07/15/11 4:00am
07/15/2011 4:00 AM |

The Comedy of Errors
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kathy Curtiss

If you're going to mess with the text, you will without a doubt irk a whole lot of people. This probably holds more true for the work of Shakespeare than any other playwright. Whereas the modernists have estates that can and will sue a wayward performance regardless of size, the long-dead playwright falls far from the coverage of copyright law. Nevertheless, there are legions of people who still understand that, quite frankly, he knew best. Kathy Curtiss' brash, contrarian direction of The Drilling Company's Shakespeare in the Parking Lot production of The Comedy of Errors (through July 23)—your true populist alternative the Public Theater's often-inaccessible Shakespeare in the Park—entirely does away with the Bard's intended meaning-making web of allusions. "Go bear it to the St. Mark's Hotel," says Antipholus of Syracuse, "peruse the hipsters, gaze upon the buildings." Even "tweeting politicians" and the Continental's cheap shots on Third Avenue get nods.

This isn't to suggest that the argument against modernizing isn't tired; it is inept. Updating props and locales is often the ultimate test for the language and thematic concerns of Shakespeare's plays. If the work can maintain the same expressiveness whether the feuding families are battling with rapiers and daggers in ancient Syracuse and Epidamnos, or with pizza paddles and keys to a midsize sedan in a Lower East Side pizzeria, we understand why the texts are so successful and have endured. The particular Elizabethan convention under which Shakespeare wrote, lacking the illusionistic constraints of successive traditions, gives the work lasting presence and allows directors to take major creative liberties. However, altering words, phrases or entire chunks of dialogue does not fly quite so easily.

Philologistics aside, it's safe to assume that for an Elizabethan audience ancient Greece and Sicily were very distant places. This suggests that by setting The Comedy of Errors in those exotic locales laden with inter-textual references, Shakespeare sought to create a distancing effect. The references were meant to be at a remove from the popular consciousness of the contemporaneous audience. Simply saying "Ludlow Street" instead of "the bay of Ephesus," for instance, sounds very discordant and aurally jarring within the Renaissance English framework. It disrupts the cadence in the spoken word and sticks out, drawing attention towards rather than away from itself. The entire way one processes the language changes and so do interpretations of the work. These moments are certainly crowd-pleasers and earn laughs, but they deemphasize everything outside the immediately familiar, making it harder to pick up on the complex wordplay and read through the archaic constructions.

That said, you still have to give it up to the cast for putting the work through a test to rival any extreme modernization. A municipal parking lot is something of an anti-theater; cars drive right through, police and ambulance sirens ring out, buses screech to a halt, construction crews rush to wind down the day—the atmospheric noise is almost overpowering. It must put a terrible strain on any actor trying to project and play. It's a feat and an accomplishment in and of itself. So to hell with the purists; the audience seemed by and large to enjoy itself, and this is far from your worst option for free Shakespeare played outdoors this season.

(Photo: Lee Wexler)

07/13/11 4:00am
07/13/2011 4:00 AM |

Written by Assembly Theater Company
Directed by Jess Chayes

"Bring the war home," takes on a whole new meaning during home/sick, the Assembly Theater Company's new, collaboratively written play about the Weather Underground Organization at the Collapsable Hole (through July 30). Their participatory mirror game of pomp and narcissism aims to universalize radicalism, humanize the group's cold rhetoric and put it all in a new yet familiar perspective. Captivating portrayals of orgies, drug consumption, hilarious exercise routines and just plain goofing fill in the blanks of a potentially lifeless history of the leading members of the nation's most famous and violent student radical organization. Somehow, they remind us that there's some Weatherman in each of us.

As easily as the tight cast could traverse the WUO's roughly decade and a half of active history, they jump instead to the very immediate present. Opening the production, Paul (Luke Harlan), clad in olive drab and plucking away on an acoustic guitar, asks, "Has anyone ever been to a protest?" One audience member—or maybe not, it's hard to tell who's really who—replies, "I was part of something called Take Back NYU. There was a list of demands, but it was too long, so no one remembers what they were." This immediate frustration of expectations seems prelude to another clever pastiche, but thankfully it's not.

The piece jumps back and forth from this kind of meta-theatrical humor to what the press release calls a "theatrical reimagining" of the WUO's history. These jumps are not without problems, but their execution is very smooth, weaving the play together and sustaining a dramatic interest where a simple linear narrative might falter. Self-deprecating irony precludes tiring proselytizing and allows the audience a necessary critical distance. Never entirely historically accurate, the silliness portrayed by the cast might come close to caricature at times, but it never gets out of hand, and feels very sincere and poignant.

