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


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Heresy


Stephen Sondheim’s “Uptown, Downtown,” that axed-from-Follies number about a woman who splits her personality between Schlitz and The Ritz, might well apply to the most recent plays of A.R. Gurney.

Uptown, in front of Primary Stages audiences at 59E59, Gurney presents civilized comedies drawn from his WASPy Buffalo upbringing.  But downtown at the Flea Theatre, he flicks satirical darts via near-futuristic fantasies.

There’s no great mystery as to where the playwright is headed in Heresy, his latest Flea offering, as soon as it’s revealed that parents named Mary and Joseph are trying to find out why their son Chris was arrested by Homeland Security.

The patient carpenter (Steve Mellor) and his take-charge wife (Annette O’Toole) arrive in a comfortably dignified setting known as the Liberty Lounge to try and get some information from the local prefect, who is also an old buddy named…  Well, let’s just say his nickname back in the day was Ponty (Reg E. Cathey).  Also along is Ponty’s boozy socialite wife, Phyllis (Kathy Najimy), a character you might consider an illegal alien who has crossed the 14th Street border from one of Gurney’s uptown plays.  (The very amusing Najimy has already left the play to take some television work, and has been replaced by Karen Ziemba.)

Taking notes of the meeting is a young, efficient orderly named Mark (Tommy Crawford), freely adapting what he sees and hears into his own story-telling style.  Eventually we meet Pedro (Danny Rivera) and Lena (Ariel Woodiwiss), whose relationships with the never-seen Chris draw the expected parallels.

There are enough funny lines in the script and clever moments in director Jim Simpson’s production to carry us to the thinly sliced meat of the matter; that Chris was videoed preaching some radical notions and it went viral on the internet, prompting a need to hide him someplace, as they say, for his own safety.

Fortunately, Gurney doesn’t slam us too severely with his message and the 80-minute piece comes off like an extended post-Weekend Update SNL sketch.  But the cast seems to be having a fun time with it and audiences who enjoy their mindless fun mixed with a bit of cautionary tale can do likewise.

Photos by Hunter Canning: Top:  Reg E. Cathey, Annette O'Toole and Danny Rivera; Bottom:  Steve Mellor, Kathy Najimy and Reg E. Cathey.

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Posted on: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 @ 02:02 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 10/14/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

“We've all been called man-haters. There was one point in my career, also, where I realized a certain breed of critic would project a sinister breed of feminism on everything I did.”

-- Theresa Rebeck

The grosses are out for the week ending 10/14/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: EVITA (6.7%), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (2.4%), ONCE (0.5%), WICKED(0.1%),

Down for the week was: BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (-20.6%), THE HEIRESS (-12.0%), ANNIE (-10.3%), MAMMA MIA! (-10.0%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (-9.6%), GRACE (-6.9%), CHICAGO (-5.4%), MARY POPPINS (-4.6%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-4.2%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-3.7%), CHAPLIN (-3.0%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-2.8%), AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (-2.5%), WAR HORSE (-2.1%), JERSEY BOYS (-1.9%), THE LION KING (-0.8%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-0.3%), ROCK OF AGES (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, October 15, 2012 @ 03:25 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Him

I’ll spare you any idioms regarding the distance between apples and trees while examining the newest work of Daisy Foote, the playwright who carries on the lineage of one of America’s treasured dramatist, the late Horton Foote.  But comparison is inevitable as the daughter’s most recent work has a similar voice to that of her father; just differently accented.

Daisy Foote’s Him may be set in rural New Hampshire, as opposed to Horton Foote’s preferred locale of East Texas, but there is still the same kind of comic/tragic family politics afoot.  And the playwright’s sister, Hallie Foote, who made a career out of giving memorable performances in their father’s works, plays a juicy role very similar to the type she’s feasted on in the past.

This time Foote appears as Pauline, the eldest of three siblings living together in a home adjacent to the family’s financially failing grocery store.  Never married and haunted by thoughts of her stillborn child from years ago, Pauline has filled in for her deceased mother in being the adult around her brothers.  She does have her fun, girlish moments when going out with the youngest, Henry (Tim Hopper), a gay man with no romantic prospects in their small town and little motivation in life, but she’s all authority when trying to keep cheerful and carefree mentally challenged middle child Farley (Adam LeFevre) out of trouble.  When she’s not looking, though, Farley impregnates his similarly challenged friend, Louise (Adina Verson).

