Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, December 29, 2007


OK, if you're a Monty Python Fan - that goes a long way to enjoying Spamalot. However, as I've seen before, once a play gets "old", you are on the 16th cast change, the director is long gone, the producers are no where to be found and the stage manager is running the show - this is what you get. Garbage-a-lot!

My friend commented during the show - "This won the Tony? I guess it was not up against much competition in 2005!". (for the record it was up against Spelling Bee, Light in the Piazza, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). I see the attempt at humor - it's clever in concept, yes. Act II much more so than Act I, for sure. Plenty of marginally funny and stale one-liners abound. The plot is thin, to say the least. Even the "Python-esque" fun and frolicking seems muted and lethargic.

Well - let's look back at the point of this show - - Put on a low budget looking (they spent $11m, by the way) show that perpetuates and extends the cultural phenomenon of Monty Python: The Holy Grail. Entice a new theater audience, perhaps? Have these people gone on to be inspired by the performance and see other deeper shows? (there couldn't be any less deeper shows). I think not.

Lest not we mention the current day annoying, dumb, and culture-less tourists that packed the theater. The requisite gay jokes got many-a-laugh. Of course they would. The mostly white, homophobic, middle American, suburban seat-fillers who paid upwards of $200 for a mezzanine ticket (see, i told you they were stupid) seemed more than willing to accept what they saw as "good theater". Again, I think not.

Let's just say that there are some good "theater" jokes in the book - (of course there would be, it's a Broadway musical!) - but not a one of the idiots that packed the theater laughed at the Wicked parody, the West Side Story music, or the Company spoof. At least the parents (not the kids) got the Fiddler joke - i mean it was a whole scene - how could they miss it?! And then there were all the references to popular culture. They had a big long reference to Senator Craig and the bathroom stall scandal. I think it took a full 5 minutes for the morons (or is that Mormons?) in the audience to get it!! And at that, they didn't like it much. ("He's not gay, you know").

I'm not a Monty Python fan - but let's just say I was less than pleased with what i found both on stage and in the audience at the Shubert Theater. I was right to not see this in 2005 and wrong to see it now.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I wasn't sure from the hype exactly what kind of play this would be. His last play, Butley, was a serious drama - so what's a boy to think?! Well, after about the first 3 minutes - it's clear - David Mamet has penned a stinging romp - an indictment of current public policy and politics in general. Only a little "potty mouth" this time, however. (Mamet is known for his extreme language). Nathan Lane, Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) and Dylan Baker (Mauritius, et al) have a grand ol' time on stage - you can tell. Just don't try to take this one too seriously - at all. Enjoy it for what it is.

Nathan Lane, the unpopular, dumb, and scheming president (remind you of anyone these days?) needs money for his presidential library - or to get re-elected (anything is possible with money and media). Dylan Baker is his trusted advisor (the only one apparently) and straight man to Lane. Laurie Metcalf plays his brilliant lesbian speech writer. They all get tangled up in issues (and laughs) around gay marriage, Indian reservations, gambling, special interests (the turkeys), and political issues and gaffs galore!

As you would expect, Lane aptly harpoons each topic with his natural comic genius. Act II was clearly funnier than Act I - plenty more of the requisite "gay jokes". There's so much farce here, it really precludes any long term teeth the show might have. It's topical and relevant to this current time. I guess we'll see in 20 years if the show can be revived and if it will need any updating or the same issues will persist!

Right time - the presidential electoral cycle in full swing; Right people - comic trio reminds you of presidents, advisers, and cabinet members current and past; Right niche - go for broke with the farce. Anything less would have required a whole lot more pomp and circumstance to execute. Go for a big belly laugh.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Pied a Terre

Welcome to the next installment of a Lifetime Television Movie off- Broadway! In two acts we manage to fade in and out of two times in the melodrama of Julia, Jack, and Katie's lives.

Here goes the summary. Act I: Daddy (50 years old) picks up teenage hooker and keeps her at his NYC Peid-a-Terre. Teenage hooker falls in love with him because he is taking care of her. Daddy doesn't touch her (something must be up). Mommy shows up and is greeted by girl and pretends to be daddy's brother to find out why she's there. Blah... Blah.... Blah... Act II. We come to learn Daddy is dead. Mommy and Daddy both are carriers of a gene for Cystic Fibrosis and had a daughter who died of it. (could daddy be re-creating the daughter he never had?). Think so? Well, flash to last scene - where mommy tells daddy that she really did have another daughter with daddy when they were dating but gave her up for adoption. Daddy wants to find her. Mommy doesn't. In a final scene of rapid flashbacks and time shifts- we learn that Daddy actually did find said daughter (Ala the teen hooker he picked up not to screw but to surprise mommy with after a few months of "polishing her up) but Mommy showed up and figures it out herself but it's too late - Daddy is dead. Oh brother!

