Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lonely, I'm Not

You'll certainly not be lonely in the cozy Theatre @ 43rd Street watching Paul Weitz' world premier comedy at Second Stage but you may be tad bored after about an hour or so.  The strikingly sparse and modern sets/projections by Mark Wendland and Aaron Rhyne are impeccably lit by Matt Frey.  A plethora of neon - or at least neon-looking LED illuminated - signs placed all over the back of the set abound - signaling not only the next scene but usually the irony or humor to be presented in said scene.  Direction by Trip Cullman is crisp and clean but the pace needs more punch.  A+ on the technicals with some work in the general energy-level department needed.

But what's it about?  Not a great deal of plot complexity here.  Pretty simple actually.  Porter (Topher Grace) was a successful guy.  Nervous breakdown.  Geeky cute.  Recovering.  Neurotic.  Heather (Olivia Thirlby) is an overachieving, successful blind woman.  Takes liking to nervous breakdown geeky cute guy.   Sidekicks, acquaintances, and other multiple characters played with aplomb by 4 additional actors (Mark Blum, Lisa Emery, Christopher Jackson, Maureen Sebastian).  All good.  Strike that.  Very good.   My only complaint is that after about 60 minutes, you're ready for the punch line and it doesn't come for another 30.  Best scene in the play - Job Interview.

William Shakespeare's advice still stands.  Brevity is [still] the soul of wit.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The City Club

The City Club has great potential.  Of the five major factors that go into that statement - it lacks in only one area - and that one area is one that can easily be fixed.   Music & Lyrics - bravo James Compton, Tony De Meur and Tim Brown and all the performance musicians.  Dance - high kicks all around.  Costumes, Lighting, Scenery - brilliant and appropriately colorful.   Direction, swift and crisp.  Now I'm not trying to be picky, but the book - well - that's another story.  Penned by Glenn M. Stewart, an international money manager and financial arbitrageur by day, inspired writer by night, well, it could use just a little work.

The story is one that mixes blues and jazz and film-noir.  It's a story of a nightclub in the '30s.  A romantic musician, the employees in his club and a few characters from the underbelly of the city (purposely unnamed).  At its core - i could see it working and working quite well.  But right now, it's a little confusing.  "The Committee" is often mentioned, but never explained.  "My Father" is mentioned but we don't know if he's alive or dead.  And even a few times, the multiple character coverage by one actor was a little confusing (e.g Didn't he just die?  Why does the reporter walk behind the bar and serve drinks? Is that guy the governor too?).  The good news in all of this is that I'm pretty sure a little script doctoring and treatment in the ER of musicals might turn this thing into a smash Broadway hit!

I mention the Broadway hit part also because I'm pretty sure the producers have their eyes focused uptown.  I mean when have you seen a show at the Minetta Lane Theatre with a web address of www.ThecityClubBroadway.com? That tells me they are thinking big.  And so they should.

I loved the omni-present piano player, Parker (Kenny Brawner) center stage.  The band on-stage is a no-brainer and a must.  Chaz Davenport (Andrew Pandaleon) had an all-star voice that blew the roof off the joint - but dancing needs to be a stronger suit for Chaz and if you were to have asked me to cast the show I might have picked a more Italian, suave and dark haired actor.  All the female leads and dancers were superb and made me laugh and clap and gasp in all the right places.  Jacobus Olsen (Patrick O'Neill) wins the award for the best dancer I've seen in any show all season!

Despite a the improvements that need to be made, I highly recommend the show.  It's a night of great music, dancing, and singing all wrapped up in a nightclub feel.  I have a strong feeling we'll see this one again sometime down the road.

Head on down to the cozy Minetta Lane Theatre for a rare treat that's likely to cost you a whole lot more in its next incarnation!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Columnist

John Lithgow was born to play roles such as this one in David Auburn's new play, The Columnist,  having its world premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club.

