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Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Real Thing

Tom Stoppard is certainly on a roll.  He, like his compadre Terrence McNally, has two plays running concurrently, in this case, both at the Roundabout Theatre Company.  His latest installment at American Airlines Theatre, on Broadway, is The Real Thing.

This one is heady.  Make no mistake.  Mr. Stoppard is a linguist and writes very, very smart dialogue.  In my brief reading before the show I discovered that this particular show may be a bit autobiographical too.

Henry (Ewan McGregor) an erudite playwright (some might call a snob although his wife uses another similar British slang word), as is Mr. Stoppard.  This play is quite the intellectual study of love, marriage, commitment, and relationships.  He's first married to Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon), but quickly changes gears and falls in love and marries Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  Josh Hamilton plays Max, an actor and first husband of Annie. A tangled web indeed.

We get tangled up in Henry's relationship, views on commitment and love and how those may differ from both Charlotte (his first wife) and Annie (his second wife).  What is jealousy?  Does one person's commitment equate to how the other person sees it?   Can we really just love one person in life?  These and dozens of other lofty questions are batted around during the play - which by the way features the "play within a play" format at the opening with quite a satisfying effect.

I'm pretty sure Mr. Stoppard didn't originally write in the music to the original script and likely (although I can''t really be sure) it was the creation of the brilliant director, Sam Gold.   I understand there may be some additional gimmicks with the music, the cast, and a digital display in the theatre.  There's always a gimmick these days.

Smart, heady, intelligent - this play aims high and delivers on it's promises with a remarkably competent and dazzling cast along with the choices of music both during the show and between the scene change breaks.

An interesting trivia note, Ms Nixon was featured in the original production when she was a mere teenager (as the daughter) and now returns triumphantly as her mother.  The small world of theatre just got even more so.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lost Lake

I have to say I was a bit lost at Lost Lake.   For it's first ever public performance, the actors were remarkable.  They writing was as natural and fluid as possible.  What I struggled with was plausibility.  First off, the play isn't about anything, which may turn some people off.  It's just a slice of life, this is how it is, life deals you lemons so make lemonade - kind of play.  That's not to say the characters were not compelling or interesting in some way as the play actually held onto a slight uncomfortability factor the entire time.  It was just unremarkable in many ways.  It was provocative in its ideas, but unremarkable in execution.  That said, I really think many will not enjoy it and come away thinking they just watched a boring episode of a TV show (as the man who sat next to me in the lobby afterward proclaimed).  Some will walk away thinking.  And some will just... well... walk away.

This two hander set in a cabin in the woods outside New York City penned by David Auburn and aptly directed by Daniel Sullivan stars John Hawkes (Hogan) and Tracie Thomas (Veronica) who are at the same time both liars and nice people.  One of them may be a bit mentally ill and both of them have made certain mistakes in life they now come to regret - some of those mistakes are actually unearthed by the other.  It has its charming moments and is performed (thankfully) without intermission over at Stage I of Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lips Together, Teeth Apart

What a magical time on and off Broadway for Terrence McNally.  Three of his shows - two now running concurrently (Lips, It's Only a Play) and one that just closed (Mothers & Sons) are/were on stage entertaining audience to various degrees of success.  Unfortunately, Lips Together, Teeth Apart is likely on the bottom of the success scale.  Unlike his other two plays which evoke opposite but equally powerful emotions - a visceral reaction (Mothers and Sons) and hysterical laughter (It's Only a Play) - this play is neither rousingly happy nor sad.  It just is. And it wasn't that good.

