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Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 1/6/13 & Theatre Quote of the Week


 

"Valjean serves nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread; a punishment that he regards as unjust, though in fact it reflects well on the status of French baking." -- Anthony Lane

The grosses are out for the week ending 1/6/2013 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: THE OTHER PLACE (15.8%), GRACE (8.8%), PICNIC (4.4%), WAR HORSE(1.6%),

Down for the week was: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-14.7%), GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (-11.1%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-10.4%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (-9.9%), CHICAGO (-9.4%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-8.8%), MARY POPPINS (-8.1%), GOLDEN BOY (-7.2%), CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (-6.7%), MAMMA MIA! (-5.7%), ELF (-5.3%), ANNIE (-4.7%), THE HEIRESS (-4.1%), ROCK OF AGES (-3.1%), DEAD ACCOUNTS (-3.1%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-3.1%), JERSEY BOYS (-2.7%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (-1.8%), CHAPLIN (-1.3%), WICKED (-0.4%), NEWSIES (-0.3%), EVITA (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, January 07, 2013 @ 03:41 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Marilyn Maye & Golden Boy

If you have a hankering to see a room full of grown-ups acting like those teenagers watching The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, then get thee to The Metropolitan Room, where Marilyn Maye is doing her traditional job of knocking ‘em dead.

Back in the 60s, when The Fab Four ruled the airwaves, Maye was an emerging saloon singer in an era when saloon singing was going out of style.  (She lost the 1966 Best New Artist Grammy to Tom Jones.)  Rediscovered by New York’s 21st Century nightlife crowd, her flexible, clarion vocals – remarkably preserved by good health and good genes – are paired with nearly 85 years worth of lyric-interpreting savvy, making for thrilling renditions of American Songbook standards we’ve heard a million times before.  Johnny Carson, after one of her 76 Tonight Show appearances, once looked in the camera and advised young singers watching at home to buy her albums if they want to learn “how it’s done.”  Nowadays, cabaret performers of all ages know to check out her live performances to see how that’s done, too.

As is becoming her habit, Maye opens the new year with an engagement titled Marilyn By Request, where guests may request favorite songs of hers as they make their reservations, requiring the vocalist and her top-shelf ensemble (Ted Hubbard on bass, Warren Odze on percussion and her music director, the sublime Billy Stritch on piano) to whip up a new set for each show.

For newcomers to the Marilyn Maye experience who may not know what to request, may I humbly make a few suggestions?  First and foremost, you should physically block the exit and refuse to let her leave without performing Elisse Boyd and Murray Grand’s, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” a heartbreaking number she makes all the more crushing with her light conversational tone.

And while the hit song from Golden Rainbow was “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” Maye takes jazzy flight with the show’s title song, embellishing the tune with a vocal dexterity that enhances its clubby drive.  And speaking of Broadway title songs, it was Marilyn Maye who first had a hit single with “Cabaret” before the musical hit Broadway.  It’s well worth a listen, along with the title tune from Sherry!, which wasn’t a success on Broadway despite the popularity of her single.

I can’t name anyone with such a unique approach to Stephen Sondheim's survivalist anthem, "I'm Still Here"; done by Maye with the relaxed satisfaction of a woman who won't have any regrets about anything that led up to where she is now.  And for a divine introspective monologue, I recommend her subtle approach to Billy Barnes’ “Something Cool.”

One song you won’t have to request is her traditional finale, Jerry Herman’s “It’s Today,” always sung with a delightful exuberance.  It’s such an appropriate signature tune for her because, unlike just about any performer in her age range, a Marilyn Maye performance is not about nostalgia for what she once could do.  Maye is all about the here and now and she’s still showing them how it’s done.

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Director Bartlett Sher, who struck gold with his enchanting 2006 mounting of Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing!, now takes on the playwright’s boxing drama, Golden Boy.  And while the production may not score a decisive knockout, it does respectfully go the distance.

A great success for The Group Theater when it premiered in 1937, Golden Boy tells the story of aspiring young violinist Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich) the son of an Italian immigrant fruit peddler (Tony Shalhoub).  Attempting to pick up some cash to support his music career, Joe discovers a knack for boxing.  Not an imposing physical specimen, he becomes what is known in the game as a scientific fighter, out-maneuvering and out-strategizing his opponents while protecting his artistic hands.  But quick pugilistic success, and the money that comes with it, threatens to win over Joe’s heart, despite his father’s belief that his son can one day serve humanity more nobly through music.

