Last night I saw a Monday (holiday) performance of _Equus_ at the Broadhurst Theatre. The full house flew in the face of (very real) reports of Broadway’s economic troubles. Throngs of awkward, star struck, post-pubescent girls (and a few boys,) clutched programs and $35 commemorative t-shirts in wild anticipation of seeing Harry Potter in person. I clutched an adult beverage in anticipation of sitting in the dark with a squealing, giggling, inappropriate audience. I could have saved $10 and skipped the drink. For 2 1/2 hours you could have heard a pin drop. There was no embarrassing applause upon Daniel Radcliffe’s stage entrance. (This bizarre ovation phenomenon has become almost normative in this celebrity casting environment, and still reminds me of a Carol Burnett sketch.) Last night’s audience, which sadly can only be called “the new Trekkies” were throughly engrossed and respectful. Not one candy rustle or cell phone buzz, they could teach a thing or two to the opera crowd.
Now about the play. Directed by Thea Sharrock and written (1973) by Peter Shaffer, the revival stars the aforementioned Mr. Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths. Much has been written about the darkness and disturbing nature of this play. I did not find it to be so. Keeping in mind that I loved Pillowman and found Lieutenant of Inishmore to be a comedy, Equus did not strike me as terribly disturbing. To be frank, it didn’t strike me as terribly compelling either. The direction is beautiful, the staging impeccable, and the acting above average. Daniel Radcliffe is superb, truly. Kate Mulgrew (as Hesther) is electrifying, and the stage came alive every time she appeared. I realize I am in the minority, but I do not find great appeal in Richard Griffiths. I had tried to attributed some of that sentiment to the character he played in _History Boys_, but _Equus_ put an end to that. For such a large man, he does not have a great deal of stage presence. I couldn’t help but think what Brian Dennehy could do in the role of the psychiatrist. Granted, the character of the doctor is that of a man experiencing impotence, but I could not pick up on anything below the surface. There is one scene in which Mr. Griffiths explains the irony of his profession in which he becomes interesting. This scene (in Act II) only made me long for more. Carolyn McCormick, a pleasing actress, seems a tad miscast in this production. The role of the mentally disturbed boy’s mother is rich with pathos, narcissism and religious fervor. One needed to take notes of the dialogue to pick up on these characteristics. A more layered actress (Margaret Colin?) would have been a better choice. Anna Camp (The Country Girl) was brilliant as the troubled boy’s friend. She /was/ the character. The only distraction was her nudity. Without getting into graphic details, this play takes place in 1973, and certain grooming habits were not in vogue then.
Speaking of nudity, it was excruciatingly tasteful and beautifully directed. There was nothing gratuitous or salacious about it, in fact the only dramatic incongruity was the bouncer that appeared by our seats a second before the disrobing. I do hope that a camera has never actually been confiscated. The only staging/directing choice that seemed less than intuitive, was the placing of audience members on the stage. While dramatically, this device is effective in _Copenhagen_ and _Spring Awakening_, it served no purpose here. It wasn’t necessarily distracting to see teenagers hanging over the rafters to catch a glimpse of their Harry, but it was strange. I have struggled with the ambiguity I felt about this play. In the end I am left with the fact that there simply isn’t sufficient dramatic tension. I found it interesting that a play that centers on an adolescent channeling his sexual desires to non-humans captivated “the new Trekkies,” which explains their rapt attention even when their Mr. Radcliffe was not on stage. But I found the script to be bloated and redundant. It is never a good sign when I am 20 feet from a stage and thinking about my grocery list.
Pal Joey – November 2008
This holiday weekend, I could be spotted at Studio 54. Although Liza is in town, and one shoulder dresses are back in style (shudder,) I was not discothequeing, but enduring; Pal Joey. Directed by Joe Mantello and produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company, I had high hopes. As you might have heard, the lead (Joey) was injured last week and replaced (presumably permanently) by the understudy, Matthew Risch. Stockard Channing plays Vera, the Chicago socialite, and Martha Plimpton plays Gladys, the seen it all Chorus Girl.
The set is incredibly lavish and lush, and the costumes are simply gorgeous. The attention to detail and the voluptuous aesthetic was utterly incongruous to the rest of the production. The band was placed in the box seats and amplified. The amplification was either mixed with recorded music or just done very poorly. There were speakers placed almost randomly, which only added to the sound distortion. I am sure it was difficult to transform a nightclub into a legitimate theatre, but the sound quality in Three Penny Opera and Sunday in the Park with George was far better then Pal Joey.
Martha Plimpton is simply fabulous as Gladys. She is not a dancer, but compensates wonderfully by owning the stage and her character. Plimpton surprised me by being a strong vocalist. She delivers a pitch perfect performance and deserves a better production.
Mr. Risch is technically good. He is a fine singer and adequate dancer, but he simply lacks the charisma and acting chops to give Joey any dimension whatsoever. Frankly, he’s boring. There’s an odd bit of extra casting that causes more than one laugh line to be lost. Joey is supposedly flirting (with full throttle innuendo) with a chorus girl. The chorus girl is simply not built for the part. She should have been padded (in the girl places) to evoke the burlesque response that the play calls for.
Then there is Miss Channing. I have been a Stockard Channing fan since the late 1970s. She is a fine actress. While the Norma Desmond qualities of Vera are duly served by Miss Channing, the singing and (limited) dancing are not. The singing reminded me of Lauren Bacall in Applause, or Katherine Hepbun in Coco. When Miss Channing was paired (in duet) with the lovely Jenny Fellner (Linda) we were reminded of the power of a good singer. A good singer can carry anyone, regardless of vocal quality, in song. But when Stockard is left alone, it is not enjoyable. She does a passable talk/singing of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, but Rogers and Hart fans deserve more.
The second act is much better than the first, as Joey and Vera are on stage less. The first act suffers from the casting and the timing. I spent the first 45 minutes feeling as if a community theatre company had stumbled onto a Broadway stage.
Opening night has been pushed back until December 11th, maybe they can make it work. It is the magical season!
Doctor Atomic - November 2008
I am about to engage in a little bait and switch. Technically this is not a theatre review in that it is about opera of which I am woefully ill informed* and wouldn’t even attempt to “review.” Therefore this is an Opera Recommendation
I had the opportunity to see a matinée of Dr. Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera. It was a full-house with every standing room spot taken (and protected like a beach blanket claim on the Jersey Shore.) Dr. Atomic is a new opera from San Fransisco written by John Adams. It takes place in Los Alamos New Mexico during the days leading up to the first testing of the first atomic bomb.
The opera is in English and is modern in every sense of the word. The “music” is almost recitative versus melodic. You will not leave the opera house humming, nor will Bugs Bunny or Side Show Bob be doing any interpretations. There are no duets, but rather conversations; real conversations. The libretto is lifted from actual dialogues between Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller with some references to the Bhagavad Gita and Baudelaire thrown in for good measure.
