“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
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
Jesus Christ Superstar & The Morini Strad
In October of 1971, three days after the original Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar began its week and a half of previews, the title song of what is considered to be the world's first rock opera was heard on American television's highest-rated show. No, it wasn't The Ed Sullivan Show, which had ended its run earlier in the year, but the controversial new sitcom, All In The Family.
The set-up was that conservative Archie Bunker gets arrested while trying to save his son-in-law Mike at an anti-war rally that had turned violent and he's now sharing a jail cell with a group of hippies listening to Jesus Christ Superstar on their transistor radios.
"You mean you don't dig Jesus Christ Superstar?," asks a cellmate after a furious Archie demands that they turn the music off.
"I dug Jesus way back before you weirdoes turned Him into a superstar," he barks back.
"You condemn this music? This music has brought many young people to Christ."
"Listen here, buddy, Jesus wants you to come to Him on your knees, not wiggling and jiggling until your parts fall off!"
It was a quick exchange played for comedy, but it did address a real issue that was angering more and more as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's creation made its way from concept album to Broadway show. The mere use of rock music in telling the story of Jesus, no matter what the intention, was seen by many vocal religious leaders and their faithful as a disrespectful outrage. And those who looked past Webber's music, certainly the most hard-driving rock score of his career, were frequently unhappy with Rice's libretto, which treats the last days of Christ as an unstoppable climax to a political movement where a sympathetic Judas fears that his beloved friend has placed himself above the message he set out to convey.
Of course, it only takes a few decades for subversive art to be accepted as family friendly, and Jesus Christ Superstar, like rock music itself, is now widely accepted as suitable entertainment for the masses. Which is a bit of a shame, because the audacity of its very existence is what gave the show much of its original dramatic strength. Without the threat of being offensive, or at least revolutionary, the blurry storytelling of Rice's text - which seems to play under the presumption that the audience already knows the plot coming in - and the lack of variety in Webber's score (that second act vaudeville number is such a relief) rises to the forefront. And while the piece can give the customers a swell time just by playing up its potential for rock concert pageantry, a bit more character work is needed to make it do anything more than merely rock hard.
Des McAnuff, whose new mounting hits town after stints at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and La Jolla, is a director whose New York productions have generally succeeded more when stressing rock concert pageantry (Tommy, Jersey Boys) than with character work (How to Succeed..., Guys and Dolls). His knack for kinetic energy is in full force, but the material is frequently overwhelmed by flashy ideas (Jesus being thrust over the audience on a platform with the blazing lights of a cross shining like a Broadway marquee.) and the dazzle of Paul Tazewell's costumes, which range from Vegasy to fetishy.
It's a very well-sung production, though the individual actors achieve mixed results in elevating the evening beyond a loosely-plotted concert. Josh Young rises above, maintaining a high level of charisma while giving weight to Judas' conflicted soul. Paul Nolan seems to be underplaying Jesus a bit too much, saving his emotions for the realization of the inevitability of his fate. It's admirable that Chilina Kennedy's Mary Magdalene is not made to sing "I Don't Know How To Love Him" as "the hit song" but her aimless rendition carries no impact at all.
The dependable Tom Hewitt makes a memorably sturdy impression as the thoughtful Pilate and Bruce Dow's Herod exudes the requisite campiness for his comical number.
Those looking for a bit of harmless Broadway fun should enjoy themselves at this new revival, but Jesus Christ Superstar is really a lot more fun when it doesn't seem so harmless.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Paul Nolan, Josh Young and Company; Bottom: Tom Hewitt.
You might say Erica Morini's life began as a fantasy and ended as a mystery. As a young violinist she made her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1916 at the age of twelve. During her sixty-year career as an acclaimed musician, she played a Stradivarius made in 1727. As she lay in her hospital bed, dying from heart disease at age 91, the exceedingly valuable instrument was stolen from her Fifth Avenue apartment, along with other items, in a crime that remains unsolved.
Playwright Willy Holtzman uses this storied instrument as the connection between his characters in The Morini Strad, a (mostly) two-character play that follows the familiar pattern of intergenerational two-character plays (the colorful and/or crusty older character with a wealth of stories and/or observations finds an excuse to share many of them with a less-interesting younger character), but nevertheless provides sufficient charms for a pleasant interlude.
