Island of Dr. Moreau #38

dr moreau 2Synetic Theater first show of their 2014-15 season is right in their wheel house, H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” What had me really excited about this show was the return of Paata Tsikurishvili to the stage. It’s been years since I’ve seen him on stage, I think I have to go all the way back to Macbeth. And I swear any day now I’m going to learn to spell his last name without looking it up (I came really close this time.) But I digress, The Island of Dr. Moreau, the tale of an “evil” scientist that has created his own race of man-(and woman-)beasts is just the type of gothic material that Synetic excels at producing. I put “evil” in quotes because Dr. Moreau is not evil scientist in the death ray/rule the world kind of way; he’s more of the sociopath who thinks he is misunderstood and his real aim is to benefit the greater good; therefore the ends justifies the means. His goal is to make a better man and to achieve that end he experiments on animals, the idea being that if he can get simple beasts to act civilized, and to put aside their base instincts for violence, then the same can theory can be applied to mankind in general. Dr. Moreau personifies the constant struggle to balance the ends achieved with the methods used and (similar to Synetic’s recent production of  “Jekyll and Hyde”) it explores finding a better or at least faster way for humans to evolve away from our baser nature.

It is no secret that I prefer Synetic silent productions, but their speaking production have improved significantly in recent history and while I enjoyed this show it is not one of their stronger performances. The production felt a bit formulaic, it’s a similar pattern that they’ve repeated several times, there is a back and forth between the spoken section of the show and the movement based  but not rally a cohesion between the two. I would like to see a more fluid transition and perhaps even see more choreography with in the spoken section of the performance. The stylized nature of Synetic’s work is their strong suite. Last years production of The Three Musketeers is a good example, that show had a much better integration between the two mediums.

dr moreau 1Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Mr. Tsikurishvili prowl the stage as our quite mad yet oddly likable Dr. Moreau. He portrayed Moreau with the empirical callousness of a scientist towards his subjects, they are just his lab rats, yet there is an under tone of affection for his creations, when they do well he is proud and it’s all neatly tied together with a massive God complex. He can fix the world, just give him a little time and a whole lot of ethical leeway. Dallas Toletino as Moreau’s equally sociopathic assistant give the best performance I’ve seen to date, apparently drunken brain eater may be a nice niche for him, it was a wonderfully eerie performance.

The show plays through the end of the month for those looking for a little Halloween-y creepiness to enjoy.

On The Town #37

1004141259I’ve decided I’m rather lacking in exposure to a lot of our “classic” musicals, think pre-1950’s. I’m pretty well versed in the Rodgers & Hammerstien/Lerner & Lowe/Gershwin Brothers oeuvres but there are many more musicals/artists that I only know peripherally.  So in an effort to beef-up my knowledge I decided to go see a musical about handsome strapping sailors dancing their way through New York City. smile.

On the Town, which originally open on Broadway in 1944, follows the misadventures of three sailors who have only 24 hours to make the most of the Big Apple. Our erstwhile heroes cling pretty closely to the archetypes of male friends: there’s Gabey, the earnest one, Chip, the geeky one and Ozzie, the ladies man; you can pretty  much tell their character traits by there names, right? Although, they all have the unlikely quality of be squeaky clean guys, for sailors. There really isn’t much of a plot to the story, Gabey spots his true love on a subway poster “Miss Turnstiles” and is determined to find this paragon of talent and beauty so that they can…well I’m not sure what…maybe, live a life time in a day? Being good buddies Ozzie and Chip are willing to cast aside their own plans to help their friend and so they subdivide the isle of Manhattan to try and find her. Totally doable in one day! Of course in their travels both Ozzie and Chip manage to find love, or least readily available sex. It’s actually a pretty high libido show despite it’s overall veneer of earnest goodness.

This is a really well put together production and I really can’t complain about anything, which I know does not come off as a ringing endorsement. This is one of those shows that equals the sum of it’s parts, and when you have talented actors, fun music, great dancing and a shiny lucite New York City that is not at all a bad thing, it’s an entirely enjoyable afternoon of theater. But I can’t give it a rave; for me it did not reach the same level as the 2011 revival of Anything Goes, that show tipped over into something exceptional and has set the bar for what I expect for revivals from that era of musical theater. I did see this relatively early in previews so the performance may have still been a little underdone; certainly Mr. Brantley’s recent review is a ringing endorsement, but tastes vary.

