It’s dlevy!: David’s Favorite 2015 Theater

Originally published on itsdlevy.net.

I’m not sure how many shows I saw this year, and I didn’t keep good enough record to count. Suffice it to say, I saw a lot, but not everything. Therefore, I’m not in a position to tumake a “best of” list or anything of the sort. Instead, I present to you a list of my favorite theater from 2015, in alphabetical order.

Last year, I listed a top 13, with one honorable mention plus three additional shows I had loved enough in previous years to see for a second time during 2014. This year’s list includes 15 shows, two of which were return trips, plus two honorable mentions, so I guess I have a fairly consistent amount of love in my heart available for great theater.  Continue reading

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Keshet: An Interview with Luzer Twersky: From Ultra-Orthodox to “Transparent” Star

Originally published on Keshet’s blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

Luzer Twersky

Luzer Twersky is an actor who plays Mendel in Season Two of Amazon’s hit television show “Transparent.” He grew up in an insular Hasidic community in Brooklyn, which he left in his early 20s, with help from Footsteps, an organization that helps formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews integrate into mainstream society. He is best known for his role in the film “Félix & Meira,” which is Canada’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar this year. Luzer spoke with Keshet’s David Levy last week after the first episode of “Transparent” was released.

DAVID LEVY: Let’s just start by saying congratulations on being part of “Transparent.” Have you had the opportunity to watch the finished product yet?

LUZER TWERSKY: I watched the first episode of the new season, and it’s very good. I’m very happy with it and very proud of it.

DL: I saw your name in the credits but didn’t spot you in the episode itself. I assume you’re in the German flashback?

LT: In the first episode I’m a little “blink-and-you-miss it.” These flashbacks will happen all season. You’ll see the parallel between what’s happening at the wedding with all the dancing and the craziness and what’s happening at this party filled with queers and gays and gender-fluid people, and then you see those same kind of people 100 years ago in Berlin. And you also notice that Simon, Maura’s nephew, seems to be in those scenes in Berlin. It’s all going to tie together.

And then you’ll notice at the end of the episode, when you see Ali standing on her balcony, and then you see someone next to her who we had seen dancing in that Berlin scene.  Continue reading

Talkin’ Broadway: Book Reviews – On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide by Ethan Mordden

Originally published on TalkinBroadway.com.

On SondheimIn Passion, Fosca sings, “If you have no expectations, you can never have a disappointment.” These are wise words to bring with you to Ethan Mordden’s latest book, On Sondheim: An Opinionated Guide. Judging by its title, you might expect the book to provide a complete listing of Sondheim’s output with the author’s assessments of same, but it is oddly inadequate as both opinion and guide. The book immediately shirks its guide obligations by referring readers on the very first page to SondheimGuide.com (without a mention of Michael H. Hutchins, the man responsible for putting it together). It falls short in the opinion arena as well, offering far fewer than the title implies and hardly any that might register as controversial. And yet, taken on its own terms it offers pleasures for both the Sondheim expert and newbie alike.

Mordden knows his subject well, but he occasionally lets that get the better of him. Acknowledging in his preface that he generally did not consult other books on his subject in the writing of this one, he lets the occasional misstatement slip through. Mordden’s prose style is characterized by an awkward combination of SAT words (“manumission,” “equiponderant”) and slang (relating an artistic disagreement as a “hard-on contest,” or describing the opening scene of My Fair Lady as “an Instagram of the show’s analysis of class”). A quick poll of acquaintances who have read other Mordden uncovers that this is a common quirk of his writing about musicals, and the percentage of those who hate it is fairly close to those who adore it.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: The Wiz Live! Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

197.pngIt makes sense that The Wiz Live!, the best of NBC’s recent live musical broadcasts, should produce the best album of the three as well. Even so, you might be surprised by just how good this soundtrack is. As exciting as the live show was, there were some iffy notes and more than a few moments of sub-par sound mixing. None of that is in evidence on the album. Superstar producer Harvey Mason, Jr. and co-producer/music director Stephen Oremus have lovingly spun the raw material from the broadcast into recording gold. And despite the addition of effects (most obviously a lot of additional reverb and yes, some auto-tuning) to create a sonic experience more akin to a studio-recorded pop album, The Wiz Live! never sounds overproduced and, oddly enough, comes out more theatrical than the self-consciously pop original cast recordingContinue reading

250 Word Reviews: Puffs

Originally published on 250 Word Reviews.

Third or Nothing

PUFFS, OR: SEVEN INCREASINGLY EVENTFUL YEARS AT A CERTAIN SCHOOL OF MAGIC & MAGIC
(Off-off-Broadway: The Peoples Improv Theater)

Churchill said, “History is written by the victors,” but how often do we hear about life during great events for the rest of us? Playwright Matt Cox provides this lens on the Second Wizarding War, through the eyes of one Wayne Hopkins (Zac Moon). Wayne dreams of being the hero of his story, but that position has already been filled be a certain Mister Potter. Neither brave nor smart nor anguine, he is sorted into the house for everyone else, Hufflepuff, and makes two best friends: Oliver, a math whiz (Langston Belton) and Megan (Julie Ann Earls), a wannabe villain. Mentored by Cedric Diggory (Evan Maltby), the Puffs’ rallying cry represents their dreams of someday not coming in last: “Third or nothing!” Do they have a chance at making a difference in a world dominated by legendary heroes and villains?

Like Kapow-i GoGo (from the same team) before it, Puffs transcends parody and fan service to create a three-dimensional world populated by believable characters whose tragedies resonate as strongly as their triumphs. There’s a lot of story to get through in 80ish minutes, but director Kristin McCarthy Parker’s sure hand keeps the story clear even as the pace gets frenetic. Moon’s performance, more Hamlet than ham, provides a strong center around which wackier characters orbit. The whole cast excels, but special kudos to Andy Miller for the best “rally the troops” moment this side of Henry V. Knowledge of the Potter canon is helpful but not necessary to love Puffs.

Production photograph by Colin Waitt: Zac Moon (l) as Wayne with (l-r) Nick Carillo, Andy Miller, Eleanor Philips, Jessica Cannizzaro, Madeleine Bundy, and Stephen Stout.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to note that I contributed $10 to this production’s Kickstarter campaign.