Showtime!

Showtime! features reviews, commentary and assorted theatrical musings from Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld.com's Chief Theatre Critic. To submit amusing backstage banter, absurd audience observations or noteworthy links to Showtime!, click here. Anonymity's guaranteed. My not taking credit for your clever remark isn't.


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White Christmas: Back to Berlin


The chance to hear glorious Irving Berlin songs like "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and "Blue Skies" - the kind of stuff that turns wearing your heart on your sleeve into a hip fashion statement - is reason enough to cheer the return of White Christmas to Broadway this holiday season. Especially when Larry Blank's swing orchestrations provide choreographer Randy Skinner's dancers with a red carpet of sizzle. Also worth cheering are the minor changes that make a big difference from last year's Broadway premiere of director Walter Bobbie's breezy stage version of the holiday film favorite.

Bookwriters David Ives and Paul Blake have made relatively few tweaks to Norman Panama, Norman Krasna and Melvin Frank's original screenplay, cutting the minstrel medley and providing cues for such welcome ear-caressers as "I Love A Piano," "How Deep Is The Ocean," and "Let Yourself Go." James Clow and Tony Yazbeck play Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, a pair of World War II vets who become big time Broadway song and dance stars, back in the days when being a Broadway star meant you were famous throughout the country. On the evening before they're to leave for Florida to begin rehearsing their next production, the boys catch Betty and Judy Haynes (Melissa Errico and Mara Davi), performing "Sisters" at a nightclub and, with both professional and romantic possibilities brewing, follow them to their next gig; a holiday engagement at a Vermont inn. But an unexpected heat wave has forced the financially struggling place to forego its entertainment plans after every reservation cancels, until it turns out the owner is Bob and Phil's beloved General Henry Waverly (David Ogden Stiers) from their army days, so they offer to move out of town tryouts for their next Broadway bound show to the general's barn. In the meantime a few wrenches and misunderstandings get in the way of true love, but that's all straightened out by the time the chorus is tap dancing through the eventual snowfall.

The four leading players all deliver enjoyable performances. Clow is a toothy charmer with a pleasing baritone. And while Errico doesn't get an opportunity to display her lovely, more delicate soprano tones, the earthy sensuality she gives to "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" sooths like hot buttered rum. Yazbeck sings and dances with the kind of street-wise appeal he regularly works so well and Davi performs with delightful showgirl sparkle.

But it's the main supporting pair that lift the production to a more interesting level than there was last season. David Ogden Stiers, in his non-singing, non-dancing role, suggests a grizzled weariness that makes you truly believe that this quietly heroic general has seen the worst of warfare. The tough tenderness with which he speaks to his troops (the audience) has the emotional impact of a finely sung ballad and justifies the affection he inspires in the men he leads. Ruth Williamson offers brash comedic fun as the former Broadway star turned wise-cracking inn receptionist, even though the abundance of clunky jokes remains the book's biggest problem.

Skinner's tap dance choreography provides plenty of cheer and Anna Louizos (sets), Carrie Robbins (costumes) and Ken Billington (lights) dress the proceedings with showbizzy Eisenhower-era sophistication.

But Irving Berlin remains the shining star of the show. Broadway's favorite Jewish kid from the lower east side sure knew how to make all your days be merry and bright.

Photo of James Clow, Melissa Errico, Tony Yazbeck and Mara Davi by Joan Marcus.

Posted on: Sunday, December 06, 2009 @ 03:43 AM Posted by: Michael Dale


This: Oh... That.

What was it that Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, California? "There is no there there." I'm almost temped to summarize Melissa James Gibson's new play with, "There is no this in This," but I'm fearful that my faux witticism falls on about the same level as most of the play's dialogue.

Yes, this is one of those evenings where clever urban underachievers who drink a lot (a class of people I normally hold in the highest regard) try and hide their sorrows by bantering away; a genre that works very well when the lines are funnier and the characters are developed to the point where you can care about their troubles.