On the Town Barrington Stage CompanyI did really enjoyed the dance numbers, and yes there are several dance numbers; I say that because that seemed to be the consensus of the audience members around me. “Yes I like it. There’s a lot of dancing(with quizzically furred brows)” rather like they’d never seen dancing in a musical before. In all fairness the show was originally conceived of as a ballet by Jerome Robbins so it does have more than the usual numbers that are purely dance but frankly they were some of my favorite parts of the show. To cast Tony Yazback (as Gabey) in a show and not have him dance would be incredibly wrong. All three of the main actors, Tony Yazback, Clyde Alves (Ozzie) and Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip), were excellent, fun to watch and had great chemistry on stage. Of their lady loves, Ivy, aka Miss Turnstiles, Hildy, the cabbie, and Claire, the apparent nymphomaniac, it was Alysha Umphress whose attempts to seduce Chip really get’s you attention. It’s not just the guys who are looking to bet a little something-something in this show. She put a lot of jazzy Umph in her two main numbers, “Come Up to My Place” and  “I Can Cook Too,” and the only one of the female characters I actually liked. Claire was just kind of annoying and Ivy had about as much depth as her poster. Granted none of these characters are meant to have depth.

on the town 2After the show you leave humming that damn earworm “New York New York” which was not entirely inappropriate as I crossed Times Square. I did have the thought as I listened to the lyrics of the song that, it is only the manner in which the song is sung that keeps it from being taken ironically. I wonder if anyone has every tried to sing this song satirically. Read some of the the lyrics:

New York, New York, a helluva town. (mhmmm…yep…helluv a own I tell ya’)
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun’. (hole in the ground is not an unapt description for some subway stops)
New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!

New York, New York, a visitor’s place,
Where no one lives on account of the pace, (well gee that’s positive imagery)
But seven millions are screaming for space. (and not inaccurate)
New York, New York, it’s a visitor’s place!

Manhattan women are dressed in silk and satin,
Or so the fellas say; (no exaggeration there!)

There has to be someone out there who can turn this on its head right?

Medea – National Theatre Live #36

medea-01For those who are not familiar with the play…it does NOT end well…for anybody. This may be the Greek-est of all Greek tragedies, the innocent are murdered, brutally; the guilty live, not entirely unpunished and everybody loses.

To understand the play, it helps to know the back story, so bear with me, we will get to the meat of the subject shortly.

Jason, our mythic “hero,” is sailing with the Argonauts in search for the Golden Fleece which is owned by King Aeetes, who happens to have a daughter named Medea. The King agrees to give Jason the fleece if he can complete three labors, which are obviously impossible, but Medea, having fallen in love with Jason, (or having had a love spell cast on her by the Gods) and just happening to be a sorceress as well (she is descended from the Gods after all), agrees to help Jason get the Fleece. Having achieved his goal, Jason agrees to take Medea with him and to distract her father while they make their romantic getaway they kill her brother and scatter his body parts around for her father to find.

Medea2So fast forward many years to the beginning of our play and Jason, after having lived with Medea as a devoutly in love couple and having had two sons together, has unceremoniously thrown her over for the King of Corinth’s younger, blonder and less witchy daughter. We join our characters on the day that Jason is to be married to his new bride. Medea in the days prior has made little secret of her displeasure, making threats both veiled and un-, to the extent that the King of Corinth, fearing for his daughters well fare, has come to banish her and her children into the wilderness. Tearfully and humbly pleading on bended knee for mercy Medea is granted a brief and most unwise reprieve by the King and uses the time less to plan a safe getaway but rather to determine how best to unleash her vengeance on those who have wronged her. Mostly Jason, but she’s okay with some collateral damage as well. In the end she uses her sons to murder her husband’s new wife and father-in-law and then uses her own two hands to slaughter her beloved two sons because she cannot find any other way that she can cause Jason the same level of pain that he has caused her.

I have been told by those whose understanding of this play is more learned than I, that this is a play about feminine empowerment. Of taking control when everyone is seeking to control you. And I get that but I am perhaps too indoctrinated in modern middle class morality to ever feel sympathy for a character that murders her own children.

