The lunatics, lovers and poets merrily charge onto the stage in full force in Classic Stage Company’s raucous and witty, sexy and sensual mounting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Director Tony Speciale’s playfully romantic staging of Shakespeare’s tale of earthbound lovers fleeing to the woods to escape an arranged marriage, only to find themselves mixed up in the petty squabbles between a royal faerie couple, features a completely winning ensemble and entrancing visuals.
Set designer Mark Wendland tilts a mirrored wall above a dark squishy playing surface (which eventually gets covered by a thick storm of red rose petals), allowing Andrea Lauer’s colorful costumes (a combination of vintage circus, fetish gear and Halloween getups) to create kaleidoscopic images.
Leading the festivities are Anthony Heald and Bebe Neuwirth, who first appear as a courtly Duke Theseus and his reluctant bride-to-be, Hippolyta, who displays her displeasure with subtle, looks-that-can-kill mannerisms. They double as faerie king Oberon (sly, crafty and dressed in a sort of post-apocalyptic biker gear) and his sensuous wife Titania; a role that has Neuwirth looking stunning in little more than a black bustier.
Taylor Mac makes for a stuffy Egeus, whose disapproval of his daughter’s choice of a mate sets the plot in motion, but spends most of the evening as a madcap Puck, parading an outlandish wardrobe (like a pink elephant suit and an outfit that makes him look like a human peppermint stick) and sneaking in asides to the audience.
Halley Wegryn Gross steals the young lovers’ scenes with her very funny bubble-headed Valley Girl take on Helena, with Christina Ricci providing a sweet Hermia. Jordan Dean (Lysander) and Nick Gehlfuss (Demetrius) play their suitors as a pair of lusty, beefcake frat boys. When tensions rise among the quartet, fight choreographer Carrie Brewer stops the show with a hilarious bout that would make pro wrestlers take notice. Even Oberon and Puck stop what they’re doing to take in the match from a pair of beach chairs while munching on popcorn and slurping soda through a straw.
But when the comic antics temporarily cease, the young lovers – all of whom have stripped down to pure white underwear – fall asleep sleep entwined in one another, reflected on the mirror as a beautiful vision of innocent affection.
The same kind of transition occurs when the troupe of amateur actors performs The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. Steven Skybell’s wonderfully hammy Nick Bottom makes outlandish melodrama out of Pyramus’ death scene, but it’s followed by David Greenspan, as the serious-minded Francis Flute, playing Thisbe’s final monologue with quiet, delicate sincerity that pulls at the heart.
The combination of wacky humor and soft, lovely moments make this Midsummer particularly dreamy.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Anthony Heald and Taylor Mac; Bottom: James Patrick Nelson, Chad Lindsey, Bebe Neuwirth, Rob Yang and Erin Hill.
It’s rarely a good sign when you open your program and find that a new cast list has been pasted over what was originally there. David Rabe’s An Early History of Fire doesn’t prove to be the exception. What might have been intended to be a look at small-town America’s transition from the cozy 1950s to the heated 60s turns out to be as aimless as its ensemble of characters.
The first act kept reminding me of the 1955 Oscar winner, Marty. College dropout Danny (Theo Stockman) is back living with his gregarious German immigrant father (Gordon Clapp) and a life of little more than hanging out and getting drunk with his ambitionless childhood buddies, who are wary of the new girl from the rich part of town that he’s been seeing. Karen (Claire van der Boom), has been encouraging Danny’s dreams of being a writer, introducing him to the works of Kerouac and Salinger and to the creativity-inspiring effects of marijuana.
Benji's (Devin Ratray) ex-girlfriend Shirley (Erin Darke), who eventually went on to turning tricks, is a more comfortable fit for Danny’s gang; although the frustrated Benji is considering paying for a sexual reunion.
Though the play displays Rabe’s established talent for working class character dialogue, the plotless evening rambles on pointlessly, despite the respectable efforts of director Jo Bonney’s ensemble. When one character starts a conversation by wondering aloud how Elvis Presley will eventually die – a line that received a good deal of audible disapproval the night I attended – it feels like the talented playwright is grasping at anything to try and make this one work.
Photo of Theo Stockman & Claire van der Boom by Joan Marcus.
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Posted on: Wednesday, May 02, 2012 @ 03:08 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/29/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"Don't live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable."
