He's Led Zeppelin and she's Carly Simon.
He's rock and roll and she's bagels and lox.
The opposites attracting plot is probably as old as romantic comedy itself, but even if Rooms: a rock romance follows familiar paths, the Paul Scott Goodman (book/music/lyrics) and Miriam Gordon (book) two-person musical is such a buoyant, funny and upbeat affair that the clichés of the story are conquered by the cleverness and exuberance with which the story is told. Under Scott Schwartz's swift and breezy direction, the 90-minute one-act scoots the audience along on an immensely enjoyable ride.
Beginning in Glasgow, 1977, the show traces the professional, then romantic, partnership between sullen recluse composer Ian (Doug Kreeger), who has no direction in his young life, and ambitious lyricist Monica (Leslie Kritzer), who is determined to do whatever it takes to be a star in the music business. Meeting cute in this case means that Monica quickly needs a composer to set a lyric she wrote to music for an upcoming bat mitzvah gig. (Her only other option is a guy heavily into Jethro Tull, so all his music has to have flute parts.) Naturally, their differences create friction at first (she's an upper middle class Jewish princess and he's a gritty Catholic rocker from the poorer part of town) but they manage to bond over the bombing of their first collaboration; a very funny ditty called "Scottish Jewish Princess" that reveals more about the personal life of the 13-year-old guest of honor than her family would have liked to hear.
Goodman's score, which mixes conversational sections with pull-out songs, sets a musical difference between the two by having Ian express himself in a sound resembling acoustic, protest folk while Monica's influence is the strong-woman pop sound of the late 70s. But as they feel an attraction for each other Ian's sound becomes catchier, with more hooks, while Monica starts revealing harder edges. Another fun feature of the score is how Goodman has the characters occasionally quote popular song lyrics as part of their normal conversation, illuminating how the songs that touch you become a natural part of your language. It subtly adds texture to the two when Monica mentions riding in a "Big Yellow Taxi" and Ian quotes "Within You Without You" when confronting her about their relationship, but we can use some further explanation as to how Ian came up with "Every Day A Little Death."
When the New Wave hits Britain, the persuasive Monica ("She could sell condoms to the pope.") convinces Ian to go with her to London, where they reinvent themselves as punk rockers and start climbing the charts. ("Lick my bum, we're number one!") But Ian's fear of leaving the safety of his room drives him to alcoholism just as the duo has a chance to make it big in New York. (Monica, by the way, is bulimic, but her vomiting is never a plot point. It's referred to as more of a controllable diet plan than an addiction.)
It's been 8 years since New Yorkers first heard that some unknown kid was giving a sensational turn starring in Paper Mill's production of Funny Girl. Now finally, after getting mere tastes of her abilities from featured roles on and off Broadway, Manhattan has a vehicle that displays Leslie Kritzer's substantial musical comedy talents in full force. One moment her crisp clarion vocals are filling the house with thrilling power and imaginative lyric phrasing, and the next she's tearing your heart out with the quiet sincerity with which she keeps her chin up as her character's dreams dissolve. Her comic sense is downright diabolical; capable of inducing roars of laugher with the slightest vocal infection, an unexpected physical reaction or just the wild abandon with which she models the overtly trendy getups costume designer Alejo Vietti concocts. The night I attended she brought down the house with one perfectly timed spit.
But though co-star Doug Kreeger has the less-flashy role, he is still the sturdy anchor of the evening, capable of making Ian a sympathetic character through his dark deadpan humor even as his irresponsibility destroys his lover's dreams. Their chemistry together is solid, particularly as they spoof angry punkers via Goodman's satirical licks and Matt Williams' outlandish choreography.
Adam Koch's set is a wooden floor that might resemble a club stage before the beer and vomit stains have set in. There are two chairs, but the most prominent set piece is a doorway on wheels which Schwartz effectively uses to keep scenes in motion. Herrick Goldman supplies the space defining lighting and the 5-piece band stationed upstage is led by Matt Hinkley.
It's getting late in the game, but I believe we have a new contender for the best new musical of the season.
Photos of Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger by Carol Rosegg
Back in ought-two, as you may recall, director Trevor Nunn brought his Royal National Theatre production of Oklahoma! 'cross the Atlantic to Broadway, assuring us Yanks that this innovative new mounting wouldn't be the same old Broadway classic we were used to. Instead it would be closer in spirit to the musical's source, the Lynn Riggs play, Green Grow The Lilacs. And while his intimate, rewritten, naturalistic mounting looked great though the probing eye of a television camera when it was video-recorded, on stage his forth-wall vision was continually at odds with the large, robust spirit of the book and score written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Oklahoma! is simply not Green Grow The Lilacs.
Now we have Des McAnuff's attempt to put some unnecessarily new life into Guys and Dolls, frequently regarded by connoisseurs as a perfectly written and composed musical comedy, by going back to its source, the short stories of Damon Runyon. Though the director assures the Broadway community that his new concept comes with the blessing of Jo Sullivan, the widow of the Frank Loesser - who wrote what is arguably the greatest musical comedy score ever to hit town - I've heard no mention of approval from descendents of the show's bookwriter, Abe Burrows, whose exceptional work bears the brunt of the new production's changes.
Yes, Jo Swirling contractually receives co-authorship credit for the book, but it's widely reported that Burrows came into the project to replace Swirling and that the two never collaborated. It wouldn't be the last time that Abe Burrows, who gained a reputation as Broadway's premiere play doctor, was called upon to either punch up or completely take over the writing of a theatre project. But though this was his first piece for the stage, he was already very comfortable with the show's setting, having been head writer for the long-running and very Runyonesque radio program, Duffy's Tavern.
