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Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 2/27 & Theatre Quote of the Week


"A critic trying to interfere with (the) public's interest is ludicrous-he might as well stand outside an amusement park bitching that the Ferris wheel doesn't look like a Rodin."

-- Michael Feingold

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 2/27/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (19.9%), MEMPHIS (17.5%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (15.3%), DRIVING MISS DAISY (14.1%), MARY POPPINS (12.4%), AMERICAN IDIOT (11.5%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (8.7%), JERSEY BOYS (8.2%), MAMMA MIA! (5.0%), GOOD PEOPLE (3.8%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (3.3%), WICKED (2.6%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (0.5%), THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON (0.2%),

Down for the week was: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (-8.2%), LOMBARDI (-8.1%), ARCADIA (-7.1%), MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (-7.1%), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (-4.5%), RAIN: A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES ON BROADWAY (-1.6%), THE LION KING (-0.4%), CHICAGO (-0.3%),

Posted on: Tuesday, March 01, 2011 @ 02:33 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 2/20 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"Then what are we fighting for?"

-- Winston Churchill's response when asked to cut arts funding in favor of the war effort.

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 2/20/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: CHICAGO (20.1%), MAMMA MIA! (17.4%), LOMBARDI (10.4%), MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (10.0%), AMERICAN IDIOT (6.5%), RAIN: A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES ON BROADWAY (5.9%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (5.2%), COLIN QUINN: LONG STORY SHORT (3.5%), THE LION KING (3.0%), GOOD PEOPLE (1.4%), THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1.4%), WICKED (0.5%), THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (0.3%),

Down for the week was: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (-10.0%), JERSEY BOYS (-5.5%), MARY POPPINS (-3.9%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-2.5%), DRIVING MISS DAISY (-2.4%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-2.2%), MEMPHIS (-1.7%),

Posted on: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 @ 08:35 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Compulsion

The most touching, delicately nuanced and beautifully realized work in The Public Theater's premiere production of Compulsion is, quite honestly, a wooden performance.   Rinne Groff's fictionalized tale of the Broadway dramatization of Anne Frank's diary begins with a life-sized marionette depicting the young girl, pencil in hand, innocently writing down thoughts that she most likely never dreamed would be so immortalized.  As a voice quotes how the adolescent feels, "in spite of everything," Matt Acheson's creation, manuevered by Emily DeCola, Daniel Fay and Eric Wright, moves with remarkably understated detail, her frozen face and stiff body nevertheless communicating heartbreaking sincerity through Anne Frank's words.  Unfortunately the rest of the evening seems freakishly overplayed by comparison.

Mandy Patinkin plays Sid Silver, a character based on the real-life Jewish-American author, Meyer Levin, whose 1956 book about Leopold and Loeb, Compulsion, has been credited with introducing the concept of the non-fiction novel.  Like Levin, Groff presents the facts as they are generally known but changes the names of the major players.

Silver/Meyer was one of the first to read Anne Frank's diary and encouraged her father, Otto Frank, to have it published, writing a high-profile review in the New York Times which greatly contributed to its best-selling success.  Silver, who used to belong to a marionette theatre, insists that Otto Frank fully supports his endevour to dramatize the diaries into a play.  An early draft of it is greatly admired when broadcast on a Jewish-themed radio program but Broadway producers reject it in favor of a version penned by It's A Wonderful Life screenwriters, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich.

The main issue at hand is Jewishness.  Silver insists the diary is an important piece of Jewish literature and that the play must be written by a Jew.  Those with more secular interests feel the Jewish aspect of the story should be toned down for the play, giving it a more universal appeal.  Though expensive legal battles leave him forbidden to produce his script, for the next thirty years Silver is obsessed with finding critical acceptance that will prove his play, significant aspects of which he says were stolen by the Hackett and Goodrich, is superior to the Tony and Pulitzer-winner, seeing himself as the true messenger of what was in the heart of Anne Frank.

Groff makes it clear in her text that Silver is an intense man who alienates others with explosive outbursts.  Patinkin is certainly no stranger to such roles and is known for performances that host a collection of familiar idiosyncracies:  the stacatto stammer, the tightly-squinting eyes, the sudden growl of volume, the high-pitched fury, the unintelligibly rapid speech and, in this case, a southern drawl that he speaks with at the beginning of each act but soon fades.  In musical theatre, a composer's pitches and rhythms can control these moments, and a fantasy comedy like The Princess Bride can frame them, but from my second row seat the excessively-wthened reality of his performance overwhelmed the rest of the evening.  I have no reason to doubt the actor's dedication to presenting a believeable character but by the second act the intensity of his variety of vocals reached farcical levels.

