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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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Katie Roche


While several of New York’s non-profit theatre companies have been pursuing the noble cause of creating more exposure for contemporary women playwrights, the Mint Theatre Company has been cornering the market on the dead ones.  Fourteen of the company’s forty productions were scripted by women, a statistic that gains stature when you consider that they’re reviving from a pool of material with a percentage of work by women far below that rate.  A prime case in point is the nearly forgotten Irish playwright Theresa Deevy, arguably the most famous female playwright of the first half of the 20th Century.

After mounting terrific productions of her Temporal Powers and Wife to James Whelan, Producing Artistic Director Jonathan Bank now stages what was considered her most popular work, Katie Roche; the only Deevy play to ever find its way to Broadway, playing a handful of performances in 1937 when the Abbey Theatre Company crossed the Atlantic with a repertory of productions.

As with many of Deevy’s works, the central character is a woman trying to maneuver her way out of her low station using the limited options available.  Played with naïve feistiness by Wrenn Schmidt, Katie is a servant in a lovely country cottage (beautifully rendered by Vicki R. Davis), tending to the needs of unmarried, middle-aged Amelia Gregg (delightfully sweet and timid Margaret Daly) and her frequently out-of-town businessman brother, Stanislaus (Patrick Fitzgerald).

Though she is fond of the charming local lad, Michael Maguire (Jon Fletcher), when Katie learns the truth about her parentage, she decides she’s had enough of the humble life (“I was meant to be proud.”) and accepts Stanislaus’ marriage proposal, though he is much older and, as played by Fitzgerald, stiff, outwardly unemotional and seriously lacking in personality.

The play’s three acts depict the changes in Katie as she exercises her new authority as lady of the house (such as her choice to cover the walls with religious paintings) while remaining obedient to her overbearing husband during his limited time back home.  It’s clear that Katie is attracted to the life Stanislaus can provide for her, not for the man himself, but she does little about it as the evening progresses.  The play also makes some oddly sharp turns from naturalistic drama to almost farce; in one scene Katie is violently struck by an authoritative male, in another she’s hiding a suitor from her husband by having him stand behind the window curtains.

Still, the very fine production makes its way through the rough spots.  There’s a very sweetly played, hesitantly romantic scene between Daly’s Amelia and John O’Creagh as a nervous, marriage-minded friend and Fiana Toibin makes a strong impression as Amelia and Stanislaus’ judgmental sister.

Photos by Richard Termine:  Top:  Patrick Fitzgerald and Wrenn Schmidt;  Bottom:  Margaret Daly and John O'Creagh

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Posted on: Friday, March 01, 2013 @ 06:02 PM Posted by: Michael Dale


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 2/24/13 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"The freedom of any society varies proportionately with the volume of its laughter."

-- Zero Mostel

The grosses are out for the week ending 2/24/2013 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: MARY POPPINS (8.7%), NEWSIES (8.7%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (8.0%), JERSEY BOYS (6.6%), PICNIC (5.7%), MANILOW ON BROADWAY (5.6%), ANNIE (4.3%), ONCE(2.5%),

Down for the week was: MAMMA MIA! (-16.4%), CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (-14.6%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (-9.3%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-4.8%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-3.8%), THE LION KING (-3.6%), ROCK OF AGES (-3.3%), CHICAGO (-2.6%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (-2.6%), THE OTHER PLACE (-2.3%), WICKED (-1.6%), CINDERELLA (-0.3%),

Posted on: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 @ 10:42 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Lend Me A Tenor & The Broadway Musicals of 1937

If the Broadway revival of a few years back demonstrated the deadly results that can occur when overthinking and underplaying a quality farce, the new Paper Mill mounting is a fast a furious example of Ken Ludwig’s madcap Lend Me A Tenor done right.  Director Don Stephenson doesn’t throw any fancy curveballs with the material, but he and his perfectly cast company of Broadway vets nail every door slam and verbal ping-pong volley with hilarious aplomb.

