Friday, March 29, 2013

A Wallflower Turns into a Swan


“Dorfman in Love” a Rom-Com for Jewish Girls

By Skip Sheffield

“Dorfman in Love” is a “check flick” with an offbeat heroine and a target audience.
Deb Dorfman (Sara Rue) is a single, 27-year-old woman stuck with the thankless task of caring for her depressed, recently widowed father Burt (Elliot Gould) while working as an accountant for her arrogant, manipulative brother Dan (Jonathan), who takes advantage of her. The only joy in Deb’s drab life in the uncool part of Los Angeles is her imaginary love affair with Jay (Johann Urb), a good-looking, vain, globe-trotting TV journalist who also takes advantage of her.
You may be wondering where are the laughs so far? Unless you find Elliot Gould endless kvetching amusing, there are precious few.
The catalyst for change in Wendy Kout’s (“Mork & Mindy,” “Anything but Love”) script is Deb’s temporary role as cat-sitter for unappreciative Jay. He lives in an unfurnished converted industrial building in a dicey part of L.A. Jay has never really unpacked his belongings, let alone decorated his huge apartment.
Deb takes it upon herself to surprise Jay by refinishing his living space. She accomplishes this with the help of a hunky neighbor who calls himself Cookie (Haaz Sleiman). Cookie is a dark, swarthy chap originally from Egypt. Deb is Jewish, with all that implies. Though she initially resists, Deb finds Cookie’s charm irresistible, much to the chagrin of his very New York Jewish father and her dishonest, conniving brother.
Cookie inspires Deb to do a makeover, and a swan begins to emerge. Compared to the petty, selfish characters around her, Deb is a princess who deserves her prince.
Yes, “Dorfman in Love” is a fairy tale aimed at, but not restricted to Jewish girls. It is nice to see Elliot Gould doing his comic shtick again. Sara Rue is quite appealing in an unconventional way, as is Haaz Sleiman handsome and gallant rather than the typical unflattering Arab stereotype.
Directed by 27-year-old whiz kid Brad Leong, who made his Tribeca Film Festival debut at the unprecedented age of 21, “Dorfman in Love” is a slight but ultimately rewarding pleasure.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Noise and Mayhem Rule "Jekyll & Hyde" at Kravis Center


Dr. Hyde as Rock Star at Kravis

By Skip Sheffield

Two outstanding performances distinguish a stripped-down, amped-up production of “Jekyll & Hyde,” continuing through Sunday, March 31 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
The outstanding performers are Deborah Cox and Teal Wicks, who play the two women in the life of the lead character (s), played by Constantine Maroulis.
Tony-nominated for “Rock of Ages,’ Maroulis is more rock-star type than Broadway performer. As the brilliant, benevolent Dr. Henry Jekyll, Maroulis affects a soft, oddly-accented speaking voice. Physically, his uptightness is shown through his tightly-tied hair and professorial steel-rimmed glasses.
In case the audience doesn’t “get” the troubled nature of Dr. Jekyll, there is an opening scene which displays a deranged, strait-jacketed patient on a patient bed. Dr. Jekyll has made it his life’s work to examine the dual good-evil nature of man, and find some way to extract the bad and preserve the good. Anyone who has read the original Robert Louis Stevenson novella knows how that went. The patient is Dr. Jekyll’s father.
When the stuffy, conservative medical board refuses to allow Dr. Jekyll to experiment on an incarcerated mental patient, he decides to experiment on himself.
This stripped-down version of the 1997 Leslie Bricusse-Frank Wildhorn Broadway show has streamlined, much simplified sets, amplified by projected video images and lightening-like lighting. The main character’s inner thoughts are displayed in script on a screen.
When Dr. Jekyll transforms into the infamous, murderous Edward Hyde, he loses the spectacles, lets down the hair, and speaks in a menacing growl.
Leslie Bricusse’s score has never been one of my favorites, and his lyrics are worse: trite and predictable. “This is the Moment” is probably the most famous song; popular at sporting events, but my personal favorite is “In His Eyes,” a duet sung by the very different characters of virginal, proper Emma (“Wicked” veteran Teal Carew), Dr. Hyde’s fiancĂ©e, and Lucy (Deborah Cox), the sensuous dance house girl who arouses Mr. Hyde’s more carnal feelings.
Carew has a classically lovely, wide-ranging soprano with perfect enunciation. Cox knocks it out of the park with an earthier, R&B-style belt. The women are terrific together in that brief moment, and it overshadows all the other rather shallow, cartoonish characters.
This Broadway-bound show is clearly aimed at a younger audience, weaned on “American Idol,” “The Voice” and rock concerts. The tumultuous finale after “The Wedding” is such an overblown spectacle of sound, light and garish projections it reminded me of Alice Cooper performing “Welcome to My Nightmare.”
Maybe that is the aim of director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun. Broadway certainly needs younger audiences to survive. Deborah Cox’s fans turned out in force, and by all appearances were delighted. We shall see when the show hits New York.
Tickets are $25 up. Call 800-572-8471 or go to