The most obvious change (and none of the revisions are credited, by the way, leaving newcomers to the show to believe they're seeing what the authors wrote) is McAnuff's decision to remove the musical from it's carefree, post-war prosperity 1950 setting to mid-Depression 1935. This necessitates a couple of lyric revisions (a reference to television and a recollection of 1938) but the unchanged mentionings of air-conditioned trains and Howard Johnson's restaurants - things that did exist but were not exactly as common in the mid-30s as they were 15 years later - stick out as somewhat anachronistic. And while a certain Westchester town was surely around in 1935, when slick gambler Sky Masterson describes missionary lass Sarah Brown's dream of the perfect man as "a Scarsdale Galahad," it brings up an image of suburbia that really wasn't popularized until after World War II.
And speaking of Sarah Brown, doesn't it seem odd that a Depression-era Times Square missionary never makes any mention of soup kitchens or bread lines? In fact, nobody in Des McAnuff's vision mid-30s Gotham seems all that affected by the lousy economy.
The second major change was that decision that, since the show now takes place during Damon Runyon's lifetime, the short story author should appear on stage in a reimagined version of the musical's opening sequence, "Runyonland." As originally written and staged, "Runyonland" is a danceless ballet that introduces us to the colorful atmosphere of a Times Square populated by two-bit swindlers, shapely floozies and hotshot gamblers. It's now seen as a walking tour of the city Runyon (Raymond Del Barrio) takes to clear his writer's block. In his travels he stumbles onto a bank robbery, a fixed boxing match, an underground card game and bit of gunplay, giving him ideas for the stories he would write that would inspire the musical we'll soon be watching. The only trouble is that city sights he stumbles upon have nothing to do with the next two and a half hours of musical comedy.
No, I take that back. They have one thing in common: a grim depiction of a colorless New York lying beneath bright, intimidatingly hulking lights of Broadway. Robert Brill's set, framed by the steel supports of elevated trains and costume designer Paul Tazewell's appropriately plain collection of suits and showgirl outfits are certainly consistent with the director's vision, but they don't reflect the spirit of material subtitled, "a musical fable of Broadway."
Then there's Dustin O'Neill's downright ugly scene-setting video projections that continually upstage the actors. Yes, I understand... New York City is a vital, kinetic character in this production. But could you please have the city hold still a moment while the romantic leads are singing the final notes of "I've Never Been in Love Before"?
And that brings us to the actors, who I shall deem blameless because when this many professionals look that bad it's usually not their fault. (I seem to be writing that sentiment a lot lately, don't I?) McAnuff's production, which inspired mildly amused chuckles from time to time the night I attended, seems staged with a near complete lack of understanding of what makes this material funny. Sky Masterson's big "cider" punch line is barely understood because there's a whole damn Salvation Army band marching in front of him as he says it. Big Jule's (Glenn Fleshler) reaction to learning that Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide have been engaged for 14 years is reduced to nothing. The director does try and get his own laughs by tinkering with the wording of Sarah's funniest line and switching one location from a newspaper stand to a hot dog to facilitate a sight gag, but he's no match for Burrows.
Lauren Graham plays Miss Adelaide with a deep, flat voice and a stilted speech cadence that sounds like a near-illiterate trying to read a grammar book aloud; a character choice that sabotages her comic delivery. Loesser's comic masterpiece, "Adelaide's Lament," has little impact here because it's staged and sung with no emotional build. The nightclub where she performs, The Hot Box, is determined by the director to be a depressing sort of burlesque house with a floor show. Men up front hoot and whistle at her and the chorus girls as they perform "Take Back Your Mink" and "A Bushel and a Peck." One of them even hands Adelaide a dollar tip as she dances; which in this production means she does a lot of shoulder shakes and half-turns while the others dance around her.
Oliver Platt's Nathan Detroit is a lumbering lummox who occasionally slips into a voice somewhat akin to Jackie Gleason's snooty Reginald Van Gleason III character. While playing a couple who have been engaged for 14 years, he and Graham seem like total strangers in their scenes together. There is also a noticeable lack of chemistry (yeah... chemistry) between Craig Bierko's smirking, lackadaisical Sky and Kate Jennings Grant's strident, but bland Sarah.
All four sing acceptably, but without taking advantage of the rich score's many opportunities for a vocalist to relish the lyrical textures and clever phrasing.
Tituss Burgess, blessed with an exceptional vocal range, is normally a very charming showman, but the humor of Nicely-Nicely Johnson is beaten to the ground because he spends most of the night wearing a sour expression as if he were playing an actor who left a great role in a long-running hit show to take a gig in a misdirected revival where he has to wear an ill-fitting fat suit. Mary Testa, a gifted comic performer, has no solo in her role as the stern General Cartwright, but she speaks her dozen or so lines like she's trying to hit every note on a five octave range from syllable to syllable. And while it has become commonplace to play up the gospel potential in Nicely's "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat," the number has been overdone into a showstopper in the most vulgar sense of the word; serving no purpose but to show off the versatility of Burgess' voice and to give Testa a comical moment where her character throws away inhibitions and starts slapping her butt in self punishment for being a bad girl. The two actors do their jobs well but the staging has nothing to do with Runyon, Loesser, Burrows or anything McAnuff has presented up to that point.