-- Wendy Wasserstein
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/29/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: VENUS IN FUR (9.7%), CHICAGO (6.9%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (6.5%), MAMMA MIA! (5.8%), SEMINAR (5.5%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (5.4%), SISTER ACT (5.3%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (4.0%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (3.9%), ROCK OF AGES (3.6%), ANYTHING GOES (3.6%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (3.5%), THE COLUMNIST (2.7%), PORGY AND BESS (2.1%), EVITA (0.4%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING(0.2%),
Down for the week was: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (-17.6%), THE LYONS (-11.5%), LEAP OF FAITH (-8.6%), MEMPHIS (-8.3%), WAR HORSE (-6.2%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-5.8%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-5.2%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-4.9%), GODSPELL (-4.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-4.1%), CLYBOURNE PARK (-3.9%), JERSEY BOYS (-3.3%), WICKED (-2.7%), MAGIC/BIRD (-2.6%), MARY POPPINS (-2.5%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-2.5%), NEWSIES (-1.6%), GHOST (-1.5%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-1.4%), ONCE (-0.8%), THE LION KING (-0.4%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (-0.1%),
Posted on: Monday, April 30, 2012 @ 04:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Clybourne Park & The Sound of Music
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: Monday, April 30, 2012 @ 01:37 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
A Streetcar Named Desire & Evita
In every previous Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, a white Blanche DuBois has complained that her sister Stella’s white husband Stanley has “something downright bestial about him.” She refers to him as “sub-human” and “ape-like.” And depending on her co-star’s performance, audience members might have agreed with her to some extent.
But in director Emily Mann's new production, when a light-skinned black Blanche says such things about a darker-skinned black Stanley, describing him as, “like one of those pictures I've seen in anthropological studies,” the words, unchanged from the original, are likely to strike more sensitive nerves in audience members who have encountered such racism in the fifty-five years since they were first uttered on stage, and the classic play’s clashing of class and culture is no longer, as far as audience sentiment is concerned, a fair fight.
Blair Underwood’s Stanley (the surname Kowalski and all references to his being Polish have been dropped) absolutely has his brutish, violent streaks, but his clean-cut, well-chiseled appearance and casual physicality paints him as more of a jaunty bad boy, as outwardly pleasing as Terence Blanchard's lively New Orleans jazz score; music that emphasizes the more inviting side of the French Quarter.
In a production being advertised with the slogan, “The American classic never looked this good,” the sexier qualities of Mann’s cast steadily rise to the surface. Heck, this is a Streetcar where even the Mitch is good-looking.
Daphne Rubin-Vega, an actress who never seems to have any trouble with roles that require her to smolder, shares a dangerously dynamic chemistry with Underwood as Stella; making her an earthy woman who derives sexual excitement from her husband’s behavior, but who recognizes the need to protect her sister from him.
As played by Nicole Ari Parker, the southern belle Blanche isn’t exactly a faded one. The significant moment when a bare light bulb shines in her face to reveal how she really appears exposes her as being pretty damn attractive. Fortunately, the actress credibly brings out Blanche’s delusional instincts as survival tools and, for a brief period, has an attentive ear in Wood Harris’ ambitious, but not quite comfortable in his skin, Mitch.
The individual parts glide smoothly in Mann’s smoky and stylish production. Instead of making a bold statement with racially inclusive casting, this Streetcar, by simply being sturdily played, allows certain nuances to strike differently; staying true to Williams’ text while feeling somewhat refreshed.
Photos by Ken Howard: Top: Blair Underwood; Bottom: Daphne Rubin-Vega and Blair Underwood.
If the notion of a kinder, gentler Evita seems a bit perplexing to those who associate the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber popera with high tension, high belting and high theatrics, they can rest assured that director Michael Grandage hasn’t exactly turned the old gal into a Disney princess. But by casting the two leading roles with an actress who does not possess the traditional fiery belt and an actor whose charisma isn’t served with a side-order of revolution, this new production places more emphasis on the beauty and intricacies of the composer’s best work while, unfortunately, revealing the thinness of the libretto.
