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Review - Hello Again

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No, dear playgoers, the fact that you've ventured into an unmarked building on a dark SoHo street, walked down a long hallway draped in red and are now in an open loft sitting mere inches away from a young couple enthusiastically going at it in a standing position up against one of the building's pillars does not mean that you've accidentally wandered into a sex club that somehow survived the ax of Giuliani. You've just found yourself at Transport Group's marvelously mounted staging of Michael John LaChiusa's tensely erotic musical drama, Hello Again.

As with the company's previous production of The Boys In The Band, where audience members observed the action while seated in what looked like an actual midtown apartment, director Jack Cummings III's clever environmental concept enhances the piece, rather than competing with it. Don't let the large bed prominently displayed in the center of the room fool you. Lusty liaisons - there are ten of them in the show - are also likely to take place atop the sturdy round tables where patrons are seated.

But it's all in the name of love; in all its cruel, destructive and self-delusional glory. LaChiusa's chamber musical, inspired from Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 play La Ronde, links a chain of sexual encounters among characters labeled simply as "The Husband," "The Actress," "The Writer," etc.

It begins in the 1900s with an encounter between a lonely whore (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) who is seeking something more tender than cash and a soldier (Max Von Essen) with nothing on his mind but some fast entertainment. When their moment is through we follow the soldier to his wartime one-nighter with a nice girl nurse (Elizabeth Stanley) and then to the nurse's unusual dalliance with a college boy (Robert Lenzi). The chain is finally linked closed when a senator (Alan Campbell) takes up with the whore.

While sex, in assorted variations, is amply on display, so are emotional longings that tear at the heart. Scenes match manipulation and deceit against passion and a need for meaningful human connection; achieved by LaChiusa with pathos and humor. Unlike Schnitzler, he sets each scene, non-sequentially, in a different decade of the 20th Century, allowing his music to shift from jazz to blues to disco and beyond, but the primary mood comes in light, conversational and subtextual scoring played by a six-piece ensemble of piano, strings, reeds and percussion.

The fine ensemble also includes Alexandra Silber, Bob Stillman, Blake Daniel, Jonathan Hammond and Rachel Bay Jones, each contributing thoughtful portrayals to this beautifully intimate piece.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Alan Campbell and Nikka Graff Lanzarone; Bottom: Robert Lenzi and Elizabeth Stanley.

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For nearly 300 years, theatre scholars have doubtEd Lewis Theobald's claim that his Double Falsehood was an adaptation of Cardenio, a lost collaboration by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. But the recent acceptance of highly-regarded publisher Arden Shakespeare has, in the eyes of many, provided a new entry for the Bard's canon. But while Brian Kulick's well-acted production for Classic Stage Company is a worthy mounting, the mystery of the play's origin stirs up more interest than anything left on the written page.

Mackenzie Meehan takes on the tricky task of portraying Violante, a high-born woman who falls in love with her rapist and, in true Shakespearean fashion, disguises herself as a young shepherd boy to win him back after he abandons her in pursuit of the wealthier Lenora (Hayley Treider). The villain, Henriquez (Slate Holmgren), plots to gain favor with Lenora's father (Jon Devries) and have their marriage arranged, despite his intended's love for the poor Julio (Clayton Apgar). But Violante and Henriquez's good-guy brother, Roderick (Bryce Gill) team up to reunite the lovers.

For this production, CSC blocks off the two side sections of the theatre's usual three-sided seating. Oana Botez-Ban dresses the company in early 20th Century formal wear and provides a simple set that has the piece played on a wooden floor with large oriental rugs both hanging as a backdrop and placed in various positions on the floor to denote locations.

Though Double Falsehood does contain its moments of satisfying poetry, the play seems more like an early draft awaiting the details and empathy that would make audiences care for the characters. It may intrigue as an historical curiosity, but not as drama.

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While 1932 did not produce any Broadway musicals that are still performed today - not even in drastically revised form - it was nevertheless a notable year when you consider not only the number of American Songbook standards that came out of its musicals, but the way in which the theatre's leading songwriters were trying to boost the morale of the country.

As Scott Siegel explained during his opening remarks of the 1932 edition of Broadway By The Year, The Town Hall's musical theatre concert series that has been exploring the social and cultural significance of Broadway's music and lyrics for 11 seasons, this was the most dire year of The Great Depression, but the sound of Broadway was optimistic.

Irving Berlin's "Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee" (from Face The Music, a show about corrupt police officers who try to lose their graft money by investing it in a surefire flop musical) endorsed modest extravagance to salute the promise of better years ahead and was charmingly sung and danced by the coupling of Meredith Patterson and Jeffry Denman. Simple pleasures were also celebrated by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz's "With A Shine On My Shoes" (from Flying Colors), which provided Denman, an outstanding song and dance soloist in the traditional Broadway mold, a chance to flash both his taps and his personality.

Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg's "It's Only A Paper Moon" (premiering in the unsuccessful 1932 play, The Great Magoo, but finding great popularity in 1933), harmonized by Denman, Scott Coulter, Bill Daugherty, Jason Graae and William Michals, remindEd Penniless listeners of the wealth of having someone who believes in you. But in the revue, Americana, Harburg's lyrics, set to Jay Gorney's music, captured the reality of the immediate present with "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime," sung with stirring everyman pathos - and without a microphone - by Daugherty.

It was also a year for lush sophistication. In Gay Divorce, which would be Fred Astaire's final Broadway appearance, Cole Porter gave the world "Night and Day," that most elegant of love songs, which Daugherty embraced with humble yearnings. Music director Ross Patterson's sumptuous arrangement of another elegant standard, Harburg and Vernon Duke's "April In Paris" (from Walk A Little Faster), framed the captivating singing and acting of Christiane Noll.

Noll duetted sans microphone with William Michals on another of that year's standards, Kern and Hammerstein's "The Song Is You" (from Music In The Air), with his smooth and expressive bass also gracing the title song of Vincent Youmans and Edward Heyman's Through The Years and Dietz and Schwartz's "Alone Together" (from Flying Colors).

Other highlights included the evening's director, Scott Coulter, sweetly singing Music In The Air's "I've Told Every Little Star," sensational tap dancer KendRick Jones dazzling the crowd with Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues" (from Earl Carroll's Vanities) and a pair of gems from Berlin's Face The Music score: Carole J. Bufford nailing all the laughs in the dramatic spoof, "Torch," and madcap Jason Graae's high-energy comedic performance of "You Must Be Born With It."

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