The gray and gritty visuals realized by Michael Yeargan’s sets and Donald Holder’s lighting bring to mind the naturalistic impressions of urban life by early 20th Century painter George Bellows, but they also tend to blur the actors’ connections with the audience from the back of the house, hiding their performances in shadowy images.  This is less of a problem in the boxing scenes, where the solid performances by Yvonne Strahovski as the hard-boiled, leggy blonde, Anthony Crivello as the flashy promoter and Danny Burstein as the good-guy trainer enhance Odets’ colorful jargon.

But despite the presence of the fine Shalhoub, the scenes of Joe’s home life tend to drag deep into the play’s three act, three hour length.  And while Numrich is empathetic enough, he doesn’t carry the production as passionately as the role demands.

Some good hits throughout the bout, but this Golden Boy is a split decision at best. 

Photo of Seth Numrich and Danny Burstein by Paul Kolnik.

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Posted on: Monday, January 07, 2013 @ 02:15 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 12/30/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"Mother wasn't pushy enough or I'd be a big star by this time."

-- Marilyn Maye

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 12/30/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (34.6%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (27.7%), EVITA (27.4%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (24.0%), CHAPLIN (23.6%), CHICAGO (21.9%), MARY POPPINS (21.5%), MAMMA MIA! (20.7%), JERSEY BOYS (16.4%), ANNIE (15.1%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (14.5%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (14.3%), GRACE (13.0%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (12.7%), DEAD ACCOUNTS (9.9%), GOLDEN BOY (9.2%), NEWSIES (8.0%), WICKED (7.2%), ROCK OF AGES (5.5%), THE HEIRESS (4.4%), GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (4.0%), A CHRISTMAS STORY (3.9%), ONCE (3.3%), ELF (2.1%), THE OTHER PLACE (1.0%), WAR HORSE (0.4%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?(0.4%),

Down for the week was: PICNIC (-4.4%), CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (-3.0%),

Posted on: Wednesday, January 02, 2013 @ 10:25 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


The Holiday Guys & Dead Accounts

Even if the names Marc Kudisch and Jeffrey Denman are as foreign to you as the middle monikers of the three wise men, there’s a wonderful familiarity to their on-stage personas as The Holiday Guys.  It’s the kind of relaxed, off-the-cuff give and take that’s been enjoyed for generations, whether packaged as Hope and Crosby, Allen and Rossi or Brooks and Reiner.

Kudisch, the powerfully-voiced, square-jawed baritone, is known to musical theatre audiences as the kind of actor who excels at both serious leading man roles and the kind that spoof his hunky looks.  Denman is the kind of classic Broadway song and dance man who recalls a time of crowded supper clubs and art deco glitz.

Their two-man seasonal vehicle, Happy Merry Hanu-Mas, has the feel of an intimate television special from back in the days when Broadway performers were a beloved part of American popular culture and coast-to-coast televised visits with them had families anxiously gathered around the tube.

Actually, television figures rather prominently in their song list, which includes memories from A Charlie Brown Christmas, the stop motion animated Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and the more recent South Park.  And you’ll probably detect a bit of Oscar and Felix in the guys’ holiday personas; Kudisch as the casually-clad Jewish lug with a frat boy attitude gulping refreshment from a stein and Denman as the nattily dressed fastidious WASP reviving himself with sips from a proper cocktail tumbler.  Music Director Timothy Splain leads the band from an upstage corner of James Morgan’s festively trimmed living room set.

Working without a credited director and apparently self-scripted, the “plot” of the 90-minute entertainment concerns whether or not Kudisch can convince Denman to stop worrying about the rehearsed program and just kick back and do what feels right.  The result is a quirky mixture of traditionally-presented favorites like “The Christmas Song” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and fun variations like a Caribbean-flavored “Holly Jolly Christmas,” a jazz-tap arrangement of The Nutcracker and a challenge sing-off of “O Hanukkah” and “O Christmas Tree.”

Lucky audience members win gently used presents in the show’s “re-gifting” segments and there’s even a spot for a guest star (Michael Riedel the night I attended) to give a dramatic reading of Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas while the boys embellish the mood with radio-style sound effects.

Photos of Marc Kudisch and Jeffry Denman by Carol Rosegg.