Mr. Lithgow, along a cast of superb actors including Margaret Colin, Boyd Gaines, Stephen Kunken, Marc Bonan, Grace Gummer, and Brian J. Smith take us on a carefully crafted interpretation of the famous mid-20th century newspaper columnist, Joseph Alsop.  The times (and The Times) were very different indeed.  News was not a 24-hour multi-media business.  Old-school journalists, at least the successful ones, tended to be insiders with the establishment ("and that's not a compliment" says one of the characters midway through the play).  At the time of the Vietnam war, journalism was opening up and new, younger, more diverse blood in the industry was beginning to develop a voice.

Mr. Lithgow portrays Mr. Alsop with his usual top-notch flair and intensity.  The visual similarities are striking and makes him even more believable.  A Tony nod is likely and well deserved. Mr. Smith, as a young Soviet, shirt on and off, is, once again, a young dynamo - a visual diamond and an aural delight.  Ms. Colin, Mr. Gaines, and Mr. Kunken all provide excellent support to the story and portray their characters with flair and aplomb.

Mr. Alsop would never have approved of this blog nor most of what passes as news today.  Based on what I saw on the stage at the Samuel J. Freidman Theatre (The Biltmore, as I prefer to call it) some of that opinion is probably justified, but indeed, comes along with some less than desirable baggage.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Leap of Faith

In opening this review, I take note that I cannot find a show banner icon that does not have Raul Esparza's name atop the title.  Clearly the producers are hanging their hats (and everything else) on the draw that this popular, charismatic Broadway star has to offer.   However, a show needs more than a star.  It needs a book that is not a boring as watching a movie rerun on a Saturday night.  It needs more than a few wave-your-hands-in-the-air gospel inspired numbers and it most certainly needs that star to be someone you believe.   Unfortunately, the aforementioned are all omnipresent in this circus-feel sideshow.   

While Mr. Esparza does an admirable job as a leading man, I just never believed he was who he purported to be.  His vocals were all capable, his acting was acceptable, but is he really a traveling, proselytizing con-artist? Nah.  The show ambles along - raising the tent, taking advantage of the town and the audience alike - with the revival theme causing the actors to break the 4th wall as if we, too, are there for the word of the lord.  Eh.  While there are moments of glory (e.g. Robin Wagner's tent is superb), they are few and far between.  Leslie Odom, Jr. creates a believable yet expected foil, Isaiah Sturdevant, to Mr. Esparza's Jonas Nightengale but it all seemed so obvious.  Kendra Kassebaum plays the down-trodden younger sister with aplomb yet the entire routine seemed so been there, done that.  Replacing Brooke Shields (she originated the role of Marla McGowan in the LA premiere production in 2010) with Jessica Phillips didn't seem to be much of an improvement - but neither was it a detriment.  

Perhaps it's just the fact, as Ben Brantley pointed out in his own review, that we've seen the last entrant in the Broadway season and we're just exhausted.  And this roadside carnival did nothing to refresh and enliven us one bit - even with that fabulous silver jacket Mr. Odom eventually dons and some much needed rain on the stage.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Don't Dress For Dinner

What a romp over at Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre!  Penned as the sequel to Boeing Boeing, Marc Camoletti has extended the comical farce of his original story all the way to the countryside in Paris.

A farce in the true sense of the word, we are treated to the misinterpretations, mishaps, and general hysterical confusion that ensues when Bernard, Jacqueline, Robert, Suzette, and Suzanne find themselves mixed up together one weekend in a zany, madcap, mixed-up, cover-up at their country house.

Adam James, Ben Daniels, Patricia Kalember, Spencer Kayden and Jennifer Tilly spend the entire evening covering up the real story, scrambling their identities, and blurring the lines of just who is who much to the delight of the audience.  The plot gets thicker and thicker with every minute that passes and just when you think the cover is blown, another twist or turn is thrown in.

With all the talent on the stage, Ms. Kayden still manages to be an absolute stand-out!  She's a scene stealing vixen who, despite her petite size, really knows how to pour it on thick and come out on top.

Don't hesitate to take a trip over to West 42nd street where you'll be swept away to the french countryside for a few hours of hilarity and escape.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nice Work If You Can Get It

As director and choreographer, Kathleen Marshall helms this delicious and tuneful musical comedy at the Imperial Theatre this spring.