As a matter of fact, it has the triple-whammy of being slightly boring, all over the map in terms of storytelling, and slightly mis-cast.   Boring?  The story is what it is - two couples on Fire Island at one of the women's dead gay brother's house.  Why are they here?  What keeps these couples together?  Why do we care?  Those questions are barely answered although asked repeatedly on stage.  All over the map?  Yes they talk endlessly about lots of issues - many of which are tangential to the plot, some of which make you wonder why they are telling you this. We never see the gay neighbors to contrast the straight (and out of place) couple at the house.  It's 1990 and AIDS is still an unknown but we really only learn why they are afraid to swim in the pool at the end of Act 3!  Miscast?  Trace Chimo (Chloe) ruled the stage with her overbearing and hysterically funny character.  She hit it out of the park.  America Ferrera (Sally) underwhelmed significantly.  She seemed lost of the stage and generally flat.  Austin Lysy (John) seemed too young and although quite handsome, not as cock-sure as the dialogue might suggest.  Michael Chernus (Sam) just didn't seem to fit with Sally and left you wondering why they were even together in the first place.

Casting aside - A 3-Act play is unique.  This play was way too long for it's own good and it felt like we just wasted time in between for both intermissions and ultimately didn't end up resolving much and left you wondering just what the point was after the 2H:30M is up.

I'm left wondering just what the first incarnation of this play would have been like a while back when Roundabout was going to do it but star Megan Mullally (Chloe, i presume) stormed off the set and quit.  For Roundabout that just may have been a blessing in disguise.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Scenes From a Marriage

The effect is jarring.  The result is jarring.  Nothing about Ivo Van Hove's re-imagination of Ingmar Bergman's already jolting TV mini-series and later screenplay involves bliss and happiness.  On the contrary, the scenes from this approximately 20 year relationship depict the most difficult parts, the growth, change, and friction that marriage can bring.

Mr. Van Hove chose to divide this stage play version into 2 parts.  The first act being 3 scenes in isolated mini-theaters built inside the theater.  These mini-theaters allow sight and sounds from each concurrent scene to waft into the other.  I believe this was meant to evoke the feeling of memory and remembering the past over and over.  Sight-lines through a window into a central room where the actors all collected themselves evoked a similar feeling of a bit of visual snip-it of memories.  All a bit off-putting when the action starts, but once you realize this is intended, you settle in for this bumpy ride.

As you can tell, since there are 3 scenes running concurrently, there must be 3 sets of actors playing the roles of Johan ad Marianne.  Casting appears to me to be quite intentional too.  The actors were the furthest thing from 3 sets of the same people.  Super handsome and hunky Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood are the youngest and most eager of the 3 couples in approximately the first 5 years of their marriage.  Dallas Roberts and Roslyn Ruff are the middle couple struggling with years of habits and rituals, boredom, and long standing issues in the marriage.  Arliss Howard and Tina Benko round out the couples as the oldest and desperate for change.  There's an affair, a one-sided discontent and issues buried deep and repressed over the years.

When  you exit the theater for a 30 minute intermission and told to all re-enter through the main doors, you can only imagine that they must be transforming the theater into a single stage somehow.  Of course they do - and it's a common performance space in the middle with the seats surrounding it - all the walls have been lifted above to reveal this massive space in the entire theater.

Act two is distinctly different with fascinating results.  All 3 couples appear on stage but this time they all recite the dialogue and act out the scene in triplicate.  Stereophonic dialogue and action.  What further throws you off is that the actors all fluidly interchange with each other and speak male to female among the various couples - throwing off your regional thoughts about the couples and making you focus on the dialogue not the physical characters themselves.  This part is sequentially later than the first act and the discord escalates into a fight.  They are fiercely independent people with modern ideas about marriage and relationships.  It's not your parents marriage.  Speaking of parents, Mia Katigbak aptly portrays the mother of Marianne and reveals this stark approach to marriage that the older generation took.

The play concludes in the last scene with only the oldest of the 3 couples where the couple is divorced, moved on in life and both re-married, but still attracted to each other in a quite honest and creatively lit bedroom scene.  We hear some of that memory-evoking music (still played on a turntable because of course they wold still have one) that the couple would have enjoyed in the 70's which brings us all back to the original time the couple must have met and fell in love.