The central character, Jane (Julianne Nicholson), is a poet whose only book was published fifteen years ago and, as a widowed single mom, earns her living as a proctor for standardized tests. Her close friend, Marrell (Eisa Davis), is a jazz singer/pianist and mother of a newborn with her husband, Tom, (Darren Pettie), a cabinet maker who habitually clutters their amazingly spacious New York apartment with promising pieces of lumber.

Though we never see Jane's daughter, the sleeping habits of Marrell and Tom's infant is a constant concern, as the bulk of the play takes place in their apartment. On the outset, the trio plus Alan (Glenn Fitzgerald), the obligatory wise-cracking gay best friend of the female lead (with the added quirk that he can remember absolutely everything he hears), are wrapping up a dinner party where Marrell is trying to set Jane up with Jean-Pierre (Louis Cancelmi), a French doctor without borders who is sexy in that French doctor without borders way. The situation sets up a running riff on the phrase "without borders" which is no more entertaining than the soon-to-come one-liner about snot.

While the playwright does come up with an interesting and very effective way to fill the audience in on Jane‘s background and initiate some healthy tension, matters of a crumbling marriage, a loveless existence and the inability to go on with one's life after the loss of a loved one are too underwritten to provoke interest. A dramatic speech at the play's finish seems tacked on to explain what the preceding hour and fifty minutes were supposed to be all about.

But director Daniel Aukin delivers a sharp, professional production -- verbally rhythmic with some nice visual moments -- that makes that hour and fifty minutes zip by. His ensemble cast does very nicely, especially Nicholson's understated and wry Jane and Davis' sweet-singing Marrell. Louisa Thompson's very livable-looking set impressively details the organized clutter of Tom and Marrell's apartment and cleverly converts into various smaller settings. Aside from the play itself, it's a rather enjoyable evening.

Photo by Joan Marcus: Eisa Davis, Darren Pettie, Glenn Fitzgerald, Julianne Nicholson and Louis Cancelmi.

Posted on: Friday, December 04, 2009 @ 01:33 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Ragtime

Count me among those who consider Ragtime, that thrilling creation of Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (music) to be one of musical theatre's finest works of art. While its 1998 Broadway premiere made no landmark advancements in subject matter, use of music or dance, it is simply a prime example of the high quality of writing that can uniquely exist in musical theatre when spoken words, sung words and music work in tandem.

Based on E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel, Ragtime takes place in an era when the American people find they must begin to live up to the words written in their constitution. At the turn of the 20th Century the first generation of free American-born blacks was well into adulthood and still struggling to obtain the rights that only existed for them on paper. Meanwhile an enormous flood of immigrants from Europe came in through Ellis Island responding to promises of good jobs and opportunities for a better life, only to find themselves treated as industrial cogs for factory work under inhuman conditions. McNally's book, taking after its source, nimbly mixes real life public figures such as Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington and Emma Goldman with the major plot involving three fictional families (an affluent white Protestant suburban family, an emerging black musician trying to reunite with the mother of his infant child and a newly arrived Jewish immigrant father with a young daughter) as the authors demonstrate the effects that history-makers had on the nameless millions who were learning they could not live cloistered from the other cultures sharing their country.

Flaherty's music contains quite a bit of ragtime, of course, but if you listen closely you'll hear the subtle differences in how the music is interpreted by each ethnic group. This is especially apparent in the show's opening sequence, arguably the best you'll find in all of musical theatre, where three groups of Americans, old and new, consider their uneasy futures together. Ahren's lyrics are rich with alliterations, colorful imagery and solid story-telling. Together they fill Ragtime with an assortment of anthems, marches and musical scenes representative of the era when American music began to take hold.

