Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

West Side Story

Arthur Laurents is still at it.  The Broadway revival of West Side Story is on its way to the great white way.   I caught it in Washington DC at the National Theatre on its out of town tryout.  (As if there were a chance it wouldn't come!)  There's a rich history to this show - the creative team (Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins), the original Broadway production, the movie, and the legacy of being a turning-point in the American musical.

As with everything being revived - it's hard, especially in this instant multi-media world, to recreate the classic original.  It's got to be different, fresh, and new.  While some may argue this is about the evolving art - I argue that a classic is a classic.  Why must everything be "updated"?  Why can't people be happy with a classic re-presented?  I have mixed feelings about this production.  It certainly was a tremendously enjoyable evening of theatre. But it didn't knock me out of the park.   Keep in mind that this is a review of an pre-broadway production.  Improvements and changes are likely and, one hopes, would turn this production into a smash hit.

Matt Cavanaugh (A Catered Affair, Grey Gardens) takes the helm as Tony.  Let's get one thing out of the way - he's gorgeous and has the voice of an angel.  But it seems I've recently attended a spate of mis-cast leads in musicals.  Folks, it's a musical.  Cast someone who can dance!  Karen Olivo (In the Heights) takes on the role of Anita.  She had big shoes to fill (Chita Rivera on B'way, Rita Moreno in film).  It seems those shoes do indeed fit quite nicely.  I think her challenge as she grows into the role will be to exude even more sexuality, toss her hair around a little more, whip that dress around a little more and work on the clarity of her Spanish so that the audience will be able to comprehend it. Newcomer Cody Green (TV - Step up and Dance) is Riff.  Yes, he's HOT, HOT, HOT.  Acting doesn't seem to bother him, dancing is above average, and singing is not a challenge.  Finally a trash TV guy who actually has talent on Broadway!  Look for more good things from Cody.  Two of the leads are foreign talent - Joseffina Scalgione as Maria and George Akram as Bernardo.  She hails from Argentina (Hairspray in Argentina) and he hails from Venezuela and is a relative unknown up to now.  Look out for good things to come from these two!  

There's also a whole host of chorus boys (Jets and Sharks) as well as chorus girls.  There are too many to mention - except to say someone was wise enough to cast incredible dancers in these roles.  What may have been lacking in the acting department at times was more than made up in the dancing department.  The outstanding ballet skills were front and center from the curtain up - Prologue and Jets Song followed by Dance at the Gym followed by America all they way thru The Rumble.  Bravo!

Curtis Holbrook (Xanadu, All Shook Up, Boy from Oz) is one of my favorites.  He's absolutely adorable, dances at the top of his game, and has been honing his acting chops these past few years in some solid Broadway productions.   (Would asking him out on a date here be in appropriate?!)

Let me say right here that I'm not a fan of some of the "new ideas" brought to the show. Dialogue and songs completely in Spanish, for one.   It was distracting.  I appreciate the blending of cultures concept - but at the same time I wanted to know what they were saying!  Doesn't everyone want to sing along in his head to I feel Pretty?  Sort of hard in this production as they were completely in Spanish.  I heard a rumor that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the updated Spanish lyrics.   Not a deal-breaker for me, but I wonder how many bus-loads of tourists on big white buses will be unhappy and start whispering to each other "what did she say?" throughout the show!   The melding of languages was not as distracting during the dialogue - because it seemed to have been done by "peppering" rather than paragraphs of dialogue in a row.   

Arthur Laurents came out early on and said this would be a ground breaking production.  To paraphrase what he said is to say that he felt portraying all of the kids as killers would not have been possible back in time of the original production.  But this time around - he has built in an intense anger and pent up frustration in each of the gang members.   Each, in his own way, coming to the boiling point and showing that anger in the dance, dialogue and song.  This was, to me, one of the most successful of the changes to the show.  I did overhear several audience members wondering why there were so many "pauses" during the dramatic scenes.  Fear not, nobody forgot any lines.  The "pregnant pause" is a device to raise the tension and drama.  This reaction might indicate to the director that it was used a bit too much for the average audience member.  You decide.

