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Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Here she comes boys.... the granddaddy of all drag shows will be rolling it's bus into our town this winter.  For me, I got the chance to go see her out of town in Toronto this past weekend and let me tell you right now - it is going to be over the T.O.P - filled with glitter, glitz, and gay boys in outrageously colorful costumes singing campy pop hits.  One note, probably because there is already one ABBA show running on Broadway, the producers made a wise decision to change (and update) the young character's obsession from ABBA to Madonna.  A very wise choice, indeed. Who doesn't want to see 3 drag queens strutting their stuff to any number of Madge's tunes, right?

By way of background - I've never seen the movie (yes, i know, take my card away).  So this experience was a genuine first.  Many people have told me what the movie was like - and i can read too - but for me not having seen the movie might have made this production even more special.  I have a feeling, like so many iconic movies, no matter what they do on stage, everyone will say "it doesn't compare" or "the movie was so much better".   That's probably a losing battle for the producers so they don't even try to fight it.  Where they win is in the production quality (read camp) of the musical numbers.  Nothing beats a bunch of drag queens in outrageous costumes strutting their stuff on a broadway stage.  Throw in some really cool and over the top video projection and lighting effects and a book that keeps it gay gay gay and you end up with something that's destined for success on the great pink way.

Bringing a show like this to the stage is bound to introduce some complications to downsize and focus the book.  The fact that there was an actual bus on stage was a big score for the production.  Without that one rather large piece of technology, i doubt this show would ever have made it out of previews.  I would also think when it gets to the Palace, the first thing they'll do is remove the Chandelier in the middle of the theatre and replace it with one great big disco ball.  The one downside I feel obliged to highlight is that I didn't feel there was a very deep story being told.  Many have told me that the movie (remember, the inevitable comparison) was touching and tender as well as being campy and gay.  Well, if there is one thing this show is lacking, it's a deep story.  It felt a bit shallow, trimmed down and condensed for the sake of Broadway's unavoidable moderate, fun-loving audiences.

Despite this one minor drawback, the talent on the stage more than made up for lack of story.  Nick Adams (Felicia), Will Swenson (Tick) and Tony Sheldon (Bernadette) helm this production like no others could.  Adams, who most call a triple threat,  is drop dead gorgeous, unbelievably pliable and genuinely adorable all rolled up in one.  And folks, when I say hot, i mean burn your fingers off if you touch him HOT.  Swenson is tender and lovable and Sheldon takes Bernadette to a level I think only Charles Busch could compete with (Busch wasn't in the show, just for the record).

Ladies, when this bus rolls into town at the Palace Theatre you had better have exact change all lined up!  Next stop - Alice Springs!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Long Story Short

It's no secret - Jerry Seinfeld has now conquered Broadway - well only as a director, for now.  Colin Quinn's stand-up comedy routine, Long Story Short, is certainly long on marketing, but falls short on substance and meaningful theatre for a Broadway house.

Is it funny, witty, amusing, and entertaining?  Sure.  Somehow I guess I expected some theatrical magic to accompany Quinn's abridged 75 minute tour through civilization's (cherry picked for the humor) major societies.   Instead all I got was the seemingly left over set from Xanadu (a previous production at the Helen Hayes Theatre), some artful graphics on a large projection screen and lighting that changed colors more times than Sarah Palin said "maverick" on the campaign trail.

It's not like Quinn did back flips or dance moves on the stage - he stood there - occasionally climbing up and down the cheap set telling us mildly amusing jokes and stories in his ever-blunt fashion.  I'm pretty sure that Quinn didn't need Seinfeld  - since he's a pretty funny guy all unto himself - and it was more about his name associated with the show.  Branding.  Seinfeld is known as a comic genius.  What better way to sell tickets to a stand-up comedy routine taking up residence in a Broadway house than to associate yourself with one of the most successful names in the business today.  Quinn and his show are good.  But not that good.  Broadway is still no place for a stand-up comedy routine, no matter who's directing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Science of Guilt

What would you do if someone told you all that guilt would wash away if you took this little pill?  Would you take it?  Throw in a dash of family drama and there you have the premise of this new play by Jason Odell Williams playing at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square.

This 3 character play is not without its problems - an unrealistic view of how the pharmaceutical industry works along with an unrealistic view of how a drug is actually invented.  Top that off with a family twist that is so confusing you're head hurt and you'll need a pill for yourself.  Anatol Yusef (Kevin) and Vincent Piazza (John) do a generally upstanding job at weaving and ultimately unraveling the sibling rivalry that exists between them, despite the fact that it's hard to believe the John has created this little pill even thought he's a medical school dropout and has no job that involves a laboratory.  Kevin, a seemingly well off business man (undefined as to how) welcomes John, his younger brother back into his life after an 8 year absence (also undefined as to why).  The family drama is thrown in when we find out Kevin's wife, Marcy (Sarah Kate Jackson) was formerly (or maybe not so formerly) John's fiancée before he disappeared.  Who's screwing who here is more the question.  Deeper and deeper plunge into this family debacle until finally one man (it's obvious from the start that it won't be the girl) is left standing.  Can you guess who it is?  I was there and could barely follow it all.

