Off-Broadway Review: WHICH WAY TO THE STAGE (MCC)

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by Gregory Bernard on May 10, 2022

in Theater-New York

ANY WAY IS THE BEST WAY:
JUST FIND YOUR WAY TO WHICH WAY TO THE STAGE

Lick this play, lick its playwright Ana Nogueira, its director Mike Donahue, its cast and designers, and while you’re at it, lick MCC for this first-rate production. Ignore the Idina Menzel pre-show showtunes blasted so loudly that conversations were all but impossible, and forget that your phone won’t have enough bars to download the program via QR code at your seat. Just be ready for the freshest, funniest, most fantastic, fabulous, fast-moving, fecund, and formidable show in New York.

Sas Goldberg and Max Jenkins
Evan Todd and Sas Goldberg

Lights up on Judy (Sas Goldberg) and Jeff (Max Jenkins) waiting at the stage door at the Richard Rodgers Theater where If/Then is performing on Broadway, starring their idol and queen of musical theater, Idina Menzel. Waiting for an autograph for the umpteenth time, they get a laugh from the audience before a line of dialogue is even delivered. The first twenty minutes could easily be offered as a master class in comic performance alone. Surely Goldberg and Jenkins are lifelong friends, former college roommates, or a married couple from a past life because their timing together is flawless and laugh out loud hilarious. Mr. Jenkins is the perfect straight man — his face, not his character. Not since Jack Benny have such subtle looks achieved such highly fueled spontaneous laughter. And his equally dynamic partner Ms. Goldberg ends up with an 11 o’clock number that brings the audience to its feet — quite literally. Not a Broadway standing ovation where everyone stands to convince themselves the inflated ticket price was worth it, but rather a well-deserved, glowing ovation of joy that warms the heart.

Max Jenkins and Evan Todd

Evan Todd plays Mark, the straight man. Sort of. His white, good looks are an apparent privilege; he even states that he’s used that word to describe himself more in the last month than in his entire life. He laments, “remember when that word didn’t exist?” Additionally impressive, Michelle Veintimilla plays three roles (Actress/Bachelorette/Casting Director), and she too elicits guffaws before she even utters a word. She embodies her characters so completely that some may not realize it’s the same actress. The expertise of Enver Chakartash (costumes) and Domino Couture (hair and makeup) help immensely as they continue to do throughout with other unexpected, delightful quick changes.

Sas Goldberg and Max Jenkins

Adam Rigg’s set smoothly segues between the stage door of a Broadway theater, to the hallway outside an audition room, to a drag club, and, with the help and equally gifted collaboration of Jen Schriever and Mextly Couzin‘s lights, the play’s journey returns diligently between these locations. Just when you think you know where the play’s going, there’s a design-turn that surprises and titillates, and, along with the triple threat staging/writing/acting, pure theater magic lifts our heart and licks our face (and, yes, that’s a reference to a line of dialogue).

Max Jenkins, Evan Todd and Sas Goldberg
Max Jenkins

In lieu of the soon-to-be awards slathered on this production (if there is a theater God), the virtuosity behind all aspects is rooted in the writing. There are scenes between a gay man and his bestie girlfriend (which used to have another name but is no longer appropriate), between two heteros, between a gay and straight man, and every other combination possible. Each character speaks their truth — warts and all. By the end of the play, I had no idea if the playwright was male, female, straight or gay because every single voice sounded authentic and true. Which proves why good playwrights should be allowed to write whatever characters come from their hearts and minds — and without being accused of appropriating other people’s voices, and without hiring a multitude of writers to inspect and stamp with approval each line of dialogue. Ana Nogueira can be trusted. You will happily go along with her relevant journey of struggling, impassioned actors, jaded and opinionated, furious yet dedicated, lonely, but in love with a life in the theater. Filled with theatre in-jokes and mirth, the frustrations are complicated, true, and ultimately full of love.

Sas Goldberg and Michelle Veintimilla

photos by Daniel J Vasquez

Which Way to the Stage
Newman Mills Theater at MCC Theater, 511 W 52nd St
Tues-Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 (Sun at 7 on May 15)
ends on May 22, 2022
for tickets, visit MCC

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