Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage #32

dd-imageI will admit that going to see this show was purely a nostalgia trip. This production has been floating around for a few years and as much as I revile the movie to musical trend this one seemed like a no brainer. How could this not be turned into, if not a good show, at least an entertaining show; a show that plays on the nostalgia of ones youth, or at least my youth. Well the producers managed to find a way. It was bad.

Lest you think I am unduly biased because of my disdain for the movie-musical trend or my love of the original movie (which is not insignificant) I have brought on board a guest reviewer, a disinterested third party who has no emotional skin in the game, to validate my opinion. Broadway Babe while young is not inexperienced in theater both as an audience member and a performer.

There are very few things I really enjoyed about the show. The dancing was great but everything else was less than adequate. Samuel Pergande and Jillian Mueller as Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman had NO chemistry on stage. The ensemble was quite good and had some great dance numbers and Emily Rice was very entertaining as Lisa when she sang Hula Hana song (The one intentionally funny part of the show). Easily, Jennlee Shallow, as Elizabeth and Doug Carpenter as Billy, were the best part of the show and their performance did justice to the songs. The live band was very good but they almost never used them in the production. It was also strange that the leads in the show never sang a word, unlike most musicals where the leads sing most of the songs. They were good dancers but that is all they truly had going for them. Overall the production needs a lot of work.

Broadway Babe

See...it not just me. I did notice later that they're not calling the show a musical; it's "The Classic Story On Stage;" whatever that means. I think it means they were too cheap to hire actors who can dance, act AND sing; so they compromised and hired people who can dance (albeit very well) and are able to speak (don't confuse that with acting.) If nothing else this production has manged to elevate Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey's performances to be Olivier-esque in comparison; I suppose that's some sort of achievement. 

To end I would like to take a moment and mention my utter disgust and disappointment in a audience that would give this performance a standing ovation. I know it's a battle lost and certainly no one (I hope) had high expectations for this show but a show such as this deserved polite applause at most. I did cheer loudly (while seated) for Ms. Shallow and Mr. Carpenter for providing the one bright spot in a sea of mediocrity.

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What a Les Miz Reboot Should Look Like

I said not too long ago that I was done with Les Miz  and I saw no reason to see the show again until some one truly reinvents it. Well, if I were in Texas, I would go see this version of the show, actually, I'm a little upset that I'm not able to see this show. Yes, they've spliced together the best of clips, but it's a pretty compelling clip. This is what happens when you kick over  the ant hill and see it rebuilt to the same purpose but in a different form. This is what Les Miz needs, a kick to the ant hill that is the entrenchment of the show's current incarnation.

Bringing it into the modern time is a bit of a no brainer, certainly the themes of Les Miz are still relevant; the socio-cultural struggles of the characters are little different from what we deal with still today; the over bearing boss who makes the job you can't afford lose a miserable one, the seemingly unbreached authority of a dis-compassionate government, women tearing each other down, the real criminals never getting punished, etc. etc. etc. (non sequitur - Lincoln Center mounting new production of the King and I, 2015)

I like most everything I see I this clip, there's a real immediacy in the performances that really grabbed me. I really like the dread-lock sporting Theardier and the pseudo-geek Cossette; but apparently all Javerts need a large menacing overcoat. I was very excited to see Nehla Joshi, from our own Arena Stage rocking it as Valjean. (how did he end up in Texas?) I'm not totally sold on their high knee quick stepping during "One Day More" but that's a minor quibble. Anyway, I love when region theater takes something and does it better than the big boys.  Good for you Dallas Theater Center.