So goes another episode of "The Stomach Turns". Seriously - pretty decent acting - and i swear with a drink in her hand, Sue Ellen Ewing could have played the role. Check out the melodrama at the Kirk Theater on 42nd Street.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Farnsworth Invention

"The turning point of the 20th century wasn't on television. It was television". So goes the "grab" for this play at the lovely Music Box Theater on West 45th.

Jimmy Simpson and Hank Azaria bring the little-known drama and conflict over who invented the television to the Broadway stage. Clearly is was Philo T. Farnsworth... or was it Vladimir Zworykin who stole it from Farnsworth and worked for David Sarnoff at the Radio Corporation of America? Two acts later, the full story is revealed - and you find out the truth... or do you?

As critics will tell you, Aaron Sorkin (creator of The West Wing) has taken some liberties with this play - altering some facts, revealing to you at various points that he has; not telling you about altering others.

My bottom line is that this play was a drama meant to entertain. David Sarnoff says at the beginning of Act I, "The ends justify the means. What else are the means for?" Sorkin seems to do the same. Walking out of the theater, the result is the same - you understand that Sarnoff is credited with the invention of the TV and Farnsworth is a nobody regardless of a few altered facts. Along the way the audience is treated to the the lives, loves, and obsessions of both men in a way that only Sorkin could present - suburb, tight, fast-paced and intelligent dialogue.

Not a moment of "dead air" on stage - Simpson and Azaria couldn't be a better pair of adversaries - Top notch. The Tony nod should be headed their way. Only one of them can win. Perhaps another drama will ensue. Only time will tell.

Check out Philo T. Farnsworth on "I've Got A Secret" - 1957

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Make Me A Song: The Music of William Finn

A Sunday night delight! Not so much a musical as it was a musical review. The evening consisted of a single 90 minute act of non-stop singing by 4 super talented actors - Sandy Binion, DB Bonds, Adam Heller, Sally Wilfert - all accompanied by Darren R. Cohen on the Piano.

The musical selection was broad - from all aspects of William Finn's repertoire - which included, of course, a Falsetto's Suite, but interestingly enough, nothing from Spelling Bee. Surprisingly, (to me anyway) William Finn wrote quite a few songs for shows that never quite happened. I was also intrigued at the fact that most of his melodies are fluffy and rhyme filled but have deceptively deep lyrics and meaning. The man behind the curtain put a lot of thought into what he was writing. It struck me when leaving that i somehow wished i had heard more of his songs in the shows he intended. One thing's for sure - I will definitely go see Falsettos the next time it comes around.

Following along the program, the audience was able to read a little blurb about each song - it's origin or meaning or little known fact or two. My favorites included Change (a double entendre about "coins for the poor" and "a desire to improve life"); Stupid Things I Won't Do (it was written for Elaine Stritch); and Mister, Make Me A Song (unbenounced to Mandy Patinkin, it was written for him).

Set Those Sails for the New World Stages and enjoy the Music of William Finn. He's always on stage watching over you!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Die Mommie Die!

Charles Busch wrote and directed this comedy-thriller. As Angela Arden, an aging and washed up singer and actress, Thru little gestures, voices, and tell tale phrases, Angela evokes stars of the golden era - Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Tallulah Bankhead - and more! And the wig she wears smacks of Lucille Ball! It also doesn't hurt that Bootsie (Kristine Nielsen) - the housekeeper looks and sounds like Ethel Mertz!!

It's quite a farce - but a classic romp, nonetheless. Set in what could only be called a classic Beverly Hills home, Angela Arden has two kids (Lance and Edith) both of whom have deep emotional issues - presumably from being raised by Angela! Lance (with or without his short shorts and shirt off) is a dreamboat (Van Hansis - the gay teen on As The World Turns). Bob Ari aptly plays the mega-Hollywood movie producer in debt to the mob- Sol Sussman. His image brings to mind Mr. Goldwyn or Mr. Mayer.

All around it's a murder mystery with a B-Movie ending. The "bad" acting is on purpose - and you don't mind it for a minute. You are there for camp - and camp you get! The mere budget for the glam hostess dresses and "a few very important peices of jewelry" Angela appears in must be half the show's budget alone!

For a night of comedy-noir just stroll on over to see Charles and the entire cast ham it up in this one act treat!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Is He Dead?

Norbert Leo Buts - in Drag?! How could you go wrong?!! This romp at the Lyceum theater is a belly- laugh evening at the theater. Written by Mark Twain in 1898 , but apparently not published until discovered in 2002! It's lighter than most of his works - but what a treat!
The basic premise is the question of value. An artist's work tends to be worth nothing during his life - but becomes the "hottest" thing once he's dead. So let's see - - what could an artist do to change that? Hmmm... maybe fake his death, have his friends sell all his works at a premium price and then they all live happily ever after?! Voila! They've figured it out.

A great supporting cast - but Norbert (especially as his twin sister!) is a trip! He appears to be having fun the entire show. It brought to mind the days of the Carol Burnett show - watching Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and Carol Burnett try to crack each other up on stage.
Don't miss this Winter treat!