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Harlem Bard, ‘Getting My Act Together,’ Crybabies: Stage

Jennifer Sanchez, Barbie, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Christina Sajous singing about marriage in
Jennifer Sanchez, Barbie, Renee Elise Goldsberry and Christina Sajous singing about marriage in "I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road." The concert performance is staged by Kathleen Marshall. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Helene Davis P.R. via Bloomberg

July 27 (Bloomberg) -- “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road” is a knockout even after 35 years of wear and tear. You only have until tomorrow night to see it at the City Center’s “Encores! Off-Center” series.

A collaboration by Gretchen Cryer (book and lyrics) and Nancy Ford (music), it’s about a cabaret singer on the cusp of 40 discovering her inner Carole King.

Heather, acted and sung with irresistible soulfulness by Renee Elise Goldsberry, chooses opening night before an audience of industry bigwigs to unveil her new, raised-consciousness material.

She has the support of her female back-up singers and male band. But when her manager (Frederick Weller) shows up and hears the songs, he freaks.

Some of you probably had at least one of the Indian bedspreads that make up most of Derek McLane’s set; ditto the costumes by Clint Ramos. Under Kathleen Marshall’s exuberant direction, the cast is wonderful.

Weller is even better, exuding bumbling cluelessness. As for Goldsberry, heretofore a mainstay of Shakespeare in the Park productions, she’s a star.

Through July 27 at City Center, 131 W. 55th St. Information: +1-212-581-1212; http://www.nycitycenter.org Rating: ****

Cry Baby

Wallace Shawn’s “The Designated Mourner,” revived at the Public, is a self-lacerating meditation on the dissolution of civilized society through the complacency of the civilized.

The production, staged by Andre Gregory with Shawn in the title role, Deborah Eisenberg as his wife and Larry Pine as his father-in-law, is beautifully and simply designed in whitewashed wood paneling by Eugene Lee.

But this irony-free play takes three-plus dreary hours to say what just about any Randy Newman song conveys in four minutes, minus the smugness that suffuses it. Mourning is an apt word; the play is deader than the elite culture it simultaneously indicts and embraces.

Through Aug. 25 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. Information: +1-212-967-7555; http://www.publictheater.org. Rating: *1/2

Harlem Bard

You don’t have to wait on line all day to see Shakespeare in the Park. Just head up to the splendid Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park for an enchanting (if abbreviated and somewhat altered) version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

There are African drums, colorful gowns, nimble dancers and one sex change -- Lysander is now Lysandra -- in Justin Emeka’s production with the Classical Theatre of Harlem.

Michael Early and Zainab Jah are well-matched as the battling Oberon and Titania. Throw in some truly unruly “Rude Mechanicals,” plus infectious choreography by Lakai Worell (kids in the audience went right up to the stage to mime the action).

Afterward, walk around the corner for an outdoor drink at Red Rooster to watch the rest of the parade passing by.

Through July 30 at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park, Mt. Morris Park West at West 122nd Street. Information: +1-347-688-6304; http://www.classicaltheatreofharlem.org. Rating: ***

Red Lights

The adventurous York Theater Company has gone all out for “Storyville,” a musical set in 1917 about the last days of New Orleans’s red light district.

The lobby hosts an exhibition of E.J. Bellocq’s transfixing photographs of prostitutes, and the design carries over into James Morgan’s amazing environmental set, cramming brothels, clubs, apartments and street life into the tiny theater.

I wish the show were up to the high expectations these accoutrements raise.

The stories include a boxer-turned-horn player out to make his mark, and the thread of corruption that leads from the white mayor and a French purveyor of dope down to the working girls dreaming of better lives.

“Storyville” has been knocking around in various productions for years, and despite the game cast, you can feel the exhaustive efforts to breathe life into Ed Bullins’s predictable book and Mildred Kayden’s generic songs.

Through Aug. 17 at the York Theatre Company at St. Peter’s Church, East 54th Street and Lexington Avenue. Information: +1-212-935-5824; http://www.yorktheatre.org. Rating: **1/2


What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include movies and New York Weekend.

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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