It’s dlevy!: David’s Favorite 2014 Theater

Originally published on itsdlevy.net.

It looks like I’ve seen 96 shows (not including cabarets) in 2014. It didn’t make sense to me to try to make a top-ten list, but I did go through an highlight my favorites, so here they are, in the order I saw them: Continue reading

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Flavorpill: Beware of Young Girls

Originally published on Flavorpill.

Beware4

Dory Previn was a fascinating figure as both an artist and a human being: weathering a childhood in which she was victimized by both her father and the Catholic Church, she emerged into an adulthood marked by tremendous creative output and marred by struggles with schizophrenia and the infidelity of her husband and songwriting partner, André Previn. It was André’s relationship with Mia Farrow, whom he impregnated while still married to Dory, that spurred the most significant break in Dory’s life and inspired the song “Beware of Young Girls” that gives this evening its name.

Kate Dimbleby, a British cabaret singer, fell in love with Previn’s music from a thrift-store LP. She first recorded an album of Previn tunes in 2012 before collaborating with playwright Amy Rosenthal on the stage version. The album, also called Beware of Young Girls, is a beautiful evocation of Dory Previn’s voice as both a writer and performer. So why then does the stage version feel like more of an impersonation than a performance?

One major difference is that on the album, the songs are allowed to be songs. On stage, they are introduced and interrupted by narration, sometimes in the voice of Kate herself, and sometimes with Kate taking on Dory’s voice in passages drawn from Previn’s two memoires. Part of what makes Previn’s songs so wonderful is their otherworldly poetry, keeping the autobiographical pathos just below the surface of divine metaphor. Literalizing these songs is like taking a dagger to them.

This show, dancing on the line between cabaret and theater, never quite settles on whether it’s showcasing Previn’s songbook or telling a story (either Dimbleby’s or Previn’s), so neither happens with great success. Dimbleby’s insistence on aping Previn’s phrasing and vocal technique – except when she instead invokes Dionne Warwick and Doris Day on songs those women introduced – further gets in the way of elevating Previn the songwriter to her rightful place in the pantheon. It would be a strong statement to hear Previn’s songs reinterpreted in Dimbleby’s own style, but apparently that was not to be. Given that the evening ends with something of a torch-passing moment from Previn’s widower to Dimbleby, this missed opportunity is keenly felt.

Dimbleby is joined on stage by musical director Naadia Sheriff, who plays piano and sings backup ably, but stumbles in her dialogue moments. The evening was directed by Cal McCrystal, better known for his work directing physical comedy in shows like One Man, Two Guvnors, and he is out of his element here. Dory Previn deserves to have her songs rediscovered and reinterpreted for both cabaret and theater, but in failing to decide which was the goal of Beware of Young Girls, it delivered neither.

Beware of Young Girls is at 59E59 Theaters through January 4, 2015.

Image: Kate Dimbleby, with Naadia Sheriff on piano. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Continue reading

Jewschool: USY Changes Expectations for Youth Leaders

Originally published on Jewschool.

USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement, has long had policies demanding that kids in regional and international leadership positions follow particular standards. Three of these standards have always risen to the top of the list of those that are the most enforced and the most discussed: keep kosher, keep Shabbat, don’t date outside of the faith. These standards were adopted by youth leaders for youth leaders, although they were generally adopted by kids of a previous generation. This week, at USY’s International Convention, the board debated reframing the standards around both Shabbat observance and interfaith relationships. They voted to retain the Shabbat standard as is and reword the dating standard to encourage (rather than require) endogamous dating while also adding important language about teens treating those whom they date with respect. Although JTA reported this as USY dropping the ban on interdating, USY leadership asserted that is not the case.

As a former USY regional president (who didn’t really date at all in high school, due in no small part to my decision to stay in the closet thanks to a different set of Conservative Movement rules that made me sure a gay kid wouldn’t be welcome in USY leadership), I want to publicly applaud the current teen leaders of USY for taking this step. (I wish they had gone further and dismantled the entire concept of standards, but that’s a post for another day.)

Apparently, USY alumni have been up in arms about these proposals for weeks. I didn’t hear about them until after the JTA article came out, which caused another wave of USY has-beens freaking out. I don’t think my take on this is going to surprise any long-time Jewschool readers, but I’m going to lay it out anyway. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Stars of David – World Premiere Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Stars Of DavidOn the surface, Stars of David sounds like a cynical cash-grab show: a small-cast revue based on journalist Abigail Pogrebin’s 2005 collection of interviews with prominent Jewish Americans sounds like it was designed to tour the Jewish Community Centers of this country ad infinitum. Whether it was any good or not would have almost no bearing on whether Jewish grandparents would buy tickets by the bushel. So, I was surprised and delighted when I saw the show in its off-Broadway incarnation last year to discover that the show was also entertaining and at times moving. Now, a year later, Yellow Sound Label has released a “World Premiere Recording” featuring the off-Broadway cast (Janet Metz, Alan Schmuckler, Aaron Serotsky, and Donna Vivino) plus three performers from the world-premiere production at the Philadelphia Theater Company, Alex Brightman, Joanna Glushak, and Brad Oscar. Continue reading

Heeb Reviews That Gay Erotic Hanukkah Fiction You Were Probably Looking For

Originally published on Heeb.

Look, I’m a defender of the Chanukkah Bush, the Mench on the Bench, or any other stupid crap that makes our sorry little holidays feel a little more festive. (I mean, I actually think the Mench on the Bench / Elf on the Shelf is the creepiest surveillance state for kids bullshit ever, but you know what I mean.) But you know what exactly zero Jewish people put on their wish lists? Chanukkah-themed gay erotic fiction. And yet, it turns out that Loose Id, a California-based publisher of sexy eBooks, has been churning out exactly that for a number of years, boasting a collection of ten titles that are currently on sale for 18% off (get it?) now through Christmas.

To be perfectly fair to Loose Id, despite being a gay Jewish dude, I am not the target audience for these books, which were all written by women and seem to be intended for a female audience. So when I tell you that I read all or part of books by five different writers and didn’t so much as pop a boner (do people still say that in 2014?) once, take that in stride. For comparison, I have been known to feel my pants tighten at a well-shot car insurance commercial.

“But how do you know these stories aren’t intended for gay dudes?” I hear you ask. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: Review: Peter Pan Live! Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Peter Pan Live!Broadway Records took a double gamble by releasing the soundtrack to NBC’s Peter Pan Live. By releasing a true soundtrack (rather than a pre-recorded cast album, as the previous year’s Sound of Music Live did), they passed up any chance to sell the album to those of us curious to get a peek at the broadcast before airdate, and they staked their success on a positive reception of the broadcast itself.

While the television production had its moments, it largely seemed dead on arrival: neither the thrilling spectacle NBC dreamed of, nor the campy disaster hate-watchers hoped for. As the broadcast limped along, I couldn’t imagine wanting to revisit this experience on a soundtrack album. I’m glad to report that I was wrong. Continue reading

Jewschool: December Without Drama

Originally published on Jewschool.

Interfaith CardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”

The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”

It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.” Continue reading