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: The Divine Nature of Basketball: My Season Inside the Ivy League

Yale
Follow Yale through the 2011-12 season

Let me be clear before the outset of this review: I did not attend an Ivy League school, nor did I previously have an appreciation for it. Save for a few friends who worshiped Penn hoops, my loyalties remain in the old Big East and the current ACC. So it is with that lens that I review Ed Breslin’s The Divine Nature of Basketball: My Season Inside the Ivy League, his look at the 2011-12 Yale Bulldogs basketball team, led by head coach James Jones. Breslin petitioned Jones to be a special assistant coach, essentially shadowing the team throughout the entire season. What follows is an insiders look at one of the more entertaining Yale basketball seasons in recent memory.

It’s clear within a few pages of reading that Breslin eats, prays and loves college basketball. Breslin devours media guides and watches intently through practices. Throughout the course of the season, Yale basketball completely consumes his life and his passion oozes through the pages of the book. His enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s hard not to become a Yale fan, too.

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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: The Great Gatsby

When I read the Great Gatsby as a high schooler, I was taught about dangers of excess and the cautions of the chase for the American dream. Jay Gatsby’s pursual of Daisy Buchanan was a warning of the attempt to achieve an unobtainable goal. In the same vein, Gatsby’s wild parties were examples of the moral decay in society. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby largely ignores that message in his 2013 release, instead choosing to focus on a highly stylized fantasy world.

And what a fantasy world it is. Luhrmann’s Gatsby has Jay-Z playing in the background of his wild and lavish parties that would put Ditty to shame. ‘Extravagant’ wouldn’t come close to describing the visuals. Then again, I expected that, coming from his work in Moulin Rouge.

In this regard, Luhrmann does pay appropriate tribune to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. The characters all speak in his stylized prose, and the parties do justice to what Fitzgerald envisioned. But, of course, this isn’t the reason that Fitzgerald’s novel became a mainstay in American education. The main problem with The Great Gatsby is that Luhrmann’s film doesn’t quite cut to the core of Fitzgerald’s story, missing the chance to connect the viewer with the overall message.  Continue reading “Review: The Great Gatsby”

Review: Ironman 3

I’m always wary when watching the third installment (the three-quil, if you will) of a movie series. Think Godfather 3, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Spiderman 3, or the Matrix Revolutions. Then again, there has been a reverse in the trend recently with The Dark Knight Rises, and now, with Ironman 3.

What separates Ironman 3 from its two predecessors is  that the focus of the story shifts to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) rather than The Suit he wears. There are plenty of flaws in the exposition in an attempt to tell an over-complicated story (see also, The Dark Knight Rises), but in the end, do we really watch movies like Ironman for the logical consistency of the story?

Ironman 3 picks up where The Avengers leaves off (which is good, considering I’ve seen the Avengers). Tony Stark is having nightmares and anxiety attacks from his experiences from New York City, and, instead of working on his relationship with the lovely Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), he chooses instead to build every iteration of The Suit he can think of (going up to 47). When bodyman Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is put into a coma by international terrorist “The Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley), Stark lashes out at the organization, prompting Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and his thugs to destroy Stark’s home. An old flame of Stark’s, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), is part of the impetus, and the threat extends all the way to the President of the United States (William Sadler) who is protected only by “Iron Patriot” (Don Cheadle). Continue reading “Review: Ironman 3”