Tag Archives: Play

Play Review: With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi at Theatre 80

John Belushi Play Card
Photos By Gail, Except Where Noted

To many, comedian and actor John Belushi still feels like a contemporary artist — owing to the tenacity with which his work has embedded itself in pop culture — but the fact is that Belushi has been dead for a long time. A friend who accompanied me to the opening-night performance of a new play entitled With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi wasn’t quite two years old in March of 1982, when the hard-partying performer died of an accidental drug overdose in a Hollywood hotel room. But while she wasn’t even born yet when John Belushi broke comedic ground during the first incarnation of Saturday Night Live, and probably didn’t see Animal House until it had been in the can for 20 years, my friend has a conversational knowledge of all his best bits. That’s what it means to be a legend.

John In Nativity Scene
Jack Zullo (Far Right) as John Belushi in a Scene from With A Little Help . . . (Photo By K. Bentley)

The story behind The Rise and Fall of John Belushi is seriously overdue for a stage or screen adaptation, and playwright/actor Jack Zullo — who fully embodies Belushi’s manic energy and uncompromising spirit in the title role — admits that it’s been over thirteen years since he was first inspired to work on John Belushi as a character study, and immersed himself in the comedian’s material. What started out as a spec feature film script evolved into this current stage production of With A Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi, which was previously honed through multiple West Coast performances. With a goal of finding a place in the NYC theater scene, Zullo aspires to reverse-engineer the play back into a feature-length script to tell the story of John’s life in narrative form; something that has been attempted by many, but not successfully executed.

With a Little Help opens quietly on a scene in the bungalow at the Chateau Marmont where John Belushi spent his final moments of life, having just fatally overdosed on a combination of heroin and cocaine. As he collapses on a mattress and takes his last breath, a chorus of disembodied voices ring out in the theater, admonishing the reckless thirty-three-year-old for being such a “dumb sonofabitch.” But the tragic tone quickly segues into a high-energy flashback of John, accompanied by his girlfriend Judy and best friend Steve, on a night in 1967 when he attended his first comedy show at Chicago’s The Second City club. John is visibly bursting with creative inspiration as he declares that he has found his life’s calling and intends to pursue a career in comedy.

From there, we follow John Belushi’s rise to prominence as an iconic American entertainer; working his way up from an indie college performer in 1968, to Manhattan in the mid-1970s, where he was part of the infamous National Lampoon Magazine and its Radio Hour, all the way through his four-year stint as one of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live.

The story of Belushi’s quick ascent to pop culture success shines the spotlight on his struggles to maintain control on the excesses afforded a budding star, counterbalanced with his desire to always be ahead of the curve by keeping the work fresh and exciting, and setting trends rather than following them. With a Little Help effectively revisits a time in American TV when the field of comedy was a Wild West for creative invention. John Belushi’s career was a wild ride while it lasted, but it’s not like we don’t already know how the journey ends.

Ticket Stub

With a Little Help takes its title from the now-legendary Saturday Night Live skit in which Belushi gives an over-the-top impersonation of British singer Joe Cocker’s eccentrically-mannered performance of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” This skit is recreated in the play, as are musical numbers made famous by The Blues BrothersBelushi’s band with Dan Aykroyd. The production features the terrific Crazy Tomes Band, who provide a live soundtrack, accompanying the many musical numbers in the show, and playing a set of covers before the play starts.

In addition to the great live music, With a Little Help truly becomes a multi-media production, as it incorporates both newly-produced and archival film and video clips, which further the action in ways that would otherwise be impossible, such as when John and friends experience an LSD trip, or when SNL cast members indulge in drug binges that history tells us were common on that set.

The play’s supporting cast of characters includes John Belushi’s devoted wife Judy Jacklin (Jennifer Lieberman, who also appears as Gilda Radner), as well as a who’s who of the comedian ‘friends’ who supported, collaborated with, and cajoled Belushi on his path to fame, such as the National Lampoon’s Tony Hendra (Len Rella), Christopher Guest (Benjamin Batchelder), Brian Murray (Artie Brennan, who also play’s Belushi’s close friend Steve Beshekas), Joe Flaherty (Nicolas Dipierro, who also  appears as Lorne Michaels) and Dan Aykroyd, portrayed brilliantly by Keith Saltojanes. All the actors are excellent in their handling of multiple roles, but Jack Zullo as Belushi is so spot-on in his timing and physical comedy, I forgot multiple times that I was watching an actor and not Belushi himself.

John Belushi did not get to live a long life. It’s tragic that his comedic legacy also includes the bleak Hollywood cliche of self-destructive behavior, but With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is less a cautionary tale and more a celebration of and homage to a phenomenally talented individual whose body of work has been, and will continue to be, endlessly influential. Funny, smart, and deeply nostalgia-inducing, With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is a story whose time is now.

Directed by Levy Lee Simon With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi runs through December 22nd only at Theatre 80, located at 80 St. Marks Place, in NYC’s East Village. Tickets are super affordable at just $30 — $40 and are available via With a Little Help Show Dot Com. Showtimes are Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 7 PM and 10 PM, and Sunday Matinees at 3 PM. A portion of ticket sales from the Theatre 80 run will be donated to The Comedians Assistance Fund and Gilda’s Club charities.