I am a bit perplexed at the need to have a "Kiddo" character sing Somewhere in Act II.  Great for the kid who sang it (there are actually two of them cast and they alternate) but it seemed a bit awkward.  All I could surmise is that it represented a look back to how they all "could have been".  I saw Nicholas Barasch - and he was absolutely adorable and had the voice of a young male soprano angel.   It just seemed thrust on the audience unnecessarily and without any real explanation or basis in the plot.

With all the artistic and interpretive updates  I think it also had the effect of making one musical number stick out even more than perhaps it did in the past.   Gee Officer Krupke has always been a classic Broadway show-tune.   I was half expecting a total re-imagination of the music and presentation of it.  I guess maybe they ran out of time on that one.

One final observation.  I felt I was somehow deprived of the full musical orchestration.  While I did not see the original production or revivals - it somehow felt to me that music was cut.  I left feeling that i somehow did not get Leonard Bernstein's full musical assault on the ears.

There's still some chemistry to work out.  It's not fully there yet. A few scene/set changes seemed awkward, and Act II seems rushed and disorganized.  All these, one would hope, are addressed in the "out of town tryout" notes and fixed before it gets to Broadway.  I believe it's going into the Palace Theatre.  Don't be fooled into Balcony seating there.  Those seats are an abomination!  Some of them don't have a full view of the stage.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Saturn Returns

I haven't been to the Mitzi Newhouse theatre at Lincoln Center in quite a while, but for my return I was pleasantly surprised by the new play, Saturn Returns, by Noah Haidle.

The show plays out as a trilogy of sorts.  It cleverly draws a parallel between life repeating and the theory of how the planet Saturn takes 30 years to orbit the sun.  So as the theory goes - Saturn returns to the same position it was when you were born about every 30 years and so does your life experience. 
In a brief 75 minutes (ironically not 90 minutes) three different actors poignantly portray Gustin at a different age - repeating, re-living, and returning to the same point each time. Robert Eli (28), John McMartin (88), and James Reborn (58) each play Gustin at the indicated age and weave together the sad story of his life.  Amazingly, Rosie Benton plays the 3 different women in his life at these same points - Suzanne, his nurse when he is 88, Zephyr, his daughter when he is 58, and Loretta, his wife w
hen he was 28.   

The dots are sadly connected one by one and the entire story is revealed scene by scene.  As the dialogue unfolds, and the men sweep back and forth thru time to unveil the sad tragedies of Gustin's life.   Enhancing the experience is the brilliantly placed music, eerie and foretelling.  The lighting is magnificent on the simple living room of a house in Grand Rapids, Michigan, unchanging from 1948 to 1978 to 2008.

Four brilliant actors - one classic stage - check this one out before it too meets with it's planned demise in January.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pal Joey

When the leading man hurts his foot and there's no time to find a replacement you do the only thing you can - throw the understudy to the wolves! Rogers and Hart's re-invented 1940 Pal Joey, Roundabout Theatre Company's final installment in 2008, made its lackluster debut tonight at Studio 54 less one Tony award winning cast member, Christian Hoff. I wish i could tell you it was a smash-hit and that Matthew Risch pulled a "Shirley MacClaine", but it was unfortuantely an all-around disappointment. When numbers in the show get polite applause (some, none at all) and not a single patron gets out of his seat at the opening night curtain call - it's quite obvious that we were all beguiled (again). I highly doubt that Mr. Hoff would have singlehandedly turned this lemon into lemonade. The entire performance left me more bothered and bewildered than bewitched.

To start with, Stockard Channing (Vera Simpson) is miscast. Ms. Channing (tv's West Wing) is a legendary 62 year old stage and
screen star who lacks one critical ingredient necessary for a musical - she can't sing. Joey Evans, the central character of this show needs to be, much like Charity Hope Valentine needed to be in Sweet Charity, a triple threat - singer, actor, dancer. Matthew Risch (Legally Blonde), while stunningly handsome and dripping with sexuality, unfortunately is only a single threat as a dancer. Singing, not so much. Acting, just average.

The stand-out performer in this show just might be Martha Plimpton (Top Girls, Cymbeline, The Coast of Utopia) as Gladys Bumps. Richard Greenberg's revised book eliminates the old reporter role played in the 1952 Broadway revival by Elaine Stritch, and gives the show-stopping number, Zip, to Ms. Plimpton, who knocks it out of the house in her musical theatre debut. If there were anyone to be even considered for a Tony in this production I hope it's Ms Plimpton.