Friday, March 22, 2013

You Did Just Fine Ed Koch


Ed Koch Gets a Cinematic Epitaph

It is no small irony that “Koch” was released in New York on the very day former mayor Ed Koch died at age 88. No more would New Yorkers hear Koch’s cheery greeting, “How am I doing?” Now they have a film to memorialize him, warts and all.
Koch became Mayor of New York City in 1977, when the whole place was on the brink of ruination. He went on to serve three terms, through 1989. No one can say Koch did not work tirelessly to improve the quality of life and financial stability of New York City. Koch had a special concern for minorities, the homeless, people with AIDS and gay rights. As a result he had his detractors. Directed by Neil Barsky, the film brings up the rumor the never-married Koch was gay. That topic is never settled, nor does it really matter.
Koch was a very private man. We should honor that. Testimonies by Michael Bloomberg, Calvin O. Butts III, Carl McCall, Christine Quinn, Charles Rangel and ordinary citizens tell us why.
You did just fine Ed.

Korean Director Makes American Debut with "Stoker"


“Stoker” Creepy Korean-American Thriller

By Skip Sheffield

South Korea has gone from ruins to world power in my lifetime. In addition to its manufacturing production of everything from automobiles to electronics, Korea has been producing world-class artists in music, theater and film.
Park Chan-wook is one such artist, and “Stoker” is his first English-language film.
Be forewarned that Chan-wook is known as a “master of bloodshed.” His films are known for visual elegance tempered with melodrama and extreme violence.
“Stoker” has all three elements.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a lonely, just-turned 18-year-old girl in a great big house. Her best friend was her father, Richard Stoker (Delmot Mulroney), but he has just been killed in a fiery car crash. India is shunned at high school and considered a weirdo.
“My ears hear what other ears cannot hear,” she says mournfully.
India’s mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is in a dazed, distracted state when she introduces India to Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode), her father’s long-lost younger brother. Charles is a good-looking, charming guy who is full of tales of his extensive world travels. Despite being so recently widowed, Evelyn takes an interest in Charles. So does India.
There is a deep, dark secret in the Stoker family, and it affects and infects everyone. First the family’s housekeeper (Phyllis Somerville) vanishes. Then a nosy relative (Jackie Weaver) also goes missing. Meanwhile Charles has been getting far too cozy with Evelyn, prompting jealousy in her daughter.
“Stoker” is a profoundly creepy film with an ever-building sense of dread as family secrets (and blood) are spilled. The unraveling is done with extraordinary, beautiful visual imagery: splattered blood that morphs into red flowers; India’s seeming fetish with her saddle shoes and the stuffed, mounted trophies from the sharp-shooting she did with her father.
All this symbolic foreboding erupts into unspeakable acts that are clearly meant to shock.
As so often happens in horror-shockers, the plot twists become so extreme and grotesque any semblance to the real world dissolves.
The best thing about “Stoker” is its young leading lady, Mia Wasikowska. Wasikowska has an other-worldly quality that suited her well in “Jane Eyre” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” and is perfect for the deeply disturbed, possibly dangerous India.
Matthew Goode’s sunny yet sinister smile is most appropriate as well. Nicole Kidman seems more a cipher, but maybe that is just as well for a mother who has lost any control over her daughter or her own life.
“Stoker” is no masterpiece, but it does produce some disturbing chills.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

