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.

 

The Magic Flute-Isango Ensemble Repertory #35

I was tallying up the list of shows I’ve got scheduled to see how I’m doing on my 52 weeks/52 shows goal for the year (I’m pretty close) and had a minor panic attack when I realized that I had not yet fulfilled my goal of seeing an opera. I’ve never seen a live opera! Seems like a pretty big gap in my theater repertoire, I may need to try and see one a year just to keep things interesting.  Luckily I realized that I had a ticket to see The Magic Flute by the South African theater group Isango Ensemble.  And as  bonus it also qualifies as “something different” which is always a goal with me; don’t settle for just the familiar.

Magic Flute1 This show certainly qualifies as that, taking a German piece of work and placing it in the vernacular of South African culture. I really enjoyed the show, they imbued the performance with wit, whimsy and a whole lot of energy. While I’m no aficionado of opera I thought the voices were beautiful, especially the iconic aria by the Queen of the Night. She kind of killed it, which is appropriate considering she’s directing her daughter to commit murder. Among the serious machinations of our star crossed lovers, Tamino and Pamina’s quest for love, truth and not dying, the show interjects these bright spots of levity with a knowing wink to the audience. Papagano, is the reluctant sidekick to our hero, is hilarious (loved his “birds”) and I loved the three Spirits in their lovely lavender suits and feathery wings, they were delightful. And then out of nowhere ‘fros and 70’s bell-bottoms pop out, ridiculous but it worked so well. They made the show much fun.

I was surprised that there was actual dialog in the show and first thought that may be a deviation but it was written that way; I tend to think of operas as all singing all the time. It was actually probably a good thing because I have discovered that even if the opera is sung in English it can still be a little difficult to follow. The vocal acrobatics distort the words from their commonly understood form. Although I’m not unconvinced that parts were not performed in a different language. There were certainly times when the dialog was definitely in a foreign language, mostly in the ceremonial scenes. Reading the synopsis in the playbill is also helpful.

Magic Flute2A very interesting element of the production was the entirely percussion based orchestra consisting of marimbas and a variety of drums. How closely it held to the original orchestration I lack sufficient knowledge to determine but I really enjoyed the spin on the orchestration, I do enjoy good percussion and it really provided the appropriate exotic otherworldly atmosphere to the show. The lone musical instrument was the trumpet that was the voice of the eponymous Magic Flute. What is really impressive is that the cast was also the orchestra (it flanked both side of the raked stage), there was a constant revolution of characters moving from singing to playing the instruments in a perpetual round robin that made the orchestra a physically integral part of the show. Can you just imagine the level of coordination and concentration that would take? The actors where not always playing the same instruments and when cast members were neither performing or playing they were still part of the orchestra providing additional vocals and sometimes breaking out in random joyous dance. This makes the cast quadruple threats, actors, dancers, singers and musicians. Some people would call that showing off…not that I’m bitter or anything.

The Isango Ensemble is performing this show in repertory with another Opera, Venus and Adonis, which I am unfortunately not going to get to see before they leave. They’re performing at the Lansburg Theater (Shakespeare Company) until Sunday but they’re on tour in the US through early November. Sorry I haven’t been able to find a schedule of cities they’re visiting you can check their website here.

Sunday in the Park with George #33

SundaySo do you know what I really hate about Sondheim? He just refuses to pander to the audience. No he can’t just give me a few catchy earworms to hum on the way home and a predictable happy/tragic/up-lifting ending. No, I have to sit there and listen to the lyrics and the dialog, follow the subtleties of the story arc and listen to and appreciate the sophisticated orchestrations that evolve with the story line and build to a meaningful and significant finale. Fine…be that way.

I was kind of gun shy about seeing this, I previously tried to watch the film of the stage show with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters and never got past the first scene, it was less than engaging. But sometimes taking a theatrical risk pays off. Yes, risky theater, this is the razors edge of danger I trip along. This was a very good production, I’m not sure why I’m hesitating with the excellent, ah screw it…it is an excellent production. I can’t think of an element that I didn’t like. This is as polished, professional and entertaining a show as you’re going to get anywhere.

