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Nymph Errant


The last time the 1933 West End musical Nymph Errant was revived in New York, the Medicine Show Theatre Company advertised their production with the selling point that they haven’t removed any of the show’s racism.  Now, while going to see a racist musical is not exactly my idea of a fun night out, there is a certain historic value to watching older musicals performed with the texts the authors wrote, opposed to the frequent occurrence of slapping their books with labels like “creaky” or “dated” and having contemporary authors make wholesale revisions to transform them into suitable entertainments for modern audiences.

Those with no previous knowledge of Nymph Errant would probably see Prospect Theater Company’s current mounting, with a new book by Rob Urbinati (based on the original and its source), as an enjoyable, small-scale production of a mindlessly fun musical typical of the era.  But while Nymph Errant is by no means a lost classic, it’s a much more interesting piece than you would guess just by watching this cute, but edgeless revision.

James Laver's identically titled novel was barely a year old when producer Charles B. Cochran, noting the book's commercial success, critical praise and harsh damnation among moralists, thought it a perfect property for Cole Porter and actor/writer/director/fabulous socialite Romney Brent to adapt for the stage as a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence. Brent himself directed and discovered that a former sweetheart of his, Margaret de Mille, had a sister, Agnes, who was a fledgling dancer/choreographer so he invited her to join the creative team.

In its typically madcap story, Lawrence played Evangeline, a young Englishwoman, fresh from Swiss finishing school heading back home to Oxford. But keeping in mind her progressive teacher's advice that she "experiment" through life, she takes several detours on the arms of an international parade of questionable gentlemen, leaving each one when she finds his intentions are entirely honorable. When she finally returns to Oxford, frustratingly chaste, the authors served up a delicious ending spoofing D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover, still popular at the time.

Though it ran a healthy (for its time) 154 performances in London, Nymph Errant never made it to Broadway, due to illness on Ms. Lawrence's part, and perhaps a feeling that its sexually aggressive and independent female lead, without any central male romantic counterpart, would not seem attractive to American audiences. The show remained unproduced in New York until its 1982 premiere at Equity Library Theatre.

Surprisingly, the man who penned the scores of Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate considered this to be his best effort.  Though it contains no standards, there's the familiar "It's Bad For Me" and one of his flashier list songs, "The Physician." ("He went through wild ecstatics / When I showed him my lymphatics")  Although Porter certainly had his share of hits by the time Nymph Errant premiered (Anything Goes was still a year away, but "Night and Day" was introduced in the previous season's Gay Divorce), it was still a time when he was writing many of his lyrics specifically to amuse his society friends who would laugh uproariously at references that may leave today's listeners in the dark. He would eventually confess, "Sophisticated lyrics are more fun but only for myself and about eighteen other people, all of whom are first-nighters anyway. Polished, urbane and adult playwriting in the musical field is strictly a creative luxury." Perhaps that's the reason why a song spoofing cross-dressing author George Sand, was replaced during the West End run with a tune about the more familiar "Cazanova.”  The infamous "Sweet Nudity" was cut from the original production when Cochran made a deal with the theatre censors to remove a scene set in a German nudist colony in exchange for allowing the rest of the show to remain as is.

The 1930's, of course, was a time of global tension which would eventually lead to the Second World War, and the Broadway and West End musicals of that decade were often steeped in political satire. Though its plot was not particularly political, Nymph Errant, written for an English audience, reflected the decade's intense nationalism and suspicion of foreigners by painting the leading lady’s parade of non-lovers with ethnic stereotypes and racial humor.

Urbinati’s new book smoothes out anything that might be considered racially or ethnically insensitive while following the basic outline of Brent’s original, but the musical’s two most familiar moments have been eliminated.  “The Physician” has been removed from the Turkish harem scene and taken away from Evangeline, now sung by another character as part of a nightclub act.  An even more drastic change is that the sexually aggressive tone of the show has been altered to something more conventionally romantic by having the heroine already knowing her D.H. Lawrence-inspired heartthrob and pledging to be true to him throughout her travels, nixing the final Chatterley punch line.  Urbinati even goes as far as to have the fella back home appear to Evangeline as a memory, popping in on occasion to sing choruses of “Dizzy Baby,” a song lifted from the score of Paris.

