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The (T.V.) Guide Of Casting

Betty

It’s late July and the first whispers of Broadway’s 2013-2014 season can be heard. Unlike a sighting of back-to-school displays, this prematurity is welcome. Even if one loves the summer and is ensconced in a villa or beach hideaway, paradise can get a bit tedious. And if you’re of the school that there is never enough sand, seafood and sangria it’s nice to think of how you will assuage yourself once the leaves turn. And let’s face it, anticipation is more than half the fun.

If you’re a lover of (what I call) main stage Broadway and swoon at all things Llyod Weber, there’s almost always something to look forward. It’s also almost a sure bet that revival lovers will be happy. But what’s more of a gamble, and therefore a bit exciting, is news of new works, fabulous directors or stellar stage performers. Both camps of theatregoers; main stage and not-so-main stage often experience FOMO (fear of missing out) in extreme form. The line for the cronut is nothing compared to the virtual line for an “insert celebrity name here” show, jukebox musical, or made from TV, or film show. Nothing creates buzz like buzz, and most main stage shows have a marketing machine to beat the band. A quieter, no more attractive frenzy occurs over the not-so-main stage offerings as well. The bragging rights are comparable as well. In brownstones, penthouses and rent control classic sixes, you can hear any of the following; “Cumming’s Macbeth? We saw it before it went to Broadway. Of course Patti was great in Gypsy, but the Encores! production was quite different. You wanna see flying? You MUST see Peter and the Starcatcher.” (Somewhere in apartments we couldn’t afford or dare to enter there are similar conversations of theatre so obscure & avant-garde that knowing their titles is as good as seeing them.)

John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Defiance), James Lapine (Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods), Doug Hughes (Inherit The Wind, Mauritius, A Man For All Seasons) will be collaborating in various configurations at The Manhattan Theatre Club. These names are guaranteed to perk the imagination of any theatre lover. The Manhattan Theatre Club often achieves a delicate balance of risk and sure thing. They produce new work and attract stellar performers. The new work is often very good and the performers are often well cast. (Hardly minor points!) It’s not surprising then that the casting for Mr. Shanley’s new play evoked in me a Scooby-Doo type response. The new work will star Brian O’Byrne (Doubt, Defiance, The Beauty Queen of Leenane) and Debra Messing (television star). Now there are plenty of accomplished stage actors who found fame in sitcoms, but (according to her resume) Ms. Messing doesn’t seem to be one of them. Acting on camera is an entirely different endeavor than acting on stage. (You can test this at home by pulling up the one live show of Will & Grace. While it is still edited it is raw enough to discern where each actor’s comfort zone lies.) This is not to suggest that people can’t surprise us in the most delightful way. I love nothing more than hearing the voice in my head shout; “Crikey, would you look at that! He/she is GOOD!” And (for the right price) I’m willing to give any performer (within reason) the benefit of the doubt. But this casting does have me wondering.

I would love to be a fly (or a less disgusting insect) on the wall during the creative meetings. I’d also love to eavesdrop on the editorial meetings in which celebrity opinion pieces are chosen over journalism. What can I say; I love to witness verbal jousting! I’m absolutely certain (she says while adjusting her rose colored glasses) that at least one person pipes up in these meetings; “Do we really need to go the celebrity route?” before being pelted with cronuts.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Media/Marketing, Theatre

 

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Merrily We Roll Along – Review

There is the “greatest generation” and then there’s the generation that came right after.  Coming of age in the late 1950s and early 1960s provided a unique blend of adult optimism to a generation.  Post World War II access to higher education meant more people than ever now saw college as a viable option.  A young, attractive first family was changing the White House and creating cultural pride.  It was the start of the space age and all things seemed possible.  (Which is why people built bomb shelters; all things were possible.)

NY City Center’s production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along captures that time beautifully.  In flashback, the story of Mary (Celia Keenan-Bolger,) Frank (Colin Donnell) and Charlie (Lin-Manuel Miranda) is told; three friends making their way artistically through life.  We are introduced to their middle-aged selves in 1976.  The fashions, and the circumstances are a bit grim.  Frank is a Hollywood sensation (and all that goes with that) and his friends feel forsaken.  Mary’s relationship with alcohol is now a full-blown love affair, and while her antics are funny, she’s terribly sad.  Luckily we don’t linger too long in the mid-70s.  Two decades worth of seamless flashbacks ensue, and we are left at the end in 1957, when all things seemed possible.

There is much that is wonderful about this show, but the creakiness of the first act is also worth mention.  The first scenes (in the 1970s) feel as bland and self-conscious as the actual 1970s.  Perhaps it was intentional.  There are some great songs in the first act, and I’ll admit to tearing up at the first three notes of Not A Day Goes By.  The second act is nothing but perfect, as it should be; it’s when we see how they got to be who they are.  In this sense, the play itself echoes the creative process.  (It’s always far more interesting to create than it is to analyze the finished product.)  The second act flies by with fast-paced story telling.  It is rare, and exceedingly delightful when it feels as if the curtain comes much too soon.

NY City Center Encores! (musical director: Rob Berman) is a gem, bringing lesser produced musicals to the stage in concert version.  Merrily, directed by James Lapine, is the first Encores! to be presented in the newly refurbished City Center.  Whether because of that status, or not, this is a very different staging of an Encores! production.  The productions have not been pure “concert” versions for years.  Performers are completely off book (even if they do carry the script for comfort or affect) and the numbers are fully staged.  There are lavish costumes and set pieces as well.  Merrily We Roll Along does not have any “numbers” but has one number-lette in the second act, which is mostly tongue in cheek.  What Merrily has is a realism similar to Sondheim/Furth’s Company.  This starkness might feel disorienting to some, and this staging seems to only highlight the condition.  The (ravishing) 23 member orchestra is on a platform one story above the stage.  The performance space is black and there are about a dozen set pieces that get wheeled on and off.  The only set direction is a very large video screen built into the orchestra platform.  The first scene is a slide show of passing decades.  Real New York City photos are shown as are photo-shopped iconic shots.  There is a Forest Gump element to it all that can be very distracting.  Later the screen is used very successfully to portray a theatre and a yacht.  One of the best visual moments is when through clever positioning and video, the actors look to be actually sailing away.

As always with Encores!, the ensemble is first rate.  There are some performances that will really linger.  A small child, Zachary Unger, proves that excellent child performers do exist.  Celie Keenan-Bolger is a remarkable chameleon.  While Mary, is the most interesting of characters in the show, Kennan-Bolger adds dimensions that would be lost in lesser hands.  Lin-Manuel Miranda also has a great character with Charley, and does it wonderful justice.  His number; Franklin Shepard, Inc. is just delicious.  Speaking of numbers; in Act II the three principal characters perform on two typewriters (look it up, they’re like computers without a screen) and a piano.  I find myself wondering what in the world the score looked like for that.

NY City Center Encores! is a beacon of hope for musical theatre lovers.  Their focus on quality of content and excellence of performance makes us believe that all things are possible.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Theatre

 

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