Set in the fanciest hotel suite 1930s Cleveland can provide (a nifty rendering by John Lee Beatty) Ludwig’s antics revolve around a world famous Italian opera star (John Treacy Egan, terrifically spoofing Euro-hamminess), hurried into town without rehearsal, to make his American debut in the title role of a one-night gala performance of Otello, only to have him knocked out by an unintentional overload of sedatives and alcohol shortly before curtain.

The panic-stricken producer (Michael Kostroff, channeling bombastically bellowing straight men like Gale Gordon) assigns Max, his aspiring opera star assistant (a nimble David Josefsberg) the task of disguising himself in the identity-concealing Otello garb and passing himself off as the great tenor; a desperate attempt to escape financial disaster.

Since there must be sex involved in these matters, Max is sweet on the boss’s daughter (Jill Paice), who is longing for a fling or two before settling down, preferable with someone like a famous opera star.  A fame-hungry soprano (Donna English) and a publicity-hungry arts patron (Nancy Johnston) also have their eyes on the singer they call Il Stupendo.  Conveniently, his tempestuously-tempered wife (ferociously funny Judith Blazer) has just walked out on him, but you know she’ll be back at the worst possible moment.  Rounding out the company is Mark Price as the ambitious and nosey bellhop.

It’s probably no coincidence that director Stephenson and most of his ensemble are best known for their work in musical theatre.  Not only are Egan and Josefsberg required to be believably operatic in a scene where Il Stupendo gives Max an impromptu voice lesson, but the play's execution depends greatly on playing out rhythms, tones and choreographed chaos.  The company makes sweet music out of this one, from the opening chords right through to the special built-in encore.

Photos by Jerry Dalia: Top: Nancy Johnston, Mark Price, Michael Kostroff and Jill Paice; Bottom: David Josefsberg and John Treacy Egan.

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Despite its subplots involving socialism and racial segregation, Rodgers and Hart’s Babes In Arms was the least political of the hit musicals that charged onto Broadway stages in that hectic year of 1937.  Unlike today, where shows are usually tested through years of readings, workshops and regional productions before coming anywhere near Times Square, in the 1930s a musical could go from initial idea to opening night in a matter of months and the most popular Broadway musicals frequently offered the kind of contemporary satire modern audiences usually get from late night television.

So even though the Babes In Arms score boasted five songs that are undoubtedly considered American Songbook classics (“My Funny Valentine,” “Where Or When,” “The Lady Is A Tramp,” “Johnny One Note” and “I Wish I Were In Love Again”) it was Harold Rome’s frequently updated topical revue Pins and Needles that became the first Broadway musical to surpass 1,000 performances, though its songs are rarely heard today because they’re mostly about bread lines, the rise of Fascism and labor hostilities.

The biggest musical comedy star to grace the stage that year was George M. Cohan, buck and winging across the stage as the country’s then-current president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in another Rodgers and Hart show, I’d Rather Be Right.  But his topical numbers, particularly the show-stopping “Off The Record,” are only known by connoisseurs today while the ballad sung by the show’s supporting lovers, “Have You Met Miss Jones,” emerged as a jazz standard.  Likewise Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s satirical numbers in Hooray For What?, an Ed Wynn vehicle spoofing war profiteering and blind patriotism, were overshadowed by the score’s hit, “Down With Love.”

This mix of satirical obscurities and popular standards was most apparent in the 1937 edition of Town Hall’s Broadway By The Year series, now entering its 13th season.  Creator/writer/host Scott Siegel took his usual place behind a side podium, setting all the selections in their historical and cultural contexts, and, as always, music director Ross Patterson was at piano leading his Little Big Band in arrangements that replicated the many styles of the year.  Director Mindy Cooper provided some frequently charming staging.

Perhaps the best example of the contrasting moods of the year’s musicals was seen in two knock-out tap numbers performed and choreographed by Danny Gardner.  From the short-lived Sea Legs, Gardner wowed the crowd by tap dancing in a straight jacket to the wacky love song “Touched In The Head.”  Later on, he was joined by Brent McBeth and Derek Roland for “Doing The Reactionary,” a Pins and Needles tune about the new “dance craze” that reflected the war rumblings in late ‘30s Europe.  (“It’s darker than the dark bottom, it rumbles more than the rumba. / If you think that the goose step’s got ‘em, just take a look at this numba.”)

