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Photo by Ben Strothmann

In the program notes, director and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. expressed terror in the fact that his musical revue, Starting Here, Starting Now  has become dated. The three person show, which he conceived with composer David Shire, started in 1976 at the cabaret space of the Manhattan Theatre Club. It was a huge success and was consequently staged in venues around the globe.

York Theatre is currently staging this sweet ode to relationships as the final installment of their Musicals in Mufti  series. “Muftis” are more casual performances, performed in street clothes and are mostly memorized. Due to the short rehearsal period and union rules, the cast is permitted to keep their scripts on stage, although once again, the talented trio rarely relies on them.

Cynics might argue that Maltby’s fears have been fully realized. Then again, as George Carlin once stated, “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist”. For the optimistic among us, Maltby and Shire’s work remains a timeless and relevant musical self-help session that explains how and why we fall in and out of love.

Photo by Ben Strothmann
Photo by Ben Strothmann

Krystal Joy Brown, Charlotte Maltby, and Bobby Conte Thornton comprise this trio who lead us from the caution of romance in the title song, to the self-empowering driving anthems in “Today Is First Day of the Rest of My Life” and “A New Life Coming.” In between, bittersweet reflections sprinkle the show. Maltby delivers a heartbreak ballad, “Autumn”, which conjures a constant chill since her lover has left.  “Crossword Puzzle” is Brown’s humorous take on Hecky, her ex-lover who used to be her wordsmith companion but has now left her. Trying to push past  a painful break-up, Thornton convinces himself that all of the fond memories of a past relationship never happened in “I Don’t Remember Christmas”. Thornton delivers the song  with appropriate intensity, but his acting potency in other selections is often unjustified. Brown’s clear and powerful voice shines, particularly in “What About Today” about coping with lost love. Maltby is the real stand-out here. Her angelic voice is captivating, and she really knows how to act a song.  The cast also has the privilege of being accompanied by their extradordinary musical director, Kevin Stites. Shire’s music is not for novices and Stites handles it with assured elegance.

Photo by Ben Strothmann
Photo by Ben Strothmann

Starting Here, Starting Now is the ideal show for the intimate York Theater space and it is easy to understand why so many other companies produce it.  It doesn’t propose to be anything other than joyous. Sometimes, like love, that is all we need.

Starting Here, Starting Now plays at the York Theater (619 Lexington Avenue @ 54th Street) through Sunday, March 20th. For tickets, visit:  York Theatre 

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The Last Class

Kelsea Wiggan (Megan Hill) and MJ Fray (Amy Staats) taught the last jazzercise class earlier this month at Midtown’s Theaterlab. If you missed it, you missed a fun evening of sweat and giggles. Hill and Staats presented their first 2016 production of Dodo Theater Collectives, “The Last Class: A Jazzercise Play”.

For the last 7 years, Wiggan and Fray have been the instructors of the Chikatawnee Valley Community  Center and have become so involved that jazzercise has become the sole purpose of their existence. Now, Wiggan’s high school acquaintance turned enemy plans to undermine her by replacing the class  Zumba.

Using current and former pop songs, the pair talk about jealously, sore knees, past rivals, and, in a surprisingly poignant manner, their own lives. The results are hugely entertaining. Most impressive is the fact that the two are actually working out from beginning to end. Margot Bordelon direction keeps the focus on the Hill’s smart script which balances Sarita Lou’s buoyant choreography quite well.

Photo by Reid Thompson
Photo by Reid Thompson

Wiggan and Fray asked students (who in this case appeared to be pre-picked volunteers) to sign a petition to keep the class at Chikatawnee alive.  Sadly…(spoiler alert) it falls on deaf ears and Zumba triumphs.  If there is a petition to revive this clever little show, I’ll sign it in a heartbeat.

The Last Class ran from Feb 17th– March 6th  @ TheaterLab (357 West 36th Street) For more info, visit: http://www.dodotheater.com/news/