A handful of other songs from different Porter scores are added, most jarringly the title song from Red, Hot and Blue and Fifty Million Frenchmen’s “Paree, What Did You Do To Me” because they are so closely associated with their original shows.  Urbinati also finds room for Nymph Errant’s notoriously cut songs but there’s a bit of reassigning of numbers from one character to another.  The new 5-piece orchestrations by Frederick Alden Terry are attractive and lively, though they occasionally stray into a sound that resembles 1940s big band more than 1930s musical theatre.

But patrons with little concern for theatrical alterations should find director/choreographer Will Pomerantz’s bouncy mounting of this jewel box adaptation – that reduces a lavish West End show to an ensemble piece for an energetic cast of 10 – a satisfying diversion.  Charming and pretty-voiced Jennifer Blood plays Evangeline as a typically spunky ingénue of the period and Andrew Brewer provides a sturdy romantic presence as her beau.  Sorab Wadia and Abe Goldfarb are both continually amusing as an international assortment of over-the-top caricatures, including a French follies producer, a depressed Russian composer a German nudist and Turkish Emir.

Headlining the evening in a variety of roles, and given some of the choicest material, is Tony-winner Cady Huffman, who is particularly winning as the progressive finishing school teacher with a naughty streak.  Though the evening could probably do without Urbinati’s monologue where she plays a lovesick stereotypically butch lesbian athlete.

Photos by Lee Wexler:  Top:  Jennifer Blood and Sorab Wadia; Bottom: Cady Huffman.

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Posted on: Sunday, July 29, 2012 @ 10:34 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


Dogfight: How To Handle A Woman

America may have abruptly lost its Camelot on the afternoon of November 22nd, 1963, but in the extraordinarily rich and tender new musical Dogfight, it was the night before that a pair of drops in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea began to sparkle.

Based on the same-titled 1991 film, the ambitious and challenging Dogfight sets the bar extremely high for upcoming musicals in this fledgling theatre season.  With a dynamic and textured character-driven score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, a provocative and heart-tugging book by Peter Duchan and director Joe Mantello’s vibrant naturalistic production, Dogfight takes a story that, at first, you’d never believe could sing, and gives it a realistic shot of romance and pathos.

Initiated by the memory of a marine returning to the states after seeing combat in Vietnam, the action is set in San Francisco on the night before he and his buddies are to be sent out to some little country “near India” that they’ve never heard of, convinced they’re just going to teach the locals how to fight for themselves and then come back home.  The primary trio includes the tough, foul-mouthed Eddie Birdlace (Derek Klena), the cocky leader, Boland (Josh Segarra) and the nerdy follower Bernstein (Nick Blaemire).  (Since the name “Bernstein” doesn’t exist in the film, one would assume it’s added to salute the great composer who wrote a previous musical about three military men about to be shipped off.)

A tradition among their fellow “jarheads” (a derogatory nickname reserved for them to call themselves) on such a night is to hold what’s known as a dogfight; each marine puts money into the pot to cover the expenses for a party and a cash prize for the fellow who can venture into town and come back with the ugliest date.

Sure, it’s a vulgar premise, but in the minds of these kids just out of high school they’re doing no harm.  The girls are to be treated with respect and, without ever telling them the real reason they were asked out, each marine is expected to show her a good time.  While the authors never ask us to sympathize with their actions, as the drama unfolds we gradually begin to understand that each of these guys has been trained to think that no matter how insecure they may feel about themselves, as a unit they are a privileged, unstoppable force that will achieve every goal, as expressed in their motto "Semper Fi, Do or Die.”

That attitude is undoubtedly necessary to succeed in combat, but their immature minds haven’t adjusted to setting such thoughts aside in the civilian world; especially apparent in a sickening scene where they pressure a prostitute, who has made it clear that she is physically unable to take another customer that night, into taking Bernstein into her bed for his first time.  When his mission is accomplished, the young marine gleefully bursts out of the room sporting a big, innocent smile, like a kid on Christmas morning who just unwrapped the bicycle he’s been wanting all year.  He has successfully dehumanized the obstacle standing in the way of him fulfilling his assignment.