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In these days when national budgets lay imbalanced by trillions of dollars, it’s rather easy to think of astronomical amounts of currency as little more than figures on a computer screen that have no physical existence.  At least, that’s the justification the protagonist of Theresa Rebeck's Dead Accounts claims in defense of his get rich reasonably quick scheme.

Norbert Leo Butz, using the same kind of frenetic energy that won him Tonys for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me If You Can (Jack O'Brien, who directed those two ventures, also helms this mounting.), carries much of the evening on his talented shoulders as Jack, a lower rung New York bank employee who has been slowly liquidating inactive accounts of deceased clients whose beneficiaries seem to be unaware of their existence.  The millions he’s acquired, he reasons, belong to nobody and just clog up the bank’s records.

A surprise visit to his mother’s (Jayne Houdyshell, wasted on bland material) Cincinnati home sees him wildly splurging on ice cream and take-out pizza, baffling his sister Lorna (Katie Holmes).  So little happens in the first act that three lines into the second act the entire first half of the play becomes superfluous.  The dialogue flutters about between childhood memories, discussions of ethics and a few anti-New York zingers.  Trees (The kind that money doesn’t grow on?) also figure prominently in Rebeck’s text and, eventually, David Rockwell’s kitchen set.

O’Brien keeps his star on the move with the ensemble generally hot on his trail.  Josh Hamilton, as Jack’s affable buddy with a secret crush on Lorna and Judy Greer, as Jack’s snooty wife trying to maneuver the most financially advantageous way to end their marriage, make fine impressions in underwritten roles.

Holmes has improved somewhat since making her professional stage acting debut four years ago in the Broadway revival of All My Sons – she’s audible this time – but as a stage actor her ability to generate ticket sales through her celebrity remain her most valuable asset.

Photo of Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holes by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Sunday, December 30, 2012 @ 02:03 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 12/23/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

“You can only close if you opened.”

-- August Wilson

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 12/23/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (15.2%), CHICAGO (14.9%), MAMMA MIA! (14.2%), MARY POPPINS (13.8%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (12.1%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (9.5%), WAR HORSE (6.9%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (3.0%), THE LION KING (2.8%), NEWSIES (1.7%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (1.7%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1.6%), CHAPLIN (0.9%), EVITA (0.3%), ROCK OF AGES(0.2%),

Down for the week was: NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-13.3%), GOLDEN BOY (-6.5%), DEAD ACCOUNTS (-6.0%), PICNIC (-5.9%), GRACE (-5.7%), THE HEIRESS (-5.4%), JERSEY BOYS (-5.3%), A CHRISTMAS STORY (-5.1%), ELF (-4.7%), ANNIE (-4.4%), GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (-1.8%), THE OTHER PLACE (-0.5%), ONCE (-0.3%), WICKED (-0.2%),

Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 @ 06:40 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


The Great God Pan

The subjectivity of the truth appears to be a running theme in the intriguing work of young playwright, Amy Herzog, who follows the recent success of After The Revolution and 4,000 Miles with a moving drama, The Great God Pan.

With a title taken from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem about the woodland god who must destroy before he creates and multiple settings represented by Mark Wendland's impressionistic unit set of leafy camouflage, Herzog's drama is a series of short, intimate scenes, mostly involving emerging Brooklyn journalist Jamie (Jeremy Strong), who, as the play begins, is reunited with childhood friend Frank (Keith Nobbs) who is collecting evidence in order to file criminal charges.  Frank says that his father molested him when he was a boy and believes he did the same to Jamie.

Though Jamie has no memory of such a thing, his long-time girlfriend Paige (Sarah Goldberg) suspects that if it did happen it might explain his recent bout with sexual dysfunction, his disinterest in getting married and his general lack of emotional communication.  Jamie's quest for truth-revealing clues leads him to encounters with his suburban parents (Becky Ann Baker and Peter Friedman) and his childhood babysitter (Joyce Van Patten), whose memory is fading from senility.

Director Carolyn Cantor's ensemble is excellent, as the playwright introduces small revelations that might make Jamie question whether or not he's better off being ignorant.  The only scenes not involving him reveal details about Paige, a former dancer turned nutrition counselor, by showing her sessions with an anorectic client (Erin Wilhelmi).

While Herzog denies us a traditionally satisfying conclusion, her astute talent for dialogue and gentle dramatics allow for convincingly subtle moments.  This is a quiet drama with understated, but potent, impact.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Jeremy Strong and Sarah Goldberg; Bottom: Sarah Goldberg and Erin Wilhelmi.

