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Chlamydia Dell'Arte: A Sex Ed Burlesque & The Broadway Musicals of 1975


The admirable mission of Gigi Naglak and Meghann Williams, writer/performers of Chlamydia Dell'Arte: A Sex Ed Burlesque, is to remove some of the awkwardness in open discussions about human sexuality by treating intimate issues with humor.  Their modestly produced show, which just completed a week-long run at Los Kabayitos, is obviously built to travel, coming to Gotham via stints in Philly and DC, and the amiable pair pulls off their mission with endearing enthusiasm.

Twelve quick vignettes – sketches, songs and dance pieces – alternate with video segments of the two as stuffy schoolteachers and others of a group of women individually responding to questions addressing topics like their definition of sex, how they learned about sex and how they, as adults, have taught their children about sex.

With no director or choreographer credited, I would assumed that Naglak and Williams managed those task themselves, and perhaps the show would best be viewed as a promising work in progress that could use further guidance.

Much of their humor is of the sophomoric, one-joke variety.  Naglak dances as a ballerina clad in white, who expresses joy and relief when her period visibly arrives.  The two of them play cooking show hosts who, after a few too many glasses of wine, start demonstrating on a dildo their favorite way to eat chocolate frosting.  Naglak, standing behind an artificial lower torso, discusses birth control options with her talking vagina.  Sketches of this nature might seem a little crass coming from men, but perhaps women might find these lowbrow depths refreshing coming from other women.

But lowbrow is actually highbrow in another sketch where they play out Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene as two horny adolescents masturbating, a concept that makes complete sense when you figure that Shakespeare’s youthful lovers are more realistically a couple of kids who barely know each other at the beginnings of their sexual awareness.  Another clever sketch begins with a slideshow detailing important information about STDs which is upstaged when the two start performing a strip-tease down to pasties and g-strings; a smart comment on how thoughts of sexual health get shoved to the side when encountering titillation.

Other vignettes include Williams’ monologue about a woman’s obsession with being perfectly shaved for a date, a song explaining the difference between transsexuals and transvestites and a fan dance performed by Naglak.  Most were pleasant, but lacking in comedic sharpness beyond their initial ideas.

There was a talkback after the performances I attended, where Naglak and Williams chatted about their experiences regarding sex education and of the evolution of their show.  Speaking off-the-cuff, their remarks were far more interesting and humorous than most of the material they performed.  If the pair can inject the evening with more of the honest, realistic humor displayed in the talkback, Chlamydia Dell'Arte could prove more worthy of its admirable intentions.

Photo of Gigi Naglak and Meghann Williams by Lauren Schwarz.

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Broadway musicals were in a crazy state of flux by 1975.  That newfangled idea of attracting new audiences through well-produced television commercials was turning shows that might not have lasted long through traditional publicity into multi-year running hits (That year The Wiz was rescued from a quick closing by its commercial.), but the new audiences attending those shows were venturing into a theatre district overflowing with porno houses, hookers and three-card monte con artists.   Those in the know knew it was dangerous to hang around Times Square after the shows let out, but good luck riding the subways at night.

Two of musical theatre’s most notable director/choreographers helmed their greatest achievements, though Michael Bennett’s optimistic salute to the unknowns who chase their dreams, A Chorus Line, was stealing headlines from Bob Fosse’s first post-heart attack creation, the comically cynical Chicago.  Rock composers were trying to replicate the success of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, but The Rocky Horror Show failed to find an audience and theatre-goers preferred Shenandoah, a traditional book musical with an anti-war message, over The Lieutenant, a rock opera about the My Lai massacre that lasted a week on Broadway but was admired enough to pick up Tony nominations for its book and score.  Goodtime Charley tried to replicate the success of Pippin with its stylistic telling of the story of Joan of Arc, but the decision to focus on the less interesting character, the dauphin Charles, doomed the effort of an attractive and clever Grossman and Hackady score.

The days of jukebox musicals were yet to come, but audiences seeking some fine old material were found at the revue Rodgers and Hart and the bio-musical, Me and Bessie (featuring songs made famous by Bessie Smith).  And Scott Joplin’s score for his 1910 opera, Tremonisha, only recently discovered at the time, made its Broadway debut and even picked up a Tony nomination.

For the 1975 edition of Town Hall’s Broadway By The Year series, host and creator Scott Siegel concentrated on the more recognizable songs of the day; both those that were being heard on Broadway for the first time and those that were already American Songbook classics that lured audiences into new shows.

A new feature to the series was large chorus of performers made up primarily of talent in the early stages of their careers.  The Broadway By The Year Chorus opened the show with two of the indispensible moments of 1975 Broadway, A Chorus Line’s “I Hope I Get It,” segueing into “One,” staged by the evening’s choreographer, Vibecke Dahle.

Speaking of A Chorus Line, there was quite a bit of chucking from the audience when it became apparent that Ashley Brown, known primarily as Broadway’s original Mary Poppins, was about to perform “Dance 10, Looks 3” as her first solo of the evening.  Her saucy rendition of Marvin Hamlish and Ed Kleban’s tribute to the career-enhancing benefits of plastic surgery was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, as was her emphatic belting of “I Am My Own Best Friend” and her tender “Be A Lion.”