Perhaps to avoid audience discomfort, the actresses playing their dates are, in fact, attractive women playing exaggerated flaws for comic effect, like Bernstein’s silent, stony-faced pickup (Dierdre Friel) and Boland’s ringer, an abrasive prostitute (Annaleigh Ashford) he’s promised a percentage of the winnings to if she uglys herself up enough to win.  An understandable choice that perhaps rings a little false.

But the central relationship of Dogfight is what gives this grim story its pure sweetness and eventual uplift.  Eddie wanders into a diner where he flirts with Rose (Lindsay Mendez), a shy, awkward waitress who only feels confident when she picks up a guitar and sings in the style of folk legends like Woody Guthrie and that new guy Bob Dylan.  His attempt to impress her with his own knowledge of folk music is ridiculously phony but she accepts his invitation to the party anyway.  It’s a fascinating scene through dialogue and song because even though we know Eddie’s initial motivation, Klena, through the excellent material, seems so sincere that it’s hard to tell if he truly likes Rose or if he’s really good at tricking women.  And while we can assume that Rose sees right through him, Mendez effectively plays the contrast of her fear of going out with this guy she’s just met and her exhilaration that a handsome marine is showing her attention.

When they get to the party, Eddie starts regretting his insensitivity toward his date, but when Rose finds out the real reason for the festivities she confronts him with the most horrifying words you can say to a soldier being shipped off to a hostile environment.  It’s a numbing climax to the first act.

But by then it’s already clear that Mendez, previously exposed to New York audiences primarily as a pop musical belter, is giving a remarkable breakout performance in one of the best written roles to hit Manhattan’s musical stages in quite some time.  Though her generous belt is utilized when needed, Mantello guides her into subtler, crushing moments that tear your heart out, especially when she’s expressing the joy of feeling attractive while the audience knows that what’s making her feel that way is a lie.

It’s Rose’s eventual understanding and acceptance of Eddie that allows him to make himself vulnerable and allows the audience to believe that deep down he’s a decent guy who has been protecting his insecurities by going along with the ways of his buddies.  Again, it’s in the subtler moments where Klena succeeds in making Eddie, if not a totally likeable character, one deserving of sympathy.

The supporting cast is solid, particularly when Blaemire’s anxious Bernstein tries to prove his worthiness, Segarra’s demeaning Boland tries to establish his authority and when Ashford’s tough-talking Marcy sticks up for herself.

Christopher Gattelli's athletic choreography is a raw, testosterone-driven extension of Mantello’s staging that may not be as flashy as his Tony-winning work in Newsies but tops it for dramatic excitement.

Dogfight may have its occasional stumbling points, like an ending a bit too vague to be satisfying, but the thrill of what it accomplishes as an emotional piece of musical theatre makes it an exhilarating addition to the young season.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Nick Blaemire, Derek Klena and Josh Segarra; Bottom: Lindsay Mendez.

Posted on: Monday, July 23, 2012 @ 03:59 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 7/22/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

“What is that unforgettable line?”

-- Samuel Beckett

The grosses are out for the week ending 7/22/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (9.3%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (7.8%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (3.6%), MEMPHIS (1.8%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (1.6%), SISTER ACT (1.2%), HARVEY(0.8%),

Down for the week was: CLYBOURNE PARK (-19.4%), FELA! (-15.2%), EVITA (-13.0%), GHOST (-9.4%), WAR HORSE (-6.3%), JERSEY BOYS (-6.2%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-5.7%), CHICAGO (-5.4%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-3.7%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-3.6%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (-3.4%), WICKED (-3.3%), PORGY AND BESS (-2.8%), ONCE (-2.6%), MARY POPPINS (-2.5%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-1.1%), MAMMA MIA! (-0.9%), ROCK OF AGES (-0.8%),

Posted on: Monday, July 23, 2012 @ 03:57 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 7/15/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"Mr. Rodgers had some ideas... and I didn't agree with them."

-- Celeste Holm on why she wasn't cast in the film of Oklahoma!