The performance is highly presentational; there's very little mimesis or illusion going on, and disbelief need never be suspended. The Collapsable Hole is a half-dilapidated, bombed out, paint-splattered garage. There could be no better stage to stand in for the bombed out garages, crumbling lofts and dilapidated warehouses where FBI "Most Wanted" list-members presumably take shelter after having gone underground. This historical play, a period piece of sorts, conveys a very strong sense of immediacy, a here-and-now-ness that also allows the cast to integrate an intermission (a Kool-aid dance party!) without really breaking the diegesis. This is a rare feat—most experimental productions today barely have one act, let alone two—and much appreciated.

The break is well deserved and necessary because—warning—there is no air conditioning in the facility. Perhaps this is cost effective. Perhaps this is in interest of maintaining that delicate diegesis. Regardless, when the Feds turn the heat up on Kathy (Ana Abhau Elliot), Tommy (Ben Beckly), Bernard (Kate Benson) and David (Edward Bauer), when beliefs wane, nihilism rises and the Man closes in, by God, you will sweat with them. Bring a towel.

(Photo credit: Nick Benacerraf)

07/06/11 4:00am
07/06/2011 4:00 AM |

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Directed by Philip William McKinley, taking over for Julie Taymor
Book by Julie Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Music & Lyrics by Bono and The Edge

The central song in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is titled “Rise Above,” and the show could stand to heed such counsel. After critics widely panned the disaster-plagued production in February, it closed for three weeks; what has emerged is an insipid spectacle, reworked and rewritten, incapable of offending the middlebrow tourists who are key to its financial success. Too much money is at stake to fuck around. I didn’t see Julie Taymor’s original version, and I don’t doubt that it was the sensational mess its detractors described. But this Version 2.0 isn’t better—it’s just a blander, by-committee kind of bad, and for that it deserves more of our scorn than its predecessor did.

The opening number, “Behold and Wonder,” introduces Arachne (T.V. Carpio), the weaver who, in Ovid, became the first spider. Her minions hang from silks, slowly descending to the stage as horizontal strips of fabric rise up, creating an enormous web. The connection between this immortal and Peter Parker (Reeve Carney, a Bono impersonator) might be hazy, but the staging is inventive and the melody Eastern-inflected, which helps it transcend the uninspired U2 pastiches that otherwise comprise the score. Though “Behold and Wonder” was saved, Arachne has otherwise been reduced almost to nothing; I imagine, from the traces that survive, that she was meant to parallel Taymor’s role as artist and creator, and in the wake of her dismissal this meta-ness has only been magnified: just as Arachne is punished for her hubris—for suggesting her own weaving was superior to Athena’s—so too was Taymor fired for her excessive ambition, her hubris toward a godlike league of Broadway producers.

Act II once revolved around Arachne, but now the plot more closely resembles that of Sam Raimi’s 2002 screen adaptation; focus has shifted to the Green Goblin (a show-stealing Patrick Page, in the kind of performance Tonys are meant to honor). And so a new song has been added after intermission, a vapid, self-conscious disco number called “Freak Like Me,” cynically orchestrated to stop the show with its flashy foolishness; Rolling Stone describes it as “like the Grinch singing Lady Gaga, with an Abba-esque chorus.” They mean that as a compliment.

“The production today,” Taymor recently observed, diplomatically, “has become much simpler.” You can still catch flashes of its high-minded intent, but they’ve been smothered by a shallow, hurried narrative. (See six super villains vanquished in a single musical number!) The show now pokes fun at itself, cracking gags about its steep price tag and the Post, like a bullied kid who has learned that if he laughs along with his tormentors they’ll stop picking on him. Spider-Man has denied the part of itself that once made it unique; it has exchanged its individuality for conformity. If the show, with its (repetitive) flying stunts, is meant to attract middle-class families, this is the despicable message it imparts to their children: learn to fit in, kids, and you’ll make a lot of money.