While I will always be opposed to using the watered-down radio lyrics for Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” over the overtly sexual ones written for Pal Joey, if it must be done that way it’s fortunate to have Lari White performing them; replacing the droll lustfulness of the original with luscious waves of lush romanticism.  The Grammy-winning country artist – who has a real flair for musical theatre – was, of course, a natural for selections from Shenandoah, including a lovely “We Make A Beautiful Pair” and leading the chorus in a rousing “Freedom.”

Cabaret artist Carole J. Bufford has quickly become a rising star among the nightlife set and her ravishing interpretations of “Blue Moon” and the Bessie Smith standards, “You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon” and “After You’ve Gone” display captivating interpretive skills and a professional polish well above what would be expected for her youth.

The above three ladies united for “At The Ballet,” demonstrating Kleban’s extraordinary character-developing skills.

Bob Stillman’s airy vocals gave a period feel to “All I Care About” and warm sentimentality to “The Only Home I Know.”  The difference between his voice and the deep dramatics of Patrick Page’s enhanced the already sharp comedy of Kander and Ebb’s “Class.”  Page’s grave earnestness was put to fine use for the year’s most controversial song, Shenandoah’s anti-war anthem, “I’ve Heard It All Before” and the fun campy quality he brings to his current gig as Spider-Man’s Green Goblin cropped up when he donned a corset and feather boa to lead the chorus in a pairing of “Sweet Transvestite” and “Time Warp.”

The concert’s director, Scott Coulter, made a solid guest appearance for an inspiring “If You Believe,” as did Kristin Beth Williams for “All That Jazz” and Nadine Iseneggar, performing Michael Bennett’s original choreography for “The Music And The Mirror.”

With Ross Patterson in his usual position leading his Little Big Band, the evening ended with the full company’s “What I Did For Love.”

Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy: Top: Carole J. Bufford; Bottom: Oakley Boycott, Patrick Page and Emily Iaquinta.

Posted on: Monday, May 21, 2012 @ 07:49 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 5/13/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"They still had the Lord Chamberlain, so we had this idiotic censorship. We were allowed three Jesus Christs instead of 10. Why three were OK, I don't know."

-- Uta Hagan

The grosses are out for the week ending 5/13/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: GODSPELL (17.9%), MAGIC/BIRD (14.6%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (12.0%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (11.1%), SISTER ACT (8.4%), PORGY AND BESS (7.2%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (6.8%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (5.7%), ANYTHING GOES (5.0%), END OF THE RAINBOW (3.8%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (3.8%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (3.2%), GHOST (2.6%), ROCK OF AGES (2.4%), THE COLUMNIST (2.3%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (2.2%), ONCE (2.2%), NEWSIES (1.6%), MEMPHIS (1.5%), LEAP OF FAITH (1.2%), JERSEY BOYS (0.7%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (0.7%), WAR HORSE (0.4%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN(0.1%),

Down for the week was: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-8.9%), MAMMA MIA! (-7.6%), WICKED (-4.8%), MARY POPPINS (-4.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-3.1%), CLYBOURNE PARK (-2.4%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-2.0%), EVITA (-1.2%), THE LYONS (-0.8%), VENUS IN FUR (-0.8%), CHICAGO (-0.8%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-0.2%),

Posted on: Monday, May 14, 2012 @ 03:47 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Triumphant Baby & The Columnist

Match.com ain’t got nuthin’ on New York’s cabaret scene, where composers, lyricists and performers are constantly on the lookout for perfect mates; whether for a lifetime commitment or just a brief, but mutually satisfying, fling.

Back in 2006, musical theatre collaborators Joe Iconis and Robert Maddock had some highly successful dates with singer/actress Lorinda Lisitza.  And while the trio hasn’t been exclusive in the ensuing years, their affair, a fascinatingly diverse song cycle called Triumphant Baby, was remembered by voters who presented the show with a Nightlife Award (for the performer) and a Bistro Award (for the writers).

And if there were awards for revivals of cabaret shows, I’m sure Triumphant Baby’s return engagement at the Metropolitan Room would be in the running for a couple of more trophies.  Iconis’ broad-ranging styles of music and Maddock’s colorful, poignant and character-specific lyrics vividly architect 13 diverse ladies – some comic, some tragic, often maddening – which the chameleon-like Lisitza, under Brad Oscar’s direction, brings to life in a musical theatre acting tutorial that charms and thrills.

Perhaps the signature tune of the show, thanks to YouTube exposure, is “Yolanda At The Bottom Of The Stairs,” a folksy, Eastern-European number where Lisitza plays a woman taking revenge on the tart who messed with her man with goulish expressions and a goulash accent.  (“I settled the score with one little shove / And sending you to kingdom come is what I did for love.”)  The comic number is perfectly placed at the end of a musical triptych that begins with the singer’s husky country vocals for “Almost,” about a woman’s disappointment in never getting quite what she needed from her relationship and segues into a fragile-to-brassy performance of “One Step Closer To Crazy.”