The title character is their dying father who remains unseen in his room, having suffered a stroke, but each of his children has a moment reciting a passage from his journal, revealing family history and secrets to the audience.

The main friction arises because Pauline, the only one prepared to manage the family’s dwindling finances, wants to build on the land she and her brothers inherit once their father dies, but Henry can legally stand in the way, wishing to adhere to the man’s wish that the mountain land be kept in its natural splendor.

Director Evan Yionoulis’ sturdy production is well-played by a strong ensemble, but the play is too slow in introducing and developing its primary conflict and there is a noticeable lack of empathy for anyone in the quartet.  There’s a bit of humor in the family portrait, but no warmth or dramatic crackle in a story that fails to match its interesting possibilities.

Photos by James Leynse:  Top: Hallie Foote and Tim Hopper; Bottom: Adina Verson and Adam LeFevre.

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Posted on: Monday, October 15, 2012 @ 10:07 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


A Chorus Line & An Enemy of the People

Twenty-five years after passing on, Michael Bennett still gets entrance applause in A Chorus Line.

It comes less than a minute after the lights go up on a stage full of dancers, auditioning for a director/choreographer who barks out instructions from upstage.  But as the music swells to an electrifying Marvin Hamlisch fanfare, he moves his way downstage center, in full view of the audience, and sharply attacks the routine with the hopefuls behind him copying his moves with varying degrees of accuracy.

And with that image, the audience goes berserk; or at least they did on opening night of Paper Mill’s new production, where the guests included over 50 actors from the musical’s two Broadway companies, ready to perform an emotional encore of “One” as the evening’s grand finale.

There are other moments that draw enthused applause of recognition.  Like when the company lines up with their black and white headshots in front of their faces.  Or the first time they, in “those costumes,” strike “that pose.”

Certainly there are moments in the musicals first staged by Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Gower Champion and other director/choreographers that have become fixtures of most remountings, but perhaps no other Broadway musical has had visuals so embedded into the material.  A Chorus Line’s book (James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante), music (Hamlisch) and lyrics (Edward Kleban) were all written to adhere to Bennett’s original concept and it remains the only instance where a director with no writing credit was named as a co-author when the show was awarded the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

So although Bennett is no longer with us, several of the dancers who worked with him have made careers out of recreating his staging of the original Broadway production; save for some tweaks, presumably necessary to adapt to a particular theatre or cast member’s abilities.  Mitzi Hamilton, whose story inspired the character of Val (“Dance: 10; Looks: 3”) and who has played the role on both the West End and Broadway, now adds Paper Mill to the over 35 times she’s mounted his moves.

And while some future genius may someday come up with a new way to present A Chorus Line, the show remains a museum piece in the best possible sense of the phrase; giving contemporary audiences a glimpse back at a time when – with a bare stage, mirrors and one costume change – intelligently written, musically exciting and passionately executed musical theatre surged with the magic that is the realistic capabilities of the human body.

Because of the choreographic demands of the show, first tier productions of A Chorus Line are generally cast with performers who may be known in the industry, but not to the general public.  The company member generating the most interest this time around is Rachelle Rak; a standout performer in several Broadway choruses – occasionally nabbing featured moments – who rather publically was the second choice to play the tough-as-nails, wry-humored Sheila in the 2006 Broadway revival, though the documentary Every Little Step.  Finally getting a crack at the role, roughly 45 minutes from Broadway, Rak fills it with the sardonic sexuality of a woman nursing her scars.

Playing director/choreographer Zack, Marvin Harvey sports a British accent; perhaps foreshadowing Broadway’s British invasion of conceptual musicals and pop-operas.  While outwardly cold, he reveals some nice emotional cracks when dealing with Cassie, the dancer (and ex-lover) he turned into an emerging star by giving her featured spots, who comes to audition for his chorus after finding she lacks the acting skills needed to take her to the next level.  Jessica Lee Goldyn’s Cassie maybe looks a little too young and sexy to pass for a woman who has gone through all the detailed bumps that have brought her back to a chorus audition, but she’s nevertheless an exciting performer in her solo, “The Music and The Mirror.”

