Spin – Signature Theatre

Spin

So this is going to be a little love sonnet to Signature Theatre. Their new show is charming, delightful, funny, touching and a smorgasbord of other superlative adjectives but simply put, watching the show made me happy. It made me smile. It even made misty eyed a couple of times. I left the theater feeling lighter than when I went in, humming a tune and immediately thinking about the best way to describe the experience.

The story is straightforward; middle-aged former teen pop idol, Evan, finds out not only that he’s has a daughter but he has a grandson just at the time in his life when he’s trying to revive his career and naturally high jinx ensue. The story follows Evan’s progression from self-involved individual who has never had to be concerned for anyone other than himself to the person who will sacrifice his own interests for the benefit of those he loves. Of course there are obstacles and there is the inevitable moment when his sense of self-preservation nearly ruins everything but really you never doubt that all will be well in the end. It’s a pretty standard RomCom narrative arc, but it works and when you do it well and use really talented actors it just turns out a really entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable show. I really do think that this is one of those instances where all the parts come together so well that they exceed the sum of their total. It is a musical based on a movie, which is one of my pet peeves, but unlike the current and oft maligned by me trope of taking a well-known and successful movie just to cash in on the name recognition this show is based on a relatively unknown (in this country) Korean movie called “Speedy Scandal.”

220px-Speedy_Scandal_film_poster

The book and lyrics and music by Bran Hill and Neil Bertram, respectively, are sharp and witty. Carolyn Cole, as the daughter, does a great job and has an incredible voice. As much as I love it when she belts out a number the song that really moved me and got me all misty eyed was when she sang the lullaby “Little Frog” to her son. It is a wonderful evocative moment that defines the mother/son relationship in a few brief lines, especially when it’s revealed to be the continuing link between mother, father, daughter and grandson.

The opening number for act two, “Everybody Loves a Scandal,” is as slick and entertaining as a number as you could get and worthy of any stage anywhere. Bobby Smith as the erstwhile villain of the show does a fantastic soft shoe number as he practically slithers his way across the stage in an absolutely delicious performance. I know this show is still in the workshop phase but that number is perfect; don’t change a thing.

The cast in general had great chemistry, especially Ms. Cole and James Gardiner as daughter and father, which is pretty amazing since I’m pretty sure they’re not that far apart in age. They have a couple of really great duets.

This show is the inaugural show from the new SigLab and is part of Signature Theatre’s on-going efforts to promote original productions for the stage. At $30 dollars a ticket the show is a steal and I’m really tempted to see it again toward the end of the run (July 27th) to see what changes they make.

By the pricking of my thumbs…

macbeth4Okay folks, this is an opportunity you shouldn’t miss. The one man production of Macbeth starring the talented Alan Cumming is coming to Broadway for a limited engagement. This show has three things that have yet to fail me (theatrically speaking): the actor, Alan Cumming; the director, John Tiffany and the National Theatre of Scotland and here they are combined in one show.

I saw this production when it was part of the Lincoln Centre Festival last summer and this is serious, capitol “T,” Theatre (yes spelled with the pretentious “re” ending) but that’s a good thing! Don’t let it scare you off. Macbeth is an awesome play, it’s one of my favorites and I feel one of the more accessible for those who are non-Shakespeare inclined. This production is modern, non-traditional and experimental yet still manages to be classically true.

The conceit that holds the show together is setting the paly in a modern-ish day mental institute. The un-named main character appears to have been the perpetrator of a violent crime and suffering from some type of mental/emotional trauma is seemingly doomed to re-live the entirety of Macbeth in an unending cycle. The play starts and ends with the same phrase, “When shall we three meet again?”

Is this a great way to see and understand Macbeth, probably not, but it is an interesting juxtaposition, placing the classical play against the back drop of mental illness and the modern world. I found myself quite curious about this man and what brought him to this place. Did he commit this crime because of his illness or did his crime, so heinous to his own nature cause the mental rupture? I know not why, but I walked out of their feeling like the crime involved a child, perhaps his, perhaps not. And while harming a child is the most unforgivable of crimes I still felt sympathy for this man. There is underneath all the layers of the characters Mr. Cumming plays a sense of desperation, a sense of the true man underneath who is desperately trying to escape, but what does he want to escape, his reality or his illness.