I couldn't help but thinking that I would love to have seen the 1995 Encores! concert version staring Patti Lupone, Peter Gallagher, and Bebe Newirth. And just for the record, I did go home and listen to the legendary Elaine Stritch regale the audience in her hit show, At Liberty, with her role in Pal Joey in New Haven in 1952 at the Shubert Theatre at the same time she was understudying Ethel Merman in Call me Madam at the Imperial Theatre in New York.

As always, Paul Gemignani, does wonders with the orchestral direction. Graciela Daniele provides above average choreography by keeping the show pumping with lots of high kicks. bumping and grinding. Joe Mantello, on the other hand, has seemingly failed to nail any substantial new message or brilliant interpretation of the work. I would be remiss if I did not mention the extraordinary costumes assembled by William Ivy Long. If it's any consolation, Tony #2 from this overall disappointing production might just be his for the asking.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Becky Shaw

Gina Gionfriddo must have a penchant for psychology and therapy.  It seems just about every one of her characters is a case study in "weird".  Don't get me wrong - i liked the show.  David Wilson Barnes (Lieutenant of Inishmore), Emily Bergl (Some Americans Abroad, A Touch of the Poet), Annie Parisse (Prelude to a Kiss, TV Law and Order), Thomas Sadoski (Reckless) and Kelly Bishop (Original cast, Sheila in A Chorus Line),  pull off a funny, quirky, and entertaining rendition of "everyone has problems and life happens".
Suzanna (Bergl) is one of those overly emotional, overly dramatic people who thinks everything is way more dramatic then it really is.  Max (Barnes) is a high profile, money-managing, uber-uptight and emotionally unavailable friend and (sort of) brother to Suzanna.   Her father dies. Perhaps he was gay.  Her Mother has MS (and now a rent-boy too) and is a domineering bitch. Now the family is poor.  Romantic sparks fly.  Fast forward 4 months - Suzanna marries Andrew (Sadoski) - a less than macho man who seemingly loves to "save" people, writes books and works as a barista.   Enter blind date - friend of Andrew - Becky (Parisse) and Max.   Add a dash of overbearing, domineering, funny as all hell mother (Bishop) and you've got complete family dysfunction!

While I did think that the play focused a bit too much on explaining the

  physiological aspects of these people, it did hold my attention.  When the curtain fell (figuratively) on Act I, it left you hanging and waiting to see exactly how this whole family mess would play out in Act II.   Act II however, seemed to drag a bit.  Do Suzanna and Andrew break up?  Do they get past it?  What becomes of Max and Becky?  Fortunately for you, tickets are not that expensive - so to find out the answers to these and other questions - get your ticket today!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Back Back Back

Possibly the most handsome and physically fit cast off-Broadway!   But beyond the good looks, there's a solid story here.   Not being a big baseball fan myself,  I found I could follow the action with relative ease.  The "scorecard" light board was a nice touch to keep us all informed what year, city, (and inning - there were 9) we were in.  And there's a lot of ground to cover - 1984 to 2005.  I mean as long as you haven't lived in a cardboard box for the past 20 years, i doubt there will be any surprises here. Itamar Moses has penned another scathing work - this time with Baseball as the target.   more specifically - the great moral and ethical dilemma of our time, steroids. 

  James Martinez' character (Raul), i think, is loosely based on Jose Canseco - at least with respect to the fact that he's the one who wrote the tell-all book.  Three is the perfect number of actors for this show - One young, innocent, hungry rookie, Adam (Michael Mosley), one hard driving steroid pumping player, Raul (James Martinez), and one player town between the two, Kent (Jeremy Davidson).  The triangle of morality related to this issue was clearly demonstrated by using the small cast and with only mere mention of the owners, other team members, fans, and other players.   The title of the show might be interpreted as an outfielder approaches the wall with a long hit... back... back... back... or it could represent what was eluded to in the 2nd or 3rd inning - the fact that each of these players on the same team was named rookie of the year in succeeding years - i.e. back to back to back.  Or possibly it could have deeper meaning.  I'll leave that one up to you.