The grosses are out for the week ending 7/15/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: EVITA (16.6%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (13.5%), CHICAGO (11.4%), MEMPHIS (7.5%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (5.2%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (4.7%), HARVEY (3.0%), END OF THE RAINBOW (2.9%), MAMMA MIA! (2.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (2.9%), ONCE (2.5%), WICKED (1.7%), ROCK OF AGES (1.2%), CLYBOURNE PARK (0.7%), THE LION KING(0.4%),

Down for the week was: GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-12.2%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-5.1%), WAR HORSE (-5.1%), GHOST (-5.0%), SISTER ACT (-4.6%), PORGY AND BESS (-2.8%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-0.5%), MARY POPPINS (-0.2%), NEWSIES (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, July 16, 2012 @ 03:59 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Fela! Occupies The Hirschfeld

When the original Broadway production of Fela! closed in January of 2011, Zuccotti Park was little more than a block-long plaza where Wall Streeters would enjoy a bit of lunchtime sun.  For now, at least, the park has pretty much returned to that status, aside from the tourists taking photos of themselves at the spot now famous for birthing the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Perhaps the still-simmering issues behind that movement would help fuel a heightened interest in the temporary summer return of the docu-musical inspired by the life of Nigerian political activist and musical revolutionary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.  If not, then certainly the non-stop exuberance and nearly non-stop joy (only halted for belly punches of reality) of Bill T. Jones’ exhilarating production are enough to pack ‘em into the Hirschfeld.

Born in 1938 with a Christian minister for a father and a mother who was a leader in Nigeria's anti-colonial women's movement, Fela was sent to London for an education in medicine, but was sidetracked by an interest in music; his first influences being Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra. Fusing the jazz and pop styles he heard in London with the rhythms and chants of his homeland's Yoruba and high life, he created the Afrobeat sound and began touring and recording with his band, Koola Lobitos. Influenced by the 1960's Black Power movement through the writings of Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver, his lyrics began taking swipes at Nigeria's military government in songs like "Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense" ("Who is the government's teacher? / Corruption and perdition.") and "Zombie" ("Zombie no go think unless you tell him to think."), the song that infuriated the state so much with its depiction of the military that it led to his brutal beating (one of many he endured along with his over 200 arrests) and a fatal attack on his mother, Funmilayo.

Director/choreographer/co-bookwriter Jones and co-bookwriter Jim Lewis establish a performance-within-a-performance structure that sets the piece at the artist's regular haunt, a nightclub he named The Afrika Shrine, at a 1977 farewell concert given shortly after his mother's death as he prepares to exile himself to Ghana.

His onstage band is led by music director Aaron Johnson and Jones' fiercely energetic ensemble of dancers passionately undulate the erotically charged movements of nyansh.  Despite the story of oppression and bloodshed Fela! is a festival that demands to be celebratory in the face of hardship.

The focus of that festival is strikingly personified by Sahr Ngaujah (alternating performances with Adesola Osakalumi), who originated the role Off-Broadway.  Acting as host ("Everyone say yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Feeling good tonight?") Ngaujah is hardly ever off stage and is continually the center of attention as he narrates the story of Anikulapo-Kuti's political struggle, sings, dances, delivers rimshot-worthy one-liners and even gives the audience a lesson in the proper way to move one’s hips to his music.  He is abundantly charismatic and seems to have deepened his already outstanding performance from the initial Broadway run, showing us a bruised and battered artist determined to laugh at his oppressors and combat injustice through the power of his music and lyrics.

Haunting our host throughout the evening is the memory of his mother, sung with a glistening soprano by the warmly regal Melanie Marshall.

Fela! certainly isn't meant to be a complete portrait of its title character. The action of the show takes place before the man dismissed AIDS as a myth (he eventually died from it) and his practice of polygamy (he married 27 women at once) is treated more like nightclub shtick than fact.  But the music radiates and Jones and his crew never allow Fela! to be less than visually entrancing.

While the design elements for this touring production making a brief stop in town are mostly the same as in the original Broadway production, some features have been scaled down a bit.  During the initial run, set and costume designer Marina Draghici turned the entire theatre into The Afrika Shrine with colorful murals and portraits painted on the walls.  Now the set is regulated to the stage.  The cast is dressed in an appealing mixture of traditional and 1970's contemporary. Robert Wierzel's lights are appropriately clubby and Peter Nigrini's videos nicely accent key moments.