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Cabaret-Revival of the Revival #24

cabaret04

This is the show that really started it all for me and the theater, the 1998 revival of Cabaret; the first truly exceptional show that I had ever seen; a show that was more than mere entertainment; the show that set the bar against which I have measured all other shows (which few have met and none have overcome) and the show that made me a fast, true and long term fan of one Mr. Alan Cumming. (He was "something" long before the "Good Wife" FYI). 16 years ago I chose this show to go see because I was familiar with it and I had always loved the movie version of Cabaret with Liza and Joel Gray. I was expecting to see some version of that performance and it was absolutely not what I got and I couldn't have been happier to have my expectations dashed. They turned that dapper, crisp and shiny movie world into a dark, seedy and much more disturbing reality. The plot is still true to the original musical and even more true to what life likely was in Berlin during the Wiemar Republic. When the show was over, I walked out of the theater excited and enervated, we had just experienced something special; I had never had this reaction to a show ever before. Granted in those days I was doing good to see 4-5 shows a year so I din't have much to compare it against but exceptional stands out regardless.

Needless to say when I heard that they were re-staging the show AND that Mr. Cumming would be reprising his role as the MC I was over the moon. I have for years been telling friends what a wonderful show they had missed and how they had taken an iconic show and and iconic role and redefined them and made them icons for a new generation and now...now they were finally going to get the chance to see the show! It did not take much arm twisting from me to get a group of friend to go with, I am not the only Cabaret/Alan Cumming around it seems.

cabaret01When I go see a show I try to go with as few expectations as possible, once I've selected a show I stay away from reviews and synopses of the show; I want an unbiased as possible experience; plus expectations often lead to disappointment. Unfortunately with this show I couldn't not have expectations and even worse they had to live up to my memories of the show I saw 16 years ago; it's almost impossible not to disappoint. Don't worry this isn't a build-up to an apocryphal statement like " The show was awful!" Quite the opposite, the show was wonderful and Mr. Cumming delivers the goods. Joel Gray's MC was, while quite dapper, I felt he secretly had a stash of corpses somewhere, very neatly stored corpses with perfectly made p faces. Mr. Cumming's MC is no less creepy but more in a "weird guy you might meet on the subway at  2 am" kind of way. He is simultaneously sleazy and dirty but still kind of sexy, he's the personification of that time in Germany where the decadent life he's so enjoying is eventually going to lead to his destruction. I was a great show but for me the magic of the first time was not there, I really wasn't expecting it to be. The memory of something wonderful is always going to outshine the attempt to recreate it. I am still very much of the opinion that if you haven't seen the show, you should go see it,and you absolutely should go see it while Mr. Cumming is still in the role;  your fist time could be as magical as mine. (Okay, that came out a little dirty but not inappropriate for this show.)

It was interesting sitting in the audience because it was quite clear that a large portion were, like me, fans from the old days and everyone was happy to get a little boozed up and interactive. Normally I will be the person giving bitch face and shushing those who dare talk once the lights go down but this show, with its cabaret atmosphere encourages a bit more active participation and even I was moved to a little interactive hootin' and hollerin'. It's okay I did it with a German accent.

cabaret03Besides Mr. Cumming there are actually other people in the cast. Michelle Williams is one of the many Hollywood actors who is taking a turn treading the boards, it's practically a right of passage for those who want to be taken "seriously." Speaking of which have you heard that Bradley Cooper is coming to Broadway to take on the role of the Elephant Man? The role that all handsome actors take to remind people they're not just a pretty face and a set of rock hard abs; I appreciate that but couldn't you find a more original role to be ugly in? Any way, I wan't particularly impressed by Michelle Williams as Sally Bowls; her English accent was a bit dodgy throughout and I found her Sally more annoying than anything else, is it bad that I felt good when Cliff finally slapped her? Her character certainly isn't a good person but you're still are supposed to like her at least a little bit and have some empathy for her. To her credit she killed on the "Cabaret" number, actually all her singing parts were well done, it was the speaking portions that she let down in.

cabaret02One of my favorite parts of the musical is one thing that was radically changed in the movie, the mid-life romance between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz; the wonderful Linda Emond and Danny Burstein. Their relationship is as doomed as Sally and Cliff's but it is actually more tragic ending. You never really expect Cliff and Sally to make it as a couple, they were eventually going to destroy themselves or each other, but Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz would have been happy were they not torn apart by society, politics and fear. But I will from now on think of pineapples as a romantic fruit. If  you don't get that go see the show.

And this really made my trip...