She switches to the kind of airy head voice typical of ingénues in early movie musicals for the devastating ballad, “The Kind That Falls,” where Lisitza chillingly portrays the 1930s wannabe starlet Peg Entwhistle, who jumped off the Hollywood sign to her death instead of facing her failed movie career.

The show’s title song is an immensely catchy bubblegum anthem where the singer cheerfully tries to pick up the spirits of a loved one (“You’ve got crippled viewpoints and morbid quotes / But I’m coming at ya with root beer floats.”) and while Iconis pens another hummable hook for “Popular Opinion,” Maddock supplies a harsh commentary on the public’s yearning for dirt on the people they’ve lifted into celebrity.

Other highlights include the mischievously sexy “Just As Long As You And I Are In Cahoots,” “Eddie Got A Color T.V.” (a comical ditty about a wife trying to seduce her husband away from the tube) and “Camden County Penitentiary,” sung from the perspective of a woman who suddenly has no idea where her life is going because her husband is never getting out of jail.

With the composer at piano, Mike Perry on guitar and mandolin, Matt Wigton on double bass and background vocals by Tanya Holt and Liz Lark Brown the evening’s spirited arrangements are just as diverse as the material.  Triumphant Baby is a classy, ebullient affair matching exceptional material with an exceptional singer/actress.

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I guess there’s something about John Lithgow that smells of fresh newsprint.  After playing fictional gossip columnists in both Sweet Smell of Success and Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, he now takes a crack at the real thing in David Auburn’s portrait of the powerful Washington journalist Joseph Alsop, The Columnist.

It’s a lifetime thick with newsworthy material.  A Washington bon vivant and closeted homosexual, Alsop was a champion of FDR’s New Deal, an enemy of both McCarthy and the Communists and a close friend of JFK, but his support of Nixon’s aggressive policies in conducting the Vietnam War made him seem out of touch by the 1970s.  But Auburn’s episodic approach makes the evening more of a highlight reel.  Though his dialogue is sharp and his scenes provide punch, they never coalesce into a satisfying play.

But it’s the kind of role that Lithgow can devour with relish and his excellent performance – boastfully dapper and elegant, hiding a fragile, suspicious interior – keeps the evening humming.  And electric sparks do fly when his uneasy relationship with his sometimes-partner journalist brother (the also excellent Boyd Gaines, making the most of a second banana role) starts boiling over.

Director Dan Sullivan’s sturdy production has some fine supporting work by Margaret Colin, as the woman who agrees to play beard and be his wife, Grace Gummer as the rebellious stepdaughter he tries to mold in his image and Brian J. Smith as an attractive young Communist whose one-nighter with Alsop threatens the journalist’s career.

Joseph Alsop’s life and career provides enough fodder to make The Columnist interesting, but Auburn adds little more to make it work as drama.

Photo of John Lithgow by Joan Marcus.

Posted on: Monday, May 14, 2012 @ 02:31 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: It's Delightful Down At City Center

 

Any lingering suspicions that the rarely revived Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is just some dusty old relic with little to offer modern audiences but a few classic songs and the novelty of being the vehicle that turned a little-known Carol Channing into an overnight sensation can be trampled into dust – preferably by choreographer Randy Skinner’s frenetically Charlestoning ensemble – by director John Rando’s simply sensational Encores! concert staging; a dizzy whirl of highly polished musical comedy hijinks packed with show-biz savvy performances.

There were certainly more sophisticated musicals on Broadway when Gents opened in December of 1949 (South Pacific and Kiss Me, Kate to name a pair), but this was an era when talented writers took mindless fun seriously.  Based on Anita Loos’ novel chronicling the 1920s gold-digging adventures of Miss Lorelei Lee, the book (presented here in David Ives’ concert adaptation) is collaboration between the source’s author and the prolific Joseph Fields.  After making his Broadway debut with the period piece, High Button Shoes, Jule Styne’s sophomore effort was full of the brassy verve the composer would be known for, and Don Walker’s colorful and energetic orchestrations sparkle under Rob Berman’s baton.  Leo Robin contributed abundantly clever, sometimes playfully naughty lyrics; not just for evergreens like “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” “Bye Bye, Baby” and “I’m Just A Little Girl From Little Rock,” but for novelty gems like “Keeping Cool with Coolidge,” “It’s Delightful Down in Chile” and the health-nut anthem, “I'm A'tingle, I'm A'glow.”

“How are you going to replace such-and-such?” is the cry heard whenever a show so closely associated with a star performance is planned for a remounting, and anyone starring in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes not only gets (unfairly, of course) compared with Carol Channing’s legendary spoof of kewpie doll cuteness, but with Marilyn Monroe’s steamier version of the character in the film version.

But Megan Hilty, aside from having established herself as a cracker-jack singing stage actress, is also a closer to fit to the Lorelei Lee Loos had written to begin with.  While certainly curvier than the classic flapper, Hilty’s diminutive height and sweet, apple-pie looks serve as Lorelei’s weapons of choice for catching presumptuous businessmen off-guard until they’re deluded into thinking it was their idea to shower her with expensive jewelry and tokens of devotion.