But most importantly it’s the kinetic force of the hard-working dancers and the talented star that make Fela!’s return to Broadway worthy of celebration.

Top photo of Sahr Ngaujah and Company by Raymond Hagans; Bottom photo of Melanie Marshall and Sahr Ngaujah by Tristram Kenton.

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Posted on: Monday, July 16, 2012 @ 02:22 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


New Mondays at 54 Below

When Phil Geoffrey Bond was named Programming Director at 54 Below, it became a given that the theatre district’s spanking new nightlife venue would include on its schedule Broadway-centric evenings geared for the knowledgeable musical theatre fan who appreciates both past glories and upcoming works in progress.  The producer/host of the Laurie Beechman Theatre’s popular Sondheim Unplugged series now makes a significant debut in the same capacities with New Mondays, dedicated to giving audiences a sampling of fresh material from accomplished theatre composers and lyricists.

Closing night of the series’ quintet of performances was my first visit to 54 Below (beautiful sightlines and sound, attractive décor, reasonable prices and charming service) and the packed house went nuts for the evening’s headliner, Maury Yeston.  After teasing the audience with snippets of “There She Is,” “Unusual Way,” “Love Can’t Happen” and “A Call From The Vatican,” he noted to the crowd that Bond had ask him to play some of his lesser-known work, thus launching the composer/lyricist into a madcap rendition of Nine’s “The Germans at the Spa,” where he narrated the action from the piano and sang all the parts.

Recalling an assignment he gave to his Yale students, Yeston sang his own clever lyrics designed to help them memorize Louis Armstrong’s cornet solo for his 1926 recording of “Big Butter and Egg Man.”  Johnny Rodgers took over the stage briefly to recreate his twangy recording of “Danglin’,” a song Yeston jokes that people didn’t believe he wrote because it’s so different from his other work.

But the main focus of the evening was to be on new works, so next came a pair from Club Moscow, an upcoming musical about post-Soviet Russia.  Jill Abromowitz (who the composer/lyricist calls, “a Tony Award waiting to happen.”) sang the comic “Malvina’s Song, where a character relishes her own bitchiness, and Mara Davi steamed up the place with “Tell Me,” where a seductress makes an unusual request.  Ending the segment was Rebecca Luker, sounding lovely, of course, with the lullaby from In The Beginning, “New Words."

Preceding Yeston were three talented composer/lyricists who have yet to see their Broadway dreams realized, but have still gathered a following among theatre fans and have been honored will well-respected industry awards.

Joe Iconis is up there with the most famous of musical theatre’s unknown writers, having gathered up a regular troupe of performers he calls “The Family.”  Jason “Sweet Tooth” Williams, one of the more familiar family faces and a terrific interpreter of the composer/lyricist’s “everyday guy” characters, was on hand to perform “Helen,” which surprisingly goes from being a one-joke lyric about a guy discovering that a girl he went to high school with is now a porn star, to an interesting reflection on what the people you knew as a kid would think of the way you’ve turned out.  A newer song, “Flesh and Bone,” had Williams playing a robot battling his body image insecurities.  Iconis himself, appropriately, sang his amusing “The Song,” where a songwriting tells of a woman who, after their breakup, insists he doesn’t write a song about her.

A new Iconis song ranks as one of the best of his I’ve ever heard.  “The Actress,” the story of a woman whose originality was stifling her career until she decided to just start doing what everybody else tries to do, is a perfectly satirical piece criticizing a culture that encourages cookie-cutter vocal gymnasts to suffocate music and lyrics with their American Idol stylings.  Katrina Rose Dideriksen performed with aggressive high belting, tender pathos and impish glee.

Katie Thompson lovingly performed Adam Gwon’s intensely romantic “One Little Word” and his sweet lullaby, “Think of the Moon.”  There was fine work by Whiney Bashor with the endearing “Favorite Places” and “Uncharted  Territory” and Carey Anderson in the very cute “Little Mysteries” from The Boy Detective Fails.