This is one of those plays that will mean something different for each audience member. And I have to give serious kudos to Mr. Cumming for this fantastic performance. There is a reason why the play is a limited engagement; the play is 1:45 with no intermission and he is performing the entire time and moving nearly the entire time yet he manages to maintain the emotional intensity and veracity required to make this show work.

Tickets are available here.

 

Macbeth – Trailer from National Theatre of Scotland on Vimeo.

Les Miserables – The Movie

I have been trying not to get my hopes and expectations up about this movie. The current spate of movie musicals have been mostly adequate and sometimes just awful (Rock of Ages anyone?). This is a musical I love and it’s staring one of my favorite actors and I really, really want it to be good; but I’m concerned that the reality of the movie may not live up to my expectations so I’m trying to stifle them to a reasonable level. I was impressed with the first teaser they released and allowed myself a little bubble of hope. Then they go and release this little behind the scenes snip-it into the making of and it is getting harder and harder for me to dial down the expectations. Bastards.

I think the fact that they’re singing live is going to have a HUGE impact in the final product, it is as close to the visceral quality of live a theatrical production as one can get on film and is probably what has been lacking in so many of the current movie musicals. I’m actually quite impressed with Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Fantine, they seem to be getting the gritty emotional drama down. I am still more than a little concerned with Russell Crowe singing, Javert has some serious songs and I’m not sure Russell’s garage band aesthetic is up to the challenge. I have little doubt that Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean can do the music justice, although I think “Bring Him Home” is going to be a stretch for him. For those who are true Les Miz fans Colm Wilkinson will be making a cameo as the Bishop, which is quite appropriate and I like tying back to the original cast that way.

Anyway, opening day has been moved back to December 25th and I think I’m going to have to be there with fingers crossed and breath bated.

Black Watch – Social Media Day

Well, I think I’m going to try and find more of these types of events. I do enjoy getting to see machinations involved in putting a show together. The real treat for me and a bit of a surprise was that the original director John Tiffany was there. The show has been touring for several years so I was a little surprised that he’s still physically present with cast; it is a new cast so I suppose he gets involved to make sure the original vision and quality are maintained.

The director, John Tiffany, is someone I’m going to have to keep track of a little more actively. By pure happenstance I’ve seen several other of his productions; including most recently the Tony Award winning musical Once and the one man performance of Macbeth, both this past summer, and The Bacchae a few years ago. Like Black Watch his other productions do not adhere to traditional theatrical staging and incorporates music, song, movement and media into the performance creating an experience that affects you on a visceral level. It’s a fresh perspective amongst a lot of the pabulum being produced these days and a good example that original can indeed be successful.

I will insert my standard disclaimer that this is adult theater and there will be foul language and intense emotional situations. The production starts tonight (9/19/2012) and kicks off the shows US tour, see the link below for locations near you, but they’re few and far between. Hopefully they will be adding more dates but they apparently have a problem finding spaces that can accommodate the unique staging of the show. But if it gets to within a couple hours’ drive it is worth the effort.

http://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/content/default.asp?page=home_BlackWatch2012

There’s a companion event happening with this that I’m planning to attend. The British Coucil along with the University Club and the Shakespear Theater Company is hosting a panel discussion about the experiences of the actual Black Watch regiment both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ticket are only $25 including the open bar and hors d‘oeuvres; that’s a pretty good deal.  In the light of current global unrest there is a timeliness to both events.

http://usa.britishcouncil.org/events/black-watch-in-iraq-and-afghanistan-tales-from-the-famed-scottish-regiment

http://usa.britishcouncil.org/files/2012/09/usa-arts-theater-black-watch-cultural-pub.pdf

Brother Russia – a sneak peak

Last week I had a fun opportunity to get a glimpse of the Signature Theater’s upcoming show “Brother Russia.” One of my favorite things about Signature Theater is their willingness, or more accurately, insistence, on helping to develop original works for the stage. This year they’ve embraced that aesthetic by producing four new original works for the stage of which “Brother Russia” is the last. The show was initially described as a rock musical based on the retelling of Rasputin’s life. Now any show based on the ‘mad monk’ is immediately going to intrigue me; I’m really developing a taste for musicals with an edge/sharp point of view and you can’t deal with Rasputin without dealing with the darker side human nature.