Much has been made of the fact that a full-fledged Argentinean, Elena Roger, now takes on the title role. Her accent does stick out from the rest of the company, a constant reminder of the fact. Roger has her fine acting moments and even better dancing ones (Rob Ashford’s dramatic choreography is one of the production’s best features.) but her airy singing voice fails to generate much excitement. She pushes her voice in forced declaration of Eva’s “star quality” and her “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” softly whimpers. By no fault of the actress, this just seems a case of a director’s interpretation placing the wrong person in the role.
Ricky Martin’s Che, now assigned to be an amused everyman instead of an incensed stand-in for Che Guevara, narrates the piece in an entertaining style that suggests Pippin’s Leading Player. Taking his cue from his entrance song, “Oh, What A Circus,” he invites us to indulge in the corrupt spectacle from the safe distance of time, a least once admitting that he himself finds the anti-heroine’s spell hard to resist.
Thus, without political tension thickening the air, Rice’s narrative gets boiled down to the uneventful sequence of Eva sleeping her way to the top, helping Juan Peron win a not quite legitimate presidential election (though the scenes of thuggishness have been eliminated), and have her ups and down as first lady before dying.
But Michael Cerveris digs deep into the relatively small role of Juan Peron, making him an elegant, loving husband who masterfully plays the caring leader to his constituents. Max von Essen livens up the proceedings with his comic take on Eva’s first romantic pawn, heartthrob balladeer Magaldi.
New interpretations of popular favorites are certainly welcome, but Grandage has softened Evita into a well-sung history lesson that frequently loses its pulse.
Photos by Richard Termine: Top: Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger; Bottom: Ricky Martin, Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger.
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Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 @ 06:20 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/22/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
“Shakespeare - The nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God.”
-- Laurence Olivier
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/22/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (20.6%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (11.3%), LEAP OF FAITH (8.2%), THE COLUMNIST (7.6%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (3.8%), CLYBOURNE PARK(3.1%),
Down for the week was: HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-35.0%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-22.1%), MAMMA MIA! (-21.0%), ANYTHING GOES (-20.0%), SISTER ACT (-19.7%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-18.1%), MARY POPPINS (-15.8%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-12.2%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-11.5%), ONCE (-11.2%), GODSPELL (-10.3%), WAR HORSE (-10.1%), MEMPHIS (-10.1%), MAGIC/BIRD (-9.8%), JERSEY BOYS (-8.4%), ROCK OF AGES (-7.0%), PORGY AND BESS (-6.2%), SEMINAR (-6.0%), THE LYONS (-6.0%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-5.2%), CHICAGO (-4.6%), EVITA (-3.9%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-3.5%), WICKED (-3.0%), GHOST (-1.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-1.7%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-1.5%), VENUS IN FUR (-1.5%), NEWSIES (-1.4%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-1.0%), THE LION KING (-0.5%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (-0.2%),
Posted on: Monday, April 23, 2012 @ 03:42 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
The Best Man & The Mikado
Remember when political conventions were fun? When the delegates gathered into town, not to perfunctorily declare a pre-determined winner, but to debate through multiple votes, late night deals and maybe a few protest rallies to come up with a nominee?
As much as we demand transparency and honesty in government, Americans still can’t resist the theatre of juicy political scandals and reports of back room bargaining. Gore Vidal’s 1960 drama, The Best Man, permits us a peek at the seedier side of presidential politics before giving us some hope that decency may stand a chance. As the old saying goes, things haven’t changed much and every so often a line flies out of director Michael Wilson‘s gripping, starry production that if you didn’t know better you’d swear must have been added to give the play a contemporary jolt.
John Larroquette gives a stately and sardonic portrayal of William Russell, a liberal candidate who heads into his unnamed party’s convention leading the race over conservative adversary Senator Joseph Cantwell (a slick and charismatic Eric McCormack). Russell could win on the first ballot unless ex-President Arthur Hockstader (a robust and commanding James Earl Jones, looking like he’s having a splendid time) decides to throw his support in Cantwell’s direction. And while an unseen third candidate stands little chance of victory, his delegates, if released, could also become a deciding factor.
Both Russell and Cantwell have skeletons in the closet; issues that would be more acceptable to many Americans today, but would certainly keep a candidate out office fifty years ago. When one candidate threatens to release evidence against his opponent, the other must consider if he should counter with newly discovered knowledge about a long-ago event – a real doozy for 1960 – that could sink the man’s entire career.