So strong is the material of Ragtime that even a middling mounting, like the one delivered by director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge that originated at Washington D.C.‘s Kennedy Center and has now moved to Broadway, can leave one exhilarated by the strength of its writing. That's not to say there's anything terribly wrong happening on the Neil Simon Theatre's stage. It's just that, at the risk of sounding like an elitist New York snob, from an acting and staging standpoint, this is a perfectly acceptable regional production that lacks the inventiveness and forward thrust expected for a Broadway revival of a major theatre piece.

Set designer Derek McLane places three levels of metal scaffolding on stage, capped by an arch that, in context, is reminiscent of Grand Central Terminal -- the "Gateway to America" -- which was completed in 1913. Behind the skeletal construction is a backdrop that frequently depicts brilliant blue skies and soft, puffy clouds (lit with symbolic majesty by Donald Holder), suggesting the bright days ahead for a nation that is still building.

While the setting (along with Santo Loquasto's beautiful pageant of period costumes) is a striking visual, director Dodge uses it rather predictably with musical scenes of ensembles separated into their different class levels pacing up and down stairs. (In one scene, a character on the top level reacts to something on stage and takes so long to work her way down to the floor for the moment's climax that you might wish she had a fireman's pole to get the darn thing over with.) Once on stage her group numbers are frequently muddy and unfocused. Important moments of violence are too stylized to register properly.

Christiane Noll registers very properly as Mother, the New Rochelle wife left in the unfamiliar position of making hard decisions while her husband is off exploring the North Pole with Admiral Peary. Choosing to follow her heart instead of the rules of her society when she finds an abandoned black child in her garden, Noll mixes lovely elegance with gracefully tempered authority.

This is my second time seeing Quentin Earl Darrington as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., the well-spoken black piano player whose eloquence and refusal to surrender his own rights makes him especially hated among white bigots. The first time was in director Stafford Arima's scaled down production which I caught at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Back then I was impressed with his powerful presence and voice, but here the interpretation of the role tends to be so grim that performance loses its passionate strength. Dodge doesn't do him any favors by making his beloved Model T Ford, a turn-of-the-century symbol of accomplishment, a silly-looking skeletal contraption that he maneuvers with his feet in a standing position. He fares much better with the skeletal piano, looking like a legitimate artist at the eighty-eights as he mimes playing. Stephanie Umoh, playing his lover, Sarah, is a strong singer but doesn't display the acting chops necessary to be convincing in her character's growth from a devastated single mother willing to abandon her baby to an idealistic woman swept away by the father's dreams of their future together.

Bobby Steggert offers a memorable portrayal as Younger Brother, giving the blank expression and awkward manner of someone who might be a bit mentally disturbed, which enriches the motivations of the man's obsession with mistress-turned-vaudevillian, Evelyn Nesbit (Savannah Wise), and his willingness to embrace social anarchy while looking for a direction in life.

Robert Petkoff has his charms as Tateh, the immigrant Jew who eventually becomes a big-shot in the growing motion picture industry and Sarah Rosenthal, as his quiet little daughter, has a smile that lights up the theatre. Ron Bohmer, in the thankless role of Father, manages to make him seem like not such a bad guy, but simply one who knows no other life than that of his elitist WASP upbringing.

The pros and the cons seem to balance out, but unlike many Broadway revivals that tear apart the original material with "improvements," this Ragtime, despite some editing here and there, trusts the text and that's enough to sufficiently (if not enthusiastically) satisfy.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Quentin Earl Darrington and Company; Center: Christiane Noll; Bottom: Robert Petkoff, Sarah Rosenthal and Company

Posted on: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 @ 06:42 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


My First Time Offers Free Condoms

Producer Ken Davenport wants to make sure people attending his Off-Broadway hit, My First Time, have a safe and healthy holiday season. No, he's not buying everyone flu shots but he is offering free condoms for everyone who sees the show in December.

Inspired from the web site, www.myfirsttime.com, My First Time is a funny and often touching theatre piece where the cast tells stories people have submitted to the web site explaining how they lost their virginity.

