Showtime!

Showtime! features reviews, commentary and assorted theatrical musings from Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld.com's Chief Theatre Critic. To submit amusing backstage banter, absurd audience observations or noteworthy links to Showtime!, click here. Anonymity's guaranteed. My not taking credit for your clever remark isn't. Subscribe to RSS Feed



Try To Remember... The New Ending!

No spoilers here, but after 54 years Tom Jones has changed the final spoken line of The Fantasticks.

 

It's not unusual for the musical's bookwriter/lyricist to do some occasional tinkering to his script.  Most famously, the lyric to "It Depends On What You Pay" was revised to remove the numerous repeating of the word "rape."  Jones had meant the word to refer to a literary abduction, as in The Rape of The Sabine Women, but as contemporary audiences grew less comfortable with the word, he felt a change was necessary to make his intention clear.

 

Visitors to the current mounting at the Jerry Orbach Theatre have' certainly noticed a few new gags inserted and some bits of dialogue that make the characters' motivations more clear, but this latest change is a big one.  The previous final line was one that plainly stated the theme of the muisical.  The new one completely dismisses that original theme.

 

In any case, The Fantasticks is in absolutely splendid shape.  If you haven't treated yourself to this intimate treasure lately it's by all means worth a visit.

 

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Posted on: Monday, September 01, 2014 @ 01:34 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


The Prison Life of Free Women

 

Naomi Wallace's intimate drama, And I And Silence, has one of those titles that sends a theatre critic attempting some pre-performance preparation scurrying through the Internet to see if it might be some kind of literary reference.

 

 

Impressively, a Google search results in page upon page of articles about Wallace's play, which was commissioned by a London theatre company to tour prisons, before you get to a couple of links that show the phrase is lifted from Emily Dickenson's poem, "I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain."

 

I'll leave it you, dear readers, to interpret any further connections.

 

Click here for my full review of And I And Silence.

 

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Posted on: Monday, September 01, 2014 @ 01:08 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Poor Behavior, Bland Playwrighting

 

Theresa Rebeck's latest good-looking bad boy that women find irresistible is a smug, condescending pseudo-intellectual with a sexy Irish accent who thinks Americans are stupid and aggressively insists that the word "good" has no meaning.

 

Click here for my full review of Poor Behavior.

 

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Posted on: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 @ 01:28 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Start The Revolution Without Me

When an attempt at musical theatre is as inept and lacking in basic craft as Ivar Pall Jonsson's pitiful stab at allegorical whimsy, Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter, there's really no sense in expending much energy to crank out a full description of the tedious display.
 
Click here for my full review of Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter.
 
 

 

Posted on: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 @ 01:28 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Going For Jocular Over Jugular

 

Two years ago, in the last major production of Jean Genet's The Maids to hit Manhattan, director Jesse Berger played up the voyeuristic aspect of the erotically intimate piece by having the audience view the play by peeping into a lady's boudoir through cut-out holes from all sides of a four-walled set.

 

 

Director Benedict Andrews' new production, a Sydney Theatre Company import taking temporary residence at City Center as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, utilizes a more exhibitionist angle.

 

Click here for my full review of The Maids.

 

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Posted on: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 @ 01:27 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Serpent's Tooth Sharpness

 

A priest performs a ritual with holy water before Shakespeare's text takes over in director Daniel Sullivan's Delacorte production of King Lear, and indeed the ensuing three hours convey the feeling of witnessing a ritual rather than being moved by a great human tragedy.

 

Click here for my full review of King Lear.

 

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Posted on: Saturday, August 09, 2014 @ 12:41 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Waxing Athletically of Icarus

 

Something rare and wonderful happens during the second half of Cirque du Soleil's Varekai, a touring production now making a stop at the Barclays Center. One of the clown routines turns out to actually be funny.

 

If that remark seems unnecessarily sarcastic, please keep in mind that, with all due respect to the undoubtedly talented artists I've witnessed performing clown routines through my years of reviewing their shows, the troupe has never exactly come close to Emmett Kelly territory.

 

Click here for my full review of Varekai.

 

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Posted on: Saturday, August 09, 2014 @ 12:41 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Pathos and Power

 

Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis' knack for crackling, streetwise dialogue and tension-packed drama that glides seamlessly from gripping conflict to realistic hilarity is in fierce evidence in the Atlantic Theatre Company's premiere production of Between Riverside and Crazy.

 

Veteran character man Stephen McKinley Henderson, primarily known to New York audiences for his memorable supporting turns, takes on the central role in director Austin Pendleton's deeply engaging production and delivers a powerful, pathos-filled portrayal of a noble but flawed man who may have taken his fight for justice too far.

 

Click here for my full review of Between Riverside and Crazy.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Saturday, August 09, 2014 @ 12:41 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Showcasing a Legend

 

Like the difference between East Coast Hip Hop and West Coast Hip Hop - which I couldn't explain even if you threatened me with bottom shelf gin - you might say New York theatre drag can be divided between the disciples of Charles Busch's Theatre-in-Limbo and Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company.

