15 December 2009

What to expect when you're expecting NINE

If the powers that be in the 1980s thought that NINE differed enough from its source material, 8 1/2, that 6 months was added to the title.  Well, perhaps, if there hadn't been that Mickey Rourke/Kim Basinger movie, Rob Marshall's adaptation of the Tony award winning musical might have considered a further update: 9 1/2.  I'm not going to go into a full fledged review, as that is ultimately something I don't really feel comfortable doing (though I have and will probably continue to do even as I complete this post), but I do want to point out the ways in which the film is so very different from it's stage predecessor.  This means "spoilers" will follow.


1) The "concept".  Part of what made the stage NINE (hereafter "S9") successful was its highly theatrical concept.  Guido on a white tile stage on which sat all the women in Contini's life, commenting--if only with their continued presence--on the proceedings. Additionally, everyone onstage, aside from Guido and little boys, was played by a woman.  The movie takes a more naturalist approach, with men appearing in various roles and the women only appearing when they are actually in scenes (though sometimes they appear as realizations of Guido's imagination).  The musical numbers happen mostly in Guido's mind--often in justoposition to a "real life" scene--on the set of what is supposed to be his next movie, which is apparently Rob Marshall's CHICAGO.  (No wonder Guido is confused.)  But, snarkiness aside, I generally understood Guido's desire to envision his women's problems in a particularly glamorous and sexy way, even if the specifics of the device were a little fuzzy.  And despite a certain conceptual unclarity, the numbers are all gorgeously shot and contain the right emotional impulse and pay-off.


2) The score.  A lot is missing, including the title song, "Grand Canal", "Be On Your Own", "Only With You", "Simple", "Growing Tall", and one of my favorite songs of ALL TIME "The Bells of Saint Sebastian".  We did get 3 new songs, including a useless (if somewhat entertaining) go-go dance number for Kate Hudson and a bunch of sexy boys in skinny ties, a simple and pleasant song about dreams for Sophia Loren (in lieu of the title song) and a Kander-Ebb knock-off for Marion Cotillard (in lieu of "Be On Your Own").  The Cotillard number was the most interesting change for me.  Perhaps they didn't want Luisa--Guido's long suffering wife--to be saddled with 2 weepy ballads.  Her new song is a raunchy strip tease that is played against a more reserved book scene.  The combination is effective if the song itself is forgettable and the staging particularly reminiscent of CABARET.  There is also a lot of incidental music (assorted lounge singers and the like) throughout.  I'm not sure if Yeston wrote that as well, but it left little-to-no impression either way.

3) The Performances. Daniel Day Lewis is nothing short of incredible.  His inhabitation of Guido Contini is so thorough and complete that one hardly notices how thinly developed the stories of his respective women are--no matter how little time we the audience spend with his many loves, their effect on Contini is so clear and precise in Lewis' performance that we fill in whatever dramaturgical gaps were left behind.  Marion Cotillard makes the strongest impression of the women.  Partially because her arch was the most developed, but mostly because she's a damn good actress and her "My Husband Makes Movies" was wonderful (and aided greatly by Marshall's treatment).  Judi Dench as Lilliane LaFleur (Guido's agent in S9, but an Edith Head-esque costume designer here, a change which seemed unnecessary at first, but makes complete sense in context) also scores well with her particular blend of criticism and advice.  And she makes fine use of "Follies Bergeres", a song I have never been all that fond of.  Penelope Cruz is infectious as Carla--Guido's mistress--and makes a fine vamp in her "Call to the Vatican".  Nicole Kidman's role was reduced to a scene on the film set followed by an adequate rendition of "Unusual Way", which is a beautiful song, but not too effective without any context or backstory to support it.  Fergie sings "Be Italian" (another non-favorite of mine) magnificently, even if the number features the most loathsome musical-theater cliche--tamborines, blech--while officially making "sexy dancing on black, wooden, arch back chairs" the SECOND most loathsome musical-theater cliche.  Every second Kate Hudson is on screen is useless.  Not because she lacks talent, but because her character is not an asset to the story in any way.  It's as if Serena van der Woodsen fell in a rabbit hole and ended in 1960s Italy...with gogo dancing boys in oft mentioned skinny ties.

4) Back to the title for a moment.  The show is called NINE because adult Guido is constantly at a battle with childish impulses, behavior, and memories vs Grown-up responsibilities.  In S9, little Guido talks Grown-Up Guido out of suicide (with the lovely "Growing Tall", perhaps the number I missed most from the film).  Here the child is used much more sparringly.  Though I think Marshall ultimately gets the point accross, it all seems a little underplayed to me, considering that little boy is basically the title role.

But squibbles and squabbles aside, NINE is a lush and decadent movie that is thankfully bringing public attention to a brilliant--if often overlooked--musical.

09 December 2009

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC thoughts


Last night I saw the current Broadway revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (currently in previews).  Those of you who have been reading regularly (both of you) may know that this production has been somewhat of a fixation for me, particularly with respect to casting and the mere existence of her majesty, Angela Lansbury.  Overall, the production was beautiful--I found the set to be elegant and versitle, the costumes stylish and flattering and the lighting atmospheric and slick.  From my vantage point in the top balcony, I also appreciated teh nuanced sound design, with the faintest of ambient noises being piped into different speakers.

The big question on everyone's (i.e. both of yours) minds is probably, "How is Catherine Zeta Jones"?  I would consider her performance a success.  She had an appropriate gravitas and landed most of her zingers squarely on target.  If I felt she pushed a bit hard at times (singing "The Glamorous Life"'s slight melody like it was "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "Send in the Clowns" like it was "Memory"), she possesses and embodies all the requisite charm and glamour and will no doubt only continue to grow in the role.

Angie is, of course, delightful, though there was something off in "Liaisons".  I don't know if it was an interpretive choice or an error (or a combination of the two), but the rest of her line readings were particularly devastating and hilarious.

Anne (Ramona Mallory) and Henrick (Hunter Ryan Herdlika)--both young unknowns--were quite delightful.  They both had strong voices that handled the difficult and rangy music without grating, quirky and endearing personas, and legitimate chemistry onstage.  

The casting of Aaron Lazar and Erin Davie as Count and Charlotte Malcolm had me scratching my head when it was announced--the Count is usually a more pompous/bombastic presence in the vein of Mark Kudish or, in another time, Robert Westenberg while Charlotte is a wry, one-liner machine--I trusted there was some concept or idea that justified the casting of the two young pretty people.  It seems the couple is envisioned as a nouveau, status conscious couple--I was reminded of Pete Campbell and his calculating wife, Trudy, on MAD MEN.  Lazar's Count seemed more naive and entitled than pompous, but it was a shift that worked for me.  Vocally he was spot on, and he takes his shirt off in Act 2.  No complaints.  I've been a fan since I saw him in PIAZZA and am more than willing to renew my membership dues to his fan club.  Davie surprised me with her depth and wit in act 1, and her "Every Day A Little Death" was perhaps the most musically satisfying renditions of the song I've heard.  I was less convinced with her as the scheming seductress in Act 2, but perhaps she will settle in over time.