Says Davenport, "I recently received a comment on my blog from a young man who told me that he and his girlfriend lost their virginity to each other after seeing My First Time. Last year, a study revealed that 96% of the audience had sex immediately after seeing the show. We've always known that My First Time gets people in the mood, and now we just want to make sure that everyone is prepared!"

Unfortunately, I was part of that other 4%. Maybe I should play the percentages and see it again.

And for playgoers who never venture above 14th Street, keep in mind that the Public Theater keeps a bucket of free condoms at the information desk of their lobby. You know, just in case Idiot Savant gets you all hot and bothered.

 

Posted on: Tuesday, December 01, 2009 @ 10:55 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 11/29 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic."

-- George Bernard Shaw

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 11/29/2009 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: RACE (67.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (19.5%), SHREK THE MUSICAL (18.2%), HAIR (16.6%), CHICAGO (15.9%), MARY POPPINS (13.5%), SOUTH PACIFIC (12.8%), THE LION KING (12.2%), WEST SIDE STORY (8.6%), WICKED (7.8%), MAMMA MIA! (7.6%), IN THE HEIGHTS (7.4%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (5.3%), BYE BYE BIRDIE (2.9%), AFTER MISS JULIE (2.1%), THE ROYAL FAMILY (2.0%), NEXT TO NORMAL (0.9%), A STEADY RAIN (0.2%), JERSEY BOYS (0.1%),

Down for the week was: BURN THE FLOOR (-16.1%), MEMPHIS (-15.5%), IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY (-13.9%), OLEANNA (-11.1%), FELA! (-9.2%), FINIAN'S RAINBOW (-8.9%), WISHFUL DRINKING (-8.2%), IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS (-3.8%), RAGTIME (-3.4%), HAMLET (-2.4%), GOD OF CARNAGE (-1.7%), SUPERIOR DONUTS (-1.6%), THE 39 STEPS (-1.2%),

Posted on: Monday, November 30, 2009 @ 04:05 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Santa Sues Christine Pedi???

My holiday season was made significantly cheerier last year, thanks to a visit to Christine Pedi's Holly Jolly Christmas Folly. That exceptional cabaret songstress and ace diva impersonator presented a wonderfully daffy time, highlighted by her specialty number, "The Twelve Divas of Christmas," where audience members would pick names out of a hat (Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Elaine Stritch...) to determine who would sing the chorus about the partridge in the pear tree and who would warble about the eight maids a milking.

Ms. Pedi was all set to bring her festivities back to the Laurie Beechman Theatre this December, when she was suddenly served with the biggest holiday surprise of them all...

"My holiday show, Christine Pedi's Holly Jolly Christmas Folly has been the target of concern on the part of the owner of the song 'Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.' A letter from the owner's lawyer arrived at the Laurie Beechman a few weeks ago advising us/me to 'cease and desist' (or pay $2000 for the use of the title - now that's comedy) ... otherwise. The holiday irony is that the owner of this seasonal song of good cheer and happiness threatening to sue this simple little cabaret elf is .... St. Nicholas Music!"

"I've been served by Santa .... He does exist! But what a way to find out!"

Undaunted, Pedi has rechristened her venture, There's No Bizness Like Snow Bizness, confident that whoever owns the rights to the Irving Berlin catalogue has the common sense to recognize an affectionate play on words that will in no way infringe on his or her income from the song.

In the words of Barbra, Liza, Carol, Joan and everyone else in the Pedi repertoire, "Let's go on with the snow!"

Christine Pedi's Holly Jolly Christmas Folly There's No Bizness Like Snow Bizness plays the Laurie Beechman Theatre Dec 7, 14, 21, 26-30 @ 7pm.

Posted on: Sunday, November 29, 2009 @ 07:38 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


The Age of Iron: The Seven Year Itch

While Helen of Troy's face is said to have launched a thousand ships, I suspect it also launched at least as many plays. As adaptor and director, Classic Stage Company's Artistic Director Brian Kulick has combined two of them -- William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida and his contemporary Thomas Heywood's The Iron Age -- into The Age of Iron; a retelling of the epic story of The Trojan War intimately placed in the company's cozy Off-Broadway theatre. The entertaining and well-acted production is filled with humor, sexiness and a lot of trash-talking bad boys.

