kinglearThe best theatre I’ve seen lately was a rambunctious KING LEAR presented by ARTS EMERSON and SHAKEPEARE’s GLOBE ON TOUR over at the Paramount. Shakespeare’s tragedy of a father who is blind to himself and the truth about his daughters– twin vipers Goneril and Regan (wily performances by Gwendolen Chatfield and Shanaya Rafaat)– and the true blue Cordelia. Beware the bleak, black denouement filled with torture, murder, suicide and sudden death. Yes, “Lear” spells fun– or at least this production makes it almost so. It takes off like an anglo saxon hootenanny on a rough-hewn set configured for outdoors; thus, we’re informed that the lights will be kept on in the audience and we can react like groundlings or royals, depending on our mood.

The actors are in extraordinarily nimble possession of the bard’s meter and hold forth at a hectic pace, often doubling in parts– the excellent Bethan Cullinane as Cordelia also plays the equally astute Fool.  We get to enjoy the gorgeous and versatile Alex Mugnaioni in three roles, and the fine John Stahl is another triple threat. The doubling and tripling of roles in the same scene sometimes leads to humorous byplay as we hang on for dear life to the text and who’s who. All of which brings me to JOSEPH MARCELL as the tragic King–best known in real life as the butler on TV’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”! Who knew he was sitting on a pile of technique and angst to spare. His cocky, bandy-legged, quick-tempered, short-sighted King is all too human and his suffering palpable. He may not hit the depths– the production keeps us moving rather than wallowing– and there’s always a song and a dance not too far away. The idea is that they are all just putting on a show– and that is how we make it through the darkest of times, or so we hope. Only  through 10/23 at The Paramount.

Web_308_AssassinsASSASSINS  boasts a first-rate cast and second-rate Stephen Sondheim. Now onstage at NEW REP THEATRE, ASSASSINS  tells the disparate tales of those who would kill US Presidents. That said, it didn’t hit the mark.  Instead of the diabolically beautiful melodies we’ve come to expect from the sonorously gifted Sondheim, we get a bland ragtimey  score, and shallow insight into the twisted psyches lurking beneath the violent facades of these various nut jobs. The staging is engaging, but the characters are raging– lunatics, who defy this attempt to harness them to a musical, and locate a common thread linking their misguided efforts.There is ONE very powerful scene at the end  that gun lobbyists should look out for: the cast is lined up and armed– with the audience in its sights. If only the whole show had taken such powerful aim. Through 10/26 at NEW REP.

AIDA which just kicked off Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s season in residence at  the Strand Theatre –is one of the worst musicals ever conceived: ancient Egypt meets Las Vegas by way of Elton John and Tim Rice. How could the team responsible for THE LION KING turn out this silly soap opera? And how could  Fiddlehead who did such a marvelous job on RAGTIME so miscalculate here? Certainly, this WEB Aida and Radames 41-14jpg.img_assist_custom-300x390material lives in a much lesser universe far, far away. But everything about the production with the notable exception of its leading lady Ta’nika Gibson in the title role, leaves one wanting.  Gibson retains her dignity and grace as the captured Nubian princess throughout, despite less than zero chemistry with Gene Dante, miscast in the male lead as Radames, the conquering hero.  His go-to reaction onstage is hands on hips, pouting, through too much mascara. Janett Bass as Nehebka has a strong voice, as does Christiana Rodi as Amneris the Egyptian princess who’s left to deliver cringe-worthy quips about the thread count of Egyptian cotton, etc. The dancers are out of sync, the costumes have the tacky gleam of synthetic fiber, the insubstantial sets lack depth and perspective, including miniature pyramids and palm trees– like cardboard jokes from the movie THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Through 10/26 at the Strand.