The technical aspects of this production are simply brilliant. The use of sound (both live and yes, recorded) is very powerful. It is not surprising that such creativity is employed to recreate the detonation, but it is undoubtedly refreshing to have the entire production pitched to a new technical level. The instruments are used extremely effectively to evoke very powerful feeling. While this concept is not a new one in opera, it is reinvented in Dr. Atomic to feel fresh and very relevant. The visuals that are used are perhaps even more stunning. The set, projections, and even sculpture are so powerful. So much so, that in the two scenes that occur in a rather undressed bedroom, this viewer found herself restless.
Pre-curtain, the periodic table is superimposed on the scrim. The curtain lifts to reveal 3 horizontal rows of 14 boxes each. Each box has a window shade that reveals about a foot of what is held in each box. Downstage, military personnel flank Oppenheimer and Tell at work and discussing Tell’s disdain for meetings. Slowly we realize that the 42 boxes hold scientists hard at work on the bomb. Their government identification cards are projected onto the window shades. The scientist, lead characters, military personnel and native Americans made up an extraordinary cast that works seamlessly with the very powerful visuals. The story is moving and the morality issues linger profoundly. In every sense this opera was much more theatre than opera. I was much more reminded of the play Copenhagen (London, 1998) than Madama Butterfly.
This would be a fabulous production for the opera phobic/bored/intolerant/confused. See it as you would a new play of the highest production value.
*Please note that I am currently taking a course (Opera Boot Camp,) but except for the acquisition of my Maria Callas lunch box (oh for the love of G-D would someone please get that joke!) I don’t think we need worry about me becoming an actual buff.
On The Town – November 2008
Let us take a moment and thank the musical theatre deities for City Center Encores. The Encores series brings classic and (sometimes) forgotten musicals to the stage. The 2008-2009 opened with the perfect New York musical. _On The Town_ is City Center’s 45^th Encores presentation. What started as a staged concert series has grown increasingly rehearsed and produced (in the very best sense.) Nowhere is this more evident in the gorgeous Jerome Robbins ballets of Encores’ _On The Town_. Three of Mr. Robbins ballets have been restored and perfectly staged by Warren Carlyle. The ballets, the music (Leonard Bernstein) and the book (Betty Comden and Adolph Green) simply cannot be beat. It is a funny, beautiful and poignant show, with endless toe tapping and heart wrenching songs. The Encores orchestra (Todd Ellison, director) is fabulous and dead center in the staging.
The stage is split into three horizontal portions, reserving the middle portion for the orchestra. Upstage is elevated and primarily used for the ballets and street scenes. Most of the dramatic interactions happen downstage (in a slightly too small space.) The unusual staging works very well in transmitting the energy and labyrinth of New York City. Having the orchestra closer and on stage is fabulous, however a tiny tweaking is necessary for some of the minor character’s dialogues (they are not miked.) The costumes are perfect; sailor suits, evening clothes, and highly coveted (by me) 1940’s dresses.
But the real story is the cast. Oh what a find these people were. There are some recognizable people (Andrea Martin, Tony Yazbeck [Tulsa: Gypsy]) but by and large, this fabulous cast are unknown working actors. Leslie Kritzer as Hildy Esterhazy (the role originated by Nancy Walker) is a dream. Miss Kritzer was born for this role. Her “Come Up To My Place” is out of this world. Imagine my absolute shock when I realized that Miss Kritzer was previously known to me as Janey in _A Catered Affair_. (See the prior review at BrendaTobias.com to experience that particular horror.) Miss Kritzer’s Hildy proves the powers of a stellar casting director. (There are no bad actors, just bad parts? Nah)
Gabey is delicious, and was also delectable as Tulsa. But as Gaby he has much more depth and breadth of character. While not a ballet dancer, he definitely holds his own in the Times Square Ballet. His voice is beautiful and gentle, but it is his acting that is the backbone of his entire performance. A good dancer, and a good singer, he is able to project a great performance through his very skilled acting. The audience is rooting for Gaby from the get go.
Andrea Martin. What can one really say about this truly gifted comedienne? She is a petite gem, a morsel of magic. I am still scratching my head over how she managed to be so campy yet utterly convincing as Madame Dilly. How could she be so entirely in character and be up to her eyeballs in physicality and still be on book?! What kind of left brain/right brain feat is that? While I did not see her Golde in Fiddler on the Roof, I have a difficult time picturing Miss Martin not being perfect.
While the entire cast is ravishing, and having such a fabulous time, it’s really about the show. Bernstein, Robbins, Comden and Green; Need I say more? Encores have a very limited run. Tragically limited to five performances. If you can, do see this show!
“Just when the fun is starting, comes the time for parting”
A Man For All Seasons & All My Sons – October 2008
I bookended my weekend with vastly different revivals with topical political themes. The Roundabout Theatre presents _A Man for All Seasons_, and a whole bunch of producers present _All My Sons_. That crass sentence sums up the origin of the results. In my humble and uninformed opinion, a company production allows for far more artistic integrity than a large group of producers pressuring for a profit.
Frank Langella stars in _A Man for All Seasons_ joined by a very dynamic and magnetic cast. King Henry VIII is so playful and vivacious that I was pleased to learn that Patrick Page’s credits include; The Grinch, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Wonderful bit of casting. Quite frankly, the entire cast is stellar. The women (Alice and Margaret More) are not particularly mesmerizing, but this really is a man’s play. The staging and direction is pitch perfect. Doug Hughes (Tony: Doubt) is confident in the material and his actors. The use of space and lighting are so proficient that it was with surprise that I realized the set never actually changed. A sliding panel or two and some furniture shifting was all it took to create very dramatically different spaces. The water effect was astounding. A change in lighting and a subtle background sound and we were on the shore. The original music is fabulous, and moves the story forward. Every move, light and nuance is employed to serve the play. This play tells the tale of Sir Thomas More, a man of conscience, and his stand against a corrupt regime. There is no denying why this particular play was mounted at this particular moment. However it is mostly left to the audience to ponder that significance. There is a small note in the Playbill that reminds us that the play deals with a time “less fastidious than our own. Imprisonment without trial, and even examination under torture, were common practice.”
