Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Dr. Radio" Deserves an A for Amition

New Musical is a Work in Progress at Florida Stage

"Doctor Radio" is in a world premiere run through May 2 at Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd, Manalapan. The show deserves an A for ambition.
Creators Christopher McGovern and Bill Castellino hatched their all-original period musical from scratch in record time.
The production deserves an E for execution as well, as director Castellino has assembled a top-flight cast of Florida professionals who could put a polish on any material.
As for content let's call it a C+, because live radio is but a distant memory for many people, and the characters in this fable are right out of central casting.
I am old enough to have been born at the tail end of the Radio Age. I listened to more radio than most kids my age because my family traveled a great deal in the first eight years of my life. Radio was the only entertainment we had on long, pre-Interstate trips from the Northeast to Florida and back again. I was the last kid on the block to have a television at home. My old man didn't spring for one until I was seven. Even after we had television I loved to tinker with old radios and listen to broadcasts from as far off as New York and Chicago.
So I related to the character of Dr. Radio, whose name is Benjamin Weiss, a radio repairman portrayed by the wonderful, multi-talented tenor, Wayne LeGette.
OK, it's a little strange that LeGette is half the age of his character, and stranger still that an actress who may be his age or older plays his daughter and his wife.
I cut 'em some slack on these oddities, because this is a fantasy, and I still dig old radios. Tim Macabee's antique-filled set is a marvel to behold.
The story is set on New York's Lower East Side in the late 1940s or early 1950s, when television was still a new-fangled product. Benjamin Weiss thinks television is a just a passing fancy, but his empty shop betrys the growing popularity of the visual medium.
Weiss has been in a funk since the death of his wife Catherine. His grown daughter Kate wants him to close his shop and move in with her.
The fact that Catherine in flashbacks and Kate in the present are both played by Margot Moreland is a bit disorienting, but comedy or drama, Moreland is alway up to the task.
Another versatile singer-actress, Irene Adjan, plays the heavy: greedy landlady Penny McAdams. Her comic relief sidekick, Latin lover Rudolpho Garcia, is played hilariously over the top by Nick Duckart, replete with cheap, garish suits and pencil-thin moustache.
Adding to the wacky mix is is resident psychic Madame Agnieska Pilchowa, played by yet another versatile powerhouse, Elizabeth Dimon.
If you have ever tried to write a song you'll know how difficult it was for writer Bill Castellino and composer-lyricist Christopher McGovern to whip up 16 new original songs that advance the story. In their previous collaborations, well-known songs were interwoven with originals. This score is all original.
Most of the tunes are semi-serious novelety numbers, but there are several nice ballads, such as Kate's "The Love I have for You" and Benji's "I Will help You Sing Again," and the anthem "Keep Living."
As a work-in-progress, "Dr. Radio" is pretty darn good entertainment. Its motto: "You can't know the future until you know the past," is timeless.
Call 800-514-3837 or visit

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hurt People Hurt People in "Greenberg"

Hurt people hurt people.
That’s the concise message I came away with from “Greenberg,” the latest from writer-director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid & The Whale”).
If you think about it for half a minute it makes sense. People who have been wounded by other people often lash out, intentionally or unintentionally, and sometimes against those they love the most.
Ben Stiller is Roger Greenberg, a truly screwed-up individual. Greenberg has had some kind of nervous breakdown, and he has just been released from an institution.
Greenberg grew up in Los Angeles and was once on the verge of signing a recording contract with his musical group, Magic Marker.
At the last minute Greenberg decided the deal wasn’t good enough and he walked away from his mates, effectively killing the group. He moved to New York City, gave up his car, and became a simple carpenter.
Greenberg has a wealthy brother Phillip (Chris Messina) who still lives in Los Angeles. When Phillip decides to take his family on a Vietnam vacation, he asks Roger to housesit and take care of the family dog, Mahler.
Greenberg can barely take care of himself, let alone a large house and a dog, but that’s where the funny stuff comes in. Like Woody Allen in “Annie Hall” Greenberg is completely unsuited for life in LA and virtually helpless, but still he complains and complains- about everything- and writes angry letters to the editor.
But Greenberg meets Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig), the lovely 25-year-old personal assistant to his brother. Flo is wounded too. She has just ended a long relationship and had an unsatisfactory encounter with a stranger at a party.
Despite an age difference of 16 years, Flo is drawn to Greenberg and him to her.
So begins a tentative, almost-romance. Hurt people hurt people, remember? Both Greenberg and Flo are too troubled to fully trust each other or get beyond their personal hang-ups.
“Greenberg” is neither a comedy nor a drama, and it is downright uncomfortable at times.
Still, Ben Stiller, graying at the temples, delivers the most fascinating performance of his career. We should dislike annoying, compulsive Roger Greenberg, but he is too sympathetic to abandon. When he is behaving very badly, we feel the pain beneath his foolishness.
Greta Gerwig is not a conventionally beautiful woman, but she can be quite striking when she is singing (Flo does the open mic circuit) and heartbreaking when she is being mistreated and suffering the consequences of her bad choices.
Rhys Ifans is equally fascinating as Greenberg’s stoic best buddy and former writing partner, Ivan. If anyone has a right to be angry it should be Ivan, yet he keeps it restrained until a masterful scene when he finally speaks his mind.
“Greenberg” is co-written by actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who also co-produces (she’s married to Baumbach) and plays the small but key role of Greenberg’s pitying ex-girlfriend, Beth.
”Greenberg” examines both sides of the male-female romantic conundrum. Rather than finding it dark or bleak like Baumbach’s previous, “Margot’s Wedding,” I find it oddly optimistic in its hint that even the most broken people can find second chances.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cape Cod, Neil Simon & Paul McCarty