So what's good? Sergio Trujillo delivers athletic tough-guy choreography that matches the style of Michael Kidd's legendary work in the original production, but still pops with its own spirit; especially in the knock-out leaps and rolls of "The Crapshooter's Dance." Bruce Coughlin's 1930s style swing-based, supper clubby orchestrations - replacing the Broadway brass 1950 sound of the originals by George Bassman, Ted Royal, Michael Starobin and Michael Gibson - carries plenty of movement, commentary and subtext. And the thickly-New York accented Steve Rosen show sharp comic skills and sings up a musical comedy storm as Benny Southstreet; making the bold choice of not going for something different. Just something that works.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Craig Bierko and Oliver Platt; Bottom: Kate Jennings Grant and Lauren Graham
Posted on: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 @ 09:02 AM Posted by: Michael Dale
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 3/15 & Algonquin Round Table Quote of the Week
The scenery in the play was beautiful, but the actors got in front of it.
-- Alexander Woollcott
The grosses are out for the week ending 3/15/2009 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: EXIT THE KING (71.7%), CHICAGO (20.0%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (17.0%), THE 39 STEPS (16.4%), MARY POPPINS (14.5%), AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (12.0%), AVENUE Q (11.3%), MAMMA MIA! (9.6%), HEDDA GABLER (8.7%), IN THE HEIGHTS (8.5%), THE LION KING (7.6%), THE LITTLE MERMAID (7.2%), IMPRESSIONISM (7.1%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (5.4%), SHREK THE MUSICAL (5.1%), GOD OF CARNAGE (3.6%), GUYS AND DOLLS (2.3%), JERSEY BOYS (2.0%), 33 VARIATIONS (1.9%), WICKED (1.9%), WEST SIDE STORY (0.8%),
Down for the week was: THE AMERICAN PLAN (-5.1%), YOU'RE WELCOME AMERICA. A FINAL NIGHT WITH GEORGE W. BUSH (-3.4%), BLITHE SPIRIT (-2.9%), SOUTH PACIFIC (-0.6%),
Posted on: Monday, March 16, 2009 @ 03:43 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Master Class: The Lioness in Winter
Barbara Walsh may not be a world famous performing artist but she's damn convincing at playing one in Paper Mill's sparkling new production of Terrance McNally's Master Class. With only four weeks of preparation after scheduling conflicts forced announced star Kate Mulgrew to withdraw, Walsh's well-balanced mixture of poise, regality, insecurity, wit, intelligence and compassion bring a captivating portrayal to this intriguing and comical character study of an acclaimed artist no longer is possession of the tool through which her artistry earned its acclaim.
McNally sets the play in 1971, six years after Maria Callas has retired from the opera stage, when the great dramatic soprano has been hired by Julliard to teach a semester of master classes. Individual students would take turns on the recital hall stage having their talents placed under a microscope by the critically caustic instructor while an auditorium filled with hopefuls would quietly observe. While the play takes place during the course of one class, the author illuminates his central character through a pair of internal monologues; one describing a past triumph at La Scala and another remembering her tempestuous relationship with Aristotle Onassis.
We in the audience are the quiet observers as she opens the class by asking if everyone can hear her and then ignoring any attempt to respond. Voicing her distain for microphones, she scolds, "People are forgetting how to listen. If you can't hear me, it's your fault. You're not concentrating." (The sentiment takes an unintentionally satirical turn since amplification is used for the large Paper Mill auditorium.)
Under Wendy C. Goldberg's direction you can always see the sadness and sincerity beneath the teacher's harsh criticism. When the audience laughs as Walsh's Callas calls for another pupil with, "Next victim," you can see the quick satisfaction she gets from the crowd's approval. Lines like, "How can you have rivals when no one can do what you do?" are spoken with innocent inquisitiveness. When Callas is truly moved by the performance she pulls out of one student, Walsh effectively hints at the character's frustration at no longer being able to do the same.
While the main character's dominance over the evening makes the piece feel at times like a one-person show, the star is surrounded by a very strong supporting cast. Lauren Worsham seems like a lamb thrown into the lion's den as her initial student, Sophie. "I'm very fiery," she explains with an adorably pert, apple-cheeked eagerness to please. Though Sophie can barely let out the first note of the sleepwalking aria from La Sonnambula before the teacher is criticizing her lack of preparation during the piano introduction, she diligently (an ineptly) tries to copy her idol's physical moves and facial expressions with endearing results.
Mike McGowan plays tenor Tony with the confident, leading man swagger of a singer whose role model is Mario Lanza. Callas demeans his attempts to charm the audience and tries to draw a legitimate acting performance from his Tosca solo. Sarah Uriarte Berry makes a strong transformation from a student so intimidated by Callas' criticism of the way she's dressed that she must leave the stage to throw up, to a commanding presence who uses her disgust for the diva to fuel a roaring performance as Lady Macbeth.
In smaller roles, Andrew Gerle has his impish moments as accompanist Manny and Ryan King keeps the proceedings earthbound as the stagehand who doesn't take abuse from anybody.
Set designer Alexander Dodge shrinks the Paper Mill stage to a wood-paneled recital hall nearly filled by a grand piano. He and lighting designer Josh Epstein pull off a neat moment in transforming the stage to a performer's view of the audience at La Scala. Add Anne Kennedy's early 1970s fashions (particularly the long vest for Ms. Callas) and you have an immensely enjoyable production of a pretty terrific play.
Photos by Gerry Goodstein: Top: Andrew Gerle, Sarah Uriarte Berry and Barbara Walsh; Bottom: Lauren Worsham and Barbara Walsh
Posted on: Saturday, March 14, 2009 @ 07:44 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
The Savannah Disputation: I'm A Believer
"I know Jesus loves me! It's you he hates!"