You will certainly leave the theater with feelings about what you saw.  One older woman in the audience asked me during the end of intermission if I was married.  I, of course, answered "No" to which she responded "Well do you understand any of this?".   I told her "I think I get it".  To which she replied "I lived through this.  I am hating it and loving it at the same time".   Now that's good theater!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Billy & Ray

This play had good intentions. I wanted to like it.  I really did.  Especially starting the uber adorable Vincent Kartheiser (Billy Wilder).  But it wasn't.  And he wasn't either.  Maybe it was the bad haircut?  More likely it was the fake accent.  Since it's required for the plot of the show, I suspect that casting may have been the problem at its core.  After a thorough review of the show with my theater-going friend afterwards, we came to the conclusion that not only was casting off, but so was directing.  Garry Marshall - legend in the world of television - turns out that he's not so good in the theater.   So many missed theatrical opportunities.

It was a play about a movie.  But much of the play was spent telling us the story rather than acting the story.  It all added up to a disappointment.  Larry Pine (Raymond Chandler) did an admirable job and had some good lines, but once again, he needs to learn his lines.

Drew Gehling (Joe Sistrom) and Sophie Von Haselberg (Helen Hernendez) rounded out the cast, however I found Helen Hernandez to be a rather pointless character (except for one notable scene where she comes up with an idea).

Overall a disappointment.  But they certainly deserve credit for trying.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Disgraced

What's going on over at the Lyceum is nothing short of theatrical excellence.  New, fresh, culturally relevant theatre is what Disgraced, a new Pulitzer prize winning drama by Ayad Akhtar, is all about.

Hari Dhillon (Amir), Gretchen Mol (Emily), Josh Radnor (Isaac), Karen Pittman (Jory), and Danny Ashok (Abe) round out an excellently constructed cast of a wildly culturally and religiously diverse cast.

Needless to say, with such a diverse cast and plot, the boiling point is reached in less than 90 minutes.  Part religious lesson, part history lesson, part culture and tolerance lesson, this show sizzles with issues.

You'll walk out of the theater thinking about this one.  There's the obvious infraction and the less obvious issues which are simmering under the covers about tolerance, Islamic fundamentalism, the Muslim religion's roots, and "fitting in" and what the price is in America.

Don't miss your chance to meet quite possible the strings ushers in the theater on Broadway and the highest climb to the dumpiest balcony on Broadway to see this stinger of a show.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Indian Ink

The indomitable and erudite Tom Stoppard is making a big splash both on and off Broadway this season.  The first installment of him is being presented at the Laura Pels Theater by Roundabout in his magical and mysterious 1995 work, Indian Ink.

Although the cast is anchored by the most adored Rosemary Harris (Elinor Swan), this cast is littered with talent of all sorts and cultures - most notably Firdoug Bamji (Nirad Das) and Romola Garai (Flora Crewe).  Mr. Stoppard is not known for brevity or simplicity and Mr Bamji, Ms Garai (and the entire cast) does not disappoint over the long haul of this magical tale effortlessly criss-crossing 2 time periods weaving its story.

The magic is both that of the Indian culture during the colonial days (1930's) and that of the mystery of memory and recollection in 1980's England.  Mr. Stoppard waves a tale replete with love and intrigue as well as a bit of a history lesson about the British and colonial India.

The full 3 hours is consumed with flashbacks, explanations, exposition, culture and mystery.  A challenge both intellectually as well as theatrically, Roundabout and this fine cast adeptly transverses the time periods with effortless aplomb.

While you may not catch all the Indian culture names and references, you will certainly follow the essence of the poem to two lovers and the trail of their memories years later.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On The Town

It may be just what Broadway needs right now - a lavish, classic, good-'ol song and dance show on the great white way.  Betty Comden and Adolph Green's classic with music by the incomparable Leonard Bernstein has been made fresh again for a new generation of theater-goers.  And by all accounts, this revisal will delight audiences far and wide.  An orchestra of epic proportions plucks, strums, and toots with wild abandon to the gorgeous and lush musical score by Leonard Bernstein while the actors sing and dance - (do they ever) - to the highest of heights.