(While the setting of A Chorus Line is usually described in programs as a Broadway audition, the Paper Mill program states the action takes place at the third and final callback, making seem unusual that it would take so long for the on-stage confrontation Zack and Cassie to occur.)

The book’s spoken highlight is a monologue by Paul, describing a time in his life where he performed in drag in a less-than-glamorous gay theatre.  Generally played with shy sensitivity, J. Manuel Santos’ refreshing interpretation, while still emotionally vulnerable, has an unapologetic toughness to it.  There is also fine work by Gabrielle Ruiz as a spunky Diana, who sings her memories of being embarrassed by an insensitive teacher in her first acting class, Kevin Curtis as the hyperactive Richie and Mark Myers as Mike, who delivers an athletically spirited and entertaining “I Can Do That.”

Photos by Jerry Dalia: Top: Company; Bottom: Kevin Curtis and Company.

*****************************************

As Bristol Palin’s success on Dancing With The Stars has taught us, in a democracy the majority may rule, but the majority may also be made up of easily swayed, short-sighted idiots.

Henrik Ibsen, though no judge of dancing, was certainly thinking along the same lines with his 1882 political drama An Enemy of the People.

The story is set in a small coastal Norwegian town whose public baths, built though taxes and private funding, has considerably bolstered the local economy through employment and the tourists who come for the health benefits.  However, the medical supervisor has discovered the waters to be contaminated by waste from a nearby factory.  His solution to solve the problem would be costly and require the baths to be shut down for an extended period, so the mayor, who is also his brother, ignores his findings and when the doctor pushes for action, he finds himself vilified by the masses who would be expected to pay for it all with a tax increase.

In America, the play is most known from the textured morality arguments of Arthur Miller’s 1950 adaptation, but this new version by Rebecca Lenkiewicz has streamlined the story, modernized the language and peppered the script with a few sitcom zingers.  It might have worked if the setting was shifted to contemporary times, but when framed by the period look of John Lee Beatty’s sets and Catherine Zuber’s costumes, the new text and director Doug Hughes’ fast and loud direction seem at war with the visuals.

Fortunately, Boyd Gaines carries the production on his versatile shoulders and makes it seem more of a worthwhile venture.  From his initial entrance his Dr. Stockmann is far from selfless, naively enraptured in thoughts of being considered a local hero for his discovery of the problem and genius in finding a solution.  But when the liberal newspaper editor won’t run the story and the printer won’t even make his pamphlets, he evolves into a determined and outspoken activist; one who eventually comes to denounce the public for the destructive power of the uninformed majority.

Unfortunately, none of the other characters are realized with such depth.  Richard Thomas, as the mayor who suppresses the doctor’s findings and argues that nature will eventually settle things out, is a soft-spoken but one-dimensional villain; emphasized by his outfit of a dark cape, top hat and cane.  All that’s missing is the moustache to twirl.

Though Hughes directs the company in broad strokes, he also gets interesting performances out of John Procaccino as the cautious newspaper editor, Michael Siberry as the factory owner who is also the doctor's father-in-law, and especially Kathleen McNenny, as the doctor’s loyal wife who realizes that angering her wealthy father can destroy her children’s financial future.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Boyd Gaines; Bottom: Richard Thomas.

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Posted on: Saturday, October 13, 2012 @ 05:53 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 10/7/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"I'm a bad liar.  I don't know what to say backstage."