While I have a sneaking suspicion that playwright Evan Smith meant for his new comedy, The Savannah Disputation, to bring out provocative issues of faith from underneath its many, many, many big laughs, I'm afraid director Walter Bobbie's production at Playwrights Horizon settles for being ninety of the funniest minutes currently gracing Manhattan's stages. Oh sure, maybe some churchgoers will have reservations, but this heathen had a helluva good time.
As designed by John Lee Beatty, the Savannah home of devout Catholic sisters Mary (Dana Ivy) and Margaret (Marylouise Burke) is an explosion of clashing paisley from carpet to walls to upholstery. And as costumed by David C. Woolard, we can see the ladies are not overly concerned with their appearance. The fun begins when Melissa (Kellie Overbey), a young, pretty, attractively dressed Pentecostal missionary comes to their door in hopes of saving them from their false religion. ("I'm not anti-Catholic. Some of my church's best converts used to be Catholic.") The hard-nosed, no-nonsense Mary slams the door on Melissa's first attempt to pull out a pamphlet, but on a return visit she's greeted by the polite and trusting Margaret, who starts questioning her faith after a brief chat with her genial and articulate visitor.
Infuriated by her arguments that Catholicism is idolatry and that even yoga is Satanic ("It turns out that all the stretches you do in yoga are really the exact same prostrations used in ancient Aztec sun worship.") Mary whips up the idea to ambush Melissa by inviting her to discuss religion at the same time her unsuspecting priest, Father Murphy (Reed Birney), is over as a dinner guest. ("We want you to crush her. We want you to demolish her.") With the father dressed casually, the missionary is unaware she's being set up when she pulls out literature on "Buying Your Way Into Heaven" and "Cannibalism in the Catholic Church," but the gloves comes off when the topic turns to, "The Grammatical Error That Begat Popery," a belief that Jesus' word was mistranslated by the Greeks from the original Aramaic. One of the author's most admirable achievements in the play is how he makes scenes of scripture quoting rather entertaining.
As might be expected, such debate does lead to doubts on matters of faith. Friendships are tested and personal anguish is revealed, but the play only touches lightly on its serious moments. Too lightly, in fact, when it comes to a series of phone messages that foreshadow circumstances that the author never concludes satisfactorily.
The evening is sitcomy, but in the best sense of the word. Ivey hilariously barks out brittle wisecracks but shows just enough of the hurt woman her barbs protect. Burke, as always, is just an adorable figure; timid, cordial and trusting. The confusion she suffers when questioning her church is, in turns, both funny and endearing. No matter what one may think of her methods Overbey keeps Melissa a sincere and sympathetic woman with an honest desire to do good. As Father Murphy, Birney must anchor the proceedings and he does so dutifully and with gentle humor.
While the more religious among us may take something more from The Savannah Disputation, it's the sort of play that can certainly be enjoyed on a secular level. After all, as Melissa says, "Take away their religion and Catholics are just people.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Dana Ivey; Bottom: Marylouise Burke and Kellie Overbey
Posted on: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 @ 09:14 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 3/8 & Algonquin Round Table Quote of the Week
"Great literature must spring from an upheaval in the author's soul. If that upheaval is not present then it must come from the works of any other author which happens to be handy and easily adapted."
-- Robert Benchley
The grosses are out for the week ending 3/8/2009 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: CHICAGO (3.9%), 33 VARIATIONS (2.4%), WICKED (1.6%), SOUTH PACIFIC (1.2%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1.1%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (0.7%), HEDDA GABLER (0.5%), THE LITTLE MERMAID (0.5%),
Down for the week was: THE AMERICAN PLAN (-17.4%), GUYS AND DOLLS (-11.6%), THE 39 STEPS (-9.9%), AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (-8.6%), THE LION KING (-8.6%), BLITHE SPIRIT (-7.9%), MARY POPPINS (-7.3%), AVENUE Q (-6.1%), MAMMA MIA! (-3.1%), IN THE HEIGHTS (-2.5%), SHREK THE MUSICAL (-1.4%), JERSEY BOYS (-0.6%), YOU'RE WELCOME AMERICA. A FINAL NIGHT WITH GEORGE W. BUSH (-0.1%),
Posted on: Monday, March 09, 2009 @ 04:27 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Guess Paper Mill's Next Season & Julie Wilson Sings Billie Holiday
Though The Paper Mill Playhouse has just opened Master Class and still has productions of 1776 and The Full Monty geared up for their current season, plans are zipping along for the four musicals and one straight play that will make up their 2009-10 campaign. The official announcement comes this Friday afternoon, but they've released these five pictorial clues as hints. See if you can guess what the gang at Millburn has in store next season.
While her admirers are accustomed to seeing Julie Wilson make searing emotional dramas out of songs like "Surabaya Johnny" and "The Man I Love," the great lady of the cabaret stage was truly getting choked up Wednesday night just talking about her friend and vocal inspiration, Billie Holiday.
It may be common knowledge among cabaret-goers that Wilson's signature gardenia over her ear is a tribute to Lady Day's familiar fashion, but in her new Metropolitan Room engagement, Julie Wilson Sings Billie Holiday: A Tribute To Her Favorite Singer, we get a clearer picture of how a young supper club singer from Omaha was befriended by Harlem's leading jazz vocalist over a home-cooked soul food dinner.
She opens adorably flirtatious, cooing "Them There Eyes" (Maceo Pinkard/William Tracy/Doris Tauber) through the pink feathers of the boa wrapped around her neck. Her winking sassiness oozes through fun numbers like "(Ooo-Ooo-Ooo) What a Little Moonlight Can Do" (Harry Woods) and "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" (Porter Grainger/Everett Robbins).