Watch The Trailer Below:

Theater Review: The Lighting Thief, The Percy Jackson Musical

Lightning Thief Marquee
Above Photo and Playbill Image By Gail. All Other Performance Photos By Jeremy Daniel.

You just can’t keep a good thing down. Nine years after it debuted as a major motion picture, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical – based on the New York Times best-selling book, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, is back with a national theater run. The two-act rock musical, written by Rob Rokicki and Joe Tracz (Be More Chill), first played in NYC in 2017 for a short run. Due to the show’s popularity, fans of the book series demanded that the play be available to a larger audience, and a National Tour was launched in January. This past week, the tour made a four-day stop at NYC’s Beacon Theatre, and I was able to check it out.

Fans of the book, and those who have seen the 2010 movie adaptation, already know how things play out, but for the sake of avoiding too many big spoilers for those who are coming into the story fresh, I’ll give you a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of the plot. Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) is a teenager from Long Island, NY who struggles with ADD and Dyslexia, has a knack for unwittingly causing drama at school, and can’t figure out why he feels like such a misfit among his peers (“The Day I Got Expelled”).

Chris McCarrell and Jalynn Steele Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Percy (Chris McCarrell) is Comforted by his Mom, Sally (Jalynn Steele)

Percy’s mom, Sally (Jalynn Steele), who has raised him mostly on her own, has a pretty good idea of what the issue might be, and it has a lot to do with who Percy’s father is. Unwilling to directly address the identity of her son’s progenitor, she encourages Percy to embrace his unique attributes (“Strong”), reminds him that “normal is a myth,” and signs him up to attend a special summer camp, which turns out to be Camp Half-Blood. Arriving at camp, Percy discovers that the one trait he shares with his fellow campers is that they’re all demigods – kids with one mortal parent and one parent who is a Greek god (“The Campfire Song”). That’s right; it’s heavy.

Annabeth Percy and Grover
Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), Percy and Grover (Jorrel Javier) Begin The Quest!

Requesting a sign from the Universe to reveal his divine parent, Percy discovers that his dad is not just some dude his mom hooked-up with on the beach, but Poseidon, god of the sea. While act one serves to set Percy up with his de rigueur epic quest (“Killer Quest”), the real action takes place in act two. Our hero is told that he must retrieve Zeus’s lightning bolt – which Percy himself is suspected of having stolen – in order to prevent a war among the Greek gods. Percy and his two close friends – Grover (Jorrel Javier), a satyr who is the son of Pan, and Annabeth (Kristin Stokes) daughter of Athena – set out on a cross-country journey (“Lost”), during which the trio must battle a variety of monsters on their quest to discover who the real Lightning Thief is. Eventually, they arrive at The Underworld, which just happens to be located in Los Angeles – appropriate! To find out how the showdown goes down, you will have to see the play for yourself!

As a testament to the degree of talent in the cast, each actor — except for Chris McCarrell, because he is in every scene — handles two or more roles in the play. On the technical front, this production of The Lightning Thief is creatively staged, making clever use of its minimal sets and lighting. Particularly visually impressive is a backdrop of programmed strip-lights used to recreate various environments, from the dripping walls of a damp cave, to the flames of lapping fire that fill The Underworld. Resourceful use of props to create fun special effects include using unspooled rolls of toilet paper and a leaf blower to simulate storms, which also elicits big laughs from kids in the audience. The show is also performed with the added energy of a live band, for a real Rock & Roll feel!

Ryan Knowles as Medusa
Ryan Knowles as Medusa

The Lightning Thief’s mythical theme lends the play a crossover appeal for fans of Harry Potter, and it’s a great companion piece to young adult-focused musicals with storylines more grounded in reality, such as Dear Evan Hansen and the off-Broadway production, Out Of My Comfort Zone. The Lightning Thief also offers a terrific crash course in Greek mythology (Percy is actually short for Perseus), which is always fascinating. Ultimately, The Lighting Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical conveys a strong message of claiming one’s own destiny. Even if, as the lyrics to “Campfire Song” suggest, “Things couldn’t be worse, when your parents run the universe,” the sins of the father are not necessarily to be laid upon the children. It’s possible to transcend the circumstances you were born into, no matter what “monsters” you may face.

Luke and Percy
Luke (James Hayden Rodriguez) and Percy Do Battle!

As an aside, I feel compelled to include information about a fan-driven campaign currently taking place on Twitter. When the show kicked off in Chicago this past January, there was great excitement created via social media. Fans were thrilled that the show was going to be seen by so many but, sadly, not everyone has the means to afford a ticket. A group of loyal fans stepped up and created #HalfbloodsHelpingHalfBloods, a campaign which has so far raised over $2000 to help dozens of Percy Jackson fans, who otherwise would not have the opportunity, to attend a performance. Here’s how it works: first sign onto Twitter. If you’re a fan (a ‘half-blood‘) in need of a ticket, tweet the city/date for which you need a ticket using the hashtag #HalfbloodsHelpingHalfbloods. If you’re a fan who can sponsor a ticket, reply to a tweet under the hashtag and pair up! This heartwarming grassroots effort speaks volumes about The Lightning Thief and its community of devoted fans.

