Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Country Girl

A lesser known work by Clifford Odets. A play (1950) staring Uta Hagen, made into a popular movie (1955) staring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and William Holden, this 3rd revival is something just short of average.

Despite the star power - Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand, and Peter Gallagher - the play lacks chemistry and comes across as rather flat. I never felt much attraction between Gallagher and McDormand - and Freeman always seemed too pleasant and happy - - i am guessing that a drunk would not be so even keeled.

I found the set (and hence the theater) unusually dark. There was a radio on stage that played music during the dialogue occasionally. At one point - McDormand asked Gallagher if the music was distracting - and someone from the audience shouted out "Yes!"

Throughout the show i often felt i was watching an old black and white movie that wasn't very good. The dialogue is pretty dated - but perhaps some actors with more chemistry or a director with a more progressive style could have given this old relic the boost it needed.

Despite the stars, I don't think this one will last very long. Nice try, but no dice.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Glory Days

A musical penned by two 23 year old fresh faces to Broadway, James Gardiner and Nick Blaemire, Glory Days tells the tale of the reunion of 4 high school friends after being apart for their first year in college.

The young and fresh faced boys have to be praised for their energy and dedication to the roles - something that shines thru in their performances.

The story is told mostly thru the eyes of Will (Steven Booth), who is the "glue" that once held his friends Skip (Adam Halpin), Andy (Andrew C. Call), and Jack (Jessie JP Johnson) together. Jack is by far the one with stand-out vocal skills (uber-cute on top of that!) and I wish I could have heard (and seen) more from him.

Truth be told, it's not the deepest story. There's not a lot of action on stage and there's only so much you can do with a set that is a small section of an athletic field bleachers. It's basic and straightforward and no matter what you think about the performances, it has a character or storyline that will trigger a memory of "I had a friend like that once" or "That happened to me and my friends once" or "He reminds me of..." I think you get the idea. We all remember the "glory days" of our youth.

No spoilers here as to what exactly happens to whom. Let's just say that the boys bonded in their high school days because they were all different and come together a year after graduation to learn how each of them has or has not changed. At it's core, it's a story of how we all grow apart as we get older. Some of us struggle to hold on to the "glory days". Others among us relish the opportunity to evolve and grow. Friendships sometimes get caught in the middle. Perhaps it takes a pair of 23 year olds to express what this age old issue means to today's youth.

I enjoyed the fresh faces, the youthful energy and inexperience that frankly worked in their favor. I don't think it's destined for "Best Musical of 2008", but there's talent here both on and off stage. I'm going to guess we will be seeing a lot more from all of these boys - one way or another.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Boeing Boeing

Take a slap-dash comedy from the 1960's and throw in a few stars and hope for the best. The show is straight off the West End where it enjoyed a rave reviews. Admittedly, I saw the show in previews - so there is some work to be done. The show is too long, for one. The entire show should have been like two short physical comedy skits as was mastered by Carol Burnett and Co. All throughout the show, I was picturing her and her cohorts on stage doing the roles. It would have been a coup to get her back on stage in the leading role.

Christine Baranski, Bradley Wittford, and Mark Rylance (transfer from the London run) take the helm supported by the 3 stereotypical 1960's air stewardesses- one Italian - Gina Gershon (Alitalia) one German - Mary McCormack (Luftansa), and one American - Kathryn Hahn (TWA). All around, the performances were top notch - it's just the run time that brought them down. We get the idea Matthew Warchus. The jokes will go over better and the laughs will get bigger. Stop reminding us over and over that the air time-tables are the key to mastering the comings and goings of Bernard's 3 - yes 3 - fiances. After about 20 minutes - we get the setup. Stop dragging it out. Keep it moving. Ms. Baranski and her "burst on stage, deliver line, exit stage" will benefit the most. Keep it snappy and under 100 minutes (two acts or one - i think it could work with both) and more people will walk out laughing instead of saying "I thought it was never going to end". You've got a captive audience who is ready (and very willing) to laugh. Maximize the result.
All around, I think this one will stay for a while. It's very funny, it's got great physical comedy, and great actors pushing the limits on stage to deliver the laughs. Just take a look at the original cast in the movie - Jerry Lewis, Tony Curtis, and Thelma Ritter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Top Girls

Let me start off by saying I completely enjoyed the acting of the gals on stage. Kudos to your talents. That's the only good thing I have to say about this train wreck on 47th and 8th.

A thoroughly painful evening at the theater. A complete turn-off and complete fraud thrust upon the audience.

I'm completely disappointed at Manhattan Theater Club's choice to present this show. At the first reading of this play Caryl Churchill they should have thrown it in the trash bin and burned it. It's revolting. It's absurd. It's unacceptably long and boring. There doesn't even seem to be a point to anything that occurred on stage the entire evening. Shame on you MTC!

MTC seems to hype this show and provide a description of the plot which doesn't even jive with what transpires on stage. Only one of the many scenes takes place at the Top Girls employment agency in London. It happens to be one of the better scenes (take them where you can get them). Is this show really about the values of the leading lady? Values?? I think not. Choices, maybe, but values? No.