 (Marry Me...a little)

My only complaint was that the production seemed awfully heavy.  Many of the songs felt over-interperated to me, acting on some belief that if the lyric was slowed down and said with greater emphasis it would mean more.  It's a choice, but I felt many songs--particularly all of the brief numbers for the ensemble--felt ponderous and at odds with the natural lilting momentum of the music.  I felt, overall, that the evening could have somehow been more "wonderful" and "enchanting", but was nonetheless engaged throughout (each act flew by even though they both clocked in at more than an hour each).

29 November 2009

YouTube Delights - Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Diana Ross

Some non-sequitors.  I stumbled upon this life clip of Judy and Young Liza at London's Palladium singing "Hello, Dolly", or, as the case may be, "Hello Liza, Hello Mamma".  These are some talented dames.  And as young and "fresh" as Liza is, she radiates that certain star quality.

 

In looking through the users other YouTube videos (hoping for more from this concert) I instead found this clip of Diana Ross singing "He Lives in You" (as in, the song from the Broadway LION KING).  Apparently she recorded it in 1999.  It's actually quite fabulous.  and she does well by it.



Here is another, less opulant, performance of the name number by Ross.  The more initmate presentation is better vocally, but not as much fun.

20 November 2009

CARRIE Casting


Ever since my friend Andrew gave me a bootleg recording of CARRIE I've been obsessed.  (Remember that time I spent a morning watching different versions of "I'm Not Alone"?).  So when those wacky producers Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum decided they were looking to dust it off and give it another chance, I was optimistic.  True, I thought an Encores!, or perhaps a BC/EFA Benefit concert version would be most appropriate, but these guys really think they can make it work.  So, why not let them try.  The elements are there--a compelling "world of the play", and a score that is, for the most part, actually fantastic.  The original production was an out of control mess, with director Terry Hands having little to no control/vision over what "the world of the play" should be.  Stafford Arima is doing honors here.  Many loved his stripped down, no-set RAGTIME at Papermill and the West End, but does he have to skills to find a balance in tone for CARRIE? 

What DOES excite me is the cast announced today.  Sutton Foster as the gym teacher?  Might be a waste of Sutton, but I'll take her in anything.  Marin Mazzie as the mother?  Something about it doesn't add up, but it titillates me as well and could be quite fabulous.  What has be most excited is Molly Ranson in the title role.  She was in BURNT PART BOYS at NYS&F this summer and she. is. incredibly. talented.  That she was cast gives me confidence that someone involved in this reading knows what they are doing.  I really hope that person is Stafford Arima.

18 November 2009

Talk Back/Talk Smack


Michael Reidel's latest column discusses the announced closing of OLEANNA, stirring up conrtoversy saying Mamet's axing of post show talk backs (and his general refusal to assist in any publicity) is part of the show's downfall.  The article fails to acknowledge the real issues at hand--a lazy production shipped in from LA with a director busy with another show down the street, two stars who weren't asked to do much more than be famous and pretty and learn their lines, and a dated script.  I did sense, reading posts from bloggers who attended the talk-backs (when they still existed) that the post-show event did add some value.  And I might have enjoyed hearing differing opinions from my own had I stayed.  But, talk-backs or the lack thereof are not what did OLEANNA in, star-fucking did.  Maybe it's true that you need boffo box office names above the marquee, but you need a good production on the boards.

-----


Speaking of Talk Backs, last night I was inviteded to attend 39 STEPS, which also featured a talk back (hosted by Bob Balaban).  Again, I declined the invitation to stay, but I was curious as to what there was to talk about.  The evening was clever and executed to perfection, but didn't leave me with anything to think--let alone speak aloud to a group of strangers--about.  Its producers seem to by eyeing an Ave Q-esque move to New World Stages.  The show could certainly work there, and if they can generate audience interest, all the more power to them.  However, 39 STEPS didn't particularly ingratiate itself on me, and I have a hard time imagining myself rooting for its continued success that way I have (and do) with Q.  Partially because Q is about my life (struggling in Brooklyn in your 20s), whereas STEPS isn't really about anything other than a love of old movies and quick-changes (both of which I do enjoy).  But the house seemed full on a Tuesday night, and it is an "easy" show, one I could recommend to anyone without worrying it would be too weird or long or cheesey or in any way objectionable.  And perhaps that is the key to its longevity: it really is a show for everyone.  It just isn't a particularly insightful, moving or interesting show. 

15 November 2009

BARCELONA

This is actually one of my favorite songs from COMPANY.  Don't know why, but do I really need a reason to love a Sondheim song?  I stumbled upon this on YouTube--Bernadette Peters and Richard Chamberlin performing the song from some sort of television special.  I believe it was a 1979 special titled "Musical Comedy Tonight", though the IMDB page does not have much information on it.  There was apparently a follow up program in 1982.  This song is actually ideal for Peters.  I had not known Chamberlin to be a singer, but he does a fine enough job.  He would have made an interesting Bobby in his day.  I am now intrigued to find out more about these programs, and if more clips exist on the interwebz.

Amazing

How has this been on the internet since August without anyone mentioning it?  Sean Patrick Doyle, who is apparently playing Fruma Sarah in the national tour of FIDDLER (which was starring the aged Topol, who is now out and replaced by Harvey Fierstein), sings "Wheels of a Dream" from RAGTIME.   His imitation of Brian Stokes Mitchell is mostly adequate, but his imitation of Audra--and when do you ever hear imitations of Audra?  Never.--is uncanny.



Here, Doyle sings "Can't Help Loving Dat Man of Mine" in true McDonald style.



And, because it falls under the general heading of "Amazing", a (shhh) bootleg of Audra from the original Broadway production singing "Your Daddy's Son".  I would keepvid this shit before it gets taken down.

10 November 2009

MAME thoughts

I am basically obsessed with all things MAME, and have been ever since my mom directed AUNTIE MAME when I was in the 5th grade.  (I did not play Patrick because I felt "too much pressure", but I WAS Partrick Dennis for Halloween this year, bugle and all.)  I have read the book, seen both movies numerous times, and worked on a semi-staged concert version with Sandy Duncan, even though it meant spending another month living in a scary attic in Pittsfield, MA.  Everyone wants a revival of it, but it seems no one wants to produce a revival of it.  Perhaps it is because the writers are fiercely protective of it and basically want the original production again.  Jerry Herman has even gone to far as to say he would insist on the original Onna White choreography.  Of course, with a production looming and a skilled director at the helm, Herman may let go a little, but we'll never know.  I don't think the libretto needs much revision at all, though I would get rid of Lindsey Woolsey (he is completely useless) put the Upson's anti-semitism from the play back in the musical (with Mame opening a home for Jewish refuges and not unwed mothers and the end), and restore the best--and most important--line of the play:


Patrick: There are a lot of things a girl like Gloria doesn't need to know about.
Mame: Should she know that I think you've turned into one of the most beastly, bourgeois babbitty snobs on the Eastern Sea-Board, or will you be able to make that quite clear without and help from me?