Another Pins and Needles selection, usually performed as a solo, had Carole J. Bufford, Tonya Pinkins and Elizabeth Stanley lamenting, “Nobody Makes A Pass At Me,” with a clever lyric that spoofs Madison Avenue’s power over female consumers.  Stephen DeRosa led the company in Rome’s extremely catchy and quirky “Sing Me A Song With Social Significance.”

DeRosa’s snappy showmanship was also put to good use in “Way Out West (On West End Avenue),” another popular Babes In Arms tune.  He got to show a more somber side with the dramatic ballad “I See Your Face Before Me,” from the three month runner, Between The Devil.  That show’s Dietz and Schwartz score also provided dramatic highlights for Bufford (a rich interpretation of “Why Did You Do It?”) and Brian d’Arcy James (“By Myself”).

The aforementioned “Miss Jones” couldn’t have asked for a finer escort than Mr. d’Arcy James, who also dueted a romantic “Where Or When” with Stanley and cavorted with Pinkins for “I Wish I Were In Love Again.”  Proving that even the most seasoned pros can have their lapses, d’Arcy James and Pinkins both blanked out a bit on Hart’s lyric, but charmingly surged ahead, winning over the audience with ad-libbed lines about their memory losses that fit into the Rodgers melody.

Earlier on, Pinkins smoldered with “Moanin’ In The Mornin’,” delighted with “My Funny Valentine” and jazzed up the joint with “The Lady Is A Tramp.”

Kevin Earley handled the operetta moments with his commanding baritone, eschewing amplification for “Why Did You Kiss My Heart Awake?” from Franz Lehár and Edward Eliscu’s Frederika and for his campily-played duet with Stanley, “To Live Is To Love” from Three Waltzes; a show with a score adapted from music by Johann Strauss, Sr., Johann Strauss, Jr. and the unrelated Oscar Straus.  Stanley ended the concert belting out “Johnny One-Note.”

Photos by Stephen Sorokoff:  Top:  Danny Gardner; Bottom: Tonya Pinkins.

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Posted on: Monday, February 25, 2013 @ 03:25 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 2/17/13 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"Legends are all to do with the past and nothing to do with the present."
-- Lauren Bacall

The grosses are out for the week ending 2/17/2013 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: MAMMA MIA! (32.3%), CHICAGO (31.0%), CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (22.8%), MARY POPPINS (18.2%), WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (18.0%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (17.5%), PICNIC (14.6%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (14.0%), ANNIE (13.8%), THE OTHER PLACE (13.5%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (11.6%), CINDERELLA (10.8%), NEWSIES (10.2%), THE LION KING (10.1%), ROCK OF AGES (8.9%), WICKED (7.2%), MANILOW ON BROADWAY (5.3%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (5.0%), ONCE (3.3%), JERSEY BOYS(1.5%),

Down for the week was:

Posted on: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 @ 03:53 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


All In The Timing

Near the end of “Sure Thing,” one of the sextet of David Ives one-act comedies that make up All In The Timing, a pair of strangers meeting in a café bond over their mutual love for the early films of Woody Allen.  Perhaps the current offering from Primary Stages will inspire couples to meet at the 59E59 Theaters’ bar and bond over the early works of Mr. Ives, before he became known for less-quirky full-length plays and concert adaptations of old musicals.

“Sure Thing” is perhaps the best known of these hip, off-beat quickies that premiered back in the late 80s and early 90s as part of Manhattan Punch Line’s Annual One-Act Festival before being packaged together for a hit Off-Broadway run in ’93.  The high-concept comedy simply covers a short conversation between a man and a woman on a Friday night from the time he asks if the seat next to her is taken to the moment they decide to spend the rest of the evening together.  The running gag is that a bell rings every time one of them says something that could end the conversation right there and their words are quickly replaced with something more desirable.  (When the woman asks if he’s of any “weird political affiliation,” the man responds “Nope.  Straight-down-the-ticket Republican.  (Bell)  Straight-down-the-ticket Democrat.  (Bell)  Can I tell you something about politics?  (Bell)  I like to think of myself as a citizen of the universe. (Bell)  I'm unaffiliated.”)