But of course, no one can carry the torch quite like Ms. Wilson, as she demonstrates with a devastatingly slow and deliberate pairing of "I Must Have That Man" (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields) and "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good" (Duke Ellington/Paul Francis Webster). An emotional trio of "Trav'lin' Light" (Jimmy Mundy/Trummy Young/Johnny Mercer), "Body and Soul" (John Green/Edward Heyman/Robert Sour/Frank Eyton) and "Good Morning, Heartache" (Dan Fisher/Irene Higgenbotham/Ervin Drake) was played to pin-drop silence from the captivated crowd.
After lending quiet dignity to "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?" (Eddie Lang/Louis Alter) and "Willow, Weep For Me" (Ann Ronell), she busts out with jaunty defiance for Holiday's own "Billie's Blues."
"It takes a lot of patience to play with this old broad," she jokes of her pianist/music director Christopher Denny, no doubt referring to the fact that, at 84 years of age, the legendary Wilson is known to forget her lyrics from time to time. Denny not only cues her with subtle finesse but plays with elegance.
Perhaps it's a missed opportunity that she chooses not to include Abel Meeropol's "Strange Fruit," one of the most important songs in the history of American music, in her Billie Holiday tribute. Ms. Wilson's lyric artistry would certainly bring out insightful textures in its chilling narrative describing the horrific sight of lynched black men hanging from southern trees. But nobody could complain about her choice to end the evening with a warm and uplifting "God Bless The Child" (Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog, Jr.) to send her guests into the chilly March evening.
Posted on: Monday, March 09, 2009 @ 12:36 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Replies: 1 - Click Here
D.H. Lawrence's The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd Makes a Rare Appearance at The Mint
While The Mint Theater Company built its well-earned reputation as New York's leading archivists of plays they proudly proclaim as "worthy but neglected," their latest ventures suggest they may want to consider adopting the new slogan, "I betcha didn't know (insert name of literary giant here) wrote a play."
After treating Gothamites to the dramatic efforts of Leo Tolstoy (The Power of Darkness) and Ernest Hemingway (The Fifth Column), Artistic Director Jonathan Banks and his cohorts now make a second dive into the stage works of D.H. Lawrence - having produced his The Daughter-In-Law in 2003 - with the controversial novelist's drama of a crumbling marriage, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd.
The second of his eight plays, it was written in 1910, when the author was 25, and though it was published in 1914, the drama's unconventional setting of a working class home where characters use thick Yorkshire dialects repelled producers. The only production in Lawrence's lifetime was a 1916 one-night engagement by a small Los Angeles theatre company, but now the Mint provides a handsome and beautifully acted New York debut.
The Mrs. Holroyd in question (played by Julia Coffey) is Elizabeth, the abused wife of Charles (Eric Martin Brown), a violent and hard-drinking coalminer. When the gentlemanly Blackmore (Nick Cordileone), an electrician at the mine, delivers a seriously inebriated Charles home after a night of carousing, the miner tries to attack his wife, instigating a fist-fight between the two men (very well choreographed by Michael G. Chin) that he's too soused to win. With her husband asleep, Blackmore urges Elizabeth to take her two children and run off with him to Spain, where he knows he can get work. What makes the scene between them so touching is that while Blackmore and Elizabeth know they don't love each other, they have a growing friendship that may evolve into love. As directed by Stuart Howard, the timidity with which they consider life with each other is played with lovely, honest affection by Coffey and Cordileone, tentatively paced so that their nervousness becomes very sensual.
From that point the play takes a while to reach its somewhat uncertain conclusion, with the third act (the Mint uses only one intermission) introducing Charles' mother, played with a hearty frankness by Randy Danson. But while the play itself may be lean on plot, Howard's production is rich in texture. Coffey's intelligent performance neatly lays out the internal conflict of a self-sufficient woman who nevertheless feels uncertain about breaking away from her expected role. Cordileone's Blackmore is a man determined to overcome his own limitations and even Brown manages to squeeze some sympathy out of Charles.
Set designer Marion Williams' wood and brick cottage and Martha Hally's appropriately drab period costumes communicate the weariness of Elizabeth's everyday life under Jeff Nellis' grim lighting.
Photos by Richard Termine: Top: Julia Coffey and Nick Cordileone; Bottom: Nick Cordileone, Eric Martin Brown and Julia Coffey
Posted on: Friday, March 06, 2009 @ 01:16 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
In Paradise/ She Plundered Him & Tales of an Urban Indian
I don't know how far along set and lighting designer Maruti Evans was with his work for INTAR's double bill of Eduardo Machado's In Paradise and Nick Norman's She Plundered Him when the company lost its home due to the sudden closing of the Zipper Theatre and its season was rescued by the availability of the much smaller studio space at the Cherry Lane Theatre, but I imagine the switch necessitated some drastic changes in his view of the two pieces. In any case, the end result is perhaps the most memorable and effective part of the evening.
With two opposite sides of the black box space seating only two rows of audience each, Evans uses minimal lighting and has the floor, walls and even the ceiling paneled with a dark reflective surface. Surrounding the characters with mirrors plays up the self-centeredness shared by those who populate both one-acts and also gives the audience interesting angles with which to watch the action simultaneously.
Machado, who is also INTAR's artistic director, sets In Paradise in the Pasadena living room of Marilyn (Leslie Lyles), a 60-year-old women who, when she was 36, began an affair with 16-year-old Carlos (Ed Vassallo), the lad whose therapy sessions came immediately after hers. They married a few years later but as the play begins it's been seven years since he finished one of their lovemaking sessions by saying, "I need to go. I'm homosexual." Now Carlos sits quietly in Marilyn's home, wanting reconciliation after the man he left her for has left him for a woman.