The plot, in case such things matter to you, has the lovely Miss Lee on a cross-Atlantic cruise with her dear friend Dorothy, a flirty flapper who doesn’t give a fig for a guy’s bank account.  While Dorothy is rather regulated to feeding the star straight lines for much of the show, Rachel York displays irresistible jazz-age ebullience whenever she’s plunked in the middle of Skinner’s dancers to belt out a number while surrounded by some of the best choreography in town; particularly when those dancers are an ensemble of stripped-down fellas playing U.S. Olympic athletes on their way to the games in Paris.

Though Lorelei is engaged to Gus Esmond Jr. (a finely mellow-voiced Clarke Thorell) , the heir to a button-manufacturing fortune, she fears that he’s dumped her after finding out about her semi-sordid past in Little Rock.  (Makes you wonder if she ever babysat for little Nellie Forbush.)  Using her own twisted logic to conclude she’s been jilted, Lorelei sets her charms on a rising zipper manufacturer and physical fitness fanatic (a hilariously energetic Stephen R. Buntrock).

The simple, uncomplicated plot leaves lots of room for terrific supporting performances.  There’s the beautifully singing Aaron Lazar playing a potential mate for Dorothy who unsuccessfully tries to keep his champagne-loving mom (Deborah Rush) sober,  Simon Jones and Sandra Shipley as a fun-loving codger and his stern wife and Stephen Boyer and Brennan Brown as thickly-accented French lawyers.

The knockout specialty act comes in the second half in one of those plot twists that leaves the characters watching a nightclub floor show.  Phillip Attmore and Jared Grimes exude period Harlem elegance as a tap-dancing pair performing gasp-inducing footwork to “Mamie is Mimi.”  When they’re joined by Megan Sikora, as an  up-and-coming showgirl, the place goes nuts with excitement.

With so many dynamic supporting turns, a less-than-stellar star could get lost in the shuffle, but Hilty firmly dominates every moment she’s on, playing Lorelei more realistically than Channing and earning big laughs with thoughtful deliveries of lines like, “Arkansas is where I was reared.”

The trick comes when she has moments “in one” and lets her guard down by confiding in the audience as a hip-swiveling, curve-wiggling doll.  Costume designer David C. Woolard pours her into a sparkly number for the signature tune, “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” which she delivers with the kind of panache that turns a musical moment into an intimate expression of joy between performer and audience.  What Hilty communicates, by solidly taking center stage in determination to “be a star,” is that the song is not just a funny celebration of wealth, but a sincere message that, with a little guts and confidence,  a kid from nowhere can reinvent herself as anything she wants.  This weekend, Megan Hilty might just be reinventing herself from a dependable musical theatre professional, to a glittering Broadway star.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Clarke Thorell and Megan Hilty; Bottom: Rachel York and Company.

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Posted on: Friday, May 11, 2012 @ 07:15 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 5/6/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"Laughter is much more important than applause.  Applause is almost a duty.  Laughter is a reward."

-- Carol Channing

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 5/6/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: ONCE (9.5%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (4.5%), CLYBOURNE PARK (1.6%), EVITA (1.5%), NEWSIES (1.2%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (0.7%), JERSEY BOYS (0.6%), THE LION KING (0.6%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (0.2%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN(0.1%),

Down for the week was: GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-24.1%), GHOST (-16.9%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-16.0%), GODSPELL (-14.8%), MAGIC/BIRD (-13.4%), THE LYONS (-13.3%), LEAP OF FAITH (-12.4%), THE COLUMNIST (-11.1%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-10.3%), ANYTHING GOES (-9.6%), SISTER ACT (-8.8%), CHICAGO (-8.5%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (-6.9%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-5.5%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-5.3%), MARY POPPINS (-5.2%), PORGY AND BESS (-4.6%), WAR HORSE (-4.4%), VENUS IN FUR (-4.1%), MAMMA MIA! (-3.5%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-2.7%), MEMPHIS (-2.7%), WICKED (-1.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-1.8%), ROCK OF AGES (-1.5%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-1.1%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (-0.3%), SEMINAR (-0.2%),

Posted on: Monday, May 07, 2012 @ 03:40 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


One Man, Two Guvnors & The Lyons

Broadway audiences can be forgiven if they don’t quite recall being introduced to James Corden six years ago as one of The History Boys’ ensemble of Oxbridge hopefuls, but in Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, the loveable harlequin makes an unforgettable sophomore appearance, taking center stage in an uproarious evening of slapstick, music and comical hijinks.

I say “harlequin” because Bean’s sparkling script is based on Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’ arte classic, Servant of Two Masters, relocated to 1960s Brighton so that the colorful mod styles strike the contemporary eye as humorously as the traditional commedia styles would in the 1700s and a gender-bending aspect of the story fits snuggling into the era’s unisex fashions.