While you may want to discuss how the playlet is about human communication or the fragility of blossoming relationships, the payoff is really – yes – all in the timing.  It’s the rhythms and pacing and word sounds that tickle the ear; perfect material for the off-kilter creativity of director John Rando, performed with New York over-analytical zest by Carson Elrod’s and Liv Rooth.

The rest of the evening riffs on even more antic notions.   “Words, Words, Words” has Elrod and Rooth joined by Matthew Saldivar as three chimps randomly banging at typewriters at desks labeled “Milton,” “Swift” and “Kafka,” knowing they’re expected to eventually come up with Hamlet, while not knowing exactly what Hamlet is.

Jenn Harris, who is funny enough with bland material, gets to sink her talented teeth into some really meaty comedy; first as a shy woman with a speech impediment in “The Universal Language” who grows more confident as con man Elrod teaches her a made-up tongue she can speak clearly (The humor comes from the audience’s ability to understand what they’re saying through malaprops and nonsense syllables.) and then as a surly, sexy waitress in “The Philadelphia,” a sketch where people are afflicted with conditions that have them taking on the clichéd qualities of major American cities.

“Philip Glass Buys A Loaf Of Bread” begins with the simple action described in the title and repetitively builds it into a verbal and physical opus.  “Variations On The Death Of Trotsky” begins with an absurd site gag but, with Saldivar’s wistful performance, turns into a rather sweet rumination on mortality.

Smart and witty throughout, this top-notch revival provides a brisk night of civilized laughs.

Photos by James Leynse:  Top: Liv Rooth and Carson Elrod; Bottom: Jenn Harris and Carson Elrod.

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Posted on: Sunday, February 17, 2013 @ 01:56 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


What next? Glass Birkenstocks?

All these interesting rumors going around about how the new Broadway production of Cinderella is trying to make the title character more of a role model for young girls. I hear today they're changing the lyric of the big ballad to "Do I Love You Because You're Feminist?"

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Posted on: Saturday, February 16, 2013 @ 01:18 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Clive

Bertolt Brecht’s Baal is pretty much the type of play you’d expect to be written by a 20-year-old student who would eventually become known for using dramatic techniques meant to alienate the audience from any emotional connection to the characters.  Now his social commentary about a hard-drinking outcast poet womanizer and murderer has been given a 1990s spin from The New Group in playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Clive.

Ethan Hawke, who also directs, is the title punk rock star, first seen convincing his producer’s wife to allow him to snort cocaine from her cleavage.  Throughout the episodic evening, Clive’s bad boy charisma seems to have an effect on women, who dive into his bed as quickly as he can kick out the previous occupant.  In lieu of plot we follow the self-destructive path of a self-absorbed hedonist naively looking for life’s meaning through sex, drugs and… you know the rest.

Hawke, one of the few actors in the cast who doesn’t play multiple roles, nicely underplays the part, but Sherman fails at the tricky business of sustaining interest in watching an unfeeling jerk’s decline.  As in his previous New Group offering, Things We Want (also directed by Hawke), the playwright displays a talent for dark, character-driven dialogue (“Here.  I found (your dress) on the floor.  Right next to your virginity.”) but the piece as a whole is dull.

The technique of having actors recite their own stage directions aloud is equal parts Brechtian and annoying.

Nevertheless, the play benefits from a fine production with solid performances by Brooks Ashmanskas as the older authority figures (The velour track suit he wears as the producer is a highlight of Catherine Zuber’s period costume collection.), Zoe Kazan as Clive’s self-esteemless virginal conquests and Vincent D'Onofrio as the rocker’s ambiguous pal.

Derek McLane’s set makes clever use of beer cans and labels and utilizes seven doors (Get it?  Seven.) that help create an interesting musical soundscape by Latham and Shelby Gaines.

Photo of Ethan Hawke and Zoe Kazan by Monique Carboni.