(Photo: Jacob Cohl)

06/29/11 4:00am
06/29/2011 4:00 AM |

Death Valley
Written by Adam Scott Mazer
Directed by Dan Rogers

In theory, zombies are among the figures from film best suited to the stage, so much of their appeal depending on lurching, menacing, awkward but unyielding physicality—and killer makeup. And the living dead are the real stars in AntiMatter Collective's zombie-cowboy mashup Death Valley at the Bushwick Starr (through July 10), which lurches most stiffly in the scenes with only living characters. This has mostly to do with an uneven script, which at times knowingly and cleverly subverts the conventions of terse cowboy dialogue and hysteric zombie movie fear, but just as often deals at great lengths in frightfully familiar lines and plot twists.

Our human guides through Death Valley are the charming but short-tempered bounty hunter Lawrence (Will Cespedes) and his on-and-off-again disreputable lady friend Adele (Alexandra Panzer), along with a rotating set of zombie-fied friends, acquaintances and enemies. Their only hope of escaping the advancing undead hordes lies a few dozen miles away at the closest train station, and all their companions—including scene-stealer James Rutherford as the wise-cracking Doc—are eventually turned against them. Last second rescues by a guilt-ridden Native American (Casey Robinson) and a ruthless cavalryman (Patrick Harrison), present other dangers, both real and perceived.

What the production struggles with most—all the while nailing the costume, sound and makeup design to evoke the late-19th century frontier setting—is whether to play the plot for comedy or drama. Or, rather, when to do one or the other. The dialogue comes to life when the actors acknowledge and play on the inherent campiness of the zombie narrative and the stoic severity of the archetypal cowboy. Adam Scott Mazer proves good at balancing humor and a growing sense of dread and panic in the early going, but this slowly slips into overlong scenes of self-seriousness as the situation worsens. Though there are a few twists at the end, and two superbly weird dream sequences along the way, Death Valley's talented cast loses most of its chemistry and dynamism long before the sun sets on this undead Western.

(Photo: Jessica Olm)

06/22/11 4:00am
06/22/2011 4:00 AM |

The Future is in Eggs
Written by Eugene Ionesco
Sicilian Limes
Written by Luigi Pirandello
Directed by Joseph Hendel

Going out to the theater is a social act, shared, arguably communal. But at the same time, each individual's experience is just that: individual. Expression, verbal and visual, is processed at different times, in different ways; language, references, allusions are understood, or not. Joseph Hendel's thought-provoking, concept-driven direction of Lauren Rayner's Night of Deadly Serious Comedies at the Turtle Shell Theater (through June 26) aims to exacerbate this disconnect by raising the same ear-bud barriers between audience-members that commuters use to tune each other out. Hendel sets an experimental iPhone-aided, pantomimed version of Luigi Pirandello's 1910 Absurdist-anticipating one-act comedy Sicilian Limes against a relatively conventional staging of Eugene Ionesco's staunchly unconventional, equally obscure and inaccessible 1960 farce, The Future is in Eggs.

These two plays about progress, unease over the past, anxiety for the future, go together particularly well because of their seemingly unstructured slew of nonsense, mechanical speech and use of grotesque caricature. Ionesco's Eggs depicts a family interfering with the arranged marriage of Jacques (Brendan Sokler) and Roberta (Skylar Saltz), calling for "Production! Production!" They have Jacques strapped to a "hatching apparatus" at one point and ask, "What are we going to make of the offspring?" The collective reply: "Sausage meat! Cannon fodder! Bankers and pigs… Omelets! Lots of omelets!" Performing in whiteface, the players exaggerate their characters to a kind of limitless grotesque. Unfortunately, the cast lacks some of the comedic timing that could turn some obnoxious moments funny, the vulgar into the profound.

Pirandello's less overtly absurd Limes follows Micuccio (Bradley J. Sumner), a musician coming to a North Italian town to reunite with the singer Sina Marnis (Skylar Saltz), a star he was the first to discover. He comes from their Sicilian hometown bearing limes and unresolved issues. Not coincidentally, both plays conclude with their titular edibles scattered across the stage. The performance of Limes is more successful than Eggs as it's better able to boil down the text and capture what Brecht called the "gestus," the gist, the simple, lasting stage image that manages to get across what words fail to communicate. The actors pantomime the scripts exceptionally while their recorded dialogue, recited near-monotonously, is broadcast through a downloadable app (luddites like myself are provided with mp3 players instead). For all its logistical kinks, this fairly radical way of processing dramatic expression turns out to be surprisingly moving, whether or not the audience ever manages to sync up.