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Tony Award 2014 Predictions!

tony awardI’m behind on the posts for the last three shows from Broadway week but those shows aren’t going anywhere but since the Tony Awards are tonight I feel the need to make predictions. Even with the week long Broadway Blitz there are quite a few that  I haven’t seen especially the play so some of the predictions are based on reviews and earlier awards. Bold items are my pick..

Best Play

  • Act One
  • All The Way – The new play about LBJ and the civil rights movement starring Bryan Cranston has been consistently winning all the “smaller” awards.
  • Casa Valentina
  • Mothers and Sons
  • Outside Mullingar

Best Musical

  • After Midnight
  • Aladdin
  • Beautiful: Carol King Musical
  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and MurderEasily the best of the crop and the only one of the nominated shows that has an entirely original score.

Best Revival of a Play

  • The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • The Glass Menagerie
  • A Raisin in the Sun
  • Twelfth NightI’m always rooting for Shakespeare!

Best Revival of a Musical

  • Hedwig and the Angry InchNo competition! It’s a given.
  • Les Misérables
  • Violet

Best Book of a Musical

  • Aladdin - Chad Beguelin
  • Beautiful: The Carole King Musical - Douglas McGrath
  • Bullets Over Broadway - Woody Allen
  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder - Robert L. Freedman

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

  • Aladdin
    o   Music: Alan Menken
    o   Lyrics: Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin
  • The Bridges of Madison County
    o   Music & Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
  • A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
    o   Music: Steven Lutvak
    o   Lyrics: Robert L. Freedman & Steven Lutvak
  • If/Then
    o   Music: Tom Kitt
    o   Lyrics: Brian Yorkey

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play

  • Samuel Barnett, Twelfth Night
  • Bryan Cranston, All The Way
  • Chris O’Dowd, Of Mice and Men
  • Mark Rylance, Richard IIIIt’s probably going to be Bryan Cranston but I have a soft spot for Mr. Rylance
  • Tony Shalhoub, Act One

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play

  • Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
  • LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie Just saw her in another play and she was wonderful
  • Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
  • Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical

  • Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry InchIf he doesn’t win I will be overwrought with disappointment, this was a seminal performance. (no disrespect to Mr.s Mays and Pinkham)
  • Ramin Karimloo, Les Misérables
  • Andy Karl, Rocky
  • Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
  • Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical

  • Mary Bridget Davies, A Night with Janis Joplin
  • Sutton Foster, Violet
  • Idina Menzel, If/Then
  • Jessie Mueller, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
  • Kelli O’Hara, The Bridges of Madison CountyShe’s long overdue for a Tony nod.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play

  • Reed Birney, Casa Valentina
  • Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
  • Stephen Fry, Twelfth Night
  • Mark Rylance, Twelfth NightHow cool would it be for him to win best and featured actor in the same year. I wonder if he’s memorized two poems just in case.
  • Brian J. Smith, The Glass Menagerie

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play

  • Sarah Greene, The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • Celia Keenan-Bolger, The Glass Menagerie
  • Sophie Okonedo, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Anika Noni Rose, A Raisin in the Sun
  • Mare Winningham, Casa ValentinaTotal Guess

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical

  • Danny Burstein, Cabaret
  • Nick Cordero, Bullets Over BroadwayHe was the only bright spot in an at best adequate show.
  • Joshua Henry, Violet
  • James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin
  • Jarrod Spector, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical

  • Linda Emond, Cabaret
  • Lena Hall, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Anika Larsen, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
  • Adriane Lenox, After Midnight
  • Lauren Worsham, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and MurderShe was wonderful and while I loved Lena Hall I’m going with who had more active performance time.