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Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 @ 03:33 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 2/10/13 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"I believe in censorship.  I made a fortune out of it."
-- Mae West

The grosses are out for the week ending 2/10/2013 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: THE HEIRESS(0.9%),

Down for the week was: WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (-18.2%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-14.6%), CHICAGO (-14.4%), MANILOW ON BROADWAY (-12.2%), NEWSIES (-11.8%), THE OTHER PLACE (-10.8%), MAMMA MIA! (-10.4%), ANNIE (-10.0%), CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (-9.4%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-7.6%), CINDERELLA (-7.4%), WICKED (-7.1%), THE LION KING (-5.6%), JERSEY BOYS (-5.4%), MARY POPPINS (-4.3%), ONCE (-4.1%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-3.1%), PICNIC (-2.2%), ROCK OF AGES (-1.0%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (-0.2%),

Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2013 @ 05:33 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Manilow On Broadway

I’m writing these words fully aware that there is no opinion I can express in the ensuing paragraphs that will ever have any effect on anyone’s decision whether or not to buy tickets for Manilow On Broadway.  I don’t mean that in a self-effacing manner.  I’m also sure that no one ever looked at an ad for Barry Manilow’s current concert engagement at the St. James and thought, “Hmm, this looks interesting but I want to see what Ben Brantley says about it before buying tickets.”

Certainly the woman sitting next to me in the 4th row center of the orchestra section didn’t wait for the critical consensus, telling me she had seen every performance of the run thus far and had every intention of seeing every remaining one.

Like Cirque Dreams and Forever Tango, this is one of those shows I really have no business reviewing (Some would say the same about me reviewing Chekhov, but that’s another matter.), but it’s playing on Broadway so as a New York theatre critic I’m granted a pair.

A former accompanist for Bette Midler at the Continental Baths, Manilow secured his place in American pop culture by writing classic television jingles like, “I am stuck on Band-Aid, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me,” and “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,” but will be forever remembered for recording pop standards (both self-written and by others) like “Mandy,” “Copacabana,” “It’s A Miracle,” “I Write The Songs,” “Could It Be Magic” and “Can’t Smile Without You.”

At 69 years of age, the energetic Manilow looks and sounds pretty terrific.  Backed by Ron Walters, Jr.’s onstage band and vocalists Kye Brackett (who staged the evening) and Sharon Hendrix, he looks out at his fans with nostalgic warmth, like a disco-era saloon singer, and happily croons all the standards they came to hear.  When he uses “Looks Like We Made It,” to celebrate his return to Broadway (He won a special Tony for his 1977 engagement.), he notes that the “we” includes the fans that have supported him throughout his career.  And he seems truly honored to be here, indulging in a chorus of “Give My Regards To Broadway” and expressing how excited he is to be on the same stage as the original productions of Hello, Dolly!, Oklahoma! and The Producers.

Speaking sentimentally of his Jewish upbringing in Brooklyn, he comes off as a real mensch with a sense of humor about himself.  When he bumps his hips to the music or gives a few pelvic thrusts, it’s with an attitude that seems to ask, “Remember when this was sexy?”  (From the squeals of the crowd you can tell they still think it is.)  At one point, after belting out a high note, he accented the moment with a Harpo Marx gookie face, laughing at the greater effort he has to give now.

While I don’t doubt his sincerity when he speaks of his fellow New Yorkers who suffered as a result of storm Sandy and the neighbors who came to their aid, it may not be the best idea to honor them with “I Made It Through The Rain.”  Nevertheless, I’m sure many find the moment deeply touching.  This is a love-in and the audience members, all of whom receive free glow sticks with their Playbills, spend the night loudly cheering, singing along, snapping photos and standing up to sway with the music; all with the star’s approval and encouragement.

Photos by Walter McBride.

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Posted on: Sunday, February 10, 2013 @ 02:36 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Vicious Rumor

I hear the reason the Broadway revival of Pump Boys and Dinettes was postponed is because director John Doyle has been having trouble coming up with a concept that includes having the characters play musical instruments.

Posted on: Friday, February 08, 2013 @ 11:57 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Bad Pun Alert

Reading about the new Lanford Wilson revival makes me wonder if the weekly grosses for the last Stephen Sondheim Broadway revival were known as Follies' Tally.

Posted on: Friday, February 08, 2013 @ 01:19 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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