THE THIRD STORY by Charles Busch
Directed by Carl Andress
Starring Kathleen Turner

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Sidney J. Burgoyne
Starring Mark Jacoby and Penny Fuller
White Plains Arts Center

Conceived and Directed by Bill Daugherty

by Terrence McNally
Directed by Wendy C. Goldberg
Starring Barbara Walsh
Paper Mill Playhouse

Reviewed by David Spencer

Charles Busch
’s The Third Story, presented by MCC, which just finished its run at the de Lys, was a familiar visit to his campy satirical haunts. This one was about a mother-son screenwriting team (let’s not explore it more than that), embarking on a screenplay to get themselves back into the game, one that, as it unfolds, starts to audaciously combine genres, 1950s style, so that a noir thriller folds into a science fiction scarefest which folds into a medieval enchanted forest fantasy. The authors (one of whom was played by the redoubtable Kathleen Turner!) step into various roles in their creation; among the other roles are those played by a younger man, those played by an older man, and those played by an older man playing an older woman (aka Busch in full drag, full mugging at no extra charge). It all sounds a lot more interesting and funny than it really was. And it occurs to me, that’s all I really need to say. Or want to. Sometimes life’s too short to dwell on the oblivious, I mean the obvious…


At the White Plains Performing Arts Center, there’s a lovely little production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s A Little Night Music, playing through March 22.

                  Presented in a white (as opposed to black) box set, director Sidney J. Burgoyne’s production seems a conscious paraphrase of the original Hal Prince/Patricia Birch blocking-choreography most times (when not literally, in intent), but the adjustments made for the lack of real scenery are smart and tasty ways of emphasizing the communion between audience and performance, as they enhance the engagement of the imagination in filling in the spaces.

                  All the cast are worthy successors to the Broadway originals, many themselves Broadway veterans, notables being Stephen R. Buntrock (carl-Magnus), Rachel de Benedet (Charlotte), Grey Gardens’ Erin Davie (Anne), and Eddie Egan. In the topline roles, Mark Jacoby is a stalwartly bewildered Frederick, Sheila Smith’s Madame Armfelt gets more mileage out of Liasons” than anyone in NY since Muriel Resnick at NYCO; and Penny Fuller  may be my favorite Desirée Armfelt of all time—certainly she delivers the best Send in the Clowns” I’ve ever seen: utterly unaffected, yet connected beat for beat. When it was over, the lady in my life turned to me and said, “I think that’s the first time I really understood that number.” And as well as I know it, I had to agree.


At the Triad on 72nd Street,  Brother Can You Spare a Dime is a pleasant, heartfelt revue of Depression-era songs. The vocal polish of the cast varies, but all are engaging, with standouts and audience favorites being cabaret veteran Bill Daugherty (who also directed), the ever-beautiful Deborah Tranelli representing the middle-aged and older generation of women; and a perfectly winning young soprano with a unique brand of perkiness and versatility, Jennafer Newberry.


Finally at the Paper Mill Playhouse there’s a striking new production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class. Barbara Walsh, a sophisticated and seasoned actress best known for her work in musicals rips into the (non-singing) role of opera diva to play Maria Callas near the end of her career and life, a guest artist running a conservatory master class in vocal technique. If it seems odd that, even at Paper Mill, a “non-star” should be featured in such a role, the originally announced actress, Kate Mulgrew, pulled out just prior to the start of rehearsals, and Ms. Walsh was offered the role with only about 48 hours’ notice. I do know better than to say things like, “If she wasn’t a star before…” because even in this circumstance, the luck of the draw counts for a lot. But if anybody ever wonders whether she can charismatically shoulder a role that is probably at least as demanding as Lear, and even more front and center (interestingly, I was just noticing as I flipped through books in my library recently, Herb Gardner has written roles almost as operatic and demanding—just a sidebar curiosity, now back to the point), wonder no more. Ms. Walsh holds her own with the Broadway Callases—Zoe Caldwell, Patti Lupone, Dixie Carter—making the role her own with towering, terrifying and vulnerable diva-osity. The direction by Wendy C. Goldberg is uncomplicated and clean, yet in its way as impressive for hitting all the right notes.

                  Which are also hit by the musical members of the cast: Sarah Uriarte Berry, Mike McGowan  and Lauren Worsham as the students, and Andrew Gerle (pronounced GAIR-luh, himself an award-winning musical theatre/classical composer, arranger and pianist) as the stalwart accompanist.

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