While Lyles, who does the great majority of the talking in this one, has an attention-grabbing presence, the play is primarily her character's recap of their history in expository speeches like, "You want to sell yourself short playing Broadway shows when you are a jazz pianist?" While tensions fly a bit in director Billy Hopkins' mounting - which is primarily Lyles taking the stage while Vassallo sits still - the piece goes nowhere.
She Plundered Him is the first professionally produced play by Nick Norman, who studied with Machado at Columbia. Set in present day Britain, the piece seems to be an attempt to spoof sexually charged highbrow comedy of manners. The characters speak with exaggerated elegantly formal accents which are dropped for the occasional vulgarity. (While the f-word is frequently used in Machado's play, Norman seems to prefer dropping the c-bomb.) The plot concerns the mentally unstable Calder (Mark Elliot Wilson), who believes his wife Keep (Lyles) is having an affair with their son Anthony (James Chen). Hopkins never establishes a firm tone for this one, which is understandable because I'm not sure the author has either, and the piece just trudges along to its finish.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Leslie Lyles and Ed Vassallo; Bottom: Leslie Lyles, James Chen and Mark Elliot Wilson
"I like concrete! I get lost when I'm in the woods," says playwright/author Darrell Dennis of the Shuswap nation at the top of Tales of An Urban Indian. "I can't shape shift. I've never had a vision. Never heard an owl call my name. And I've never cried when I saw someone litter."
Presented as part of the Public Theater's LAB season (with all tickets priced at only $10) the Canadian playwright's solo piece is a promising and entertaining work in progress that follows the basic one-person-play pattern of telling a coming of age story involving family, identity, self-discovery and the opportunity to play lots of different characters.
But this one is only semi-autobiographical, as the author appears as Simon Douglas, a young man of Native North American heritage whose first two decades have been divided between Coyote Lake Reservation Number Four (a place his mother is determined to leave because she believes the only future for her son on "The Rez" is alcoholism) and the streets of East Vancouver.
Growing up in a world where it's believed that racism makes ambition useless, a young man's life on the reserve, as described by Simon, generally consists of getting drunk and trying to get laid. The former is the cause of a tragic accident; the latter, just humiliation. His determination to not be mistaken for gay by his buddies contributes to another tragedy involving his best friend.
Trying to gain acceptance (and the attention of pretty white girls) by being the class clown, he's punished for his antics by being made to attend drama class. There he finally discovers something positive to do with his life, especially when the movie Dances With Wolves suddenly increases the demand for Native actors.
But at age 15, when mom moves them out of the reserve and to East Vancouver, Simon escapes the loneliness of being the only Native in his school by enjoying the camaraderie of Hastings Street, a haven for strip clubs, welfare hotels and bars that allow underage drinking.
Directed by Herbie Banks (of the Ojibway nation), Dennis gives off a very likeable energetic vibe when telling Simon's tale, as the staging takes advantage of the young actor's athleticism. His story-telling prowess leans on the side of stand-up comedy, with a healthy number of zingers landing. But the shift from riffs on his urban outlook on Native culture to more sobering moments where his heritage provides comfort and dignity are sometimes a bit awkward.
There's a bit of fatty material in the 90-minute piece, particularly an odd song-and-dance moment by the minister who baptized him. But when Dennis hits his targets, like in a very funny scene where he plays off stereotypes of his race to gain respect in high school ("Teacher, it saddens me in my heart that I have not completed my homework... My animal spirit guide had feasted upon my book report."), Tales of An Urban Indian makes for some warm, amusing and sometimes moving theatre.
Photo of Darrell Dennis by Joan Marcus
Posted on: Wednesday, March 04, 2009 @ 11:17 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 3/1 & Algonquin Round Table Quote of the Week
When the director of an amateur theatre company defended their mounting of a George S. Kaufman play without obtaining rights or paying royalties by saying, "It's just a small, insignificant, little theater in a small, insignificant, little town," Kaufman responded, "Then we'll send you all to a small, insignificant, little jail."
The grosses are out for the week ending 3/1/2009 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: 33 VARIATIONS (4.1%), PAL JOEY (2.0%), THE AMERICAN PLAN (0.9%),
Down for the week was: THE 39 STEPS (-26.8%), MARY POPPINS (-22.2%), SHREK THE MUSICAL (-21.9%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-20.3%), CHICAGO (-19.5%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (-14.7%), AVENUE Q (-13.9%), THE LITTLE MERMAID (-12.6%), THE LION KING (-11.6%), SOUTH PACIFIC (-9.9%), JERSEY BOYS (-8.9%), MAMMA MIA! (-8.8%), AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (-8.0%), IN THE HEIGHTS (-5.7%), WICKED (-5.3%), GUYS AND DOLLS (-3.8%), HEDDA GABLER (-1.5%),
Posted on: Monday, March 02, 2009 @ 04:45 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
Our Town & Fade Out-Fade In
"Exciting" is not a word normally associated with productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Heartwarming? Sure. Chilling? When its climax is done well, certainly. But director David Cromer's non-traditional take on the play - which remains completely faithful to the author's text and themes - is one of the most exciting theatre events of the season.
Wilder's gently experimental 1938 classic, where issues of love, marriage, community and our purpose in the universal scheme of things are presented through the everyday life occurrences in the unremarkable town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire is perhaps the most familiar of all American dramas, being studied in public schools and performed by student and community theatres for decades. And while the countless number of times this play has been produced makes it impossible to guess if Cromer's vision is a completely untried idea, I think it's safe to say you're not likely to run into another Our Town that so vividly connects contemporary audiences with material from over seventy years ago.