Brett Kristofferson’s set included “Joey Runs,” sung by Jonathan Whitton, a meditation on finding serenity through running, “Micki, Go,” sung by Scoot Koonce, a heartbreaking lyric about ending a relationship for a partner’s own good, and the very funny “Lizzie Borden Rag,” belted with comical joy by Kathy Searle.  Another heartbreaker, the MAC Award winning “Things That Haunt Me,” was elegantly turned by Angela Schultz.

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Posted on: Saturday, July 14, 2012 @ 03:28 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Quick Comments

So now that Patrick Page will be ending his stint as the Green Goblin in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark and begin rehearsals for a piece just a tad worthier of his talents, Cyrano De Bergerac, his replacement Robert Cuccioli, a sensitive lyric interpreter with a beautifully masculine voice, will be taking on the honor of singing “A Freak Like Me Needs Company” eight times a week.

Do you think anybody would complain if they just cut the number and replaced it with Cuccioli doing Jacques Brel’s “Jackie”?  Makes sense to me that the Green Goblin would be contemplating the possibility of being “cute, cute, cute in a stupid-ass way.”

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Joe Iconis has written some damn good songs in his day, but this new one I heard the other night at Phil Geoffrey Bond’s New Mondays concert at 54 Below (more on that later), "The Actress," completely floored me. It's a perfectly satirical story-song criticizing a culture that encourages cookie-cutter vocal gymnasts to suffocate music and lyrics with their American Idol stylings.

Here’s Katrina Rose Dideriksen singing it loud and high and impressively…

Posted on: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 @ 03:18 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 7/8/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

 

"The best way for me to procrastinate as a writer is research."

-- Quiara Alegria Hudes

The grosses are out for the week ending 7/8/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: PORGY AND BESS (14.0%), GHOST (11.6%), WAR HORSE (8.2%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (7.4%), CLYBOURNE PARK (6.4%), MARY POPPINS (5.9%), END OF THE RAINBOW (5.3%), MAMMA MIA! (5.2%), ANYTHING GOES (4.6%), SISTER ACT (4.3%), JERSEY BOYS (3.2%), THE COLUMNIST (2.2%), MEMPHIS (1.6%), CHICAGO (1.5%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (0.3%), NEWSIES(0.1%),

Down for the week was: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-15.0%), EVITA (-11.3%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (-2.8%), HARVEY (-2.2%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-1.8%), WICKED (-1.7%), ROCK OF AGES (-1.5%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-1.5%), ONCE (-1.1%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-1.1%), THE LION KING (-0.4%),

Posted on: Monday, July 09, 2012 @ 03:18 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Harvey & Triassic Parq

Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Mary Chase was advocating alcohol addiction with her 1944 Pulitzer-winning comedy, Harvey, she sure makes it seem an attractive alternative.

Who can resist giving a silent cheer – or, heck, even a completely audible one – when our hero explains to the man who is determining if he’d be better off in a sanatorium, “I wrestled with reality most of my life, doctor, and I am happy to state that I finally won out over it.”

Even to those who have never seen the play, or Jimmy Stewart’s turn in the movie version, the title character of Harvey, a six-foot, three and a half inch rabbit that is only seen by the amiable and polite Elwood P. Dowd, is as recognizable an image in American pop culture as the notion that the dangerously crazy ones are actually the people who would repress someone’s indulgence in absurdity.

Director Scott Ellis’ handsome and appropriately folksy production is grounded by Jim Parsons, a soft-spoken and somewhat timid Dowd who exudes comforting warmth when in the presence of those who trust him.  If not for the mentions of his pookah pal, you’d never suspect him of being alcoholic until he starts describing his regular evenings of bar-hopping (bunny-hopping?).  Maybe not the town nut to his fellow Denverites, he’s perhaps more of a curiosity, as evidenced by his description of how complete strangers tend to gravitate to him and Harvey for impromptu conversations.  Seems having Harvey around combats his loneliness in more ways than one.

Jessica Hecht is suitably high-strung and haughty as his sister, Veta, who wishes to both clear the family name and acquire her brother’s inherited home and wealth by having him sent away.  Her marriage-minded daughter, Myrtle Mae (a very funny and giddy Tracee Chimo), is all for the plan, as her uncle’s influence on the family reputation has left her suitor-less.