Along the way - we see this playwright eloquently evolve the young rookie into a solid and mature player who can only be described as a hero for American baseball.  James Martinez is clearly the "roided-out" devil in this mess (and did i mention the rockin' bod underneath that uniform?).   Jeremy Davidson also ages during the show - from the young, possibly dumb kid from the south who makes baseball his life - and dips his toes into the drug-infested waters along the way.   How far the mighty can fall.

Don't miss this one at Stage II at Manhattan Theatre Club over at City Center.  Despite the current topic and non-fiction oriented aspect of the show - Itamar and the cast hit a home run with this one!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dividing the Estate

Horton Foote is a prolific, award winning playwright.  He's turned out an entertaining work for Lincoln Center Theatre in Dividing the Estate - but for all it's lofty aspirations, my dear Horton, it's no August: Osage County.   Not even close.  

The premise is quite common - children squabbling over how to divide the estate of their parents.  You find a little bit of everything and not enough of anything in the Gordon family - jealousy, envy, and sacrifice to name a few.   One matriarch (Elizabeth Ashley), two quite different daughters  - one married (Hallie Foote) , one widow (Penny Fuller) - one eldest son who is possibly a pedophile (Gerald McRaney) - an oddly nerdy nephew who runs the estate (Devon Abner), a bankrupt son-in-law (James DeMarse) and two spoiled nieces (Jenny Dare Paulin and Nicole Lowrance)- three black servants - two old (Arthur French and Pat Bowie) and one young (Keiana Richard) round out the cast.  

Perhaps the best element of this production was the magnificant set - dripping with detail, color and comfort - it consumed every inch of the viewable stage and really made it seem like we were peering in on a grand Texas estate.    As for the rest of the show - it had its moments, but overall, it underwhelmed me.   Elizabeth Ashley aptly held court while on stage - but the supporting cast wasn't able to do the same.  Oddly, Act I seemed more interesting than Act II and I found myself wondering if anything more was going to happen of interest as we inched toward the finale.  

The entire premise drags on and on - how to divide the estate... should they divide the estate... if they do divide the estate who gets what portion and when will they get their share... when it ultimately comes that they will divide the estate... more complications arise.   

Will this entire dysfunctional family have to live together under one roof?   Visit the  Booth Theatre and find out.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's that Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling

Although it's quite a farce, what a delightful, light, and tantalizing evening in the theatre it turns out to be.  Every now and again, one just needs to laugh - and that's just what David Pittu and Randy Redd have delivered.   

The show is run like a talk show of days gone by - ala Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas - with a slant towards the theatre.   It's a "must-see" cable access show called Composers and Lyricists of Tomorrow or C.L.O.T, for short - and it's hosted by Leonard Swagg (think Charles Nelson Riley!).  The main guest on this segment is a terminally up and coming artist with a tragically humorous life - Jacob Sterling.  

Leonard (Peter Bartlett) leads his guest, Jacob Sterling (David Pittu) through what could be called  a this is your life type interview - bouncing from one bad joke about the shows and music he has written to the next.  They top it all off with a tie-in to 9/11 - and it's hilarious, pure schlock, and never for one minutes lets you forget it either.    The show culminates in a new musical that Jacob Sterling has written by performing a montage of songs from the show using 3 of his young students  Paisley (Chandra Lee Schwarz), Eisenhower (Max Kumangai), and the uber-adorable, Jerod (Matt Schock).  

Everyone needs to laugh a little.  This show fills that bill and then some.  David Pittu has a knack for mastering his over-the-top characters.  This time is no different.  Saunter on over to the New World Stages and take in a performance of this gem.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Farragut North

Where did Beau Willimon get his inspiration and "inside info" when writing this play?  I learned after I returned home from the theatre from Roma Tore's NY1 Review that Mr. Willimon worked on the Howard Dean Presidential campaign.  The entire work now makes even more sense.

We've certainly been inundated for the past 18 months with political campaign foder.  Sadly it almost seems an empty day if we are not bombarded with some scandal, accusation, some grist from the proverbial political mill.  