(Photo: Mike Olivieri)

06/22/11 4:00am

One Arm
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Moisés Kaufman

Tennessee Williams wrote lots of short stories, sometimes as practice pieces for his famous plays, sometimes as self-contained odes to his favorite theme of poetic isolation. None is finer than “One Arm,” the tale of Oliver Winemiller, a beautiful young boxer who becomes so embittered after losing an arm in a car accident that he turns to prostitution. Williams comes perilously close to sentimentalizing his desirable young hero in the early sections of the tale, but by the end he has toughly insisted on the tragedy of this boy’s disconnection from the people in his life. As was usual for Williams, he didn’t feel that the short story itself had brought out the maximum potential of the material, and so he made it into a screenplay, but no one was interested in a movie about a male hustler and any film version would have had to solve the problem of how to convincingly suggest Oliver’s mutilated arm. In Moisés Kaufman’s stage adaptation of the screenplay, which he also directed, he has a narrator (Noah Bean) read Williams’s descriptions of the actions and asks us to use our imagination about the missing arm. Oliver, played by Claybourne Elder, is now called Ollie Olsen, and in most of the scenes Elder is wearing a tank top and has a belt tied around the elbow of his right arm to indicate the missing part. This never quite works; only in a few brief scenes where Ollie is wearing a long-sleeved shirt is Elder able to convince us of the lost arm.

Still, this Kaufman version of One Arm (through July 3) is intelligently conceived from start to finish, and as it goes on, Williams’s compassion for almost all of his characters comes across even more so than it does in his short story because he has more time to develop Ollie’s confusion, anger and desperate loneliness as he waits in a cell to go to the electric chair for killing a man. The whole show is dependent on the actor playing the central character of Ollie, and Elder is ideally cast in this difficult part. While most actresses delight in Williams’s multifaceted, juicy female roles, many actors have talked about the problems of making Williams’s fantasy males real. Most of these male roles aren’t really actable; they depend mainly on the ability to evoke certain qualities at certain times. Elder is convincing as the kind of statue-like, inscrutable presence that might make nearly seven hundred men and a few women write to Ollie in prison to thank him for their one-night stand, and as the play goes on, Elder gradually reveals the growing shades of conscience and feeling in Ollie. By the last scene, where Ollie reaches out for physical affection himself, Elder has hit a note of pure, frustrated longing that amplifies the ending of the necessarily more opaque short story. Kaufman’s directorial approach is cool and even distant throughout, but this approach allows for Williams’s empathetic theme to burn more brightly in the end.

(Photo: Monique Carboni)

06/22/11 4:00am

“The theater is such a wonderful part of everyone’s life,” says Joely Richardson, who is speaking to me right before an early preview matinee of Michael Weller’s new play Side Effects at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (through July 3). Though she comes from a storied theatrical background, Richardson hasn’t been able to do much theater in recent years. “My daughter is 19 now, and in those early years when she was a child, I thought, ‘I can’t stand not being there in the evening.’ When I was first starting out, I did quite a bit of West End fringe theater, plays with the RSC, lots of regional theater, and then there was a 20-year gap. In the last 20 years, I’ve done two plays, one with Macaulay Culkin here in New York, Madame Melville, and one in London, Lady Windemere’s Fan.” Richardson acted in that Oscar Wilde play with her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, maybe the best living actress in the English language. When asked about working with her, Richardson says, “Yes, it was amazing to work with Vanessa. She taught me by proxy, she didn’t—she’s not someone who lectures, she’s just not that kind of person. She was perpetually open, and that was such a beautiful thing.”

Speaking about Side Effects, which is being directed by Proof playwright David Auburn, Richardson says, “They asked me to do the play in January. I quickly read through it and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a piece and a half.’ I had been wanting to do theater the last couple of years. I had been doing a television show, Nip/Tuck, and during the breaks I would do more film and more television.” The Weller play is a two-character piece about a faltering marriage that Richardson plays with actor Cotter Smith. “In a two-hander, there are no other characters, there’s no other flesh, as it were,” Richardson says. “It’s like rock-climbing, you just need your footholds. It is a new play, so throughout the last four weeks of rehearsal we have re-writes virtually every day in previews. It’s incredibly exciting to be part of work that’s altering after doing it. Scary, too! It keeps you on your toes. It’s like going right back to the beginning of your career, or how I started, anyway—carrying the book around and never letting it go.”