If the production of _A Man for All Seasons_ has the subtlety and grace of old money, the production of _All My Sons_ has the aplomb of a lottery winner. Simon McBurney directs this revival of Arthur Miller’s tale of the American Dream seen through the lens of war. A cocktail of Arthur Miller mixed with John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest, should be lethally intoxicating. However there is so much distraction in this production that I was left with a headache and no buzz to speak of. McBurney does use one device that I applaud. He opens the play with the house lights on, and the entire cast walking onto the stage. John Lithgow introduces the play (in an Our Town tone) to the audience. This gimmick does wonders for an audience that came to see a tabloid star (Katie Holmes.) It is an effective message: This is a play, and these are actors. But that is the last effective gimmick. The set is a piece of astroturf that covers approximately half of the stage. The actors sit “off-stage” on-stage. There are black steps that lead off of the astosturf and the screen door upstage. When an actor reaches the end of the black step they stop acting and return to their chair. The sound effects are deafening and disorienting and the use of video must be stopped. There is no reason in the world to project World War II footage. No reason at all. The final video moved me to violent thoughts. The play ends and we are treated to a blurry video of modern people (of all shades) walking in a huge crowd. Get it? We are all complicit in the evils of war. Stripped of all these immature devices, this production would have a chance. It is a very good play, and somewhere under all that nonsense is a very fine cast. There is still time, the play doesn’t open until October 23rd. Now what to do about Katie. Poor screaming Katie. If she keeps screaming on the top of her throat for 8 shows a week, she will not make it to October 23rd. I needn’t point out that Mr. Hughes’ shenanigans with Mr. Miller’s play are on equal footing of disrespect as casting Ms. Holmes along side such tremendous stage talent. In her defense, as long as she keeps screaming, she doesn’t stand a chance of playing this part. I strongly suggest that Ms. Holmes be miked. I abhor microphones on stage, particularly in dramas, bu this is an emergency. An excellent sound engineer and a discreet body mike may allow for her to float under the radar. There is not enough time to create a stage actress, but there is time to mitigate the embarrassment. I am assuming that teaching her to project is out of the question. I assume this based upon the ginsu knife diction she employs. Someone obviously has worked very hard as her vocal coach. Her character, Ann, is such a pivotal role. Ann conveys so many emotional secrets and explanations. Enormous amounts of information are lost in this production. This Ann is so concerned with being heard and hitting every last mark that we have no idea what she actually knows. The supporting cast, particularly Danielle Ferland, is delightful. John Lithgow is a quintessential Arthur Miller leading man. He is wonderful in this role and will be nominated for a Tony. Dianne Wiest is not well served by this director. There is too much extraneous noise to truly appreciate her quiet brilliance.
In the end, these are two solid 60 year old plays about the measure of a man. That is where the similarities end. Recently someone asked me; “How do you recognize good or bad direction?” See these two plays in the same weekend. That is how.
Irena’s Vow – October 2008
Let me begin with full disclosure; I love Tovah Feldshuh. I have loved her since my tortured junior high school days. I would love her in a box, I would love her in her socks. I just love her.
Saturday night I saw her in _Irena’s Vow_ at the Baruch Performing Arts Center (of all places.) The play, written by Dan Gordon, is based upon the true story of a very righteous gentile. Irena, a Polish Catholic young woman, hid 13 jews during the Nazi invasion. Where she hid them and how is astounding. While the story is compelling, it is not easy to create powerful art with a Holocaust narrative. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I believe it’s true. Our society is at an age of Holocaust fatigue. It is disturbing to consider this, but it is a reality. There are beautiful works of powerful drama that have been created in the past (The Puppetmaster of Lodz comes to mind) but not many modern playwrights venture into this narrative. Mr. Gordon has a lot of experience adapting films to the stage, and that skill set is apparent in _Irena’s Vow_. With the exception of just two moments, the play works.
The performance opens with Irena (Tovah) talking to us (the audience) as “dear children.” It is at that moment that we understand why on earth we are sitting in a college theatre! The play opens and closes with the premise of a high school assembly. The premise quickly fades into the play (as a telling of Irena’s story.) This device differs dramatically from the recent production of Thurgood. That play was one continuous lecture. The vast majority of this play is a flashback, interspersed with Irena breaking the chronological wall to add commentary. The entire structure of the play is flawless. There are only two adjustments that should be made. One is during a sexual proposition. We are too engrossed in the drama to instantly recall that the character should be 20 not 50, and the partnering looks too natural, rather than how obscene it was in real life. This incongruency could be corrected with a line by Irena about her “first time,” reminding us of her actual age at this juncture. The other adjustment I would make is during the climax of the play. It could have been handled less “Lifetime Movie” and more sophisticated drama. I won’t spoil the Lindsay Wagner/Valerie Bertinelli moment for you by describing the easy fix of the scene.
The direction of this production (Michael Parva) is exactly on point. The staging and the performances are wonderfully balanced. The design (set, lighting, costume) are incredibly effective. And then there are the performances.
I don’t know whether it is The Directors Company or Invictus Theater Company that created this ensemble. Whomever is responsible should be lauded. It would have been very easy to make this play into a star vehicle. Tovah has proved without a doubt that she can tear the house down with a one-woman show (_Golda’s Balcony_.) The cast, none of whom I had heard of, is perfect.
_Irena’s Vow_ is a compelling story that feels very very current. While I will not deem it as dramatically complete as _Golda’s Balcony_ I will say that it was a satisfying theatrical experience. I don’t believe it has the legs to move to Broadway. It is too specific, and just short of being intellectually challenging. But it is wonderful, Tovah is glorious, and it will make you consider (or reconsider) the nature of humans and particularly, of religion.
The Tempest – September 2008
This review comes with a black box warning: _The Reviewer knows nothing about this play_.
Now, with clear conscience I can tell you about The Tempest at The Classic Stage Company. It’s unforgivable that I know nothing of this play, but that isn’t going to preclude me from declaring it an excellent production.
Mandy Patinkin, and Angel Desai (Company), are magnificent in this ingeniously staged production. The theatre is black box and of a certain age and could easily be a limiting and depressing place. Brain Kulick directs this Tempest brilliantly. The space is used in wonderful and delightful ways. The choreography is impressive, especially as the audience is practically on the stage throughout. It is a somewhat prop intensive production, and I can only imagine that the stage managers breathe a heavy sigh of relief at every curtain.
There is music, and we were treated to Mandy and Angel, un-mic’d from 4 feet away. Wonderful. Magical. Mandy and Angel do a beautiful job of reigning it in ever so slightly. It is a small and intimate space and one does need to be careful.
Tony Torn (of Rip and Geraldine Page lineage) and Steven Rattazzi are delicious and completely over the top as Trinculo and Stefano. Craig Baldwin and Stark Sands as Sebastian and Ferdinand are very enjoyable. The only blip in the otherwise solid cast is Elisabeth Waterston. I felt for Mandy as he valiantly played off of someone whose entire acting range consisted of speeding up or slowing down her words. Touching her stomach seemed to be how she indicated emotional depth. Having sat through Long Night’s Journey Into Play (at The Syracuse Stage) with James Waterston I can safely say; “I love ya Sam, but give your kids a trust fund and stop inflicting them on me.”