To Birth or Not to Birth


A Simple, Complex “Lungs” Challenges at Arts Garage

By Skip Sheffield

To procreate or not to procreate, that is the question in “Lungs,” a new play by Duncan Macmillan, running through April 14 at Arts garage, 180 N.W. First St., Delray Beach.
“Lungs” is pure theater at is barest and least gimmicky. There are no sets, furniture, costumes or fancy lighting. It’s just two young people on stage, a man and a woman, talking in a torrent that moves through place and time.
The characters are not even given names. They are simply designated by letters. W (Betsey Graver) is a PhD candidate and deep thinker. You could call her a worry-wart.
M (Cliff Burgess) is less inclined to introspection or over-philosophizing. It is M who gets the ball rolling while waiting in line at an IKEA showroom by suggesting to W perhaps it is time for them to have a baby. The couple has been living together, and as M points out, they are not getting any younger.
You might have thought M suggested they jump blindly off a cliff together. W is a woman who stresses over everything. Her speech is halting and contradictory; her emotions carom about like a random billiard ball.
“Lungs” lives outside traditional marriage relationships or strict moral rules. The couple may be in love, but it is examined clinically, like a virus. There are a million reasons why a sane couple should not bring a new human to Planet Earth. There are also a million reasons why they should. I puzzled at length what Macmillan meant by the title “Lungs.” At first I thought it meant the characters talk a lot. Then as the play progressed in its zigzag, abrupt-turn fashion, I honed in on a bit of dialogue in which W, in bemoaning pollution and deteriorating environment, notes just how much toxic carbon footprint each new human brings to the atmosphere.
“Lungs” is also about the volatile nature of male-female relations. As rational as W is, she is subject to jealousy and spite. As calm as M is, he is not immune to reckless, thoughtless and destructive behavior.
To me “Lungs” is an examination of the nature of passion. Intense passion is by definition illogical. It is devastating and beautiful at the same time. That Duncan Macmillan was able to capture something so inexplicable in mere words is amazing. That Betsey Graver, Cliff Burgess and director Louis Tyrrell are able to convey this dangerous tight-rope of joy, laughter and abject despair in just 85 minutes with no tricks, nothing up the sleeve, no fakey razzle-dazzle, is nothing short of miraculous. If you have ever loved deeply, and loved and lost, you may feel this play was written just for you.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday (no Saturday evening). Tickets are $30-$40. Call 561-450-6357.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Take a Cruise with Peter Max


Pictured: Peter Max and Ringo Starr

Peter Max Loves What He Does

By Skip Sheffield

You could say Peter Max is lucky in life. He is America’s most popular and successful artist, and has been since the 1960s. He regularly meets celebrities, presidents, royalty and of course ordinary people who adore him. Yes, you could say Peter Max is lucky, but there is more to it than that. Peter Max loves what he is doing, and that love comes back through what he does.
“I never think of making a living (by painting),’ Max said recently from his studio in New York City. “It is my joy, my power in the studio. My wife, my home, our kitty cats all inspire me. I draw at home after I have left the studio. I look around me and all the things I have done, and I see it as my love affair with the world.”
Max is bringing his “love affair” to South Florida for his annual visit. He will be at Wentworth Gallery, 819 E. Las Olas Blvd., from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, March 16 and the Wentworth Galley at Town Center, Boca Raton, 6 to 9 p.m. March 16. Both events are free and open to the public.
It seems that every year Max does something bigger and more spectacular to stretch the boundaries of his art. This year it is Max’s largest “canvas” yet: Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, “Breakaway.” Decorating the massive 40,000 square feet of hull are Peter Max’s bright, fanciful designs. When it is completed in May, Breakaway will be the largest ship to home port in New York City year-round. Max will not personally be painting the $1.2 billion-dollar ship, but he is supervising a crew of 100 artists hand-applying the paint of his designs.
Max painted a piano for his friend Ringo Starr in 2005. It was auctioned at the Grammy Awards’ MusiCares event honoring Sir Paul McCartney in 2012. It earned the highest live auction winning bid in MusiCares’ 22-year history.
Max, termed a “Neo-Fauvist,” Abstract Impressionist and above all Pop Icon, has had the honor of painting all of the last seven presidents of the United States. More recently he painted country-pop sensation Taylor Swift. Posters of the painting sold-out on her web site.
Max never rests on his laurels. He is probably the most personable artist in America. He loves meeting his fans and collectors. He is like a rock star, only more accessible.
“It’s hard to keep up with everything,” Max admits. “I do yoga, I walk everywhere and I am on a very good vegan diet. I weigh 136 pounds. I owe a lot to my wife Mary, who I think is one of the most beautiful women in the world. I first saw her 15-and-a-half years ago, and I said to my friend Chuckie, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’ Chuckie didn’t believe me. Two months later, I married her.”
The information number for Wentworth Boca Raton is 561-338-0804. The Fort Lauderdale location is 954-468-0685.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Not So Wonderful Wizard of Oz