Best Scenic Design of a Play

  • Beowulf Boritt, Act One
  • Bob Crowley, The Glass Menagerie
  • Es Devlin, Machinal
  • Christopher Oram, The Cripple of Inishmaan

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

  • Christopher Barreca, RockyThey did some new and interesting things in the set design.
  • Julian Crouch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
  • Santo Loquasto, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Costume Design of a Play

  • Jane Greenwood, Act One
  • Michael Krass, Machinal
  • Rita Ryack, Casa Valentina
  • Jenny Tiramani, Twelfth Night

Best Costume Design of a Musical

  • Linda Cho, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
  • William Ivey Long, Bullets Over Broadway
  • Arianne Phillips, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Isabel Toledo, After Midnight

Best Lighting Design of a Play

  • Paule Constable, The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • Jane Cox, Machinal
  • Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie
  • Japhy Weideman, Of Mice and Men

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

  • Kevin Adams, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Christopher Akerlind, Rocky
  • Howell Binkley, After Midnight
  • Donald Holder, The Bridges of Madison County

Best Sound Design of a Play

  • Alex Baranowski, The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • Steve Canyon Kennedy, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
  • Dan Moses Schreier, Act One
  • Matt Tierney, Machinal

Best Sound Design of a Musical

  • Peter Hylenski, After Midnight
  • Tim O’Heir, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Mick Potter, Les Misérables
  • Brian Ronan, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Best Direction of a Play

  • Tim Carroll, Twelfth Night
  • Michael Grandage, The Cripple of Inishmaan
  • Kenny Leon, A Raisin in the Sun
  • John Tiffany, The Glass Menagerie - Every show of his that I've seen I've loved.

Best Direction of a Musical

  • Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
  • Michael Mayer, Hedwig and the Angry InchI love his work but if Darko Tresnjak wont I wouldn’t be upset, plus I like his name.
  • Leigh Silverman, Violet
  • Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Best Choreography

  • Warren Carlyle, After Midnight
  • Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, Rocky
  • Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin
  • Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway

Best Orchestrations

  • Doug Besterman, Bullets Over Broadway
  • Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
  • Steve Sidwell, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
  • Jonathan Tunick, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

 

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Les Miserables #23

Redemption! Not only is that a predominant theme through out the musical, it is what the show has achieved since the last time they were on Broadway. This production has gone a long way toward washing away the bitter taste of the abysmal production that was their last return to Broadway; the one where I just couldn't wait for Fantine to die...already; and who the hell decided to cast a castrato to sing the part of Jean Valjean in falsetto (or was that the last surviving BeeGee,) with his obviously fake man pecs. Let us talk of it no more. You may ask, how did they managed to achieve such a miraculous transformation? It was really clever, they cast talented performers! Et Voila! A great show that, once again, is able to reduce me to tears, as it should be.

les miz2For all the talk of a "re-booted" or "re-imagined" production, this is essentially the production that has been touring the last couple of years but they have cast some serious talent that has gone a long way to giving the show back it's former vigor. Leading the cast is the stellar Ramin Karimloo, who proves to us early in the show that his sculpted torso needs no more augmentation than his does is incredible voice. The ultimate test for all true Valjeans is the pivotal song "Bring Him Home" and where many have failed, he absolutely kills it; the voice, the emotion, that spectacular note at the end, it was all there. I would love for him to perform that on the Tony Awards. There is an awesome clip on Youtube of he and Colm Wilkinson singing the song in duet that is well worth the viewing. While I think there is little chance of him actually winning a Tony Award I'm hoping to see him on the Broadway stage again, preferably in a new original production.

les miz6The rest of the cast is equally able. Will Swenson as Javert is a wonderful and 180° from the last role I saw him play as the free spirited anti-establishment hippie Berger in Hair. I really like the irony of that. You wouldn't recognize him; yes I know he's an actor he's supposed to be able to do that but he does it very well here. While Valjean and Javert are the back bone of the show, the talented supporting cast does it's fair share of the heavy lifting s well. )Remember to lift with your legs not your back.) I was really please to see Nikki M. James (most recently from Book of Mormon) as Eponine, she was well suited to the part and did justice to one of favorite and most moving song of the show, " A Little Fall of Rain."

les miz4I appreciate the producers trying to breath freshness into this old War Horse of a show but I'm not sure they've done enough. The use of the electronic background doesn't add much to the set design and while I mostly don't miss the turn table, the death of Enjolras is never going to have the same impact as it did when the barricades rotated and his suspended lifeless body was revealed. I think the first time I saw it I gasped aloud. The cart attempt just doesn't work. Also, can I just say how I'm so over the Thenardies, they just see to get greasier with each production and attempts at making them more shocking or funny just aren't working for me.