Sam’s progeny and the modern theatre goer’s manners aside (feet and take-out coffee cups on the stage, reading – in the first row! – during monologues…) I can honestly say that this Tempest is fabulous. If you can get to it before October 12th, do so.
Damn Yankees – July 2008
I dreamed last night (not that I got on a boat to heaven, but…) that I led a large group of work colleagues in a chorus of “You Gotta Have Heart.” I woke up this morning wondering if in fact I really did know how to harmonize and thinking “phew, that’s a show that lingers!”
Damn Yankees is playing a very limited run at New York City Center. I am (as you may have inferred by now) a huge fan of the Encore series at City Center. The summer Encore productions are rehearsed for longer periods of time and are completely off book. Last summer we had Gypsy and this summer it’s Damn Yankees.
I had forgotten just how many incredibly fun songs there are in this show! As usual the production was finely tuned and beautifully staged and the orchestra was fabulous. The cast was interesting.
Sean Hayes has the potential for theatrical greatness. It is so within his grasp. Mr. Hayes’ talent is so deep and wide yet his attention span is so brief. With some rigorous training he could take the theatre world by storm. For the entire first act he is focussed and reigned in, giving a superb performance. By Act II, his attention has wavered and he resorts to comedic tics. Even at his laziest he is still very good. It is during his rendition of Those Were The Good Old Days in Act II, that it is clear he is a force even as his attention wavers. Mr. Hayes plays the piano impeccably, accompanying himself. This multi-tasking substitutes for the swift kick in the pants he is begging for. Rigorous acting training can make a mediocre talent employable and make a superb talent ruler of all he surveys.
P.J. Benjamin plays the elder Joe Boyd. His performance is far too brief, but beautifully heartbreaking. There are several smaller characters that are simply delicious as well.
Jane Krakowski plays Lola and is woefully miscast. What little dancing is in this show is mostly performed by the non-dancer Krakowski. No doubt she is a talented television actress and was cast with Mr. Hayes to woo the t.v. fan base, but she is no Lola. This part demands a seductive, lithe woman. Ms. Krakowski is very cute and has a good singing voice, but relies upon her hair to fulfill the physicality of this role.
Damn Yankees is a true ensemble musical. The ball team is wonderful as is the rest of the cast. If you can, see this. You will be humming or dreaming it for days to come.
Port Authority – June 2008
Do you think when my mother agonized about my susceptibility to Irish lyricism it was Connor McPherson that she feared? I doubt it. He was still learning to read when I succumbed to my first Gaelic siren song. But after seeing Port Authority this weekend I feel confident in suggesting my mother lights a candle. This man has a deeply religious attachment and respect for language as well as, place. Two years ago I was so taken with the language of his Lieutenant of Inishmore that I had to read it; twice.
It is fitting that Port Authority is being presented by and at the Atlantic Theatre Company (co-founded by David Mamet.) This one-act play is essentially a series of monologues by three men at three classic stages of life. The young man is played by John Gallagher, Jr. who won a Tony for Spring Awakening (an Atlantic Theatre production) and was the only shining spot in the Movie of the Week on Quaaludes known as Rabbit Hole. The middle-aged man is played by Brian D’Arcy James who I saw being tortured in Lieutenant of Inishmore. The older man is played by Tony award winner (Seafarer) Jim Norton, or as he shall be known here; the physical chameleon. His physical transformations for character, rivals De’adre Aziza’s in Passing Strange.
These brilliant actors tell their stories of transformation and stagnation in 90 minutes. The set consists of a bench and three fluorescent lights. There are no costume changes, minimal sound design and excellent lighting. It is a theatre lovers dream. The purity of the staging is perfect for the richness of language and story.
I would like to think that this production will move to Broadway, but I am not certain. I feel more optimistic after this year of quieter and smaller productions which have managed to thrive, that excellent drama can find an audience on Broadway. However, I am not certain if this very small production can make the leap with out a television or movie personality, and then it wouldn’t be worth the ticket price.
See this down on 20th Street if you can. It is satisfying and it lingers.
The Country Girl – May 2008
I seem to be on some sort of delicious retro-journey of late. This weekend found me at The Country Girl at the Jacobs Theatre. This quiet Clifford Odets backstage drama takes place in 1950 and feels it. It took a momentary adjustment to fold into the rhythm and dramatic subtlety of this play. The true joy of this production is the time travel, not on stage, but in the audience. I was brought back to a time when entertainment came into my home in black and white, and I never longed for a faster less mobile way in which to change the channel. Not unlike an island vacation, the acclimation leads to transcendence.
Mike Nichols directs the very fine Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand and Peter Gallagher. Their characters shine through (for better or worse) without gimmick or fanfare. Mr. Freeman is playing a character completely different than his recent spate of cinematic type-casting. There is no melodic voice-over, or twinkling sage advice. There is a frightened but richly talented 71 year old man standing before the audience in his underwear. A metaphor, and a beacon of hope for an aging population!
Frances McDormand plays his wife with intelligence and gracefulness and Peter Gallagher adds a fabulous counterpoint of strength.
There is one rather odd device that I haven’t deciphered yet. Nichols uses a moving curtain (not the actual stage curtain) in between the scenes (five in the first Act and 3 in the second Act.) This causes a very unnecessary and distracting disruption in the story. The audience quickly took to talking during the set changes which only added to the “commercial-break” quality of it all. A revolving set would have been a much more fluid choice.
There is a joy to be found from these older character driven plays. Not simply the joy derived from a well crafted script and fine performances, but the joy that comes from not having ones senses overloaded or underestimated.
Greetings from the past; where I’ve been living for the past few days. Everything old is new again, or at least new to me.
No No Nanette – May 2008
The fabulous City Center Encores, which has delighted this reviewer with recent productions of Gypsy and Follies, has brought back No No Nanette. The original production opened in 1925 and was reworked in 1971. The City Center staged version is a revival of the 1971 production. These details are somewhat lost on me, as I’ve never seen any production of No No Nanette before. Last night I saw the dress rehearsal of this limited engagement.
One word sums up this version; lush. It is gorgeous. Visually striking, in design and costuming, stunning dance, voice and music. There are twin pianos in this orchestra (as the score demands) and the staging of the orchestra is even historically accurate (at least according to films I’ve seen of the 1920s.)
City Center Encores continues to raise the bar on staged concerts. The dances were fully choreographed and performed, and everyone was off book Gone are the days of standing in front of a microphone. The books the cast offhandedly carried were more accessory than reference.