In the original novel, Mame's liberal free spirit was as political as it was fabulous and decadent.  To me, the play AUNTIE MAME is actually quite similar to Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's other popular play, INHERIT THE WIND.  Both center on the protagonists fight to protect and encourage the right to think, and both reflect the core of the national debate that has led to those outrageous town hall meetings or the inability to pass marriage equality laws.  Nowadays, MAME is too often thought of as a musical about a woman who wears 30 years of fabulous fashion and drinks a lot, a family friendly ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS.  I would love to see someone like David Cromer mine the play with this in mind.

As for Onna White's choreography, it is truly excellent.  I've often thought her work looked awkward in films like BYE BYE BIRDIE, THE MUSIC MAN and PETE'S DRAGON, but onstage it seems to make more sense.  Below are two clips from the 1983 revival (which essentially remounted the original production). Note how cleanly she stages "It's Today", making it simultaneously a full company production number, and a quite naturalistic party.  Also note her use of line and space in the elegant title number--and the way she uses the bodies of her chorus members.  Though recreating this choreograhy around a new production would probably not work, I don't know of  any choreographers today who have such a pure sense of dance and movement as metaphor combined with a musical comedy sensibility.  Could Bill T Jones work with jazz squares?







02 November 2009

What Happened at BRIGHTON BEACH?

1 week after opening, producers have closed BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS and cancelled the partner production of BROADWAY BOUND which was supposed to, eventually, run in rep with BRIGHTON BEACH.  As members of the theatrical community and press, try and sort out "what happened?" I thought I'd throw my own 2 cents into the works.


1) Lest there be any doubt, it was a WONDERFUL production.  Funny, well acted, and smart.

2) The play is mercilessly wholesome about it.  As a jaded New Yorker it was a bit of a relief--like hot cider or a cookie--but I can see how many would not be intrigued by jokes about not wanting to eat liver, or wondering what boobs look like.  And before I spontaneously bought a TDF ticket, I didn't feel particularly compelled to see it.  But boy, am I glad I did.

3) The marketing seemed largely ineffectual.  I only saw banner ads on playbill and, eventually, NYTimes.com.  Whereas I see HAIR ads on every city bus.  The artwork itself is particularly unexciting to me.

It seems to get too much leverage out of the name Neil Simon, which, in and of itself, isn't that exciting.  Beyond that, you just have a couple of guys, one of whom is wearing knickers.  When has a pair of knickers ever sold tickets?

4) Stars.  There aren't any (really) in this production.  Except Laurie Metcalf.  She is very talented.  She won 3 Emmy Awards for her work on ROSEANNE.  And, aside from a brief Broadway stint in the completely forgotten NOVEMBER, she's been off the public radar since ROSEANNE went off the air.

Except for the fact that ROSEANNE hasn't been off the air.  You can pretty much ALWAYS find an episode of ROSEANNE on if you're in the mood.  There are two types of people in this world: People who refuse to watch ROSEANNE and people who realize that, at least in its early seasons, ROSEANNE was one of the best-written and acted sitcoms ever.  Which is why it's on 47 times a day.  So there is an audience out there for Laurie Metcalf.  Why wasn't SHE exploited more?  Where were the interviews in press and on television?  Why is she totally missing from the print ads?  To pave the way for knickers?  Yes, the play is about the boys (who are basically little Neil Simons), but theater audiences want hot men or powerful women.  When you lead is 15 years old, you might want to consider going for the latter.

5) As William Goldman said in his fabulous book about Broadway, THE SEASON (as well as his equally wonderful ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE): Nobody knows anything.

30 October 2009

FELA!, Memphis. Memphis, FELA!

FELA! and MEMPHIS are both New Musicals opening on Broadway this fall, I saw both of them for free, they both feature a lot of dancing, and they both deal with issues that fit under the broad "race" umbrella.  Though they have more in common than, say, MISS SAIGON and WAITING FOR GODOT, I admit that I will ultimately be comparing an apple to an orange and remarking at the differences in color, texture and flavor. 

MEMPHIS is a work of fiction that, nonetheless, tells a story everyone knows involving segregation, the South, music, and the 1960s.  FELA!, thought not really a linear narrative of any kind, nonetheless tells a story that, thought based on fact, is most likely new to the majority of audience members about oppression in Nigeria in the late 1970s.

MEMPHIS, though about musicians, has an unremarkable and derivative score that frequently fails to evoke the very specific genres the libretto references.  FELA! is basically a jukebox musical, but it uses a jokebox many are unfamiliar with, by a man known to be an innovative musician, and explains--if in borderline tedious details--what is different about this music.  However, though the music in MEMPHIS is often bland, it is just as consistently energetic and engaging, whereas FELA!'s jam session of a score allows the audience to disengage. 

In MEMPHIS dance is used throughout, mostly to lift the numbers from the story, rather than to enhance the dramatic content of the songs.  In FELA! the dance IS the story.  If MEMPHIS's dramaturgy is chrystilline clear and FELA!'s often confusing, the power and insight FELA!'s dancing adds to the proceedings is unparalleded.  MEMPHIS's choreographer--the ubiquitous Sergrio Trullio--is Broadway dancer-turned choreographer, and his work is consistently adequate and professional, if pedestrian in its use of verical lines and grids of toothy grinned chorines.  FELA!'s Bill T Jones comes from the dance world and is adapting his career-long habit of movement as meaning, body as form and structure to a more accessible Broadway framework. 

The result of the differences between the craft in MEMPHIS and FELA! is perhaps most clear in each musical's respective moment of Extreme Abuse against the protagonists. In MEMPHIS the moment feels essentially inevitable, leaving the audience with a Morales-esque feeling of nothingness. In FELA!--perhaps because it is legitimately shocking and new, it stuns.  I don't know which of these productions will be more commercially successful, though FELA! will probably walk away with stronger reviews (especially if those impressed by its off-Broadway incarnation are similarly entertained).  But, if MEMPHIS may perhaps embody the type of likable dance-and-belt-a-thon that many want right now, FELA!'s innovative dance (and stunningly imaginative lighting) are what Broadway needs.

29 October 2009

One Week From Today...

...we open

1158: Moses Maimonides flees Spain, dies in Cairo 1204.
1492: Ferdinand and Isabella expel all Jews from Spain.
1992: Maimonides returns.

Polybe + Seats
presents

GRANADA
written by Avi Glickstein
directed by Jessica Brater
produced by Catherine Wallach and Polybe + Seats

Ensemble:
Elaine O’Brien
Sarah Sakaan
Indika Senanayake*
Lindsay Torrey*
Jill Usdan
Ari Vigoda

Set, Costume, and Puppet Design: Peiyi Wong assisted by Bevan Dunbar
Lighting Design: Natalie Robin assisted by Marika Kent
Sound Design: John D. Ivy
Dramaturgy: Miriam Felton-Dansky
Stage Manager/Associate Producer: Donald Butchko assisted by Dinah Finkelstein
Selected music performed by Anna Levenstein

*indicates member of Actors' Equity. Granada is an Equity-approved showcase.

