I’m not one to generally promote such things but a talented young actress who I happen to know has been nominated in multiple categories for her local chapter of BroadwayWorld.com.
She’s been treading the boards for the better part of her life (a brief time it may seem to some) in one form or another, be it dancing, acting or singing, and sometimes all three. While her career is yet young their is such potential for much more.
She can be as dainty and delicate as a princess …
Or as gruesome as the ghouliest of ghouls …
To say she has great flexibility is an understatement …
This is a way of saying that if you were to go to Broadway Wold.com-Columbus (as in Ohio) and voted for a Taryn Huffman under the categories of “Person to Watch,” Leading Actress in a Musical” and “Best Young Actor Under 18” it would not be a vote ill-spent.
Obviously ABC is attempting to cash in on the relative success of the “Once” franchise and the “Glee” trend of making musicality on TV acceptable. The more I watch this clip the more I want to see the show. It helps that they’re not taking themselves seriously at all, and that there’s a distinct touch of Python to the whole thing. I give serious credit to anyone who had the courage to pitch this show and to the people who approved it. It may be an abysmal failure, I mean has there been a successful musical TV series? “Glee” really doesn’t count, it’s not truly a musical; “Smash” started out strong but faded fast; even the star power of Hugh Jackman couldn’t save “Viva Laughlin;” anybody remember “Cop Rock?” Plus, it’s nice to see something new on TV that isn’t another CSI-esque drama or rom-com sit-com. This could be the only good three minutes out of all 8 proposed episode but it looks just ludicrous enough to work, at least in the short term. Coming up with decent musical numbers week after week is going to be difficult; although, Mr. Menken is certainly prolific. I will be totally annoyed if there’s only one or two musical numbers per episode, that is not a musical; in a hour format, a minimum of 4 is what I would require.
The plot seems pretty standard, but then again it is a Fairy Tale, there are standard tropes one must hit in a good fairy tale. They have a handsome prince, check: damsel in distress, check; evil but not particularly dangerous villain, check; thwarted romance, check; galloping horses, check; but at the same time they’re poking fun at the genre as well. We will have to wait and see if this will be a fun bit of escapism or just bad. Either way I’ll be tuning in, assuming it doesn’t play against Sharknado III.
I have a pretty strict policy of not reviewing community theater productions that I attend. It’s just not fair to compare amateur productions on shoe string budgets to the regional production or national tours. I have a great deal of respect for people who take the not small amount of effort and time it take to put on shows for often small audiences. That’s some serious love a performing. The Thurber Carnival is a series of skits based on the life and writings of author James Thurber. They were clever in the keeping the costuming and set design monochromatic. The feel of the show had a modern day Laugh-in feel to it, especially in the opening and closing numbers.
There is just something about really good piece of theater where all the elements, the writing, the directing and the acting, even the set design, come together to form this perfect morsel of theater that is entirely satisfying and still leaves you wanting more. This is what keeps me coming back to the theater time after time; sitting through bad shows, mediocre shows, the merely good shows and the really good shows, every once in a while you find these tasty morsels of goodness that tip over into an exceptional piece of theater. Frankly, I’m usually happy to come out of a show entertained but occasionally you hit that wonderful trifecta of entertainment, talent and content that make a great show; that’s Sex with Strangers.
Ethan and Olivia meet on a dark and stormy night in a secluded retreat. Olivia is a talented writer who was traumatized by the unsuccessful launch and criticism of her first book years ago. Ethan is a bros bro who has gotten wealthy from turning his blog (about his escapades having sex with strangers) into a couple of successful books and a movie. These divergent people, both who are trying to escape what they have become and become what they would like to be, meet in the woods one night and the paths they choose makes all the difference. I’m not going to give too much away, the discovery of the characters and there action and motivations is part of the fun.
The show does a wonderful job of maintaining this undercurrent of tension throughout the play about the characters feelings and emotions. There is always that soupcon of doubt about their true motivations. These are two people who are genuinely attracted to each other, have not insincere feeling for each other but who also find they may have a use for each other. There is this back and forth on which is the stronger motivator in the relationship. From the beginning you’re certainly skeptical of Ethan’s motives, at least I was, but at the same time you are really rooting for him to be the person he’s attempting to be as opposed to the person he has been or may still be. His persona, the one he mostly lets you see, is so damn likable and charming that you want to believe this is a person genuinely seeking change.
Olivia, well, you like Olivia from the beginning. She’s smart and talented with a droll sense of humor and aside from her fear of trying to publish again she is the epitome of the modern urbane woman but not in a stuck-up way (okay a little stuck-up.) Olivia secures the high moral ground pretty early on but there comes a moment in the play where the decisions she makes related to Ethan, spurred by the possibility of success, may be as much about his utility as her affection for him. The real tension blooms when what is best for each of their ambitions stops following the same path.
The playwright, Laura Eason’s, writing is witty and insightful and very relevant to the hurdles of love and ambition in the digital age. In exploring these characters relationship we’re also exploring numerous modern day issues; the pervasive nature of social media and how it affects how we interact with the world, the on going objectification of women and their bodies for entertainment, women’s complicity in the that exploitation, the bros will be bros culture of men (to be fair, of some men.) All issues we see and talk about nearly daily and rarely have consensus on. Yes, social media is every where but damn if it’s not a useful tool. The bro culture isn’t positive but this is America and a bro’s got a right to be a bro. (But be careful, when you’ve decided you don’t want to be a bro no more, social media may object to that!)
This wonderful and witty writing is beautifully performed by Holly Twyford and Luigi Sottile (I’ll let you figure out who plays who.) For the tension in this play to work you really have to believe that these two characters are truly attracted to each other and Ms. Twyford and Mr. Sottile have on-stage chemistry that is simply off the charts. You expect a play with “Sex” in the title to be at least a little sexy and they deliver steamy passion. And if that isn’t enough they are also quite good in the parts of the play that require speaking. They’re equal to the witty intelligent dialog and bring these two characters to life and bring into reality their emotions and conflicts. You care about these characters and you can’t help but root for them but at the same time you must acknowledge that life doesn’t always, actually rarely, allows for the perfect happy ending. Of course I’m not saying it’s not a happy ending, or actually an ending at all. Just like life there are always new decisions and new conflicts to be resolved.
One final nod to the set designer, I loved this set, I want to live on that set. Like the performance the design had wit and charm.
The show is playing through the first week of December at Signature Theatre and I really can’t recommend it enough.
Synetic 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.
Having 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.
I’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.
I 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.
After 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?
For 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.
So 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.
And 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.
So 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.
Seeing 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!)
But 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 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.
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.
A 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.
Okay lets back peddle a bit; I went to this concert entirely to see Pink Martini, I know their music, I love their music and I missed them the last time they were in town. Discovering the Von Trapps was a really great bonus. When I saw them added to the program I really thought the name was tongue in cheek homage to the musical, if you know Pink Martini you can see them doing such a thing; but these 4 siblings are the great grandchildren of Captain Von Trapp. How cool is that! On top of that these kids can SING and their aesthetic works perfectly with that of Pink Maritini’s which explains their new collaborative album. (Which I am buying)
If you’re not familiar with Pink Martini, I’m not sure how to describe their style, I’ve heard it called “international” and they do dip into a styles from all over the globe but they don’t adhere to any one. I would describe there music as fun, I can listen to it over and over again and it just makes me happy. The concert was a wonderful blend of the familiar and new discoveries. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t perform “Lily” but they made up for it by introducing me to “Sympathique,” it may be my new theme song, although that means I would have to start smoking, it’s French after all.
The Von Trapps also had some original works, their first piece “Storm” was mostly a capella and was beautiful. One of my friends actually took part of intermission to buy the song (what would we do without our the smart phones!) I will admit, however, as much as I liked their original work, ending the concert with the Lonely Goat Heard song from Sound of Music was probably my favorite, I have an untold love of yodeling, I mean really really good yodeling, which is odd because there really isn’t any Nordic in my gene pool.
Also a special nod to NPR journalist Ari Shapiro, who’s ability to croon love songs in Spanish is just unfair. Oh, and did I mention teh National Symphony Orchestra? They were there too…perhaps the most overqualified back-up band ever. It was a lovely and fun concert and both Pink Martini and the Von Trapps are touring around the east coast (together and separately) for the near future. I highly recommend making an effort to see them! Pink Martini Performance ScheduleThe Von Trapps Performance Schedule
And I leave you with a little Pink Martini and the Von Trapps.