The preview not only included seeing a few of the songs performed but also getting to hear from the director, Eric Schaffer, the writer and composer of the show, John Dempsey and Dana Rowe, as well as the set designer, costumer, musical director and choreographer about how they’re developing the show. Out of the experience the one thing that really blew me away is that they’re putting this rather ambitious show together in three weeks of rehearsals. Twenty-one days. It can take me 21 days to plan a dinner party! Not including the musical numbers! The show has not had a real reading or a workshop during the writing process so in twenty one days the cast is learning the songs, dialog, choreography, blocking, and musical arrangements all while simultaneously the writers and director are refining, rewriting and trying to perfect the show. I don’t really have a good perspective on how unusual this is but it seems rather extra ordinary to me.

That being said, the cast of mostly Signature Theater veterans had been in rehearsals less than a week at the time of the preview. The plot is constructed around the tried and true theatrical story telling trope of a play within a play. The show opens near modern day Omsk (Russia) where a down and out acting troupe, for one evening, changes their standard repertoire of Russian classics to tell the life story of their leader who just happens to be/or believes himself to be the immortal Rasputin. The entire cast is in the un-enviable position of playing two characters, the character they play as well as the character their character plays. Actually make that three parts, they’re also going to be their own stage hands.

The writers described the show as a ‘rock opera’ as there is very little spoken dialog in the show; the songs are the driving force of the narrative. The cast performed three songs from the show, the opening number “Brother Russia Presents,“ “Dolgaya River” and “Siberia.” They were all very good but I found the latter two songs quite moving. At the time of the rehearsal there was something like 35-40 songs in the show, which makes me a little nervous. I think one of the most difficult aspects of the creative process is editing but they are claiming that the show should run a pretty standard 2-1/2 hours. Regardless, the sneak peak served its purpose because it really whetted my appetite to see the final product. Here are a couple of audio files of the first two songs. They will be releasing the third song as well, I’ll post that when it’s available.

Brother Russia Presents  Dolgaya River

The show starts previews March 6th, stay tuned for a full review.

Alan Cumming Alert!

It is months away but Mr. Cumming is one of my favorite stage actors and high on, possibly at the top of, my list of must see actors. He’s a fantastic performer and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of his performances. So when you combine Mr. Cumming with one of my favorite plays, Macbeth, you’ve created a show I would be loathed to miss. This production of Macbeth, in the fine tradition of “why play Shakespeare straight when you can put a twist on it” is going to be a one man performance. How and why they’re doing this is a mystery but it has become a fast philosophy of mine to not discount non-traditional or unusual approaches to theater. Sometimes, okay frequently, the more esoctric attempts crash and burn but once in while you get something exceptional. Besides, did I mention Alan Cumming was going to be in it?

If that isn’t sufficient cause I’ll add the bonus of the show being co-directed by John Tiffany. Come on, you know John, right? This is the same person who directed Mr. Cumming in the 2008 production of the “Bacchae” (yes, I saw it and it was quite good) as well as the director of the wonderful, wonderful play”Black Watch;” which is an outstanding example of alternate story telling.

The production is starting out in Glasgow, Scotland but  will be coming to NYC as a part of the 2012 Lincoln Center Festival, tentative dates are July 5-14, 2012. It’s a short run so be prepared to get tickets as soon as they go on sale; odds are pretty high this will sell out.

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/157026-Alan-Cumming-Will-Bring-One-Man-Macbeth-to-New-York-in-2012

Hugh Jackman – Back on Broadway

FINALLY, I have been waiting years, quite literally years, to see this man sing and dance on stage again. This is his concert perfromance that he debuted in San Francisco earlier this year (much to my consternation) and then took to Toronto over the summer (that was almost close enough for me to make the trip) and finally, the powers that be, perhaps swayed by the force of my will alone, have brought the show to with-in a reasonable striking distance. It also has the added bonus of giving me the perfrct exscuse to make a fall Broadway Blitz. Tickets are on sale and amazingly enough some seats are still available. It’s a very limited run, only 10 weeks, but it’s much longer than he’s played anywhere else. After the first of the year he’s off to start filming the movie musical version of Les Miz. Yay!