-- Uta Hagen

The grosses are out for the week ending 10/7/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: MARY POPPINS (17.9%), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (11.7%), CHICAGO (10.9%), MAMMA MIA! (10.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (9.1%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (7.4%), WICKED (7.1%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (5.3%), ROCK OF AGES (3.7%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (2.5%), ONCE (2.0%), CHAPLIN (2.0%), WAR HORSE (1.8%), NEWSIES (1.7%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (1.6%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (1.1%), EVITA (1.0%), JERSEY BOYS(0.9%),

Down for the week was: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (-11.6%), GRACE (-0.6%),

Posted on: Tuesday, October 09, 2012 @ 02:31 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Ten Chimneys: Who's Afraid of Uta Hagen

It was a very clever idea playwright Jeffrey Hatcher had, to write a Chekhovian style comedy about American theatre’s royal couple, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, set in their country home as they prepare to go into rehearsal for a production of The Seagull.  And Ten Chimneys, named after the Wisconsin estate that provides the play’s setting, frequently lives up to that cleverness; though its wit could be somewhat sharper and its character study could go a bit deeper in order to match the potential of the idea.

The Lunts, as they were known, regularly turned down handsome sums of Hollywood money, preferring to trod the boards both on Broadway and on tours, so there is little remaining recorded evidence of their sporadic work in film, television and radio.  Married in 1921, they happily spent their careers appearing together in plays that offered good roles for both of them.

Designer Harry Feiner fills the stage with a lovely cottage that would give most playgoers a severe case of real estate envy – exterior for Act I and interior for Act II – and the playwright populates it in Chekhovian fashion, with an assortment of characters spanning generations and social statuses.

Hatcher has the couple preparing for a tour of the classic, playing Arkadina and Trigorin, and wanting to do a bit of exploratory work before formal rehearsals begin.  Byron Jennings, a familiar Broadway face who specializes in playing elegant period gentlemen, is a perfect choice to play Alfred Lunt; charmingly proper with hints of insecurity that bubble to the top on occasion, but confident and knowledgeable when working at his craft.  As the British-born Fontanne, Jennings’ real-life wife, Carolyn McCormick, comes off a bit exaggerated in her cultured tones and mannerisms, but she handles the light comedy of her role very well.

Michael McCarty plays the portly Sydney Greenstreet (“You don’t look a day over 400 pounds.”), their friend and cast-mate whom they’ve invited to work with them and enjoy a stay.  Greenstreet also takes the opportunity to visit his wife in a nearby sanatorium and has begun thinking he should give up the stage for a chance to make more money and have more time to be with her in Hollywood.

Arriving on the same train as Greenstreet, days earlier than expected, is the young, up-and-comer cast as Nina, Uta Hagen (Julie Bray makes the character both naive and ambitiously flirtatious), whose attractiveness and early success – and the fact that she was hand-picked for the role by Lunt – causes bottled up friction between the co-stars.  This is in addition to the full-blown friction caused by Alfred’s mother’s (Lucy Martin) disapproval of his choice of a mate and the casual hints that Lynn is more concerned about a male friend of her husband.

Representing the working class, in a sense, is Lunt’s overworked half-sister (Charlotte Booker), who cares for their mother full time, and his pool shark half-brother (John Wernke), who is regarded somewhat as an errand boy.

Director Dan Wackerman’s genial production is lathered with sufficient froth and style, especially in the script’s best scenes where Lunt and Fontanne talk about their craft or are immersed in scene work, but Ten Chimneys tends to get a little tiresome when parallels to The Seagull don’t quite fly.

Photos by Carol Rosegg:  Top: Byron Jennings and Carolyn McCormick; Bottom: Lucy Martin, Carolyn McCormick, Byron Jennings and Julia Bray.

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Posted on: Tuesday, October 09, 2012 @ 01:26 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Marry Me A Little: The Girl Upstairs

In musical theatre, it’s not enough to write a good song.  You have to write the right song.  Character, plot, placement and various intangibles all go into making music, lyrics and performance all effectively fit into a moment and contribute to the piece as a whole.

So, in the case of musical theatre dramatist Stephen Sondheim, the fun and frisky “Can That Boy Foxtrot!” gets replaced by the emotionally rich “I’m Still Here.”  The acidic “Happily Ever After” gets rewritten into the hopeful “Being Alive.”  And as for “There Won’t Be Trumpets”… Well, if the top-billed star is getting a better response for her delivery of the speech that introduces the song than for the song itself, the song gets axed and the speech stays.

