Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Do You Hear the People Sing? (One or Two, Maybe)

"Les Miserables" at the Broadhurst Theatre, December 12, 2007

A couple of months ago, I posted my thoughts on last season's revival of "A Chorus Line" and described it as a second national tour. Having seen this third national tour of "Les Mis" I have to say that I spoke too highly before. ACL, compared to LM, is actually more of a non-equity regional production.

This production of LM, initially to be a "limited run" of some six months, has recently announced a closing date of January 6, 2007. Time to get back on the road, I suppose?

I also have to say that LM is one of my favorite scores in the world. I've seen it three other times, once in Washington, DC at the Kennedy Center prior to its Broadway debut, again in the first national tour (also in Washington, DC) at the National Theatre, then a later tour at Oven Auditorium in Charlotte, NC. The first production was truly mammoth, the most enormous thing I'd seen on a stage. The second was scaled down, but it was then I realized that what made the show work so well was the music. Even the third was the last show in a five-show weekend and the tenor singing Valjean sounded completely exhausted. It was still thrilling.

Now, at least fifteen years later, I finally got to see LM in New York. The score is still thrilling, but there's much that has been lost in nearly 20 years of touring.

John Owen-Jones, billing himself as the youngest actor to have played the role when he was 26. (Yes, my first thought was "casting mistake" too.) This must have been many years ago. His younger Jean Valjean through much of the first act, came across with an odd feeling of Jonathan Pryce. As he aged, the interpretation came off a bit more traditional, if a bit vocally indulgent, particularly in "Bring Him Home."

Another disappointment was Gary Beach's Thenardier. I had high hopes for him in this role, yet it appears he's gotten his first laptop and was just emailing his performance in. Jenny Galloway snatches away the comic focus in her two brief lines in "Master of The House." She maintains that control in all of her remaining scenes as well.

A lovely ray of light was Judy Kuhn's Fantine. In great voice, and hovering head and shoulders above all those around her with her performance, I was anxious for her reprise late in Act II.

In the meanwhile, I suffered through Associate Director Shaun Kerrison's mediocre restoration of Trevor Nunn's work in scene after scene that had degraded from powerful and thoughtful moments, to the lowest common denominator of only going for the laugh. One of the most regrettable examples of this was Marius' (Adam Jacobs) giving us what should have been a vulnerable young man making his first testament of love, but turned out to be a poor Al Jolson-style, one-kneed, minstrel plea. The romance and tenderness were shattered.

Mr. Jacobs also demonstrated a vocal weakness shared by many of his cast mates, including Max von Essen as Enjolras, neither of whom projected much past the 3rd or 4th row. Two roles of such passion should be presented by particularly strong voices. I think the sound design was also a factor. Even Gary Beach was just about unintelligible on every line. I realize it was a two-show day for these guys, but the Wednesday ticket-buyers deserve the same performance seen by the audience on a single-show day.

Megan McGinnis struggles similarly as Eponine. After a lovely and touching performance as Beth in "Little Women" three years ago, she's in a role that requires more voice than she's got. Again, sound design could be an issue - the orchestra totally overpowered her in "On My Own."

Leah Horowitz' Cosette is best described by the late Anna Russell when she discusses how to write your own Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, "...the British piercing soprano one finds in these sort of operas...she's very sweet." Sweet, bordering on the precious, I must add.

John Napier's production design holds up as well as can be expected for 20 year old technology.

Nonetheless, the show finishes on a high note. If only the rest of the show carried that level of thrill.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Devil and Danny O'Webster

"The Seafarer" at the Booth Theatre, December 2, 2007

(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Conor McPherson's latest supernatural tale of from the Emerald Isle has arrived, and for one who's been a bit tired of Irish drama lately, it's a welcome addition to the current Broadway play season. Following last year's ghost story in "Shining City" at Manhattan Theatre Club, Mr. McPherson is now taking on the larger spectrum of faith. In "Shining City" Mr. McPherson took on ghosts and guilt. This time he's broadened the demons of guilt to the ultimate battle of good and evil - man vs. the devil.

Richard (Jim Norton), recently blinded after a hitting his head in a drunken episode is being looked after by his brother Sharky (David Morse) who has recently returned home after losing yet another job. Drinking buddy Ivan (Conleth Hill) can't seem to find his way home to his family, encouraged by Richard to keep the booze flowing. Soon enough Nicky (Richie Coster) shows up. Seems Nicky stole the love of Sharky's life not so very long ago, contributing to Sharky's inability to focus on anything. In tow, Nicky has brought along one Mr. Lockhart (Ciaran Hinds), something of a misfit among this motley crew of Irishmen. Each of these men is fighting their own individual demons.

Part of Sharky's return is his goal to stop drinking for a while, to see if he can get his life back on track. Richard will have none of that, taking every opportunity to make that choice more difficult for Sharky. When Mr. Lockhart shows up, we learn that he and Sharky had met once before, after Sharky beat a man to death 25 years before. A jailhouse card game won by Sharky compelled the not-so-human-but-really-Lucifer-not-Lockhart to create a diversion where Sharky was released and never charged.

As Sharky, Mr. Morse still maintains a boyishness that belies his whitening hair. In fact, until it was stated, I thought he was Richard's son. His Sharky is shaky and nervous, first from alcohol withdrawal, then at the thought of life in the hell that Lockhart describes in vivid detail. It's a solid and notable performance. Sharky's demons from 25 years ago return as Lockhart demands a chance to win Sharky's soul in a rematch card game.

Mr. Coster, tall and rangy, his Nicky comes across a bit fey with a special delight in his Versace leather jacket. Mr. Hill's Ivan brings a bit of Benny Hill to mind, as he searches for his glasses lost during the previous drunken night, fumbling about the house for two acts. His demons are also revealed to connect with Lockhart as well, stemming from a fire that killed two families.

Mr. Hinds' Lockhart comes off a bit glib at first. His well-heeled look seems out of place among the his drunken compatriots. His Lockhart does belie his own goal of collecting another human soul, yet appearing so uncomfortable in the human shell he's assumed. It's interesting that the demon of alcohol weakens Lockhart as he torments Sharky.

Mr. Norton is the one to watch. He flails and fumbles as he adjusts to his recently lost sight. Richard's blindness has little impact on his inability to care for himself - many times charging off fueled by a constant flow of whiskey. His mix of physical comedy and detailed characterization is masterful.

Mr. McPherson, who also directs, gives us an excellent evening in the theatre. From the fine performances he's coaxed from his talented cast, to some clever nuances (watch the candle under the picture of Christ that hangs in the upstairs hallway), he has translated his work from paper to stage quite successfully.

Rae Smith's sets and costumes thoughtfully portray the worn-down lives of these men. I thought the flashes of red in Lockhart's ensemble (tie and suit jacket lining) were a particularly nice touch. Neil Austin's lighting ably assists, though some effects when Lockhart flexes his power come off a bit cheesy.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Third Person Jimmy

"Doris to Darlene" at Playwrights Horizons, December 1, 2007

This new play by Jordan Harrison takes an clever concept, hints at moments of interesting possibility, but doesn't really deliver in the end.

There are actually three story lines in the play. The title refers only to one of those, which is the grooming of a young bi-racial woman, Doris (De'Adre Aziza) in the 1960s into a pop star, with a song based on Richard Wagner's Leibestod from "Tristan and Isolde." (First I'll have to say the Peter Schickele's tango version of the tune is a much better twist, than the doo-wop schtick of which we only hear a little.) There's a bit of "Dreamgirls" in this subplot, grooming a shy but talented young woman to stardom by a too-slick (and white) songwriter/producer Vic Watts (Michael Crane) likely modeled on an early Phil Spector, before the handguns. The second subplot is that of crazy King Ludwig II of Bavaria (Laura Heisler) and his infatuation with Richard Wagner (David Chandler), building rooms and grottos in his fantasy-land castles based on tales from Wagner's operas. The third subplot concerns a contemporary high school boy, only identified as "the Young Man" (Tobias Segal) and his fey Music Appreciation teacher Mr. Campani (Tom Nelis). The Young Man is coming to terms with his sexual orientation and sees a fellow sufferer in his teacher.

Director Les Waters has gathered, for the most part, a very talented cast to perform this work, which doesn't equal the talent being given to it. Ms. Aziza's Doris absolutely looks the part, and sings adequately, but never really gets beyond the two-dimensional writing she's been given.

Mr. Crane's Vic is sleazy, greasy and fast-talking. When he ends up married to Doris, now renamed Darlene DuPont, the relationship is doomed as his writing style falls out of style with the British invasion. Mr. Crane also does a nice job in the Young Man's story line as the hot bad-boy Billy Zimmer, an object of the Young Man's affections.

As Wagner, Mr. Chandler brings us a talented, if manipulative, composer who understands on which side his bread is buttered. Ms. Heisler's Ludwig brings a fresh vulnerability to the young king, an interesting and effective casting choice more often used in opera than traditional theatre.

Mr. Segal's Young Man quivers and quakes in his own vulnerability, eager to know what his life will be like, but totally unsure how to find out. Ultimately, it is Mr. Nelis' Mr. Campani who is most effective in his roles (he also doubles as Doris' grandmother). This teacher, a former vocal student himself who gave up his own dream of a performance career and suffers through his life unfulfilled by his own students who only take his class because they think it's an easy A. His tension with Mr. Segal is palpable as the Young Man asks the teacher if he's attracted to the Young Man. The older man knows the question is truly innocent, but understands the impropriety with which an honest answer would be viewed.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Mr. Harrison starts with a clever concept. Where he errs is that just about all of the dialogue in this play is spoken in third person (remember the Seinfeld episode with Third-person Jimmy? Hence the title of this post). The only subplot that ever gets close to actual dialogue is the Young Man's, and even then it's inconsistent. Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, as well as Terrance McNally have all used a third person technique to end a play (Ragtime, Glorious Ones), but here it only falls flatter than the two acts that preceded it.

Production values were satisfactory, if unremarkable, with sets by Takeshi Kata, lights by Jane Cox and costumes by Christal Weatherly (while Wagner's dressing gown was notable, Mr. Campani's pink bow tie pushed the stereotype just a bit too far).

Click here for a discount ticket offer from Playwrights Horizons.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Playwrights Horizons Discount


DORIS TO DARLENE, a cautionary valentine
A new play by Jordan Harrison

de'Adre Aziza, David Chandler, Michael Crane
Laura Heisler, Tom Nelis, and Tobias Segal

Directed by Les Waters

November 16th – December 23rd
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater
416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

In the candy-colored 1960s, a biracial schoolgirl named Doris is molded into pop star Darlene by a whiz-kid record producer who culls a top-ten hit out of Richard Wagner’s Liebestod. Rewind to the candy-colored 1860s, where Wagner is writing the melody that will become Darlene’s hit song. Fast-forward to the not-so-candy-colored present, where a teenager obsesses over Darlene’s music — and his music teacher. Three dissonant decades merge into an unlikely harmony in this time-jumping pop fairy tale about the dreams and disasters behind one transcendent song.

Special Discount offer for Bloggers Posts
$35 (REG. $65) for performances November 16 – 26
$45 (REG. $65) for performances November 27 – December 23.
Limit 4 tickets per order. Subject to availability.

How to order (purchase by December 11 and mention code ‘DDBL’ to receive discount):

Online: and use code DDBL
Phone: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily) and mention code DDBL.
In person: Ticket Central, 416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Life of Bits and Scraps

"The Glorious Ones" at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center, November 10, 2007

From the talented Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens is a new musical that chronicles the career of Flaminio Scala based on the book of the same name by Francine Prose. Italian commedia dell'arte tradition is where the story centers.

As Flaminio, Marc Kudisch is in strong voice, mixing a bit of the Pirate King to his swaggering leader of the motley crew. He does have a touching moment in the 11 o'clock number, "I Was Here." There is an occasional lapse into overly nasal tones, but it's under better control here compared to other performances of his. As Columbina, his lover and leading lady, Natalie Venetia Belcon makes a giant leap away from her role of Gary Coleman in Avenue Q as the former prostitute-turned-actor. With heaving décolletage, she is most uncomfortable when her role requires her to be less sexual. This made for an interesting contrast during her song about her relationship with Scala, "My Body Wasn't Why."

As the newly created harlequin, Jeremy Webb's Francesco services satisfactorily (nice job juggling on his entrance). Erin Davie as his love Isabella has made a nice transition from the slightly manic Little Edie to the ingenue who wants to write plays.

I had a bit of trouble deciding about Julyana Soelistyo's Armanda Ragusa, the dwarf. Sometimes the gender of this role was a bit unclear, between the writing and the costume, although Ms. Soelistyo's gender was apparent. Her portrayal did fall a bit short of the kind of idol-worship Armanda professed.

David Patrick Kelly as Pantalone, and John Kassir as Dottore both acquitted themselves well in their respective roles.

Dan Ostling's multilevel wooden stage evokes the period nicely and is complemented by Stephen Strawbridge's lighting. Mara Blumenfield costumes have captured the period very nicely as well, though some of the silks looked a bit rich for such a ragtag troupe.

Director/choreographer Graciela Daniele, along with Ms. Ahrens and Mr. Flaherty have improved from their last outing at Lincoln Center, "Dessa Rose," but one can see they long for another epic success like "Ragtime." (Say what you will - it's one of my favorite scores in contemporary musical theatre.) Here, they seem to struggle between telling the tale of Flaminio's troupe or writing a commedia dell'arte piece. This becomes particularly apparent at the end as they wrap up the story exactly as they ended "Ragtime" with each character explaining his/her own final story. There are some excellent moments here, too. Most notable was "Armanda's Sack" the penultimate number in which Armanda and the troupe retrace their journey with memories sparked by bits and scraps of fabric from the multitudes of costumes they wore along the way. This song particularly reminded me of a very close friend, who could easily trace much of his own life in the same way.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Auntie Mark

"Is He Dead?" at the Lyceum Theatre, November 9, 2007

A "long lost" farce written by Mark Twain in 1898, but never performed was found in a file cabinet in a library at the University of California-Berkeley.

I'm always curious about "newly discovered" works by long-dead authors. Sadly, sometimes we discover the reason that the work was never published was because it wasn't very good, or wasn't very original as is the case with Is He Dead?

Granted, a new play by Mark Twain is bound to sell some tickets purely for the curiosity factor. Who could blame a producer for putting up a show like that? Too, the production assembles a particularly talented cast, including Norbert Leo Butz, John McMartin, Marylouise Burke and David Pittu. I was also curious to see that the play has been adapted by David Ives for this production, so it's difficult to tell which of the stale/predictable jokes belong to Mr. Twain and and which belong to Mr. Ives. To tell the truth, there are many which belong to Brandon Thomas, the author of Charley's Aunt from which this play pulls much of its humor source.

Briefly, a talented painter in Paris is financially struggling and fakes his own death to reap the benefits as his widowed sister. Toss in a couple of oddball artist sidekicks (1 Irish, 1 German, 1 American), a love interest and her poverty-stricken father and sister, two doting old maids and an evil financier and you have a classic 19th century melodramatic farce. I overheard a gentleman down the row from me comment that putting a man in a dress is one of the lowest forms of humor - and he's right.

But as I mentioned above, it is a terrific cast - and I did see only their second preview. Still, I think Mr. Twain realized there was no silk purse to be made from this sow's ear.

Mr. Butz, as Jean-Francois Millet (who was an actual painter of the time), pulls out all the stops. I did think he became remarkably comfortable in the dress very quickly in the first act. Dancing at any opportunity, I think he would have rather it were a musical (which is not a bad idea). There could be some opportunities in a musical version that would differentiate the piece from Mr. Thomas' work. Mr. Butz is engaging and entertaining as ever with a bright intensity that makes you think he believes the play is better than it is.

Byron Jennings as the evil financier, Bastien Andre, sneers and leers with the best of them. How thoughtful of Paul Huntley to provide him with a Snidley Whiplash mustache to twirl on cue. He's having a grand time.

Michael McGrath shuffles along as Millet's side-kick, Agamemnon "Chicago" Buckner, greasing the path for the deception. John McMartin's Papa Leroux doesn't manage to get past the second dimension of the script, but is entertaining nonetheless. The other performers I mentioned earlier, David Pittu and Marylouise Burke both turn in respectable performances, rising a bit above the material.

Director Michael Blakemore has taken no stance of subtletly or finesse in his handling of cast and script. The jokes are broad and the humor is physical. Peter J. Davison's contrasting sets serve nicely, as do Martin Pakledinaz' excellent costumes.

It's not a bad play, it's just not very original. It is, however, a suitable substitute for Charley's Aunt for any community or school theatre group looking to do a light period piece.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Утес и крен

"Rock 'n' Roll" at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, November 7, 2007

The very prolific Tom Stoppard is back on Broadway with another transfer from London's West End of Rock 'n' Roll. In it, he tracks the downward spiral of the Soviet empire beginning with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 until the fall of the Iron Curtain, tying it together with the growth of rock music. This staging by Trevor Nunn, however, feels more like a screenplay than a live stage event. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours, the more-than-just-very-long first act spends much of the time on exposition. Once things start happening in Act II, it's a bit more compelling, but still a bit heady. In his last Broadway outing, last season's Coast of Utopia trilogy, each show had a page of program notes to accompany the performance.

Rock 'n' Roll has an 8-page insert, and still spends the first hour setting up the show.

Brian Cox as Max Morrow, the die-hard communist Cambridge professor, flails and blusters over the inability of the masses to rise above capitalism. Mr. Cox wears Max's convictions as an ever-increasing weight, which ends up leaving him metaphorically and literally lame after a broken leg late in life.

Sinead Cusack takes on the roles of Max's wife Eleanor, dying of breast cancer, then later as their grown daughter Esme. Her Eleanor, a professor of classics with a penchant for Sapphic poetry, rages against her own dying, betrayed by her own body while her mind can't comprehend how this has happened to her. Her Esme, an aging flower child, never feels that she compared to her mother's accomplishments in life and work.

Rufus Sewell, as Jan, the Czech grad student who returns to his country following the invasion suffers under the weight of the new regime. Sent primarily to spy on Professor Morrow, his interest was more in how to use the Communists for his own ends - education, culture, travel.

Robert Jones' revolving set serves the proceedings very nicely, effectively lit by Howard Harrison. Emma Ryott's costumes are benignly appropriate, matching the periods from the 60s to the 90s.

Mr. Nunn's staging separated scenes with rather lengthy musical interludes, projecting song/album titles, artist/performer and studio information with a focus on music by Pink Floyd and the Plastic People of the Universe. Tightening up these transitions could cut a bit of the length of the play.

Shakespeare in his "conceptual" phase

"Cymbeline" at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, November 6, 2007

One of Shakespeare's last four plays, Cymbeline seems to be one where he's pulling some old tricks out of his hat, hoping to mix up something new. What we get is a convoluted opera-style plot of scheming queens (real queens, that is), magic sleeping potions, gender-bending, war, not-so-dead children, beheadings and a final scene with some of the most convenient wrap-ups not seen since the final "very special Blossom" all lined up with an actual reference to history.

If you really need a plot summary, go here.

As King Cymbeline, John Cullum is still struggling on occasion with lines, but manages to bluster his way through this poor man's Lear. Phylicia Rashad, his Queen, slithers about the stage, plotting the downfall of his daughter Imogen, (Martha Plimpton) and the advancement of her son Lord Cloten (Adam Dannheisser).

Ms. Plimpton is up to her usual outstanding performance in this role that requires her to call on characteristics of both Juliet and Olivia. As her maligned, deprived yet noble secret husband, Michael Cerveris spits about as much as any actor in a Shakespeare play since Kevin Kline. His Posthumus Leonatus is a bit sniveling, but does rise to the occasion in the plot contrivances of the final act.

Jonathan Cake carries the remaining weight of this production on his beautifully muscled shoulders as the Iago-like Iachimo, plotting to wrong Posthumus during his banishment in Italy by seducing his wife Imogen. Mr. Dannheisser delights as the thick-headed Cloten.

David Furr and Gregory Wooddell, as the Jethro and Lil' Abner missing princes are physically impressive (really physically impressive), but pretty much otherwise unintelligible. Also less successful is the talented John Pankow in the thankless role of Pisanio.

Direct Mark Lamos seems to have spent more time choreographing the traffic of his large cast than bringing meaningful performances from most of the roles.

Michael Yeargan's clever sets evoke a bit of an Elizabethan setting, nicely complimented by Brain MacDevitt's clever lighting. It's Jess Goldstein's sumptuous costumes that really make the visual impact of this production.

To Tell the Truth

"August: Osage County" presented by Steppenwolf Theatre at the Imperial Theatre, November 3, 2007

Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre is one of the best regional theatres in the US, bringing yet another excellent production to Broadway in Tracy Letts' August: Osage County. There's an air of familiarity about it, feeling much like one would expect of a William Inge play written by Beth Henley. This tale manages to pull out most of the stops of a southern gothic drama set in the plains of Oklahoma. All the elements are there, drug use and abuse, alcoholism, infidelity and more (not to spoil too much of the story here). What I also find impressive is that this is a 3 act play, running just about 3 hours, including intermissions. It's refreshing to find something on Broadway that hasn't been sliced and diced down to a marketable 90-minute one-act.

Let's see, can I sum the plot up in a paragraph? Beverly (the father) drinks. Violet (the mother) takes pills and is dying from cancer of the mouth. Three daughters, Barbara, Karen and Ivy all with their own sets of issues. Busybody in-laws Mattie Fae and Charles, a loser cousin Little Charles and an overly precocious, pot-smoking, teen grandchild Jean all come together with enough revelations to tire Tennessee Williams. Toss in a new fiance, a former boyfriend now the sheriff and a Native American cook/housekeeper and stir it up good.

As Violet, Deanna Dunagan flails, curses, whines, moans, cajoles, manipulates and tortures everyone around her as she suffers her own slow disease. She conveys the full range of this personal hell in which her character suffers, from dazed and drugged moments of stupor to acid-tongued speeches full of bile and vinegar.

Amy Morton's Barbara is the oldest daughter, who bears the full weight of the family's role reversal. Her own marriage is dissolving since her husband has taken up with a student at his college, but they're pretending to still be together as the family works through its crisis. Ms. Morton excels in this trying role, naturally moving from feelings of abandonment to being fully in charge, kicking ass and taking names. As she and her sisters consider their parents' lives amid the revelations following the funeral, one asks, "When they named them the 'Greatest Generation,' have the considered all the other generations?"

Rondi Reed's Mattie Fae reminded me a lot of Lottie Lacey from Inge's "Dark at the Top of the Stairs" - overbearing and dominating both her husband and grown son. She has her own dark secret to share in Act III, which is quite a twist based on the actions of her character.

The others in the cast all acquit themselves well. Particular note to Madeline Martin's Jean, the dead-pan teen who escapes a sticky situation with her aunt's new fiance after they sneak out to share a dooby and he gets frisky.

Director Anna D. Shapiro gets things moving once the exposition of Act I is over. She does well maneuvering the large cast around Todd Rosenthal's three-level set. His open structure lays bare the bones of the house, preparing for the skeletons that will appear from the family's closet.

It's a strong production, well worth seeing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Minor Successes are Not the Stuff of Which History is Made

"Frankenstein" at 37 Arts, October 27, 2007

And the challenger, weighing in at 98 lbs, with a "faithful" adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic story.

He swings.

He misses.

He swings again - and knocks himself out. The crowd is in an uproar. They shout, "Throw in the towel! Throw in the towel!"

I agree.

Miscast, melodramatically staged, weakly scored, it's a sad event. There's really not enough here to provide fodder for campy remarks. Although those leather pants on the Creature...

Hunter Foster's Victor reminds me of Robert Preston. I kept waiting for him to break into "Trouble, Right Here In Geneva City."

Steve Blanchard's Creature is a hottie - until he sings. He has a nice vocal tone, but I can't tell what the source of his pitch problems are between the horrid sound design and the mediocre score.

Christiane Noll fares slightly better as Elizabeth - she gets to wear pretty costumes.

The abstract set by Kevin Judge is serviceable, but Thom Weaver's lighting design calls for 3.4 million instruments to light an off-Broadway venue. The result is blocked view for any audience member on the right side of the house. The worst of this offense is that the lighting was poor, even with all that money and equipment thrown at it. This is a brand new facility. Doesn't anyone designing theatre space ever think of the visual distraction caused by these huge life-threatening grids suspended over the audience? With that, why is it that lighting designers are the only ones on the technical team who doesn't have to mask his/her work? It's theatre, not a rock concert.

Ok, ok. I'll get off my soapbox now.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Back to Frankenstein (if I must).

They might do well to take out about 15-20 minutes and cut their intermission. That could reduce the empty seats in Act II. I mentioned this to my brother who attended with me (and who doesn't see a lot of theatre, btw). His response? "You can't polish a turd."

Well . . . ok!

Transylvanian Catskills

"Young Frankenstein" at the Hilton Theatre, October 25, 2007

Mel Brooks returns to Broadway with another stage adaptation from his film collection. Based on James Whale's 1930s adaptation of Mary Shelley's book, the Brooks tongue almost splits the zipper in the monster's cheek.

The show is relatively faithful to the 1974 film, with a few understandable modifications for a live stage production. What disappointed me was one of two things:

  • Either I never realized that Brooks wrote from a formula, or
  • Mr. Meehan has, unwittingly, imposed one onto Mr. Brooks' material
As the show progressed, I kept thinking, "Hmm, that reminds me of 'The Producers'." Let's review the similarities, shall we?
  • Two featured male roles - Leo/Max, Frederick/Igor
  • Blond sex kitten - Ulla, Inga
  • Old Ladies: Old ladies, Frau Blucher (s/f/x horse whinny)
  • Featured oaf: Franz, The Monster
  • Featured supporting role which grew into a lead in a swell gown: Roger Debris, Elizabeth
  • Busby Berkeley-style production number: Springtime For Hitler, Puttin' On The Ritz
Brook's melodies don't hold up when compared with his efforts on "Producers" either. As another blogger put it (paraphrasing here), "everything ends up sounding like Hava Nagila." I'll add that Mr. Brooks seems to have pulled out Kander and Ebb's "Guide to Recreating a Kurt Weill Score" but only read the first three chapters.

With his same creative team in place for this second Broadway effort, some similarities were bound to occur. It's unfortunate that one missing piece from this group is Mike Ockrent, who was the original director of "Producers" and died while that show was under development. I've always wondered how much he contributed to that show's success, and I think this "YF" confirms that the contribution was significant. The very-talented Ms. Stroman (a/k/a the Widow Ockrent) makes a noble effort here, but with this material there's only so much the choreographer-cum-director can fix. Speaking of, the choreography is up to her delightful standards.

By now, most of you have heard about Roger Bart's slipped disc which pulled him from the show last week. I saw his understudy, Matthew LaBanca giving it everything he has to fill the shoes, but he's just not there yet. It's a competent performance, but this role requires a star turn. There aren't many Ruby Keelers out there who can walk on as an understudy and walk off a star. Keep an eye on him, however. He's a talented young man with strong potential.

It's Christopher Fitzgerald's Igor whose scenery chewing is only outdone by Megan Mullally's Elizabeth. There are many ghosts around this show, some living, some dead. Of the cast, these are the only two who really manage to make their roles their own. Mr. Fitzgerald hops, bounces, mopes and twitters about such that I never stopped to think about Marty Feldman. While I liked Madeline Kahn's interpretation of Elizabeth better, Ms. Mullally is to be commended for stalking her petulant way through and leaving her own mark on the part, even if that mark is a la Charles Busch.

Then there's Andrea Martin. After last year's workshop included Cloris Leachman reprising her role, the decision was made to use someone else, prompting some Page Six style jabs and retorts. In the end I think the right decision was made. Ms. Martin's Frau Blucher (s/f/x horse whinny) separates herself from the cast, rising above the material for a truly hysterical performance. (By the way, did everyone see the explanation in the press as to why the horses always react when her name is mentioned? Leave a comment if you want the world to know. I'll post it in a week or so if no one's beat me to it.)

Struggling is poor Sutton Foster, but I don't think she knows that. She strolls through the blonde role, and does have a bit of a "How did I get Cady Huffman's part? (Did she die?)" about her. She's got the look, and thanks to William Ivey Long's usual fabulous costumes, the parts. Still, it's as if she doesn't know how to be sexy without turning into a vamp. Ms. Stroman hasn't managed to get that out of Ms. Foster yet, despite all the struts and poses. Ms. Foster's other roles haven't been quite so sexy, so this does end up as a bit of a stretch for her. She needs to leave Millie Dillmount and Jo March behind.

Shuler Hensley's Monster spends most of the show moaning and groaning, but he does get to show off his years of dance class in "Putting on the Ritz."

Robin Wagner's sets are up to his usual high standard, and are amazingly enhanced by Peter Kaczorowski's lights and Mac Brickman's special effects. The dream sequence in Act I is one of the best uses of projections I've seen on stage yet. As I mentioned, William Ivey Long's costumes are just delicious, from the Transylvanian peasants to Elizabeth's swank gowns.

I don't see this show sweeping the Tony's like last time, but it's a good solid piece even with its predictability factor.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Animal Tendencies

"Edward Albee's Peter and Jerry" at Second Stage Theatre, October 21, 2007

Expanding on his 1958 success "The Zoo Story," Mr. Albee has written something of a prequel to provide a full view of Peter from the earlier play. "Homelife" according to Mr. Albee, "...will flesh Peter fully and make the subsequent balance better."

I think he is quite successful in this. Peter (Bill Pullman) and his wife Ann, (Johanna Day) struggle through a compelling, if oddly dysfunctional act revealing things about their marriage that it seems neither really wanted to ever say. At the end of the act, Peter announces he is going to the park to read, setting up the the odd and disconcerting (to say the least) encounter with Jerry.

As Peter, Mr. Pullman maintains a palpable detachment and personal discomfort that made me wonder if he and his wife had ever talked about anything beyond superficial things like the weather or how dull the textbook is that is being published by his firm.

Ms. Day's Ann attempts to struggle the role of a housewife in some sense of timelessness. In 1958, a full-time home-maker was the standard in the American nuclear family. Fifty years later, such a profile is much less common, requiring a bit more of a stretch in imagination by the audience than might be credible. Yet, she is not willing to go so far as we see in Lifetime movies, thank goodness. But her desire for a sense of passion and fire in their relationship is extinguished when Peter shares a disturbing tale from a fraternity incident and an unnamed co-ed.

Peter's recovery from his revelation seems a bit expedient by the time he leaves for the park. When Jerry (Dallas Roberts) happens along, it's apparent that things are about to get uncomfortable.

Mr. Roberts' Jerry, manic and quirky, never quites breathes the real danger that lurks within. When the violence does occur, it feels more an accident rather than the manipulation of a sociopath. His rambling stories did lose a bit of steam and edge in the (almost endless) tale of his landlady's dog.

Mr. Albee explores the nature of duality on several levels in these two related one-acts: husband/wife, parents/children, people/pets, cats/birds, love/lust, sane/crazy, indoor/outdoor, and ultimately, life/death. Neil Patel echoes this duality in his two-window interior and two-bench exterior sets, all gently surrounded by a curved grass-green scrim.

Ultimately, I found the new first act more compelling, but struggled with the stilted language in Peter and Ann's conversation. Director Pam McKinnon has pulled solid performances from Mr. Pullman and Ms. Day, but hasn't managed to get much edge or sense of menace out of Mr. Roberts for Jerry. It is early in previews, however. With a few more performances, all should find the appropriate levels for a strong production.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

That's What The Means Are For

"The Farnsworth Invention" at the Music Box Theatre, October 18, 2007

Aaron Sorkin returns to Broadway (not just Broadway, but back to the Music Box Theatre) after nearly 20 years with his docu-drama of the birth of television. It's oddly appropriate that Mr. Sorkin pays such tribute to the medium which has brought him such well-deserved success.

He positions the story from the perspectives of David Sarnoff, the RCA CEO who saw the potential of television and Philo T. Farnsworth, the man who actually invented it. Mr. Sorkin has done well by enlisting the help of Des McAnuff and most of the artistic team he used in 2005's "Jersey Boys." What we get is a well-paced, slickly-staged and often moving back story of the politics behind the major advancement of the twentieth century. His mastery of tech and plot effectively pound the theory of TV multiple times without the first moment of feeling redundant.

There's a nice page on the show's website that outlines the history. Check it out so I don't have to bore you with the background here.

The show opens with Mr. Sarnoff (Hank Azaria) narrating the story of Mr. Farnsworth's first idea of how to make television work as a 9th grader in Utah. The young Mr. Farnsworth is a highly self-confident young man, quite assured of his intelligence and the validity of his idea. Time skips forward a bit and the now-grown Mr. Farnsworth (Jimmi Simpson) seems to have lost the smooth confidence of his youth, although he remains committed to actualizing his concept.

Farnsworth takes his turn to facilitate Mr. Sarnoff's journey from Russia to America, teaching himself un-accented English along way his way to the top of RCA. This point-counterpoint approach minimizes what might have been some dreary exposition, heightening the drama as the competition to be the first to have a successful prototype for television. In addition to Farnsworth, both RCA and Westinghouse were working on their own ideas to achieve what seemed at times, impossible. RCA bought Westinghouse out of the picture, but still couldn't get a working model. Fast forward through the death of Farnsworth's child amid some corporate espionage to fix the two approaches and the medium is officially born. Also born with it was a series of lawsuits which eventually grant the patent to RCA, leaving Farnsworth in relative ignominy.

Sorkin does give us a fictional account of an encounter between Farnsworth and Sarnoff following the verdict. He provides a moving moment when Sarnoff recognizes Farnsworth's achievement, offering him a job at RCA to continue his work. Bitter and defeated, Farnsworth rejects the offer. As man lands on the moon for the first time in 1969, Farnsworth is shown in a bar, basically drunk, outlining on cocktail napkins his concept to achieve nuclear fusion.

As David Sarnoff, Mr. Azaria confirms his skill and talent as a stage actor. His presence demands your attention in this role of a man born to lead, yet feels the sting of the pain his actions sometimes inflict. This Sarnoff grows slowly into corporate arrogance. As he says, "They say the end justifies the means. That's what the means are for."

Mr. Simpson's Farnsworth is a talented genius, flawed by his focus on his invention. Stumbling drunk, or painfully honest, he is a hero who is never properly recognized for his contribution during his lifetime. I did find the missing self-confidence displayed by his younger portrayal a bit confusing at first. Perhaps it was Mr. Sorkin's writing that effected such a change as the cost of a formal education in the period.

The supporting cast is terrific as well, each actor playing multiple roles. Standouts include Maurice Godin, Bruce McKenzie and Jim Ortleib.

Mr. McAnuff has once again proven his talent, directing this play with taste and restraint, bringing out fine performances from this large cast. I must admit that when he spoke to the audience just before curtain, I was a bit concerned. Only in their fourth preview at the time, he wanted the audience to be aware that the show was still undergoing some changes and there was a chance of a "train wreck" which might stop the show. I didn't see the first moment's hesitation by anyone in the cast.

Klara Zieglerova's sets ring familiar from her efforts on "Jersey Boys" with a two-level set, exposed steel beams in black and red, nicely lit by the efforts of Howell Binkley. David Woolard's period-appropriate costumes are spot-on.

I think we have the first best play contender of the season with this production.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Film Technicolor!

"Die Mommie, Die!" at the New World Stages, October 14, 2007

Charles Busch's 1999 homage to "grande guignol" films of the 1960s is finally getting its NYC debut. The prolific playwright of famous (The Tale of the Allergist's Wife) and infamous (Psycho Beach Party, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom) is back on the boards in the title role.

On his website, Mr. Busch describes the play as follows (spoiler alert):

Ex-pop singer, Angela Andrews, is trapped in a hateful marriage with film producer Sol Sussman. Desperate to find happiness with her younger lover, an out of work TV actor, Tony Parker, Angela murders her husband with the aid of a poisoned suppository. In a plot that reflects Greek tragedy as well as Hollywood kitsch, Angela’s Elektra-like daughter, Edith, convinces Angela’s emotionally disturbed son, Lance, that they must avenge their father’s death by killing their mother. Lance, demanding proof of Angela’s crime, slips some LSD into her after-dinner coffee. Angela is plunged into a wild acid trip that reveals that not only did she kill the children’s father but also their mother, for she isn’t their mother at all but rather their Aunt Barbara. A surprising twist ending has all of the Sussman family’s dirty laundry aired out for once and for all. Angela or rather Aunt Barbara realizes that happiness cannot be built upon a foundation of lies and turns herself in to the police.
As Angela, Mr. Busch emotes and trembles, in moods from pensive to petulant with a tribute to all the great actresses who didn't learn how to fade away - Bette, Joan, Lana, Gloria, Merman - they all appear at various points throughout the play. Having finally seen Mr. Busch in a live performance of one of his roles, I couldn't help but wonder just how much more fun "Our Leading Lady" would have been earlier this year with him in that title role (no offense to Ms. Mulgrew, mind you).

Bob Ari as Angela's husband, Sol Sussman, still seemed to be struggling with lines from time to time, detracting a bit from his concentration and focus. Newcomer Ashley Morris, as daughter Edith Sussman brings a nice fire to the girl with a disturbing affection for her father. Van Hansis' Lance Sussman, spends a bit more time blustering than is necessary (are his vocal chords going to be able to withstand 8 performances a week of this run in addition to his work on "As The World Turns?" He gets the lovable goof parts right, but seems a bit lost when it's his character who should appear that way. Kristine Nielsen's Bootsie Carp, does everything she can to compete with Mr. Busch's Angela, but she just doesn't stand a chance. The play is truly a showcase for Mr. Busch and any attempts to play it otherwise would be ill-conceived and foolish. Chris Hoch's bulging pecs (and crotch) precede him on every entrance as the oily actor/tennis pro, Tony Parker.

Technically, I was very impressed with Michael Anania's set design, although the execution revealed a few flaws and seams in the set walls. Working on a stage with absolutely no fly space calls for creative work and Mr. Anania has risen to the occasion. Ben Stanton's cinematic lighting provides just the right moments of melodrama required. Jessica Jahn's 1960s costumes service nicely, though I was a bit surprised at the poor fit of Mr. Busch's gowns by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case despite their inspired design.

Director Carl Andress has taken the concept of camp and run it for a marathon. Believe me, there's no cliche' left unmugged in this hilarious feast of stereotypes.

I'm really glad to see New World Stages putting up a performance of something designed to do more lure than the tourist west of 8th Ave. Theatre Row has established some very nice working relationships (apparently) with producing organizations like The Keen Company and The New Group. I think there are certainly opportunities for similar groups to help provide NWS with quality programming beyond "Naked Boys..." "Altar Boys" and "Gazillion Bubbles." (not to imply that those shows don't have their own merits - I'm just sayin'...)

In Search of Neil Simon

"A feminine ending" at Playwrights Horizons, October 12, 2007

Sarah Treem's new play has made its off-Broadway debut in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Playwrights Horizons. The story is somehow familiar, despite her efforts to thrust a musical concept of gender assignments over it.

Amanda (Gillian Jacobs), a composer has managed to land Jack (Alec Beard), a narcissistic rock singer on the verge of significant fame and fortune. He's really hot (he really is!) and she confuses her thrill that he's even noticed her with love. He's not really that bright, though, so there's a strong "need" factor to seal the attraction and they plan to marry. Amanda's mother Kim (Marsha Mason) won't show any signs of approval or support for the wedding, constantly calling to distract Amanda with her own manic minutiae. She capitalizes on Amanda's insecurity when Jack heads out for a power dinner with his agent and a record producer, dragging her home to help Kim pack up to leave Amanda's father, David (Richard Masur). Of course her first (only?) boyfriend from high school, Billy (Joe Paulik) now lives next door and pops up to throw the plot contrivance into the works. Too bad the plot turn doesn't make more sense.

As Amanda, Gillian Jacobs is pretty in that average sort of way. The show was still in previews the night I saw it, so some of the slight discomfort I felt in many of her line deliveries will hopefully iron themselves out over the next few performances. I was more distracted by her permanent-slightly-bent-at-the-waist posture, which made little sense for a character whose musical background began with the oboe, and proceeded to the piano (good posture is required for both instruments). Plus as a composer, one might presume a bit of conducting along the way would have softened the repeated karate-shop gestures with which she punctuated her lines. Her Amanda was a bit whiny, too, never able to command the attention she desperately sought, and only of late began to ask for.

Marsha Mason, Kim could be any of the Neil Simon women he wrote for her. Her last prominent acting role was that of Martin Crane's girlfriend Sherry in "Frasier." I was disappointed not to see something more specific than this middle-aged Goodbye Girl/Chapter Two/Gingerbread Lady (Only When I Laugh). Her Kim is nothing new to the world of middle aged female characters who finally have "had enough" and want to start new. The revelation that she gave up an art career to raise Amanda comes too little too late to make her more interesting.

Richard Masur's David also struggle to find a third dimension. He's all smiles, nods and uh huhs of agreement without listening to a word. He knows that Kim has been unhappy, but has counted on her inability to act for most of their marriage. Mr. Masur has a nice moment when he explains to Amanda that life isn't fair, but luckily it doesn't really matter in the end.

Joe Paulik seems to be having the most fun in his quirky portrayal of Billy. Now a mail carrier, he gets to reveal some mental instability in his family that seems to have been passed right along. It's not quite Tourette's, but he does have a grand time with outbursts and shouts.

Ms. Treem's writing holds some bizarre twists in language, with the odd expletive and non-sequitur showing up from time to time.

Under the direction of Blair Brown, it feels like this play might have benefited from just one more workshop before this full-scale production. She has elicited some nice moments here and there, but there are still many gaps remaining. Operationally, the choreography of set changes and transitions work nicely, but it's the moments in between that need another look.

Speaking of, it is Cameron Anderson's thoughtful and detailed sets that bring this play to life. From the overscaled piano string backdrop, to the paneled den of Amanda's parents which reminded me of the back of an upright piano, to the Rorschach print orchard flats, the warmth was ever present. Ben Stanton's lighting complimented nicely.

See the post below for ticket discounts.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Playwrights Horizons Discount

Playwrights Horizons is offering the following discount for their next production, "A feminine ending."


A feminine ending

A new play by Sarah Treem


Alec Beard, Gillian Jacobs, Marsha Mason, Richard Masur, Joe Paulik

Directed by Blair Brown

October 4 thru November 11 only

Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater

416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

Having recently graduated from a major conservatory, and with her rocker boyfriend on the brink of megastardom, aspiring composer Amanda Blue’s “extraordinary life” seems to be all mapped out.

But when she’s called home to answer a distress call from her mother (four-time Academy Award nominee Marsha Mason, “Chapter Two,” “The Goodbye Girl”) about a marital crisis, Amanda’s grand plan starts to unravel. A Feminine Ending is a bittersweet new comedy about dreams deferred, loves lost and learning to trust a woman's voice in a man's world.

Sarah Treem
makes her off-Broadway debut with A Feminine Ending.

Blair Brown last directed Lovely Day for The Play Company. As an actor, she has appeared in
over fifty plays including Copenhagen (Tony Award), James Joyce’s The Dead, Cabaret, and Arcadia;
on TV’s “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd” (5 Emmy nominations).


SPECIAL BLOGGER DISCOUNT! Order by Oct 17 and tickets are $35 for performances Oct 4-15 and $40 for performances Oct. 16 – Nov. 11. Reg. price $50. Use code FEBL.


  • Online at

  • By phone with Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)

  • In person at the Box Office: (Noon-8pm daily)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

1 in 73,000

(Photo by Susan Wilson)

On her flight to New York, my mother found an ad in a magazine giving that statistic as the odds for a child to perform at Carnegie Hall.

Who'd a thunk it?

My performance last night at Carnegie Hall in Karyn Levitt's "The Age of Romance: From Vienna to Broadway" was one of those magical nights in the theatre that every performer hopes for every time he takes the stage.

There are several people I want to thank for this opportunity. Obviously my thanks to Karyn, and to Terrence Montgomery, our director. He's got such a sharp eye and that amazing skill/talent/intuition to zone right to the heart of a moment. He teaches at a high school here in the city. I hope his school and students know how lucky they are to have him. I also want to thank Tom LaMark, our Pianist, for his attentive and sensitive accompaniment. And great thanks to Greg Schanuel, for making me feel like a real dancer for the first time in quite a while.

Karyn's performance was simply delightful last night. She is a mature singer with a lovely voice and brought out the beauty of many well-known songs that over the years have sometimes fallen victim to camp and derision. The brilliant lyrics of Hammerstein, Young and Harbach have such a timeless quality, matched only by the gorgeous music with which they are paired.

Terry's interpretation of the music for the evening was to encapsulate the life and loves of a woman searching. My role was that of an Everyman, silently presenting several different characters as each appeared in this woman's love life in the various songs.

I began as a waiter serving champagne to her as hostess of a party, then a guest at the party, waltzing her across the stage (Grand Waltz). Her courage and interest piqued, I next appeared as a stagehand (complete with broom, apron and cigar stub), trying to sweep the stage, but instead becoming the object of her unwanted affections (One Kiss/I'm Falling in Love with Someone).

Next I came as a presumptuous dresser who has appropriated her sequined and coined scarves in a frenzied harem dance celebrating my own discovery of love (Rahadlakum/Baubles, Bangles, and Beads/He's in Love).

In Stouthearted Men, I was her dough-boy, headed off to war, then her Latin Lothario seducing her in a tango (Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise).

The stagehand returned as an understudy for the sheik fighting a desert windstorm to get to her, woefully mimicked by a small table fan (Desert Song).

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes brought me a solo dance, kindly, graciously and beautifully choreographed by a very talented Greg Schanuel, evoking the man she loves who is far away.

Then I got to sing.

On the stage.


Hundreds of years ago (shortly after I finished college) I took a voice pedagogy at a local college where I lived in South Carolina from a voice major at the school. One of the songs we worked on during that semester was Jerome Kern's All the Things You Are. I have loved that song ever since and had only ever gotten to sing it for others around a piano bar in the Village.

When Karyn offered to make it a duet in the penultimate number, I couldn't have been more thrilled. Top it off with a magical "Fred and Ginger" dance break (courtesy of sweet Greg) and it was quite the climax for the evening.

Karyn's husband (Paul Nickelsberg) took lots of pictures of the brief rehearsal just before and during the performance, which I'll share when I get them.

07/03/2008 UPDATE: The pics are in. Click here to view.

I was home and in bed before 1:00 am, but hardly slept a wink last night.

(I still can't believe I actually performed at Carnegie Hall.)

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Moment at the Table

"The Dining Room" presented by the Keen Company at The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, September 27, 2007

A. R. Gurney's wonderful 1981 play presents a series of overlapping vignettes that give a glimpse into the many ways a dining room is part of the core of the American WASP. We get to be as much voyeur as audience in this delightful production by the Keen Company. With a cast of six, three men and three women, each actor plays so many roles that they are described in the program as merely, Man 1, Woman 2, and so on.

Director Jonathan Silverstein has assembled a pretty even cast, including Dan Daily, Claire Lautier, Mark J. Sullivan, Samantha Soule, Anne McDonough and Timothy McCracken. Their ages span a generation, but each actor at one point or another plays either parent or child. Stronger among the cast were Samantha Soule, Anne McDonough and Dan Daily.

Ms. Soule had a rather lovely moment as an aging, doddering, family matriarch who no longer recognizes her own family and is terribly uncomfortable at her son's home on Thanksgiving. When she asks to be driven back to her mother's house, her confusion at being told the house was no longer standing was quite touching.

Ms. McDonough also gave a nice turn as an aging aunt, showing her grand-nephew the ins and outs of tableware, from the silver flatware, to the china to the crystal finger bowls. When he reveals that his interest is only for a college anthropology project, her indignation is palpable. She was soon channeling my 13 year old niece with every requisite "duh!"

Mr. Silverstein keeps the pace moving very nicely across Dana Moran Williams' lovely set of a bordered parquet floor with an eclectic mix of Chippendale and Sheraton style furniture, topped with an clever ceiling treatment that turned the Clurman's black box into a much warmer space. Josh Bradford's lighting complemented nicely. Theresa Squires costumes, all in shades of blue tied together well.

I remember seeing "The Dining Room" in the mid 1980s, in another wonderful production under the direction of someone less than talented. Mr. Gurney's writing truly comes through as the strength of this show. It's a wonder there aren't more productions of it - it almost seems fool-proof.

Glass Houses

"The Misanthrope" at New York Theatre Workshop, September 22, 2007

Ivo Van Hove, acclaimed for his Obie-winning production of "Hedda Gabler" at NYTW, returns with Tony Harrison's translation of Moliere's "The Misanthrope." This evening of mixed media, as well as mixed condiments and street garbage, is quite a visual and aural effort. Whether it really succeeds or not remains to be seen.

Bill Camp as Alceste, is a man obsessed with being "always truthful" as a means to rail against the norms of society, regardless of the cost. He is in the midst of a highly passionate affair with Celimene (Jeanine Serralles), who maintains a certain haughtiness as the object of desire and perfection to many, and likes it that way. Alceste's friend Philinte (Thomas Jay Ryan) supports him, but urges moderation. He tells him that Celimene's cousin Eliante (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) also loves Alceste, and would be a much more stabilizing force in his life than the mercurial Celimene. Philinte is also in love with Eliante, but puts his friend's need ahead of his own.

Oronte (Alfredo Narcis0) arrives with a love poem he's written to a woman he's just met. Wanting Alceste's opinion, he reads the mediocre verse. Philinte is kind and complimentary. Alceste at first obfuscates to be kind, but when Oronte pushes, he is eviscerated by Alceste and storms out insulted.

Everyone seems to be involved in some sort of lawsuit or other, when Acaste (Joan Macintosh) and Clitandre (Jason C. Brown) arrive with food. Acaste is a reviewer - one who delivers an opinion to the mindless masses. Clitandre is Celimene's attorney, with whom she has been flirting to keep his attention on her lawsuit. Alceste dives right into the food - literally - smearing himself in chocolate syrup and ketchup, potato chips and crackers. (Other than to make a spectacle of himself in this Gallagher-esque moment, I'm still not sure why.) This is the beginning of the degeneration of the relationship ship with Celimene. Not only has she been flirting with Clitandre, but is in an affair with Oronte. It is for her that his poem was written.

Arsinoe (Amelia Campbell) arrives and takes Celimene to task for her actions and association with Alceste. Seems she is jealous of Celimene's accomplishments at such a young age.

The affair is revealed, Alceste is enraged, the set is trashed, the lovers reconcile as their passion overcomes the garbage.

Mr. Harrison's translation is not just into English, but is in rhyme. This verse style forces a formality over which Mr. Van Hove has juxtaposed a colorless environment. Jan Versweyveld's set is primarily gray with black glass walls and fluorescent lighting. Emilio Sosa's costumes bring a level of androgyny with all characters barefoot in dark suits and white shirts. The color arrives first in the food brought in by Acaste and Clitandre, green apples, pink-iced donuts, pizza, chocolate, ketchup, hot dogs. Later it is in the bags of garbage dragged in from the street during Alceste's and Celimene's confrontation. I suppose the subtext is that what brings color to our lives can also be the garbage that is the end product of consumption.

The multi-media facet of this production was particularly interesting, using at least three cameras broadcasting on large monitors on the back wall of the set. The cameras follow the actors backstage into the dressing room, and even onto the street as witness to the fight. This is the third time this year I've seen use of cameras, "Frost/Nixon" and "The Spanish Play." The latter was to rather disappointing effect, while the former seemed only to nail a single moment .

Mr. Van Hove's use here make me wonder though - is this still theatre, or has he turned it into television? He does use the cameras to great effect, providing close-ups at pivotal moments, as well as exposition, such as when Alceste tells of discovering Celimene's infidelity, there is a black and white image of her biting his hand. Ultimately, I did think the camera's undercut the moment by focusing on passers by on the street as Celimene tries to hail a cab to get away from Alceste.

The cast is strong overall. Mr. Camp is one of the most fully committed actors I've seen on stage. Ms. Serralles, last seen in "The Black Eyed" at NYTW shows much more range here from passionate to petulant. Mr. Ryan's Philinte is caring and concerned. Mr. Narciso's Oronte combusts with callow youth.

It is a long show - two hours with no intermission. That said, the performances are compelling and the audience was fully engaged.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Anything Goes

"The Ritz" presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, September 18, 2007

One of Terrance McNally's earlier plays, I'm sure it was quite shocking in 1975. With the evolution of cable TV, the shock value is seriously lacking anymore.

The premise is that Gaetano Proclo's father-in-law has made a deathbed order to have Gaetano killed. Gaetano jumps in a cab and asks to be taken to the last place anyone would look for him, which turns out to be a bathhouse, The Ritz.

Eccentric homosexuals, twinky boyfriends, chubby chasers and leathermen abound as the farce evolves. Even a bizarre musical sequence sung by the unintelligible Rosie Perez as Googie Gomez, while entertaining, doesn't raise us beyond the level of early HBO attempts at a TV series.

Kevin Chamberlain's Gaetano comes across a little too passive about the threat to his life from the outset. He never seems particularly resistant to, or shocked by much beyond the chubby chaser who takes a shine to him.

Brooks Ashmanskas has an absolute blast as he tries to push every line and gesture further and further over the top as Chris, the bathhouse regular who realizes that Gaetano is a little more than out of his element.

As Googie Gomez, the no-talent Puerto Rican with dreams of a Broadway career, Rosie Perez completely unintelligible. It was 20 minutes after her first entrance that I could understand anything she said. It's too bad, too. I'm sure she had some pretty good lines that got away. She did have a grand time, like Mr. Ashmanskas, and is pretty fearless as a performer. In one scene where she thinks Gaetano is a Broadway producer, watching her try to climb him like a greased mountain was pretty funny.

The play must have been revised since its opening in 1975, since one of the songs (in one of the most delightfully dreadful medley) was "Tomorrow" from "Annie." Just to give you a taste, the medley included not just that, but "Rose's Turn" (Gypsy), "Shall We Dance" (King and I), "Sabbath Prayer" (Fiddler on the Roof), "People" (Funny Girl), "I Could Have Danced All Night" (My Fair Lady) and "Magic To Do" (Pippin).

The farce element of the play seems to have been disregarded by director Joe Mantello. Just about every plot point was pretty well-telegraphed, leaving little room for surprises.

Scott Pask's multi-level set smacked nicely of the '70s with the metallic and flocked wallpapers accented by the innumerable red doors. William Ivey Long's talents go untested in this production, save for one or two of Googie's frocks.

It's a fun show with plenty of cheap laughs, but I wouldn't recommend it as a priority for anyone with limited time to see shows right now.

It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again

"Double Vision" presented by Fringe NYC Encores at the Culture Project, September 15, 2007

From the promotional materials, "Six singles navigate the tricky waters of urban, modern relationships in this tale of love on the lam."

Yeah, that's what my reaction was too.

Still, this bit of Lifetime TV meets Comedy Central does have a spirited cast with some commendable performances.

Dave (Shane Jacobsen), Mark (Quinn Mattfield) and Ben (Christopher McCann) share an apartment in Queens. All three are single with commitment issues. Dave sabotages every relationship he attempts. Mark is only interested in unavailable women. Ben only wants something passionate that will end before the passion dies.

Neighbor Celia (Linda Jones) lives with a boyfriend who works days while she works nights, but she has a huge crush on Ben. Mary (Rebecca Henderson) has been dating Dave and has an opportunity for a big promotion that would require her to move to California. Michelle (Sarah Silk) is passionately in love with Ben, but is returning to France to finish school the next day.

Director Ari Laura Kreith has assembled this able cast and moves them through their paces.

Mr. Jacobsen is an oozing mass of insecurity, terrified of being responsible for anyone or anything, even himself. He spends the second half of the play naked following a car accident eerily similar to one he described at the beginning of the play. While at first effective to communicate his mental tribulations, the nudity loses it impact quickly.

Mr. Mattfield also acquits himself well in his role, he sums it up "Love. It's a lot like what you didn't ask for - like forks raining down."

Mr. McCann's Ben 12-steps his way through his role as a recovering addict. Ms. Jones' Celia frets and worries herself into bed with Ben, even before his French girlfriend has left town.

All in all, the cast was much better than their material. At 70 minutes without intermission, it could have been just as effective at 40 minutes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"My Problem Child"

"A Beautiful Child" presented by FringeNYC Encores at the Culture Project, September 15, 2007

"A Beautiful Child" is an adaptation of a Truman Capote story from a collection published in 1975, Music for Chameleons. (No credit for the adaptation was provided in the playbill.)

The story is based on an afternoon that Mr. Capote spent with Marilyn Monroe after the funeral of her acting coach, Constance Collier. The 40-minute act begins with Mr. Capote (Joel Van Liew) in direct address to the audience about Ms. Collier, and her relationship with him and Marilyn. I must give Mr. Van Liew credit for smoothly handling the latecomers who marched in after he had begun to speak. Ever polite, as Truman was, he encouraged them to find suitable seating, before continuing with his monologue. His Truman was not a caricature, nor even an attempt at imitation, but more what I imagine Truman viewed himself as a literary device in this particular story. Still fey and bespectacled, of course, but not lisping and nasal. To have done more would have upset the balance of the characters as they were presented.

Maura Lisabeth Malloy's Marilyn was very impressive. Dressed in all black and forgoing the blond locks that made her so famous, Ms. Malloy captured a Marilyn that most of us might have imagined would be in "real life": insecure, sometimes unaware, sometimes inappropriate, occasionally crude, ever vulnerable yet always thinking. She also gets a couple of terrific zingers, too. About Los Angeles: "One big varicose vein." After Truman's confession of a one-nighter with Errol Flynn and his reputed prodigious endowment, she says, "Everyone says Milton Berle has the biggest prick in Hollywood, but who cares?"

Director Linda Powell has done a nice job of keeping the flow organic as the play flows from scene to monologue elegantly. The only part that approaches a misstep is some uncomfortable choreography used as musical scene shifts. Ellen Reilly's costumes suit the moment. Lara Fabian's minimal sets also fit well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Practice, Practice, Practice

"The Age of Romance: Vienna to Broadway" presented by Royal Road Productions on October 6, 2007

"What!" you say? It's only September 17. How can he be reviewing something that hasn't run yet? It's not a review.

In this case, I'll be appearing in a supporting role to Karyn Levitt's performance. From the Carnegie Hall website:


The Age of Romance: From Vienna to Broadway

Weill Recital Hall (Seating Chart)
Saturday, October 6, 2007 at 8:30 PM

Tickets from $25

Program Details

Karyn Levitt, Singer/Actress
Terrence Montgomery, Director

Songs from operettas and early Broadway including works by Strauss, Romberg, Kern, Herbert, Lehar, Forrest, and Wright

Carnegie Charge (212) 247-7800
I received an email on Saturday morning from the director who had seen my profile at, requesting a meeting on Sunday. I went, met with him and Ms. Levitt, and left expecting to hear the outcome on Tuesday. There was another contender for the role.

Lo and behold, I received another email from Terry last night offering me the part.



Sunday, September 16, 2007

Caroline Makes Change

"WALMARTOPIA" at the Minetta Lane Theatre, September 15, 2007

What was well-received at the 2006 NYFringe Festival has suffered seems to have suffered at the hands of [title of show] vampires who have spent the last year "improving" this musical. Rather than finding the "Urinetown" track to commercial success, they seem to have lost their way and fallen into a trap of mediocrity. I didn't see the Fringe production and I'm sorry for that. I went to see the new commercial production running at the Minetta Lane Theatre, and I'm sorry for that, too.

There were hints and flashes of some potentially biting humor and well-sharpened barbs that have gotten edited down to dullness and disinterest. If the goal is to create a satirical and political jab at the powers and abuses of multinational corporations, choose a style and stick with it. Within the first four numbers we saw farce, musical comedy and a drama of emotional struggle. Shoved together, none of them work.

The cast have impressive credits and experience. At least half of them have appeared on Broadway.

Cheryl Freeman as Vicki Latrell sounds stuck in her Acid Queen/Tina Turner mode, singing every note through her nose. As her daughter Maia, Nikki M. James fares much better vocally.
The rest of the ensemble give fully committed performances, Stephen DeRosa is a standout, but the overall result was that I left at intermission.

Die, Vampire. Die!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Two Stamp Monte

"Mauritius" presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Biltmore Theatre, September 13, 2007

Theresa Rebeck's latest effort has begun performances at Manhattan Theatre Club. With an impressive cast, and some occasionally good scenes, the result is pretty much a cable "dramedy" (hence the pointless profanity) disguised as theatre.

I missed "The Scene" last season, but did suffer through "The Water's Edge." The mixed reviews from TS, combined with MTC's willingness to produce her on B'way gave me hope that Ms. Rebeck was hitting her stride as a playwright. I think MTC would have been wiser to produce this one at City Center and saved their big stage for better material. Sorry to see them with another miss, right on the heels of "Lovemusik."

Now, I do realize that I saw the very first preview performance and likely was one of the first run-throughs this cast has had with a sizeable audience. That said, I will proceed.

Jackie (Alison Pill) whose mother has just died after what was apparently a difficult period emotionally and financially. Among her effects are a stamp collection compiled by her late father-in-law. Jackie's half-sister Mary (Katie Finneran) has arrived after fleeing the home as a teenager, leaving Jackie to deal with the fallout.

Driving the title of the play are a couple of particularly valuable stamps, printed with errors during the reign of Queen Victoria on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar. The pair could be worth more than $6 million. Jackie arrives at the stamp shop of Phil (Dylan Baker) to see about getting an idea of how much the collection might be worth.

Yes, that's Phil the philatelist.

Lurking about the store is Dennis (Bobby Cannavale), a somewhat shady dabbler in the stamp trade. He spots the opportunity to scam Jackie on her stamps, hoping to set her up with Sterling (F. Murray Abraham), an equally shady dabbler in the stamp trade, but with the cash to back it up.

Yes, Sterling is the man with the money.

Scams and double-crosses are attempted and exposed. Jackie slugs Mary. Sterling slugs and chokes Jackie. Sterling slugs Dennis. One could only hope that hilarity would ensue, but it's just not that funny.

As Jackie, Ms Pill is at first unsure and awkward, wavering in whatever direction she's pushed by whomever she's talking to. She does find some strength as events transpire, finding a bit of backbone that seems to come out of nowhere. She plays what she's given, but the character has been drawn a bit thin.

Katie Finneran as half-sister Mary, suffers with even less to work with. I should have counted how many times she said "He was my grandfather" in comparison to how many other lines she had. I'm gonna guess the ratio was just under 40%, but Ms. Finneran did her best to bring some kind of interest to the vapid role.

Dylan Baker's Phil is self-important and elitist with little to support it. He sneers and snubs sufficiently.

Bobby Cannavale, in his Broadway debut, charms as Dennis, but I was never really sure what his character wanted out of the transaction. I can only presume he was looking for a cut/commission on the sale of the stamps, but that part was never made clear. Beyond that, he was merely a device to facilitate the plot.

The real question is: What is F. Murry Abraham doing in this mess? Is this role his attempt to transform his image like Ben Kingsley did in "Sexy Beast?" If so, I don't think this will be the vehicle to accomplish that. He's much better than his material here, but even then can't bring the play much above mediocrity.

Doug Hughes has assembled a fine cast of very talented actors, and seems to have worked pretty hard to make the play enjoyable. The material just doesn't provide enough of a foundation to make any magic.

Catherine Zuber's talents go wasted (though I did think putting Sterling in a shiny, silver, sharkskin suit was an excellent touch), as do John Lee Beatty's excellent sets. He really has done a nice job exploiting the double turntables at the Biltmore. Paul Gallo's industrial and intrusive light towers overwhelm the delicate proscenium - does a play like that really require so many instruments to light it effectively?