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The Last Ship – Review

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Lately it seems that before you can even pull a room temperature pint, there’s another “working class” British musical rolling into town. Small industrial towns (having seen better days) apparently are where hardscrabble dancers and designers are born. Perhaps Broadway has become the yin to television’s posh yang of Downton Abbey and Selfridges. No one would blame you for taking one and only one look at the press releases for Sting’s The Last Ship. Enough already! But I assure you, you would regret that decision. The Last Ship is how you remember (false memory or not) musicals to be. It is moving and soaring, with dance and music that serves the story.

It is a recognizable story, one perhaps with its roots in earlier theatre – edgy son, disappointed father, abandoned love and child, redemption. There is nothing particular unusual or revelatory about the book (John Logan and Brian Yorkey) it’s simply solid and moving. It is the firm foundation for what is ostensibly a light opera. A small town has lost its only industry (ship building,) out of work and hope the men have a chance to build one last ship together. But of course it is the love story buried in the welding and winching that will break your heart. The music and lyrics (Sting) are rich, understandable and at times quite stirring. The orchestration (Rob Mathes) fills the theatre and at times transforms what very well could be considered pub music into a score. While the direction (Joe Mantello) of this large cast is superb, it is the choreography (Steven Hoggett) that brings The Last Ship to an entirely new level.

The movements are natural yet entirely rhythmic throughout the production. Set changes become dance, and the dances are so deceptively simple they are just life. Many in the large chorus are hefty blokes and to watch them move is a delight. The movement/dance suits the characters and the story and seems to be continuously in play. When the characters dance it is merely an extension of their expression. This naturalism is how they sing as well.

Nobody bursts into a number in The Last Ship. All the singing comes organically from dialogue. The character Jackie White (Jimmy Nail) actually talk/sings (a la Rex Harrison) his way through solos until joined by a chorus. It is a very effective use of his rich baritone and his role as the foreman. Gideon, the wayward son is played by two actors, the younger (Collin Kelly-Soredelet) also playing the son of Meg (Rachel Tucker.) Sound confusing? It’s not. The elder Gideon (Michael Esper) is a strong presence and it’s always clear who is who. The women are splendid but this really is a men’s show. One man practically steals it in the role of Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate.) It’s a delicious role and storyline and Mr. Applegate is just delightful.

The set (David Zin) is stark, clever, effective and serves the actors and the story. There is also some very clever lighting (Christopher Akerlind) that works as additional set. If there is any flaw at all in this production it is one song that doesn’t quite belong. I believe it’s a recycled Top 40 (of Sting’s) and I leave it to you to discover it. To find it is tantamount to finding a tiny crack in a masterpiece; it makes you appreciate the mastery even more.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Theatre

 

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The Lyons – Review

The Lyons is an incredible one-act play conjoined to an impaired second act.  Linda Lavin is simply magnificent as Rita Lyons, a woman (literally) waiting for her husband Ben (Dick Latessa) to die.  Some of the most riotous sidesplitting moments come from the sparring between the two.  Mr. Latessa is wonderfully cast and plays Ben with such candor and sensitivity.  Rita’s dialogue is peppered with such bon mots one can only wonder of the ruin in lesser hands.  But under Mark Brokaw’s direction, Ms. Lavin’s interpretation is simply perfect.  When a play seems to have such perfectly timed humor it’s difficult to review.  If the summary is completely accurate, readers will have a skewed expectation that the reviewer did not have.  How then do you communicate the sophistication and spot on accuracy of the very funny dialogue, without potentially disappointing an audience?  Well, once the curtain rose in the dainty Cort Theatre for the second act, that particular conundrum ebbed.

While Ben and Rita’s adult children (Curtis and Lisa) appear in the hospital room in the first act, their parents are still there to do the heavy lifting.  Curtis (Michael Esper) and Lisa (Katie Jennings Grant) are ‘adult children’ in the truest sense.  They have victimized themselves to the point of utter infantile dysfunction.  (No doubt much will be said about this play (by Nicky Silver) being about a dysfunctional family.  I did not see any signs of a family not interacting effectively.  The adult children have ruined their lives but that does not make the family itself dysfunctional.)  The actors are solid interpreters of very dull characters.  Both “children” are on the other side of 30.  Curtis is incapable of ever having a romantic relationships; ever.  He’s also never supported himself, but that’s almost beside the point.  Lisa is an alcoholic with a self-destructive streak to beat the band.  She seems to have some sort of savior impulse that does not extend to her family and does not seem to have an organic root.  Damaged characters can be interesting, (Ms. Lavin’s previous gig in Other Desert Cities proves that.) These two people are not an example of that particular genre.  Drawing them the way Mr. Silver has, does evoke a response in the audience.  But as it is frowned upon to get up on stage and perform a duo of “snap out of it” smacks, there’s no outlet for the frustration.

The second act opens with a scene in an empty (for sale) apartment.  It is a long awkward scene (following an intensely paced and hysterical first act) that takes far too long to make a minor point, which could have been made off-stage.  According to the Playbill, there is normally a scene preceding this scene; depicting Lisa at Alcoholic Anonymous.  Omitting entire scenes seems a radical move during previews, but no doubt it’s been done before.  In its place (it seems) is a walk-on by dead Ben.  Never a fan of the dead returning for an encore, I found this very jarring.  The Lyons is a starkly realistic play and there’s really no room for ghosts.

It is comforting that the final scene takes place in the hospital room of the first act.  We are reminded of the promise of that first hour.  It must be said that The Lyons has a very satisfying ending.  Surrounded by a different audience I might have actually leapt to my feet and whooped.  The fact that the second act is (currently) in such disarray, should not stand in the way of seeing this play.  Simply to see Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa spar and jar is worth the trip.  It is safe to say that no one will ever play this role like Ms. Lavin does.  She is simply remarkable.  There are beautiful moments and resonating truths throughout the play.  Quite frankly, The Lyons is like most of us; it could use a little improvement.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Theatre

 

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