When asked about some of her favorite film roles, Richardson says, “I did a film based on Jean Genet’s The Maids, it was called Sister My Sister,” and then mentions some big-budget movies like 101 Dalmatians and The Patriot. In this age of Netflix and YouTube, it’s easy to catch up on a film you might have missed, and I’m glad that Richardson mentioned Sister My Sister, which is certainly the best version of this material that I’ve ever seen, perhaps because the British players understand the class tensions at work a bit better than the French do. Richardson emphasizes the self-loathing temper of the older sister without ever losing sympathy for her, and this sympathetic fleshing out of what might have been an impenetrably closed-off character signals Richardson’s talent, which might be termed a Redgrave/Richardson talent for empathetic imagining of even the most damned or outlandish people. The day after our phone interview, Richardson left a charming voicemail message mentioning that she had also liked playing Wallis Simpson in a recent TV film and a young Queen Elizabeth in the upcoming Anonymous. I look forward to seeing those as well, just as I hope that Richardson herself returns to the New York theater in both new plays and the classics.

(Photo: Joan Marcus)

06/10/11 4:00am
06/10/2011 4:00 AM |

Through a Glass Darkly
Written by Ingmar Bergman
Adapted by Jenny Worton
Directed by David Leveaux

It may seem very sensible for director David Leveaux and playwright Jenny Worton to adapt Ingmar Bergman's 1961 film Through a Glass Darkly for the stage: the auteur's intimate drama of a young woman slipping into schizophrenic fantasy despite her husband, father and brother's next-to-best intentions has a perfect scope and ideal enveloping emotional environment for the stage, enabling subtle, dynamic, clever performances and elegant quasi-Scandinavian set design. Its lead, Karin—played by Carey Mulligan in this Atlantic Theater Company production (through July 3)—also fits into a storied lineage of beautiful, hysterical fallen female heroines populated by characters from Strindberg, Williams and countless others. But any such adaptation also has the inevitable misfortune of being measured against one of the best movies by one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema.

Without reference to that unmatchable precedent, this Through a Glass Darkly still feels thin, especially in its first half. Even at only 90, intermission-less minutes, much of the initial expository scene-setting—the emotionally unavailable and self-absorbed novelist father David (Chris Sarandon), Karin, her over-eager to please doctor husband Martin (Jason Butler Harner) and angsty teenage brother Max (Ben Rosenfield), all vacationing at the family’s island house—is unnecessarily drawn out. And then, considering what high percentage of the audience has seen the film, these establishing passages seem all the more lethargic. This production becomes more gripping as Karin's descent accelerates after she reads a particularly hurtful passage in her father's diary. What he writes doesn't seem especially different from his preceding behavior, which is symptomatic of this production's larger problems.

All the family's problems, anxieties and antimony can too easily be attributed to David's dick-ish behavior, and Sarandon's coy, slightly mannered portrayal only adds to his character's one-dimensionality. Had David shown a greater degree of warmth and affection we might have shifted our attention onto other possible causes of the family's downfall, but as he constantly exacerbates and demeans those who love him, he detracts from the situation's more complex emotional resonances.

Happily, the rest of the cast is very strong, Mulligan and Rosenfield in particular. She starts out switching emotional registers uncannily from one scene to the next, but as Karin's disorder deepens Mulligan performs some acting acrobatics, going from affectionate to apologetic to angry to terrified in the space of a few minutes. It's a challenging role that demands a kind of peeling away of the psyche until Karin is just a bundle of raw nerves deeply affected by every change within and without, actual or imagined, and Mulligan does superbly. Set, lighting and sound design to match help brighten this Through a Glass Darkly that's so substantially dimmed by Worton's initially clumsy adaptation and Sarandon's disappointing performance.

(Photo: Ari Mintz)

06/09/11 2:00pm
06/09/2011 2:00 PM |

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Cora Weissbourd
Produced by Big Rodent

Tom Stoppard once likened giving an explanation of his play to passing through customs: "'Anything to declare, sir?' 'Not really, just two chaps sitting in a castle at Elsinore, playing games, that's all.' 'Then let's have a look in your suitcase, if you don't mind, sir.' And sure enough under the first layer of shirts there's a pound of hash and fifty watches and all kinds of exotic contraband. 'How do you explain this, sir?' 'I'm sorry officer, I admit it's there, but I honestly can't remember packing it,'."