 

In contrast to the elegance and RKO Hollywood inspired sophistication of Busch's high drag, the Ludlam school camps in earthier gothic tones that relish what some may deem as grotesque. Since the master of the ridiculous passed on in 1987, his esteemed artistic partner Everett Quinton, the long-time second banana of the duo, has been stepping into the spotlight on occasion, demonstrating his beloved expertise in a theatrical form that desperately needs preservation.

 

Click here for my full review of Drop Dead Perfect.

 

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Posted on: Saturday, August 09, 2014 @ 12:40 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Let The Jukebox Do The Talking

 

Not since a helpful character named Rhonda suddenly popped up in the Beach Boys jukebox musical Good Vibrations has there been such a groan-worthy song cue as the one in Piece of My Heart, where a conveniently named temptress name Candace becomes the target of affection for the guy who wrote "I Want Candy."

 

Click here for my full review of Piece of My Heart.

 

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Posted on: Saturday, August 09, 2014 @ 12:40 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Never Say No?

 

So apparently there was front row breast feeding at tonight's performance of The Fantasticks.

 

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Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 11:34 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Serving Up Twangy Charm

 

New York is a city that constructs cathedrals to classical music, developed a neighborhood for showtunes and is liberally dotted with dives devoted to rock and jazz.

 

But country music? Gotham-based radio stations specializing the genre have rarely gained popularity (In 2013, WNSH-FM became the area's first country music station in 17 years.) and most locals would be hard-pressed to think of a venue that offers a steady diet of it.

 

Click here for my full review of Pump Boys and Dinettes.

 

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Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 06:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Winning For Congeniality

 

I can't quite recall if Pageant was considered especially edgy or unconventional when it first trod upon Gotham boards in 1991. This was, after all, several seasons after La Cage aux Folles pushed musical comedy drag onto mainstream Broadway.

 

Twenty-three years later bookwriter/lyricists Frank Kelly and Bill Russell and composer Alvin Evans' gentle spoofing of beauty crowns and the women who compete for them is probably exactly what most 21st Century playgoers would expect to find when attending a drag show beauty pageant. The smarmy host, the campy jokes, the light sexual innuendo, the questionable displays of talent and, of course, the parade of well-sculpted males looking fabu and feminine in a parade evening gowns, swimsuits and sporty wear are all included.

 

Click here for my full review of Pageant.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 06:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Giving a Worthy Subject The Short Shrift

 

"Rape is rape," goes the recent motto, but for much of his new drama first-time playwright Robert Boswell asks the audience to consider if a rape has occurred when a lack of communication leaves two legal adults with completely different beliefs regarding the mutual consent of their sexual encounter.

 

Click here for my full review of The Long Shrift.

 

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Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 06:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


More Concert Than Musical Theatre

 

Not very far into Randy Newman's Faust, God complains to Lucifer how his "stupid old shuffle songs" sound "always the same."

 

It's a cute little joke at that point in the show but by the second act his word can be taken as gospel.

 

Click here for my full review of Faust.

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 06:12 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


World Cup

 

Wow, that's the first thing this summer that Audra McDonald didn't win.

 

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Posted on: Sunday, July 13, 2014 @ 06:39 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


A Brief Appreciation for John Dickinson

 

"My conduct, this day, I expect will give the finishing blow to my once too great, and my integrity considered now, too diminished popularity. It will be my lot to know that I had rather vote away the enjoyment of that dazzling display, that pleasing possession, than the blood and happiness of my countrymen—too fortunate, amidst their calamities, if I prove a truth known in Heaven, that I had rather they should hate me than that I should hurt them. I might indeed, practice an artful, an advantageous reserve upon this occasion, but thinking as I do on the subject of debate, silence would be guilt." – John Dickinson, before congress, on his refusal to vote for independence, July 1, 1776

 

While the rest of the country celebrates Independence Day with barbeques and fireworks, musical theatre lovers like me will gather around their television sets for the traditional viewing of what I and many others call the finest film ever made from a Broadway musical, 1776.

 

 Movie lovers hate this one because it's so stagy, but that's exactly what I love about it. With Broadway director Peter Hunt serving the same duties behind the camera and bookwriter Peter Stone adapting his work and Sherman Edward's score for the screen, plus a congress of stage actors, many of them repeating roles they originated on Broadway, 1776 comes about as close as you can get to recreating the live theatre experience on film without simply sticking a camera in row G center orchestra.

 

But while 1776 is often cited as having one of, if not the best book ever written for a musical (everyone knows the story will end with congress voting for independence and yet Stone brilliantly makes you wonder how the devil its going to happen), I'd like to take a moment to address a gross historical inaccuracy. One that makes a villain out of a true American hero. I'm talking about the musical's depiction of the delegate from the colony of Pennsylvania, Mr. John Dickinson.