The cast is full of surprises. Beth Leaval (Drowsy Chaperone) is not one of them. I expected perfection and I got it. I was not prepared to fall under the powerful spell of Sandy Duncan however. While standing ovations are ubiquitous these days, show stoppers are not. And for good reason. Standing ovations are the theatrical equivalent of “my child is a middle school honor student”; meaningless praise. A show stopper on the other hand, demands that the audience can actually discern rarity. There must be collective agreement that something wondrous just happened. In this case, the wonder, is 62 year old Sandy Duncan, tap dancing her heart out with out breaking a sweat. Graceful, dynamic and 100% show biz. She lit up the stage and stopped the show. Later in the third act she fell (if you blinked you would have missed it) popped back up falling precisely back into step with the chorus line, looked at the audience and said “it is a dress”
Delightful surprise number 2; Rosie O’Donnell. I suspect that I am not alone in predicting that there would be the silent equivalent of the groan that was heard in theatres across the nation during the opening credits of Silkwood and the name “Cher.” If I’m right, we’re all doing the mea culpa we were doing after the closing credits of Silkwood. I credit director Walter Bobbie for the even tones of Rosie and her cast mates. She was very appropriately funny, pitch perfect in tone (no she didn’t sing) and hoofed like a trooper. I’m sorry I ever doubted you Rosie. Unlike the recent staging of Applause, which is also from the 1970s, there is nothing dated or cringe inducing about this production. I truly felt as if I had slipped into the 1920s somehow. It was beautiful.
I had the opportunity to step back in time for a musical cabaret at the Museum of the City of New York. Not surprisingly the topic was New York Stories. Four singers, including the wonderful Angel Desai (Company) were accompanied by piano as they made their way through Gershwin, Porter, Cohan, Rogers, Sondheim and more. Beautiful classics performed in an intimate tucked away setting. Patricia Birch joined the singers for some story sharing. Ms. Birch has choreographed just about everything under the sun, but what had me at the edge of my seat was the fact that she was Anybodys. How delicious to hear her tell of working with Jerome Robbins and the brutality of the dance “Cool.” The drugstore set where Cool is performed included an upstage table and chairs. There was an understanding with the stage manager that if a dancer was feeling under the weather he or she (mostly “he” as this was a Jets song) could sit the second part of the dance out. Towards the end of the run of the show, competition got brutal for those coveted chairs.
Film of that dance, that confirms just how brutal it really was, is on display as part of The New York Public Library of Performing Arts Jerome Robbins exhibit. This exhibit is only on until mid-June and is a must see for musical theatre fans. Mr. Robbins was a consummate collector/hoarder and left all of his work related papers, photographs, etc. to the Dance division of the library. It is a beautiful exhibit augmented by rare footage curated from the Performing Arts library. There is a priceless 1989 video of Adolph Green, Betty Comden and Nancy Walker performing “Ya Got Me.” Apparently Mr. Robbins could not remember a lot of the original choreography for his pieces when putting together Jerome Robbins Broadway, (which incidentally I had the very good fortune of seeing) he therefore asked former collaborators to come in and remember the numbers. Luckily for us Mr. Robbins was also a consummate documenter There is also a short but brilliant film of one of his last dances. If I’m not mistaken it takes place on the abandoned west side train trestle (that man did love the west side!) It is classic Robbins in its beauty, naturalness and filming style. I found this exhibit to be stunning and bittersweet as it reminded me of a time of artistic excess in NYC.
Thurgood Marshall – April 2008
I just love the Booth Theatre, I saw I’m Not Rappaport (with Jack Klugman) there a million years ago and Pillowman recently. This weekend I saw Thurgood Marshall with Laurence Fishburne. Now Cowboy Curtis (Peewee’s Playhouse) is no Quincy, but he is delightfully watchable. (The reader will please note that I was undoubtedly the only teenage girl that had a photo of Jack Klugman on her mirror, and currently have a song of his on my iPod….yes, a song.)
But I digress. Laurence Fishburne is a charismatic physical presence and fills the sparsely decorated stage well. Leonard Foglia directed this one man show with an eye towards utilizing the space. The play, written by George Stevens Jr., is not exactly a play. It is an informative “last lecture” given by the justice to us, the audience. The houselights indicate that we (unpaid extras) are on stage as it were. Fishburne addresses the audience directly several times. This device is not nearly as annoying as it sounds. What is irksome is what can only be described as laziness on the writer’s part. There is no dramatic tension at all, and dialogue is lifted verbatim from court transcripts and Langston Hughes’ poems (which at least is more interesting than transcripts.) Thurgood Marshall’s story is engaging and could probably be theatrical, but not in the hands of Mr. Stevens.
The audio (which was annoying) seemed to be for the benefit of Mr. Fishburne. 90-minutes monologues sometimes need a few cues. The video backdrop did add something, but I am beginning to feel as if the theatre has entered the powerpoint zone. Just because the technology is there, doesn’t mean we have to use it.
On the plus side…the audience was a beautiful reflection of Brown vs. Board of Ed. I haven’t been in such an integrated theatre since my high school days. It was uplifting and reminded me of a world view that I wish I still had .
I get no pleasure however in telling you that Mr. Fishburne deserved better than this. During his curtain call, he introduced his father (in the balcony.) That was the only moment tinged with drama that night. This is the second PeeWee alumnus (S. Epatha Merkerson was the first) to be shortchanged on Broadway this year.
Macbeth – April 2008
What did you do to celebrate Tartan Day on Saturday? I spent it inside the beautiful and brilliantly designed Lyceum Theatre seeing Macbeth.
Set during World War II, somewhere Russian, this is a spectacular interpretation by Rupert Goold. The staging, particularly the use of space and sound and light, is awe inspiring. The large touches were no more impressive than the very small touches. The set is immobile (except for the elevator) and dramatic changes are made to the space with very simple moving props. I have never seen a refrigerator used so creatively. I could go on endlessly about the staging but fear it might diminish the glory of the acting.
Much will be written about Stewart’s Macbeth, and deservedly so. I will instead focus on Seyton and Lady Macbeth. Please tell me that you are scratching your head and saying; “Seyton? Was that one of the kids?” He is a porter, a relatively small part, but oh, Michael Feast is a tour de force. I could not take my eyes off of him and can only guess as to how the director reins him in Kate Fleetwood’s Macbeth is physically beautiful. She transforms herself almost beyond recognition for her breakdown. Her power and grace were so convincing and her interpretation so very modern. You know this wife, you’ve sat next to her somewhere.
Now we absolutely must discuss the witches. Brilliant. I don’t know about you, but the witches can sometimes feel like the Save the Soul band in Guys and Dolls. I kind of inwardly groan when they come on stage AGAIN. Not these witches. I was so enamored with them that I started hoping for a “Witches: The Sequel” I can almost guarantee that you will never hear me say this again; but HURRAH for microphones!!! This was the best (and only as far as I am concerned) use of body mikes. Only the witches were plugged in and their voices manipulated into an audio horror show. Their first appearance was shocking and frightening even for those fully prepared.
