Sunday, July 24, 2022


Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

        By Joseph Cervelli

I have seen five (not the original) productions of Tennessee Williams' masterpiece "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and while the best of all was the 1975 version starring an unforgettably, scintillating Elizabeth Ashley, the others were generally good.  In most cases you had a fine Maggie (Ashley still remains the best) but a disappointing Brick. But in the disastrous revival currently playing at the Theatre at St. Clement's you may have a more fiercely played Brick (Matt de Rogatis) but a very ineffective Maggie (Sonoya Mizuno). If the show's Maggie is not good the production sinks badly. And this one under the misguided direction by Joe Rosario stands by far to be the worst I have seen. 

One of the biggest culprits is the exceptionally poor acoustics of the theater and the simply terrible sound design by Ben Levine. When Maggie is at the right side of the stage, and you hear her voice from one of the speakers on the left side you are in trouble. 


Rosario has updated the show to the present which still takes place on an estate in Mississippi. Maggie is the love starved wife of the sexy but alcohol addicted Brick. There is no mistaking that Mizuno is definitely sensual in her movements but her shrill, screeching voice makes her Maggie so unappealing. One of the funniest lines right from the onset is her calling her nieces and nephews (no nephews are shown here) "no neck monsters." But Mizuno with a very overdone Southern accent rambles on yelling one line after another becoming almost impossible to understand. Within five minutes I knew we were in trouble. The entire first act is basically a monologue of Maggie's emotions who cannot understand why Brick has fallen to pieces since the death of his best friend Skipper. Unless you know the play this production will probably not help you understand the innuendos about Brick's relationship to Skipper. As Williams wrote the character Maggie he makes you feel for this woman who wants more than anything to be loved by her husband and have a child. She and Brick live in the house of his parents Big Daddy (Christian Jules Le Blanc) and Big Mamma (Alison Fraser) along with Brick's brother Gooper (Spencer Scott) and his wife Mae (Tiffan Borelli). Maggie knows unless they are in Big Daddy's good graces when he passes they will not be left much. To secure this, a child would make that a reality.

 Mizuno according to the Playbill trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced as listed at two ballet companies. This is her New York City stage acting debut. I saw no stage acting credits listed and this is too difficult a role to tackle for a novice unless under proper direction. She gets no assistance from Rosario. Throughout Mizuno has the sinuous moves of a dancer, but it is never transformed into her acting ability. 

De Rogatis makes a hunky, perfectly chiseled tattooed Brick. De Rogatis also is the most menacing Brick I have seen, and when he threatens to hit Maggie with his crutch (he injured himself while jumping hurdles while drunk) you think he truly wants to kill her.  De Rogatis also is the most self destructive Brick. Unlike others who have played that part you do believe he was indeed sexually attracted to Skipper and either made an attempt to seduce his friend or actually did. While there is not much for Brick to do in the first act except to listen to the epithets of Maggie, de Rogatis does convey his inner demons by the way he moves his body. You can feel his mental anguish. And later in the play his encounter with his father is well  played out on his part. However I don't remember Brick falling down in a drunken stupor as much as here.

Big Daddy has always been played by a tall, broad man.  Remember Burl Ives, James Earl Jones and 
character actor Fred Gwynn?  Yet, Le Blanc is a smaller Big Daddy. That would be fine if he, too, was  not screaming throughout. He thinks he has a spastic colon not knowing until Brick angrily tells him
that he has terminal cancer. He is a belligerent, bellicose and uncouth millionaire. His vile comments towards his wife are thoroughly upsetting but here they fall flat because his dialogue is spoken too fast.

 Fraser ("The Secret Garden" and "Romance/Romance") is a completely different looking Big Mama. Big Mamma has always been a bit overweight, dowdy character ridiculed  by her unpleasant husband. Here she is a slim, but flamboyantly dressed woman looking like she is going to a cocktail party. Much of Fraser's dialogue including her almost sotto voce aside to Brick near the end of the play should  be clearer. Also, what makes no sense is when Big Daddy calls her "fat" on a number of occasions for she is very slim. 