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Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 @ 03:33 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


A Chanukah Charol

It’s a rare performer that can generate so much affection from an audience by regarding them with unrestrained contempt, but Jackie Hoffman has cultivated a unique niche for herself in New York’s lengthy history of comic actors who partner with their Jewish heritage acting as straight man.

Since making her Broadway debut in Hairspray in a role that allowed her one ad-libbed line per performance, Hoffman’s fans have delighted in seeing her acidic personality seep through the parts she plays.  Her broad-stroked musical comedy performances are delivered with the kind of stage moxie associated with old-school Jewish female stars like Fanny Brice, but when she takes her act to the nightclub stages, that energy is served steeped in the post-Portnoy neurosis that became prevalent once Woody Allen became the Upper West Side’s poster boy for Hebrew humor.  As she puts it in A Chanukah Charol, which returns to New World Stages for a limited holiday run, “I’m the self-hating Jew that other self-hating Jews hate.”

Scowling at the patrons with a look that says she’d much rather be taking a prescription drug-induced nap than entertaining them, Hoffman begins with a stern and rumbling impersonation of Patrick Stewart, who, to those who don't give a damn about science fiction or Shakespeare, is best known for his one-man Broadway performances of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

If you were in a sentimental holiday mood, you might call A Chanukah Charol (which was directed and co-authored by Michael Schiarilli) a self-exploration where the comic learns to shed the cantankerous image that has made her solo appearances so outrageously funny.  But no, she remains kvetchier than ever, spending a generous analyst's hour hilariously recounting the smashed dreams of stardom that have plagued her life.

As narrated by Stewart, the tale is far more Broadway than Dickens; the set-up having Jackie Hoffman spending another Chanukah away from the family, preferring to be in the spotlight at a "synagig" at Temple Beth Shalom in Queens. But an inattentive audience frustrates her into walking off the stage and into her dressing room (the rabbi's office) where she laments the notion that her ethnic looks are holding her back. ("I've done three big Broadway musicals, accumulating twelve total minutes of stage time!") When she pities herself for merely being "a Jewish star," the ghost of Molly Picon appears from the label of a Manischewitz bottle, warning her to expect visits from three spirits who will show her the error of her self-loathing.

Though Shelley Winters makes an appearance as a potty-mouthed ghost of Chanukah present, the characters Hoffman dives into either come from her past (her traditional Jewish mother who takes pleasure in overfeeding her family) or from her and Schiarilli's particularly nasty imagination; a disabled Pinkberry delivery boy named Tiny Kim and a young Chasidic lad she instructs to buy her a giant bottle of generic Ambien displayed in a drug store window. ("The one that's as big as me?")

Though she laments, “I have Martha Raye mojo in a world where NeNe Leakes is on two series!,” we do get a peek at Hoffman's future success as the star of an exceedingly inappropriate reality television show; a moment that, if you care to read something deeper into it, provides an interesting commentary on how the innocence of ethnic humor from a hundred years ago has drastically evolved.

Photo of Jackie Hoffman by Carol Rosegg.

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Posted on: Thursday, December 20, 2012 @ 06:21 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 12/16/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words."
-- Sanford Meisner

The grosses are out for the week ending 12/16/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (11.6%), A CHRISTMAS STORY (3.9%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (3.5%), ANNIE (3.3%), WICKED (2.9%), GOLDEN BOY (2.6%), GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (2.3%), ELF (2.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1.5%), GRACE(0.3%),

Down for the week was: DEAD ACCOUNTS (-15.0%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (-9.9%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-9.3%), THE HEIRESS (-9.2%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-8.6%), MAMMA MIA! (-7.4%), THE ANARCHIST (-7.3%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-6.4%), CHICAGO (-6.0%), MARY POPPINS (-5.9%), EVITA (-4.4%), JERSEY BOYS (-3.6%), WAR HORSE (-3.0%), CHAPLIN (-2.0%), NEWSIES (-1.5%), ONCE (-1.1%), THE LION KING (-0.9%), ROCK OF AGES (-0.8%),

Posted on: Monday, December 17, 2012 @ 03:27 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


The Anarchist

It feels like familiar territory as soon as the lights go up on two people, mid-conversation, speaking in that jaunty rhythm of clipped communication; those overlapping thoughts and unfinished sentences where you can sense every dot of each ellipsis.