Though Hannah Cabell and Matte Osian don't go as far as their castmate, director Oscar Eustis also has them playing their multiple roles with broad strokes, particularly when Cabell makes Silver's wife a generically lively and thickly-accented French woman and Osian appears as a pretensiously intellectual Israeli theatre artist.

Groff has a good story to work with and delivers ear-catching dialogue.  But aside from an episode where Silver's wife envisions Anne Frank as the other woman who shares their marriage bed (Patinkin supplies the marionette's adolescent voice for that scene.) the play's major flaw is that there's no sympathy developed to pull you into the story.  The dramatization of Anne Frank's diaries is a beloved contribution to American popular theatre and without some sense of what there is in Silver's script that might contribute more, the evening amounts to little more than enduring the rants of a self-destructive artist who should probably start a new project.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Mandy Patinkin; Bottom: Hannah Cabell and Mandy Patinkin.

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Posted on: Saturday, February 19, 2011 @ 02:55 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Black Tie: Culture Club

The always pleasing Gregg Edelman is an actor with a special knack for revealing the educated, articulate side of America's Average Joe and in Black Tie, A.R. Gurney's latest comedy inspired by his WASPy Buffalo upbringing, that talent is put to exceptional use.

Set in a somewhat tacky-looking Adirondack hotel suite, whose decorator was probably thinking of something more dignified (set designer John Arnone nails the inept attempt at masculine sophistication) Edelman is Curtis, father of the soon-to-be groom preparing to welcome guests at that evening's rehearsal dinner.  As he nervously and excitedly models his formal wear in the mirror, anticipating the big moment where, as host of the evening, he gets to be witty and eloquent making his showcased toast, it's plain that this is an event he's been waiting for ever since watching his own father giving a toast that was the hit of his rehearsal dinner.

To say that his deceased dad is with him in spirit is no exaggeration.  Not only is Curtis wearing dear old man's black tie ensemble, but his father's ghost (Daniel Davis, all plummy goodness) is there coaching him on the niceties of the occasion.  It is not a tuxedo, it's evening wear.  Gentlemen wear trousers, "gents" wear pants.  Make sure you get a head start on your alcohol intake before greeting guests.

Under Mark Lamos' terrifically elegant direction, the scenes between them, besides being full of Gurney's funniest lines, ring of sweet father/son bonding through the traditions of their culture.  Unfortunately, those in the world of the living see Curtis as carrying on traditions of elitism and privilege.

Word is that the parents of the bride were insulted at his invitation to take them to brunch, feeling he was showing off his wealth.  Nobody is happy with his decision to dress up and Teddy's fiancé is especially displeased with Curtis' wish that his son appears in his own father's evening wear.  It seems the bride would prefer the groom wear his Obama t-shirt.

The bride has also arranged for her gay ex-husband to entertain their guests with his edgy, multi-media stand-up comedy routine, which would surely make a few words from the groom's father seem superfluous.

Cast a popular television comic (Jewish, most likely) in the lead role and Black Tie has the feel of those fun but flimsy generation gap comedies that gave 1960s Broadway audiences a night full of good laughs.  Carolyn McCormick as the snazzily dressed wife who isn't quite as free-thinking as she hoped she was and Elvy Yost as the dry, uninvolved daughter are familiar types, but there are also touching moments involving Teddy's youthful revolt from his father conflicting with an admiration for the man and the civility he adheres to.  Though, like his parents, Teddy indulges from the suite's honor bar, his cocktail of choice is beer from a bottle.

Gurney's comedies have certainly been darker and deeper than this one but the brisk and funny dialogue, supported by a fine cast (with two first-class turns by Edelman and Daniels) make Black Tie an endearing pleasure.

Photo of Daniel Davis and Gregg Edelman by James Leynse.

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Posted on: Thursday, February 17, 2011 @ 10:17 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 2/13 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"To My Valentine: More than a catbird hates a cat, Or a criminal hates a clue, Or the Axis hates the United States, That's how much I love you."