Upcoming stops for The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical include cities in North Carolina, California, Louisiana, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida, with performances scheduled through Mid-July. This play is suitable for all ages, and has a two-hour runtime, including a 15 minute intermission. Visit Lighting Thief The Musical to learn more about the show and purchase tickets at a theater in your area!

Lightning Thief Program

Eye On Design: Vintage Toys By Wham-O

Wham-o Toys Display
All Photos By Gail

Childhood friends Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr formed Wham-O in their Pasadena garage in 1948. They championed outdoor fun that demanded children’s energy  — throwing, catching, hip-swinging, sliding — and ample space.

Slip 'N Slide

Wham-O jumped from fad to fad: Frisbees, Hula Hoops, Superballs, Slip ‘n Slides, Silly String and Hacky Sacks are just a few of Wham-O’s inventions.

Hula Hoops and Frisbee

Photographed as part of the Exhibit Play! at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.

The Imbible, an Intoxicating New Theater Experience!

Imbible Title Card
All Photos By Gail

Do you like drinking? I sure do. If you enjoy drinking and you also like going to the theater, maybe you have wished that there was a play where the actors brought cocktails right to your seat for you to enjoy during the show. That would be insane, right? What a great idea! Well, what if I told you that this is not just a beautiful, utopian dream, but that it is already happening right now? Yes, it is true, and this magical event happens at New World Stages in midtown. The show is called The Imbible: a Spirited History of Drinking, and the cherry on the cake is that it all takes place in a bar!

Imbible Signage
Imbible Table

When you arrive at the theater, head down stairs, veer off to the left, and you will be escorted to your seat in the Green Room lounge. Water and a free bowl of fresh popcorn will be brought to your table for you to snack on while you wait for the show to begin. The Imbible was created by world-renowned mixologist Anthony Caporale, who looks a little bit like actor Joe Manganello, whose photo I have just hyperlinked, for your reference.

Host Anthony Caporale

Continue reading The Imbible, an Intoxicating New Theater Experience!

Boot Worn By Mrs. Potts in Beauty and The Beast

Mrs Potts Boot
Photos By Gail

This colorful, lace-up ankle boot is one of a pair of boots worn by the actress playing the character of Mrs. Potts in the Broadway production of Disney musical, Beauty and The Beast. Aren’t they fantastic? If it weren’t for these photos you would probably never have seen this rad boot, as Mrs. Potts‘ feet are generally obscured by her nearly floor-length skirt (and the fact that she is, you know, a human teapot).

Mrs Potts Boot

Photographed in the Museum of the City of New York in Upper Manhattan

New Play, Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat Coming to Here’s Mainstage Theatre – December 2nd!

Collaboration Warhol Basquiat
Ira Denmark as Andy Warhol and Calvin Levels as Jean-Michel Basquiat (Photo Courtesy or Devious Planet)

Fans of artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat will not want to miss an exciting new play coming to the off-Broadway stage just in time for the Christmas season. Staged Dreams is pleased to present the world premiere of Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat, a new American play written by Tony Award nominee, Calvin Levels and directed by Tony Award nominee, Lonny Price.

Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat is a dramatic portrayal of the symbiotic relationship between two of the twentieth century’s greatest artists. Collaboration captures a historic art-world moment as the iconic Pop artist Andy Warhol and the Neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat attempt to navigate the perilous terrain of art and fame while collaborating on a joint series of paintings for their New York City gallery exhibition. The accomplished cast features Calvin Levels as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ira Denmark as Andy Warhol and Frank van Putten in the role of European art dealer Rudolfo Happesberger.  Get your tickets now for this very limited engagement!

Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat Runs from Friday December 2nd through Thursday December 22, 2016 at Here’s MainStage Theatre, Located at 145 Sixth Ave. (entrance on Dominick St one block south of Spring), Soho, NYC. Performance Times are Wednesdays thru Fridays at 8:30PM, Saturdays at 4:00PM and 8:30PM, and Sundays at 4:00PM. Running time is 2 hours, including a intermission. For tickets and information please visit Here.org, or call the Box Office at (212) 352-3101, or toll free at (866) 811-4111. All Tickets are $25.

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Domino Set By David Shrigley

Domino Set By David Shrigley
All Photos By Gail

Ah, David Shrigley, we love his heavily-warped worldview and sense of the absurd! This Domino Set designed by Shrigley is part of the new Play collection, a collaboration between the artist and Third Drawer Down Studios, as offered by the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

Domino Set By David Shrigley
Domino Tile Details

There’s rarely a dull moment when you’re playing games with David Shrigley. Instead of the traditional uniform of matching dots and tiles, you’ll find characters such as Skulls, Grumpy Old Men, and Raggedy Cats on each tile, which makes this 28-piece set a perfect diversion for when you or your partner are plotting your next move.

Available in the Gift Shop at the New Museum of Contemporary Art on Bowery and Prince Street in lower Manhattan, priced at $65 per set, $55.25 for Members.

Domino Set By David Shrigley