Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Apple Tree

Kristin Chenoweth is certainly a (big) Broadway star. However, right now, she's a star without a big show (if that is possible). The Apple Tree is not so much a show, but rather a showcase. It certainly allows Kristen to demonstrate her versatility and her comedic talents (and there's lots!). She's a dream to listen to and our little girl has a pair of lungs for sure.

The Apple Tree is actually a series of 3 vignettes - all dealing with love, desire, fantasy, and the forbidden fruit (both literally and figuratively). The first is a version of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden Of Eden. The second is the age old story of the choice and the equality of chance as told in the middle ages - a king, a princess, a warrior, forbidden love, and the ultimate choices they make (or do they?). The final scene is a fantasy dream sequence of an ordinary woman who becomes a star - Passionella - that takes place in the 1960's .

Brian d'Arcy James and Marc Kudisch pull through with solid supporting roles and the chorus boys are pretty darn cute.

The show is cute and fun, not great- but certainly worth seeing if you can get a discounted ticket. I think that Kristin will find that "role of a lifetime" pretty darn soon!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Scene

Theresa Rebeck, the playwright, seems to have a few issues she'd like us to know about. And boy, did Tony Shalhoub, Patricia Heaton, Anna Camp, and Christopher Evan Welch show us what they were!

In an unusual treat of elaborate sets (not the norm for 2ndStage), the cast presented us peek into the lives of one married NYC couple (Tony and Patricia as Charlie and Stella), their NYC friend (Evan as Lewis) and an interloper from Ohio (Anna as Clea).

The scene, as it were, is supposed to represent the "social" scene. These folks seem to be in TV and movies - Charlie is an actor and Stella is a booking agent for an undisclosed, yet quite familiar afternoon or morning substance-less talk show. They talk about friends who has made it big and all the "Hollywood-esque" behavior that you would imagine might follow suit (the unseen friend, Nick, is the primary object of their angst).

Charlie and Stella are not exactly happy people - and into their lives strolls Clea, the sexy, young, blond from Ohio. She's dumb (isn't everyone the mid-west?). Tony's character is struggling both professionally and emotionally (mid-life straight male stuff). What follows suit is not a happy scene for any of them.

The 2 hour and 30 minute performance will probably get trimmed down close to 2 hours once they get the lighting queues crisper, the scenery changes quicker, and the director takes his knife to the dialogue and executes some precision cuts.

Check out "Monk" and "Debra Barone" do something totally different than what you know them from on TV. It's worth the off-Broadway ticket price of $50!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Room Service

Billed as a side-splitting, screwball comedy - this show seemed to present itself as merely silly. I'm not sure why there were so many people doubled over with belly laughter in the audience -perhaps all friends of someone in the rather large cast for such a small theater? While the plot is clever, I found the stage way to small to deliver the physical nature of the comedy (imagine the Marx brothers X 2 - crammed on a 15 foot stage!).

Plenty of "characters", lots of chuckles, but it really seemed to be a mismatch of the talent, physical size, ethnicity, and age. Kudos do go out to Sterling Coyne (Gregory Wagner) - a stand out performance! ("God Damn it!"). But even he could not rescue the sinking ship.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spring Awakening

Brace yourselves - This one is gonna be a hit! Broadway finally has a new, edgy Rock n' Roll musical that will stick. Grammy award winning Duncan Sheik wrote all the music - a fact that many a theater-goer might even pick up on even without reading the Playbill. And let's not forget this story must have been a true shocker when written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind who is considered one of the founders of modern drama and a real pioneer of the concept of expressionism in the theatre.

The musical today so cleverly juxtaposes the Wedekind dialogue of teenage coming of age in the 1890's with Sheik's biting and angst filled Rock n' Roll lyrics. The resulting message is clear and ageless - kids through all ages have the same problems - - suicide, abuse, growing up gay, sex, abortion, not fitting in, and of course, parental influence. All that really changes is the calendar and the costume.

The actors in this production have a deep connection to the subject matter. Most all of them are actually between 16 and 21 and have grown up with this production over the past 6 years as it made its way to Broadway from the Atlantic Theater Company off-Broadway. The talent is raw, true, and natural. It's not a bunch of 30 year old actors on stage pretending to be kids. It makes all the difference. You feel for these kids and connect with their emotions.

For many of the actors, this is their Broadway debut. While there is a true lead actor and actress (Jonathan Groff as Melchoir and Lea Michele as Wendla) - it's the ensemble that makes this one pop! We get to see the boys belt out their talents right from the beginning in "The Bitch of Living" and the entire ensemble rock the house in "Totally Fucked". It would really be a treat to see John Gallagher, Jr. (Moritz) walk up on stage next July at Radio City Music Hall to collect his Tony for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.