-- Ogden Nash

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 2/13/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: AMERICAN IDIOT (22.7%), RAIN: A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES ON BROADWAY (17.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (15.0%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (13.2%), MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (12.4%), MARY POPPINS (12.0%), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (9.5%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (8.8%), THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (8.2%), WICKED (7.9%), JERSEY BOYS (6.5%), LOMBARDI (6.4%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (5.7%), CHICAGO (3.8%), THE LION KING (3.5%), MEMPHIS (1.1%), THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (1.0%),

Down for the week was: DRIVING MISS DAISY (-8.2%), COLIN QUINN: LONG STORY SHORT (-6.9%), MAMMA MIA! (-0.3%),

Posted on: Monday, February 14, 2011 @ 06:17 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


The Witch of Edmonton

The Red Bull Theater, those specialists in making Jacobean drama hip without going hipster, have assembled an excellent company for Jesse Berger's vividly realized mounting of the 1621 rarity, The Witch of Edmonton.

Penned by the trio of Thomas Dekker, John Ford and William Rowley - who most likely never had contact with each other as each worked on different aspects of the intertwining plots  - the drama of small-town scandal premiered a mere eight months after the real-life woman the title character was based on met her unfortunate demise.

In a piece that requires actors to believably play its wthened language, Charlayne Woodard excels with passion and pathos as Elizabeth Sawyer, a humble woman so tormented by her neighbors for being a witch that she makes a pact with the devil to seek revenge.  He comes in the form of a demon dog played with creepy finesse by Derek Smith, inventively dressed by Cait O'Connor in a costume that mixes spirit and canine.  The commanding Andre De Shields is put to good use as her main tormentor and, in a small comic turn, the adorable Everett Quinton appears as both a frightened farmer and his wife.

But Satan isn't content with just frightening a handful of villagers.  He also has his influence on a nice young servant, Frank (Justin Blanchard), who is being forced by his father to marry the heiress Susan (Christina Pumariega) when he's secretly wed to the maid Winifred (Miriam Silverman), who he believes to be carrying his child.  Their plot to remain a couple results in the kind of bloodshed and tragedy that sent Jacobean audiences home with a smile.

Adam Green, as the innocent yokel who is the son of De Shield's character, brings in some comic warmth and Sam Tsoutsouvas, as Susan's anguished father, contributes dramatic highlights.

The densely-worded text is briskly presented on Anika Lupes' effective set, a dirt pit surrounded by wooden-planked pathways at its perimeter.  O'Connor's earthy costumes and Peter West's dramatic lighting add to the deliciously grim moodiness of the production.

Photo of Derek Smith and Charlayne Woodard by Carol Rosegg.

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Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2011 @ 04:00 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


I'd Rather Be Obama?

The biggest Broadway event of 1937 was undoubtedly the gala opening night of I'd Rather Be Right.  Not only did the new musical boast a score by Richard Rodger and Lorenz Hart and a book by George S. Kaufman (who also directed) and Moss Hart (the pair had just won that year's Pulitzer for You Can't Take It With You), but the star was no less than the grand old man of Broadway - who many will argue invented the book song and dance musical comedy as we know it today - George M. Cohan, playing the role of then-President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Never before and never since has a sitting U.S. president been the leading character in a Broadway musical.

The simple story of the Depression Era show had two young lovers trying to enjoy the Independence Day festivities in Central Park, despite the fact that their current financial state is keeping them from getting married; the boy's boss wants to expand his company and promote him, but he's hesitant to do so until the country's economic future looks clearer.  "If only the president could balance the budget," thinks our hero as he falls asleep in his girlfriend's lap.

I don't suppose it will be a major spoiler to let you know that the rest of musical is a two-act dream where FDR shows up on his way to prepare a Fourth of July speech, but instead puts aside all other matters of state in order to figure out a way to immediately balance the budget so that these two wonderful kids can get married.

The American Songbook standard, "Have You Met Miss Jones?" was the score's big hit but the showstopper was Cohan pattering political back-peddling in "Off The Record.":

My speeches on the radio have made me quite a hero;

I only have to say, "My friends," and stocks go down to zero.

Don't print it!  It's strictly off the record.

Peppy numbers like "A Little Bit of Constitutional Fun" (sung by the aged Supreme Court members and their young female admirers) and the rousing "We're Going To Balance The Budget" kept spirits in a lightly satirical mood.