Meanwhile, the wives of the candidates are trying their best to impress the party’s grand dame, played by Angela Lansbury with a delicious mixture of elegance and shrewd cunning. Kerry Butler’s game-playing Mrs. Cantwell sports a sexy drawl and a clingy wardrobe while Candice Bergen’s socially awkward Mrs. Russell – playing the supportive wife despite difficulties in her marriage – blurts out honest observations that are sure to draw applause from audiences.
Solid supporting turns are contributed by Michael McKean as Russell’s capable campaign manager and Jefferson Mays as a nervous citizen whose word could affect the entire election. There’s even an appearance by New York City’s former first lady Donna Hanover, playing a reporter.
While designer Derek McLane’s versatile set smoothly gliding from festive convention locations to hotel suites, Wilson’s edgy mounting smoothly glides from sharp satirical moments to frustratingly realistic ones. This one’s a landslide victory.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: James Earl Jones and John Larroquette; Bottom: Kerry Butler, Eric McCormack and Angela Lansbury.
Perhaps there are funnier shows than Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, and perhaps there are shows with more beautiful music. But it’s my conviction that you’re not going to find a funnier theatre piece with such beautiful music, nor a lovelier score matched with such a hilarious text.
The Collegiate Chorale’s concert performance of the 1885 classic, in collaboration with the American Symphony Orchestra and under Ted Sperling’s baton, certainly stressed the enchanting choral qualities of selections like “Miya Sama” and “Braid The Raven Hair” and, with limited space to work with, a terrific cast of Broadway favorites managed to fit a feast of humor onto the lip of Carnegie Hall’s stage.
Christopher Fitzgerald, a superior musical comedy clown who, in another era, might have taken a few jobs away from Eddie Cantor, was an impish delight as Ko-Ko, the humble tailor of a long-ago Japanese village who, by the plot’s twisted politics, winds up being appointed Lord High Executioner. His rendition of “I’ve Got A Little List,” a comic patter naming the people Ko-Ko would like to see upon the chopping block, which is traditionally updated to include topical references, contained expected mentions of the Kardashians and Facebook fanatics, but ended cleverly with a criticism of comics who milk their bits, testing the conductor’s patience.
Victoria Clark’s eccentric Katisha was played out like a madwoman, with the actress seeming to improvise funny bits with her wildly-teased out hair. It’s remarkable how Jason Danieley and Kelli O’Hara could both sing so gloriously with their tongues held so firmly in their cheeks as lovers Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, though O’Hara played it straight for a sterling performance of “The Moon and I.” In the title role, Chuck Cooper matched his hearty vocals with mischievous giggles.
With fine support by Jonathan Freeman as a snobby Pooh-Bah and Lauren Worsham as a snarky Pitti-Sing, the only negative about this concert of The Mikado is that it wasn’t a fully mounted production playing on Broadway.
Photo of Christopher Fitzgerald, Jason Danieley and Kelli O'Hara by Erin Baiano.
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Posted on: Thursday, April 19, 2012 @ 01:59 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/15/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"I love that moment just before the curtain goes up. Whether I'm sitting in the audience or standing backstage. It's full of expectation. It's a thrill that's unequaled anywhere."
-- Joel Grey
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/15/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: THE LYONS (24.3%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (14.9%), PORGY AND BESS (14.2%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (12.5%), ANYTHING GOES (12.2%), GODSPELL (11.8%), MEMPHIS (10.7%), MAGIC/BIRD (8.2%), THE COLUMNIST (7.7%), ONCE (7.2%), JERSEY BOYS (7.2%), MAMMA MIA! (6.0%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (5.4%), END OF THE RAINBOW (5.4%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (5.1%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (5.0%), GHOST (4.9%), CLYBOURNE PARK (4.4%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (4.3%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (2.0%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (2.0%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1.8%), ROCK OF AGES (1.5%), SISTER ACT (0.9%), WAR HORSE (0.7%), NEWSIES(0.1%),
Down for the week was: LEAP OF FAITH (-5.0%), SEMINAR (-4.8%), CHICAGO (-3.8%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-3.7%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-3.5%), EVITA (-2.1%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (-2.0%), MARY POPPINS (-0.8%), VENUS IN FUR (-0.2%),
Posted on: Monday, April 16, 2012 @ 08:51 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Peter And The Starcatcher
Last season’s debate over whether the Best Play Tony should be awarded for the quality of the written text or for the production as a whole – set off by the nomination and subsequent victory of War Horse – is likely to be brought up again if the raucously funny and surprisingly tender Peter And The Starcatcher is included among this year’s nominees.