What I think Cameron Macintosh needs to do is put this show to bed for awhile, let people miss it. Let the next generation create there own new version of the show, it'll give younger theater goers the opportunity to claim the show for themselves and it'll give older theater goers, of which I will be one, the chance to harrumph and complain that it'll never be as good as the first production. If they keep this show on this never ending, yet highly lucrative, treadmill they run the risk of becoming a cliche and a joke. I mean when was the last time anyone revived Cats?

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Hedwig & the Angry Inch #22

Hedwig04How shall I start the sonnet that will be my love poem to Hedwig and the Angry Inch? This is what I mean when I say a show exceeds the sum of it's parts, this is a show that tips from good to exceptional, from merely entertaining to a Theatrical Experience...in case I'm being too subtle, I really loved, loved, loved this show! From opening chord to a well earned standing ovation (first I've given this week) I wouldn't change a thing. I've known of Hedwig, have a basic understanding of the plot, have heard the some of the music performed by others but I quite intentionally did not read up on it or read reviews (although it's hard to when they're being tweeted from the rooftops,) once I decide to see a show I stay away from all that, I want to go with the fewest number of preconceptions and allow the show to be the show. Does that make sense? Anyway that's my approach to theater.

Hedwig03Words cannot do justice to what they did on stage and really by they I mean Neil Patrick Harris, not to take away anything from Lena Hall, she's quite excellent in her own right, or the phenomenal band, but this show rises and falls with NPH, period. It can be incredibly difficult for a popular actor who is a certain character in the lexicon of the audience to over come that perception, people love Doogey and Barney and many people are there to see Neil Patrick Harris but what they get from the beginning is Hedwig. The costuming goes along way in helping with that transformation, but that bridge will only get you halfway there; Mr. Harris takes us the rest of the way. I was not expecting the show to be as touching as it turned out to be, having heard it described as a punk rock experience (mhmm...preconceptions) I was not anticipating going on this intense emotional journey. We start with this harsh brassy self possessed and hard character and as the evening progresses the inner core of this not undamaged person is revealed to us. The song "Origin of Love" really sets up the narrative, she is just another person looking for love, for her missing half. The song is beautiful and her performance of it, or I suppose his, you're just going to have to excuse me as my pronouns flip back and forth, almost made me cry. I really feel he held nothing back emotionally or physically, it was all laid out on the stage. And speaking of the physicality of the performance, thank goodness the show isn't longer, I'm not sure how someone can keep putting in just the physical, forget the emotional part of the performance, day after day. And on a more personal note I'm rather envious of Mr. Harris's ability to walk, climb, dance and perform in those boots.  That is a feat in its self.

Hedwig & the Angry Inch Belasco TheatreLena Hall, as Yitzhak, is Hedwig's mirror, her emotional conscience; the person who reminds Hedwig not to define love based on how she has been treated by others. How can you want to be accepted and loved as you are if you cannot accept those you love as they are themselves. Can you put conditions on love? Yizhak, while omni-present, actually says very little in the show, his actions speak loudly enough. He's made a deal with Hedwig to be in this relationship, to suppress a part of himself for her and you see that restriction chafing throughout the show. Yitzhak too is looking for unconditional love and pushes in his own manner to get it.

This is the journey we take with them, it is a totally immersive experience, once the lights go down just hold on and enjoy the ride.  There have been times, a very few times I will say, that I've walked out of a show knowing that I had just seen a Tony Award winning performance. I cannot see how this show does not walk away with an arm full of  Tony Awards. Finally I need to mention the sound design for this show and whoever was running the sound board; I've been to far less raucous shows and have had a hard time understanding the lyrics, not this show, even during the most head banging songs I could understand every lyric. Kudos.