In a minor update on Les Miz – the Movie, additional casting has been announced and it has been revealed that playing the archnemisis to Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean is none other than…Russell Crowe. Yes, Russell Crowe as Javert; I cannot say that my initial reaction was particularly positive. I think he can act and look the part (squint you eyes and think of Master and Commander) but while I think that Russell is an able, more than able, actor I have never heard great accolades for his singing. It was always of a “garage band” style of performance than anything polished. I guess that’s where the auto-tuning comes into play?

Also, cast as Fantine, Anne Hatheway. Okay, the girl can sing some, I’v heard her sing on the Oscars, but other than that? Not that any of this really matters. Everyone knows why I’m going to go see the movie; I have plans this weekend to go see that stupid rock-em sock-em robot movie.

 

Alan Rickman Alert – Update

UPDATE: Dates have been released for Mr. Rickman’s new play “Seminar”. Previews begin October 27 and the show opens November 20. That’s excellent planning, it’s right in tome for the holiday theater rush. It’s currently billed as an open run which I always take to mean it could close at anytime, so hesitate at your own risk.

Updating the update: Tickets do not appear to be on sale yet and the play will be staged at the John Golden Theater. Additional casting has been announced in the form of Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater who will be playing two of the students attending the “Seminar”.

So, I know quite a few people, myself included, are fans of Mr. Alan Rickman so I thought I’d spread the news that, barring unforeseen casting changes, he will be returning to Broadway this fall in a new contemporary play, “Seminar.” Mr. Rickman hasn’t been on Broadway since 2002’s revival of “Private Lives” and only one other time before that in 1987’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses;” a show I’m still trying to devise a way to travel back in time to see. His recent stint at BAM, which I did have the good fortune to see doesn’t count, that’s pretty far off-Broadway.

The new play, “Seminar” by Theresa Rebeck, has been described as both a “dark” and “biting” comedy and the official producers description is:

“…four young writers who are thrilled to be participating in a private seminar taught by the brilliant but unpredictable Leonard (Rickman), an international literary legend. But as Leonard deems some students more promising than others, tensions arise. Sex is used as a weapon, alliances are made and broken, and it’s not just the wordplay that turns vicious…”

“Vicious wordplay” that sounds like it’s right up Mr. Rickman’s alley. I will be tracking this show and it’s release may very well be the determining factor in a fall/winter Broadway trip. Stay tuned…

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/152238-The-Write-Stuff-Alan-Rickman-Will-Play-Literary-Star-in-Theresa-Rebecks-Seminar-on-Broadway

Porgy and Bess – Drama Drama Drama

For those who have not heard there is a new Broadway bound production of “Porgy and Bess” that will be opening its out of town “run” next week. I heard about this a few weeks ago when it was announced that Norm Lewis and Audra McDonald would be playing the titular roles and decided to keep it on my theatrical radar as a possible show to go see. I really like “Porgy and Bess,” I’ve seen it performed once and Mr. Lewis and Ms. McDonald are perfect casting, both are top notch talents.

Last week the NY Times published an article about the out of town trial for the show and revealed that the director and producers have felt the need to make changes and additions to the show to make it ”… widely accessible and artistically fresh.” I do remember reading this and looking askance at my monitor. Yes, shows are revived and reworked pretty regularly its part of the day to day business of theater but this is “Porgy and Bess,” it is an iconic show representing the nascence of modern theater in America, one should tread with care on that hallowed ground. I really only skimmed the article, yada yada yada…new dialog…yada yada yada…creating new scenes…yada yada yada…happy ending….Whoa! Back up, back up, back up! Okay, technically there words were “more hopeful ending” but I really don’t understand why some people think that Broadway audiences always want to show with a happy ending. Sometimes life just sucks, even in song. I’m mildly insulted as an avid theater goer that the sentiment seems to be that we need to explain and dumb down a show so that it will appeal to a wider (ie. more profitable) audience. That said, my level of annoyance was relatively mild, certainly not enough to disavow the show.