There is much use of music in this production. I swear the witches were actually rapping at one point. For purists, this production might need to be dubbed; “Macbeth, the musical”. But I felt it was brilliant top to bottom.
I can not promise you that you will hear bagpipes (TWICE) coming from 6th Avenue during the play as we did, but I do promise you an extraordinary theatrical experience.
A Catered Affair – April 2008
A Catered Affair is a new musical by Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino, directed by John (Sweeney Todd, Company) Doyle, starring Harvey, Faith Prince and Tom Woppat.
A good start right?
Oy gevult (sometimes only Yiddish will do)
I’m not sure what exactly Harvey wrote. As far as I could tell the dialogue was lifted directly from the 1956 Bette Davis movie. Mr. Bucchino (music and lyrics) has an operatic background and almost all of the “songs” were talk-singing.
I knew we were in trouble when in the first 5 minutes, the set moved more than the story ever would. Faith managed to squeeze a moment or two out of the very flat music and dialogue, bless her heart. Tom Woppat also valiantly managed to be heartbreaking. But oh what we had to slog through to get there.
Besides the shabby script and non-toe-tapping score, almost everything else was awful too. Believe me, this is more depressing to write than to read. You didn’t buy the tickets!
The use of projected imagery is absurd and awkward. The microphones are so distorting I didn’t know who was speaking half the time. And Harvey. Dear misguided Harvey. Why would you cast yourself as an Irish man???? And why, for the love of all that’s decent, would you pepper pro-homosexual rhetoric and cringe inducing gay cliches into a 1956 Bronx working class play? Why??? You know better than that. Iit was cheap and exploitive
There are one or two very true moments in this play, but not nearly enough to salvage it before opening night. I was struck by the thought that Harvey was impressed by the concept of Light In The Piazza and thought lightening could strike twice. It probably can, but this ain’t it.
Now for my “other than that Mrs. Lincoln” moment. The Walter Kerr theatre (with g-d awful sight-lines) was filled with the most interesting people Friday night. I am almost certain that several suburban theatre clubs were there at once. Lots of people knew each other but weren’t sitting near each other, lots of track suits and lots of QVC adornment. Very odd. The bar is in the theatre, and the barkeep was cleaning his ice compartment during the performance. People came and went all through the production.
Have you noticed that sound and lighting (courtesy of several laptops) is now orchestrated from the house? Well, at A Catered Affair, the laptop engineer was sitting in the orchestra section with all of his 20 year-old friends. This only added to the high school musical vibe of the whole evening.
Let’s all just pretend that this play never happened. I read recently that Harvey has not decorated his dressing room yet (he’s a notorious nester) and is waiting for the reviews. I told you he knows better.
Passing Strange – March 2008
This review of Passing Strange must be preceded by the following disclaimer: I can’t possibly do this show justice. That said, let us proceed.
Book, lyrics and starring role by Stew, Passing Strange is a theatrical purist’s dream. It balances classic storytelling with blues/rock music, a clean stage and minimally costumed actors. The “orchestra” is made of four people integrated into the storytelling.
There are no gimmicks, no ploys, no shortcuts and no pandering. I feel confident proclaiming this as one who you will all agree is somewhat suspicious in nature. I never felt manipulated or played.
I usually bristle at the breaking of the fourth wall. But this device, which I usually attributed to laziness, is completely authentic. The premise of the play is about what is real, and I gotta say, Passing Strange is definitely keeping it real.
There is nothing risque or cheap about this very modern production. Intelligence, and talent are the only devices.
There is a similarity in story trajectory and premise to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. They are also similar productions in that the music is integrated into the storytelling. Sitting in the Belasco I found myself feeling that very elusive combination of giddiness and tearfulness. To me, this is tantamount to having the hair on my neck stand up. I have only felt this way a handful of times in the theatre. Most recently, Gypsy (Patti Lupone) and Spring Awakening come to mind.
August:Osage County – January 2008
I haven’t felt compelled to send a review in quite sometime. Between limited runs, and productions that have been extensively reviewed, I simply haven’t felt motivated. Until now.
On Sunday evening I saw August: Osage County. This Steppenwolf production is 3 1/2 hours long and I find it entirely revealing that the time simply flew by! The play is a wonderful ensemble piece (what ISN’T an ensemble piece, this season??) in three acts. The actors are so talented and the direction so tight, that every ounce of humor is squeezed out of the dialogue. The plot is a wee bit “Lifetime Television for academics” but those Oprah aspects are almost beside the point. Even with this stellar cast, two actors stick out for their superhuman talent. Madeleine Martin plays, and most probably IS, a 14 year old. She is an amazing ball of talent and will go far. I saw her in Pillowman a few years ago, and even in her mute performance she sent chills through me. Amy Morton plays her mother and is a tour de force. Pencil her in for a Tony.
This play has a limited run, but if the audience is any predictor, it will be held over. There were so many character actors in the house, I felt as if I was at an open call. Just in our row and the rows directly behind and in front, were; Tony Roberts (he loved it), Andrea Martin (never cracked a smile), Megan Mullally, and an extremely pregnant Lili Taylor.
If you can, do try to see this.
The run of Conversations in Tusculum at the Public Theater has finished, so really this review is purely for my own enjoyment!
The play by Richard Nelson takes place in 45 B.C.E. and is an interpretation of what the personal dynamics might have been before the fall of the Empire. It is a long interpretation, that could have been whittled by omitting the actor. The character of the actor that is. Syrus is an actor who is a revolving house guest amongst the friends in Tusculum. His character and monologues add nothing.
Whittled down a tad the play would be quite solid but still in need of some dramatic tension.
That aside, the performances were riveting. Maria Tucci and David Straithan brought quiet power to their roles and were such a pleasure to watch from four feet away. Aidan Quinn held his own, but did not have the ease and grace of his fellow thespians. But the raison d’etre (for almost anything) is Mr. Brian Dennehy.
My mother once confessed that she spent years convinced that a brooding Irish poet would carry my captivated self off to County Cork. (note to self: ask mommy for lottery picks)
Mr. Dennehy as a grieving (svelte) father is heartbreaking and often funny and utterly compelling. Lest you think I am completely biased; the packed Anspacher Theatre uttered barely a sound for the 2 1/2 hours.
Sunday In the Park with George – March 2008
Saturday night found me at Studio 54 contemplating Sunday in the Park with George. I had not seen the 1983 staging, and quite honestly had little interest in the production, but the reviews swayed me. Jenna Russell (as Dot and Marie) was phenomenal and banished any haunting, tic inducing remembrances of Bernadette Peter’s soundtrack (my apologies, but I never understand her musical theatre appeal.) Ms. Russell has a powerful yet subtle voice and dramatic interpretation that her co-star (Daniel Evans) didn’t entirely share. She was truly a joy to behold.
