Review: Kung Fu

Kung Fu, the latest play from David Henry Hwang, scores big points on fluid action and amazingly choreographed martial arts, but the script still leaves a viewer wanting for more.

The play follows Bruce Lee (Cole Horibe) in his early days as a childhood martial arts star in Hong Kong through his struggles in trying to make it in the mainstream American media. Along the way, we meet the most seminal figures in his life, wife Linda (Phoebe Strole), father Hoi-Chuen (Francis Jue), and son Brandon (Bradley Fong).

More so than an average play, there needs to be an aura of credibility for the main character’s martial arts ability, and Horibe certainly possesses it. His martial arts skill, along with all of the other cast members, is at a high level, and the scenes are choreographed so well, you’d think that you were watching an old Hong Kong action film. There are plenty of action scenes throughout the play and all of them are thoroughly enjoyable. These scenes, in and of themselves, make the production a worthwhile show.

But the script has some serious issues. To start, there is an utter lack of chemistry between Linda and Bruce. With the way the play is written, I’m not actually sure what she sees in him. On their first date, Bruce spends all of his time talking about his favorite topic: Himself. And yet, she completely falls for him, which comes off more as puzzling and forced. While we all know that they ended up together, the play doesn’t really sell the idea of why, instead preferring to fast forward to their abrupt marriage. That dooms their storyline from the start.

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Review: Rocky on Broadway

Yo, Adrian. They did it.

There’s a confluence of factors that make Rocky one of the most entertaining, moving and thrilling spectacles on Broadway in recent history. It pays homage to the original 1976 Oscar-winning cannon, brilliantly and effortlessly fuses together underdog and love storylines, and still maintains a dazzlingly unique theater-going experience. There’s just nothing quite like it out there.

For the rare few who aren’t familiar with the original film, Rocky Balboa is an out-of-luck club circuit boxer whose life seems headed nowhere. He barely makes enough to cover the rent by shaking down deadbeat borrowers for money. In his spare time, he toils away at the local gym, dreaming of being an elite boxer. His other dream has always been to be with his childhood crush, Adrian. Heavyweight champion Apollo Creed has a match set in Philadelphia, but due to his opponent breaking his hand, Creed is in search of a new rival. That person becomes Rocky, who faces insurmountable 80-to-1 odds against Creed. The odds should be even higher considering that Creed has never been knocked down in his career, nor gone beyond five rounds before ousting opponents.

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Review: The Unlikely Ascent of Sybil Stevens

The Unlikely Ascent of Sybil Stevens is an entertaining exploration of the complexities of becoming a limited vortex public figure in the Internet age and the dangers that can go with it.

The play centers around Sybil Stevens (Jennifer Gordon Thomas), a flight attendant who is the lone survivor of a plane crash in Wyoming where all 256 passengers but her have perished. She is rescued by emergency worker Joe (Sean Williams), who is going through personal struggles of her own. Stevens’ nephew and recovering drug addict Derek (Jordan Tierney) assumes caretaker duties, and also becomes her personal publicist. Stevens denies all media requests, but that doesn’t stop wannabe-Oprah Tessa MacKenzie (Yeauxlanda Kay) and her researcher Valerie (Samatha Fairfield Walsh) from attempting to, and ultimately, booking the exclusive interview.

Things predictably go awry on MacKenzie’s show when skeletons are released from the closet in part because of a revealing, impromptu meeting between Valerie and Derek. Instead of attempting to minimize the chaos, Joe unexpectedly joins in on the interview and immediately immortalizes it. Suddenly, Stevens is embroiled in numerous scandals and controversy and is unsure of her next step.

For this play to work, the audience has to be endearing to the audience. Otherwise, the endless calamities that intrude on her life will fall on deaf ears.

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Review: Bronx Bombers

I seem to have hit the Eric Simonson trifecta. In 2011, I attended Simonson’s first sports play on Broadway, Lombardi, at the Circle in the Square Theatre on closing night. A year later, Simonson hit Broadway again, this time chronicling the 80s sensation of the NBA with Magic/Bird. Now, in 2014, I found myself taking in Simonson’s third foray into a major American sport, Bronx Bombers, which again finds itself at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

Bronx Bombers follows the tale of Yogi Berra through his time as coach of the Yankees during the famed Billy Martin/Reggie Jackson feuds of the 70s all the way through the closing of Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built, in 2008. Along the way, we meet Martin, Jackson, Thurman Munson, Lou Gehrig, Micky Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ruth and Derek Jeter.

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Review: Cinderella on Broadway

Cinderella
Laura Osnes as Cinderella

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s 2013 version Cinderella on Broadway is a perfectly enjoyable and entertaining — albeit purposely superficial — take on the timeless fairy tale classic.

Many of the elements of the original story are features in this remake, with the main character Ella (the nickname Cinder is given by her evil stepmother for all of the hours she slaves in front of a fireplace) as the punching bag for her step-mother and step sisters. With the help of her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella is, on two occasions, given to the stroke of midnight to meet the Prince of her dreams. Only in this version, she must set into motion a meeting between a well-meaning revolutionary, Jean-Michel, and Topher, the Prince, because the poor are being swept under the rug by the Prince’s oppressive regime.

The decision to make a socioeconomic statement is curious, partly because of how cantankerous the issue has become in recent elections, but also because it only makes a feeble attempt at raising and then ultimately dismissing the issue. The subplot is not critical to the story and therefore not really needed. Jean-Michel’s character is also used as a romantic foil to Gabrielle, one of the step sisters. Cinderella’s other step-sister, Charlotte, is cartoonish and far too over the top, and ends up irritating more than endearing herself to her audience. The same could be said about stepmother Madame and Topher, though his character still has some charm to his “aw-shucks” attitude.

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Review: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is set to go dark — for good — in January, 2014 after a turbulent three year run on Broadway that was hampered by negative press at the start. The highlights included an actor tumbling 20 feet into the orchestra after not securing his harness (one of five injuries sustained by the cast); deep budget overruns for the multi-million dollar project and a major rewrite of the plot after the original was universally panned. The show ended up becoming a punching bag at the 2012 Tony Awards, as the show set a Broadway record with 182 previews before it finally opened. 

So now that the background is out of the way, I figured I’d start with the good: There are about 15 total minutes of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark that delivers a spectacle unlike anything seen around Broadway. The death-defying, high-wire stunts left the audience squealing in delight as Spider-Man and the Green Goblin had it out 50 feet above the floor. The fights were well choreographed and was done in such a way as to enhance the plot as opposed to overtaking the show. Gimmicky? Sure. But you can’t deny that the gimmick is wildly entertaining. The sets are also grandiose and does well to add to the visual  candy the musical already has. I wouldn’t splurge for full price based on these 15 minutes, but I didn’t, so my discounted ticket went a long way.

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Review: Magic/Bird on Broadway

Magic-BirdMagic/Bird is a play that comes about 15 years too late, telling a story that has a definite beginning with a compelling middle, but struggles to find where to conclude. It’s a story that has its dramatic moments, but isn’t best told on the stage. So it comes as no surprise that the play was shut out of the Tony’s this year, and will shut its doors for good on May 12 after opening just a month earlier.

To be sure, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dominated all of the headlines of the mid-80s, as their heated rivalry from college extended into the NBA. The Celtics and Lakers were regulars in the finals during that decade, and the two played each other in some of the most memorable games that resurrected a stagnant NBA.

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