Review - The School For Lies & Celebrate Hope
Well, as I say, Molière has packed his tent
And our producers gave him two percent -
So screw Molière, we'll do our own damn version!
In English, thank you, for your full immersion,
That you may revel in our dulcet tones -
At least those who (hello!?) turn off your phones.
One of the comedy's cheaper variety of gags is to throw a contemporary reference into a classical or ancient setting, but in David Ives' sparklingly funny romp on Molière's The Misanthrope, adapted as The School For Lies, the gag is that the rhyming couplets of the text and the general tone of the characters is that of 21st Century American while the elegant design of the play mixes the present day with 17th Century France.
Director Walter Bobbie and a fantastic company of clowns deliver a fine balance between slapstick and verbal dexterity in Classic Stage Company's premiere of what is certainly one of the playwright's finest efforts.
While still spoofing a high society built upon polite falsehoods, the title character of Molière's satire, the tragically truthful Alceste, is dead and his widow, Céliméne (Mamie Gummer), is being pursued by a humanity-hating drama critic named Frank (Hamish Linklater). The chemistry between the two sizzles as Linklater's gawky Frank fluctuates between steadfast criticism of those that surround him ("Our daughters dress like whores, our sons are rude. / These kids can't scratch their own initials, dude!") and exuberant lovesickness ("I can't explain it. She exalts my soul. / She's single malt. She's rain. She's rock-and-roll."). Gummer is all cool, haughty sexuality, though she breaks out into giddy broad sctick in a scene where she impersonates social chums behind their backs; one as a bubble-headed Valley Girl and another as a Jersey Shore Guido.
Terrific support is provided by Hoon Lee as a distinguished straight-man foil, Jenn Gambatese as the good girl looking to go bad and Alison Fraser, a demented hoot as a religious zealot. Steven Boyer plays two roles, but especially wins over the audience as a put-upon servant in a running gag that involves canapés sent flying about.
John Lee Beatty's pristine white set, an interior resembling the texture of quilted linen, conveys comfort and helps show off the sumptuous patterns and colors of William Ivey Long's costumes, which have period styles that contrast with the characters' contemporary hair and make-up. The evening is as dazzling to the eye as it is to the funny bone.
It's not every night that two Broadway stars ride a puppet camel down the aisle of Carnegie Hall singing "Road To Morocco," but such goofy antics are perfectly appropriate when saluting that beacon of comedy and humanitarianism, Bob Hope.
Though born in England, Hope's style of brash, but good-natured humor provided a cornerstone of American comedy in vaudeville, on Broadway, radio, screens both large and small and especially on the temporary stages of war zones where the comedian risked his life for decades entertaining American troops overseas.
Celebrate Hope was the name of the New York Pops' 28th Birthday Gala Concert, honoring "ol' ski nose," as well as The Bob Hope Legacy, founded by Linda Hope to preserve her father's memory, and long-time Pops supporter, Interpublic Group.
Music director and conductor Steven Reineke hosted the ceremonies, using film and television clips to tell the story of Hope's 100 years, while guest artists from Broadway, cabaret and the classical world sang musical highlights. The previously-mentioned camel-riders were Tom Wopat and Gregg Edelman, cutting capers a la Hope and Bing Crosby with the title song from Road To Morocco and "Put It There, Pal." Marvelous moments were also contributed by Kelli O'Hara and Aaron Lazar ("Two Sleepy People"), Christine Ebersole ("You Do Something To Me"), Tony DeSare ("I Can't Get Started"), Michele Lee ("Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"), Ryan Silverman ("Moonlight Becomes You") and Tyne Daly ("The Lady's In Love With You").
Angela Lansbury introduced a swell clip from one of Hope's television specials where she and the then 88-year-old host sang and soft-shoed to special lyrics for Cole Porter's "Well, Did You Evah?" Faster and more intricate tapping was displayed by Cartier Williams, in recognition of Hope's legendary challenge dance with James Cagney in The Seven Little Foys.
Children were an important part of the program, with Randy Redd, Zak Resnick and Matt Dengler leading the Camp Broadway Kids, all clad in casual golf wear and swinging clubs, in "When Hope Was There." Maurice Hines led the Ronald McDonald House Chorus, joined by their house band, Bad Habit, in singing and dancing a spirited "Ballin' The Jack."
"I've been given many awards in my lifetime, but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most is the greatest honor I have ever received," was Hope's response tobeing named by the United States as its only Honorary Veteran. The West Point Glee Club was on hand to sing the themes for the United States Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Army, with Reineke asking all veterans in the audience to stand for their branch's song. Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton then joined in for a stirring rendition of "God Bless America."
The evening ended with Michael Feinstein warmly singing the great entertainer's theme song, "Thanks For The Memory," and leading the entire company in the most famous Broadway standard Bob Hope introduced - a title that well-described the festivities - "It's De-Lovely."
Photos by Monica Simoes: Top: Steven Reineke; Bottom: Cartier Willams.