By 1980, the Sondheim trunk was packed with quality material; not just unused songs penned for the then seven Broadway shows for which he wrote both music and lyrics, but also from unproduced works and lesser-known projects.  It was the idea of Sweeney Todd chorus member Craig Lucas (Ten years before making his Broadway playwriting debut with Prelude To A Kiss) and director Norman Rene to shape a collection of them into a sorta-revue/sorta-book musical called Marry Me A Little; its title taken from a song of sorta-commitment that was cut from the original production of Company but has since become a permanent part of the score.

The two person musical, which originally starred Lucas and Suzanne Henry, is set simultaneously in two New York apartments (one just above the other), where, via nineteen songs and no dialogue, two young singles go about their business on a dateless Saturday night, wishing there was a special someone to share such evenings with.  But instead of splitting the stage in two, the actors inhabit the same space, never acknowledging each other until moments where each of them imagines being with a fantasy lover.

Director Jonathan Silverstein‘s sweet and sexy production for the Keen Company tweaks the score just a bit, updates the action to the present and places the apartment building firmly into one of the trendier areas of Brooklyn.  Jason Tam, dressed by costume designer Jennifer Paar in Williamsburg hipster garb, plays the male half of the company as a laid-back dude hiding a romantic heart.  His counterpart, Lauren Molina, comes off as more of an outer-boroughs arty type.  Both are engaging performers and it’s a special treat that their vocals are unamplified.  Music director John Bell provides on-stage piano accompaniment, presumably from an adjoining flat.

Modern technology is highlighted in the staging.  When the “Saturday Night” lyric mentions spending the evening at home with the Sunday Times, it sends Tam to his laptop for the web edition.  Later, the staging of “Bring On The Girls” makes it clear that he’s logged on to a porn site.  Likewise, as Molina sings of the boy who can foxtrot so well she’s giddily sexting the thickheaded lad.  Fortunately, both of them are into vintage record players, as playing a vinyl disc is necessary for an intimate moment.

Since Sondheim is a dramatist who specifies music, vocabulary and rhyme schemes to the characters singing, a healthy suspension of disbelief is necessary to believe that Tam’s nervous, distracted juvenile dueting “Your Eyes Are Blue” with Molina is the same martini-tongued sophisticate singing “Ah, But Underneath” or the dejected cynic of “Happily Ever After.”  (He makes a game effort with the middle selection but is far more effective in the other two, which are closer to the image he projects.)

Molina, whose cello playing skills are well incorporated into the scenario, benefits from having more material that genuinely contributes to shaping a believable character.  She lights a fine, simmering flame beneath the quietly jazzy “The Girls of Summer” and belts out “There Won’t Be Trumpets” with a firm conviction that her ideal mate is out there somewhere.

Perhaps the only oddball inclusion to the score is “Bang!,” a number cut from A Little Night Music, where the original show’s dragoon uses the language of war to describe sexual conquest.  The song’s formal language and graphically literal staging stands out as just too different from the way the characters are presented in the rest of the production.

Then again, it’s been over thirty years since 1980 and many of these once-obscure songs have become better known via recordings, cabarets, concerts and various Sondheim revues.  Put a couple of theatre posters on the wall and Marry Me A Little would make perfect sense as two theatre geeks alone in their apartments acting out their favorite showtunes; the musical theatre equivalent of playing air guitar.

Photos of Lauren Molina and Jason Tam by Carol Rosegg.

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Posted on: Friday, October 05, 2012 @ 11:13 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Through The Yellow Hour: Apocalyptic Boho Days

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Adam Rapp’s Through The Yellow Hour is that the playwright/director has intentionally written a piece that will never be performed with a completely age-appropriate cast – at least not legally in this country – since it includes a fully nude, sexually suggestive scene between a thirty-year-old character and another who is fourteen.  But because the person playing the youth is obviously of age, the scene is likely to leave audience members thinking of the older character as someone who has learned to trust and be caring again, rather than as someone committing statutory rape.

Of course, the age of consent may have been lowered a bit in Rapp’s apocalyptic vision of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  Major American cities have been bombed with both explosives and germs by… well, you know… and surviving men are being castrated while healthy young girls are being harvested, presumably for procreation.  Even worse, audience members get stamped on the neck with a red circle on their way into the auditorium and the playwright never tells us why.