The über dreamy Tony Yazbeck helms the cast of over 40 characters as Gabey along with the deliciously sexy Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip) and Clyde Alves (Ozzie) - 3 sailors let loose on New York City in 1944 on a 24 hour leave with the hopes of each finding a dame.  It's fun, fresh, wholesome, and naughty all at the same time.  The hilarious Jackie Hoffman takes on the role of Maude Dilly (and a little old lady, and several nightclub stars) with brilliant comedic genius.  I am pretty sure much of the revisal work was done in her sketch comedy-like scenes to wild success.  Megan Fairchild (Ivy, Miss Turnstiles), Alysha Umphress (Hildy, the taxi driver), and Elizabeth Stanley (Claire DeLoone) each portray one of the dames - each different, each perfectly cast.  This was Ms. Fairchild's Broadway debut as she is normally a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.  Ms Umphress is a Broadway veteran but this just may be her break-out role as she knocks Hildy out of the park.

Brilliant scenic design (Beowulf Borritt) and lit (Jason Lyons)  - it is a near perfect picture of the boys in brilliant white sailor suits surrounded by a pastiche of technicolor city dwellers.  Projections are getting near indeterminable from actual scenery and the result is simply marvelous.   This show is significantly stilted toward a ballet and none better than Mr. Yazbeck and Ms Fairchild to execute each jump and lift with effortless aplomb.  I'm pretty sure Jerome Robbins (original idea and choreography) would be pleased with the outcome over 70 years later.  Most likely Comden and Green would also be pleased with Robert Cary's and Jonathan Tolins' book freshening updates.

The theater itself previously housed quite possibly the most different type of show (Spiderman) prior to this - so much so that one could speculate it required a name change back to its original - The Lyric.

Classic material in an old fashioned Broadway house with deliciously fresh talent - it certainly makes for one helluva show!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

A dazzling, innovate, and entirely engrossing production by Simon Stephens is making a splash on Broadway this fall while still running their award-winning production in London's West End.  It's that good.  It couldn't wait.

Alex Sharp (Christopher Boone), a 2014 graduate of Julliard, (that's about as fresh-meat as you can get!) helms the production with pure genius and what appeared to me to be a virtually flawless and powerful performance. That's quite an achievement given he's playing a 15 year old boy with the challenge of Asperger's Syndrome on the journey well beyond his wildest dreams.  In the approximate 2h:30m production he is never off the stage - holding court on his journey just about the entire time.  His way.

What's on stage, you ask?  Well, it's empty, black, and filled with all sorts of lighting and small props that get pulled out of tiny hidden compartments all over the floor and the walls.  The walls are mostly covered with a grid-like design of lights, providing what I thought was a map - like the fabric of Christopher's brain and his thought process.  Plenty of projections augmented an already complicated design and with a few moving parts, a few mind-blowing effects such as a full-stage sized escalator leaped to life. There was perhaps more choreography than in some musicals.  Ne'er a song was uttered in this fast-paced drama, however.   Lighter moments of comedy - plenty, but the focus was firmly on Christopher's journey, the inner voice in his head, his play (which is what he wrote and what we are hearing), and that of his family.  Pure Genius.

The multitude of other characters were played with equal aplomb by Francesca Fardany, Ian Barford, Enid Graham, Helen Carey, Mercedes Herredo, Richard Hollis, Ben Horner, Jocelyn Bioh, and David Manis.  

I was clearly not only the only one impressed. The true New York audience (it was only the second preview and that's when we go to catch the good ones early) leaped to their feet in unison before the cast even stepped out for their bows.  It was that good. I was that impressed.  Really impressed.  Dare I say at this early juncture, I'd gamble that Mr. Sharp will be a shoe-in for Tony nominee at his tender age.  It really was that good.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Country House

A new play just arrived on Broadway courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club and award winning playwright Donald Margulies. It's a dash of classic play, a dash of naughty, and a dash of funny.  Add it all up and you have a fairly solid run at a family drama.