Charles Kimbrough, who plays befuddled authority figures as well as anybody, is just delightful as the gradually confused Dr. Chumley, as is Carol Kane doing her familiar off-beat ditzy routine as his wife.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Charles Kimbrough, Jessica Hecht and Jim Parsons; Bottom: Carol Kane and Jim Parsons.

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The tall white guy who narrates the show with his imposing voice introduces himself as Morgan Freeman.  For the next eighty minutes, characters will keep confusing him with Samuel L. Jackson.  This is pretty much the height of cleverness achieved by Triassic Parq, the terribly uninspired musical spoof of a certain Michael Crichton novel and the film adaptations that followed.

The effort of the bookwriting/lyricist trio of Marshall Pailet (who also composed the score and directs), Steve Wargo and Bryce Norbitz includes all the campiness, broad sexual innuendo and gags regarding low-budget production values that has become standard in such ventures, but the intended comedy of their version of the Jurassic Park story – told from the point of view of the all-female herd of scientifically created dinosaurs whose peaceful world runs amuck when one of them starts growing a penis – thuds along, aggressively unfunny.  (“The ‘s’ in science is for ‘Suck my dick,’” goes one of their well-crafted bon mots.)

Pailet’s music includes a fun moment when the company sings “We are dinosaurs!  We are dinosaurs!” to a pop-infused version of the film score’s main theme, but the rest of the score is a generic collection of theatre rock, pop and hip-hop.

But despite the weak material, the production is extremely strong.  Pailet and choreographer Kyle Mullin remarkably keep the action fluid and energetic in the cramped quarters of the SoHo Playhouse, especially when Mullin has the company humorously hip-hopping.  Dina Perez’s costumes, suggesting dinosaurs without going literal, and Caite Hevner’s jungle-inspired scenic design add fun visuals.

Lindsay Nicole Chambers, hilarious as the angry slam poet in the underappreciated Lysistrata Jones, steals every moment she’s on stage as the urban diva-ish Velociraptor of Science and the talented cast includes a charmingly naïve Alex Wyse as the Velociraptor of Innocence and a comically authoritative Lee Seymour as Morgan Freeman, but despite its winning production features, Triassic Parq is loaded down with too much ineffective material.

Photo of Lindsay Nicole Chambers and Alex Wyse by Carol Rosegg.

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Although I tend to be a bit old-school in my choice of venues for pre- and post-Broadway theatre tippling, I happily accepted an invite to indulge in a cocktail or two at the Copacabana when I heard about their 4th floor rooftop lounge overlooking 47th Street and 8th Avenue.  If you’re like me, you get a little thrill out of watching the excitement of thousands of playgoers rushing to their evening’s entertainment or, a few hours later, venturing back into the real world while discussing the pros and cons of the production.  (I’m told it also provides a fine view of 4th of July fireworks over the Hudson.)  The retractable room insures protection from any sudden showers in 55 seconds.

I’m sure I took the piped-in music of Barry Manilow singing of “the hottest spot north of Havana” a bit more tongue-in-cheek than was intended but the comfy, spacious lounge with a dark wood floor and black and white décor provided a nicely civilized atmosphere.  And with the Copacabana already becoming known as a place to celebrate Broadway openings (Streetcar, Leap of Faith) it might become an old-school theatre hangout yet.

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Posted on: Monday, July 02, 2012 @ 05:56 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 7/1/12 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"Only playwrights can ensure the well-being of playwrights. No one else will do it for us."