And as the author makes clear in the script, this Our Town uses the traditional setting of a bare stage with nondescript tables and chairs serving as scenery. (It may seem like scenic designer Michele Spadaro hasn't much to do, but trust me, she earns her paycheck with this one.) The actors, as usual, mime their props while going about their daily routines of housework, homework and playtime. But while Cromer's production still takes place in the early years of the 20th Century, the director utilizes simple, but clever ideas to make a modern Manhattan audience feel a part of this sleepy little rural community. Customers at the reconfigured Barrow Street Theatre are seated on three sides of the small playing space, with wide room between the first and second rows where scenes are also played out. Costume designer Alison Siple dresses the company in contemporary clothing, though avoiding anything that may be distractingly modern, blending the appearance of those on stage with those watching. Lighting designer Heather Gilbert even keeps the house lights on for the first two acts.
The evening often feels more like a town hall meeting than a night at the theatre, emphasized by the decidedly non-actory performance of Cromer, who plays the narrating character Wilder calls the Stage Manager. He sets the scenes and comments on the action with the terse, emotionless delivery of an actual theatre stage manager simply laying out the facts for you. The early scenes echo his emotional distance as we witness the daily morning clockwork in the homes of newspaper editor Charles Webb (Ken Marks) and his neighbor, Dr. Frank Gibbs (Jeff Still). Their wives, Julia Gibbs (Lori Myers) and Myrtle Webb (Kati Brazda), are machinelike in their routines of waking up the children, preparing breakfast and tending to their husbands; both of whom seem significantly older. In a town where "women vote indirect," nearly everyone is a member of the same religion and political party and 90% of the high school graduates stay put to live out their lives, Myers and Brazda nicely communicate the frustration their characters must feel with the sameness of their lives. Myers' Mrs. Gibbs seems especially acerbic toward her husband, a man who ignores her dream to visit Paris in favor of yearly vacations to the famous battle fields of the Civil War.
That same sense of dissatisfaction is evident in young Emily Webb, played with aggressive no-nonsense authority by Jennifer Grace. Despite being the smartest student in school, her Emily no doubt sees little future for herself beyond being someone's wife, so when neighbor George (played with thick-headed shyness by James McMenamin) reveals that he's set to inherit a farm after graduating high school she gradually softens her approach to this nice, but intellectually inferior guy who can bring her financial security.
All of this may seem a bit cold by description, but Cromer's interpretation perfectly leads to Wilder's third act warning to truly value the simple everyday things in our lives. And while it's perfectly acceptable to remind readers that this act has the now deceased Emily, who died in childbirth, accepting a chance to visit one day in her past, you'll have to experience for yourself the surprising and oh, so perfect way the director utilizes at least four, if not all five, of the audience's senses to pack an extra wallop into the play's climatic scene.
With Donna Jay Fulk's chirpy Mrs. Soames, Jonathan Mastro's acidic Simon Stimson and Wilbur Edwin Henry's amusingly dry Professor Willard among an outstanding ensemble, this Our Town is mixes great character-driven humor, decent heart-tugging sentiment and stunning theatricality into a production that is truly - gotta say it again - an exciting event.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: David Cromer; Bottom: (in chairs atop tables) Jennifer Grace and James McMenamin
For a show that's now considered a Broadway flop, Fade Out-Fade In got some pretty serious raves from the critics when it opened at the Hellinger in 1964. For many weeks tickets were scarce for the Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical spoof of 1930s Hollywood and it could be argued that its star, Carol Burnett, gave the best reviewed musical theatre performance in a season that boasted Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl and Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! The original Broadway cast recording (featuring co-stars Jack Cassidy, Lou Jacobi, Tiger Haynes Dick Patterson and Tina Louise) reveals a bright, peppy score filled with sock-o musical comedy numbers.
So what went wrong? In short, everything. The intended 1963 opening was delayed when Burnett got pregnant, sending Styne off to work on bringing Funny Girl to Broadway before the show's rescheduled 1964 opening. However, production delays and the need for out-of-town revisions pushed the Streisand vehicle's opening to just two months before Burnett's show, leaving little time for the composer to work on improving some of the score's less-effective material. While the reviews were great, it's been said that Burnett wasn't completely happy with the score, especially when compared with Funny Girl, and when the star began missing performances because of a neck injury suffered when a cab she was riding in stopped short, audiences weren't completely happy when offered a chance to see understudy Mitzi Welch. When Burnett's doctor insisted she would need an extended leave from the show in order to heal properly, the producers rushed Betty Hutton into the star's role. Ill-prepared and too old to be playing a fresh-faced kid who gets a crack at Hollywood fame, Hutton lasted only a week before the producers decided to temporarily close the show until their star could return. But when Burnett started making weekly television appearances as co-star of The Entertainers (produced by her husband) it took legal action to get her back on Broadway. After a 3-month hiatus and little money left for advertising, Fade Out-Fade In struggled on for two months before closing for good.
The funny thing, however, is that during that three month period the authors made cuts and revisions that made Fade Out-Fade In a better musical during its final months than it was during the sold-out beginning of its run. And as presented by The Opening Doors Theatre Company - those greasepaint-in-their-veins kids who have quickly established themselves as a valuable part of New York's musical theatre scene by mounting clever and energetic and pocket-sized productions of rarely seen shows like Bring Back Birdie and The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public - Fade Out-Fade In is a funny and delightful charmer that bubbles over with that Comden and Green sense of fun and the Broadway pizzazz of Jule Style. Fans of the show will notice that Opening Doors uses the newer version of the script, which omits the belty blues number "Go Home Train," but the opening "Oh, Those Thirties" has been retained, though now it's used as an ensemble number. The only other major change is that the dream ballet, which combines Freudian psychology with frolicking wood nymphs and fairies - and would never fit on the tiny stage of The Duplex - has been understandably cut.
