Let's face it, nobody produces a song and sketch revue based on the plays of Ionesco in a theatre on the western outskirts of 55th Street expecting a commercial smash. During the ten days in 1974 when the original production of Ionescopade ran Off-Broadway, lovers of musical theatre were lining up at box offices to see stars like Carol Channing in Lorelei, Debbie Reynolds in Irene, and Patty and Maxene Andrews in Over Here! Younger playgoers were discovering themselves with Pippin and rocking out to Grease, while those who go for intellectual snob hits had their choice of the revival of Candide or the new Sondheim/Prince romance A Little Night Music. Those venturing to Off-Broadway were still flocking to that fresh new musical, The Fantasticks, then in only its fifteenth year.
So the fun and frisky little show now arrives for a York Theatre revival as quite the curiosity. Robert Allen Ackerman (original concept) and Mildred Kayden's (score) vaudevillian cavalcade riffing on the absurdist world of the Romanian born/French raised social commentator - whose work includes Rhinoceros, The Bald Soprano, The Chairs and Exit The King - may have snapped with sharper bites during the Watergate era then it does today (How does one define surreal in the age of reality television, Internet celebrities and family values politicians who cheat on their spouses?) but director/choreographer Bill Castellino's lively production, featuring a tireless ensemble of clowns and comics, keeps the amusement ride rolling.
After the on-stage band's spirited overture, peppered with Spike Jones style bells and whistles, the author himself appears, referred to as the Little Man (Samuel Cohen); a mute sometimes-magician with a love/hate relationship with his typewriter. Yup, a bald soprano sings (Susan J. Jacks) with a fellow sporting a Rhinoceros horn bursting through his top hat (David Edwards) and two orange-headed clowns in beat-up formals (Tina Stafford and Leo Ash Evens) sing and dance and exchange corny quips ("Why does the atom bomb? Because it can!").
Program notes explain the plays being references in each song and sketch, but you don't really need them to get the point of a group of citizens wildly praising their leader, who turns out to be a headless man. Paul Binotto's torchy singing of the ballad "Madeleine," contrasts with David Edwards' rowdy music hall turn about a three-breasted woman "Josette."
That last number is part of the evening's best piece, a medley performed by the identical, happily conformist members of The Bobby Watson Family, which includes Nancy Anderson's standout moment, the comical lament for "My Ginger Wildcat." Earlier, she and Evens impressively perform the violent actions of an apache dance.
Though Binotto's tense performance of a monologue from The Killer, is an unexpected highlight, the goofy subversity of the evening, despite a game effort from a talented company, comes off as a bit innocuous and Ionescopade is best viewed as charming museum piece.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Leo Ash Evens and Company; Bottom: Nancy Anderson and Leo Ash Evens.
The first nine editions of the New York Nightlife Awards honored the top cabaret, jazz club and Comedy Club performers of the past year, but this time around producer Scott Siegel decided to dedicate the program to four artists for their ongoing contributions throughout their careers and to one special act that predates the annual Town Hall show.
Hosts Lucie Arnaz and Bill Irwin - their first time working together - displayed some terrific comic chemistry in their casual banter and introductions. Arnaz and pianist Ron Abel opened the show with an intimate swing arrangement of "Hey, Look Me Over!," which her mother introduced on Broadway in Wildcat. Later on, they added a cool Brazilian beat to the 1950s "swoon song," "Johnny Angel," in tribute to her father's Latin roots. Irwin had the audience in stitches with his classic bits of juggling and vaudeville antics.
As is the Nightlife Awards' tradition, winners do not give acceptance speeches, but perform instead. The first four honorees included Terri White for her years as a piano bar entertainer, powerfully singing unamplified renditions of "Sweet Beginning" and "Here's to Life." Folk singer/songwriter Christine Lavin performed her comical ditty "The Moment Slipped Away," about a chance encounter with Barbara Barrie. (Ms. Barrie was a special guest in the audience.) Amanda McBroom sang one of her newer songs, the very funny "A Voter's Prayer" (pleading with our elected officials to "Keep it in your pants") before ending the first act with the song that brought her initial fame, "The Rose." Ninety year old jazz legend Jon Hendricks, an original of the vocalesestyle, demonstrated his expertise with "Every Time They Play This Song" and "Jumpin' at the Woodside."
The novelty act of Christopher Durang and Dawne, performing together for the first time since 1996, were honored with a Retro Nightlife Award. The trio, consisting of playwright Christopher Durang and backup singers Sherry Anderson and John Augustine specialized in deadpan cheesy vocal arrangements of showtunes like "Aldonza" and "Bali Ha'i" and pop fare like "I'm Too Sexy" and "Let's Get Physical."
The brisk evening, directed by Scott Coulter, also included performances by jazz singer Allan Harris, comedian Ray Ellin and cabaret artists Karen Oberlin, Karen Akers and Nellie McKay.
Photo of Bill Irwin and Lucie Arnaz by Stephen Sorokoff.
Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.
"Amateurs hope, professionals work."
-- Garson Kanin
The grosses are out for the week ending 2/5/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (6.3%), SISTER ACT (2.9%), SEMINAR (2.6%), ROCK OF AGES (0.8%), MAMMA MIA! (0.2%),
Down for the week was: WIT (-12.3%), War Horse (-7.1%), THE LION KING (-6.8%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-6.3%), JERSEY BOYS (-5.5%), WICKED (-4.2%), STICK FLY (-4.1%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-4.0%), CHICAGO (-3.8%), MEMPHIS (-2.9%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-2.6%), MARY POPPINS (-2.2%), THE ROAD TO MECCA (-1.3%), PORGY AND BESS (-1.2%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (-0.3%), GODSPELL (-0.2%), ANYTHING GOES (-0.1%),