Nor does it go unnoticed by this viewer that this show cleverly didn't run much past election day at the Atlantic Theatre.   We've really had enough.   But it's never quite enough until Broadway has taken it's shots too.   And what a bulls-eye this one turns out to be.  Now - this is not the dream cast (Leo DiCapprio and George Clooney) rumored last year to be doing a Broadway-bound version - but it's damn good nonetheless.   John Gallagher Jr. (Spring Awakening, Rabbit Hole) takes on the role of Stephen, the young, ambitious, cocky, rising star in the political campaign communications world (of course he's damn sexy doing it too).   Chris Noth (Sex and the City, Law and Order) tackles the role of Paul, the elder, more experienced and seasoned campaign advisor.  

The dialogue is sharp.  Kudos to director, Doug Hughes.  The humor, well placed and the acerbic and emotionally charged dialogue well delivered.  The plot, twisted and entirely (unfortunately) believable as one would expect.  The "gun" in act one gets used as one might expect.  No spoilers here.  

Possibly the most disappointing aspect of this show is the unfortunate familiarity with the subject matter that the audience brings to its seats.  Shock? Not a chance.  But I'm virtually positive that is not what the production was shooting for.  Cynicism, more likely. 

Strangely enough, at the end of the show, the "next generation" gets his first shot in front of the press and cameras (flash-flash-flash).  He reads a brief statement then looks up, as if to say "that was the script - now I'm going to tell you what it's really all about".  He looks us straight in the eye with that sincere, "we're going to change the world" face and tells the press (that's us) that the "people" is what the campaign is all about - it's the reason the candidate is running and that he will lead us into a new era.  The audience applauded exuberantly.  Hmmm... Fade to black.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


A superb revival of David Rabe's 1971 play by Roundabout Theatre Company. Racism, war, and homosexuality all wrapped up in an explosive 1965 Virginia Army Barracks. As relevant today as it was at its first performance. How far we've come. How little has changed. Take a look at the promo clips on the YouTube below:

Friday, November 21, 2008

On the Town

Another glorious, if only short lived, revival at City Center Encores!  A wartime musical penned by the indomitable pair - Betty Comden and Adolph Green with music by Leonard Bernstein.  The tale, as it goes, has 3 baby-faced sailors on shore for 24 hours in New York City.  One can only imagine the trouble they find.    First performed in 1944 during WWII, there is probably some small echo today of a wartime nation watching a few fresh faced (read absolutely gorgeous) young military boys entertain us on stage.  

Fresh off his role in Gypsy - Tony Yazbeck takes the helm (Gabey) with the support of his two sailor buddies - Justin Bohon (Chip) and Christian Borle (Ozzie).  The trio dance the show away - dazzling us with their graceful steps.   Paired up with each of the boys are equally talented young ladies each with a different take on life in the big apple - Leslie Kritzer (Hildy),  Jessica Lee Goldwyn (Ivy) and Jennifer Laura Thompaon (Claire de Loone) all live up to the expectations of their characters and each make you smile in their own way.  Brava!   But who steals the show?  Well - Madame Maude P. Dilly of course.   Played by none other than the incomparable Andrea Martin.

The show, as you would imagine, is a bit dated.  Kind of wholesome, square, and contrived - but most of the classic American musicals are.  For us in 2008 - it may seem phony - but it provides us with a glimpse back when times and people, too, were simpler.

Guest Music Director and conductor Todd Ellison took the helm of the Encores! Orchestra in grand style - involving himself in a scene or two - as it usually goes with the Encores! productions. 

If I had one complaint - it was not about the show's production quality - it was about the staging.  Shame on you John Lee Beatty for allowing the house to be sold out and then setting the "second" stage so far back.   The idea of placing the Encores! orchestra right up front is great, but you can't create an entire stage behind them.  Nobody can see what's going on - except for those in dead center orchestra seats!  For Christ's sake - i was sitting center grant tier - and i had trouble seeing what was going on back there on the sides.  The poor people who paid $95 a ticket in Row A of the Mezzanine should revolt and have you pay them back personally.

Were it not for the boyish and ever-graceful Tony Yazbeck (um, yes, i think he's absolutely and completely dreamy) I might be annoyed.  *sigh*

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prayer for My Enemy

Playwright Craig Lucas packs a whole lot of punch into the 1 hour and 40 minute (no intermission) off-Broadway debut of his new work, Prayer for My Enemy.  One might say  - "the kitchen sink" is even in there.   The Noone's have a plethora of problems and complications in their lives - alcoholism, an autistic child, bi-polar disorder, divorce, mild poverty, a gay (or maybe not) son, the Iraq war, and the list of personality "adjustments" that the entire family makes to accommodate all these things.   