Once inside, though, we can admire Andromache Chalfant's splendidly detailed work creating a claustrophobic East Village apartment crumbling from blown out windows and a collapsing ceiling.  (The kind of place where a character originated by the playwright’s brother might have lived.)  Keith Parham’s shadowy lighting with sharp beams of sun forcing their way in and Christian Frederickson‘s sound design depicting the war zone outside are also excellent.  The most foreboding aspect of the visual design, however, is the on-stage toilet; especially if you believe Mr. Rapp isn’t above using it as a stand-in for a Chekhovian on-stage gun.

Speaking of gunplay, the evening begins with the apartment’s inhabitant, a nurse named Ellen (a tense and daring Hani Furstenberg), shooting an unexpected visitor (Brian Mendes), whose dead body spends the next several weeks slumped in a corner, apparently never decomposing, causing a stench or attracting rodents.  He may have been just a poor bloke looking for food, but nobody can be trusted in this new world and Ellen hasn’t left the place since her husband has been missing; living on a seemingly endless supply of canned peaches and trading painkillers for means of survival.

An expected guest, drug-addicted Maude (Danielle Slavick), has arrived to hand over her baby girl who, if deemed healthy, can be shipped to a better life through a connection of Ellen’s.  Since there’s a big bathtub smack dab center stage, Maude strips down and takes a bath, but when she’s done she puts her grimy, smelly clothes back on instead of, perhaps, rinsing them out a bit first.

Rapp keeps our attention by dishing out information about what the heck is going on in tiny morsels involving Muslims, corporations and mysterious “Egg Heads,” and for the most part, despite lapses of logic, it’s a popcorn-worthy thriller that crosses into B-movie camp only with the arrival of a businesslike doctor (Matt Pilieci) and a deadpan, icy official (Joanne Tucker); both dressed by designer Jessica Pabst in cartoonishly futuristic pristine white getups.  They seem to be performing some kind of barter, exchanging the girl for the nervous farm-raised teen (Vladimir Versailles).

With the arrival of a seriously wounded man (Alok Tewari) with information about Ellen’s husband, the dialogue turns to gruesome details of what’s happening to men who are captured, putting some pretty disgusting images into audience members’ heads.

At 100 minutes, Rapp and the strong, committed company provide an enjoyably tense diversion that, as such projects are known to do, warns us of a (hopefully) avoidable future. 

Photos by Sandra Coudert:  Top:  Hani Furstenberg, Brian Mendes and Danielle Slavick; Bottom: Joanne Tucker, Matt Pilieci and Hani Furstenberg.

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Posted on: Tuesday, October 02, 2012 @ 01:15 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 9/30/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"Failure in the theater is more dramatic and uglier than any other form of writing. It costs so much, you feel so guilty."

-- Lillian Hellman

The grosses are out for the week ending 9/30/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (12.8%), GRACE (10.1%), CHAPLIN (8.3%), MAMMA MIA! (6.6%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (6.4%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (5.9%), WAR HORSE (5.5%), JERSEY BOYS (4.8%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (4.8%), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (4.3%), ONCE (2.7%), MARY POPPINS (2.7%), AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (1.8%), THE LION KING (1.4%), NEWSIES (1.1%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (1.1%), CHICAGO (0.9%), EVITA(0.7%),

Down for the week was: WICKED (-0.9%), ROCK OF AGES (-0.3%),

Posted on: Monday, October 01, 2012 @ 05:02 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


The Sophisticates

Before the comedy boom of the 1980s began dotting New York and every other major American city with clubs devoted exclusively to showcasing stand-ups, comedians worked primarily between sets at music venues or at random comedy nights at bars and restaurants.  And while the emergence of burlesque as a form of female-empowered entertainment where men and women both cheerfully whoop it up for their favorite ecdysiasts is still only an occasional feature of variously appointed venues, I do think we’re heading in a direction where before the end of this decade we’ll be seeing the emergence of burlesque clubs – much like today’s comedy clubs and jazz clubs – providing nightly opportunities for good, clean, non-judgmentally positive body image fun.