Runs November 5-22, 2009

Thursdays-Saturdays @ 8pm
Saturdays @ 3pm
Sundays @ 7pm

Granada begins in 1992 as the King of Spain prepares to symbolically welcome Jews back to Spain after 500 years of banishment. A young Egyptian Jewish woman has been invited to stand in for all of those exiled-but following the ceremony, she reveals to Spain's prince that she believes herself to be the resurrection of Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), philosopher, royal physician, and Jewish cultural icon. Quite suddenly, the prince's world is not what it was before her revelation: he is pursued by a bear, seduced by a princess hatched from a grapefruit, and nearly betrayed by his trusty aide-de-camp. Is this the beginning of the Messianic age?

Bringing together characters and stories from Sephardic Jewish folklore and culture, Granada draws on a centuries-old tradition to create a tender, bizarre, and funny look at a people separated by continents but united by a state of exile.

Tickets available at
http://www.smarttix.com/show.aspx?showcode=GRA21

The Access Theater Gallery has limited accessibility. For accessibility information, please contact info@polybeandseats.org.

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23 October 2009

Just watch it




David Carroll in the original Broadway production of GRAND HOTEL. He passed away earlyish into the run (and, in fact, was not even preserved on the Cast Recording), being replaced by go-to-Billy Finn Brett Barrett. But they don't make'm like this anymore.

21 October 2009

What Do You Do With a B.S. in Theater?


I was a Jr. in college when AVENUE Q first hit Broadway.  I had an instantaneous affinity for the witty and tuneful OCR, which, among other things, bailed me out of at least 2 potentially awkard car trips.  It's odd to think that I related to the material since, at the time, I had only been to NYC once, and often did, in fact, sit on a quad.

This Sunday I finally saw the little-show-that could in its new home Off-Broadway and was pleasantly and consistently surprised throughout.  I was surprised at how many jokes, characters, and story lines I was not aware of, despite knowing the score backwards and forward.  I was surprised by the extent to which the imaginative staging and choreography lifted the numbers I knew so well.  I was surprised by the extent to which the show hit home with me, now that I actually am broke, living in Brooklyn, and unsure of my "purpose", and surprised at its abilities to, if only mometarily, qualm my varied anxieties. 

Q's new home at New World Stages seems to me to serve as a combatant for the inherent, if subtle, earnestness and sincerity of the show.  From the industrial common areas of the complex--with decor that seems more suited for TopShop--to the house staff aggressively pushing drink specials delivered to your seats during intermission, I felt more like I was in a stadium than a theater.  Perhaps this is the way things will be everywhere from now on.  I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it, and I suppose I could get used to it.  It is to Q's credit that its cuddly puppets and likable performers (Anika Larsen makes an especially a wonderful Kate Monster, with Seth Rettberg making a fine Princeton/Rod) made themselves, and their story, heard and felt (pun intended) over the din.

12 October 2009

OLEANNA on Broadway

In the 10 minutes or so in which I waited outside the Golden Theater for my friend, no fewer than 5 separate groups of middle aged women noted the marquee and exclaimed “Oh look, Julia Stiiiiles is in something.”  No mention was made of Bill Pullman, who costar with a longer career, or David Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize winning—and perhaps most marketable—playwright who’s OLEANNA opened last night.  No mention was made of either of these men (let alone director Dough Hughes) because, for this particular subset of the population—middle aged women walking on 45th St at 6:45pm on a Thursday night—Julia Stiles on Broadway is the event of note.  Those women would not be disappointed.  Julia Stiles was indeed in something.  On Broadway.  Hell, (spoiler alert) she even cried.  Those of us asking for more, however, might not walk away as satiated. 


OLEANNA concerns Carol, a college student (Stiles), who meets with John, her about-to-be-tenured professor (Pullman), to discuss that fact that she is failing/”doesn’t get” his class.  This seemingly innocuous encounter—full of theory about the nature/value of higher education and identity—is cast in a darker light in later scenes as She lodges a formal complaint against Him.  She claims his behavior both in that meeting and in the classroom, is condescending and sexist.  Thus begins a discourse on gender roles, power dynamics and political correctness.  Sort of.  Because the two sides of the argument are never really presented.  She attacks Him relentlessly and tirelessly, making arguments both solid and tenuous.  He, in reaction, is increasingly befuddled and disheveled, but never particularly articulate—there is not one moment after the first scene in which He makes a point that She acknowledges.  Not that she should, as his argument consists of refrains of “Why are you doing this to me?” as opposed to specifically refuting her arguments and evidence.  Of course, her arguments and evidence are so vaguely presented that I have a hard time believing a tenure board would give them lip service.   He is equally ineffective in his communications with his wife, who calls incessantly throughout to play despite Pullman’s habitual greeting of “I can’t talk right now.”  I am almost offended that a play supposedly dedicated to the exploration of interaction between genders shows women in a singular light as ceaseless harpies who, with their combination of needs and expectations, push Him over the proverbial edge.  And it is only when He is pushed that any of Her arguments begin to seem plausible.     


The trademark “Mamet” rhythm comes off as contrived and unconvincing here (especially in the first scene), and there is little variance in tempo or energy.  The design elements are appropriate, if not particularly helpful in setting a time for this production—the world is a different place in 2009 than it was in 1992 (when the play was first produced).  The fact that this production neither confirms nor denies this fact, setting the play vaguely around now-ish, underscores the feeling that the whole evening was very “general”—generally engaging, generally entertaining, generally well acted.  Though adequately and professionally executed, I can’t help but think I would see an equally, if not more, provocative production at a college or regional theater.  But it wouldn’t have Julia Stiles.  And for some people, that may be enough.

To save over 40% on tickets, just visit BroadwayOffers.com and enter code OLMKT93. Tickets are only $59 on Tuesday-Friday or $65 on Saturday and Sunday! (Valid through 11/15)

09 October 2009

Our New Phantom - Shirtless

This guy is going to be the Phantom in the London production of PHANTOM: LOVE NEVER DIES, set to open this March.  (Broadway will get it in Feb 2011, or something like that.)   I'm shallow enough to say I'm now excited about the production.

Of course, remember when Gerard Butler was in the movie version?  Thank God he had that mask, because no one really rememebers, and now he has a career.  Here's a gratutitous Gerard Butler Shirtless pic.