Skipp Sudduth blurts out with certitude exactly what he thinks and feels  - about his son, the Iraq war, the failings of his life, and so much more - he's the alcoholic one - a 12 step success for 6 years now - despite his bi-polar disorder and his extreme interest in reptiles and mammal documentaries on TV.  Michele Pawk walks on eggshells trying to hold the family together - always acquiescing, pleasing, pointing out the silver linings - all the while crumbling and tormented inside about her son - Jonathan Groff - the one who's maybe gay - self admittedly effeminate, but he LOVES WOMEN.  He points this out to his childhood friend Tad (Zachary Booth) and the audience early on as the play alternates between dialogue and what Lucas calls "the psychic interior" - all the characters telling the audience what they are thinking but not saying along the way - or are they really saying it?  

But what does Victoria Clark  - an acerbically  bitter woman from Manhattan who loves to escape to the country and is now visiting her dying mother in the hospital - have to do with any of this?  Well, no spoilers here - we'll just say - "loaded gun".

There's a whole lot going on with this family - but I think part of the message Mr. Lucas is trying to pass on is "who's life isn't complicated these days"?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mouth to Mouth

Kevin Elyot's new work at The Acorn Theatre is jam packed with raw emotion and intentionally unanswered questions.  The play opens up at the end.  South London suburb.  Present.  Frank and Laura (David Cale and Lisa Emery) in a very one sided melancholy scene.  Frank clearly wants to tell Laura something. Laura is clearly upset by something.  Rewind.   Frank and his doctor, Gompertz (Andrew Polk) discuss Frank's unspoken illness and his desire to reveal a secret.  Comic relief indeed.  Rewind.  Frank, Laura, Roger (Darren Goldstein) , Cornelia (Elizabeth Jasicki) and Philip (Christopher Abbott) and Dennis (Richard Topol) - a family affair of sorts, an uncomfortable dinner party, and  a "shocking" revelation by Philip, the 15 year old son recently returned from Spain abruptly end the dinner plans.  Continuing forward - we learn of yet another shocking secret between Philip and Frank.  Fast Forward back to the opening scene. Can Frank bring himself to tell Laura what he wanted to say?  Is what he wants to say going to being solace to Laura in any way?  Is he somehow at fault?

If this was at all confusing - I don't mean it to be.  It should be very clear to even the most inattentive theatergoer what's going on.   The unspoken.  Secrets.  Untold facts.  Who is really talking to whom in life?  Do we see what is going on or do we just see what we want?   Clearly  Kevin Elyot has a firm opinion on this.   Mouth to Mouth is both a figurative title (whether my mouth or yours, words sometimes flow and sometimes don't - and we often don't want to listen to what we hear) as well
 as a physical meaning in this plot - It seems that (among other frolicking that followed) Frank saved Philip from drowning at the lake by giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation.  

Outstanding performances by Lisa Emery (Laura) and David Cale (Frank).  The sheer innocence of Christopher Abbott (Philip) is priceless, genuine, and brilliantly captured by Director, Mark Browkaw.  Brilliant subtleties, such as a Philip emerging in his first scene shirtless tantalizes the audience and offers up the question of his sexuality.  Laura scolds her son for smoking in a photograph.   And yet the opening and closing scene we find her indulging.  Never spoken.  Did we hear a passing comment about when Laura and Roger met so long ago?  It rings in our ears in the penultimate scene between them again.

Bravo, New Group.   A fine evening of theatre, indeed.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An Ideal Husband

Oscar Wilde, as well as Kendall Rileigh and Melanie Moyer Williams, did not have brevity as one of their guiding principles.  But let's just blame it on Oscar.  Kendall and Melanie have intelligently transformed Mr. Wilde's 1895 comedy about politics, money, and scandal into a charming evening of shockingly relevant theatre without much effort.  It seems that the problems of 100 years ago are just about the same as they are today in this arena.

