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Tag Archives: Patti LuPone

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

 

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The Anarchist – Review

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The Anarchist is a brief (in length and run) new play by David Mamet. It features two characters on stage for an uninterrupted 70 minutes. Cathy (played by Patti LuPone) is a convict serving her 35th year and Ann (played by Debra Winger) is a wardenesque woman serving her last day at the penitentiary. They are together performing the dance of “I’d like to be released now please.” And the dance is not well choreographed.

Cathy proclaims her interest in Christianity as an indication of her worthiness of release. This device is a bit blurry. She was born and raised by Jews (who it would appear gave her the name Catherine) and has discovered the New Testament in prison. Does she speak with the fervor of a tent preacher to impress the cross wearing Ann? If not, why work so much of the theology into the dialogue?  A sense of urgency is implied with the device of Ann’s last day, but why? Ann is not particularly lenient or empathetic. Maybe Cathy’s chances for being sprung will improve with a new administrator. If there is dramatic tension it’s buried too deeply to detect.

Mamet’s dialogue seems to have undergone a conversion as well. A Sunday school teacher would be pleased. However the rhythm is still quintessential Mamet. Ms. Lupone is comfortably at home in this musicality. She is at complete ease and utterly graceful with the dialogue. Ms. Winger is much less so and is not served well by Mr. Mamet’s direction. He has created a wooden and opaque portrayal in her Ann.

There are certainly interesting ideas conveyed throughout the play. Cathy’s (Weather Underground) crimes promise to evoke mixed feelings in audiences of a certain age. The psycho/social scholar will be intrigued with the debate over rehabilitation. There is also much to gain from watching Ms. LuPone stripped of song and embracing her dramatic roots. But watching The Anarchist is more akin to watching a (good) poetry reading than a play. Inserting dramatic tension into the script, recasting the role of Ann, and not having the playwright as director might result in a nice little play.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Review

It seems utterly absurd to even try and review a show after viewing what was ostensibly a dress rehearsal.  But it is indeed that very phenomenon that compels me to blather.  I have often paid to see dress rehearsals (most often of City Center’s Encores) and find nothing terribly off putting about the experience, it can in fact, even be exhilarating, deluding me into feeling as if I am part of the experience.  What was particularly off putting about yesterday’s performance was that on top of being a very difficult show (technically) it was also a brand-new show.  What specific brand of arrogance drives the creative team to not engage in out of town tryouts?  I’ll never know.
I have not seen the movie upon which this musical is based.  I’m not sure that should be a precursor for seeing a show anyway.  I did not enter the theatre with any of my usual “book” fatigue, derived from recent movie-to-show productions or television-to-movie productions (really? have all the writers been swept away by evil aliens?)  I entered the clumsy yet beautiful Belasco theatre, knowing I was in for an adventure and having zero expectations.
Let it be said straightaway, that an opportunity to see Miss Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and (even an under utilized) De’Adre Aziza even sitting on a stool and talking about what they have loved and loss and wore, would get me to the theatre.  As completely crazy as Women on the Verge is (and it is) I feel I got my $50 worth just with Patti singing on a bare stage wearing nothing but a little black dress and with Laura running across the stage in her underwear (during a technical glitch) stage whispering to the audience “everything’s
gonna be fine.”  Priceless.
But the show?  Do I start with the obvious; the absurd Spanish accents yet utter lack of Latinos in any of the leads?  Do I mention the miscasting of Brian Stokes Mitchell, or perhaps the mis-writing of his character?  How about the superfluous constant moving of huge scenery and scene-ettes that do nothing to move the story?  Then there are the gratuitous scenes (so many of them) that reek of an unchecked ego.  (All that was needed was a no-man on the creative team.)  There is a cab (driven by the wonderful Danny Burstein) that simply must be stopped.  It is awkward, cumbersome and does nothing except make ridiculous amounts of noise.  Speaking of noise; the sets are really really loud!
The sound is completely off on the show, but I’ve no doubt that will be ironed out in time.  You know it’s bad when Patti can’t be heard over the orchestra!  The orchestra is divine, by the way, and it was wonderful to hear an overture (no matter how truncated.)  The voices are all dreamy too, as is the not very memorable music.  The lyrics themselves?  Eh.  The songs and structure of the show are very formulaic.  Everything in between is nuts though.  Speaking of which, I can’t help but wonder about the expression on the face of the insurance underwriter when he/she discovered that his female leads would be dangled from harnesses, swinging on pool toys.  Miss Benanti has a history of very serious neck injury, and Miss LuPone is a national treasure.  Was that visual effect (used twice) really worth the risk?  And what did it mean anyway?  Speaking of risk; what’s with the large incredibly stinky fire that is lit on stage?  Excessive and scary in such a technically awkward show, not to mention a serious liability for anyone in the audience with breathing difficulties.  I couldn’t help but think, while watching some of these gimmicks, that a 14 year old boy had staged this show.
I’m still not entirely sure what the story was/is.  The characters aren’t given much room to develop and the transitions to songs which ostensibly are to move the story forward, simply don’t exist.  I don’t mind that there isn’t much of a story and the action is confusing.  I really don’t.  I mind laziness and arrogance and weird out of context dance numbers.
All that said, I would see it again.  When would I ever again have the chance to see Sheri Renee Scott, Patti, Laura, De”Adre belt out (even a middling number) together?

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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