With an "open" stage and steps down to the first row in the audience the actors seem to flow right into your world on several occasions. There's also 4 rows of bleacher style seating on stage on each side. Be prepared if you sit there. The cast sits among you when they are not performing; they burst into song and jump to their feet and stand on the chairs when you least expect your neighbor to be doing so! The Band is also placed upstage and in a rare move joins the cast and takes a formal bow with the cast - emphasizing their importance to the show's delivery. Each of them also has an individual mention in the playbill. Just as the show is about juxtaposition - so must the lighting be. Kevin Adams, lighting designer, takes the stage from monologue to dialogue to solo and melancholy ballads to foot stomping rock and roll and back all over again flawlessly.

These kids earned the standing ovation they got... and then some! Run, don't walk.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The Coast of Utopia - Shipwrecked

Quite a difference from the first (Nov 2006) installment! More engaging. Thicker plot. Less Boring. While Ethan Hawke dominated the first installment (Voyage), this time Brian F. O'Byrne took charge(Shipwreck).

Russian history seems to make just a little more sense now. Even after spending $300 on the whole saga, I'm still no expert on philosophy and intellectualism in Europe in the 1800's.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

High Fidelity

I went in with low expectations and came out with a smile from ear to ear! Never read the book. Never saw the movie. But I've heard all about both. Admittedly, the target audience is men - the single, 20-something and straight kind...but I won't hold that against the show. It's definitely a hard thing to get that demographic into a theater for a musical show on Broadway, now isn't it?!

Will Chase - all American cutie boy - works his heart out weaving an interesting tale of the girlfriends (mostly the 'ex' kind) in his life. Jen Colella (last seen in "Slut") happens to be the current one. And there are plenty of interesting characters in the supporting cast (friends, record store employees, customers). And keep an eye out for Hipster - by far the best dancer - and a favorite of many o' the boyz in the audience!

There was plenty of high energy, toe tapping, foot stomping rock and roll music all of which accompanied the clever, plot (see book, movie). There's even a "guest appearance" by Bruce Springsteen!

Find a discount ticket and rock on over to the Imperial Theater for a rockin' good time!

Sunday, December 3, 2006

My Name is Rachel Corrie

Naive. If I came away with one thing from this show it was that Rachel Corrie was naive.

Reluctantly, I went to the show, expecting to hear a bunch of political babble and administration bashing. This is the main reason I had stayed away so long. I'm not big on these things. I must say that despite my predisposition, I felt I saw a suburb one woman show. It was insightful, powerful, personal, and believable. I saw Kerry Bishe play Rachel. She is billed as the person who does "select performances" (I scoured the playbill and did not see anyone listed as "understudy", so take that for what it's worth).

Right off the bat, I was handed a little white card on the way in the theater. Interesting, I thought. I wonder how complex this show is going to be that they have to hand me a card to "help put the show in context"? Those really were his words. I read through it, eager to find out what it was that i had to be told. When I finished it, I quickly realized that this card was not at all associated with the show and that it was what someone might call "the other side of the coin".

First off, this show is about the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Since this card seemed to take the Israeli point of view - I surmised that the show was going to probably take the Palestinian Point of view. Indeed it did.

I was actually once again surprised. The show was not a Bush-Bashing or specifically political work. It was rather the poignant retrospect of a young girl's life and struggles with the world around her.

So how do we get to Naive? Well, it is my interpretation that Rachel Corrie was indeed an activist. She cared deeply about people, about peace, about solving the problems of the world. But here's where I think the naive part comes in. She came of age in the time of one of the larger Israeli -Palestinian conflicts. She, as an American (Internationalist), tried to show the world the plight of the Palestinian people. She lived with them in Gaza. She seemed to take the point of view that they were the "innocents". What I find hard to believe is that she blindly believed this. What about Hamas? What about the underground tunnels where bombs and arms were smuggled in? She seemed to be so naive about it that all she saw were the innocent people caught in the middle and associated the entire conflict to be against them.

Rachel Corrie was a compassionate, peaceful, and deeply caring person. Kerry Bishe did an outstanding job of making us believe this. I'm pretty sure that she was young, impressionable, and used by the Palestinians for her beliefs and convictions. In the end, that is what killed her. She took her bravery and ideals to the grave - fighting for something she really thought was just.

More than many of us can say...

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Great Expectations

90 Minutes - No Intermission - Charles Dickens on speed! The play by Bathsheba Doran seemed to be more like the play based on the Cliff's Notes of the aforementioned author's novel. All the highlights were hit. The salient facts disclosed. Not a minute wasted.

Kathleen Chalfant looked ancient and raggedly appropriate. The quick pace of the show obviated the need for opulent sets. Good thing, because the Lortel theater always seems one day away from the wrecking ball! Christian Campbell, the handsome, long haired dreamy-boy, aptly handled the role of Pip, transforming before our eyes from poor country bumpkin to a sophisticated, educated London gentleman.

Perhaps theater purists might scoff at this production. I'm torn. By liking this, am I secretly admitting that today we are all really part of the "microwave generation"?

What will be next? Les Miserables - the abridged version? Hmm...