The show drags on a bit unnecessarily - i think the adaptation could have chopped a few lines here and there.  Brad Thomason and Lindy Flowers were standouts as the Senator and his devout and upstanding wife.  Alex C. Ferrill immersed himself in the pompous character of the wealthy Governor's son with aplomb.   Despite being dumped out on the street at the late hour of 11pm, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of adapted theatre at the Red Fern Theatre Company.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

To Be or Not To Be

A well acted, yet disappointing production is currently languishing at the Biltmore Theatre (I know, it's now the Friedman) at the Manhattan Theatre Club.  A little bit of a play within a play concept going on here;  Throw in a lot of Hitler jokes;  Add a dash of humor and you've got Nick Whitby's To Be Or Not To Be.   

Based on the 1941 original and subsequent 1983 Motion picture staring Mel Brooks, this stage production seemed to pale in comparison.  Perhaps that was Nick Whitby's interpretation or possibly Casey Nicholaw's direction or maybe both.  Or maybe it was just the fact that taking a motion picture and turning it into a play doesn't always work. Strangely enough, I felt that this was somehow intentionally staged to compete with Roundabout's The 39 Steps.  I think RTC won that contest hands down.   Stop copying.  Start pioneering.  Welcome Back Lynne Meadow.

You'd better get to work.  You are 0 for 2 so far this season.  Barry Grove's choices that you are now stuck executing appear to be miserable failures.

It's not particularly knee slapping funny, but it's not a flop either.  Entertaining, yes.  Run-don't-Walk, no.   Run time is about 2 hours (thankfully).  The story doesn't really have much more in it to last any longer.  I have to say that the ending (at least what you perceive as the ending) is odd.   Thankfully someone threw in one last joke to let you leave the theatre with a smile.   To Go or Not to Go?  Don't rush.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Man for All Seasons

Frank Langella holds court at the American Airlines Theatre in Roundabout's revival of A Man for All Seasons.  A history lesson of the best kind  - powerful, enlightening, and educational.   A top notch supporting cast and crew make this a tour de force evening in the theatre.

Doug Hughes provides impeccable direction in the interpretation of Robert Bolt's 1961 Tony Award winning play regarding the historical significance of  Sir Thomas More - a well respected Lord Chancellor of England.   At its core, the story deals with personal faith, moral authority, and the meaning of silence in the course of public affairs.  

Sir Thomas More simply refused to join the Church of England after it's break from the Catholic Church in Rome and refused to speak and provide his opinion on the King's (Henry VIII) actions regarding his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and remarriage to Anne Boleyn.  His actions of silence were deemed a capital offense as he appeared to challenge the King's conduct in "the great matter" of the divorce and remarriage.   For not speaking, he was executed.  

Langella is likely to pick up a Tony nod, if not his 4th actual one for this near flawless performance.  Scenes intensely dramatic are peppered with humor.  Monologues of great importance roll effortlessly off his tongue.  Very human.  Almost real.  Totally Mesmerizing.   

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Speed the Plow

An all-star revival of David Mamet's classic play about the art of the deal in Hollywood.  Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Raul Esparza (Company), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) all converge on stage to produce an engaging and energetic evening of theatre.  

The revival is as relevant today as it was in 1988 when it first debuted.  A quick 90 minutes rockets us thru "the deal", "the deception" and "the resolution".  Mamet's trademark style is powerful and direct - no words minced.  Superb performance and interpretation.  It's a briskly paced show and gets its point across without delay.  

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Romantic Poetry

John Patrick Shanley should be ashamed of himself after such fine work on Doubt and Defiance.  At aminimum, Lynn Meadows, Artistic Director of the Manhattan Theatre Club should for subjecting her loyal flock to this trash.  At best, this crackpot musical could be a few marginally amusing skits on the Big Gay Comedy Sketch Show - but as a show on Broadway?  Absolutely not.  It's a flop.  A grand mistake, significant miscalculation, and waste of money to subject your subscribers and, heaven forbid, paying customers to.  Shame on you, MTC!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

9 to 5

One of my annual guilty pleasures is a trip to another city to get an advance view of one of the season's out-of-town try outs for the "it" show in the upcoming season.  This year it was flight 1402 to Los Angeles to see Dolly Parton's new musical, 9 to 5,  at the Ahmanson Theatre.  As in the past, I will start this review with the caveat that an out-of-town tryout is just that - a tryout.  It's meant to work out the bugs and kinks; tighten up the show; change songs; kick the tires; change the dialogue and button things up for the eventual Broadway run.   Consider this a "sneak peak" rather than a review.  I want to be fair to the production.

