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Broadway Blogs - Becky Shaw: All's (Vanity) Fair and More...

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Below are BroadwayWorld.com's blogs from Friday, January 9, 2009. Catch up below on anything that you might have missed from BroadwayWorld.com's bloggers!

Becky Shaw: All's (Vanity) Fair
by Michael Dale - January 09, 2009

It's such a shame that Second Stage's crackling production of Becky Shaw, Gina Gionfriddo's comedy of ill manners, is scheduled to close on February 1st.  I can't think of a better Valentine's Day entertainment for cynically single urbanites looking to combat the champagne and roses splendor with which the coupled celebrate February 14th than this acidic portrait of the down and dirty business of allowing oneself to be emotionally available.  Populated with smart, articulate characters who say clever things while living sad little lives, a night at Becky Shaw can do wonders for the self-esteem of the lonely hearted looking to both be entertained by and feel superior to those in or looking for love.

Gionfriddo's title character is inspired by Becky Sharp, the 1840's social-climbing anti-heroine of William Makepeace Thackeray's satirical Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero.  But before we meet her we get a taste of the nose-diving world she aspires to.

Four months a widow, Susan Slater (Kelly Bishop) has seen her substantial assets run dangerously low after taking up with a shady younger gentleman shortly following the death of her possibly cheating husband.  While she scolds her daughter Suzanna (Emily Bergl) for being too sensitive ("Some women - Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana - are sensual in grief.  You are not.") her sort of adopted son, Max (David Wilson Barnes) is all business in his role as family financial manager and peacemaker between mother and daughter.  While a very successful lawyer, the circumstances by which Max came to be raised by the Slaters have left him with serious trust issues and an abrasive, hurtful wit; more than slight hindrances in his potential as a romantic partner.

When Suzanna and her new husband Andrew (Thomas Sadoski), a kind-hearted soul who values people over money, set Max up on a blind date, it's with the titular Ms. Shaw (Annie Parisse), a temp at Andrew's job who turns out to be a college drop-out who is estranged from her family and has very little income.  Becky's helplessness - as well as her good looks and occasional signs of perceptiveness - attracts nurturing men like Andrew, who describes her as delicate while barely knowing her.  Whether that helplessness is legitimate or an act is anyone's guess.  The unusual details of Max and Becky's first date set into motion reactive responses from Suzanna and Andrew that challenge the family dynamic and inspired post theatre cocktail conversation between me and my guest about the nature of attraction.

Director Peter DuBois keeps the stage movement minimal, letting the evening ride on the sharp, funny and insightful verbal exchanges.  His terrific cast plays their roles with a slightly heightened reality, matching the series of improbably mounting plot complications.  Barnes' Max is the most mannered performance of the evening, lashing out arrogant words of contempt like William F. Buckley on Firing Line ("Romantic relationships are the pairing of equals!  That woman is not my equal!") while still projecting a sense of the man's loneliness.  Parisse's Becky is appropriately enigmatic and Bergl and Sadoski, as the emotionally frazzled breadwinner and her too selfless to be true spouse, nicely convey the awkwardness of a couple that rushed into marriage before getting to know each other.  Appearing in only the first and final scenes, and playing a character with multiple sclerosis, Bishop's role consists mostly of scathingly arid or outrageously inappropriate comments ("When someone with damage - as we have damage - courts a lover, we must be like the pedophile with the candy.") which she lands with drop dead accuracy.

Whether or not Becky Shaw has anything new or valuable to say about relationships is debatable, but the play is best enjoyed while keeping an emotional distance from its characters.  Otherwise you might recognize yourself in the mix and that's when things start getting serious.

Photos by Joan Marcus:  Top: Thomas Sadoski and Emily Bergl; Bottom:  Annie Parisse and David Wilson Barnes


WEST SIDE STORY Review Roundup
by Robert Diamond - January 09, 2009

The highly anticipated revival of WEST SIDE STORY had its official press opening earlier this week in Washington, DC and today's papers are filled with the critical reports on the show's out of town tryout. Tickets are on sale now for the Broadway production, which begins previews this March. 

Paul HarrisVariety: "A half century after its world premiere at D.C.'s National Theater, "West Side Story" returns to the same venue for another pre-Broadway engagement. This time, it's the much anticipated bilingual version revised and helmed by original librettist Arthur Laurents to provide maximum relevance for today's auds. He's done it just right -- a sincere and energetic production that still dazzles with Jerome Robbins' riveting choreography and the landmark Bernstein-Sondheim score. It could be the perfect tonic for Broadway's economic blues."

Mary Carole McCauley, Baltimore Sun: "The Broadway-bound revival of West Side Story that opened last night in Washington has dirt on its shins and blood under its fingernails. It is urgent, explosive and revved up with testosterone from the moment the curtain raises and Riff, the leader of the Jets, stalks on stage and stares hard at the audience. We are unnerved. It is dark, and the neighborhood is rough. Maybe we can sidle past him. Nothing bad has happened. Yet. ...  The revival not only boasts an impressive pedigree - the 90-year-old Laurents wrote the script for the 1957 world premiere - but also has a bold, new bilingual staging, with some dialogue and songs sung in Spanish."

Jayne Blanchard, Washington Times: "How do you make a 52-year-old musical relevant to today's generation? Leonard Bernstein's emotionally jarring and complex score, coupled with the slangy wit of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and Jerome Robbins' soaring dances, of course, are assurance enough that "West Side Story" will remain an enduring classic. In the case of the dynamic new revival of the legendary 1957 musical - onstage at The National Theatre before heading to Broadway - it was a stroke of genius on the part of director Arthur Laurents (who wrote the original book and, at 90, is still coming up with fresh ideas) to have much of the dialogue and songs translated into Spanish."

Barbara Mackay, DC Examiner: "The cast of dancers and singers at The National Theatre is superb, particularly Karen Olivo, who plays Anita, Josefina Scaglione, who plays Maria, and Matt Cavenaugh, who plays her boyfriend, Tony. Under the supervision of music director Patrick Vaccariello, Bernstein's extraordinary score vigorously propels the story. The dancing reflects the brilliant work of Joey McKneely, who reproducEd Jerome Robbins' original inspired choreography."

Peter Marks, Washington Post: It's love at first sight for us as well as for Tony in the new Broadway-bound revival of "West Side Story." The object of our shared enchantment is a young actress from Argentina by the name of Josefina Scaglione, whose portrayal of ill-starred Maria embodies all the tender feeling and earthier passion this Juliet of the barrio is meant to engender. Such is the allure of the performance that even when Scaglione is singing in Spanish -- which she does repeatedly in this novel, bilingual incarnation, directed by its librettist, Arthur Laurents -- an English speaker discerns the radiant spectrum of emotion in a young girl caught between ethnic hatred and desire. No matter how you conjugate them, it seems, the giddy verbs of "I Feel Pretty" (or rather "Siento Hermosa") ring out with verve. The inspired bit of casting is one of the more persuasive arguments in favor of this melodically transcendent musical, blessed with an incandescent score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim"

 

 



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