Mary Beth Peil plays the sharp-tongued and prickly Morini at the point of her life when she's retired from the concert stage, no longer able to perform at the elite level she was known for, and finds little joy in being regulated to teaching lesser talents privately and in master classes.
She intends to sell her trusty Strad, valued at many millions, in order to support her lifestyle for whatever time is left, but a slight imperfection - the result of furious demonstration of proper technique for an uninspiring student - threatens to decrease the instrument's value, so she turns to Brian (Michael Laurence), a luthier whose expertise and discretion in repairing such imperfections is a well-kept secret in her inner circle.
There's not a great deal of initial warmth between the artisan whose job is to replicate a consistent perfection and the artist who uses the result of his work to consistently create a varying perfection. Erica made sacrifices in her life to achieve artistic success while Brian set aside his dreams of being a great craftsman of stringed instruments to support his wife and children with more immediate opportunities making repairs. But, as expected, their professional dependence on one another leads to mutual affection and understanding.
While the play offers little in the way of drama, director Casey Child's company lifts the evening into being a softly played chamber piece. Peil's balances Morini's acidic remarks with the loneliness the woman feels at having outlived both her contemporaries and, in her mind, her reason to be alive. Laurence's Brian is quietly eloquent and prideful for his underappreciated role in bringing great music into the world. Young violinist Hanah Stuart rounds out the cast as an image of the prodigy Erica, playing bits of pieces throughout the play; a reminder of the joy that once was.
Photos by James Leynse: Top: Mary Beth Peil and Michael Laurence; Bottom: Hanah Stuart.
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Posted on: Monday, April 09, 2012 @ 12:04 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
End Of The Rainbow: Clang! Clang! Clang! Went The Subtext
If energy and physical commitment equaled craft and technique, Tracie Bennett's performance as Judy Garland in End Of The Rainbow might be considered one of the great triumphs of the season. But Peter Quilter's flimsy play offers her little in the way of support and director Terry Johnson has her playing more highly strung caricature than character, reducing the enterprise to little more than an endurance test for those at both sides of the footlights.
Commencing in late 1968 London, in set designer William Dudley's overwhelmingly opulent or garish (your choice) luxury suite at the Ritz, the play has a financially struggling Garland arriving for a five-week gig at The Talk of The Town. It's just six months before the troubled entertainer's death became a factor in sparking the gay rights movement and she is newly engaged to musician Mickey Deans (Tom Pelphrey), 12 years her junior (a significant gap in those days), who is determined to keep her away from pills and booze so that she get back to work and start paying her debts. It's hardly a fair fight.
There's great dramatic potential in the relationship between the star and her new playmate, particularly because Deans' treatment of her appears close to abusive at times, though his actions are attempts to keep her from self-destruction. Unfortunately there is no sexual or romantic chemistry between Bennett and Pelphrey and Deans' quick fits of anger carry no sense of danger.
Garland's glib remarks, temper tantrums, vulgar jokes, comments about her ex-husbands (though never any mention of her children) and attempts to charm her way to hidden stashes of pills and liquor are to be expected (though her impersonation of a cocker spaniel was, indeed, a surprise) but the playwright rarely gives us a reason to sympathize with his subject, perhaps assuming we'd walk in with enough love for her to spare him the need.
Thus, on the occasions when the back wall of the room lifts up and we're suddenly treated to music director Jeffrey Saver's six piece ensemble accompanying the star with Chris Eagan's brassy arrangements of classics like "The Trolley Song," "The Man That Got Away" and "Come Rain Or Come Shine," there's little emotional foundation to lift these moments above being more than a novelty act. Bennett is obviously working extremely hard to nail the singing voice and the elaborate physical gestures and to pump as much desperate energy as possible into these showcase moments, but even when we see the star crumbling in front of her British fans mid-performance there is nothing to commit to emotionally.
The only one who manages to generate any legitimate pathos is the fine stage actor Michael Cumpsty, playing Anthony, the music director who is working with Garland for the first time in five years. In the first act, Cumpsty is regulated to being the peripheral gay man who cuts in every so often with a clever remark, but in the second act he's handed the two best-written (and perhaps the only well-written) scenes in the play; intimate moments between Anthony and Garland where he expresses non-sexual love for her, though it seems grounded by the memory of her film images, and the willingness to take care of her for rest of their days. Bennett's reactions nicely convey confusion regarding her character's feelings about the way she's seen by gay men.