Leading off with Heywood, Homer's (Michael Potts) prologue segues to a scene that borders on sex farce as Sparta's King Menelaus (Luis Moreno) instructs his wife Helen (coolly attractive Tina Benko) to provide the visiting Trojan prince Paris (Craig Baldwin) with every entertainment they have to offer. She complies by making out with the dude and arranging for her own abduction.

Jump to seven years later and both the Greek and Trojan armies are getting a little antsy about their ongoing war. Despite the blood and carnage, there's an adversarial camaraderie between the two sides, since the lengthy war has led them to know more about each other than the cause they're fighting for.

The top Greek warrior Achilles (a butched up Dion Mucciacito, sporting a Mohawk) is so sick of the whole business that he's shacked up in his tent with his "friend" Patroclus (female Xanthe Elbrick playing a male role with plenty of testosteronic posturing), refusing to fight. So when Troy's Prince Hector (a passionately tempered Elliot Villar) challenges the Greeks to select their best man for a one-on-one battle, Ulysses (beautifully eloquent Steven Skybell) chooses Ajax (played with likeable dunderheadedness by Bill Christ) to accept, in hopes to wound Achilles' pride enough to get him back into the war. As Ajax's slave, Thersites, Steven Rattazzi delivers smart-alecky commentary with an abrasively funny tone.

Set designer Mark Wendland turns the stage into an oversized sandbox, suggesting the childishness of the soldiers as they fight for personal pride and glory rather than for some just cause. Costume designer Oana Botez-Ban dresses both sides in black, emphasizing their sameness.

Meanwhile, Trojan Prince Troilus (Finn Wittrock) has fallen in love with Cressida (Dylan Moore), the daughter of a Trojan priest who has defected to the Greek side. Soon after the couple has their first role in the... sand... Cressida is sent to Greece as part of an ancient prisoner exchange program. Though they're Shakespeare's title characters, their story is significantly trimmed here, but Wittrock is still very impressive, playing Troilus with an innocently youthful fire and passion.

While the play can use a bit of editing from its two hour and forty five minute length and there's the occasionally awkward clash between the lighter moments and tragic, The Age of Iron grandly gallops through its complicated plots in an enjoyable fashion.

Photos by T. Charles Erickson: Top: Dylan Moore and Finn Wittrock; Bottom: Bill Christ and Steven Rattazzi.

Posted on: Saturday, November 28, 2009 @ 08:07 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


It's Turkey Lurkey Time!

"Everybody loves a winner, but nobody loves a flop," sings Eve Harrington in the second act of Applause, but with all due respect to lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green, one thing web sites like BroadwayWorld help prove is that no matter how many harsh reviews a show gets and no matter how low the grosses plunge there are always those who proudly proclaim that they loved Times Square's latest financial fiasco.

So on this day when Americans enjoy their turkey, let's take a moment to be thankful for the Broadway turkeys that we've nevertheless enjoyed.

I'll start the parade with two of my favorites that both closed on opening night:

Onward Victoria: Bookwriter/lyricists Charlotte Anker and Irene Rosenberg and composer Keith Herrmann turned the story of Victoria Woodhull, who ran for the United States presidency in 1872 with a platform declaring that sexual equality begins in the bedroom, into a lighthearted romp, creating a forbidden romance between the candidate and Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, who publicly denounced her as "The Wicked Woodhull." Jill Eikenberry was just charming in the title role, with funnyman Lenny Wolpe as exasperated restaurateur Charlie Delmonico and Jim Jansen in a hilarious song and dance turn as the infamous public moralist Anthony Comstock.