08 October 2009

POLLY


When I was a weee little lad, my exposure/interest in live-action musicals was pretty much dictated by films what my mother loved growing up.  This wasn't a problem because (a) she had pretty decent taste, so I watched a lot of SOUND OF MUSIC, MY FAIR LADY, PETER PAN, and CINDERELLA w/Leslie Ann Warren and (b) I was, you know, six.  I don't think I would have "gotten" PRETTYBELLE anyway.  But in 1989 (when I was in Kindergarden or 1st Grade), a new TV musical came out.  Perhaps this was the first musical that my mother and I each experienced for the first time at the same time, at least the first that left a lasting impression.  POLLY is POLLYANNA (which I have never seen in its entirety) reset in the 1950s segregated South.  I think the idea is fairly inspired, using Polly's ANNIE-like optimism to affect the attitudes of a small southern town.  Mrs. White (the cranky lady akin to the Agnes Moorehead "You've got a stubby little nose" character, played here by Celeste Holm) is actually white.  She lives on the white part of town, which one must literally cross a bridge to get to.  Need I say that the movie ends with both races on that bridge, walking towards each other?  A bit on the nose perhaps, but it ultimately tells a much more nuanced--and believable--musical story of this struggle than MEMPHIS will at the Shubert tonight. 

This musical number in particular has stuck with me for the past 20 years.  Not only does it feature great choreo from Debbie Allen (who also Directed), and a spirited performance by the hyper-talented (and, for a time, ubiquitous) Brandon Adams, its infectious ear-worm of a tune is performed a capella (until the unfortunate button which is remniscent of Andrew Lippa's massacre of YOU'RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN).  How I dream of this song making it onto an episode of GLEE...



Did I mention Jasmine Guy and Phylicia Rashad are also in it?  This lovely trio has also followed me for 2 decades.



And this is when I learned of Music Theater's particular ability to handle the emotions of a strong woman scorned--and my ability to relate (and sing along)

06 October 2009

5 Theatrical Pet Peeves

As a Geminii, I am simultaneous easy-going and incredibly neurotic.  So, while I try to have a laissez-faire attitude most of the time, certain attitudes, opinons, and actions never fail to make me want to punch a brick wall.


1) People who wish a show would "just close already"--I've already discussed this at length, so I won't rehash now.  But it's annoying.


2) Somehow insinuating that RENT would have been so much better had it not be frozen upon Jonathan Larson's untimely death.--This issue actually points to one of the biggest issues in the development of Musical Theater.  Everybody thinks they know how to fix the show.  Sometimes, like with NEXT TO NORMAL, a show can be in development for years and remain so close until that 1 special workshop or production where everything falls into place.  But I'm willing to bet just as many shows are so close...until 4 years of workhops and readings and differeing opinions from directors and artistic directors and dramaturgs extinguish what original spark was still there.  The whole situation reminds me of that speech from SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION:
I remembered why I loved paintings in the first place, what got me into this. I thought... dreamt... remembered... how easy it is for a painter to lose a painting. He paints and paints, works on a canvas for months, and then, one day, he loses it. Loses the structure, loses the sense of it. You lose the painting. I remembered asking my kids' second-grade teacher: 'Why are all your students geniuses? Look at the first grade - blotches of green and black. The third grade - camouflage. But your grade, the second grade, Matisses, every one. You've made my child a Matisse. Let me study with you. Let me into the second grade. What is your secret?' 'I don't have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.'
Yes, it is certainly possible that RENT could have been a better show had there been an opportunity for revision.  It also could have been the same show but shorter, or with a different song instead of "Contact".  Or it could have been worse.  There are more important things than a "tight" first act, and the essence of the show--the memorable characters, the great score and the infectious, tangible, spirit--was pitch perfect.


3) Bloggers who apologize for not posting--I mean, we love you.  But, as Eliza Doolittle would sing, "There'll be fruit on the tree,/ And a shore by the sea./ There'll be crumpets and tea without you."  And we're more than likely behind on our blog reading, not annoyed that you've been "MIA."  So please, go to you cousin's wedding, and don't stress out about it.  Really, we're not waiting.


4) "The Miller's Son" serves no purpose in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC--"You see", them what make this point argue, "at that point in the story, everyone is partnering up and plotlines are being resolved, so we can't interrupt that wiht a song that has nothing to do with the plot."  This literally blows my mind.  Hal Prince.  And Stephen Sondheim.  Men who literally turned the musical inside out aren't allowed to stop the proceedings at an unexpected point in the evening to deliver a thematically relevant--if not THE thematically relevant--number?  Suddenly they need to do things the expected way?  Because it kind of reminds you have a well structured farce?  That's what we WANT them to do, right?  And let's not forget, they realized, out of town, that they needed this song and had to FIRE someone who wasn't able to sing it.  You don't just FIRE people because you really want to "show off" and "ruin the pace" of your 2nd Act.  And Leigh Ann Larkin is going to tear the shit out of that at the Walter Kerr.


5) "The original CHICAGO was sooooo much better than the revival"--Even if this is true (and isn't that almost always the case anyway?) what exactly is the point in saying this?  It seems to me to say "you know that show you liked?  well, you shouldn't have enjoyed it, because there was a better version of it that you will NEVER SEE.  And since you'll never see it, you pretty much have to assume I'm right.  Hope I ruined your fond memories of a night in the theater!"  Sub-peeve: Why does playbill run an article every time Brett Barrett goes back into CHICAGO?  I think we all pretty much know that's where we can find him.

01 October 2009

On Second Thought...


In a little over a month, 2 currently running Broadway shows have announced changes to their production.  Not cast changes, script changes.  On August 25th WEST SIDE STORY announced that their "expieriement" of having the Sharks occiasionally speak Spanish wasn't really working, and they were going back to English.  (Well, kinda.  My roommate, a Spanish teacher who was upset when I told her this in August because she was looking forward to hearing some of it in Spanish, saw it this past weekend and said "I Feel Pretty" is still mostly "Siento Hermosa", which , incidently, sounds like a brunch cocktail.)

Recently, the folks at SHREK have announced that they will add Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer" to the (lovely) Jeanine Tesori/David Linsday-Abaire score.  The article leads me to believe it will be performed as exit music/during the curtain call.  But really, who knows.  Poor SHREK has so much potential, but it's held hostage by the maniacal and artless DREAMWORKS who seem dead-set on recreating their popular movie verbatim. 

This type of mid-run adjustment isn't without precedent, but it's rare.  Especially lately.  So for it to happen twice in the ammount of time it God to flood the earth...that's odd.  Some previous examples (off the top of my head):

WISH YOU WERE HERE, a show this is largely, and justly, forgotten was notable for 2 things.  1) Having a swimming pool onstage (it was 1952), and (2) closing down after opening and reopening after much revision and improvement.  It also had a score by Harold Rome, the composer time forgot.  Which is and is not deserved.  This song is fun.  It was also directed by Josh "South Pacific" Logan, which means there were probably lots of shirtless men around that pool.  THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL did the same thing twice over.  SEUSSICAL flopped on Broadway, but went on tour with a revised book and became the most licensed show by amature theater groups and schools in America. 