And I'm going to end with this, I didn't really intend to autograph hound but since the pouring down rain seemed to have driven the faint of heart away...why not.

NPH playbill

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A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder #21

GG-0217M-BroadwayWorld-Graphic-680x200-v41.jpg.pagespeed.ce.B8o7KVrFYxWhen going to this musical don't forget to put on your listening ears, the lyrics and dialog are fleet and swift of foot. This is a classical musical comedy in the genre of "Drowsy Chaperon" or "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" just with a much more murderous hero and a significantly higher body count. This is what Bullets over Broadway was trying to be, but didn't quite achieve. And like a true musical most of the dialog is sung not spoken, the songs propel the plot.

GGtoM03The plot revolves around our hero, or anti-hero, I suppose, Monty Navarro who finds out, on the death of his mother , that he is actually a member of a very wealthy family, who cast off his mother for falling in love and running off with a Castilian musician (yes, I'm shocked as well) and only 8 people stand between him and becoming the 9th Earl of Highgate. To his credit his thoughts did not immediately turn to murder but his initial overtures towards his family are quite rudely rebuffed. And his first murder was more of an accident, really; is it murder if you fail to stop someone from falling from a steeple, that's manslaughter right? Actually of the eight people who died to make him Earl he only actively murdered five of them, with one case of manslaughter, because really the number of people you murder is a signifier of character.

It's a funny, witty show with clever songs and is incredibly well acted. Granted it's not going to be to everyone's taste, it's intentionally styled as a classic musical with a distinct touch of vaudeville but it's a fun evening of theater. Would I call it the best musical of the year? This year, maybe so, it's the only one of the shows that has and entirely original score and lyrics, both After Midnight and Beautiful are jukebox musicals and I'm just tired of the over produced juggernauts that are Disney musicals. And yes I haven't seen the others but I have other sources of info.

GGtoM02Really, the actors make the show here, with lesser actors this could be a really tedious show. Do not try this at home these are trained professionals on a closed tracked. Bryce Pinkham, love that name, as our sometimes murderous leading man is entirely likable and plays the role with such earnestness that his actions seem plausible and sometimes even logical. He is luckily spared from having to make the decision to kill the one person who was kind to him thereby saving him from being truly evil, instead of murderously opportunistic or would it be opportunistically murderous? While Mr. Pinkham is the constant that weaves through the show, Jeffery Mays performance as ALL the people who die, is the unknown variable that keeps you on your toes and and that special quality that tips the show over into something special.

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Mothers and Sons #20

0521142210The first play of our Broadway week takes a down a more serious path than the last two shows. This was a last minute substitution as our original play closed early and weighing the available options it was a pretty easy decision to go with the show that  stars Tyne Daly; she's been on the list of performers I need to see on stage for a while now. I do like crossing items off my lists!

I'm having a hard time coming up with a way to explain the new play by Terrance McNally. I really enjoyed it, it made me cry, it was very well acted. I think the issue is that what was going on was complex and had many different layers of conflict. Instead of trying to provide a synopsis, which really would require giving you the full text of the play lets try and hit on the major and some minor themes. It is about a mother who loves and loses her son, Andre, to AIDS; although in her mind she lost him before that, she lost him to the glamour of New York City and to his lover, Cal. She's a woman who made the bargain of a loveless marriage to get out of a life she hated only to end up in a life she hated and tied all her potential happiness to her son, so much so that she aborted a second child. She really expected, not unlike many unhappy women, that having a child would make her happy and feel loved. That's a lot to put on an infant.

She made her son her world, someone she could, should, love unconditionally and who would, should, love her unconditionally but at the same time she resented that she had no identity of her own; she was a wife and mother and she never had the courage to try and be herself. When her son leaves to find his own life, as children are wont to do, she resents it and that resentment is exacerbated when he "chooses" a life and lover that she cannot approve of. Would she have approved of anyone regardless of gender? Likely not; that he lived a life she could not approve of made it worse; or perhaps that he kept his true self a secret from her, hurt her worse than the nature of the secret itself.