 

Dance A Little Closer: Yes, yes I know this one was nicknamed "Close a Little Faster," but give a listen to the cast album and you hear some gorgeous Charles Strouse melodies. And while Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics may stumble a bit now and then, much of it shines with his erudite elegance. Len Cariou was just splendid as the nightclub entertainer stuck in a Swiss ski lodge while a cold war standoff taking place nearby threatens to ignite World War III. And I'm quite certain that when Brent Barrett and Jeff Keller sang "Why Can't The World Go And Leave Us Alone" it was the first time gay characters sang a love song in a Broadway musical. Certainly the first time it was done on ice skates. Over 26 years ago this musical depicted a gay couple who insisted they should have the right to marry each other, and with the beautiful song "Anyone Who Loves" Strouse and Lerner asked, "Why not?"

Now it's your turn. Tell us about some of Broadway's biggest turkeys that gave you a terrific time at the theatre.

Posted on: Thursday, November 26, 2009 @ 03:28 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Zero Hour: (Two of Them, Actually)

"Go away or I shall release the dogs," a large figure with his back to the audience growls at whoever is knocking at his door.

"Back! Back! The plague's here!," he warns with a familiar animation in his voice before turning around and revealing his full face and figure to the audience. And at that moment you'll be forgiven if you think you're seeing a ghost. With his long white and grey beard he resembles the ghost of Tevye, the dairyman more than that of Pseudolous, the Roman slave or Max Bialystock, the Broadway producer, but in manner, voice and mind he is unmistakably Zero Mostel.

When playing a well-known celebrity, many actors are said to have captured the essence of their subjects rather than achieve an exact impersonation. In his solo piece Zero Hour, playwright/actor Jim Brochu does both. A man of Mostelian girth sporting that unusual comb-over that somehow resembles a crown atop his head, Brochu strikingly looks the part. Add to that the soothingly soft voice that can abruptly explode into a volcanic bellow, the graceful light-footedness and that flexible face featuring eyebrows that can arch on demand and you have a remarkably accurate recreation.

Directed with simplicity by Piper Laurie, Brochu sets his play in Mostel's West 28th Street art studio (designed with appropriate clutter by Josh Iacovelli), where the great actor and comedian, who always considered himself to be a painter first, would spend his most creatively fulfilling hours. It is shortly before he's to leave for Philadelphia to begin out-of-town tryouts for Arnold Wesker's The Merchant, a pro-Jewish reimagining of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice which he would perform in only once before dying from an aortic aneurysm, and he's being interviewed by an unseen reporter for a New York Times feature.

The scenario allows us to see Mostel as the public remembers him; an outrageously larger than life figure who is continually performing and will do anything for a laugh. His humor can straddle the border of good taste (He answers a phone call with, "Palestinian Anti-Defamation League, this is Yasser speaking.") and often gets downright smutty (a joke about his army physical is a classic) but Brochu, in both his text and performance, never allows us to forget that this is a man who has been hurt deeply and uses jokes as both a defense and a weapon of attack.

He talks of being disowned by his mother for marrying a gentile, a situation that would haunt him as he prepared to play out the same situation in Fiddler on the Roof. There are happier stories of his courtship with his second wife, Kate, and of his early career as a stand-up performing with Billie Holliday at Café Society, but the event that dominates his life and the play is the Red Scare of Senator Joseph McCarthy, which led to Mostel and many of his colleague friends being blacklisted. The playwright/performer recreates Zero Mostel's testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but the most fascinating part of the tale is how the actor was able to put politics aside when producer Harold Prince and director George Abbott approached him about having Jerome Robbins, who named names before the committee, come in to help fix A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum when the musical was having a shaky out-of-town tryout.
Having fond memories of meeting the play's subject several times, the playwright naturally presents him in a very favorable light, but Brochu does hint that Mostel's side of any story might not be entirely truthful. For example, in the film The Front, Mostel played a character loosely based on his close friend, blacklisted actor Phil Loeb. In describing a real-life incident involving Loeb, Mostel speaks of the way it was depicted in the movie as if it were fact. When the reporter challenges his accuracy, Brochu has him respond with, "You're asking an actor for the truth?" Later on, he has Mostel quote a famous quip of Larry Gelbart's regarding the difficulty of trying out a musical on the road, falsely crediting the line as being said during the gestation of ...Forum.