The concept - cobble together some of the best George and Ira Gershwin tunes in a new book by Joe DePietro and cast some wonderful singers and dancers, stitch up some magnificent costumes (Martin Pakledinaz) design and build some divine sets (Derek McLane) and light them with elegance and charm (Peter Kaczorowski) and mic the actors/singers perfectly (Brian Ronan).

Take all these wonderful ingredients and pour in a little bleach - - yes bleach.  That's a sure way to ruin an entire show!  The bleach in this case is Matthew Broderick.  He's completely mis-cast.  Is he funny? Yes.  Can he carry a tune? Certainly.   But this role requires a dashing, young man who can dance.  Matthew is neither a dancer nor dashing.  So poor was this casting faux-pax by Binder Casting (Jay Binder and Jack Bowdan) that it just about ruins the entire show!

Kelli O'Hara is divine, pitch-perfect, and deliciously innocent as bootlegger Billie Bendix.  Michael McGrath is broodingly devilish as Cookie McGee.  Judy Kaye is solidly and supremely hysterical as Dutchess Estonia Dulworth and Estelle Parsons is superb and commanding in her portrayal of Millicent Winter.   The ensemble dancers were crisp, handsome and pretty, elegant, and never missed a step - or a note!  With all this goodness - how could it all go wrong?  I'll tell you how.  Cast a stiff, non-dancing, not-extremely handsome oaf in a role that is central to the plot.  Ms. O'Hara appears to be dancing on egg-shells around him on the many occasions they are required to tango.  Ms. Parsons appears to easily dominate her stiff son's character leaving us to wonder why she would even bother.  And one wonders why the powerhouse Mr. McGrath didn't just conk his new "boss" over the head with a bottle of that gin instead of faking his butler duties with him.

This is a lesson in just how to take a charming, delightful, and delicious show and ruin the entire presentation with just one stroke of the casting pen.  Truth be told, I left the theatre humming many of the familiar tunes.  I really loved the silly, romantic comedy book, but just couldn't get over the awful casting choice that Ms. Marshall either bought into or was forced to accept.  Mr. Broderick stood out like a sore thumb surrounded by all the talent on the stage.  If a real charming actor who could dance was actually cast in this role, this show might be considered the knock-out hit of the season.  Instead, it's more like a bottle of gin during prohibition - destined to be smashed in the gutter by a cop.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Accomplice: New York

Creators Tom Salamon and Betsy Salamon-Sufott are going strong after many seasons - sending their agents (that's you, the audience) out on the street to deliver tickets to a network of "associates" (that's them, the actors) who may or may not be connected with some nefarious activities.

Accomplice: New York takes its audience on a downtown walking tour with added dashes of a scavenger hunt, a mystery to solve, maps to read, and a mission to accomplish.  Along the way the groups (no more than 10) encounter several shadowy figures that they are intended to interact with.  To describe more would be to blow their cover - so I'll just leave it at that.

Will a tried and true New Yorker enjoy this roving performance?   The answer is,  It Depends.  You need to be in the mood to walk around lower Manhattan with a group of strangers and it might help if you were actually interested in solving the mystery along with a group.   It also depends on who those other 9 people are.  Get a group of duds, you're probably sunk.  Get a group of fun tourists or even some energetic and enthusiastic New Yorkers and the possibilities are endless.   It certainly helps, no matter who you are, if you can read a map and follow directions and enjoy a walking tour in a neighborhood you've probably never walked thru like this before.

If you decide this adventure is for you - I think you'll enjoy.  The actors, albeit spread out a little too thin for my taste, were all entertaining and funny - true improvisational / street actors.  I won't spoil the plot or the individual characters you may encounter - but I will mention the fine players - Joe Luongo, Billy Beyrer, Brendan Irving, Seth Moore, Jeremy Banks, Laura Gilreath, and John Cannatella.  Along the trek, you encounter them one by one as a character you are searching for.   Among the stand-out performances (accents included) are those of Joe Luongo and Brendan Irving.  (Brendan, where are those modeling shots you mention in the playbill?).

If you choose to take on this challenge - it will all start with a mysterious voicemail message a day beforehand informing you where you should meet your contact.   Don your walking shoes and get ready to enjoy an afternoon of intrigue and mystery!