Sunday2The show is based on a fictionalized account of the life of the artist Georges Seurat, his mistress Dot (get it…a pointillist in love with Dot? Sorry it amuses me) and the creation of a very famous piece of art, Sunday in the Park on the Island of La Grande Jatte (you may know it from “Ferris Buellar’s Day Off”) that ties George and Dot’s story to that of their great grandson, also an artist, nearly 100 years later. There are many many layers to the story, it is not just about a relationship between a man and a woman. It is also about eternal struggle of artists to promote themselves their work; it explores a period of time where art and science begin to intersect; it’s about the need to be always looking forward and not allowing the accepted traditions of the past prevent the exploration of new means and methods, it’s about personal sacrifice to achieve ones goals. I would even say it was a little about mental health because I don’t know how else you explain all those freaking dots. What Seurat was working on is the foundation of all our modern printers, points or pixels it’s the same concept. It was also a shift in thinking about art, George wasn’t just exploring paint on canvas he was exploring how the human eye perceives paint on canvas and how the human transforms it.

Okay, that description may make the show seem dull and pedantic but really it’s not, all that is subtext to the surface story. This is one of those shows that requires a talented cast to convey the underlying themes of the show or it will seem kind of ponderous. Seurat can appear to be an especially unsympathetic character, I mean who casts off his loving mistress for “finishing a hat” and then disavows his own daughter! Claybourne Elder’s performance as George brings an underlaying feeling of angst and fearfulness to the character that offsets his surface callousness. He is not only letting Dot go because of his dedication to the work but there is also a knowledge that he cannot be what they need and they cannot be what he needs.

tn-500_14056-551.jpg.pagespeed.ce.hNgBEUf7K4Brynn O’Malley’s turn as both Dot and her aged daughter Marie is phenomenal. She’s most endearing and likable as Dot but her transformation to 98 year old Marie is a work of art. She did it with very little more that a few added wrinkles and a white wig, the rest of it, the transformation of her body, voice, mannerisms was pure ACTING! Major kudos! The entire cast was excellent but these two leads are the back bone of the show.

I suppose since this is a musical I should mention the music and lyrics; they may not be to every one tastes but they work very well in the show. You really should look at it more like an opera. The staccato nature of the music, especially in the first act, is an aural representation pointillism and despite what I said in the first paragraph I have found myself humming “Finishing the Hat” and “Putting it Together” has a definite earworm quality. Signature has kicked off their 25th anniversary season in fine form.

What I did this Summer-Part 2

In other exciting news I have already bought tickets for, or identified, enough shows to get me to 51 shows for the year leaving me 1 scant show shy of my 52 shows for the year, but I imagine that I’ll be able to pick-up that one show.  But back to our count down, or count up?

#29 – Buyer and Cellar

buyer-cellarThis was a funny, cute and ultimately irrelevant fantasy tale that takes place in an actual place, Barbara Streisand’s basement. Apparently Ms. Streisand’s basement is designed to to look like a shopping mall and all her “overflow” items are stored like they’re on sale. That in itself is a ridiculous enough concept; but they pile on more by inserting our guide through Bab’s Basement, an erstwhile actor who has been hired to “work” in her basement. There really is no plot, it’s a fun little jaunt through Mrs. Brolin’s career and personality quirks. It helps if you know your Bab’s lore and as I do I laughed often throughout the show and promptly forgot about the show once I left.

#30 – Private Lives

privatelives-thumb-620xauto-72527This show I loved! I, not so secretly, want to be witty and urbane in a nonchalant manner; okay wealthy wouldn’t be too bad either. The story revolves around a divorced couple who meet again after several years by sheer coincidence (some would say fate) on the night of their respective honeymoons to their new spouses. Almost immediately their tempestuous attraction to each other is reignited and they with nary a backward glace run away to Paris together. Halfway through the show I began wondering why the lead characters seemed so familiar, then I realized this is Benedict and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing) the later years. The story of two stubborn passionate people who love each other so entirely that the only thing worse than being together is being apart. Two quotes some immediately to mind, “Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably” and “If they were but a week married, they would talk themselves mad.” Those two quotes most aptly describe these two characters who are too well matched in wit and in temperament to be together but too much in love with each other to be a part. It was just a delightful evening of theater.

#31 – Stupid F#@!ing Bird

This was one of Woolly Mammoths most touted show last year so I bit the bullet and decided to go see what the big deal was. The play is a modernization of Checkov’s “The Seagull.” Of course my first thought was hasn’t this been done? I’m thinking specifically of  last years “Sonia, Masha, Vanya and Spike” which played on Broadway. But having seen Checkov performed straight I’m all for modernization. It was a funny and enjoyable and well performed and as required in a Russian play someone dies needlessly. I’m actually really looking forward to the a fore mentioned “Sonia, Masha…” at Arena Stage later this season.

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.

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?

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