The complicated plot – an excuse for pratfalls, running gags, lowbrow antics and a bit of audience involvement – concerns Corden’s hungry, cash-poor Frances Henshall unwittingly accepting employment by both a snooty dolt of a gangster (Oliver Chris) and the sister of a man the dolt murdered (Jemima Rooper), who is disguised as her brother.  The fact that the brother was promised to marry a young heiress (Claire Lams) who is actually in love with an aspiring actor (Daniel Rigby) adds a twist, as does the involvement of Suzie Toase as a hot bombshell accountant who stirs up another sort of hunger in Frances.

Like Zero Mostel in …Forum and Jim Dale in Scapino, Corden is the fast-talking, film-flaming eye of the hurricane, setting all the stock characters – joyously played by a rip-roaring company under Nicholas Hytner's crackling direction – in motion while taking audience members into his confidence.  I’m sure physical comedy director Cal McCrystal has a lot to do with keeping company members unharmed while diving into hilarious and fast-paced routines.  Particularly in a kitchen scene where Frances is quickly trying to consume as much as possible while serving meals for both his guvnors, while being assisted by an elderly, jittery waiter (Tom Edden in a marvelous second-banana turn).

Early arrivals are entertained by a four piece band called The Craze, playing British pre-invasion style skiffle tunes.  The boys make regular appearances throughout the evening, keeping the mood light while giving the audience a bit of a breather; a necessity for the many who are sure to be left breathless from laughter.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: James Corden; Bottom: Oliver Chris, Tom Edden and James Corden.

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After a successful run at the Vineyard, Nicky Silver's hilarious verbal smack-down, The Lyons, arrives on Broadway a little leaner and perhaps even a little meaner.  The acidic humor is no less funny than it was before, but some minor (and one major) revisions have strengthen the relationship between the two acts, making it a stronger, more effective piece.

When we first meet Rita Lyons, she's sitting in a hospital room casually thumbing through a furniture catalogue, asking her husband, Ben, who lies in bed, dying of cancer, to help her come up with ideas for redecorating the living room after he's gone.

"You could feign interest to be polite," she insists, reacting to his weakly growled, profanity-laced responses.

Don't look for the affection that lies beneath the anger.  Whatever may have once been there is now buried under decades of spite and disappointment.  But the pitch-perfect performances of Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa help make the evening fly. Lavin's meticulously subtle way with Silver's most hurtful remarks give the impression that Rita believes herself to be administering tough-love nurturing. When her husband expresses disappointment in the way his life turned out, she matter-of-factly explains to their daughter, "He's a very half-glass-empty kind of person, but by most people's standards he's had a very full life."

While Ben could easily come off as little more than a funny curmudgeon, Latessa shows the empathetic sadness of a man whose dreams never came true, even as he's bidding a deathbed farewell to his son, Curtis, with sentiments like, "My life is one long parade of disappointments. And you're the grand-fucking marshal."

Curtis, played with proper balance of smugness and creepiness by Michael Esper, eventually becomes the focus of the piece, beginning with an encounter with a handsome and charming actor/real estate agent (Gregory Wooddell) and ending with tensions between him and a no-nonsense nurse (Brenda Pressley). Kate Jennings Grant, whose lengthy second-act opening monologue is the most extensive cut from the previous run, makes the most sympathetic impression as their divorced, recovering alcoholic daughter, Lisa.

While the play may not go deeper than giving a glimpse at how bitter, self-involved parents begat bitter, self-involved children (but with an optimistic finish), the clever dialogue, director Mark Brokaw's crisp production and a terrific cast make the surface especially shiny.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa; Bottom: Michael Esper and Gregory Wooddell.

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Posted on: Monday, May 07, 2012 @ 01:53 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


A Midsummer Night's Dream & An Early History of Fire

The lunatics, lovers and poets merrily charge onto the stage in full force in Classic Stage Company’s raucous and witty, sexy and sensual mounting of A Midsummer Night’s DreamDirector Tony Speciale’s playfully romantic staging of Shakespeare’s tale of earthbound lovers fleeing to the woods to escape an arranged marriage, only to find themselves mixed up in the petty squabbles between a royal faerie couple, features a completely winning ensemble and entrancing visuals.

Set designer Mark Wendland tilts a mirrored wall above a dark squishy playing surface (which eventually gets covered by a thick storm of red rose petals), allowing Andrea Lauer’s colorful costumes (a combination of vintage circus, fetish gear and Halloween getups) to create kaleidoscopic  images.

Leading the festivities are Anthony Heald and Bebe Neuwirth, who first appear as a courtly Duke Theseus and his reluctant bride-to-be, Hippolyta, who displays her displeasure with subtle, looks-that-can-kill mannerisms.  They double as faerie king Oberon (sly, crafty and dressed in a sort of post-apocalyptic biker gear) and his sensuous wife Titania; a role that has Neuwirth looking stunning in little more than a black bustier.

Taylor Mac makes for a stuffy Egeus, whose disapproval of his daughter’s choice of a mate sets the plot in motion, but spends most of the evening as a madcap Puck, parading an outlandish wardrobe (like a pink elephant suit and an outfit that makes him look like a human peppermint stick) and sneaking in asides to the audience.