-- Peter Stone

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 7/1/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (23.5%), MAMMA MIA! (8.0%), ANYTHING GOES (7.6%), CHICAGO (4.7%), SISTER ACT (3.4%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (3.2%), MARY POPPINS (3.0%), GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN (2.6%), A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (2.2%), GHOST (1.7%), THE COLUMNIST (1.7%), HARVEY (1.2%), EVITA (1.0%), THE LYONS (0.7%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (0.6%), JERSEY BOYS (0.5%), NEWSIES(0.3%),

Down for the week was: NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-14.5%), PORGY AND BESS (-9.1%), END OF THE RAINBOW (-8.4%), WAR HORSE (-2.9%), ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (-2.0%), MEMPHIS (-2.0%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-0.3%), ONCE (-0.2%), ROCK OF AGES (-0.2%), WICKED (-0.1%),

Posted on: Monday, July 02, 2012 @ 03:30 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Rapture, Blister, Burn: Lashing Back

When the houselights went up for intermission at Gina Gionfriddo's  provocative comedy of gender issues, Rapture, Blister, Burn, my immediate impulse was to ask my guest – a 1980s Columbia University Women’s Studies graduate who, like myself, remembers the days when an Upper West Side liberal’s coffee table was considered incomplete if not graced by a heavily earmarked volume of Susan Faludi’s latest and simply saying the name “Phyllis Schlafly” at certain cocktail parties would trigger the same venomous reaction the name “Haman” would receive from the most Manischewitz-soused participants at a Lower East Side Purim spiel – if it all seemed realistic to her.

Her reaction was intriguing; that it’s been so long since she’s heard people talking about these subjects.  Certainly, Gionfriddo’s plot contains a perfectly balanced formula of contrivances and coincidences to help spark such conversation (Look how many generations of women just happen to be in the same room together!), but her dialogue is too clever, insightful and entertaining to complain.  And perhaps in this era of “I’m not a feminist, but…” it’s a refreshing twist to hear dialogue from the standpoint of “I am a feminist, but…”

Taking its title from a line in Courtney Love’s wound-licking anthem, “Use Once And Destroy,” the play concerns two contemporary women in their 40s regretting their life choices; one that followed Betty Friedan’s inspiration to “have it all” and the other accepting the special privileges Schlafly insisted women enjoyed by not being equal to men.

Catherine (Amy Brenneman) is a celebrity author and television talking head who got famous for being the hot chick who wrote academic texts on feminism as it applies to pornography and horror movies.  Never married and without children, she still clings to her feelings for her grad school boyfriend, Don (Lee Tergesen), who she left to pursue career opportunities.  Don was quickly nabbed by Catherine’s roommate, Gwen (Kellie Overbey), who quit school to fulfill her dream of being a wife and mother.

Today, Don might not seem like quite the catch.  A New England college dean with little interest in advancement, his main pleasures in life are drinking beer, getting high and watching Internet porn.  Gwen is a recovering alcoholic who feels that staying sober betrays her WASP upbringing.  She’s lost any interest in sex and feels trapped by her life of being a mother and wife.

What reunites them is when Don arranges for Catherine to teach at his school while she’s on sabbatical from a loftier institution to take care of her pre-liberation mother, Alice (Beth Dixon), while she recovers from a recent heart attack.  A summer workshop that Catherine leads from her mother’s home attracts only two students:  Gwen and her recently fired babysitter, Avery (Virginia Kull), an outspoken hipster who shows signs of having an abusive boyfriend.

Guided by director Peter DuBois’ light, peppy touch, the meat of the play is the spirited talk and debate that goes on during classes, where discussions of second and third wave feminism bring out Catherine’s longings for comfortable mediocrity and Gwen’s misgivings about not seeing what life could offer aside from marriage.  Their attempt at a mutually beneficial solution is right out of sitcom 101 (Yeah, Gionfriddo actually tries that route.) but the play and the performances are good enough to inspire curiosity to see where it’s going.

The cast is excellent, with Overbey giving Gwen a detached acerbic manner that shows she’s surviving her horrendous marriage by emotionally separating herself from it, and Brenneman subtly hinting at the dissatisfied cracks beneath Catherine’s sexy confidence.

You may not find yourself empathizing with the characters, as they are presented as such extremes, but Gionfriddo makes solid points about the women they represent, and the emotional wall that separates us from them allows Rapture, Blister, Burn to be a very funny play that can inspire further post-theatre debate.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Kellie Overbey and Virginia Kull; Bottom: Beth Dixon and Amy Brenneman.

Posted on: Friday, June 29, 2012 @ 09:34 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback




About Michael: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Shea Stadium pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.

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