Reinforcing that notion is The Metropolitan Room’s twice-monthly hosting of The Sophisticates; the popular destination for Gershwin and Porter enthusiasts opening its doors to the strip-tease set for their late-night hi-jinks.

Bastard Keith, a smarmy gadabout throwback to the days when bad boys were the well-dressed intellectuals in glasses who quipped irreverently (“There’s a lot of music that speaks to me, and as a Jew, the most inspirational is the black spiritual.”), hosts the evening with a little song and a little friendly audience bonding.  (“I’d say ‘no homo’ but that would be inherently dishonest.”)

Joining Mr. Keith as co-producer is Madame Rosebud, an accomplished writer of sexual issues and self-identified guerilla feminist who sheds layers of her red ensemble like delicate flower petals.  Although all the music used in The Sophisticates is recorded, the grand piano remains on stage (Those things are expensive to move.) and Ms. Rosebud grandly hopped atop it for some delightful pinup poses, finishing with a move that I strongly suspect was the reason the show was once kicked out of The Plaza Hotel.

Every performance features a new lineup of guest stars and I was happy to see The Maine Attraction, a performer who has sufficiently dazzled me in the past, on the bill when I attended.  It may be a cliché to say a woman of color who dances in an outfit suggesting La Revue Nègre has a bit of Josephine Baker in her, but Ms. Attraction, though certainly of her own style, exudes the same kind of frenetic comic energy that first earned the chanteuse-to-be the title of Highest Paid Chorus Girl In Vaudeville.  She acts out routines with the skill of a silent movie clown (in one bit she appears to have swallowed her glove) and stops the show when jiving to “Sing, Sing, Sing” upside down with legs akimbo.

Bettina May, a willowy-armed Canadian with curly red locks and a big wholesome smile, demonstrated how her fan-dancing skills helped earn her a green card as an “alien of extraordinary ability” and Kristina Nekyia displayed wondrous flexibility in her East Indian-inspired routines.  Stage kitten Delysia LaChatte found enticing ways to ensure the stage remained spotless after each performance.

Though the sightlines of The Metropolitan Room may not be ideal for burlesque (head-to-toe visuals being so much more important for this sort of thing than for singing Rodgers and Hart) the dancers all compensated by bringing the fun out into the house, sometimes making for special moments with select audience members.  Let’s just say the cast of Hair never quite connected with their fans so intimately.

Photo:  Madame Rosebud and Bastard Keith.

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Posted on: Friday, September 28, 2012 @ 05:56 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Red Dog Howls

Sophie’s choice was a casual coin flip compared with decision forced upon a young mother in Alexander Dinelaris’ drama recalling the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian genocide, Red Dog Howls.  As a 91-year-old grandmother enduring life with the memory of a horrific confrontation with three sadistic Turks, Kathleen Chalfant gives an extraordinarily convincing performance balancing pain and dark humor, climaxing with an agonizing scene where she reveals a sickening secret.  But Chalfant’s performance, certainly worth remembering when award season comes along, is all the production has to recommend.

Set in 1980s New York, the heavy-handed text begins with a writer named Michael (Alfredo Narciso) informing us that, “There are sins, from which we can never be absolved.  Sins, so terrible, so... unimaginable, that if, or when, we finally acknowledge the depths of our complicity, we will be changed forever.”

By the evening’s end we’ve discovered the nature of his sin, as Michael narrates a tale from his recent past involving a cryptic message left to him by his now deceased father and the discovery of a grandmother he thought had passed on long ago.

Chalfant’s Rose is a crusty, old world sort who feels compelled to pass on her Armenian heritage and family history to the stranger who turns out to be her grandson, but only at a proper pace and never mentioning the grave secret until he’s ready.

Florencia Lozano plays Michael’s pregnant wife, Gabby, whose presence is more symbolic than dramatic.

Director Ken Rus Schmoll’s production is filled with stilted pauses and Chalfant is the only actor who finesses around the sluggish staging, but the play itself, with its declarative, fact-filled narration and thin characters, is the primary reason the evening is emotionally empty.

Photo of Kathleen Chalfant by Joan Marcus.

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Posted on: Thursday, September 27, 2012 @ 05:16 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.