Like old Cape Cod?

“The Lightkeepers,” opening March 19 at Muvico Boynton Beach, is right up your alley.

The movie is set in 1912 at the Eastham Light at the eastern end of Cape Cod.

This is a relatively unspoiled spot of Massachusetts near Provincetown that looks much the same as it did 100 years ago.

Richard Dreyfuss stars as Seth Atkins, a cantankerous, woman-hating former sailor, now lightkeeper. One day a young man mysteriously washes up on the beach. Atkins discovers him alive and learns his name is John Brown (Tom Wisdom).

Furthermore Brown talks himself into a job as Atkins’ lighthouse assistant, and the odd couple discovers a mutual distrust, resentment of women, and friendship.

The confirmed bachelors’ female-free existence is threatened with the arrival of an artsy heiress named Ruth (Marnie Gummer) and her escort, Mrs. Bascom (Blythe Danner).

Blythe Danner is the lovely mother of movie star Gwyneth Paltrow and Marnie Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep, and the family resemblance shows.

It’s not hard to figure out where director-writer Daniel Adams’ script is going. Hint: the men doth protest too much.

“The Lightkeepers” is determinedly old-fashioned, wholesome and a wee bit dull, but oh the scenery. I’ve spent many a happy hour on Cape Cod, so I’m a sucker for this stuff.

Opening next Friday, March 26 at Delray Beach Playhouse is Neil Simon’s comedy chestnut, “Prisoner of Second Avenue.”

Though it is almost 40 years old (it ran from November, 1971 until September, 1973 on Broadway), the play is ironically relevant right now as it concerns an account executive who loses his job in a struggling economy.

That man is Mel Edison (Mark Hetelson), who endures a string of humiliations as his wife Edna (Pat Casale) takes a job, the water and electricity are turned off, the neighbors drive Mel crazy, and in the middle of it all, his family visits.

Norman Steinthal is Mel’s more successful older brother, Harry, and Cindy Gaber, Connie Landy and Leslie Rosenburg are his concerned sisters.

“Prisoner” runs through April 11 and tickets are $25 (students half-price). Call 561-272-1281, ext 4.

Sir Paul

Who doesn’t like The Beatles?

I’ve never met many who hate the mop-topped lads from Liverpool.

Paul McCartney is still going strong at age 67 (he’ll be a youthful 68 on June 18), and he is coming our way Saturday, April 3 as part of an “Up and Coming” tour of the world.

It’s an 8 p.m. stadium show at Sun Life (formerly Dolphins Stadium) in Miami. With all due respect to Ringo Starr, seeing Paulie live is the closest we’ll get to the excitement and the sound of the Beatles. I have seen McCartney three times, and I can testify he loves to entertain in the honored British music hall tradition.

Tickets start at a reasonable $39 for nosebleed seats and go up to $349. Call TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or visit

Friday, March 12, 2010

Even the Losers Get Lucky Sometime

"Out of My League" More Romance than Raunch

How many times have I thought, “She’s Out of My League?”

More than I care to admit.

So I went into this loser’s rom-com with a positive attitude. If Jay Baruchels’ Kirk can get lucky, anybody can.

Jay Baruchel is a lovable schlub, with putty facial features, prominent nose and scrawny body.

Kirk has a thankless job as a TSA agent at Pittsburgh International Export. He is harassed by his buddies Stainer (T.J. Miller), Jack (Mike Vogel) and Devon (Nate Torrence) because of his futile pursuit of Marine (Lindsay Sloane), who is clearly out of his league.

Then Kirk meets Molly (Alice Eve), a sexy event planner who is not just out of his league, but out of his universe.

When Kirk sees another security agent giving Molly a hard time, he steps in and does a Sir Galahad.

This impresses Molly so much she asks Kirk out for a date. As it so happens Molly is vulnerable because of a thoughtless, vain boyfriend.