If only the rest of End Of The Rainbow had that much heart.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Tracie Bennett and Tom Pelphrey; Bottom: Michael Cumpsty and Tracie Bennett.
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Posted on: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 @ 11:10 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/1/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week
"I hand him a lyric and get out of the way."
-- Oscar Hammerstein II
The grosses are out for the week ending 4/1/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: SISTER ACT (14.1%), MAMMA MIA! (7.5%), SEMINAR (7.1%), EVITA (3.6%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (2.4%), END OF THE RAINBOW (2.0%), MARY POPPINS (1.9%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1.4%), GODSPELL (0.9%), NEWSIES (0.5%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (0.1%),
Down for the week was: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-17.7%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (-5.7%), PORGY AND BESS (-5.5%), ONCE (-5.0%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-4.6%), WAR HORSE (-4.3%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-3.6%), ANYTHING GOES (-3.1%), GHOST (-3.0%), VENUS IN FUR (-3.0%), JERSEY BOYS (-2.2%), MAGIC/BIRD (-2.1%), MEMPHIS (-1.6%), ROCK OF AGES (-1.5%), CHICAGO (-0.7%), WICKED (-0.4%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-0.1%),
Posted on: Monday, April 02, 2012 @ 05:15 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Once & Death Of A Salesman
Before the audience members began to take their seats for the Off-Broadway premiere of Once this past December, members of the press were already sent an email announcing that the production would be moving to Broadway following its limited run at the New York Theatre Workshop. Thus, the fact that the critical response to the show supported such a move seemed superfluous.
The frequency with which Off-Broadway musicals have been moving to Times Square means we're often pondering the question of what "belongs" on Broadway. The answer we'd like to hear is, "The best theatre the country has to offer," but all too often the quality of the material seems of lesser importance than the size of the production, the subject matter and whether or not there are names involved that would excite ticket-buyers outside of the theatre community. (These issues don't seem to matter as much when it comes to straight plays.) Rent, Urinetown and Spring Awakening successfully made the leap, but in the past several seasons we've been left wondering if [title of show], The Scottsboro Boys, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Lysistrata Jones would have been better off trying for a commercial run in an Off-Broadway house. (Of course, even for a quickly closing musical, the prestige of having been on Broadway increases the property's value for tours and regional productions.)
So the new arrival on 45th Street is a small, one simple set musical based on a modestly popular film, utilizing everyday contemporary costumes and starring two actors whose talents are well-respected within the theatre community but have no recognition factor to the general public. Those braving the unknown will find a lovely, emotionally rich production that has made a very smooth transition to a much larger theatre.
In fact, the only bit of awkwardness comes before the show proper actually begins. As audience members enter they are invited to assemble on stage inside designer Bob Crowley's cozy Dublin pub, where they may purchase a libation from the bar and enjoy watching members of the ensemble of thirteen, all of whom play musical instruments, strumming and bowing traditional folk songs, dancing a bit and singing their hearts out. The festive mood resembles the kind of improvised jam session you might luckily stumble upon some night and never want to leave. The smaller crowds at the New York Theatre Workshop fit nicely onto the space, but it's a bit of a tight squeeze in the Broadway house.
Though patrons are gently scooted back to their seats near showtime, the causal off-the-cuffness continues for a bit but before we realize it's happening, director John Tiffany and lighting designer Natasha Katz have seamlessly brought us into the storytelling aspect of the play without ever letting go of the atmosphere of that friendly neighborhood bar.
I say "play" purposefully. Though Once will be considered a musical when award season comes around (Enda Walsh's beautifully written adaptation of John Carney's 2006 screenplay is credited as the book), it's really a play that happens to use a lot of songs as a realistic part of the plot. The simple, bittersweet love story has a guitar-playing singer, simply referred to as "Guy" (Steve Kazee) ready to give up on music after a bad break-up, until he meets a somewhat intriguing Czech pianist called "Girl" (Cristin Milioti) who encourages him to not only keep playing, but to take out a loan, get a band together and make a studio demo recording. Though the two grow attracted to each other, each has baggage that would have to be dealt with before a relationship could be considered.