But Brochu's intention seems to be to paint a portrait depicting the artist as he might like to be remembered; brilliant, defiant and highly entertaining.

Photo of Jim Brochu by Stan Barouh.

Posted on: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 @ 11:46 AM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


Broadway Grosses: Week Ending 11/22 & Theatre Quote of the Week

"I'm at the age where I've got to prove that I'm just as good as I never was."
-- Rex Harrison

 

The grosses are out for the week ending 11/22/2009 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.

Up for the week was: FELA! (9.2%), BURN THE FLOOR (2.5%), SHREK THE MUSICAL (1.8%), THE LION KING (1.0%), MARY POPPINS (0.4%), AFTER MISS JULIE (0.3%),

Down for the week was: GOD OF CARNAGE (-39.7%), RAGTIME (-27.7%), THE ROYAL FAMILY (-23.8%), OLEANNA (-21.6%), HAIR (-13.9%), THE 39 STEPS (-11.9%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-11.8%), IN THE HEIGHTS (-10.3%), IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY (-9.8%), ROCK OF AGES (-9.0%), NEXT TO NORMAL (-7.1%), WICKED (-6.8%), WISHFUL DRINKING (-6.6%), CHICAGO (-6.5%), SOUTH PACIFIC (-6.3%), MAMMA MIA! (-6.3%), MEMPHIS (-6.2%), FINIAN'S RAINBOW (-5.9%), SUPERIOR DONUTS (-5.1%), BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL (-4.5%), WEST SIDE STORY (-4.1%), BYE BYE BIRDIE (-3.8%), HAMLET (-2.3%), IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS (-1.9%), JERSEY BOYS (-0.6%), A STEADY RAIN (-0.2%),

Posted on: Monday, November 23, 2009 @ 03:20 PM Posted by: Michael Dale | Leave Feedback


On The Town: Dancing In The Street

Patti Colombo is the most exciting musical theatre choreographer I've seen since Tommy Tune.

More on her later but I just wanted to make sure I didn't forget to write that.

If there ever was a musical comedy that perfectly demonstrates the amalgamation of arts that makes the genre a perfect expression of American creativity, it's On The Town. The musical's roots go back to Paul Cadmus' controversial 1934 painting The Fleet's In!, which inspired Ballet Theatre soloist Jerome Robbins and wunderkind New York Philharmonic conductor Leonard Bernstein to create the ballet Fancy Free. With downtown revue writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green on board to pen the book and lyrics and musical comedy master George Abbott set to direct, the ballet was expanded to an explosive mixture of highbrow and lowbrow featuring knockabout comedy, dynamic interpretive ballets and symphonic pop music propelling lyrics that remain fresh, funny and heart-on-sleeve touching. I can't think of a better musical comedy than On The Town and The Paper Mill's sterling new production allows every feature of this stellar creation to sparkle.

On the surface, its story of three sailors far away from home plopped in New York for a 24 hour leave who each meet a gal more than willing to show her appreciation for our boys in uniform can seem like little more than frisky frolics. But when the musical opened in 1944, the year the show is set, World War II was still raging. For all these young boys know, this could be the last day of freedom they have to squeeze every possible bit of fun out of life before being sent out somewhere to meet with a tragically early end.