When Liza did a brief stint in CHICAGO the Act I closing duet, "I Am My Own Best Friend" became a solo number.  (click here for an audio-only YouTube video!)  (Chita, cut from the number while Liza was in town, got the last laugh when the did THE RINK together.  Liza left the production early (probably not entirely her choice), being replaced by a better received Stockard Channing and Chita won her first Tony.)

Speaking of Gwen Verdon, somewhere in the run of SWEET CHARITY, the powers that be cut her first number, the fascinating "You Should See Yourself." Legend has it that an audience member wrote Verdon an angry letter after seeing the show, because the number, which exists on the Cast Recording, was not in the show.  She felt slighted.  Gwen verdon responded with a check for $0.12, the cost of 1 track on the Cast Recording.  One can only imagine what that patron would have done upon seeing CAMELOT.  There are so many discrepancies between the script and OCR--and I've heard so many varying accounts--that it's hard to believe what show audience members saw.

A few songs originally cut from HELLO, DOLLY! were put back in when The Merm took over the title role. 

Ultimately, I think that, as a living, breathing art form, theater should be subject to such change.  Provided it's an improvement. 

26 September 2009

more KRISTINA videos

William Goldman is oft credited as coining the phrase--as it relates to the theater (and film) "Nobody knows anything."  Though part of me want to give a Bev Weston monologue about how everyone has thought that, but William Goldman wrote it down, I (a) respect Mr. Goldman and (b) agree.  Case in point, after more or less sleeping through KRISTINA, I have nevertheless become OBSESSED with it's leading lady (Helen Sjöholm), and the few but notable other highlights of the show.  Even after seeing a show, I do not necessarily know what kind of effect it will have on me, let alone the rest of the world.  Does this mean perhaps a Broadway production is looming?  I would be surprised.  Very surprised.  But you never know. 

Some videos I found this morning.

From a concert done in Minnosota.  In the original Swedish, with English subtitles.  To be honest, I prefer it this way.



From that same concert, the song someone's brother sings after he comes back from the California Gold Rush "a broken man".  I forgot to mention this number in my previous post, but it was actually quite effective at C Hall.



Here's another Swedish version of "You Have to Be There" (or, in Swedish, "Du Maste Finnas").  This is from the mid-90s (when the show was actually new), and I think she sounds the best of all the clips I've seen.  Though I have to say, her voice really rang out something special live. 



Another song Kristina sings, from that same concert.  I'm not sure when this happens in the show.  But it's lovely.  And the Minnesotans find it very moving, apparently. 



And finally, a bootleg of Lady Sjöholm the performance I caught at Carnegie Hall.  The video quality is not great (his seat was even worse than mine), and the sound leaves much to be desired as well, but it only seems fair to give at least of glimpse of the very thing I've been talking about for the past two days.  Though it makes horribly things happen with the mic on this guy's camera (i.e. be prepared to turn the volume down real fast), check out the audience response.  And, for the record, her red dress was stunning.

 

A gold star to anyone who have actually listened, in full, to all 5 versions I have shared between both KRISTINA posts.   More MN Concert clips, and Cardegie clips can be found here (at least, for now).

25 September 2009

KRISTINA in Concert at Carnegie Hall

When I had "studied" abroad in London, my Drama Crit (I think that's what the class was called...we saw plays, and talked about them) professor put a ban on the word "boring" when describing a play we saw.  The rational was that "boring" was a cop-out word that students would hide behind without having to come up with anything more specific to say.  I have tried to follow this maxim throughout life, in addition to eliminating "um" and "like" from my vernacular.

Um, like, without using "boring" I'll have a hard time describing KRISTINA.


To be fair, I expected this to be the case.  After all, KRISTINA is about a community that emigrates from Sweden to Minnesota.  In 1850.  That's the type of thing you expect to be long, slow moving, incredibly earnest, and most likely, pretentious.  So why would I attend this 2-night only concert event at Carnegie Hall in the first place?  Because KRISTINA was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the BB of ABBA.  I really, REALLY like ABBA.  And though I ultimately think CHESS never adds up to less than the sum of its parts, any show that brings "Nobody's Side" to the universe can be all bad.

And KRISTINA wasn't all bad.  Part of what hindered it, no doubt, was the concert presentation.  Though I can't imagine sitting through a longer version of the show, the transitions were most awkward, with all sorts of plot points being yada-yada'd.  For example, Kristina's husband sings a moving ballad about not wanting her to die when she contracts scurvy on the boat from Sweden.  Cut to, Swedish peasants (including a now robustly healthy Kristina) singing about the charming city folk at Battery Park.  Previous to that, there is a bit of narration in which we learn that one of Kristina's daughters dies from eating too much porridge.  Huh?  In the second act someone comes back from the gold rush with a bag of money. Kristina's husband (and the ensemble) to sing something about it being "Wildcat money", which I guess means it's no good.  I actually think that song might make sense, I just didn't understand a single word Russell Watson said or sang.  Anyway, the poor kid with the Wildcat Money dies in between songs not long after.  They also sing about lice, a new stove, miscarriages, trees, flowers, and whatever the ensemble said (also had trouble hearing their words).

Much of the music was recicative and/or a mediocre version of "The Mountain Duet" from CHESS.  But there a few nice moments.  The orchestra, led by Paul Gemignani, was, of course, excellent throughout.  Kevin Odekrik, as someone's younger brother (he was the one with that Wildcat money) sings a pleasant song in Act I comparing his restless spirit to a stream.  I said it was pleasant, not original.  Louise Pitre as Kristina's mother/a former prostitute (I think) had a couple of songs to sing.  I didn't think they were all that interesting, but she was great, and really sold that death-by-porridge-overdose narration.  But the highlight of the evening was whenever Helen Sjöholm opened her mouth.  She's a big deal in Sweden and, now, she's a big deal here.  About a third of the audience gave her a standing ovation after her big Act II number "You Have to Be There".  Here is a demo of that song she recorded for the BBC.  The singing starts 1m15s in.  Her voice is simultaneously deep and warm and bright and stirring.  Live, in Carnegie Hall, the performance was legitimately thrilling.



(Sidebar: At some point Emily Skinner/Alice Ripley also sang this song.  They do a nice job.)

 Here is Helen singing what 90% of the audience wishes they were hearing her sing last night, something from CHESS

22 September 2009

NIGHT MUSIC Cast Announced

I don't even know what I will think about any more.  Playbill.com has just announced casting for the upcomming Trevor Nunn-directed revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.


Unconfirmed rumors that Catherine Zeta-Jones would play Desiree and Angela Lansbury would play Mme Armfeldt have now been confirmed.  I am so excited to see Angie in this role I could just about die.  I may take a mortgage on my apartment (even though I rent) just so I can be one of those crazy types who sees a show 20 times.  She. Will. Be. Fantastic.  And I'm warming up to the idea of Zeta-Jones.  I think she's be glamorous, elegant and sexy, and though I wish I could've seen a Victoria Clark or a Donna Murphy take on the role, I'm willing to let Catherine surprise me.  Who knows, this could launch a whole new phase of her career.

