’s sound.

You can see “Broken Glass” through Oct. 24 at the Westport Country Playhouse. For tickets, call 203-227-4177 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org.


“The Christians”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Christians” (Playwrights Horizons: 2015-2015 season)

Lucas Hnath tackles the internal politics of theology, as the founding pastor of an evangelical megachurch declares a radical shift in doctrine during his weekly sermon.

Set in a stunning wood-paneled church with a giant white cross – and large video screens showing images of nature – the play commences with several hymns, performed by a blue-robed chorus, followed by a Sunday sermon, delivered by charismatic Pastor Paul (Andrew Garman).

In a lesson covering “The Fires of Hell,” Pastor Paul declares that Hell doesn’t actually exist and that everyone – from saints to sinners – will wind up in Heaven, whether or not they’re believers.

Amid general consternation, Associate Pastor Joshua (Larry Powell), quoting Scripture, announces his disagreement, leaving the church, followed by like-minded congregants, as Pastor Paul notes, “In order for a tree to grow, some pruning is necessary.”

As a result of this schism, there are a series of skirmishes, including an ostensibly private one with Jay (Philip Kerr), a church elder. A financially-strapped single mother, Jenny (Emily Donahoe), asks if Paul believes that someone as evil as Hitler went to Heaven. When Paul responds affirmatively, she says, “That’s hard to swallow.”

Unfortunately, despite all of Paul’s provocative ideas and the best efforts of the cast, including Paul’s wife Elizabeth (Linda Powell), whose final confrontation is devastating, the drama never fully ignites. Perhaps that’s because it’s overly stylized. Director Les Waters marches each actor up to the pulpit, holding a hand-held microphone to deliver the dialogue.

With “Isaac’s Eye” and “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney” on his resume, author Lucas Hnath’s passion about religion was kindled by his upbringing, and he demonstrates profound knowledge about this subject, which is particularly relevant now, as conservative congregations are grappling with the concept gay marriage.

“The Christians” is making its Off-Broadway New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons, running through October 11, before transferring to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.


Susan Granger’s review of “Hamilton” (Richard Rodgers Theater, Sept. 2015)


Even seasoned New York theater pundits are amazed that this vivacious, innovative musical about the nation’s first Treasury secretary just bested “Aladdin,” “The Book of Mormon,” and “Wicked” to become the second-highest-grossing show on Broadway, following Disney’s “The Lion King.”

Utilizing a racially/ethnically diverse cast singing exhilarating R&B, jazz, pop and hip-hop music, writer/composer/performer Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of a poor immigrant kid who was born in 1755 and came from a broken home on the tiny island of Nevis in the West Indies.

Cocky, energetic and verbally blessed, Alexander Hamilton (Javier Munoz) was known as George Washington’s (Christopher Jackson) favorite strategist – until he was killed in a duel by his perennial frenemy, manipulative Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.).

Based on Ron Chernow’s exhaustive and insightful biography (2004), it not only revels in Hamilton’s relentless ambition but also his capacity for romantic entanglements. Even after marrying Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), he maintains a relationship with her sister Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry), who was his intellectual soulmate, and indulges in an adulterous affair with Maria Reynolds (Jasmine Cephas Jones) that became the nation’s first sex scandal.

Most of the humor derives from arrogant King George III (Jonathan Groff), who is clueless about why the rebellious colonists demanded their independence.

And Hamilton’s duet with France’s Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs) delivers a timely patriotic tweak, astutely observing: “Immigrants – we get the job done.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda reunited with his 2008 Tony-winning “In the Heights” collaborators director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and music director/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, along with set designer David Korins, costume designer Paul Tazewell and lighting designer Howell Binkley.

I suspect “Hamilton” will equal or outrank “1776,” which first introduced members of the Continental Congress in song; it played 1,222 performances and was adapted into a 1972 movie musical.

A cultural phenomenon and the best musical on Broadway: “Hamilton” is absolutely fantastic!

“Love and Money”

Susan Granger’s review of “Love and Money” (Pershing Square Signature Center)


After three weeks of previews in Connecticut at the Westport Country Playhouse, A.R. Gurney opened his latest play at Off-Broadway’s Signature Center, where he’s the distinguished playwright-in-residence for the 2014-15 season.

Set in the library of a posh Upper East Side townhouse, the surprisingly trivial story revolves around elderly Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman), who is determined to sell or donate everything she owns before moving to a retirement home. Her two grown children have died, and she’s decided that wealth is a “curse.” Which is why she wants to give it all away.

Her attorney, Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik), advises her to re-think her Will when, suddenly, Walker “Scott” Williams (Gabriel Brown) claims to be her long-lost grandson after a Buffalo newspaper article reveals Cornelia’s charitable intentions. His doubts are echoed by is Cornelia’s Irish maid of 30 years, Agnes Munger (Pamela Dunlap), who dutifully supplies soup and sandwiches.

Walter is a callow, obviously ambitious African-American who claims to have a letter, supposedly written by his mother, Cornelia’s daughter who died of cancer. Then there’s a sassy Julliard student, Jessica Worth (Kahyun Kim), who’s hoping to acquire Cornelia’s player piano for her school. For a brief interlude, Cole Porter’s music reigns supreme.

But then it’s back to wealthy Cornelia’s dilemma. Is Walter really her grandson or just a clever opportunist? How will this eccentric, melancholy matron handle his outrageous demands?

Although A.R. Gurney’s humorous plays (“The Dining Room,” “The Cocktail Hour”) are astute observations, set in the WASP world of wealth and privilege, unfortunately, this simplistic plot isn’t really plausible, given the circumstances.

But perhaps that lack of focus and credibility can be forgiven in lieu of director Mark Lamos’ astute choice of the strong ensemble cast, headed by Maureen Anderman, who effectively embodies the genteel, altruistic widow.

Another plus is Michael Yeargan’s sumptuous scenic design with tags hanging from the antique furniture, rare books and expensive art work, indicating their future destination.

“Love and Money” runs through October 4 at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, Signature Center on 42nd Street…for tickets and more information, go to http://www.signaturetheatre,org.