It didn't bowl me over.  Those dashes I mentioned, well, a few could have been tablespoons or half-cups.  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't compelling.   Perhaps it will grow tighter with time as I saw an early preview, but my gut tells me there just isn't enough to draw the audience much past the front door of the fantastic country house (Sets: John Lee Beatty) we see on stage.

Blythe Danner (Anna Patterson) is the matriarch of the family in question here.  The family is mostly actors.  Her daughter is dead and it's a year afterward and she's getting the clan together at the country house in Williamstown (they are actors, remember) for the the anniversary of her death including her son (Elliott Cooper) Eric Lange, her son-in-law (Walter Keegan) David Rasche and his new girlfriend (Neil McNally) Kate Jennings Grant, her granddaughter (Suzie Keegan) Sarah Steele, a hunky young Hollywood actor (Michael Astor) Daniel Sunjata.

There are a few twists and turns in the plot, an inside running joke about the theatre and actors, and of course a little naughty intrigue all surrounding that gorgeous and successful Hollywood actor.  Well cast, but it was a studio sized result when I was expecting a classic 6 or more given the level of talent on the stage.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

This Is Our Youth

I get it.  Cutting-edge theatre, young hot actors, minor (or not-so-minor) indiscretions, drugs and, of course, sex.  What more could you ask for in a smart-off Broadway production in a dumpy (read avant-garde) theater?  Not much I suppose.  But the problem here is that it's not off-Broadway (although the Cort Theater is a dump).

What we have here is Broadway prices to see some young hot actors tell a rather pedestrian story in 2 ½ hours in what could possible have been a 65 minute no-intermission short-play with a lot more impact.  More impact, that is, except in the producers' pocketbooks.  Who would pay $100+ a seat for that?  Nobody is my guess.  So it has to run on Broadway and the requisite unearned hype is made and we all buy tickets.

Don't get me wrong, the un-mic'd actors on the not-as-messy-as-it-should-have-been set are basically yelling at each other most of the play about their youthful irresponsibilitys, messed up lives, and those of their friends.  Kenneth Lonergan wrote this play in the '90's and it has had a few off-Broadway and regional runs with marginal success prior to this. In this incarnation, Michael Cera (Warren Straub), Kieren Culkin (Dennis Ziegler), and newcomer Tavi Gevinson (Jessica Goldman) grace the stage.

The problem wasn't the acting.  That was solid.  No complaints.  The story, on the other hand, was way too long, too repetitive, and contained a message in the last 5 minutes of the 2 ½ hours that could have been arrived at minute 55 of 65 without an intermission.  This material is perfectly suited to a short-play.  I'm not complaining about the material - drugs, sex, messed-up kids with first-world-problems.   I just wish the writing was more focused, brief, more impactful, and went somewhere.  Anywhere.  Mr. Lonegran's expansion of this material into a full-fledged 2-act stage play is a mistake.

For this we pay $100 and get very little in return from the fine performances on the stage.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

It's Only a Play

In full disclosure, I'm looking to recover my investment in this play.  I don't see why I can't sing the praises of this double-over-with-laughter, pee-in-my-pants production at the same time!

The best comedic actors around grace the stage in Terrance McNally's two-act romp over at the Schoenfeld Theater on West 45th.  Nathan Lane (James Wicker), Matthew Broderick (Peter Austin), Megan Mullally (Julia Budder), Stockard Channing (Virginia Noyes), F. Murray Abraham (Ira Drew), Rupert Grint (Frank Finger), and adorable and very lucky newcomer, Micah Stock (Gus P. Head), all grace the stage and hold court with uproarious results.