OK, this is a fantasy, but in the real world, every once in awhile a really hot woman falls for a geeky guy. I know for a fact that the late Don Knotts often scored out of his league, because I am acquainted with the woman who was his last wife.

Sometimes a combination of humor, intelligence and sheer bravado can even the playing ground for a less-than-imposing guy.

Kirk is one such guy. However, one’s best friends can become worst enemies intentionally or unintentionally simply because they cannot believe such a lopsided relationship is possible. It is because underneath the most beautiful facade, there is a real human being with wants and needs like anyone else.

“Out of My League” is R-rated because of a lot of raunchy locker room top, partial nudity, and one scene in particular that pays homage to the most famous punchline in “There’s Something About Mary.”
“Out of My League” is not nearly as clever or funny as that Farrally brothers’1998 comedy classic, but it is serviceable as a comedy and has a sweet heart as an unlikely romance.

Most of all it offers hope to the underdogs of the world.

Nerds unite! You have nothing to lose but your insecurity.

Two and a half stars

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Strong "Ghost Writer"

How you feel about George W. Bush, Tony Blair and the Iraq War will color how you feel about the mystery-thriller “Ghost Writer.”

Oh, and how you feel about fugitive film director Roman Polanski matters too.

The bottom line is conservative types are not going to be too pleased with the allegations of the script, based on the novel by Robert Harris in collaboration with Polanski.

Liberals on the other hand will cheer Polanski’s efforts to get the movie done, despite being unable to film in the USA, where most of it is set, and despite having to do final editing while jailed or under house arrest in Switzerland.

“Ghost Writer” is highly critical by insinuation of George W. Bush’s insistence on going to war and British Prime Minster Tony Blair’s decision to back the war despite his constituents’ lack of support and growing indications the initial premise for attacking may not have been altogether true.

The Tony Blair-type character is Adam Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan.

Like Blair, Lang has stepped down from political office, and is in the process of writing his memoires.

A ghost writer played by Ewan McGregor is brought in when the first hired writer is found dead under suspicious circumstances on a Martha’s Vineyard not far from Lang’s beach house.

McGregor’s character is never given a name- Lang refers to him as “man-” but his name is not important. What the character has gotten himself into is.

The lure is powerful. Lang needs a rush job, and McGregor’s agent (Jon Bernthal) has gotten the fee up to $250,000 if the rewrite can be delivered in four weeks.

So McGregor flies on Lang’s personal jet to Massachusetts, drinking his doubts away.

The doubts deepen when Lang’s rosy account of his efforts to support the American war don’t quite add up. Neither does the verdict of suicide of his predecessor seem plausible.

McGregor is further bamboozled by Lang’s protective personal assistant (Kim Cattrall) and his brilliant but vengeful wife Ruth (Olivia Williams).

When shadowy figures in black cars begin following him around, McGregor knows he is in trouble. Once Ruth seduces him, he is in over his head.

If you remember Polanski’s greatest film, “Chinatown,” you’ll remember something was rotten at the very core of the mystery being investigated by Jack Nicholson.

So there is a nasty secret at the center of “Ghost Writer,” but it probably is not what you were thinking.

Ewan McGregor is outstanding as his Kafkaesque character and Pierce Brosnan shows uncharacteristic depth as his charming but mercurial boss.

The scene-stealer is Olivia Williams, equal parts sexy and dangerous. Tom Wilkinson is unusually unexpressive as Ruth’s former Oxford mentor, Paul Emmett.

The film’s weakest link is Kim Cattrall. What was Polanski thinking?

That and the fact at 160 minutes, the film is too long and drawn-out keep this from classic status, but as a thinking person’s thriller, it is first-rate.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Wonderful "Alice"

By Skip Sheffield


That’s my one-word review of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

This sequel to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is one of those rare films that exceeded my expectations, already pretty high.

Linda Woolverton’s script combines the original, published by the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dogson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll in 1865, and its sequel, “Through the Looking Glass.” Additional elements come from Carroll’s poetry; especially “Jabberwocky,” which is part of “Looking Glass” but has achieved a separate life of its own.

I had the advantage of knowing more about “Jabberwocky” than most people. We studied it for structure and syntax in graduate school even though the words are nonsense.

But are they? Woolverton’s clever, imaginative script makes use of key words and turns them into actual subjects, objects and creatures.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that snatch!”

In this surreal scenario we actually see the deadly Jabberwock, and the Vorpal Sword, the only weapon that can slay the dragon-like beast.

We also see the snarling, drooling, “frumious” Bandersnatch, a furry villain, but one with a sense of loyalty.

The story begins with a recap of a darling 6-year-old Alice Kingsley (Mairi Ella Challen) falling down the rabbit hole and finally concluding all the strange and startling things she encounters were just a dream.