It’s the kind of conversation best exemplified by the movie executives of Speed-the-Plow or the real estate agents of Glengarry Glen Ross.  What’s missing, though, are the four-letter words such rhythms traditionally orchestrate.  One reason might be because of the situation that brings the characters together.  Another is that, for the first time, David Mamet has written in that style for two women.

The Anarchist, which Mamet also directs, is a taught, verbal and tense seventy-minute play that, in this premiere production, barely moves physically, but keeps jabbing at the ear with its drops of information that the viewer must piece together to eventually understand the whole back-story and where the plot is going.  As in Oleanna, we never see the two characters without each other so what is truth and what may be an act is always in question.

Patti LuPone plays Cathy, born of a wealthy Jewish family, who rejected her upbringing to join a radical faction of what’s simply referred to as “the movement.”  She’s been jailed for 35 years for her involvement in a political action, not fully described, that left two police officers dead.

Every year on this date, Cathy has a closed-door conversation with Ann (Debra Winger), an unspecified official who will decide if she should be eligible for parole; something that the families of the two police officers, waiting just outside the door, vehemently oppose.

At this meeting they discuss a book Cathy has written – one that Ann can prevent from ever being published – where she explains how she has given her life to Jesus Christ and wishes to be released only to spend her remaining time working in seclusion with nuns.  She vows to give any money earned from the book to charity, as well as any money she may inherit from her cancer-stricken father.

Ann, in turn, desires the whereabouts of one of Cathy’s accomplices; one who may also have been her lesbian lover.

As the situation demands, the play is primarily about Cathy’s persuasiveness.  Has the once-famous and charismatic radical really turned into this weary, repentant sinner who wishes no more than a chance to say goodbye to her father and then be free to dedicate herself to doing God’s will?  Does her book contain more information than might appear on the surface?  The excellent LuPone is convincing in portraying a type of sincerity that may or may not be hiding a well-executed seduction.

Winger’s role is more to digest the information and not reveal to the prisoner, nor to us, exactly where her sympathies lay.  She handles it well enough, but it’s not the showy role that Cathy is and the evening suffers a bit of an imbalance.

While the organization is never mentioned by name, Cathy can safely be assumed to have been a member of the Weather Underground, as their political stances are introduced as part of her past.

Mamet has done this before, and has done it better.  But The Anarchist remains an intriguing addition to his list of plays that introduce a theme and then requires audience members to complete the experience by discussing it on their own after leaving the theatre.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Patti LuPone; Bottom:  Debra Winger.

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Posted on: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 @ 02:00 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 12/9/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"Before you can do something you must first be something."

-- John Gielgud

The grosses are out for the week ending 12/9/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: WAR HORSE (16.4%), ELF (14.7%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (11.6%), A CHRISTMAS STORY (10.9%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (10.0%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (8.8%), CHICAGO (8.6%), ANNIE (8.0%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (7.2%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (6.5%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (5.1%), ONCE (4.5%), WICKED (4.4%), MAMMA MIA! (4.3%), THE LION KING (4.1%), MARY POPPINS (3.8%), NEWSIES (3.7%), CHAPLIN (3.5%), JERSEY BOYS (2.5%), GRACE (2.3%), ROCK OF AGES (1.3%), EVITA(1.2%),

Down for the week was: DEAD ACCOUNTS (-25.0%), THE ANARCHIST (-11.8%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (-7.2%), GOLDEN BOY (-5.4%), GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (-5.0%), SCANDALOUS (-1.4%), THE HEIRESS (-0.2%),

Posted on: Monday, December 10, 2012 @ 03:19 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


A Civil War Christmas & Scandalous

Set during one of the most tumultuous periods in our country’s history, Paula Vogel weaves several intimate stories of soldiers, escaped slaves, would-be kidnappers and the country’s first couple into a comforting evening of holiday storytelling, A Civil War Christmas.  Director Tina Landau, music director Andrew Resnick and a talented ensemble of eleven tread through episodes of tragedy, racism, frivolity and hopefulness in a display that hints at, while not exactly drawing parallels to, a traditional nativity pageant.

After the actor about to portray the 16th President of the United States (a quietly homespun Bob Stillman) advises us to turn off any post-19th Century devices, the company lines up across the stage, dressed in contemporary clothing, to sing a chorus of “Silent Night” that advises us “All quiet along the Potomac tonight.”