But it almost is beside the point. The real star of this show is the transcendental staging. I do not enjoy films with computer generated special effects, I find them to be far more distracting and artificial than the guy in the monkey suit sniffing Fay Wray. But the Roundabout Theatre has found the raison d’etre for CGI. The stage is transformed into a living progression of the painting. I am in awe of whomever had the vision to create this imagery. I found myself wondering how the play could ever be staged with out it, and contemplating if Sondheim could have foreseen such a perfect interpretation.
And then there’s Act II. The premise is awkward and misconstrued and without the tantalizing backdrop of the living breathing painting that we had in Act I, the play is just not interesting. The production comes to life again at the very end when the characters of the painting come back and we are treated to the backdrop of the Island of la Grande Jatte again.
Now on a curmudgeon note; this lush visual show that is predicated on the very notion of an artist manipulating their medium for the subtle interpretation of the viewer is ill served by microphones. Studio 54 is small, and the orchestra was teeny. There was no reason in the world to mike anyone. It was so distracting when a cast member sings of not being in profile. “Where did that sound come from???? Well, it must have been someone not /facing/ the audience! Oh, and it was male. Maybe it was /that/ guy.” I’m willing to embrace computerized sets, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever come to terms with disassociated voices. It’s too close to a DSM definition.
Come Back Little Sheba – January 2008
It’s not often that I feel compelled to write you about a play that I did not love. However, before Come Back Little Sheba is brutalized in the reviews, I’d like to portray the glass as half-full. Or at least, the wrong size.
S. Epatha Merkerson was my reason for going to the Manhattan Theatre Club’s production at the Biltmore. In fact, MTC was equally motivated, and brought the Los Angeles production (and Epatha) to NYC.
Epatha is an intelligent and strong actress and is not helped in convincing us of her Lola-ness by her costuming. She is immaculate and very attractive, as is the set. It is not believable that she is considered fat or washed up or even beneath Doc. The set is lit well and decorated in such a way that the audience never sees the squalor that should be.
The other visual cue that knocks this production off track is the casting of Marie. It is only by hanging on each word of dialogue that we are clued into the fact that Marie is supposed to be sexy and beautiful. She is a meek and mousy actress and makes us find Epatha even that much more attractive.
I feel that I would have enjoyed Doc more if he had had a Marie to work off of.
It is unfortunate that the direction and one piece of mis-casting is going to shine a poor light on this production. Epatha deserves better. Hell, poor little Sheba deserved better.
This show opens January 24th.
Company – November 2006
I was fortunate enough to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends and also two (in preview) musicals! I bring you my thoughts on the theatre.
Company (Stephen Sondheim) is back on Broadway (via Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.) John Doyle (Sweeney Todd) updates the show from its 1970s premiere. The show (with endless recognizable and enjoyable songs) centers around 35 year old single Bobby and all of his married friends in New York. In (recent) Sweeney style, the actors are also the orchestra. This is least cumbersome when the scene is set in a piano friendly environment (an apartment, a nightclub.) The gimmick (and sometimes, you just gotta have a gimmick) works fabulously when Bobby’s three girls-on-a-string serenade him with You Could Drive a Person Crazy. Raul Esparza (Tattoo, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) is quietly troubled as Bobby. His piano playing adds a harmony to his own plaintive voice in Marry Me A Little. He is a strong centerpiece whose gentle pathos seems disturbingly real. Perhaps it is.
Aside from Bobby, Company is really a women’s show. The narrative and best songs are performed by the women. Fittingly, they are the strongest performers of the cast. Angel Desai (Marta), who you might recognize from dissecting bodies on Law & Order, is particularly compelling. Her version of Another Hundred People is fabulous. Barbara Walsh (Joanne) does a very strong interpretation of Ladies Who Lunch. Repackaging and selling Elaine Stritch’s signature piece is not easy, and for this Ms. Walsh is forgiven for her limited musicality (she plays the triangle!)
Musician union grievances aside, the double duty actors take nothing away from the performance. One has to wonder however, were more charismatic performers passed over for lack of instrument savvy? Probably not, but it’s an interesting question nonetheless. For anyone that is married, is single, has contemplated either state, knows someone who is married or single, Company will resonate.
Spring Awakening – November 2006
If a 2006 musical is based on an 1891 play, does it also count as a revival? Spring Awakening is set in turn of the century of Germany and centers on the life of teenagers. Not too intriguing a premise? Perhaps. Thanks to two artistic visionaries, my dear friends Eric & Doug, I found myself at this remarkable musical. The curtain-less stage hints to the edginess to come. The small orchestra is upstage set against a brick backdrop with a chalkboard scrawled with the song sequence (including a strike-through, this IS still previews after all). Risers with straight back chairs are on stage left and right. Younger audience members were seated there ostensibly due to a lower price, or equity card. The brick walls were festooned with a modern art interpretation of the show itself.
The show begins simply and plaintively enough with Lea Michele (female lead). It is not until the following scene that the audience realizes something phenomenal is under way. The boy’s classroom scene erupts in a musical number that will undoubtedly be performed at the Tonys. Music by Duncan Sheik and brilliant choreography by Bill T. Jones creates an explosive modern edgy powerhouse. The lyrics, music and dance are thoroughly and beautifully modern. Juxtaposed with the costuming and narrative of 1891, drives home the premise that adolescence is an age-old disease. The “chorus” is in modern day dress (intermingled with the young audience members on stage) to echo this sentiment as well. While I would not want to be stuck on stage (I felt the same way during the London show of Copenhagen), I appreciate the sacrifice of others. These teens and 20 somethings stuck on stage, reinforce how universal the experience o f life and learning to live really is.
The cast is painfully talented and so very young (the orchestra didn’t even break the 25 year mark). Some of the male actors take your breath away with their rawness. This show has every markings of a runaway success. The music is toe tapping and powerful and the choreography is clean and fierce.
Unlike Rent (the last young rock musical to take NY by storm), there is nothing anachronistic (unless you count 1891 Germany) in this show. There is a purity and universality that did not exist in Rent. There is nothing vying for attention (such as instrumentals or sexuality.) The true star of Spring Awakenings is the cast and the show. See this.
