Clybourne Park & The Sound of Music
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It took two years, a Pulitzer Prize and an Olivier Award-winning London production before happening, but Bruce Norris' searing satire, Clybourne Park, has finally made the six-block transfer from Off-Broadway’s Playwright’s Horizon to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre. The original ensemble of director Pam MacKinnon’s excellent 2010 production has been reunited for the playwright’s scathing telling of the racial integration of a Chicago neighborhood, as seen through the history of one very significant home.
Borrowing slightly from A Raisin in the Sun, Norris opens his play in 1959 in a cozy suburban home that those familiar with Lorraine Hansberry's classic will eventually recognize as the place the Younger family will soon call home. As explained in the original, it's in a white neighborhood and for some reason or another (which Norris expands on) it was being offered at a bargain price.
The couple on the way out is Bev and Russ (a gruff Frank Wood and a distressfully perky Christina Kirk, both outstanding) who get paid a visit by Karl Lindner (Jeremy Shamos), the Raisin character who tried to buyout the Youngers in order to keep his community racially segregated. Unsuccessful at that attempt, he now tries to guilt Russ into going back on his deal by complaining about what it would do to property values and, in one of the play's funnier moments, even tries to use Russ and Bev's maid and her husband (Crystal A. Dickinson and Damon Gupton) as examples of how black people just wouldn't be happy in their community.
The second act takes us to the year 2009 and it seems the Youngers were suburban pioneers, at the head of a surge that turned Clybourne Park into a thriving black community. But the neighborhood has seen better days and this time the bargain hunters are a white couple (Shamos and Annie Parisse) coming in as part of a gentrification movement. Their rebuilding plans are a cause of concern to a black couple (Dickinson and Gupton), particularly the wife, who says the buildings of the community are symbols of an important time in the area's racial history, meant to be preserved as is.
Both acts begin innocuously enough, but MacKinnon and the playwright build scenes to inescapable tones of verbal violence, presenting moments that are simultaneously hilarious and cringe-worthy, while clearly marking shades of difference between black/white communication divided by half a century. The changing dynamics between the characters played by Shamos, Dickinson and Gupton are especially telling and are played with intriguing subtlety and precision.
Clybourne Park packs a wallop to both the gut and the funny bone and is clearly one of the best and most enjoyable new plays New York has seen in several seasons.
Photos by Nathan Johnson: Top: Christina Kirk and Frank Wood; Bottom: Damon Gupton, Annie Parisse, Crystal A. Dickinson and Jeremy Shamos.
I always feel sorry for the guy who plays Rolf in any production of The Sound of Music. He sings a perfectly charming duet about adolescent affection in the first act and in the second act his character commits a brave act of compassion that saves the day, but at curtain call he usually gets no more than friendly applause because, no matter how cute the seventeen going on eighteen year old may be, the musical theatre fangirls just ain’t gonna squeal for a young Nazi. So let me begin with an appreciative pat on the back for Nick Spandler.
In fact, back pats all around for the fine company behind Carnegie Hall’s benefit concert performance of The Sound of Music, directed by Gary Griffin. Rob Fisher conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, playing those glorious Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations for one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beloved scores.
Using David Ives’ concert adaptation of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s book, room was made for “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good,” both penned for the film version with Rodgers supplying lyrics for his own melodies. The latter replaced the stage version’s “An Ordinary Couple,” a song that make more sense for the characters but frequently finds itself ousted for the movie’s ballad. (“Something Good” is a lovely song, but its references to Maria’s “wicked childhood” and “miserable youth” contradict what the character had been saying up until that point.) The concert also added an overture to the evening, using the film’s opening medley of classics.
Laura Osnes, who has played Nellie Forbush on Broadway, recently starred in the Encores! concert of Pipe Dream and was just announced to play the title role in a Broadway bound Cinderella, adds another R&H heroine to her resume. Her very youthful Maria, seeming just a tad older than the eldest of the von Trapp children, was delightfully bursting with optimistic vigor, singing with a beautiful sweetness that never went too sugary. Her counterpart, Tony Goldwyn, is not a particularly expressive singer, which took some of the heart out of his “Edelweiss,” but his Captain von Trapp made a nice transition from a deeply lonely man to one who can learn to love again.
Those who only know The Sound of Music from the film version might be surprised to see what a sympathetic character Elsa Schraeder is on stage. Though Brooke Shields may lack the soprano necessary to ace the character’s songs, she did an excellent job at playing her unusual conflict; as a woman who has risen to the level of corporate president in the 1930s, her achievements are to be admired, but despite her love for the captain and her real affection for his children, the political differences between the two in regards to dealing with the Nazis is what breaks up their engagement.
Patrick Page proved a perfect match for the comical role of Austrian bureaucrat Max, who prompts the von Trapp children to form a singing ensemble for his own benefit, and mezzo Stephanie Blythe was warm and majestic as the Mother Abbess who inspires Maria with “Climb Every Mountain.”
The musical highlight of the evening was sung by the women of the Mansfield University Concert Choir. As the chorus of nuns, they were staged in several corners and levels within the Carnegie Hall seating areas for their opening “Preludium.” The beautiful a capella sounds coming at the ear from various heights and distances was thrilling to hear.
Posted on April 30, 2012 - by
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About the Author:After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.