3medea2207BAnd having said that we are finally at the meat of this narrative. I, at my core and in my most logical modern mind have no sympathy for Medea. She’s a bit of a lunatic and mean and petty to boot, and while she had numerous opportunities to get away and be safe she chooses to stay and seek revenge no matter the cost. But…Helen McCrory’s outstanding performance in this show had me entranced and in the end in tears. It is a powerful, gripping and incredibly intense portrayal that made me feel what she was feeling, her anger, angst, anguish and very true agony of killing her children.  Ms. McCrory portrays Medea as a proud, impressive and seemingly indomitable woman and you really want her to succeed and win out over the people who have abused her; I’m there with her (solidarity sisters!) right up until she decides, “No, I think I really need to kill the kids, that’ll really show him!”  Perhaps it helps a little that the children are little more than cut-out figures in the play and you never connect with them emotionally. Perhaps her actions are mitigated by the general callousness about human life that was prevalent at that time. Perhaps, being a descendant of the Gods, she has less natural human sympathy. Perhaps its just a cautionary tale about obsessive love and ceding your happiness to the control of someone else.

Regardless of which way you swing on  the Medea question, there is no question this was a powerful and emotive production and the largest share of that credit goes to Ms. McCrory and her electrifyingly chilling performance. Look for it and other interesting screenings  in a theater near you at NT Live website.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Redux

1004141829So ever since I discovered the awesomeness that is Hedwig and the Angry Inch I’ve been jonesing to see the show again and the soundtrack (when it was finally available) was damn near on a continuous loop for a couple of months. Returning to NYC to see NPH before he departed in August was a constant consideration because in my mind nobody I could think of could embody that role the way Mr. Harris had, right? Then…then they announce Andrew Rannells would don the Hedwig and a light goes off and you think “Duh! Of course!” That kind of put an end to the debate of going to see the show again; I really really wanted to see him in this role.  I’m not sure entirely why, I’ve only ever seen him in “Book of Mormon” and Elder Price is a completely different type of role but something about his performance and his stage presence made me think he could kill this role. And he really did.

andrew-rannells-hedwig-angry-inch-credit-joan-marcusSeeing a show, especially one that you loved, is never going to be the same the second time around; you’ve lost the element of discovery and you can’t recapture that same level of emotional engagement. But the lovely thing about live theater is that there are always elements that you miss or that you forget about and every actor brings their own element to the performance. Each show is indeed unique and I am a big fan of seeing a show more than once, I wager that when this show goes on tour I will go see it again, assuming that they do something stupid like cast Shia LaBoeuf in the role. (I probably shouldn’t have put that idea out in the ether!)

hedwigf-rannellsBut back to Mr. Rannells, did I say he was wonderful? He really was. Was he better/worse than Mr. Harris, it’s a really hard call, NPH has the edge just by being my first Hedwig, so how do you top that? If I was being really critical I would (and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack all day) have to say Mr. Rannells is the better singer which showed mostly in the slower songs. I would really have to hear it again to verify and I assume the producers aren’t going to release a second soundtrack just to please me. On the down side I will say his German accent from time to time escaped him, but that’s a pretty minor quibble.

I was a little disappointed that Lena Hall was absent (I’m assuming she’s off rehearsing with Michael C. Hall) but her understudy did a good job, but not quite on par. I always feel bad about criticizing the understudies, it has to be impossible to step into a role that you get to play infrequently and be as good as the person who does it regularly. It’s not about talent level (so many talented people out there!) it’s about chemistry and muscle memory? To be fair no one waiting outside for autographs seemed to notice or care about the difference. Yes, I autograph hounded again, really the queue was really short so I jumped right in. I’m opportunistic  that way.

Anyway you have a mere week left to see Mr. Rannells before he is replace with Michael C. Hall. Now I understand that Mr. Hall has performed on Broadway before, he was one of our many MC replacements in the revival of Cabaret, but I can’t help but think that the producers are playing the name recognition game, that’s my way of saying I’m not making any special trips to see the show again. I’ll wait for the tour which I assume they are planning (or they should be!!)

I leave you with proof of Mr. Rannells talent.