Man in a Case-Shakespeare Theatre Company

20130222082036-33acf487Let’s start with honesty, would I have gone to this show if it didn’t star Mikhail Baryshnikov? If someone had asked me to go, I probably would have gone. I have a strict policy of going to see things that are outside of my comfort zone (which is, theatrically, pretty broad already.) But would I have sought this show out, would I have even known about this show if Baryshnikov’s name wasn’t attached to it? To be perfectly frank, its not likely. But one of my criteria for selecting what shows I do go see includes the actors performing in them and Baryshnikov is a pretty big name on my theatrical “bucket list.” The opportunity to see him on stage is one that you cannot pass up especially when he’s right here in your back yard.

20130222080726-9393d806The hard part is trying to describe the show. If I told you its about several turkey hunters sitting around telling tales late one night and that one story is about a man who dies of shame because a girl rides a bicycle and the other is about a man who resists his love for a married woman that would be a very shallow explanation of the production. I could try and describe it but the performance was such a visual and auditory experience I really couldn’t do it justice. Of the four of us who went, one really liked it, one appreciated it, one found it interesting and one had a nice nap. Okay, I had a few somnolent moments myself but it was interesting to watch. The production was so understated and low energy and the music was so soothing a little nap-age was almost inevitable (plus there was pre-theater sangria involved.)

man in a caseI’m glad I went, even if I’m unclear about what they were trying to accomplish, or even if there was such a goal. I like a little more variety in the tempo of my shows and for the most part this show kept a deliberate even and measured pace through out the performance. There was one kind of energetic colorful moment but then it settled back to it’s pale gray mood. Not a show I would recommend for everyone; it is quite intentionally not a traditional story telling method. It seems to be something the Bid Dance Theatre Company, who developed the show, specialize in. If you’re a fan of the Synetic Theatre and what they’re doing this may be something you’ll enjoy. But don’t expect to see Baryshnikov dance…much.

The show plays through December 22nd at the Lansburgh Theatre and has several other touring dates around the country. See the link below.

If/Then – Broadway Bound

IFTHENnew8.29.13One of my favorite things about the DC theater scene is the ability to see some shows on their out of town tryout; it’s just kind of cool (not to mention cheaper.) When I first heard about this show I go very excited. First the music, book and lyrics are by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey who penned one of my favorite modern musicals, Next to Normal. Second it’s starring Idina Menzel, one of my Broadway must sees. Third, it’s being directed by Michael Greif who also directed Next to Normal and Grey Garden and Rent, all shows I have loved. Fourth, the story concept was NOT based on some previously popular movie. Then a feeling of dread sets in because now I have expectations, not just expectations but high expectations. Logically speaking excellent writers, directors and performers should produce an excellent show, but then we have the Pirate Queen paradox which proves that is not necessarily true. Such are the vagaries of the creative process that excellent ingredients do not always create an excellent product.

If-Then02When intermission came, there was a great sigh of relief as I am thoroughly enjoying the show, it’s funny, energetic and touching. It’s not Next to Normal but for what they’re trying to do it’s quite good. Then there’s the second act which pulls together all the prologue, back story and character development in the first act (which is a little meandering at times) and kind of blows you away. I really can’t tell you about the plot, it would kind of ruin the show. The basic premise is the same woman experiencing two different life paths based on one decision, as simple as left or right (yes, not an original story concept). You have to pay attention  at the beginning to pick up the cues as they flip between the two time lines but once all the characters are established it’s pretty easy to follow. The music is and lyrics are very good and Brian Yorkey does an excellent job using the the songs and lyrics to advance the plots and develop the characters. There is a familiarity in the cadence of some of the lyrics that seemed to hark back to N2N, but that didn’t really bother me. I am rather annoyed that the play bill does not have the song list in it but as we’re in I’m sure they were switching things around during the run.

If-Then03The show is quite clearly built around Ms. Menzel and can that woman sing! And not just sing but her ability the imbue the songs with the raw emotion of her character is amazing. While she is clearly the star here, the supporting cast is no less stellar. Anthony Rapp as her erstwhile love interest/platonic gay friend is excellent and relative newcomer James Snyder is endearing as the almost too perfect to be true boyfriend. And I would be greatly remiss not to mentions LaChanze as Kate, the free spirited friend and f#!king awesome kindergarten teacher. I would like to see her and Ms. Menzel have a “Diva-off;” that would be fun to watch. If-Then01She’s a big part of the first act and brings much character and attitude to the performance.

The show isn’t perfect but what show is; I think there will be some tinkering of the first act as it ran a little long. I think the second act is about perfect. Look for this coming to Broadway in March 2014 and look for it to be nominated fro numerous Tony Awards, especially Ms. Menzel.

Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill

images (1)It has been a theater-tastic week and I’m going to try and post on everything I’ve seen, even though a couple of the shows are closing and going away. So far this week I’ve seen Pride in the Falls of Autery Mill at Signature Theatre; If/Then at the National Theatre and Man in a Case at the Lansburgh Theatre and I have one more tonight A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the Harman Center. That doesn’t include the staged reading I’m going to Monday night. Like a said a theater-tastic week and so far I’m three for three as far as liking the shows AND two out of the three were original works for the stage actually even the third one I would consider original work as it really did not resemble what I would consider traditional theater.

The first show, which unfortunately closes today, was Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mills by the relatively young playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo. The play centers around a pretty standard theme of an upper middle class family and the internal dysfunction that is belied by their “perfect” public appearance. We meet the characters just as the hairline cracks in the veneer of their lives converge and the shell begins to collapse. Nothing in the play really surprised me, well except for the brothers’ teenage incestuous relationship, that was an interesting layer of damage to add to the mixture, but it doesn’t have to be surprising to be good. Everyone is trapped trying to fit into their perception of what society wants them to be, which really applies to so many of us, and are trying to find how to meet those expectations and be happy and discovering it may not be possible. Not a terribly original concept but the writing and the acting  made it feel genuine and authentic.

images (3)The character of the mother, played by Christine Lahti (there I name dropped) starts out as a relatively unsympathetic character, she is the person driving the families adherence to the country club life style she feels is desired norm. There is great irony in the scene where she is going on about how people suffering from denial are almost never aware that they are in denial, when she has been quite clearly sailing down that river for quite a while. You could not help but watch this train chug toward the cliff knowing that in the long run, once all the crying, recrimination, leaving and smashing of things is over life will actually get a little better or at least more truthful. Sometimes the only way to get out of a rut is to blowup the road.

It is a very well written play and the actors do the words justice. With a cast is only 4 people the weak link can really stand out and there was no weak link in this cast. Aside from Ms. Lahti, who was quite excellent, Wayne Duvall as a the father provided a performance that was easily equal to her’s. His character had a much harder path to win the audiences sympathy but he did get us there. Anthony Bowden and Christopher McFarland had great chemistry as the brothers who love and resent and love each other. The final scene between the two was quite touching, if unresolved.

I’d keep an eye out for this play, I would expect to to pop up somewhere in the not to distant future. Actually I thin this production AND cast should maybe make a trip up to the Manhattan Theatre Club, this is the type of play that is right up their alley.

Sound of Music – Live!

The Sound of Music Live! - Season 2013Don’t forget to tune into this to night on NBC! I plan to watch while enjoying a nice Cabernet, because I like wine with my cheese. I will admit that ever since I heard they had cast Carrie Underwood as Maria I have been dubious about the production and then casting Stephen Moyer as Capt. VonTrapp didn’t exactly reassure me. Of course with the addition of skarsfgardVampire Bill (Mr. Moyer’s role on True Blood for the HBO-less) I’m half  hoping for some gratuitous sex or violence. At there very least there needs to be a cameo of Vampire Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) as a Nazi, that would be priceless!

Granted, I could be wrong; there is some hope in the supporting cast. Christian Borel as Max, Laura Benanti as the Baroness and Audra McDonald as the Mother Abbess are all excellent choices and they bring a certain Broadway cachet with the them. From The Sound of Music Live! - Season 2013what I’ve seen of previews and rehearsals they are doing a straight-up traditional version of the show, they are after all trying to create a new “American Family Classic” I’m not sure what kind of twist one could put on the Sound of Music but I’d like to see someone try.

The snippets of singing I’ve heard from Carrie Underwood are perfectly lovely, perhaps a little too perfectly lovely?? You know what I mean. But we’re going live folks!!!! so anything can happen!!!!

Don’t get me wrong I genuinely hope that they succeed but I’ve learned with non-stage productions of musicals it’s best to go in with lower expectations! Tune in and see what happens!

Staying at the Party Too Long

So I had heard about this a while back, a new revival of Les Miz; and while I love this show dearly, how can you revive something that never died? This willmake the shows third turn on Broadway and it’s second “re-imagining”. There’s a reason that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a well respected cliche and I personally wouldn’t mind missing this show for a while. My early fond memories of the show are now eclipsed by the newer productions I’ve seen that lack the impact the show once had. It isn’t a simple case of “familiarity breeding contempt;” (welcome to cliche Monday) the show’s last trip to Broadway the acting and singing and the general tenor of the show were massively disappointing. While Fantine was warbling out her death knell all I could think was “Die already!” It was not a good production.

I’m all for revivals, my excitement of Cabaret coming back is immeasurable, but for a revival to have any impact you need the opportunity to miss it. Having been around non-stop for 25+ years, traveled the world, been translated into multiple languages and been made into a movie with major stunt casting, Javert, Valjean and their assorted motley crew have earned a much deserved break and so have we the dedicated audience. I actually think that with the movie they jumped the proverbial shark and another revival so soon is really pushing things into “Joannie Loves Chachi” territory. There is such a thing a too much of a good thing. This concludes cliched Monday, thanks for playing.