The trouble with this play is Williams' confusing material, not the actors.  Perhaps if you take a little something to relax your brain before you see it - you, too, will be rewarded.  If nothing else, the pharmaceutical industry certainly will be.

Friday, November 19, 2010

You've Got Hate Mail

Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore wrote and star in this screwball comedy playing at The Triad involving sex, lies, and most importantly, laptops.  Mis-directed chat messages, emails, and fake identities run amok among Richard the cheating spouse (Billy Van Zandt), Stephanie the naive suburban housewife (Jane Milmore), Peg the eternally single friend (Barbara Bonilla), George the dirty minded boss (Glenn Jones), and Wanda an office bimbo (Fran Solgan).

Staged like a reading, the actors sit in a line in front of their laptops frantically sending messages, reading them aloud as fast as they can type them.  Despite the simple and repetitive nature of the staging, the show finds many moments of hilarity in the relationships the cyber world spawns and the freedom that faceless, often comical, communications it seems to encourage.   One of my favorite characters (and that is indeed a perfect word here) is George and his cyber abbreviation malapropisms.  He turns LMAO into "laughing my face off" and TTYL into "talk to you soon".   After you catch on that he didn't just screw up a line, you'll be salivating for the next.  Van Zandt and Milmore's production could use a few cuts and maybe one less "act", but in the end - if you're in the mood for a few cocktails and a bunch of computer based chuckles, google this one and book yourself a seat on line.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Elling

Something told me as soon as the curtain went up - this is not an American play.  (Maybe if i noticed the date and place atop the huge diary entry scrawled on the curtain I'd have realized this too).   Instead, a sparse stage with Ikea-looking furniture clued me in.  Indeed, the play was written by someone from and takes place in Norway .  The subject matter is a bit odd, but enjoyable nonetheless - Two men get released from a mental hospital into what we Americans might call a half-way house.  They are not dangerous people and the show is a comedic, mis-hap laden, and touching chronicle of their rehabilitation and re-introduction into society.

Dennis O'Hare (Elling) and Brendan Frasier (Kjell Bjarne) certainly have chemistry and it instantly permeates the air as the two odd-ball men engage in their banter.  If an American TV series were to be spawned from this play, it might be aptly titled The Odd Odd-Couple.  Richard Easton (Alfonz Jorgensen) and Jeremy Shamos (Frank Alsi) also rounded out the cast but frankly didn't provide much to the overall hilarity of the story itself.  The magic formula for this show lies squarely on the shoulders of O'Hare and Frasier.  I'm not convinced, however, that Jennifer Coolidge (Reidun Nordsletten) is even certified to be up on stage, nonetheless with these two stage pros.  Her performance was often stilted (Gunn) and even confusing at times (Reidun).

There were quite a few laughs and after I warmed up to the idea of the show, I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly.  A few surprises break up the action including the poetry-slam scene in which Shamos had a show stealing moment and the restaurant bathroom scene where Elling meets Alfonz - let's just say the sound effects stole that one.  Note to readers: the next time you buy sauerkraut, look inside the package.  Like Elling, you might just find a pleasant surprise inside.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Edgewise

I love going to see plays downtown.  Downtown. That's shorthand for plays that take risks, aren't full of makeup and costumes, and really showcase the artists' talents.  Edgewise, Eliza Clark's new work now being performed at WalkerSpace in Soho, is just one such play that just might rip open your mind and explode itself all over your evening. (um, I mean that in a good way).

Youth, rebellion, bullying, anger (lots of anger), romance, and an undefined active war on US soil are just a few of the subjects that fill the afternoon a dumpy suburban New Jersey burger joint named Dougal's.  Philip Ettinger (Ruckus) and Tobias Segal (Marco) take center stage along with Aja Naomi King (Emma) as the unsuspecting teen workers at the joint concerned with the usual age-appropriate things when Alfredo Narcisco (Louis), a bloody man,  stumbles in the front door after an apparent attack outside and a stranger (Brandon Dirden) wanders in for a burger .  Where their individual emotions, suspicions, and prejudices take them is the fuel that makes the engine of this play fire on all cylinders.  It's raw.  It's powerful.  It's not perfect.