In my opinion this is a very strong argument for a Tony category for Best Ensemble Cast.  Hands down, they complement each other and each fuels the others in pursuit of the punchline.  That said, Mr. Lane is clearly the leader of the pack with his hysterical mugs, unexpected outbursts, one-liners, and generally effervescent stage presence.

Mr. McNally wrote this play in the late 70's and revised it in the 80's and has again undertaken a massive update to make the show culturally relevant to an audience today.  As it is opening night of a Broadway play (the play within the play), there are quite a few pop-culture entertainment oriented references (and jokes) to be had.

This is a limited engagement and I encourage you to RUN to the box office and get your tickets today. Despite the outcome of the reviews of the play-within-the play, you won't be disappointed in the least and may end up with a pain in your side --- from all the laughter.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Booty Candy

Fresh, provocative new American theater relevant to to the fabric of our society.  That's just what you'll get with Robert O'Hara's new work on the Main Stage at Playwrights Horizons.

Booty Candy is really a series of skits interwoven into a single production.   In what might be a departure from the norm, the playwright quite literally forces the audience to examine their views of the play about mid-way - - overtly asking the questions about what it means and where it's going.  One guest on stage during this "Conference" scene suggests, as the audience likely already feels, that we should "choke" on the material.  What he means is that it is should be uncomfortable, unrepentant, and provocative.  I think it's fairly true.

I have mixed feelings leaving the play.  It did make me think, it entertained, and I did "choke" on the material at times.  However, at the same time, it felt somewhat disjointed, unusually instructive, purposefully "in-your-face",  and perhaps overly gratuitous at times.

Featuring Phillip James Brannon, Jessica Frances Dukes, Jesse Pennington, Benja Kay Thomas, and Lance Coadie Williams - all playing multiple characters except for Mr. Brannon who played the single unifying character of Sutter.  He's the one growing up black and gay and surrounded directly or indirectly by all these other characters in all 10 or so scenes.

It's fair to say the scenes had a common theme but ran the gamut from an un-wedding ceremony on a beach to a family around a black family's dinner table, to a phone conversation between four characters, cleverly staged and costumed by two actors.

Check it out for yourself.  Most plays at Playwrights Horizons are worth the off-Broadway ticket price and this first play of their 2014-2015 season is no exception.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Music Man - In Concert

A benefit concert for Transport Group, The Music Man in Concert brought together some of the biggest and brightest stars on Broadway today at the Signature Theater.

Conceived and directed by Jack Cummings III and brilliantly narrated by Joe Iconis, the evening was filled with artistic back-stories, laughs, song, smiles and pure joy.  Over 80 performers and musicians generously donated all of their time and talents to the evening's performance.

Each taking a turn at Harold Hill, Santino Fontana, John Ellison Conlee, Andrew Samonsky, and Jeffry Denman each stole the show - one after the other.

As Marian, Alexander Silber, Lauren Osnes, and Betsy Wolfe, and Jessica Hershberg were all absolutely divine.

The Barbershop Quartet was delicious and sublime - Stanley Bahorek, Bob Stillman, Robert Lenzi, Richard Costa.

The Traveling Salesmen - Jonathan Hammond, Jason SweetTooth Williams, Robert Dusold, James Hindman, Jim Fyfe, Bob Walton, Michael De Liberto were perfectly syncopated.

The Pick-a-Little ladies were priceless - Susan Blair Ross, Heather Mac Rae, Tina Johnson, Danette Holden, Diane Findlay.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger was 100% adorable and pure delight as Marcellus Washburn - lisp and all.  And last but not least, the whole ensemble and the wonderful orchestra was pitch perfect and dashingly dressed!

An enjoyable and unexpectedly educational evening all around.  Joe Iconis' suit certainly took the top prize and the tales he wove made you long for a big silly musical about Iowa on Broadway - once again!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mr. Confidential

With music and lyrics by Samuel Bernstein, this fantastic entrant into the New York Musical Theater Festival (NTMF) seems to be seriously rallying for a future off-Broadway run.  I am in awe of the creatives and casts who literally throw these shows together in a remarkably short period of time.  Simply amazing.  So when you get to see a show that delights and entertains in a cogent and cohesive manner, its all the better.