Halley Wegryn Gross steals the young lovers’ scenes with her very funny bubble-headed Valley Girl take on Helena, with Christina Ricci providing a sweet Hermia.  Jordan Dean (Lysander) and Nick Gehlfuss (Demetrius) play their suitors as a pair of lusty, beefcake frat boys.  When tensions rise among the quartet, fight choreographer Carrie Brewer stops the show with a hilarious bout that would make pro wrestlers take notice.  Even Oberon and Puck stop what they’re doing to take in the match from a pair of beach chairs while munching on popcorn and slurping soda through a straw.

But when the comic antics temporarily cease, the young lovers – all of whom have stripped down to pure white underwear – fall asleep sleep entwined in one another, reflected on the mirror as a beautiful vision of innocent affection.

The same kind of transition occurs when the troupe of amateur actors performs The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe for Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding.  Steven Skybell’s wonderfully hammy Nick Bottom makes outlandish melodrama out of Pyramus’ death scene, but it’s followed by David Greenspan, as the serious-minded Francis Flute, playing Thisbe’s final monologue with quiet, delicate sincerity that pulls at the heart.

The combination of wacky humor and soft, lovely moments make this Midsummer particularly dreamy.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Anthony Heald and Taylor Mac; Bottom: James Patrick Nelson, Chad Lindsey, Bebe Neuwirth, Rob Yang and Erin Hill.

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It’s rarely a good sign when you open your program and find that a new cast list has been pasted over what was originally there.  David Rabe’s An Early History of Fire doesn’t prove to be the exception.  What might have been intended to be a look at small-town America’s transition from the cozy 1950s to the heated 60s turns out to be as aimless as its ensemble of characters.

The first act kept reminding me of the 1955 Oscar winner, Marty.  College dropout Danny (Theo Stockman) is back living with his gregarious German immigrant father (Gordon Clapp) and a life of little more than hanging out and getting drunk with his ambitionless childhood buddies, who are wary of the new girl from the rich part of town that he’s been seeing.  Karen (Claire van der Boom), has been encouraging Danny’s dreams of being a writer, introducing him to the works of Kerouac and Salinger and to the creativity-inspiring effects of marijuana.

Benji's (Devin Ratray) ex-girlfriend Shirley (Erin Darke), who eventually went on to turning tricks, is a more comfortable fit for Danny’s gang; although the frustrated Benji is considering paying for a sexual reunion.

Though the play displays Rabe’s established talent for working class character dialogue, the plotless evening rambles on pointlessly, despite the respectable efforts of director Jo Bonney’s ensemble.  When one character starts a conversation by wondering aloud how Elvis Presley will eventually die – a line that received a good deal of audible disapproval the night I attended – it feels like the talented playwright is grasping at anything to try and make this one work.

Photo of Theo Stockman & Claire van der Boom by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Wednesday, May 02, 2012 @ 03:08 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/29/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"Don't live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable."

-- Wendy Wasserstein

The grosses are out for the week ending 4/29/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: VENUS IN FUR (9.7%), CHICAGO (6.9%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (6.5%), MAMMA MIA! (5.8%), SEMINAR (5.5%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (5.4%), SISTER ACT (5.3%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (4.0%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (3.9%), ROCK OF AGES (3.6%), ANYTHING GOES (3.6%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (3.5%), THE COLUMNIST (2.7%), PORGY AND BESS (2.1%), EVITA (0.4%), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING(0.2%),

Down for the week was: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (-17.6%), THE LYONS (-11.5%), LEAP OF FAITH (-8.6%), MEMPHIS (-8.3%), WAR HORSE (-6.2%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-5.8%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-5.2%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-4.9%), GODSPELL (-4.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-4.1%), CLYBOURNE PARK (-3.9%), JERSEY BOYS (-3.3%), WICKED (-2.7%), MAGIC/BIRD (-2.6%), MARY POPPINS (-2.5%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-2.5%), NEWSIES (-1.6%), GHOST (-1.5%), DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (-1.4%), ONCE (-0.8%), THE LION KING (-0.4%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, April 30, 2012 @ 04:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Clybourne Park & The Sound of Music

It took two years, a Pulitzer Prize and an Olivier Award-winning London production before happening, but Bruce Norris' searing satire, Clybourne Park, has finally made the six-block transfer from Off-Broadway’s Playwright’s Horizon to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre.  The original ensemble of director Pam MacKinnon’s excellent 2010 production has been reunited for the playwright’s scathing telling of the racial integration of a Chicago neighborhood, as seen through the history of one very significant home.

Borrowing slightly from A Raisin in the Sun, Norris opens his play in 1959 in a cozy suburban home that those familiar with Lorraine Hansberry's classic will eventually recognize as the place the Younger family will soon call home. As explained in the original, it's in a white neighborhood and for some reason or another (which Norris expands on) it was being offered at a bargain price.