Rick Elice's text, based on the same-named novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson – a prequel to J. M. Barrie's tale of Peter Pan – is just as good a comedy as War Horse is a drama, but helping to make the genial silliness palatable (there are corny puns aplenty and a couple of bodily function bits) is the brilliantly fun staging by co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, that tells a spectacular fairy tale story though wonderfully clever low-budget theatrics.
13-year-old Molly (a very proper Celia Keenan-Bolger), the daughter of "starcatcher," Lord Aster (Rick Holmes), while on board the good ship Neverland, attempts to rescue a young orphan who will eventually be named Peter (scrappy Adam Chanler-Berat) from being sold into slavery, while keeping close guard of a large trunk that contains, as her father says, "the greatest treasure on earth." (In order to keep her mission secret, the two of them communicate in the language of the dodo bird.)
But there is piracy afoot, particulary in the show-stealing antics of Christian Borle, who sports a thick, black soup-strainer as the villainous Black Stache. His maniacally hammy performance, reminiscent of Groucho Marx in his side-splitting wise-cracking and mock-balletic physicality, frequently threatens to pack the rest of the production in a valise so he can carry it home with him. (At one point he charges onto the stage upon hearing that a crocodile has been seen chewing the scenery: “Not during my scenes!.”)
Set designer Donyale Werle frames the stage in a beautifully golden, classically Victorian proscenium arch, but underneath, the play’s many locales are achieved impressionistically, with the help of Jeff Croiter's distinctive lighting. In some instances, a long rope held just right is all that's needed to create an assortment of places.
Act II opens with Borle leading the almost entirely male company, dressed in Paloma Young’s makeshift mermaid outfits highlighted by shiny vegetable steamers that add sparkle to their breasts, in a nutty music hall number that suggests the lunacy yet to come.
When the story resumes, the shipwrecked characters are now on an island where the inhabitants' leader (Teddy Bergman) barks out orders that sound like the specials at an Italian bistro. This half reveals the secrets behind why Peter never grows up, where Tinkerbelle came from, how Captain Hook lost his hand and other details of Barrie's classic characters. It all makes perfect sense and is really quite touching, particularly in the performances of Bolger and Chanler-Berat, who compete for leadership while escaping danger, but who also grow to admire and respect each other while feeling the first tingles of adolescent affection.
Peter and the Starcatcher makes for an excellent piece of family entertainment. The youngsters will enjoy the physical comedy and there's a strong central female character. And there's verbal wit a-plenty for the adults. While set in the early 20th Century, there are scattered modern references used as punch lines (Stache describes Molly's trunk as, "Elusive as the melody in a Philip Glass opera."), but the wackiness of the evening embraces such anachronisms just as naturally as audiences will be embracing Peter and the Starcatcher.
Photos provided by O&M Co.: Top: Adam Chanler-Berat and Celia Keenan-Bolger; Bottom: Matt D'Amico, Rick Holmes, Isaiah Johnson, Adam Chanler-Berat and Christian Borle.
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Posted on: Monday, April 16, 2012 @ 02:40 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Magic/Bird: High Flying, Adored
“Are you the great white hope?” a Boston sports reporter asks the Indiana-grown college star newly acquired by the home team; a player expected to help his suspiciously pale-hued group of teammates win basketball championships.
Larry Bird didn’t join the Boston Celtics to prove that white guys can compete with the overwhelmingly black majority of NBA players, but in the racially divisive climate of 1980’s Boston, the team’s largely white fan base and reputation for preferring to seek out white talent over black definitely stood out.
Likewise, Earvin “Magic” Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t expect to become the straight face of AIDS, but the 1991 discovery of his being HIV positive – a star athlete and family man who claimed no history of homosexual activity – shocked, depressed and, hopefully, educated those who disregarded the epidemic as a “gay disease.”