Unwittingly or not, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Stoppard manages to pack banter with metaphysical density to rival Beckett or Shakespeare. The tragic notes in his work bleed through in almost every clownish gag, reflexive bits of rhetoric sound with profound significance and moments of anguish are met with roaring laughter. Big Rodent's intimate, at times even cramped revival at the 60-seat Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (through June 12) leaves most of the meaning-making up to audience, there to glean whatever they may from the playwright's pregnant remarks.

Rosencrantz (Adam Aguirre) wide-eyed, conversational, with an ever-so-subtle lisp plays opposite Guildenstern (Jordan Gray), the more verbose character, a bit keener, his voice more lucid and theatrical. They're doppelgangers, split halves of the same personality, ancillary characters stuck in some grand drama beyond their comprehension (Hamlet's) and they can hardly get their own names straight. Existentialist bumpkins caught in a void, they try to make sense of their situation and pass the time flipping coins, playing games. Logic and probability are not only absurd but downright "stark raving sane."

The rest of the cast, the Tragedians who put on the play within Hamlet, double-cast as the elders of Hamlet's court, perform with a peculiar camp style. This may go back to director Cora Weissbourd's decision to set the work, as the company's website describes it, "amidst the illusionist craze of the Victorian era"—peculiar in itself since they're not setting the play within a particular time period, but within a dramatic convention. A convention is not a "setting" in the traditional sense, but it fits the tangled web of meta-theatricality this play weaves. That wording reflects the absurdists' customary antagonism toward dramatic realism. Hence, the brief scenes when the action of Hamlet comes to the foreground of Stoppard's play come off as a kind of late-night cartoon parody of the bard's work or productions of it that take themselves too seriously. So if great meaning can be found in the blathering duo's slew of hyper structured drivel, it's Hamlet's celebrated but fumbled lines that sound hollow.

(Photo: Shannon Taggart)

06/09/11 4:00am

The Best Is Yet to Come
Music by Cy Coleman
Directed by David Zippel

Cy Coleman began his career as a classical music prodigy and was giving piano recitals at Carnegie Hall as a kid, but he soon abandoned this kind of music and started to work as a jazz pianist, leading the Cy Coleman Trio for a few years in nightclubs. This eventually led to another career as a songwriter with lyricist Carolyn Leigh, and their partnership yielded two songs that have become standards, "Witchcraft," which was a finger-snapping hit for Frank Sinatra, and "The Best Is Yet To Come," which is the title of this new revue of Coleman music at 59E59 Theaters (through July 3). Coleman really made his name and reputation on a succession of hard-edged Broadway musicals, beginning with the Lucille Ball vehicle Wildcat in 1960, moving on to the clever Patrick Dennis adaptation Little Me, and then on to his biggest success, Sweet Charity, where he collaborated with lyricist Dorothy Fields and director-choreographer Bob Fosse. He struggled through the 1970s with two troubled shows, Seesaw and On the Twentieth Century, but came back with hits in the late 80s, City of Angels and The Will Rogers Follies, and then one final success in 1997, The Life, before his death in 2004.

The Best Is Yet To Come gives us only snatches of Coleman's well-known Sweet Charity songs, so that "Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now" are wrapped in medleys with other Coleman material. This show, devised and directed by David Zippel, highlights some of Coleman's lesser-known songs, many of which had Zippel as their lyricist; some of these songs are even being given premieres in this revue. One thing that becomes clear right away is that Coleman is at his best and most characteristic with big, loud, city-folk songs where guys and dolls complain about each other; ballads weren't really Coleman's forte, though Billy Stritch pulls off the quieter "It Amazes Me" with appropriate tenderness. The show-stopper here, without question, is Lillias White's reprise of her star-making song from The Life, a number called "The Oldest Profession," where a too-seasoned hooker takes a load off her feet and amazes herself by tallying up the number of men she's serviced in her long career. White is the kind of explosive musical theater performer who seems capable of anything at any given moment, physically, emotionally, and vocally, and she puts over the true spirit of Coleman's work in every song she does here, doing splendidly with "Don't Ask a Lady" from Little Me, and bringing down the house with the rest of the white-gloved company on "Those Hands." Coleman was gritty, but he was not a pessimist; his songs shine with gutsy, belly-up-to-the-bar hope. If this means that a musical revue of his work suffers a bit from too much of a good thing, it also means that his career as a whole has a continuity that marks it as unmistakably his, as brassy as horns blown at midnight.

(Photo: Carol Rosegg)