Also quite rousing is the Musicals Tonight! concert revival of I'd Rather Be Right, which has just opened for a two-week run.  Simply staged by Thomas Sabella-Mills with books in hand and very little choreography (no buck and winging across the stage as the 59-year-old Cohan did in the original), the talented company is clearly having a grand time with this cheery chestnut steeped in silly fun and jokes that will test your knowledge of 1930s American history.

Steve Brady gives a winning turn as a kindly FDR who can set off verbal fireworks when placed before a microphone.  Brent Di Roma and Laurie Hymes play the young lovers with a fine combination of sweetness and song and dance flair.  A Gilbert and Sullivan type cabinet, led by Donna Coney Island (Perkins), Peter Cormican (Farley), John Alban Coughlan (Hull) and Rob Lorey (Morgenthau) plus a Supreme Court headed by Roger Rifkin's persnickety Chief Justice contribute zany cartoon antics.

The lighthearted topicality of I'd Rather Be Right was made possible by the fast-moving pace of creating Broadway musicals in the days before numerous workshops, regional productions and extended previews.  Before its November 2nd opening night, Kaufman and Hart's previous Broadway outing, You Can't Take It With You, had opened less than a year ago, in December of '36.  More remarkably, the most recent Rodgers and Hart musical before then was Babes In Arms, which had opened in April of '37.

Imagine if today's Broadway artists had the opportunity to write hit shows with that kind of frequency.  Who might you pick to write and star in a Broadway musical about the current administration?  Off the top of my head I can see this as an opportunity for a snazzy David Yazbek score with a book by George C. Wolfe (who would direct) and Gary Trudeau.  Starring as the President and First Lady?  How about Norm Lewis and Deirdre Goodwin?  And maybe juicy roles for Carolee Carmello and Jeff McCarthy as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden?

But there's a lot of talent out there on Broadway.  Who would you like to see write, direct and star in a musical about President Obama?

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Posted on: Thursday, February 10, 2011 @ 05:17 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 2/6 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"The theatre is the involuntary reflex of the ideas of the crowd."
-- Sarah Bernhardt

The grosses are out for the week ending 2/6/2011 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: DRIVING MISS DAISY (17.0%), COLIN QUINN: LONG STORY SHORT (4.9%), THE LION KING (3.6%), MAMMA MIA! (3.3%), MARY POPPINS (2.9%), MEMPHIS (0.4%),

Down for the week was: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (-16.2%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-15.6%), AMERICAN IDIOT (-13.8%), LOMBARDI (-12.9%), THE ADDAMS FAMILY (-11.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-7.4%), CHICAGO (-5.4%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (-4.5%), WICKED (-3.1%), THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (-2.4%), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (-2.4%), JERSEY BOYS (-1.4%), THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (-0.8%),

Posted on: Monday, February 07, 2011 @ 08:53 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


The Road To Qatar!: Songs On The Sand

Name your musical The Road To Qatar! and in less than five words and an exclamation point you've communicated to your audience what to expect; a zany, lightweight, tuneful fish-out-of-water comedy set in an exotic locale featuring a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby-ish pair with a healthy dose of sex and romance provided by a Dorothy Lamour-ish babe.  And for a good deal of their pocket-sized ninety-minute musical, Stephen Cole (book and lyrics) and David Krane (music) deliver as promised.  At its best, The Road To Qatar! is a funny, breezy musical comedy hoot with some legitimately toe-tapping melodies.  But while enjoyable, the material isn't quite memorable, though the current production at The York has the feel of an early version of something that could be whipped into a pretty terrific show.

The production's big selling point is that the story presented on stage is nearly 100% true, beginning with the fact that one day in 2005, the two writers, who had barely known each other, each received an email from a representative of the Emir of Qatar, offering them a lot of money to pen a new musical for the opening of what would be the world's largest domed soccer stadium.

The boys, described in a catchy song as, "Two short Jews who write musical comedy," are soon on the road to... well, Dubai, at first... where they're granted every luxury that can be offered (except alcohol) in exchange for scripting an enormous spectacle that adheres to all the Emir's requirements; among them, the story must be about a sultan's son who, for some inexplicable reason, cannot leave the palace.  There must be room in the plot for a herd of camels, a flock of falcons, a flying carpet, a full ballet troupe, a team of acrobats and an appearance by Muhammad Ali (yes, the boxer).  Also, the musical must be named Aspire and there must be a Ricky Martin-type title song for the finale that repeats the word "aspire" ten times.