These two issues continually linger in the background of Eric Simonson’s solidly meat and potatoes sports drama, Magic/Bird. Teaming up again with director Thomas Kail, who did such an excellent job with Simonson’s Lombardi, the playwright effectively contrasts the public, professional and private lives of the two men whose dominating play and heated rivalry fueled a newly passionate interest in the National Basketball Association that has been credited with keeping the league from going bankrupt.
The gregarious, media-friendly Johnson and the introverted, enigmatic Bird only faced each other once in college ball, but media coverage of the two prospects made each fully aware of the other’s challenge to his claim of being the best young player in the game. Joining the NBA in the same season, Johnson was named Most Valuable Player of the playoffs while Bird won Rookie of the Year. They spent the next decade competing for honors and championships, until Johnson’s career ended with his HIV diagnosis (players were reluctant to play with him for fear of contracting the virus) and Bird’s back problems closed out his playing days. They were breifly united as teammates, representing the United States when the Olympic Games opened their basketball competition to professonals.
Simonson’s play, which cleverly opens with the six-member ensemble cast introduced individually like players are before a game, is a loosely-structured duo portrait; a collage of scenes chronicling the hesitant friendship between the two that, because of their profession, could only be fully realized once their careers were over. Kevin Daniels may not exude the magnetic charisma of Magic Johnson, but his grounded performance shows us a young man doing his best to adjust to instant celebrity. Tug Coker’s quiet, thoughtful Larry Bird is the more interesting presence, as the athlete uses cold indifference to avoid controversy and keep himself focused on the game.
The play’s best scene has the two men, at the peak of their rivalry, brought together to film a sneaker commercial near Bird’s Indiana home. When the Celtic invites the Laker to spend a lunch break with him and his mom (warm and funny Deirdre O’Connell) the two, left alone, tentatively bond over their common experiences.
Another terrific scene involves the play’s four other ensemble members. In this one O’Connell tends bar at a Boston pub where a white Celtics fan (Peter Scolari) loudly praises his team for challenging what he perceives as the NBA’s prejudice against white players. His remarks are answered back by a black Lakers fan (Francois Battiste); a resident of Cambridge who won’t support the home team because of their reluctance to look past skin color.
Battiste gets a lot of laughs from sports-loving audience members for his high-pitched impersonation of Bryant Gumbel and Scolari scores with his portrayals of crusty Boston coach Red Auerbach and slick L.A. coach Pat Riley.
Kail’s fluid production smartly employs game footage to avoid some of the awkwardness that inevitably occurs when theatre and athletics try to mix. At the performance I attended, Coker hit all the easy layups he was required to make, but most depictions of actual game-playing involve Howell Binkley’s lighting helping the live action smoothly blend in and out of Jeff Sugg’s media design.
Perhaps Magic/Bird would have been a more interesting play if the issues of racism and HIV were pushed more to the forefront, but as it stands, Simonson offers an appealing duo-character portrait and Kail keeps the drama entertaining until the final buzzer.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Tug Coker and Kevin Daniels; Bottom: Peter Scolari.
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Posted on: Saturday, April 14, 2012 @ 07:10 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Newsies: Slow News Day
If I said that Newsies hasn’t improved any since its premiere engagement at Paper Mill would you roll your eyes and mumble something about how haters are going to hate?
Ten years from now, after Disney has extended the show’s limited Broadway run for the 37th time, Newsies will no doubt be regarded as the plucky little musical that went against the odds and proved the naysayers wrong; an erroneous point because I can’t think of anyone who would have ever doubted that Newsies would be a huge hit. After all, it has all the ingredients needed for musical theatre success in the 21st Century; attractive young men belting pop anthems and leaping across the stage performing athletic spins and flips.
But underneath the flashy performances of its title ensemble, Newsies is a slow-moving, workmanlike musical that takes an interesting, historic episode in the American labor movement and presents it as the kind of spunky entertainment that takes formulaic aim at the heart without earning any emotional payback through well-crafted storytelling.
As in the 1992 film (a financial flop that has gained a cult following through the years), the score is the work of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman, though new songs have been added and some lyrics have been revised. (If you were of a cynical nature, you might say that just enough revisions were made to claim the score is at least 51% new, qualifying it for Tony Award consideration.) A change from the Paper Mill production has new cast member, the engaging Capathia Jenkins as the helpful Bowery music hall star, given a new song that makes the same non-impression as the character’s previous number.