Sometimes plays aren't all sunshine and lollipops.  Due to the graphic violence, I doubt we'll be seeing this one transferring to Broadway for a commercial run any time soon, but it doesn't mean you won't be deeply moved and you might even think about the subject matter after you leave the theater.  You might even recommend the play to a friend.  I was. I did. I do.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mrs. Warren's Profession

Deception, lies, money, bribes, love, lust, an illegitimate child, prostitution... and that's just the first act!  George Bernard Shaw's world in 1893 wasn't far off from our own today.  Difference being, all he had was a pen, a stage, and actors to tell a provocative story his audience could see and hear no other way.   Shaw was a big believer in theatre that engaged the audience in the issues of the day rather than letting them escape from them - hence this stinging work he penned.

Set in four equal acts, the show depicts Vivie Warren (Sally Hawkins) as the young, well educated, pragmatic daughter of Mrs. Kitty Warren (Cherry Jones) who, in her coming of age, finds out that her entire upbringing and education was funded by her mother's secretive business endeavor - Brothels.  She briefly reconciles with her mother after coming to terms with the reasons her mother turned to such a life, but then quickly rebukes her after she realizes that the secretive business is not just a faded memory, but an ongoing operation.   Throw in a dirty older gentleman business partner (Mark Harelik) who seeks an "arrangement" to marry Vivie and keep the entire operation within the family, a dashing young suitor (Adam Driver) with no money who wants to marry Vivie for love (and her money), his father (Michael Siberry), the local vicar who strangely rejects the idea of his son's marriage to Vivie for suspicious "reasons undisclosed", and a worldly, trusted friend (Edward Hibbert).

Unfortunately, I don't think this play is going to be a Tony contender, although it surely entertained.  Jones is a powerhouse on stage, a force to be reckoned with.  However, Hawkins seemed to be screaming all the time rather than exuding her "power of the new age woman" - proud, educated, professional, independent, and ethically sound - as I believe Shaw meant the part to be - - a complete counter-weight to her mother's character.  The men on stage turned in sound performances, and certainly seemed to be enjoying their roles in this turn of the 19th century Payton Place drama.

I must say, despite some minor flaws i may have mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed the show - I think more because of the story itself than the specific actors.  Shaw was a realist and this play contained real issues of the day (one might argue they are timeless).  At the end of the day, anything with Cherry Jones is worth seeing and almost anything at Roundabout Theater is worth seeing - a combo that, just like a steamy night at a red hot brothel, can't be passed up.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pieces

The British invasion has arrived.  Each year 59E59 Theaters hosts Brits off Broadway - a theater festival chock full of shows of all forms, sizes, and shapes from across the pond.  Pieces is a brilliantly disquieting work by Hywel John staring 3 British actors who grace the intimate stage for 90 minutes of non-stop intensity.

From the get-go, Steven Meo (Jack), Louise Collins (Beatrice), Jennifer Kidd (Sophie) weave an eerie and well-acted tale.  At first blush it seems a simple sad story - Jack and Beatrice, two young children, have lost both their parents (seemingly in a car accident by the screeching tires we hear in the dark as the lights come up).

The deeper we dive into the mysterious life of these twins who are isolated in the British countryside with their god-mum, now guardian, an eerie, bizarre tale unfolds.  The seemingly innocent, well-raised children are adamant about preserving the memory of their parents - wearing their clothes, repeating their words and phrases and, with grave consequences, attempting to re-enact their life - Picking up the pieces and moving on, as it were.  What they attempt is the literal, but what we see is how that literal is not fully understood by the child's mind.  Though this odd behavior we see the relationship between the adult and children progress as the days wear on.  When Jack learns a secret about Sophie, we see the tale take a bizarre journey to a shocking and unsettling end.  Applause at the end seemed inappropriate, yet very well deserved.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Break of Noon

Neil LaBute's new play is vague.  Was I supposed to walk away thinking this guy was a a phony?  He faked it?  Or was I supposed to walk away snickering to myself about how awful society is and how if one man claims to have found religion, we rebuke him?  Well, to tell the truth, I, along with several heretofore unacquainted theatergoers, I walked away asking for the 100 minutes we invested back.

David Duchovny (John Smith) was flatter than a penny after being run over by the #1 train.  I couldn't tell what he was trying to emote.  The two ladies in the cast turned in decent but generally unremarkable performances - Amanda Peet (Ginger/Jesse) and Tracee Chimo (Jenny/Gigi).  The only actor who impressed was John Earl Jelks (Lawyer/Detective).  He had a presence and a power on stage that none of the other actors seemed to be able to summon.  Peet, as Jesse, came close near the end but the poorly directed character she was playing just got in the way.  Great Long Island accent, however.  

So, I'm wondering the whole time what LaBute was trying to convey here - and along comes this last, incongruous scene where we are presumed to be watching John go "evangelist" to get his message out - and it ends with him levitating.  Levitating?  WTF?

The play was in that dump, The Lucille Lortel Theatre, in the gay ghetto on Christopher Street, which didn't serve to improve my mood any either.  I wouldn't rush out to see this one.  Unless you need a nap in a bad seat.  Don't worry, the play won't wake you.