The theatre lobby has a wall full of photos of the actual production on display, and although I didn't spot the champ in any of them, it seems all the demands were met.  And that's part of the show's major problem; there really isn't much of a plot.  The Qataris make demands and the writers, perhaps after minor resistance, swallow their artistic integrity and do what they're told.  There's lots of gags about musical comedy, living on the Middle East, demanding Jewish mothers and being gay but there's no danger, no conflict, no romance, no bonding between the main characters or anything else to frame the jokes into story worth following.  There's the suggestion that the Qatari are in for some suffering if the show isn't a hit with the Emir but none of that seems to be of any concern to our heroes.  A little less truth replaced by some interesting fiction might be in order.

Fortunately director Phillip George, who mounted several editions of Forbidden Broadway, has a knack for freewheeling fun and he has an excellent cast of comics to work with.  Standing in for the real-life authors are Keith Gerchak, playing the composer as a New York Jewish neurotic in the Woody Allen tradition, and the snazzy James Beaman as the bookwriter/lyricist. Bill Nolte plays the producer as a big demanding blowhard, very much in the "Road" picture style of villains and Bruce Warren also has his broad, funny moments as both an Ethel Merman-loving special consultant and a flamboyant Italian director.  Sarah Stiles combines a Dorothy Lamour look with a hilarious comic sense as the shy Lebanese translator.  She's an absolute scream in the evening's funniest routine, where she attempts to accurately mimic her boss' violent outbursts.

Though the travels of Hope, Crosby and Lamour are remembered for their silliness, they were balanced out with realistic moments that kept the audience involved with the characters.  Real life has given The Road To Qatar! its silliness.  Now all that's needed is to create some realism in which to wrap it up.

Photos by Carol Rosegg:  Top: James Beaman and Keith Gerchak; Bottom:  Sarah Stiles, Keith Gerchak, Bruce Warren, James Beaman and Bill Nolte.

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Posted on: Sunday, February 06, 2011 @ 05:06 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Lost In The Stars

In April of 1949, Rodgers and Hammerstein shocked the theatre world by writing a song for their new musical professing that humans developed racial prejudice by nurture and not by nature.  Later that same year, a scene in the new musical by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill showed two racially different young boys innocently striking up a quick friendship, unaware of why anyone would object.

More than sixty years later, Rodgers and Hammerstein's (and Joshua Logan's) South Pacific is deservedly considered a masterpiece of American musical theatre and the inclusion of "Carefully Taught" is remembered as a daring social and political statement that defied conventional wisdom.  Weill and Anderson's Lost In The Stars, though critically praised, never enjoyed popular success and, aside from those with a passion for musical theatre's history, has been lost to the years.  And yet, without any disregard for the former, Lost In The Stars, which argues that white oppressors must share the guilt for crimes committed by oppressed blacks, seems the riskier, more adventuresome and overall more interesting achievement.  And as shown in this weekend's City Center Encores! concert staging, it is packed with gorgeous and emotional musical moments.

Having written Knickerbocker Holiday a decade earlier, this was the pair's second collaboration; the finale for Weill, who would pass on the next year.  Their unusual choice for adaptation to the Broadway musical stage was South African author Alan Paton's 1948 dramatic novel of the racial divide that would eventually lead to apartheid, Cry, the Beloved Country.  The plot, which alters the novel's narrative slightly, concerns a black rural preacher, Stephen Kumalo, whose son, Absalom, had previously set out for Johannesburg to make a life for himself.  Not having heard from him in a year, Stephen makes a trip to the city and finds that Absalom and two other men are awaiting trial for attempted robbery in an incident where his son accidentally killed a white man who was both a family friend and an activist for racial equality.  Absalom's friends have a chance to escape punishment by playing the legal game and lying in court but Stephen can't imagine his son doing anything but tell the truth and leave the rest in God's hands.

