Photo by Don Kellogg

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:

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Adam Rapp has penned a tense, emotional, and darkly brilliant work that recently debuted at Playwrights Horizons.  I read somewhere that it is partially based on a real life experience in Mr. Rapp's youth.

The mesmerizingly intense story takes place all in a few hours in a New York City hotel room.   A mother from the mid-west played by Annette O'Toole (Nash Bridges, Smallville) takes her son, Christopher Denham (Master Harold and His Boys, The Lieutenant of Inishmore), to New York City with the explicit agenda of having "one last good time" to see a "big Broadway show". 

You see, she's got cancer and is dying.  He's what you might call a "classic American child"  - and by this i mean - a troubled, lonely boy of a broken home who claims to care about nothing, but really cares more than anyone will know.   Probably covers at least 50% of the population under 18 years old.  While at the hotel, Denham meets a mysterious young woman, Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam Waterston) who draws him into her tangled web.  

Rapp's dialogue is calculated.  O'Toole portrayal of the sick mother was both physically convincing and emotionally brilliant.  Denham seems to have mastered the power of quiet introspection, hesitation and curiosity.  You soon learn that his overt actions say "i don't care", while his covert actions, body language, and emotions suggest otherwise.  Rapp infuses comedy at the most appropriate points.  He even takes a unique opportunity to poke fun at theatre audiences and standing ovations.  Very clever, Adam.  And very well received by the audience.  I did wonder how the audience sitting on the far left got to see the very funny opening scene.  I'll leave it at that.

I actually think the cast deserved a standing ovation at the end, but we were all so sensitized by the joke during the play - it didn't happen!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Boys' Life

Boys growing up and the challenges they face in becoming responsible adults.  Life is tough and you find out how many different problems there can be and how much responsibility being an adult really requires.  I saw an Off-Off-Broadway production of this show at the Spoon Theatre exactly 1 year ago - See 2007 Review

I have to say the quality in this 2nd Stage production show was

bit better than the black-box theatre I saw this in before, but not by much.  The annoying "trailer-park" cut-away sets were distracting and seemingly built by a spatially  challenged set designer (Mark Wendland).  They were too big for the stage - and hence, annoyingly jockeyed around the stage with every scene.   OK, but was the acting any better?  About the same actually.  These guys were above average - all things considered.   Jason Biggs (The Graduate), Rhys Coiro (Dinner at Eight), and Peter Scanavino (SubUrbia, Shining City) aptly take the helm as "the boys".   

Besides the annoying sets, I also did not enjoy the fact that much of the guts of the play have been chopped out, holding true to the 90 Minutes - no intermission recipe.  In this case, unsuccessful, if you ask me.  So much was chopped out, (and if you saw the full play before) you would notice several unanswered questions and "left hanging" story lines.   

Overall, I believe the problem with the sets and the script chopping is the fault of the director.  The actors get an "A" while the director gets an "F".  Sadly disappointed in this production but still enjoyed the performances.   Biggs, Coiro, and Scanavino are all adorable, believable, and true to the words on the page.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Fifty Words

Just like the Eskimos have 50 words to describe snow, Playwright, Michael Weller suggests that we should have the same to describe love.  Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Is he Dead?) and Elizabeth Marvel (Top Girls, Seascape, Hedda Gabler) take the helm at the Lucille Lortel Theatre as Adam and Jan, a seemingly ordinary couple with one child living in Brooklyn who end up alone for one evening for the first time in 9 years due to their son's first sleep-over with a friend.

What ensues on stage is a Lifetime-movie-like drama of a husband and wife who have issues that have been simmering under the surface for years including self esteem, dreams forgone, insecurities, annoyances,  and infidelity.  The dialogue is cutting, acerbic, and honest.  The play does not skirt the issues; does not dance around the core issues.  It lays them all out bare on stage for the audience to absorb.   On more than one occasion, a gasp, a sigh, and even a few affirmations and "um-hmm's" were quietly emoted from the audience. 

In the short 100 minutes we ride the extremes of the ups and downs. We move fluidly from the fighting to the mind-blowing sex to the instinctual and unconditional concern for the child and back to the fighting again.   No holds bared in this one.  All the while, love itself simmers below the surface. Two sensational performances by two Broadway juggernauts.    If I try hard enough, I'm sure I can come up with 50 reasons to see this one!