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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 Uncategorized

 

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Seminar – Review

Not all writing is the same.  To write effective fiction (plays, stories, novels,) one must create a believable world.  The writer starts with nothing and creates a reality.  It can be a lonely and torturous task fraught with countless potential missteps.  It is no wonder that there is a robust cottage industry of workshops, salons, colonies and retreats for these people.

One of these workshops is the setting for the new Theresa Rebeck play Seminar.  Four young(ish) fiction writers are gathering weekly in an upper west side apartment to reap the wisdom and guidance of a larger than life writer/editor.  The bombastic arrogant tutor, Leonard (Alan Rickman) creates a centrifuge where only the talented survive.  The four writers; Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Jerry O’Connell and Hettienne Park are easily recognizable types.  Kate (Rabe) is our Bennington graduate host.  She lives in her parent’s nine room rent – controlled apartment, presumably alone.  Rabe is an absolutely delightful actress.  (The part of Kate is somewhat mannered and at times Ms. Rabe’s similarity to her mother was staggering.)  Martin (Linklater,) Kate’s friend from high school is quiet, insecure, stewing in his own juices.  Douglas (O’Connell) is an amusing blowhard with a family name, connections and penchant for unknowingly inventing words.  Izzy (Park) carries her sexuality like a miniature chihuahua.  She is never without it and uses it as if she’s invented it.  Three guesses which one of these people is the one with the earth shattering talent.

Seminar, directed by Sam Gold hits every performance note perfectly, yet it did not move me.  The acting is superb, without question.  And while, talking about writing is tantamount to dancing about architecture, that wasn’t entirely the issue.   Let’s be clear though, navel gazing gets old fast, particular on a large Broadway stage.  I think it was the cleanliness that left me cold.  All but the last 20 minutes of the play are set in the sprawling overly decorated apartment.  We never meet the rightful “owners” nor know anything about them.  But would parents who sired a Bennington writer and have called the upper west side home for decades, really decorate with color coordinated books?  I understand the point designer David Zinn was making, particularly at the reveal of Leonard’s dark loft groaning under the weight of thousands of books.  But believability was sacrificed to make that particular point.  None of the writers spoke of jobs or any means of support.  Where on earth they did come up with 5,000 dollars each for this seminar?  The only character who convinced me was Douglas.  He’s been around the block.  He is not a novice, having done his time at Yaddo and currently in conversations with The New Yorker.  Making a connection with Leonard is a solid investment for Douglas and one no doubt paid for by his family. For the most part, the characters were too predictable as were their sexual dalliances.  It was all a bit too tidy.

Taking nothing away from the performances or even the production as a whole, the play left me cold.  However, I also walked out on Midnight in Paris.  Please do not let the fact that I don’t consider “look how clever I am” to be a sufficiently entertaining premise, prevent you from enjoying this very solid and beautifully acted production.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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