The couple on the way out is Bev and Russ (a gruff Frank Wood and a distressfully perky Christina Kirk, both outstanding) who get paid a visit by Karl Lindner (Jeremy Shamos), the Raisin character who tried to buyout the Youngers in order to keep his community racially segregated. Unsuccessful at that attempt, he now tries to guilt Russ into going back on his deal by complaining about what it would do to property values and, in one of the play's funnier moments, even tries to use Russ and Bev's maid and her husband (Crystal A. Dickinson and Damon Gupton) as examples of how black people just wouldn't be happy in their community.

The second act takes us to the year 2009 and it seems the Youngers were suburban pioneers, at the head of a surge that turned Clybourne Park into a thriving black community. But the neighborhood has seen better days and this time the bargain hunters are a white couple (Shamos and Annie Parisse) coming in as part of a gentrification movement. Their rebuilding plans are a cause of concern to a black couple (Dickinson and Gupton), particularly the wife, who says the buildings of the community are symbols of an important time in the area's racial history, meant to be preserved as is.

Both acts begin innocuously enough, but MacKinnon and the playwright build scenes to inescapable tones of verbal violence, presenting moments that are simultaneously hilarious and cringe-worthy, while clearly marking shades of difference between black/white communication divided by half a century. The changing dynamics between the characters played by Shamos, Dickinson and Gupton are especially telling and are played with intriguing subtlety and precision.

Clybourne Park packs a wallop to both the gut and the funny bone and is clearly one of the best and most enjoyable new plays New York has seen in several seasons.

Photos by Nathan Johnson: Top: Christina Kirk and Frank Wood; Bottom: Damon Gupton, Annie Parisse, Crystal A. Dickinson and Jeremy Shamos.

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I always feel sorry for the guy who plays Rolf in any production of The Sound of Music.  He sings a perfectly charming duet about adolescent affection in the first act and in the second act his character commits a brave act of compassion that saves the day, but at curtain call he usually gets no more than friendly applause because, no matter how cute the seventeen going on eighteen year old may be, the musical theatre fangirls just ain’t gonna squeal for a young Nazi.  So let me begin with an appreciative pat on the back for Nick Spandler.

In fact, back pats all around for the fine company behind Carnegie Hall’s benefit concert performance of The Sound of Music, directed by Gary Griffin.  Rob Fisher conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, playing those glorious Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations for one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beloved scores.

Using David Ives’ concert adaptation of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s book, room was made for “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good,” both penned for the film version with Rodgers supplying lyrics for his own melodies.  The latter replaced the stage version’s “An Ordinary Couple,” a song that make more sense for the characters but frequently finds itself ousted for the movie’s ballad.  (“Something Good” is a lovely song, but its references to Maria’s “wicked childhood” and “miserable youth” contradict what the character had been saying up until that point.)  The concert also added an overture to the evening, using the film’s opening medley of classics.

Laura Osnes, who has played Nellie Forbush on Broadway, recently starred in the Encores! concert of Pipe Dream and was just announced to play the title role in a Broadway bound Cinderella, adds another R&H heroine to her resume.  Her very youthful Maria, seeming just a tad older than the eldest of the von Trapp children, was delightfully bursting with optimistic vigor, singing with a beautiful sweetness that never went too sugary.  Her counterpart, Tony Goldwyn, is not a particularly expressive singer, which took some of the heart out of his “Edelweiss,” but his Captain von Trapp made a nice transition from a deeply lonely man to one who can learn to love again.

Those who only know The Sound of Music from the film version might be surprised to see what a sympathetic character Elsa Schraeder is on stage.  Though Brooke Shields may lack the soprano necessary to ace the character’s songs, she did an excellent job at playing her unusual conflict; as a woman who has risen to the level of corporate president in the 1930s, her achievements are to be admired, but despite her love for the captain and her real affection for his children, the political differences between the two in regards to dealing with the Nazis is what breaks up their engagement.

Patrick Page proved a perfect match for the comical role of Austrian bureaucrat Max, who prompts the von Trapp children to form a singing ensemble for his own benefit, and mezzo Stephanie Blythe was warm and majestic as the Mother Abbess who inspires Maria with “Climb Every Mountain.”

The musical highlight of the evening was sung by the women of the Mansfield University Concert Choir.  As the chorus of nuns, they were staged in several corners and levels within the Carnegie Hall seating areas for their opening “Preludium.”  The beautiful a capella sounds coming at the ear from various heights and distances was thrilling to hear.

Posted on: Monday, April 30, 2012 @ 01:37 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


A Streetcar Named Desire & Evita

In every previous Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, a white Blanche DuBois has complained that her sister Stella’s white husband Stanley has “something downright bestial about him.”  She refers to him as “sub-human” and “ape-like.”  And depending on her co-star’s performance, audience members might have agreed with her to some extent.

But in director Emily Mann's new production, when a light-skinned black Blanche says such things about a darker-skinned black Stanley, describing him as, “like one of those pictures I've seen in anthropological studies,” the words, unchanged from the original, are likely to strike more sensitive nerves in audience members who have encountered such racism in the fifty-five years since they were first uttered on stage, and the classic play’s clashing of class and culture is no longer, as far as audience sentiment is concerned, a fair fight.