When she arrives in New York, 20 years after Andre's death, she is rudderless. Her husband has passed away unlamented and the tides somehow push her back to Cal, Andre's lover and the person who was with him 'til the end. There is deep resentment and anger between theses two characters. Catherine, Andre's mother, deeply resents that Cal has moved on, he has a husband and a child and a life of his own determining and she is not far from where she was 20 years ago. Cal resents that during a time of mutual loss and grief they should have been their for each other; that she should have been there for Andrea at the end and that what he has now was never possible with Andre. The difference in the two is that Cal's feelings and behavior toward Catherine are ameliorated by Andre's love for his mother. He sees a woman, who he once saw a monster, floundering and reaches out purely for Andre's sake. Catherine on the other hand, never really knew of Andre's love for Cal and doesn't really see him as anything but a last conduit to her son and honestly she just isn't that sentimental of a person.

I'm not sure if any of that makes sense, it did in the moment. Of course, the underlying theme portrayed is the socio-political difference twenty years have made. Cal has a husband, a son, something that wasn't an option 20 years ago. AIDS was once a death sentence. Having lived through the changes we've had in our society, it does become easy to forget the hatefulness and carelessness that existed in those days; the perfunctory dismissal at the idea of gays as having any claim to the same right that "normal" people; that "don't ask, don't tell" was the societal norm. We certainly have a ways to go, but as you watch courts strike down gay marriage bans across the country there is a sense that we're nearing the tipping point in the battle.

Ms. Daly as expected does a wonderful job, this is a reticent character that is not particularly likable but she enables you to see the wounded woman beneath. Fredrick Weller as cal, came off as wooden sometimes but that could have been part of his character affect, he has his own inhibitions to overcome as well. Bobby Steggert as the "new" husband was quite good and the small annoying child actor was just that and loud, he was kind of loud and overly precocious. Sorry, the list of child actors that haven't annoyed me is short and finite. In all a very good play that when viewed in years to come will will make future generation wonder why it was all such a big to do once upon a time.

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Bullets Over Broadway - The Musical #19

0521142211You'll note as you follow along this week, as I assume you will, that our theatrical selections will start taking a turn for the slightly darker and edgier spectrum of Broadway, but it's still early in the week and we're paddling around in the safe (some may say shallow) end of the pool. Our matinee is one of the oft derided and avoided by me movie to musical theater transfers. Now you may think I'm being hypocritical in going to see the show but if I don't go on occasion how can I properly advise people that they should avoid these shows or when there's the odd one that is actually worth seeing? And this show had serious enough talent attached with the likes of Susan Stroman, Marin Mazzie and Karen Ziemba that there's potential for an entertaining show.

And that's exactly what it was, and entertaining show. It's one of those shows that's the sum of its parts and as most of those parts are good then the show = good. I will dock points for there being no original music, if the stories already been written you can at least write some new music for the show and not just recycle a bunch of 1920's popular songs (who I bet are no longer copyrighted) to wedge in as required. This does drop their average to somewhere between good and adequate, at least by my entirely unscientific and rather arbitrary yard stick. The story, for those unfamiliar with the original Woody Allen movie is the tale of an uptight playwright that gets involved with a mobster to get his play produced on Broadway but as a condition he must cast the gangsters untalented and not less than annoying moll in the play. As the play moves forward the moll's bodyguard starts making suggestions to the playwright. It turns out our bodyguard is a natural playwright and by the end of the show most of the work is his and he starts to get possessive about it, throw in an aging alcoholic diva, an overeating lothario leading man and a yappy dog and naturally hilarity ensues.