The score by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (who starred in the film) is an attractive collection of Irish folk/rock selections (including Oscar-winner, "Falling Slowly") that, in context, were written by the characters who sing them and the tricky part of having them presented is that, although some may be inspired by events in the story, they're never specific enough to keep the plot moving. This creates a few slow spots in act one, but Walsh and Tiffany generally do a fine job of making sure every musical moment is about something, even if it's not fully expressed in the lyrics. By the second act, Walsh's outstanding scene work has fully become the emotional guts of the piece, so much so that many of the numbers are completed without applause buttons because the characters' reactions to the songs become more important than the audience's. If you do insist on calling Once a musical, it's a rare musical where the spoken moments are the most memorable; particularly at a point late in the story where a climactic scene is played in its entirety for startling effect with just one sentence.
But when the music does take over, it's given a ravishing treatment. Players not involved with scenes remain on stage with their instruments, joining in at points to give the impression that the pre-show party has never ended. Music supervisor Martin Lowe keeps their collection of mandolins, fiddles, guitars and the like conveying the feel of an impromptu jam. If someone is inspired to dance, choreographer Steven Hoggett's movements are done with the same sense of improvised realism. It comes off so naturally that an isolated moment where the cast moves in unison rings false.
Milioti, who has been doing some excellent work in non-musical Off-Broadway plays, may be giving her breakout performance here; revealing Girl as an emotionally fragile young woman who can be forceful and comically direct with others but painfully timid about herself. She worries about having a cold exterior when she bottles up the love she's fearful of expressing. Kazee gives Guy a sturdy exterior to protect a wounded soul; the kind of man who can only share the many textures of his heart through his music. Though they spend most of the story hesitant to plunge beyond a safe emotional distance from each other, the yearning chemistry between them is thick.
They're surrounded by a colorful ensemble that makes up a warm and nurturing community, particularly David Patrick Kelly as Guy's gracious and loving father and Paul Whitty as Girl's burley and eccentrically poetic would-be suitor, who remains protective and supportive while accepting her romantic disinterest.
The power of Once is in its ability to gently draw you into its story with exceptional writing, staging and acting; all of which combine to create a world far fuller than any outlandishly expensive spectacle could hope to realize.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti; Bottom: Steve Kazee and Company.
The freedom to pursue the Great American Dream to success is a right that, at least on paper, is guaranteed to every citizen of this country. But as the ruthless Broadway producer David Merrick would say, in order for one to succeed, others must fail.
Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman may not celebrate failure, but it recognizes the simple truth of its inevitability, even in the most fervent of dreamers. His protagonist, Willy Loman, has become an iconic symbol for the regular guy who can't catch a lucky break and lacks the talent and insight to make one for himself.
Director Mike Nichols makes the unusual choice of mounting his sturdy, heart-on-its-sleeve production in a replica of Jo Mielziner's original set for the play's 1949 Elia Kazan-directed premiere. Its skeletal service of the play's shifts from reality to memory to hallucination is performed seamlessly, supported by Alex North's elegant scoring, also from the original.
Philip Seymour Hoffman appears somewhat young and robust for Willy, the aging salesman who tries to secure a position in town, no longer able to handle exhausting road trips. But the gregarious, innocent optimism he brings to the role, a mask for the man's misery, is an effective choice. This is a man desperate to be liked, and that desperation can be easily sniffed by higher-ups such as his inappreciative boss (Remy Auberjonois).
Andrew Garfield also appears too young for Biff, Willy's oldest son; a man in his mid-30s no longer able to sail on his youthful promise. But whereas Hoffman allows you to suspend disbelief, Garfield, despite a fine presence, rarely conveys the sense of defeat inside a man who sees himself on the same unimpressive path as his father.
Finn Wittrock makes a solid impression as Happy, the attention-hungry, eager to please younger brother who grows into a shallow womanizer, and Linda Emond solidly anchors the production as Willy's nurturing, protective wife who lovingly supports his unrealistic dreams.
This is very much an ensemble production, as evidence by a strong supporting cast that includes Bill Camp as the sympathetic neighbor, Charley, and John Glover as Willy's idealized vision of his successful deceased older brother.
By design, this is not an inventive production of what many consider the great American play, but an uncomplicated one that attempts to connect contemporary viewers with the way post-war audiences were introduced to the drama. With its publicity stills in classic black and white and the words "Made in America" affixed to its logo, this Nichols production is proudly meat and potatoes.
Photo of Philip Seymour Hoffman by Brigitte Lacombe.
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Posted on: Monday, April 02, 2012 @ 02:45 AM 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.