Then, in what I consider a slightly unusual move, Stephen Sondheim, yes that Stephen Sondheim, wrote a letter to the NY Times decrying the changes and taking to task the director and writers and actors for having the hubris to tinker with such a beloved classic. One of his cheif complaints is that the show is now being titled “The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess,” like there may be another version people might get it confused with? I’m sure there are people who don’t know who wrote “Porgy and Bess” but these same people don’t know who the Gershwins were regardless of the names on the marquis. Mr. Sondheim’s major objection to the title is cutting out DuBose Heyward who was the librettist and co-author of the lyrics with Ira Gershwin and is credited with writing the more interesting lyrics of the show like those for “Summertime”. The entire show is based on a play Mr. Heyward developed titled “Porgy” so to leave him off the marquis does seem a little rude. Mr. Sondheim is equally upset by the flippant manner of the comments made by those involved and what he considers a disrespectful attitude towards the original material. Ms. Paulas, the director, makes several references to “card board” characters and “rounding out the story.” He is especially offended my Ms. Paulas’s assertions that the changes she is making are what Gershwin would have wanted, she’s does not clarify to which Gershwin she is referring. He does end the letter by acknowledging that perhaps they’ll some up with something great and praises the talents of the lead actors but makes it clear he’s not holding his breath in hope of a great show.

It is nice to have my initial skepticism confirmed by someone of the magnitude to Mr. Stephen Sondheim.

 

 

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/stephen-sondheim-takes-issue-with-plan-for-revamped-porgy-and-bess/?ref=theater

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/theater/porgy-and-bess-with-audra-mcdonald.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

Peter Pan – Flying into a city near you…

Well, this is a show I haven’t thought about, to be honest, hardly ever. When I read it’s going on tour again and will end up in NYC (not Broadway) my first thought was generally positive. Then I read that cast in the lead role of Peter is Cathy Rigby. Let me clarify, they cast in the role of the forever youthful sprite Peter Pan, 59 year old former Olympic gymnast (1968) who first starred in the role in 1974 Cathy Rigby. The irony of having a post-menopausal woman playing an un-aging pre-pubecent man-child is a bridge too far for me. Apparently Sandy Duncan wasn’t available and all efforts to resurrect Mary Martin have failed. So in the fine theatrical tradition of, if it’s still making money why try something new, this is going to be the same production that’s been popping up since 1954. I suppose it’s the perfect allegory for the boy who wouldn’t grow up, the show that refused to turn a new leaf.

This show could really use a dusting off, updating and re-imagining. Who wouldn’t like to see a family friendly musical NOT developed by Disney. You could even bring in some of the darker elements of the story that tend to get glossed over to keep the adults happy. I know that having an adult woman play this role has become the standard but in this day and age I think there are probably any number of young actors (male or female) who could probably pull this role off. Hell, stuff Daniel Radcliff into some tights, that might work. Or even better, kidnap a couple of the Billy Elliots, steal some of the rigging from Spider-man… and you could put something pretty nice together. Peter, Wendy and the Darlings and Lost Boys swooping out over the audience. That would be kind of cool instead of a rehash of the same old dreck that’s been running for nearly 60 years. One of the things I love about theater is it’s ability to reinvent itself over and over. I recently saw “Anything Goes” and if a musical that premiered in 1934 can feel so fresh and be so entertaining there has to be hope for this show.  

Anyway, the show kicks off right here in NoVa in September and will end at Madison Square in December. If you choose to go be clear:

you’re not getting this Cathy Rigby

   

your’re getting this Cathy Rigby

There’s’ only so much illusion that can be achieve with make-up, a pink spotlight and distance. Okay that was a little harsh and I know she’s pretty much made a career of this role but I think it’s time for a change.

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/152511-Complete-Cast-Announced-for-Peter-Pan-Starring-Cathy-Rigby-NYC-Bound-Tour-Takes-Flight-Aug-24