“Am I bonkers?” Alice asks her beloved dad.

“All the best people are bonkers,” he consoles her.

The story shifts 13 years ahead. Dad is dead, Alice is 19 (Mia Wasikowska) and she is dressing for an elaborate party being thrown for her and her rich, eligible boyfriend,

Hamish (Bill Leo). It is the height of the Victorian Age, and Alice chafes against putting on a corset and stockings.

She chafes even more against the thought of marriage to dorky Hamish, who stands to become Lord Astor.

The elaborate party is actually an engagement party, and everyone knows but Alice.

The pressure is on. Alice’s mother warns she could become an old maid, like pitiful Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour).

There is a distinct feminist flair to this modern Alice, and running from the party is just the first step to freedom and independence. But first she must face a series of challenges after falling down the rabbit hole again.

Enter the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp in orange fright wig, shabby top hat and bulging green eyes.

Things have gone downhill terribly since Alice last took tea with the Hatter and his friends the Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse) and lurking, grinning Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry).

All these characters were in the first Alice adventure, so beloved in the 1951 Disney animated film.

New characters from “Looking Glass” are Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (Matt Lucas) and Bayard the bloodhound (Timothy Spall).

The tea table is in ruins and the forest is a wasteland ever since the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has wrested power and the magical Vorpal Sword from her kind sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, looking like a wraith in white).

Through the magic of CG animation, the Red Queen has a normal sized body but an enormous head, with Carter’s eyes and mouth but not much else.

The queen is very sensitive about her appearance, and in deference to her power, her subjects affect deformities too.

It’s all very Tim Burton, and so is the villainous Knave of Hearts (Crispen Glover), the Queen’s chief toady and enforcer.

A conflict between good and evil is inevitable, and the battle between red and white, played on a giant chess board, is a sight to behold.

Burton overdoes it a bit with his CG violence. Who really wants to see a decapitation, or guts spewing in a children’s story?

Purists will not like the contemporary liberties, but “Alice in Wonderland” is a story for all ages, and as such it will be re-interpreted at regular intervals.

I think this is Tim Burton’s best work yet, with a lot of help from his talented friends.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Dance Called Old Man & The Sea

A New Take on a Prize-Winning 1952 Hemingway Classic

In his introduction to "The Old Man and the Sea," which is onstage through March 28 in Boca Raton, director Clive Cholerton likens Caldwell Theatre's struggle for survival to that of Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman who hooks a giant marlin to large to land in his boat.
One hopes Caldwell does better in its battle than Santiago, and more like his creator.
For author Ernest Hemingway, "Old Man and the Sea" was a personal victory after a ten-year creative dry spell, and a vindication of his work from critics, who lambasted him for his last novel, "Across the River and Into the Trees."
The short novella "Old Man" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in 1954, restoring Hemingway's reputation.
Caldwell's production is a new adaptation by Eric Ting and Craig Siebels, with music by John Gromanda.
"Old Man" is performed almost like an extended dance. Guitarist-singer Leajato Amara Robinson prowls the stage, striking poses and dashing off bits of Flamenco-Cuban-style music.
Santiago (David Pendleton) is in a dance too; a dance of death with a fish larger than any he has ever seen.
The third member of the dance is Manolin (Ismael Cruz Cordova), Santiago's young apprentice.
Manolin's parents have come to fell Santiago is cursed after spending 84 days at sea without a single catch.
So Santiago is alone on the 85th day, and he ventures out to sea farther than he has ever been before.
There are all sorts of allegorical theories regarding "Old Man." Biblical references are many, as are literary references.
This streamlined version strips the dialogue to poetic snatches uttered by the old man and his admiring, baseball-loving apprentice, who idolizes New York yankee great Joe DiMaggio.
The audience must use its imagination to picture Santiago's opponents in battle: first the great marlin, then the maurading sharks that savage his prize.
In the book and in the movie the man vs marlin and man vs shark massacre are spelled out in great detail.
I have indelible memories of the 1958 film, which earned Spencer Tracy a Best Actor Academy Award for his Santiago.
David Pendleton faces a tremendous challenge taking on such a well-known role, but I think he acquits himself beautifully, with mime gestures and ballet-like moves.
Both Ismael Cordova and Laejato Robinson are magnetic stage presences, and they harmonize perfectly both in their movement and in vocal duets.
This is highly stylized theater. It is not an action-thriller. It is more a meditation on the meaning of life and the necessity of struggle, even if it seems futile.
Hemingway was an "old man" of 53 when this story was published. No doubt the success of the book bought him a few more years.
Let us hope Caldwell prevails against the great marlin of debt and the sharks that circle in bankers' suits.
Tickets are $34 and $55. call 561-241-7432 or 877-245-7432 or visit