A Man For All Seasons & Colm Wilkinson at the Broadway Cabaret Festival

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It's perfectly understandable if years from now, or maybe fifteen minutes after leaving the theatre, the only thing you clearly remember about the Roundabout's new production of A Man For All Seasons is Frank Langella's extraordinary performance as the highly-principled Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More, who refused to support Henry VIII's wish to separate from the Vatican and form the Church of England in order for him to divorce the aging Catherine of Aragon and wed Anne Boleyn in hopes of their union producing a son and heir.  Not that director Doug Hughes' sturdy mounting of Robert Bolt's 1960 historical drama doesn't contain fine work from the rest of the ensemble, but in a play where the central figure so dominates the proceedings - especially with this production's removal of the narrator/commenter character known as The Common Man - Langella linguistically feasts on the dense, wordy text and gracefully conveys the complexities of a family man who refuses to betray his conscious, no matter the cost to his loved ones or his own head.

While Bolt leans on portraying More a bit more on the saintly side than reality dictates, Langella never strikes a false note as he spares philosophically with the self-involved king (Patrick Page), the slickly elegant Spanish ambassador (Triney Sandoval) and the arch Oliver Cromwell (an almost dastardly Zach Grenier).  His distain for the corruption of the men surrounding him is expressed by both roaring bursts and faintly exasperated glances.  To see the actor's transformation of More from a righteous lion to a fragile, quietly defiant prisoner in the Tower of London, awaiting execution, is a heartbreaking experience.  Also very touching is the work of Maryann Plunkett as his long-suffering but devoted wife.

Santo Loquasto's set resembles the wooden framework of a great cathedral, but effectively assumes many locations under David Lander's lights.  Catherin Zuber's period costumes are wondrously elegant.

While Thomas More was proclaimed a man for all seasons for his moral consistency, Frank Langella can be given the same moniker for the consistent excellence of his stage work, which is welcome during any theatrical season.

Photo of Frank Langella by Joan Marcus

"Please, sing along…  please clap your hands," Colm Wilkinson kept coaxing the audience during his concert engagement on evening two of Town Hall's 4th Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival.

But despite the star's genial invitation, I doubt if many in the enthusiastic crowd actually could have sung along with the Irish musical theatre star as his hearty voice roared through the title song of Man of La Mancha or hit sterling, stunningly controlled head notes throughout Les Miserables' "Bring Him Home."

And I daresay if anyone did try taking him up on the offer and sang along to his passionate "This Is The Moment" (Jekyll & Hyde) or rhythmically clap to his beautifully sincere "Anthem" (Chess) we might have had an old fashioned donnybrook break out in the middle of the auditorium.  No, attentive silence was the way this crowd wanted to enjoy the robust vocals and vivid phrasing from this beloved entertainer, in his first New York gig since appearing as the original Jean Valjean in the Broadway company of Les Mis twenty years ago.

But though musical theatre selections provided the bulk of the evening's program (including a fun swing arrangement of "Hello, Young Lovers" and a - yes, I'll say it -haunting "Music of the Night") the evening included a nice variety of styles.

"Surprised?," the singer asked the crowd as he strummed a guitar and sunk throaty bluegrass tones into "The Tennessee Waltz."  And while a perfectly heartbreaking "Danny Boy" and a rousing Irish drinking song like "Whiskey In The Jar" would naturally be expected, other unexpected pleasures included an intensely growled "House of the Rising Sun" and a Ray Charles medley ("Take These Chains From My Heart," "Georgia on My Mind") that took on a special meaning after he explained the thrill he experienced while getting to sing in front of his idol at the Kennedy Center Honors.  ("I have a video tape of Ray Charles applauding me!")

Music director Steve Hunter led the 6-piece band and while the star took a few breaks during the evening, additional solos were very capably handled by the torchy Alana Bridgewater ("Stormy Weather," "As Long As He Needs Me") and pop vocalist Susan Gilmour ("Don't Cry Out Loud," "Being Alive").

But while the two ladies were appropriately appreciated, the evening belonged to Wilkinson, a captivating performer whether he's cracking a dark-humored joke about The Silence of The Lambs (though somebody should let him know it already has been made into a musical) or reverently pleaing for a peaceful world through Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and John Lennon's "Imagine,"

Photo of Colm Wilkinson by Genevieve Rafter Keddy

Posted on October 23, 2008 - by

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About the Author: 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 Citi Field 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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