Review - The Broadway Musicals of 1987 & Zarkana
The words, "Once upon a time...," were followed by that familiar Sondheim vamp, and Danielle Ferland skipped onto the stage just as she had 25 years ago as the original Little Red Riding Hood in Into The Woods. Sure enough, there was a wolf there to greet her, but instead of encountering Granny, The Baker's Wife and The Witch, Little Red found herself in a forest inhabited by a young French revolutionary, an elderly Holocaust survivor, a roller-skating duo and a former President of The United States.
The 1987 edition of Town Hall's Broadway By The Year closed out Scott Siegel's 12th season of concerts presenting a year-by-year analysis of Broadway's songs, placing them in both historical and theatrical context. This was a year dominated by two musicals in particular, and naturally they dominated the evening's program.
Aside from having Ferland on hand to present her more mature performances of "I Know Things Now" and "No One Is Alone," Kerry O'Malley brought back memories of her stint as The Baker's Wife in the 2002 Into The Woods revival with "Moments In The Woods" and Marc Kudisch (who directed the concert) and Jeffrey Denman lent their robust voices and clowning skills to the princely duet, "Agony."
Les Miserables was the year's major blockbuster and with the newly formed Broadway By The Year Chorus - made up of recent college and music school graduates under the leadership of Scott Coulter - stirring renditions of full choral pieces like "One Day More" and "Do You Hear The People Sing?" were able to be included. There was superior dramatic solo work provided by O'Malley ("I Dreamed A Dream"), Kudisch ("Stars"), Ron Bohmer ("Bring Him Home") and Janine DiVita ("On My Own").
While the songs from Stardust certainly weren't new in 1987, that revue of the lyrics of Mitchell Parish was, allowing for the inclusion of standards like "Moonlight Serenade" (romantically sung and danced by Denman and DiVita), "Volare" (Kudisch camping a mock seduction with the female ensemble) and the show's title song, sung with airy tenderness by Coulter. The novelty number, "Syncopated Clock," better known as the theme to television's The Late Show, was an amusing instrumental for Ross Patterson's Little Big Band.
The underappreciated Teddy and Alice, about President Roosevelt's stormy relationship with his strong-willed daughter, was represented grandly by Bohmer's "Can I Let Her Go?," a sentimental ballad whose melody is an soft rendering of John Phillip Sousa's "Washington Post March." And though Roza had its troubles on Broadway, O'Mally's hearty "Happiness Is" demonstrated the score at its best.
Stepping Out was a play about an amateur dance class and Denman, joined by Anna White and Kelley Sheehan, displayed some snazzy tapping in its title song.
At one point during the evening, Siegel referred to O'Malley, Denman and Kudisch as three of the finest entertainers you'll see on New York's stages. While Broadway audiences frequently pack theatres to see lesser-skilled celebrities try their hands at starring in Broadway musicals, for 12 years the Broadway By The Year series has been showcasing some of the highest caliber performers you'll find in the demanding field of musical theatre.
Does anybody ever really pay attention to the plots of Cirque du Soleil productions? Or the songs? Sure, their collection of world-class jugglers, balancers, acrobats and daredevils always provide eye-popping and gasp-inducing entertainment, but all too often the evening is loaded down with attempts to connect everything with some convoluted story about a search for serenity or world peace or whatever.
Last year's 2-act extravaganza, Zarkana, has returned to Radio City Music Hall just in time to push the Tony Awards to the Beacon Theatre once more and, thankfully, the storytelling aspect of writer/director Francois Girard's "surreal acrobatic spectacle" - something about a magician, his lost love and a doggy duo named Hocus and Pocus - has been trimmed down considerably, allowing the show to clock in at a slick and entertaining 90 minutes. Even the bland English lyrics of the songs have been exorcised, replaced with a made-up language called "Cirquish," which seems to emphasize dramatic vowel sounds.
But nothing upstages the troupe of aerialists, trapeze flyers and high-wire balancers when they let loose. A more meditative feature, and a real showstopper, is artist Erika Chen, who works from a glass table above a video camera so that the audience sees a projection of her swift hands creating ever-evolving portraits and scenes out of blue sand. Her time on stage is serenely captivating. Hand balancer Anatoly Zalevskiy wears a midriff-baring outfit that makes lovers of the male physique swoon and displays body-bending skills that no doubt set a few fantasies in motion.
But the most eye-popping act on display is Carlos Marin and Junior Delgado seriously seeming to risk their lives on the appropriately named Wheel of Death; two circular cages placed on opposite ends of spokes which spin on an axis thirty feet above the ground. The boys are continually in motion as they pop inside and outside the wheels even skipping rope while in perpetual motion. When finished, they take their bows like they're the most macho guys in town and I, for one, wouldn't argue the point.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel, Richard Termine: Top: Erika Chen Bottom: Wheel of Death.