Though Weill is best known for the emotionally detached social criticisms he wrote in Germany with Bertolt Brecht, his music for Lost In The Stars, which he himself orchestrated for only 12 pieces, represents his most dramatically rich work.  A choir that narrates and offers commentary receives its vibrant sound from the composer's adaptation of South African music.  Stephen's solos are drawn from inspirational hymns and a number set in a Johannesburg nightclub sticks out for its jazz licks.  Anderson's book and lyrics, in the style of musical dramas of the day, is filled with heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity and warm, simple poetry.

The mission of Encores! has traditionally been to highlight the scores of musicals that are rarely heard with their full orchestrations and the music and lyrics are certainly the stars of director Gary Griffin's minimally staged production.  With the company spending much of its time singing on concert risers leading up to a platform for conductor Rob Berman and his players, the evening is musically exceptional.  But David Ives' editing of the text and Griffin's lack of character work dilute the book's effectiveness, particularly in its ability to raise the score to dramatic wths.

Chuck Cooper provides a strong, sympathetic central presence as the humble Stephen Kumalo, particularly touching in the tenderness he brings to the beautiful title song, where the man of faith questions his trust that God is looking out for him.  Quentin Earl Darrington is mighty charismatic as the leader of the commentating choir; his baritone soaring with anguish in "Cry, the Beloved Country," where he laments the loss of his people's culture, but the production never fully connects the two men; making it clear that the choral leader freely expresses what Kumalo keeps in his heart.

Absalom is played with a fine combination of innocence and nobleness by Daniel Breaker and Sherry Boone, as his pregnant girlfriend sings her solos with an enthusiastic belt.  In their non-singing roles Sharon Washington and John Douglas Thompson spend all-too-little time on stage and the best spoken acting scenes of the night are between Cooper and Daniel Gerroll, who plays the wealthy father of the man Absalom killed, struggling with his own upbringing and the different way of life his son was fighting for.

Two unexpected showstoppers help lighten the mood a bit.  In the first act, Patina Miller sizzles with sexy hip action in her jazzy nightclub number and near the end of the musical young Jeremy Gumbs' loudly and joyously belts his novelty song, "Big Mole," which got a rousing hand from the opening night patrons.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top:  Chuck Cooper and Sharon Washington; Bottom:  Clifton Duncan, Daniel Breaker, Chike Johnson and Company.

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Posted on: Saturday, February 05, 2011 @ 06:15 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Gruesome Playground Injuries: Glad To Be Unhappy

The New York stage is often a haven for self-destructive couples on display, but rarely is that self-destruction so bluntly in view as in Rajiv Joseph's intriguing Gruesome Playground Injuries.  The work of this imaginative playwright, who'll be making his Broadway debut later this season with his Pulitzer finalist, A Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, grows more interesting with each new piece to hit town and director Scott Ellis' darkly funny Second Stage production is terrifically unsettling.

"Age Eight:  Face Split Open," projected above the stage announces the opening scene.  Doug (Pablo Schreiber) meets Kayleen (Jennifer Carpenter) in their school's nurse's office after he's bloodied up his face by riding his bicycle off the roof, imitating Evel Knievel.  She's there because she can't stop vomiting, sometimes so hard it makes her eyes bleed.

For the next 80 minutes we witness a series of scenes between them spanning 30 years, with the author jumping back and forth in time.  Most of the scenes are named after Doug's self-inflicted accidents ("Eye Blown Out," "The Limbo," "Zamboni") - the frequency and extremity of which can induce both laughter and wincing - but Kayleen is also injuring herself in less visual ways.

Joseph doesn't tell us much about the two, letting their relationship be defined by their violence and the type of attention each craves from the other.  Through episodes of attraction, dependency, long-term separation and heated resentment, the strongest bonds between them arise when she can touch his wounds or he can find a way to share her experiences.  This isn't a love story so much as a need story, with Schreiber and Carpenter doing excellent work as Doug is seen as a puppy yearning to be noticed while Kayleen puts up protective emotional walls.

With Neil Patel's sparsely furnished set (usually just a bed) providing upstage audience seating, the pair almost seem like lab rats whose behavior is under constant observation.  Between scenes, the two of them methodically change their clothes in full view of the audience, with Doug usually washing blood off his face and body and applying bandages for fresh wounds.  Select silent moments between them during these transitions seem to suggest healthier facets to their relationship.

Photo of Pablo Schreiber and Jennifer Carpenter by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Friday, February 04, 2011 @ 03:36 AM 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.