This Yellow Brick Road Loses Its Way

By Skip Sheffield

The original 1939 MGM musical film version of “The Wizard of Oz” was a perfect storm of creativity and inspiration. Filmmakers have been trying to top this most-watched film ever since, to no avail.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” is the latest attempt. To put it kindly, it falls short.
This is a non-musical prequel to the MGM classic, produced by the Disney conglomerate. Okay, it has incidental music by the ubiquitous Danny Elfman.
James Franco stars as the title character Oscar Diggs, a third-rate magician and serial heartbreaker also known as Oz. Like the 1939 film it starts out in Kansas in black-and-white. Also like the original some actors play dual roles in Kansas and the colorful, magical Land of Oz.
Screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire make a lot of references to the 1939 film, but there are some things they could not use, such as the famous ruby slippers and the specific design of the Emerald City. Happily there are plenty of Munchkins.
What “Oz the Great and Powerful” lacks in originality it makes up in special effects, including 3-D, computer-generated imagery, IMAX in limited release and a thundering soundtrack. Director Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man 3”) also pours on the blood and gory effects. The Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys look like they could have flown in from Raimi’s earlier horror flick, “Evil Dead.”
A basic problem with this re-imagining is that the character of the Wizard of Oz is one of its least interesting. Sure he’s a cad, a fraud and a con man, but so what? We see a lot of them in real life.
Franco, who was the third choice to play Oz, does his level best to make his character relatable, but Oscar Diggs just is not very magnetic.
Far more interesting are the three witches, which are the best thing about the movie.
Mila Kunis makes the most arresting transformation; from the alluring, beautiful Theodora to the green-skinned, pointy-nosed cackling hag we remember tormenting Judy Garland.
Rachel Weisz also gets her bad girl on as Theodora’s even more evil sister, Evanora. Weisz clearly enjoys playing her unredeemable villain, and it is fun, if fleeting, for us.
Over on the goody-goody side, we have Michelle Williams, playing the virginal Annie in Kansas and “Glinda the Good” in Oz. Williams has never looked lovelier, but that is her one dimension.
James Franco gets a computer-generated sidekick; a flying monkey called Finley, who was a human called Frank back in Kansas. Zach Braff voices both characters most sympathetically.
A real head-scratcher is the character of China Girl, a tiny porcelain doll voiced by Joey King. I suppose the character is designed to show Oz’s compassionate side, but she is of little use otherwise.
“Oz the Great and Powerful” has a rather open ending which hints of a sequel, but I don’t think so. If you want a really involving prequel and tribute to both the 1939 movie and writer L. Frank Baum’s original 1900 tale, go see the stage musical “Wicked” when it comes to town again, or better yet, catch it at New York’s Gershwin Theatre.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Flashdance" Rock Out at Broward Center


By Skip Sheffield

“Flashdance The Musical,” continues through March 17 at Broward Center for the Arts. It is a Broadway show for the masses raised on rock ‘n’ roll- specifically 1980s rock music and MTV videos.
As a stage musical “Flashdance” debuted in the U.K. in 2008. It was based on the 1983 movie starring Jennifer Beals and Michael Nouri. The movie was slagged critically, but it became a popular success anyway. Irene Cara had a No. 1 hit and an Academy Award for Giorgio Moroder’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling,” which became its theme song.
This production is new and tailored for American audiences for a national tour and eventual Broadway opening. Like the movie “Flashdance” is not high art, but it certainly is high energy.
Emily Padget stars as Alexandra “Alex” Owens, the role originated by Jennifer Beals.
Beals had a dance double in the movie. Padget does all her own moves, and she is most impressive. So is her voice, which is powerful and soars to unexpected heights. Oh yes, and she is very attractive, befitting the role of an 18-year old Pittsburgh iron foundry welder by day and exotic dancer by night. Despite the easy bucks Alex can pick up at Harry’s (Matthew Henderson) friendly nightclub, what she really would like to be is a serious professional dancer; a ballerina even.
Alex is encouraged in her quest by her mentor Hannah (Joan Cunningham), a retired ballerina. If Alex can pass an audition to snooty Shipley Academy perhaps she can win a scholarship.
A big reason critics scoffed at “Flashdance” was because of its unlikely, unbelievable basic plot.
Hey, critics scoffed at “Rocky” too, and look what happened there.
Making the story unlikelier still is Alex’s love interest: Nick Hurley (a beautifully-refined tenor Matthew Hydzik), whose family owns the iron factory where Alex has her day job.
A subplot is the order to force Nick to cut jobs at the foundry. How can he do this and woo fair Alex too?
Another subplot centers on Alex’s best girlfriend Gloria (Kelly Felthous), a fellow dancer who is being lured away by sleazy strip club owner C.C. (played with thuggish relish by Christian Whelan), who isn’t above hooking his girls on booze and drugs.
Yes, what you have here is a romantic cliff-hanger melodrama, with high-kicking choreography, high volume rock music, highly-spirited vocal performances and brilliant MTV-style graphics. The small, keyboard-heavy, electronically-enhanced pit band has a couple of radically ripping guitarists and an ace bassist. Anthems like “Maniac,” “I Love Rock and Roll” and “Gloria” are guaranteed to get an audience off its seats. Judging by the opening night reception, “Flashdance” should enjoy standing ovations nightly.
Tickets start at $39.50. Call 954-462-0222 or go to