None of the songs as arranged required any real vocal acrobatics from most of the cast, although they all did a good job, I mean Ms. Ziemba and Ms. Mazzie are Broadway veterans they could do this in there sleep. Luckily (unlike Fran Drescher last night) they chose not only to show up but also to put in an effort. Ms. Mazzie is actually quite delicious as the alcoholic Broadway diva with a waning career.

bullets-over-broadway-opening-nightOur stunt casting for this show consisted of Zach Braff, who apparently has dabbled on stage before. He has a decent voice and his performance had only a tinge of the Woody Allen nebbish-iness rendering his character more likable than not. Honestly, never been a Woody fan, similar to Falstaff, I don't get the appeal. Within a show that hit all the expected markers of a formula for a musical comedy the bright spot was Nick Cordero as the mob bodyguard/enforcer turned erstwhile playwright. His character is the highlight of the show and I can see why he was nominated for a Tony Award, his scenes were the most interesting of the show and really the only character working against type. At least until he has to whack and actress that was a drag on the show, that was pretty true to character, but also pretty funny.

The show was probably at least two songs too long and I really have to question who thought that the Finale song should be "Yes, we have no banana." They selected some good song to put in the show, "Baby, Ain't I Good to You," Let's Misbehave," "we have no bananas" isn't exactly comparable and just an odd choice for a closing number.

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Rodgers+Hammerstein's Cinderella #18

0521141008bWe kicked off our week of Broadway shows with something light and fluffy. I love Rodgers and Hammerstein and I have a soft spot for this show, it has some great songs, but let's be clear here, this is NOT the Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. For one thing their Prince was not named 'Topher. Yes, throughout the show they call him Prince 'Topher, it was all very shades of "That (17)70's Show." I have no issue with them updating the show and trying to insert some modern memes into the context, I do have issues when it is done in a ham handed and ill thought out manner.

But lets start with the good stuff, because there were parts of the show I really enjoyed, namely the parts that were the original R&H music and score. Some songs have been added, which are rejected songs they wrote for other musicals but the core songs are still the best, from "In my Own Little Corner," to the sweet "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" to the funny "Stepsister's Lament;" these are great songs that both advance the plot and have an underlying subtext that are still relevant today. No really they do! "Do I love you because you're beautiful ? Or are you beautiful because I love you?" That gets down to the nature of love. You know I'm right. And the "Step-Sister's Lament?" "Why would a fella want a girl like her, a girl who's merely lovely?" Come on that speaks to insecure wall flowers everywhere. Not that the step-sisters, wonderfully played by Stephanie Gibson and Ann Harada, bear any resemblance to wall flowers.

jpcinderella-popupI will also have to give credit to Carly Rae Jepsen (Call me, maybe?) for given a really good performance of Cinderella. She sings well, and acted well and generally got the job done. I'm not sure that she and the Prince, played very well by Seth Meyers' doppelganger, Joe Carroll, had the best chemistry but I would probably have a hard time feigning love for a man named 'Topher too.

One of the updates to the story which I liked was giving the Prince another conflict besides being rich, handsome and wifeless. It was as much about him growing up and learning to take control of his kingdom from the Karl Rove-esque regent Sebastian as it was about finding love. An early scene has him sitting on a thrown where his feet don't touch the ground. Finding love is what finally compels him to "man-up," as it were. Where the update failed is that there was no pivotal moment of good triumphing over evil. In the end the conflict was resolved without consequence for the antagonists. It was all sunshine and roses at the end; say what you will about the saccharine Disney movies, they did not hesitate to end a witch in flames.

If you're going to engage in stunt casting, Carly Rae is a good example of how it should be done. She's an able singer and the acting role given her was well with in her abilities. What you don't want to do (I'm looking at you NBC) is cast someone who has neither the skill or talent for the role, such as casting Fran Drescher in the role of the evil step-mother. When I heard this my initial thought was that with some effort I could see her as the evil step mother. Of course that requires her to put in some effort. My expectations were not set too high but she limbo-ed right under them with room to spare. Not that the audience seemed to care too much, the applause and hoots when she trotted out her nasal laugh from the "Nanny" really just...well it pissed me off. I know this show isn't going to draw the most sophisticated of audiences but really? Are you really paying $100+ dollars to hear this woman laugh and sleep walk her way across the stage? It was a pathetic performance.

I will end by saying that the little girls, of which there were quite a few, some even in costume of course, seemed to enjoy the show thoroughly. I do enjoy watching their faces light up when the music starts. See I'm not a total curmudgeon.

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