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.
Ned Eisenberg and Katie McClellan Star in Rocket to The Moon (Image Source)
When an oft-visited Water Cooler is the undeniable focal point in a multi-act play’s only set, you can place a safe bet that themes of Thirst and Relief — in all of their figurative and literal meanings — are sure to be explored. Currently in a limited engagement revival at Theatre at St. Clement’s, Clifford Odet’s Rocket to the Moon is set in 1938 during a sweltering NYC summer, and the heat isn’t the only thing that’s oppressive. Dentist Ben Stark (Ned Eisenberg) — whose Midtown Manhattan office provides the story’s setting — is experiencing a worrisome decline in business, as is his fellow dentist and tenant, Dr. Phil Cooper (Larry Bull), who doesn’t offer Ben much hope that his months-in-arrears rent will be paid any time soon. Ben is also treated like a doormat by his wife Belle (Marilyn Matarrese), a woman from a wealthy family who surely expected to be living a more comfortable and upwardly mobile lifestyle than what her husband is providing. Clearly, no one is too happy.
Plays about mental illness don’t really exist to make everyone feel comfortable. It’s a very difficult subject to tackle, especially given the intimacy of a live theater setting. But despite its uneasy subject matter, a new off Broadway play, BOB: Blessed be the Dysfunction that Binds, manages to deliver an engaging theatrical experience that is uniquely personal yet universally resonant. Emotionally harrowing and at times very funny, its success is one hundred percent owed to the gifted actress and playwright, Anne Pasquale.
In the 2006 film, The Prestige, Serbian-born Physicist and Inventor Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie) serves as a sort of ‘Mad Scientist’ inspiration and mentor to a competitively obsessed magician/illusionist portrayed by Hugh Jackman. It’s probably not a complete accident then that in the eponymous new play (written by Sheri Graubert and Directed by Sanja Bestic) Tesla is referred to repeatedly as a ‘Magician.’ While Tesla’s scientific legacy includes contributions as varied as design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system and early developments in Remote Control and X-ray technologies, his name is perhaps best known these days for having been adopted by an ‘80s Hair Metal band. And that’s just a shame. Hopefully, Tesla will be able to move on to Broadway after its Off Broadway run, exposing a wider audience to Nikola Tesla’s genius and futuristic vision.
In this engaging play, an older Tesla (played by Jack Dimich) sits in his New York City Hotel room, kept company only by his memories and occasional visits from the Bellhop (Luka Mijatovia). There, he reflects on the accomplishments of his past while mentally confronting his many professional adversaries who exploited him with varying degrees of opportunism, indifference and cruelty. James Lee Taylor (who, if you look up any actual photos of Tesla, is a dead ringer for the inventor during his late thirties) portrays Tesla as a younger man, and carries the bulk of the action on his very capable shoulders. Over the course of ninety minutes, the story of Tesla’s amazing career unfolds in ways that are both wildly inspiring and devastatingly heartbreaking.
Taking place at a time when the world was a Wild West for Scientific invention, many inventors were coming up with similar ideas for technological advancements at the same time as their peers. Even those who managed to make it to the patent office first didn’t always maintain a tight rein of control over their inventions. This is emphasized best in a reoccurring appearance by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi (played with brilliant comic effect by Jeff Solomon) who is repeatedly denied a patent for his invention of the Radio – a field of research and development also pioneered by Tesla. It is implied that Marconi and Tesla remained lifelong adversaries.
The onstage action, which takes place in a static three-part interior set, is occasionally augmented by the incorporation of black and white film clips, starring the play’s actors, which provide a newsreel-like back-story or help to advance the story line in a way that dialogue will not suffice. Such clips are used most effectively in a G-Rated – but nevertheless quite passionate – love scene between Tesla and his implied romantic interest, Katherine (Samantha Slater), that illustrates the bittersweet, largely unfulfilled state of their affair.
Other historical figures fleshing out this extremely fascinating and vibrant play include Tesla’s early employer, Thomas Edison (Tom Cappadona), financial tycoon JP Morgan (portrayed as being pretty much an ego-maniacal prick by Adam Pagdon) and actor Allessandro Colla in a dual role as George Westinghouse and Mark Twain. Colla’s over-the-top physical mannerisms employed in his portrayal of Westinghouse are a highlight among the performances of a universally outstanding cast.
Nicola Tesla died of heart failure in 1943 at the age of 86: penniless, in debt and alone in the hotel room in which he lived during the final days of his life. Was he ahead of his time? No doubt. Was he a mysterious genius? Most definitely.
Tesla is Showing at Theater 80, Located at 80 St Mark’s Place (East 8th Street between First and Second Avenues) in New York City through June 8th, 2013. Showtime is at 8:00 PM Daily with a 3:00 PM Matinee on Sundays. Phone 212-388-0388 or visit http://www.teslaoffbroadway.com for Tickets and Further Information.
Yesterday, Geoffrey and I went to see the play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, and it was just fantastic. Starring Robin Williams in the title role, Bengal Tiger seems to be one of the most polarizing plays to hit Broadway in years. Just check out a few online audience reviews and you will see that it’s a show that people either love passionately or totally hate. The disparity between the five and the one star reviews might have something to do with the fact that it’s billed as a “Ferocious Comedy,” when it’s really more of heavy, existential political drama with a few good belly laughs here and there, mostly thanks to Williams’ really terrific performance.
It’s not a stretch to imagine that someone expecting to laugh their ass off at a talking tiger’s hilarious hi-jinx might tend to walk out at intermission when they discover this is really a heavily philosophical play about the horrors of war, on and off the battlefield. I guess I benefited from having no expectations, so I was able to go along for the journey to wherever the play took me – and it was a pretty wild ride.
The dialogue is highly engaging and the acting is excellent; not only by Robin Williams but by Brad Fleischer and Glenn Davis as two doomed Marines, Arian Moayed as their Arab translator (who is wrestling his own demons) and Hrach Titizian as the ghost of Uday Hussain, who honestly stole the show for me. What an excellent performance! I don’t want to get too detailed about the plot because I’m afraid of revealing events in a play that I think is best enjoyed when there is still an element discovery, but Popdose.com has a very accessible, non-spoiler review at This Link which manages to distill the plot in an intriguing fashion without giving too much away.
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is showing through July 3, 2011, (so you have just over one week to see it) at the Richard Rogers Theater, Located at 226 West 46th Street. We were able to get tickets for just $75 and you can likely find a bargain as well if you are willing to do a little Internet footwork.