When I see over 1/2 of the audience leave their seats by the end of the show (3 unbearable acts with two intermissions and over 2.5 hours!) it's usually a hint something is not kosher. But there's nothing more telling than the leading lady politely bowing, but then rolling her eyes as if to say "Oh boy, we've cleared another house again", it's only validation that even the actresses seemed to regret their decision to perform in this show.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Laurence Fishburne takes the life and accomplishments of Thurgood Marshall to the stage in this new one-man show at the Booth Theatre. Part history lesson, part biography, but mostly an entertaining performance by one of America's leading actors.

Fishburne takes you from Thurgood's childhood all the way to his retirement from the Supreme Court. I'll bet you didn't know he argued as the lawyer for the NAACP on the famous Brown vs Board of Education case? It's just one of his many accomplishments you'll be reminded of. He was deeply committed to equal rights throughout his entire life, fought his way all the way to the supreme court and kept on fighting once he was there.

The 100 minutes you will spend in the theater pales in comparison to the impact that this one man has had in so many of our lives.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Catered Affair

The iconic Harvey Fierstein has penned a beautiful book for this new musical - originally a 1956 motion picture written by Gore Vidal and turned into a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky. For the trivia buffs in all of us, the movie starred Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, and Debbie Reynolds.

At its core, the story here remains the same. It's a tale that sadly sums up an entire generation of teenagers of the post WWI generation. The ones that got married way too early because they "had to". It's the story of regrets, of dreams forgone, and of the desire for your children to have a better experience.

Highlights: The lovely and talented Faith Price (Noises Off, Guys and Dolls) and newcomer, Leslie Kritzer (Legally Blonde). A dramatic mother-daughter duo that will bring tears to your eyes.

Neutral: Tom Wopat - dramatic portrayal of the father was convincing and skilled, yet his singing just isn't up to the same level as his acting.

Problematic: Harvey Firestein - OK, so he's written a beautiful, poetic, and touching dramatic work for the musical theater stage. Yes, there's a gay uncle who's funny and poignant and if that's all the part was, it would be perfect for him. But the part requires singing and it just pains me to hear him attempt singing. It's a musical. If this show was possibly billed as a "Play with Music", perhaps it would be acceptable. Music and singing, in that case, would not be the focus. His stage presence, artful acting and comedic timing just could not convince me to overlook the musical deficit.

It was a mistake for Harvey take a role. Writing the part would have been enough for me to leave the theater saying, "That Harvey, he's a genius with a pen". Re-cast with powerhouse talents equal to those of Faith Prince, this show has the capacity to be a Broadway juggernaut much like it's predecessor at the Walter Kerr, Grey Gardens. As-is, it's still a poignant musical drama written by a talented iconic figure, but fails to deliver on its full potential.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

From Up Here

Liz Flahive has penned a darkly funny, brutally honest, and shockingly common-place new work now unfolding on Stage I at the Manhattan Theater Club. From up Here tells the "everyday" tale of what might be considered the "normal" American family today.

And by "normal", I mean a family that has a slightly neurotic and frazzled working mom; a step-father who has no real career and can't seem to "find" himself; a daughter who is having sex with all the boys in high school; an aunt who basically ran away from life and enjoys climbing mountains and living like a backpacker. and last, but not least, a son who has done something wrong at high school - and by wrong i mean really wrong - and now has to live with the significant consequences of his actions. All normal, right?

Also, it's not really surprising that the setting is listed as "The Suburban Midwest", although these days, that could read "Anytown, USA. What Liz Flahive and director, Leigh Silverman, have done here is to skewer the "typical" American family and lay it bare for all to see.

No spoilers here - I won't tell you what Kenny has done. But it is OK for me to tell you that Tobias Segal (Equuis, Doris to Darleen) is a young, rising star to watch very closely. He's mastered the art of the troubled and disenchanted youth and he's given possibly the best performance of his career thus far. Tony award winner, Julie White aptly plays Grace, Kenny's mom. She's got a whole host of problems unto herself and now must deal with Kenny's new problem and its far reaching consequences.
Playing now thru June 22nd, come to The City Center and catch this new, smart work.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

South Pacific

A Rogers and Hammerstein classic - South Pacific - is now playing at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Revived in grand style, this musical set on two islands in the Pacific Ocean during WWII boasts a full 30 piece orchestra as created for the original Broadway run in 1949 (virtually unheard of!) two superb leading actors and a robust supporting cast.

Kelly O'Hara (Light in the Piazza, The Pajama Game, Sweet Smell of Success) takes the helm as Ensign Nellie Forbush and Paulo Szot, a Brazilian native, as Emile de Becque. The chemistry between the two was completely natural and unforced. Matthew Morrison (Light in the Piazza, Hairspray, Ten Million Miles) played the young, troubled Lieutenant Joseph Cable and proved once again that his vocal skills are top notch (as was his often shirtless character). Danny Burstein (The Drowsy Chaperone, The Boys from Syracuse) took Luther Billis to another level - comedic and macho, yet tender and caring. With over 40 actors in the cast it's hard to mention them all.