Instead of casting an out-and-out comedienne for the lead role of Hope Springfield, the young usherette who, by way of a wacky mix-up, is flown to Tinseltown as the personal "discovery" of movie mogul Lionel Z. Governor, director Suzanne Adams has opted for Sarah Lilley, a spunky ingénue type with a silly side. Since the performance I attended was her first in front of an audience, I imagine the silly side will get a bit sillier as Lilley grows into the role, but on opening night her Hope was still a loveably awkward, starry eyed kid who can deliver energetic tunes like "It's Good To Be Back Home" (a terrific charm song about America's familiarity with Hollywood through movies and fan magazines) and the mock-seduction, "Call Me Savage," with a startlingly strong mezzo belt.
As self-centered matinee idol Byron Prong, Rob Ventre hilariously oozes cheap charisma and puts his rich baritone to good use in the comic gem, "My Fortune Is My Face." Warren Freeman sings and acts with geeky appeal as the film exec who falls for Hope's wholesome attractiveness and Hector Coris is a blustery hoot as the bombastic producer who fears that one of his executives (all of whom are his nephews) is out to take over his studio.
Lawrence Street nails Comden and Green's most critically satirical scene, playing a role based on film actor Lincoln Perry (a/k/a Stepin Fetchet), a professional, well-spoken black man who was regulated to playing comic stereotypes of his race. Later on he and Lilley provide the evening's song and dance showstopper, spoofing Shirley Temple and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the mock-optimistic "You Mustn't Be Discouraged," which reminds us that whenever you think you've hit the bottom, "there's always one step further down you can go."
There are fun performances all throughout the cast, including Sarah Cooney as a painfully droll gossip columnist, Jean McCormick as a sex-obsessed Viennese psychiatrist, Lexi Windsor as an air-headed sexpot starlet-to-be, Brian DeCaluwe as a smarmy executive and Patrick John Moran as his spineless colleague.
Choreographer Christine Schwalenberg has little room to work with, but she and director Adams keep the funny visuals coming at a bright and peppy pace. Fade Out-Fade In is one of those shows that musical theatre geeks just love. And if you're not one already, the enthusiastic joy that propels the Opening Doors production just might make a musical theatre geek out of you.
Photos by Catherine Skelly: Top: Sarah Lilley; Bottom: Patrick John Moran, Sarah Cooney, Hector Coris, Lexi Windsor, Warren Freeman, Sarah Lilley, Rob Ventre, Jean McCormick, Lawrence Street and Brian DeCaluwe
Posted on: Sunday, March 01, 2009 @ 11:31 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback
The Dome: You're The Top
Whether the Prospect Theater Company is presenting a Dadaist piece about the birth of Dada or a kick-ass musical comedy about Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths putting on a show for the Soviet Union, the theatregoer's eye will inevitable be drawn to the elegantly simple dome that towers above their West End Theatre playing space inside The Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. So for the company's ten year anniversary, their adventurous artistic director, Cara Reichel, conceived and curated a site-specific piece called The Dome, inspired by their home's architecture.
With nine writers creating the music, lyrics and spoken text and three directors mounting their particular pieces of this multi-media collage, the evening has a light, free-for-all quality that, while certainly entertaining is not quite as thought-provoking as the show's tag line, "What are you certain of, that you can't prove?" And while the staging has its fun moments, The Dome turns out to be no more site specific than any number of productions you might see performed in a space not originally intended to be a theatre.
But that's not to say there isn't a lot to enjoy. There's an amiable sense of youthful creativity permeating the proceedings, mixing abstract theatre with innocent fun.
Three main scenarios are played out in short scenes throughout the evening. "Hypothesis" (written by Laura Marks, directed by Stefanie Sertich) involves the intellectual sexplay and debates over faith versus science (okay, the tag line is at least approached here) between the poet/philosopher Voltaire (Dino Antoniou) and scientist/mathematician Emilie du Chatelet (Dorothy Abrahams). "Hey Baby" (music and lyrics by Marisa Michelson, book and lyrics by Rinne Groff, directed by May Adrales) focuses on an unmarried couple (John Gardner and Kathryn Holtkamp) expecting their first child and the hyper-anxiety felt by the dad-to-be. While both stories are well-performed their initial charms tend to peter out.
"Break Time" (written and directed by David A. Miller), while perhaps the most predictable of the playlets, is nevertheless a nicely satisfying quirky romance between two of the theatre's janitors - the free-spirited Missy (Sarah Bowles) and the introverted Martin (Andrew Zimmerman) - which is mimicked by silent clowns Jesse Kearney and the adorably impish Kyle Williams.
There are no directing credits for the remaining pieces of the collage, which include four monologues by Norman Lasca, dealing with subjects such as a man's (Travis Allen) observations on Giant's Stadium and a girl's (Britt Lower) love for her favorite pair of shoes. Along with a musical sequence that tests the space's acoustics and meditational projections by Richard Dibella seen above us, the material in The Dome often seems to have the potential to be intriguing, but more often than not lands in the vicinity of pleasant.
Perhaps one director with a solid vision would have turned The Dome into a thematically stronger theatrical work. But then, that probably would have gone against the whole intention of the piece.
Photo of Andrew Zimmerman and Sarah Bowles by Gerry Goodstein
Posted on: Thursday, February 26, 2009 @ 09:27 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.