I am not sure who created the ominous music which would have been more appropriate for "A Streetcar Named Desire" than this show. And unsure why Brick and Maggie's bed (set design by Matthew Imhoff) which is a pivotal part of their relationship is off to the side of the stage instead more centered.

The themes of manliness, mendacity and  Maggie's sexual desires are all lost in this overwhelmingly inept production. I can only hope there is another "Cat" to erase the memory of what Rosario has done to such a brilliant play. 

PHOTOS: Miles Skalli

Tickets are available at the Theatre at St. Clements 423 West 46th Street. 

Monday, July 11, 2022


Between The Lines--Very Likable New Musical That Needs Some Tightening

The first thing that struck me when I entered The Tony Kiser Theater where the uneven though likable "Between the Lines" musical is playing was the song "Books" from the irrepressible "A Man of No Importance." A wonderful song about the delights of reading sung by the lonely man's sister. And if you never caught the show at Lincoln Center it is going to be revived this season. In "Lines" the action takes place in the library, among other locations and indeed revolves around one particular book. 

The show is based on the novel by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer. Here the book for the musical is by Timothy Allen McDonald. I have read several of Picoult's adult books always admiring show she beautifully dissects the characters and her versatility in that no two books are the same. I never read any of her young adult books which "Lines" is based upon. 

Delilah (a wonderful and hard working Arielle Jacobs) is a lonely junior in high school who has moved to the new school about six months ago. She lives with her mother Grace (Julia Murney) whose husband has left them for a twenty something yoga instructor. The mother has a great deal of trouble making ends meet but cares deeply for her daughter though they have frequent arguments. Delilah an avid reader suddenly takes a fancy to the book by the title of the musical. Strangely, there is only one book available anywhere and her school library has it. It is a fantasy about a handsome prince Oliver (Jake David Smith) and his desire to escape into the real world. He is bethroed to the annoying Princess Seraphima (very well played by understudy Aubrey Matalon.) Several of the characters play a multitude of roles which works excellent because each is superb. Matalon plays the 'mean girl' from Delilah's class and her clueless boyfriend Ryan (Will Burton) also plays the dog in the book. The only friend that Delilah has is the nonbinary Jules (a very funny wisecracking Wren Rivera). Of course, Jules is equally ostracized. There is an hilarious turn by the brilliant Vicki Lewis who plays five roles including the highly sexed librarian who has flights of fancy with an unseen except in silhouette form-- Mr. Darcy from "Pride and Prejudice."

The show begins delightfully with the very catchy "Another Chapter" sung by Delilah. When she opens the book there is a great scene that suddenly appears behind the back scrim with Prince Olvier climbing a cliff),  As she turns the pages of the book the scene changes to a mermaid saving the drowning Oliver and then you see member so the Royal Family along with others. It is brilliantly achieved by scenic designer Tobin Ost. Gregg Barnes designed the eye popping costumes. 

But after the first 40 or so minutes (the show is overlong at 2 1/2 hours) the delight becomes a bit repetitive. Director Jeff Calhoun tries to make things move swiftly but they are bogged down in much too many songs by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson. Grace does not need to sing two solos along with a duet with Delilah. And even other characters' numbers just dilute down the action. Yes, quite a few have clever lyrics and bouncy music but it feels overstuffed. And the book also has a very repetitive feel. We don't need to see the same occurrences in the classroom and a few of the musical numbers involving the storybook characters are tiresome. This is especially true of the unnecessary "Butterflies" sung by John Rapson who also plays characters in and out of the book. 

The relationship between Delilah and Oliver does not work as well as I hoped it to. Smith certainly makes a dashing Prince but has little personality and I never felt his despair being trapped in the book. And his disillusionment with his Royal life is never fully realized. 

The other issue is the theme of reality vs. fantasy and how both coalesce into the realm of things never truly coalesces. 

I was wondering if younger children would enjoy the musical more than adults but not so sure. Perhaps, if it was shortened and tighter a lot it could work better. There is a lot of promise here with necessary editing. 

Photos: Matt Murphy

Ticket are available at the Tony Kiser Theater 305 West 43rd Street.