Tune after tune seems to bring you back to something from your past. I heard everyone around me humming the tunes and fondly remembering yet another classic melody. Of special note, at the Overture, Entr'Acte and Finale Ultimo - the floor of the horseshoe shaped stage at the Beaumont pulled back to fully reveal the faces behind the music. Conductor Ted Sperling received rousing applause each time.

With such tunes as Some Enchanted Evening, There is Nothing Like a Dame, Bali Ha'i, I'm Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair, Happy Talk, and You've Got to be Carefully Taught - you can't go wrong. With the grander and prestige of Lincoln Center behind you - this just might be the "Best Musical Revival of the Year". We'll have to wait until June to find our for sure. In the meantime, set sail for 66th and Columbus for a premium voyage!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sunday in the Park with George

Stephen Sondheim wrote what might be his most sophisticated and eloquent music and lyrics to this James Lapine book. This presentation by Roundabout Theater Company is actually the Menier Chocolate Factory's production straight off a smash hit run on the West End in London. It's a brilliant, elegant, and magical experience. Sam Buntrock's direction and Christopher Gattelli's musical staging make the evening unfold effortlessly as the George Seurat's "new" style of painting - pointillism -comes to life "bit by bit" on a stage presented as the canvas.

The cast is mostly from England with a few "local" replacements. Daniel Evans portrays George in both acts superbly. In one of Sondheim's more memorable numbers from the show, Putting it Together, George reminds us "Art isn't easy". And neither is this production. You can tell there was a great deal of technical precision required in this show. The bare white stage is bathed in video making it appear, among many things, a full scale vision of Seurat's painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte".

Act I takes place on a series of Sundays from 1884 to 1886 both in the the park and George's studio. Act II shuttles us forward 100 years to 1984 at an American art museum and then back on the park. What's changed in these 100 years? What is art all about? How does art get made? What does art mean to the artist? What is the legacy of an artist? This story is one very clever and poignant version of the answers to these very questions.

"Having just a vision's no solution"
"Everything depends on execution"
"Putting it together, that's what counts"

Don a parasol, stoll over to Studio 54, and see some Art! Its well put-together!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cry Baby

James Synder - you ROCK. Well, more importantly - the entire cast ROCKS! Cry Baby, the latest new musical to arrive on the scene at New York's Marriott Marquis Theater threatens to rock the town to the bedrock. Cry Baby is a musical (Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger) based on the film of the same name which was written and directed by John Waters. Needless to say, there are some boundaries to be pushed.

First and foremost - the entire cast simply rocks the house from the opening number to the final ultimo. No stage is better equipped to fly in and out the dazzling sets to support all the toe tappin' numbers. Dancing, dancing, and more dancing. That ensemble couldn't have kicked higher and tapped harder. Speaking of hard... those dancing boys had rock hard kick ass bods literally dripping with sweat and oozing sex. Someone bring me a glass of cold water! Wow-za!

I think the critics will say - it's a musical without it's own identity. It doesn't seem to have any memorable numbers - even though each of the numbers is a toe-tapping Broadway delight. It's sort of a mix between Grease and Oklahoma; between Hairspray and Spring Awakening; between The Music Man and Jersey Boys - - I think you get the idea. It's classically structured - two romantic leads, two comedic leads with a chorus of talented actors. The story itself is a contrast between the "good kids" and the "bad kids". So hence you get both worlds colliding on stage - A barber shop quartet followed by a James Brown-esque rock number followed by a West Side Story dance number. This one has it all. Time will only tell if it has the staying power to keep all those things alive under it's own unique brand.

All this typing and I have not gotten to one of the best parts - Harriet Harris! She's a delight as Mrs. Vernon-Wiliams and the proof of her love from the audience is her complete butchering of a musical number which still gets raucous applause! She's a comedic genius - ala Lucille Ball or Ethel Mertz!

Onto the young ones (most everyone else is!). Christopher Hanke makes the cute preppy boy, Baldwin, come alive - almost walking on air in those Sperry's. James Synder as Cry Baby, commands the stage in his Broadway debut. I'd love a pair of those painted on Jeans. Fierce! Dupree, a "what James Brown might have been like as a kid" character is played brilliantly by Chester Gregory II. Those shrill ooooh's and aaaahh's get you hootin' and hollerin' every time. Now there are too many ensemble names to mantion here, but this review would not be complete without a mention of the absolutely drop dead gorgeous, uber-talented dancing "bad boy" dancers - Marty Lawson, Charlie Sutton, and Spencer Liff!

Torrents of music - Lynne Shankel took command of the Orchestra from the pit right from the start. Plenty of toe-tapping, bob your head and clap your hands numbers, clever comedy, and no shortage of eye candy will keep the crowds entertained for a while. Swing on by and get your fill!