Other interesting bits of casting (and my thoughts):

Alexander Hanson as Fredrik Egerman--Hanson did the part in London.  I don't know anything about him, but I've had a devil of a time thinking of an actor who would be appropriate or interesting in this role, so perhaps it's just as well that Nunn is sticking with something he knows works.

Aaron Lazar as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm--I was SO sure it was going to be Matt Kudish.  I mean, this is the role he was born to play.  Lazar is far younger and prettier than I imagine the arrogant and booring Carl-Magnus to be, which leads me to believe T. Nizzle is going in a different direction with this character.  In any case, I've been a fan of Lazar ever since I saw him in LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, so he's welcome in my book.


Erin Davie as Countess Charlotte Malcolm--I'm kinda WTFing over this one.  Yes, she's younger than I expect Charlotte to be (but as a pairing with Lazar I guess it makes sense), but I'm more concerned about Davie's ability to inhabit Charlotte's wry sense of humor.  Davie didn't particularly impress me in GREY GARDENS or APPLAUSE, and Charlotte is one of my favorite roles in the musical theater cannon.  I'm ever so curious to see how her and Lazar's characters are interpreted in this production, because right now it is pretty far out of my realm of comprehension.


Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra--Now we're making some good ol' fashioned sense again.  She was fantastic as Dainty June in the LuPone GYPSY and will sing. the. shit. out of "The Miller's Son"




Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Henrik Egerman--I googled his ass, and he just graduated from college.  And is appearing on Broadway with Angela-fucking-Lansbury.  I hate him/wonder if he's single.


Ramona Mallory as Anne Egerman--Her mom (Victoria Mallory) was the original Anne, and had an unnatural ability to hit high notes, so Sondheim basically wrote the part out of most human beings' range (which he has gone on record as regretting).  Perhaps Ramona has a genetic disposition to singing up in the stratosphere?  Let's hope.  Also, I'm pretty sure she worked at a trashy New Hampshire summer theater with a friend of mine (who has since given up acting to go to Law School).  


I am probably more excited about this show than any other coming to Broadway at the moment.  Can I really wait until November?

14 September 2009

AVE Q

The most shocking bit of Broadway news in awhile is the recent announcement that AVENUE Q, set to close this weekend, will instead re-open at NEW WORLD STAGES off-Broadway.  NEW WORLD STAGES, as a venue, is rather curious--shows either go there to die (ROOMS, FLAMINGO COURT, SIDD) or live forever (ALTAR BOYS, NAKED BOYS SINGING, GAZILLION BUBBLE SHOW).  I'm curious (as are well all) as to which category AVE Q finds itself.  And what will it mean for the worth of a show's "Broadway" status?  After all, many people come into town and they want to see a BROADWAY show.  An off-Broadway show just isn't going to fill that niche.  But can a show's Broadway reputation and branding follow it elsewhere?  It certainly does on the road, why not in NYC?  Though it also raises a few potentially ethical issues:  Off-Broadway actors make less than a third of those on Broadway, but will the producers see their cut diminish to that extreme?  Regardless, it is a fascinating experiment, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out in the months--and years--to come.

13 September 2009

Perfection

I'm not the world's largest fan of Cabaret songs.  They tend to sound alike to me, and with no context surrounding them, they can feel vague and a little shallow.  Yes, this is a sweeping generalization based, no doubt, on hearing more bad examples than good ones.  Perhaps if more were akin to the following, I would be a bigger fan.

Recorded by Audra McDonald on her HOW GLORY GOES album (which is probably the finest album of its kind), "I Won't Mind" (music by Jeff Blumenkrantz, lyric by Annie Kessler and Libby Saines) is a masterful bit of storytelling.  In just 4 minutes, a rich and complicated woman is created.  I believe it was Tommy Tune who used to say that, in a musical, "you have to deal them out slowly."  I love how the details of "Lizzie's" relationship with the child to whom she sings are doled out bit by bit, verse by verse.  I also love that--unlike 87% of other such songs--this isn't to or about a romantic interest, past or present.  If you've never heard this before, you're in for a treat.  If you have, it's still glorious.

11 September 2009

09 September 2009

Speaking of Idestructable

I don't know if any score has been more parodied and covered than WEST SIDE STORY.  And the thing it, is always works (and is usually funny), because the show (and that score) is so damn good.  So good.  Here MTV has a go at it.  (The fact that I cannot tell you who any of these people are makes me feel old.)

 


And, while we're at it, remember this?

05 September 2009

Shrinergate

On Sun 23-August, it was announced that the upcoming Broadway revival of BYE BYE BIRDIE would cut the act two "Shiner Ballet". (Yes, for those of you not as well versed in musical theater, there is a musical which features an act two "Shriner Ballet".) Gina Gershon was quoted as saying it "felt a little too gang rapey".

Almost immediately the show-queen sector of the internet was a-tizzy. Is a 1960s musical really too "risque" for 2009 audiences? Could Gina Gershon not handle the dance? If high schoolers have been pulling it off for 50 years, why can't Broadway? The "scandal" got to the point where Roundabout (who is presenting the revival) got their PR people to get Playbill to run an article in which Director/Choreographer Robert Longbottom details what is changing for the revival and why. Apparently (though conspiracy theorists may not "buy it"), the cut was made for dramaturgical reasons (i.e. there actually is no reason for a musical to feature an act two "Shriner Ballet"), and not a lack of talent or imagination. From the article it does seem like this is a fairly thoughtful production of BYE BYE BIRDIE. Will it be fun? That remains to be seen. But I am willing to let it open before passing judgment.

What Shinergate revealed was the big ol' bullseye on BIRDIE's back. Critics of the revival that hasn't happened yet have commented that the book is old fashioned and creaky, as a means of illustrating why the show is unfit for a 2009 Broadway production. Yet these same critics suddenly think Gower Champion helmed WEST SIDE STORY the minute a five minute dance routine gets the ax in order to make the show feel less dated. Though 5 days away from first preview, but BIRDIE's reviews have already been written.



SPIDERMAN, TURN OFF THE DARK, which isn't even really in rehearsal yet, seems doomed for a similar fate. Though no one has seen anything of the show (and those who have heard a bit of the music seem to think that its okay) it is ruthlessly villainized in the press because of its alleged $45mil price-tag and its temporary shut-down as more funds were raised. Since when was being expensive a crime? Or having difficulty raising money? And why, as people seemingly invested in the growth of the American Theater--both artistically and in terms of relevance--are we so quick to attack anything that theoretically (because we are judging based only on what we hear might be the case) exists outside of our arbitrary guidelines for what is and is not acceptable? Everyone has the right to one's opinion, but shouldn't the show be finished before it is judged? If we want interesting new work geared towards intelligent and adventurous audiences, we need to be genuintely open minded and adventurous, even if that means potentially liking Gina Gershon as a shrinerless Rosie.