 

While the authors paint Dickinson, especially memorable in Donald Madden's film portrayal, as a sneering elitist man of property who objects to independence for fear of the harm it may cause his personal economy, the actual John Dickinson is remembered by historians as one of the great heroes of the revolution. But what separates him from the other famous founding fathers is that, married to a devout Quaker and influenced by the practices of that society for most of his life, Dickinson was a pacifist. Oh sure, he once got into a fight in the middle of Pennsylvania's general assembly during a particularly spirited debate and he did recognize that circumstances may sometimes dictate war as a means of defense, but when Stone has the character calling for "a gentler means of resolving our grievances than revolution" it accurately conveys the man's passionate belief in diplomacy and non-violence as means of settling disputes. (Though when Stone has Dickinson derogatorily calling John Adams, "Lawyer!" it doesn't make much sense since he was one himself.)

 

The musical has Adams saying Thomas Jefferson writes "ten times better than any man in congress," but in actuality it's John Dickinson who was known as "The Penman of the Revolution." His 12-part essay, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies, was considered a major influence in convincing colonists to unite against Parliament's taxes levied by the Townshend Acts, and so impressed Benjamin Franklin that he published it for distribution in England.

 

In the musical, when John Adams pressures Thomas Jefferson into writing the Declaration of Independence by quoting his work in the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, he is actually repeating the words of John Dickinson. Though congress gave Jefferson the first crack at drafting the document meant to explain to the world why blood was being spilled between colonists and the army of their mother country, his version was considered too forceful, so Dickinson was asked to write a new version using softer language. It was he who penned, "…the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves." (Did Stone just mess up here or was he perhaps having Adams playing a mind game with Jefferson? No, I think he just messed up.)

 

(Oh, and speaking of slaves, Dickinson was the only founding father to free all of his slaves in his own lifetime, beginning the expensive legal process in 1777.)

 

Jefferson also wrote the first draft of the Olive Branch Petition in 1775; a letter directed to King George III stating that the colonies favor reconciliation over revolution but again Dickinson was brought in to make revisions. And while Jefferson was busy scribbling his parchment with what would become the Declaration of Independence, Dickinson was assigned, at the same time, to head the committee that would write the Articles of Confederation, reasoning that the colonies couldn't declare anything as a whole without an outline for how they would unite.

 

When the declaration was debated and accepted, John Dickinson stood quietly in the back and refused to vote. He could see the inevitable, but stood by his convictions and was the only member of congress to not sign. Many considered him a traitor for his inaction while others admired his courage in sticking with his unpopular beliefs.

 

When the musical's Hancock remarks that they are about to "brave the storm on a skiff made of paper" he is actually quoting Dickinson's argument against sending his ill-prepared countrymen to fight against what was then the world's greatest army.

 

Dickinson did serve briefly in the Continental Army and was a member of the Constitutional Convention, putting his writing skills to further patriotic use by authoring a series of letters, under the penname "Fabius," calling for ratification.

 

Perhaps 1776 would not have grabbed audiences so strongly if the main conflict was between the rebellious John Adams and an eloquent proponent of non-violence who was working hard to help his country through diplomacy. Sometimes people like having good guys and bad guys clearly defined for them. Nevertheless, on the day when we honor American patriots, let's not forget those who strived to win battles with words instead of guns.

 

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Posted on: Friday, July 04, 2014 @ 12:28 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Roaring With Irresistible Charm

 

The irresistible charm of Benjamin Scheuer and his one-man musical, The Lion, tickles you right from the start, as the guitar playing vocalist sings a catchy folk tune about how, when he was a kid, his father instilled in him a life-long love of music by building him a "cookie-tin banjo" with rubber band strings and a strap made from an old necktie.

 

Click here for my full review of The Lion.

 

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Posted on: Monday, June 30, 2014 @ 12:30 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


30/90 in 1991

 
On this weekend when tick, tick... BOOM! is playing at City Center, let's take a look at Jonathan Larson when he was performing the show himself back in 1991 at The Village Gate.
 
 
(And yes, that's Roger Bart providing backup vocals.)
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Posted on: Saturday, June 28, 2014 @ 06:22 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Too Good For Obscurity

 

You might say that Jonathan Larson's richly emotional and incisive tick, tick... BOOM! started as a protest musical.

 

Frustrated that his much-admired Richard Rodgers Award-winning musical Superbia was said to be too unconventional for Broadway and too big to produce Off-Broadway, the ever-emerging bookwriter/composer/lyricist decided to make his next project a one-man musical.

 

Click here for my full review of tick, tick... BOOM!

 

Click here to follow Michael Dale on Twitter.

 

Posted on: Saturday, June 28, 2014 @ 04:21 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


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About Michael: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they've had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.