Lieutenant of Inishmore & More! – July 2006
How dark is your humor? Want to to find out? Martin McDonagh’s delicious new (to New York) play, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is playing at the Lyceum Theatre. Mr McDonagh’s previous NYC triumph was the mesmorizing; The Pillowman. The Lyceum is the perfect NY venue for this rich, small and precise play. The story involves the Irish Liberation Army and a cat by the name of Wee Thomas. There is simply oodles of implied violence, visual bleakness, and Mel Brooks meet Frank McCourt humor. I won’t give away the violence, but I will note that it is a dream job for any choreographer. Forget helicopters and chandeliers, Inishmore gives new meaning to special effects and stage direction. The actors are wonderful, especially Domhnall Gleeson. His portrayal of Davey is poetic. But it is the play itself that is the true star. This is the first time that I am reciting lines a week later and dying t o get my hands on the script to relive the dialogue. The gales of laughter pealing from the (holiday weekend) audience was proof indeed. See this play.
Disclaimer: If cap guns and stage blood give you the willies, this is not the play for you.
And now for something completely different.
There’s a new girl in town, ’cause I’m feelin good.
Get a smile, get a song, for the neighborhood …
Does that sound just a wee familiar? I started singing it in the cab on the way to Birdland and did not stop until Linda Lavin stopped the voices in my head by belting it out herself, half-way through her show: Songs and Confessions of a Former Waitress. After successful runs as Mama Rose, and in Tales of the Allergist’s Wife, Anne Frank and others, she has hit the road for the last year with a fabulous cabaret act. Backed up by Billy Stritch, and her drummer husband, Linda owned the room. Weaving brief personal stories and charisma through her well chosen songs, she lit up Birdland. Lavin is a crooner in the best sense. She knows her strengths and plays them (and the piano) quite well. And for the record; she looks fabulous!
Naughty gossip***: Edward Hibbert (“Underling” in Drowsy Chaperone and Gil on Frasier) sat next to us (with some of his theatre buddies) at Birdland. For those of you unfamiliar with Hibbert, he is a character actor most frequently cast as an arrogant bore. It seems that Mr. Hibbert might be making a living from being none other than Mr. Hibbert. He berated and dismissed staff (including issuing his drink order to the producer of the show), and completely ignored a fan who patiently waited until after the show to bravely walk up to Mr. Hibbert and compliment him on his role as Underling. His social graces were not just wasted on strangers. He dominated two conversations at once, cutting off all three of his friends whenever possible. My favorite Emily Post moment was when he remembered to thank his “dear dear friend for the beautiful bottle of wine she had sent for the opening of Drowsy Chaperone ” (EIGHT MONTHS AGO!!!!!). I just can’t help myself.
***If you have any decency, you won’t read this.
Drowsy Chaperone- June 2006
When was the last time that you were so transported during a musical that you didn’t even consider plotting the death of the audience member (seated next to you) that had to repeat the last line (out loud) of every joke? Not since Light in the Piazza, has there been such a delicious morsel as The Drowsy Chaperone! The book, the music, the direction and the acting were delectable. Sutton Foster will make a believer out of the most hardened viewer. For those who consider current musicals to be nothing short of really expensive music videos or Disney commercials (or endeavors for the tragically puffy Elton John), Drowsy Chaperone will cure you.
Bob Martin (who wrote the play and acts as the narrator) is magical as he brings you through a range of emotions that would impress Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Georgia Engel and Edward Hibbert (in their relatively small roles) are delightful. They are seasoned sitcom character actors that can hold their own on the stage (Miss Engel graciously ratchets down her singing just a tad to let Mr. Hibbert shine). It is Ms. Foster and Beth Leavel that are the most glorious. But truly there is no weak link. The premise works, the music works, and at one point I laughed so hard that I lost most of my mascara. I can not remember a musical, or any production for that matter, that simply worked on so many levels.
This is a must see.
Shining City – May 2006
I am so happy to report that I have had an utterly enjoyable evening in the theatre. 90 minutes of great drama. Shining City is playing at the Biltmore Theatre, courtesy of the Manhattan Theatre Club. It opens this week (I saw it in previews). There are no surprises in the play itself, but some lovely moving moments. The real charm is the cast. Oliver Platt takes a few moments to find his voice (he is saddled with having to use an Irish accent), but once he hits his stride he is poignant and lovely. Bryan O’Byrne is quietly wonderful as a tortured ex-priest (will this poor man forever be typecast due to Doubt?). Martha Plimpton is a ball of fiery believability as O’Byrne’s girlfriend. She is fierce and fragile and wonderful. There is a monologue by Oliver Platt that defies all memorization abilities and is a lovely testament to not just his acting chops but to Brian O’Byrnes’ (who plays the scen e silently). As always I was left cold by the Hallmark-y ending (my kingdom for some ambiguity!!!). Everything is wrapped up neat and tidy and we can all breathe more easily knowing that the characters aren’t reallyatheists. But even with that cloying point (and the loud incongruous music), the play is enjoyable, the cast is delightful and I recommend it.
Three Penny Opera – April 2006
For those who have a Cyndi Lauper curiosity – I bring you a review of 3 Penny Opera.
Currently in previews at Studio 54 and opening this Thursday, to undoubtedly harsh reviews.
This new adaptation has beautiful moments that are too few and definitely too far apart. There are parts that are paced in a snail like manner and then there is just weirdness. But in between are morsels of loveliness. At issue is an adaption and directoral interpretation that is not innovative, but gimmicky. New isn’t necessary inventive, it’s just new. The sexual ambiguity of Mac is interesting, but played by Alan Cummings, with his distinctive voice, in Studio 54, you can’t help but look for Sally Bowles hiding backstage. When Cyndi isn’t made to wear a bondage costume (and looks as pained as I felt to watch her) she is lovely. When she is left alone with out devices. Jim Dale is a reprieve and one has to wonder where he’s been for the last 20 years. Nelli McKay is enjoyable but has a very contrived speaking voice (she’s channeling 70’s Cher). It’s distracting. But not nearly as distracting as Ana Gasteyer who plays her Ivan Trump clad part as if she is still on SNL. There is a beautiful scene in the brothel (before we have to witness Cyndi in a corset) that is reminiscent of Fosse. It is brief but delightful. The staging is so bare that we are hammered over the head with the costuming. And if the viewer hasn’t caught on that it is ISAAC MIZRAHI designing, fear not, there is a Target tie in later in the show.
Defiance – March 2006
For all of you hanging on the edge of your seat wondering if John Patrick Shanley can write another “Doubt”….doubtful. However there are good things to say about “Defiance” (besides the lovely tradition of the one-word title). Like Doubt, the cast is limited in size and (theoretically) therefore carefully chosen. The actors are strong and captivating and Miss Margaret Colins is always a delight. The set and (Miss Colin’s) costumes are so authentic they will make you cringe with 70’s regrets. The play itself however…Well, it’s no Doubt. It is missing the clean intelligence and subtlety of morality/judgement that made Doubt so powerful. The male characters of Defiance are almost one-dimensional and the message is so overt that it becomes irrelevant. This of course might be less of a fault of Mr. Shanley’s and more of the result of too many other excellent vehicles that have examined bigotry in the military .