It’s the bitterly cold Washington D.C. Christmas Eve of 1864 and the walls of the theatre are lined with costume pieces that will bring the actors into the period, playing roles based on both real people and fictional ones.  The Civil War continues, but the outcome seems obvious to all involved.  A rowdy General Grant (Chris Henry) wishes to drink his way into “Christmas Oblivion” while the somber General Lee (Sean Allen Krill) refuses any comforts for himself not available for his men. 

Meanwhile, a runaway slave (Amber Iman) is separated from her young daughter (Sumaya Bouhba) while seeking assistance from the president (We’re told that this is an era when people could just knock on the White House door and demand to see the president.  “Back then, the people of the United States were very much the president’s boss.”) while nearby, John Wilkes Booth (Krill) plots to end the war by kidnapping Lincoln.

There’s a cordial encounter between a black Union sergeant (K. Todd Freeman) whose wife was taken by retreating Confederate troops, and a Quaker Union soldier who refuses to carry a gun.  The sergeant’s vow to shoot any Confederate he comes across is tested when a 13-year-old Confederate soldier (Rachel Spencer Stewart, playing a boy) is caught trying to steal food for his starving comrades.

There are lighter moments involving Mary Todd Lincoln’s (Alice Ripley) determination to acquire a White House Christmas tree.  The tradition had not quite popularized in America at that time.

As the various plots blend and twist, the evening is enhanced with soft and poignant performances of folk songs and holiday music, such as “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” a song used by the Underground Railroad as a reminder the use the Big Dipper to find the North Star.  A very moving scene has Mrs. Lincoln, very aware of her increasing mental instability, in a hospital, trying to comfort a dying Jewish soldier with an a capella singing of “Silent Night.”  The scene ends with the ensemble joining her, singing a Mourner’s Kaddish.

While the musical moments are lovely, they contribute greatly to the piece’s two-and-a-half hour length while often not contributing enough dramatically.  A Civil War Christmas can certainly stand some trimming, but is nevertheless an accomplished holiday work that celebrates the spirit of the season while reminding us of national issues we’ve yet to resolve.

Photos by Carol Rosegg:  Top: Bob Stillman; Bottom: K. Todd Freeman and Amber Iman.

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In the hands of skilled musical theatre writers, the life and career of Aimee Semple McPherson – the Jazz Age evangelist who became a national celebrity through coast-to-coast radio broadcasts and elaborate pageants in her Los Angeles mega-church – would make a hellava subject for a Broadway musical.  John Kander and the late Fred Ebb would have been a natural choice to pen the score, most likely starring an in-her-prime Liza Minnelli.

But the fatal flaw of Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, is that the story of a preacher whose rise to fame excited the country as much as her showbiz services entertained her congregations, is done with barely an ounce of pizzazz.  Broadway musicals are sometimes accused of being garish and overdone.  Here’s one where the subject demands outlandish over-the-top moments and bookwriter/lyricist Kathie Lee Gifford instead produces a bland retelling of a familiar rags-to-riches story loaded with juvenile jokes (“Some of these Christians are so pious, they just pious me off!”) and sloppy lyrics (“Why am I the fated daughter of such pompous piety? / Why must I be forced to swallow such religiosity?”).  The music, by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, with additions from Gifford and McPherson herself, is undistinguished on first hearing and director David Armstrong’s production is considerably earthbound.

What Scandalous has going for it is the extraordinary talents of Carolee Carmello, an exceptional musical theatre actress and singer who is finally getting her name above the title.  Playing McPherson from a troubled teenager to a media-target celebrity, Carmello is on stage for nearly the entire two acts, assigned to belt out a parade of power ballads and anthems.  Just finding someone who can handle that task eight times a week will narrow down the casting pool enough, but the star is also a superior lyric interpreter; a skill that only highlights the evening’s distinct lack of verbal nuance.  Fortunately, Carmello is spared the responsibility of emoting, “Bring me that fiddle!  Come, let’s have a diddle!”

The zesty Roz Ryan is handed all the standard clichés that go with playing the former madam turned sassy sidekick role and if any of her material was halfway clever she certainly would have made it delightful.

I’ve been told that George Hearn had at least one solo at some point during previews, but now, save for a couple of ensemble moments, this beloved musical theatre star does no singing at all while playing his two insignificant roles.  Now that’s what I call scandalous.

Photos by Jeremy Daniel: Top: Carolee Carmello; Bottom: George Hearn and Roz Ryan.

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Posted on: Friday, December 07, 2012 @ 05:56 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback




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.

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