Bookwriter Harvey Fierstein has made some major changes in the story as originally presented in Bob Tzudiker and Noni White's screenplay, giving the leads more definition, but the show suffers from having too many characters with unnecessary musical moments, taking time away from the main pair and making their love story appear pasted in.
Set in 1899 New York, the plot concerns the thousands of underpaid boys, usually homeless or orphaned, who hawked newspapers on the street. The system set up by publisher Joseph Pulitzer (John Dossett) required them to buy a daily supply in the morning and they would not be refunded for unsold papers. Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan) is a newsie who sings of his dream for a better life in Santa Fe; a choice of location that seems oddly random.
New to the profession are David (Ben Fankhauser) and his little brother Les (Lewis Grosso and Matthew Schechter alternate in fulfilling the show's "cute moppet who says adorably funny things" requirement.), who have been sent to work because of their father's job-related injury. Without a union, he's been unemployed without compensation. They arrive around the time when Pulitzer institutes an increase in the distribution cost the newsies must pay. Inspired by the recent headlines of a trolley strike, Jack and David begin organizing a strike of their own, encouraging newsies from all papers throughout New York to join them. (Historically, this strike would lead to a movement to support the rights of all child laborers.)
Helping their cause with a headline story is reporter Katharine (Kara Lindsay), herself fighting against the gender-related restrictions of the day. Her affection for Jack is fueled by her admiration for his achievements as a self-taught artist (a new aspect to the plot and Fierstein's best addition) and his emerging talent as an influential editorial cartoonist.
The serviceable score alternates styles between period-flavored ragtime and vaudeville and a more contemporary Broadway pop sound that seems jarring in the period setting. (Another jarringly out of period moment occurs when Fierstein has Governor Roosevelt say of Pulitzer, "He doesn't do happiness.") There's a very good musical scene for Katherine, where she tries writing an article about the strike with her mind continually wandering to romantic thoughts of Jack. More character-driven writing like that is severely needed.
Also severely needed it a reason for the musical's many extended dance moments to exist. As in the film, choreographer Christopher Gattelli has the boys breaking into parades of gymnastic leaps and flips but the book never incorporates dance into the story and, despite the impressive athleticism, it grows redundant and tiresome. There's a fine moment where the boys express their unity and anger with Irish folk steps, but the occasional ballet turns seem out of character for this rowdy, uneducated bunch and when the second act opens with a lively tap dance routine, the company starts resembling the kind of poor, immigrant children you'd find on a 1930s MGM soundstage.
While director Jeff Calhoun's company doesn't contain a weak link, the material doesn't provide much opportunity for standing out, either. The company goes through the evening with sufficient skills and charm but Newsies is just too bland to excite. This is one of those cases where a group of talented professionals who have done much better work in the past have simply not hit their marks well. There's a good story in Newsies but perhaps instead of tinkering with improving the source material they might have achieved better results by starting from scratch.
Photos by Deen van Meer: Top: Jeremy Jordan (center) and Company; Bottom: Aaron J. Albano and Jess LeProtto.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 @ 02:59 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/8/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"One reason we lasted so long is that we usually played two people who were very much in love. As we were realistic actors, we became those two people. So we had a divertissement; I had an affair with him, and he with me."
-- Lynn Fontanne
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/8/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: MARY POPPINS (17.9%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (14.5%), MAMMA MIA! (12.5%), MAGIC/BIRD (10.8%), WAR HORSE (8.3%), SISTER ACT (7.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (5.6%), EVITA (3.9%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (3.7%), WICKED (3.2%), CHICAGO (3.1%), GHOST (2.4%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (2.1%), ROCK OF AGES (1.8%), ANYTHING GOES (0.9%), NEWSIES (0.4%),
Down for the week was: SEMINAR (-27.0%), VENUS IN FUR (-17.6%), PORGY AND BESS (-15.1%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-15.1%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-9.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-9.5%), GODSPELL (-6.8%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-5.9%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-5.8%), CLYBOURNE PARK (-2.8%), MEMPHIS (-2.7%), JERSEY BOYS (-2.0%), ONCE (-1.7%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (-0.9%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-0.9%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (-0.2%),
Posted on: Monday, April 09, 2012 @ 03:57 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
About Michael: 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 Shea Stadium 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.