Let's start at the top.  The book was written by the same person who wrote the movie screenplay - Patricia Resnick.  The beloved Dolly Parton wrote all the music and lyrics and Joe Mantello directs.  So  far, so good.   Since we all know the film - Who plays the Dolly Parton role (Doralee Rhodes), the Jane Fonda role (Judy Bernly), and  the Lili Tomlin role (Violet Newstead) you may ask?  At the helm of this new musical production are Megan Hilty (Wicked),  Stephanie J. Block (Wicked, The Pirate Queen) and Allison Janney (A View from  the Bridge, TV's West Wing).  Franklin Hart is played by Mark  Kudisch (The Apple Tree, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Assassins, Thoroughly Modern Millie).  A fine supporting cast is rounded out by Andy Karl as Joe from Accounting (Legally Blonde, Alter Boyz, Slut), Kathy Fitzgerald as Roz 

(Damn Yankees, The Producers) and Ann Harada as Kathy the office-mate (Avenue Q) and my secret favorite, Van Hughes as Josh (Saved, Hairspray).  

Once again, it seems we all know the film (did anyone reading this blog not see it?)  - and this production makes no apologies for taking much of the dialogue direct from the movie to the stage - with much success. As a matter of fact, the entire story is pretty much taken in its entirety with only minor changes needed for an adaptation to the stage.  All you cult followers won't be disappointed.  ("I'll get that gun and I'll change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot"!).   

Musically, who doesn't adore Dolly Parton?  What fun she's often admitted  about writing this show.  The pastiche of musical number she churned out have something for everyone - a little country, a little rock and roll, and a whole lot of Broadway - all of them with a dash of Dolly!

The show runs the standard length - 2 1/2 hours with one intermission.  The dynamic sets on this particular stage (the Ahmanson is a newer, auditorium-like theater) were flown in, pushed up from below, slid in and out from the sides and turned inside out to create an ever 

changing flow to the numerous scenes (the outer office, Mr Hart's office, and his home just to mention a few).  Digital video was used effectively on the rear wall of the stage to convey the city-like atmosphere during several scenes.  I hope this stays.  Thankfully this will  be staged at the Marriott Marquis Theatre in NYC so one would hope that the same inventory could be used for the Broadway run.  

Now, let's talk about the talent.   Megan Hilty has already earned my vote for a Tony nod.  Hands down she steals the show.  She's really playing Dolly, playing Doralee - and she does it to a tee - the voice, the body, the hair, and the mannerisms.   Perfection.   Stephanie J. Block plays her own version of Judy Bernly.   A little more timid, a little more wholesome than perhaps you might remember Jane Fonda playing it.  With a powerhouse voice and the comedic timing she has - it all seems to work.   Now, onto a tough call.  Allison Janney has the comedic timing and delivery of a pro.  But this is a musical.  You have to be able to sing too. Unfortunately that's not something in her box of tricks.

She makes a valiant effort, and really pulls out all  the stops in Act II with One of the Boys, but if this show has any Broadway staying power - she's got to go.   Donna Murphy?  Are you available??  In a show that you can find little wrong with - she sticks out like a sore thumb.   I love her dearly and it pains me to say it -but she's got to go.

The show still takes place circa 1979 - but i have to say the costumes are not as retro as they could be and nobody seems to have the "big hair" that screams 1979.  I see some improvements to be made there.   Again to the modern stage at the Ahmensen - I hope the digital lighting here can be replicated at the Marquis to produce the same dazzling effects (The clapper.  That's all I'm saying).  

As a general note - this show loads of fun.  I see only minor opportunities to "tighten it up". One thing that did irk me was the continual use of the offstage chorus.  Why couldn't they

be on-stage if they were being asked to sing?   In ever thought it would be inappropriate or distracting if they would have been on-stage.  The fact that they were not on stage yet we were hearing them was, however.  At times, it only served to remind me that maybe they were doing this to compensate for Janney.  

I think the buzz is all good.  This production closes on October 19th in LA and previews begin in New York City on April 3rd.   If you see one show this season - make 9 to 5.  It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it!

For those of you who just can't wait - here's a sneak peak: