Friday, March 27, 2009


"Hair" at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, March 26, 2009

I went to see Hair last nighzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Oh, sorry.

I was really excited, having heard all the buzz from the production at the Delacorte last summer. I'll admit, I was slightly concerned about how this show about liberation and self-expression which sounded so well-suited for that outdoor venue, might translate into a traditional proscenium venue.

I didn't love it.

I know, I know! It's *Hair*!!

I was generally non-plussed by the whole affair. From Will Swenson's Billy Crudup imitation as Berger, to Gavin Creel's foretold and inevitable Claude caving in to family pressure, I never saw the reason for all the hype.

That's not to say there were no bright spots, just not many of them. Caissie Levy's angry "Easy to Be Hard," the "Black Boys/White Boys" combo, and "Good Morning Starshine" were among the few. Megan Lawrence, however, was terrific as Claude's mother

I struggled with the staging which put most of the early action literally in the front row, blocked from sight by anyone sitting past the front mezzanine. Then, seven songs later, the cast finally appeared to notice there was a mezzanine, and kept trouping up again and again through the rest of the show. I have no problem with breaking the fourth wall, but please have a reason for it other than just being able to.

I was only a child in the 60s (I know, I know!), but what I saw last night was merely a caricature of what the hippies were. This crowd were all too clean and healthy looking to be an accurate representation.

The orchestra was excellent and Kevin Adams (Spring Awakening) certainly knows how to light a rock concert. I'd like to see him take on a different style sometime.

Monday, March 23, 2009


"Distracted" presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theatre, March 19, 2009

Cynthia Nixon makes a delightful return to the NY stage in Lisa Loomer's opus on the subject the spreading diagnosis of ADHD and the effects of medicating indiscriminately. The play gets a bit preachy from time to time, but does raise an interesting question or two about how much of one's personality can or should be medicated into conformity. Ms. Loomer breaks the fourth wall a good bit seeming to have run out of ways to cram in all the exposition she requires to tell her story. The cast is generally strong, lead by Ms. Nixon. Shana Dowdeswell gives a nice performance as the neighbor's daughter Natalie. Director Mark Brokaw certainly keeps things moving apace, helped by Ms. Loomer's expedient script.

Tal Yarden's projection design works well with Mark Wendland's sets, the bright colors adding to a visual overstimulation that could bring on ADHD by itself.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gates of Gold

"Gates of Gold" at 59E59 Theatre, March 12, 2009

(photo: Carol Rosegg)

In this slight melodrama, Frank McGuinness has effectively written "La Cage Aux Folles, the Epilogue." Gabriel (Martin Rayner) an actor, is dying from bowel cancer. His life partner Conrad (Charles Shaw Robinson), also his theatrical partner and director has hired an Irish nurse to see him through his end.

The bon mots and insults fly from all directions, giving an unseemly gloss over what could have been a very tender exploration of the process of dying. Instead, we get a series of dead-end plot points (no pun intended), distracting peripheral characters and unfulfilled pathos.

Director Kent Paul hasn't managed to pick up the pace, let alone line cues in this overlong 90 minute one-act.

Michael Schweikardt's set was outstanding, though it contributed to the confusion without a clear separation of rooms looking more like a NYC pre-war studio than an English manor house.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Exit The King

"Exit The King" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, March 8, 2009

(photo: Jason Bell)

Think "Lear" by Albee, this 1960s absurdist work of Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco brings another set of stars back to Broadway with Geoffrey Rush as King Berenger and Susan Sarandon as Queen Marguerite. Lauren Ambrose and Andrea Martin round out the leads as Queen Marie and Juliette the maid, respectively.

Absurd is certainly the word for this tale of a king whose time to die finally arrives after he's allowed his country to shrink into ruin. Mr. Rush and director Neil Armfield have adapted their new translation with several bits of unnecessary profanity, a significant amount of both broad humor and some lovely pathos.

The incipient death of the king has his new wife Marie in pieces, while the old wife Marguerite forces all to face a reality that has been avoided for all of his reign.

Mr. Rush delivers a smashing performance as a clown made king (all the way down to his pajamas and exaggerated makeup), from pratfalls to the terror of realizing his impending death. Ms. Sarandon cuts quite the fine figure taking the role of responsibility to end the King's reign in hopes that the country can revive again. She has a heart-breaking speech that leads the King in his path to death, rather a reverse-Eurydice progression as she convinces him to let go of the invisible burden he carries. Ms. Ambrose commits fully to this role (as she does to every role I've seen her perform), giving everything she can to fill out her two-dimensional part, devoted to her husband and in full-voice denial of his demise.

Dale Ferguson's rotting set and cartoonish costumes are spot-on.


"Impressionism" at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, March 7, 2009

Lots of stars returning to their Broadway roots this Spring. This venture includes Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen in a new pilot play by Michael Jacobs.

I'm a big fan of both actors and was excited to get to see them onstage.

I wish I'd known more about the playwright beforehand. Mr. Jabobs' background includes NY theatre in the late 70s and early 80s, before seemingly settling into Burbank where he "created, produced or developed 14 series including...'My Two Dads' [and] 'Charles in Charge' " among others.

There are some great one-liners tossed about as Mr. Irons' Thomas Buckle, the realist photographer works in the Chelsea art Gallery of Ms. Allen's Katherine Keenan (though it's never clear why he's working there).

If I thought Jane Fonda was looking good at 71, Joan Allen looks nowhere near 52, which actually undercuts the final moments of the play since you've forgotten the age difference between the two of them is not really that significant. Mr. Irons, in his defense, is still wiry and slim, and ever-so-charming.

The play is a bit of a trifle, as we slog back and forth through time watching Ms. Allen's character devolve from the freest of spirited 6 year old, to a painfully inhibited 30-something to a closed book pushing 50. Parallels and analogies are all over the place from an aqua-tint print she associates with her own mother, to a little boy who dies from AIDS in Africa. The message seems to be: We are all wounded, but is it from reality or our impression of reality? (And on a side note, with as much furor over production costs, was it really necessary for the playbill insert with the scene listing to be full-color card stock?)

I did like some of Scott Pasks set choices: Mr. Irons' desk a stark white Parsons Table, compared to Ms. Allen's French antique, and a faux proscenium that looks like a blank canvas.

Director Jack O'Brien appears to have taken a page from Trevor Nunn's staging of last season's "Rock 'n' Roll" with overly long transitions using projections of impressionist art whose subjects hint toward the plot to come. He's also created some visual hindrances by using these same framed screens to dangle between the actors looking at the paintings and the audience. Seated in the right mezzanine, my view was not terribly blocked, but I can imagine someone paying over $100 might feel differently about this theatrical choice.

Uncle Vanya

"Uncle Vanya" at Classic Stage Company, January 22, 2009

(photo: Joan Marcus)

Chekhov remains ever present in the NY theatre, with this revival following closely on the heels of "The Seagull" on Broadway, and "The Cherry Orchard" coming to BAM.

First observation: There's a lot of set crammed by Santo Loquasto into CSC's thrust stage, but he certainly has captured the feeling of rural Russia.

Denis O'Hare's Vanya comes across pretty well in spite of (because of?) his usual manic shtick. Peter Sarsgaard fares better in this bit of Chekhov than in the last ("Seagull") but not by much. Maggie Gyllenhaal, long and languid, gives a lovely and effortless performance.

It's Mamie Gummer who really gives the knockout performance of the evening as Sofya, twisting in pain over unrequited love for the doctor.

Carol Rocamora's translation avoids most of the anachronism I felt in the recent "Hedda Gabler" at Roundabout. Direct Austin Pendleton did find ways to muddy things up from time to time, most notably playing one scene onstage and another offstage concurrently.

33 Variations

"33 Variations" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, February 12, 2009

(photo: Joan Marcus)

Moises Kaufman's latest outing on Broadway brings Jane Fonda back to the Rialto for the first time since the 1960s.

Let's get to the important stuff:
  • She looks GREAT. (whoever has done her work earned every penny!)
  • She's pretty darn good in the role.
  • Colin Hanks is adorable.
  • LOVED Derek McLane's set.
Ms. Fonda's character, Dr. Katherine Brandt, is a musicologist on a quest to find out why Beethoven spent so many years writing the 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli. Oh, and she has Lou Gehrig's disease, so it's a life quest. Interpolate this with flashbacks to Beethoven writing the piece along with a dysfunctional relationship with her daughter. It works most of the time. Mr Kaufman has a somewhat dubious achievement during one scene when three separate moments are intertwined into an oral fugue. Dubious in that during this fugue, it is made clear that Beethoven was not very adept in this musical form. Mr. Kaufman, who also directed, seemed to be floundering in it himself.

Nonetheless, it's a compelling evening. For some reason, I kept thinking back to last season's "Farnsworth Invention," but I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the documentarian feel that both plays seem to possess.

Music In The Air

"Music In The Air" presented by Encores! at New York City Center, February 7, 2009

(photo: Joan Marcus)

With music by Jerome Kern, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, this is a lovely piece that straddles the line between operetta and musical comedy. There are so many moments that foretell of the brilliance to come in future Hammerstein shows. There's a bit of design brilliance already present with the use of diegetic music throughout. From the playbill, Rob Berman describes this as "...meaning that when the characters sing, it is because they are actually singing in the reality of the story."

We also get a preview of a technique Mr. Hammerstein used so beautifully later in "Carousel" where the dialogue is rhymed and spoken in meter.

Kristin Chenoweth is back at the top of her form as the reigning Prima Donna, Frieda Hatzfield. Douglas Sills does his best to keep up, and occasionally gets there as Bruno Mahler, the playwright. Sierra Boggess was lovely as Sieglinde, the ingenue.

Mr. Berman kept close attention to the score and led a thoroughly enjoyable evening. It's this type of show that make Encores! worthwhile.

The Third Story

"The Third Story" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, January 20, 2009

(photo: Joan Marcus)

Charles Busch's latest effort starring himself and Kathleen Turner.

Guess who's the better diva?

The story is an interesting premise with clunky execution. To paraphrase Ms. Turner's character of Peg, it takes three attempts for a writer to create a story that will work get completed - the third story, hence the title. We get all three stories here, told as a fourth and it sometimes felt like at least two too many. The comedy is broad, as it were, with an able cast.

I did see a preview, which was prior to Ms Turner's injury, and (apparently) prior to her feeling totally comfortable being off-book. Sarah Rafferty as Verna/Princess Vasilia seemed desperately in search of Rachel York, yet only found her on occasion. Jennifer Van Dyck impressed as Dr. Constance Hudson and Scott Parkinson made a perfectly gooey Zygote.

David Gallo's sepia-toned sets and deco-eclectic furnishings provided the proper mood. Gregory Gales costumes were mostly spot-on. (What were those pajamas Ms. Turner was wearing?)