From its opening hymn for early-risers, "I Feel Like I'm Not Out Of Bed Yet," to its closing confirmation that New York, New York will ever remain a hell of a town - sandwiching such first-rank theatre songs as the heartbreaking "Lonely Town," (anyone who isn't moved by Bernstein's subtle key changes throughout the melody simply has no soul), the madcap "Carried Away," and the raucously swinging "I Can Cook, Too" - On The Town's shining score takes simple emotions to rapturous wths, both comedic and sentimental. The mounting joy of "Lucky to Be Me," the conversational give and take in "Come Up to My Place" and the bittersweet optimism of "Some Other Time" represent musical theatre writing at its plot and character driven finest and conductor Tom Helm and his 16 musicians beautifully bring out the orchestrations' varied emotions.

Set designer Walt Spangler surrounds those musicians with a downstage runway that helps director Bill Berry capture the frenzied pace of a Gotham that's in perpetual motion. Characters leap, dive and frantically stride to their destinations (usually someone of the opposite sex) in a manner that makes the assortment of interpretive ballets and dance sequences seem like natural extensions of New York's movement.

Which brings me to choreographer Patti Colombo, whose extraordinary work I've previously seen in Paper Mill's productions of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and Kiss Me, Kate. Colombo's dances are brimming with the humor and youthful buoyancy so abundant in the text and music. Sure, she quotes Robbins' iconic pictures on occasion, but the comedy she brings to the "Presentation of Miss Turnstiles," the giddy goofiness she adds to "Lucky To Be Me" and the stunning elegance of "The Imaginary Coney Island" demonstrate her talent as a dance dramatist who can build from character and situation and wordlessly expand on the story and music.

And this production has been cast with legitimate triple threats in the six main roles; performers who not only can act and sing but who are smack in the middle of the dance routines. Tyler Haynes is a sweet-singing romantic as Gabey, the sailor who falls for a photograph of "Miss Turnstiles for June" displayed in a subway car and sets out on a city-wide quest to find her. As the object of his crush, Yvette Tucker is a sunny girl next door as Ivy, the aspiring singer and dancer who is comically under-talented in real life but dreamy perfection in Gabey's imagination.

Brash and hilarious Jen Cody is a riot as the sailor-happy cab driver Hildy, using her short stature and dancing chops to great comedic advantage as she propels herself at the intimidated Chip (Brian Shepard). Her knock-out rendition of "I Can Cook, Too" begs the question of why this talented dynamo is not playing larger roles on Broadway. Shepard is an excellent foil to her lustful pursuits, particularly when her screeching taxi routinely knocks him about in circles.

In the roles Comden and Green wrote for themselves, Kelly Sullivan mixes prim intelligence with uncontrollable lust as anthropologist Claire de Loone, with Jeffrey Schecter cheerfully receiving her man-hungry urges as Ozzie, the sailor whose primitive-looking mug causes her to get carried away. The scene where they meet shows off the bookwriters' prowess for comedy that mixes smarts with shtick and the two of them play it with crackerjack timing.

In supporting roles, Harriet Harris brings her off-center daffiness to Madame Dilly, Ivy's hard-drinking voice teacher, and Bill Nolte is wonderfully erudite as Claire's cuckolded fiancé, singing the mock-aria, "I Understand" with a rich basso. Tari Kelly also contributes some big laughs, tripling as Hildy's perpetually sneezing roommate and as a pair of the world's most depressing nightclub torch singers.

Set designer Walt Spangler depicts Manhattan's skyline with shadowy towers that are lit with jazzy tones by Tom Sturge. Locations like The Museum of Natural History, Coney Island and the inside of a subway train are presented with imagination and color. David C. Woolard's costumes show a broadly stylish view of 1940s urban fashion.

On The Town has not been especially lucky when it comes to Broadway revivals with two significantly revised attempts lasting only two months each. Last year's Encores! concert production was a delight, but a trip to Paper Mill these days offers this sublime creation in a damn near perfect mounting. Go and have yourself a hell of a time.

Photos by Kevin Sprague: Top: Brian Shepard, Tyler Hanes and Jeffrey Schecter; Center: Brian Shepard and Jen Cody; Bottom: Kelly Sullivan and Company.

Posted on: Monday, November 23, 2009 @ 04:09 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.