01 September 2009

A Great Song is Indestructable

Remember the mid-90s, when we thought it was fun was to have punk-ish girl bands (like Letters to Cleo) cover showtunes in commercials? (I distinctly remember versions of "I Feel Pretty" and "Thank Heaven for Little Girls"). What these advertisments ultimately proved to me is that some theater songs are simply indestructible.

The primary goal of a song should be to service the show it's in. But there should be a certain double consciousness of theater music. Theater music used to be pop music, and before OKLAHOMA the shows were just frothy excuses to produce hit "singles"; long-form music videos. Post-OKLAHOMA, the disparate elements of a musical had to work for a common purpose, telling a single story or exploring a single theme. Even if a theater song of today is not (most likely) going to be a "pop" single (which is no one's fault, industries change, Ethan Mordden: please relax), there is the need for songs to serve the show but also stand alone outside of the show. Not every song in every show. And some may argue stand-alone songs are not necessary or even appropriate at all. But for a show to permeate, it needs a single musical moment you can remember and reproduce. A song you can play for someone--or perform on The View--that will endear the listener to its parent show. Quickly. A "single". And these "singles" are the most likely to be "indestructible".

So what does an "indestructible" theater song have? A clear idea and structure. The clear idea is usually summed up in the following equation: Title + why? = What the Song is About. "I Feel Pretty". She sure does feel pretty. Why? Because she's in love with a pretty wonderful boy. "I Miss the Mountains". Why? Because those meds are fucking her up. The structure gives the lyric and the melody a shape and processes the information for you so you, the listener, absorb it quickly and remember it.

Here is a truly fabulous, "indestructible" song. Liza Minelli and The Pet Shop Boys performing "Losing My Mind" from FOLLIES. The craft of Sondheim's song is basically perfect, moving through the singer's day ("The sun comes up", "the coffee cup", "all afternoon", "I dim the lights") putting a slight twist on the 'Why' ("you said you loved me, or where you just being kind?") at the end. Suddenly it goes from a song of someone who loved and lost to someone who may have been in a one-sided love the whole time. Of course, the Pet Shop Boys version doesn't really play on the deeper subtext of the show. But the song still works. Because it is indestructible.

27 August 2009

RAGTIME Revival

I'm fairly excited (if skeptical) about the upcomming revival of RAGTIME. I want to hold off extenstive commenting on it for the moment, but I will share their new print design, which is awesome.

22 August 2009

The NIGHT MUSIC that almost was


A while back I began to play "Who's going to be who in the A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC REVIVAL?"

Well, according to Michael Reidel in the NY Post (an unconfirmed source who nonetheless doesn't often go to press with mere whimsy) not only is it looking increasingly likely that Angela freakin' Lansbury going to be Mme. Armfeldt, but Catherine Zeta Jones (Douglas) will star as the fading flower Desiree. CZJ did have a reasonably extensive musical theater career in the West End prior to becoming a movie star/Michael Douglas' wife/T Mobile's biotch, so I am not all that upset the role may go to her over one of Broadway's leading ladies. And if Angela Lansbury is in it, most things are right with the world.

In light of this casting news, I thought I'd share a story about the NIGHT MUSIC that almost was. This came to me directly from none other than Harold Prince. (I wrote him a letter saying "I want to meet you." He met with me. Real nice.) Here, with some artistic license (as in, I'm trying to recount I conversation I had 3 years ago), is the story.

ME: So I Just got back from working at Barring Stage Company for the summer.
MR PRINCE: Oh, what did they do?
ME: Typical summer stock stuff. The Human Comedy, Wonder of the World, and Ring Round the Moon.
MR PRINCE: That's not typical at all. [ed. He's right.] That's most unusual. You know, A Little Night Music was almost based on Ring Round the Moon.
ME: That's funny. Because I was thinking it would make a great musical, but when I told my roommate he said, "What would they sing about, how they're not in A Little Night Music"?
MR PRINCE (sagely): That's funny.
ME: So what happened?
MR PRINCE: We knew we wanted to do a romantic comedy, and we wanted people running through lots of doors. [ed. The only production of NIGHT MUSIC I've seen had no doors.] So we looked at Ring Round the Moon and Smiles of a Summer Night. I wrote Jean Anouilh about procuring the rights for Ring..., and he kept avoiding me. But I kept at it. Finally he said he was interested and told me to meet him, so Steve [ed. as in Sondheim] and I flew out to Paris to meet him only to find out he had just left the country. I didn't appreciate being jerked around, so we went with the Bergman film.
ME: Fascinating.
MR PRINCE: Anything else you want to ask me?
ME: Yeah. Why did you do all those musicals with Larry Grossman?

[ed. Yes, I am the dumb/smart ass who asked the esteemed Hal Prince why he wrote so many flop musicals in the 80s with the same guy. For the record, the answer, in short, was that he really likes "Mama, a Rainbow".]

In the end, I think the world of theater is a better place because Jean Anouilh was kind of a dick. Ring Round the Moon is fun because it requires its male lead to play twins. Madcap hilarity ensues. But there's a lot more philosophy about economics and less romance. And the show would've been all about Len Cariou with no real equivalent to Desiree. There is an old lady in a wheelchair though (played by Carole Shelly at BSC, who would make a fine Armfeldt, should the Lansbury rumors be too good to be true).

20 August 2009

FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST


Immediately prior to leaving my friend's apartment to see FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST, we came--er, stumbled--upon this picture:
from when cast members went to a launch party at Vlada. I'm still not sure if the above boys were actually in the show I saw, but the point is, I saw this picture with the understanding that it related to the show I was about to see, and said "ohhh, this is going to be so trashy!"

Trashy, in this context, was a good thing. After all, FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST is a new musical in the NYC Fringe about a bathhouse in the 1970s. If what I saw at the Cherry Lane, was more camp than trash, silly rather than seedy, it was always likable and often winning.

FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST concerns the sexually repressed Charlie (played by Ben Knox who also pulled a Meredith Wilson, penning book, music and lyrics), his sexually frustrated wife (an appealing Kristy Cates), their two children (son aspires to be a lady, daughter aspires to be a tramp), a lascivious and homophobic priest (Marty Thomas) and a pair of down on their luck bath house operators. All of these characters are drawn--in equal measure by Knox's writing, the wildly enthusiastic cast and director Holly-Anne Ruggiero--in broad deliberate strokes, as if in a melodrama. No one ends up tied to train tracks, but if they were, I wouldn't have been phased. Such broad playing really pays off in numbers like the deliciously decadent, Kander/Ebb-esque "Get What You Want" and the surprisingly musically accomplished trio "Daddy's Left Us". But for a show that seems so eager to "go there", it frequently stops short, aiming for naughty while settling for something brash but easy.

Special attention should be given to the designers, particularly the glossy, functional and clean faux tile-walled set by Michael P. Kramer and the spot on, if-she-was-on-a-tight-budget-it-didn't-show, costumes by Emily Deangelis.

3 performances remain, so check out their website for show dates/times and ticket information.