Blair Underwood’s Stanley (the surname Kowalski and all references to his being Polish have been dropped) absolutely has his brutish, violent streaks, but his clean-cut, well-chiseled appearance and casual physicality paints him as more of a jaunty bad boy, as outwardly pleasing as Terence Blanchard's lively New Orleans jazz score; music that emphasizes the more inviting side of the French Quarter.

In a production being advertised with the slogan, “The American classic never looked this good,” the sexier qualities of Mann’s cast steadily rise to the surface.  Heck, this is a Streetcar where even the Mitch is good-looking.

Daphne Rubin-Vega, an actress who never seems to have any trouble with roles that require her to smolder, shares a dangerously dynamic chemistry with Underwood as Stella; making her an earthy woman who derives sexual excitement from her husband’s behavior, but who recognizes the need to protect her sister from him.

As played by Nicole Ari Parker, the southern belle Blanche isn’t exactly a faded one.  The significant moment when a bare light bulb shines in her face to reveal how she really appears exposes her as being pretty damn attractive.  Fortunately, the actress credibly brings out Blanche’s delusional instincts as survival tools and, for a brief period, has an attentive ear in Wood Harris’ ambitious, but not quite comfortable in his skin, Mitch.

The individual parts glide smoothly in Mann’s smoky and stylish production.  Instead of making a bold statement with racially inclusive casting, this Streetcar, by simply being sturdily played, allows certain nuances to strike differently; staying true to Williams’ text while feeling somewhat refreshed.

Photos by Ken Howard:  Top: Blair Underwood; Bottom: Daphne Rubin-Vega and Blair Underwood.

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If the notion of a kinder, gentler Evita seems a bit perplexing to those who associate the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber popera with high tension, high belting and high theatrics, they can rest assured that director Michael Grandage hasn’t exactly turned the old gal into a Disney princess.  But by casting the two leading roles with an actress who does not possess the traditional fiery belt and an actor whose charisma isn’t served with a side-order of revolution, this new production places more emphasis on the beauty and intricacies of the composer’s best work while, unfortunately, revealing the thinness of the libretto.

 Much has been made of the fact that a full-fledged Argentinean, Elena Roger, now takes on the title role.  Her accent does stick out from the rest of the company, a constant reminder of the fact.  Roger has her fine acting moments and even better dancing ones (Rob Ashford’s dramatic choreography is one of the production’s best features.) but her airy singing voice fails to generate much excitement.  She pushes her voice in forced declaration of Eva’s “star quality” and her “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” softly whimpers.  By no fault of the actress, this just seems a case of a director’s interpretation placing the wrong person in the role.

Ricky Martin’s Che, now assigned to be an amused everyman instead of an incensed stand-in for Che Guevara, narrates the piece in an entertaining style that suggests Pippin’s Leading Player.  Taking his cue from his entrance song, “Oh, What A Circus,” he invites us to indulge in the corrupt spectacle from the safe distance of time, a least once admitting that he himself finds the anti-heroine’s spell hard to resist.

Thus, without political tension thickening the air, Rice’s narrative gets boiled down to the uneventful sequence of Eva sleeping her way to the top, helping Juan Peron win a not quite legitimate presidential election (though the scenes of thuggishness have been eliminated), and have her ups and down as first lady before dying.

But Michael Cerveris digs deep into the relatively small role of Juan Peron, making him an elegant, loving husband who masterfully plays the caring leader to his constituents.  Max von Essen livens up the proceedings with his comic take on Eva’s first romantic pawn, heartthrob balladeer Magaldi.

New interpretations of popular favorites are certainly welcome, but Grandage has softened Evita into a well-sung history lesson that frequently loses its pulse.

Photos by Richard Termine:  Top: Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger; Bottom: Ricky Martin, Michael Cerveris and Elena Roger.

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Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 @ 06:20 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 4/22/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

“Shakespeare - The nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God.”

-- Laurence Olivier

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 4/22/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER (20.6%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (11.3%), LEAP OF FAITH (8.2%), THE COLUMNIST (7.6%), OTHER DESERT CITIES (3.8%), CLYBOURNE PARK(3.1%),

Down for the week was: HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (-35.0%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-22.1%), MAMMA MIA! (-21.0%), ANYTHING GOES (-20.0%), SISTER ACT (-19.7%), JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (-18.1%), MARY POPPINS (-15.8%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-12.2%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-11.5%), ONCE (-11.2%), GODSPELL (-10.3%), WAR HORSE (-10.1%), MEMPHIS (-10.1%), MAGIC/BIRD (-9.8%), JERSEY BOYS (-8.4%), ROCK OF AGES (-7.0%), PORGY AND BESS (-6.2%), SEMINAR (-6.0%), THE LYONS (-6.0%), PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (-5.2%), CHICAGO (-4.6%), EVITA (-3.9%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-3.5%), WICKED (-3.0%), GHOST (-1.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-1.7%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-1.5%), VENUS IN FUR (-1.5%), NEWSIES (-1.4%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-1.0%), THE LION KING (-0.5%), DEATH OF A SALESMAN (-0.2%),

Posted on: Monday, April 23, 2012 @ 03:42 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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