Mr. Confidential is the story of a family magazine publisher who turns to the gossip rag trade (inventing or perfecting it?).  He runs scathing stories, slides right down the line of truth and honesty and quite literally captures the American public at a time they had nothing similar.

Kevin Spirtas is perhaps a bit lackluster yet still entertaining in his performance as Bob Harrison.  Erin Leigh Peck is possibly the show-stealing character as Marjorie with her powerful voice and tough acting chops!  Amy Bodnar is divine as the ditsy and lovable Jeannie.  Michael Marotta aptly portrays the journalist Walter Winchell with his deep and rich radio voice.

With an ensemble that includes James La Rosa, Willie Falk, Alina Watters, and Joshua Dixon, this show is poised for a next step toward a commercial run.  The music is peppy and memorable in that big-band/swing dance kind of way and while the story does need a little trimming (especially that courtroom scene) I could see a snappier version of this show running at New World Stages or on Theatre Row at the Acorn, Clurman, or Beckett.  The allure and mystery of that era could even propel this one to Broadway after some tweaks, improvements, adjustments - and the addition of a star or two.  Think After Midnight and you'll get the idea of what's possible.

TMZ and Gawker would not be what they are today without Mr. Confidential and his magazine.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical

This might be referred to as a juke box musical and I will admit I usually don't go see these very often.  However, someone so embedded in the musical fabric of a generation deserved a shot.  The one thing I learned is that this is not just the Carole King story!  The title is a bit misleading as we are treated to the songs and lyrics from not only Carole King and Gerry Goffin but also Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.  The format is essentially a back-and-forth with the dueling teams fighting for the next number-one hit that a popular group would sing.

Back in their day, the songwriters were not well known and didn't perform at all (today some songwriters are actually performance artists in their own right, others remain behind the scenes like these folks).  Right from the start we learn that Carole never wanted to be a performer -it was not her dream.  We learn that it is something that came about after being married, having two kids and divorcing and moving to California.  It evolved as she "grew up" and "found her own voice".

Jessie Mueller (Carole King) does a wonderful job at transforming from a young, enthusiastic Jesish kid from Brooklyn who skipped two grades and started writing music - to a mature, full-voiced, emotional singer making her debut record and debut concert at Carnegie Hall.  Jake Epstein (Gerry Goffin) plays her obviously talented, very good looking, and ultimately mentally unstable boyfriend come husband and writing partner (he wrote the lyrics and she wrote the music).  At my performance, the knock-out understudy, Sara King, played Cynthia Weil and she fit the part like a glove!  Jarrod Spector rounded out the competing songster couple as hypochondriac funny-man Barry Mann.

From a construction standpoint, the show presents itself by showing you the songs as envisioned by the writers as they are under development (you get a tease of the melody and lyrics to remind you they wrote it) - and then you get treated to groups of actors and singers such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers and Little Eva actually performing the hits including Will You Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion, Up on the Roof, and Some Kind of Wonderful.   Very effective for a toe-tapping Broadway musical.  Of course you have to wait till the end to hear Carole in her own voice belt out You've Got a Friend, Will you Love me Tomorrow, Natural Woman, and, of course, the titular number, Beautiful.

The show portrays Carol as an ordinary Jewish woman who found herself thrown into a man's world of music, songwriting, and business and she really just wanted to be a stay-at-home mom to her kids and write her songs.  Little did she know life would throw her a curve ball and thrust her (to our benefit) into the limelight where she got the opportunity to use her own voice to sing her own songs.

Heartwarming, entertaining, and triumphant are words that line up nicely with this show.  I''m left wondering if Jessie Mueller will ride her Tony award winning performance out or we will see someone come in and take over the role on Broadway.  We shall see.