Archive for April, 2011

“On the Aisle with Larry” 19 April, 2011

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry reports on THE BOOK OF MORMON, PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, ANYTHING GOES, HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, WONDERLAND, SISTER ACT, TOMORROW MORNING, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and HELLO AGAIN.

A bunch of new musicals and plays (and some revivals) have opened in the last two weeks, all desperately hoping to win the Tony Sweepstakes. This week, I’m telling you about all the musicals I’ve seen so far.

Fans of “South Park” have much to cheer with the arrival of The Book of Mormon, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. SP’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker have crafted a hilarious book – the funniest since The Producers — the story of two naïve young Mormon missionaries who get sent to Uganda where they have the difficult task of converting people in a small rural village to the gospel according to Joseph Smith and the Angel Moroni. It’s a hopeless task, made even more hopeless by the fact that have to contend with a local warlord with an unprintable name (even for me) who is going around snipping the clits of every woman he can catch.

Yes, this is wildly funny; but it’s also incredibly raunchy. I think the show’s creators went too far; but then, I’m an old fuddy-duddy. I will admit, I laughed a lot (guiltily, though), and I loved Matthew Lopez’ score. Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad are both wonderful as the clueless missionaries, as is Nikki M. James as a young woman with the last intact clitoris in the village.

I also had a good time at Priscilla, Queen of The Desert, at the Palace Theatre, an adaptation of the Australian film about three drag queens on a cross-country journey from Sidney into the outback. Alan Scott and Stephan Elliott have crafted a delightful book, into which they have grafted pop songs from the disco era, such as “It’s Raining Men” and the Village People’s “Go West.” Yes, folks, this is a “jukebox musical;” you know, like Mamma Mia. I loved it. I loved the performances by the three leads (Will Swenson, Tony Shelton and Nick Adams – particularly, Shelton, who is touching as the lovelorn Bernadette). Most of all, I loved Tim Chappel’s and Lizzy Gardiner’s spectacular costumes, which are shoo-ins for the Tony Award.

Here’s how much I loved Priscilla, Queen of The Desert: I would pay to see it again, and as soon as possible.

The Roundabout has mounted a stylish, de-lovely revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, starring Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney. I assume you know the cornball plot about romance on a voyage to England, so let me just say that the production, which is directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, is absolutely marvelous.

As for the Star of the Show, Sutton Foster, what can I say other than this is Yet Another demonstration of why she is the biggest female musical comedy star of her generation. Fortunately, she is ably supported by a fine cast which includes John McMartin as the jolly tippler Elisha Whitney, Laura Osnes as the ingénue Hope Harcourt, Colin Donnell as Billy Crocker and Adam Godley as Lord Evelyn Oakley. I wasn’t wild about Joel Grey as Moonface Martin, but I seem to be in the minority.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, at the Hirschfeld Theatre, is also quite delightful. The satire of corporate culture holds up well, and Rob Ashford’s direction and choreography are quite witty. Surprisingly, Daniel Radcliffe has the requisite skills to pull off the role of Finch, the young nobody who climbs the corporate ladder to the very top of the heap. He sings and dances well, and he acts the role with tongue-in-cheek aplomb. John Larroquette is perfectly pompous as Bigley, and Rose Hemingway is charming as Rosemary. Of the other supporting players my favorite performance is Tammy Blanchard’s as Hedy LaRue, Bigley’s bimbo mistress who, like Finch, is trying to climb the corporate ladder – which is even harder for her because she’s trying to do this on her back. Blanchard is absolutely hilarious.

Both Anything Goes and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying are first-rate revivals as well as great fun. Don’t miss either one.

I had high hopes for Catch Me if You Can, at the Neil Simon Theatre. The book is by Terrence McNally, one of my favorite playwrights, and the songs are by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, who wrote the songs for Hairspray. But it just didn’t grab me. I think part of the problem is that its creators have decided to use the device of a tacky 1960s variety show to tell their story, which includes the inevitable chorus line of leggy cuties which even I found tiresome after a while. I kept waiting for Dean Martin to wander in, drink in hand, to sing “That’s Amore.” Once trapped in this concept, they can do little to escape it.

Aaron Tveit, as young con man Frank Abagnale, Jr., sings well but he never is able to break out of the constraint imposed upon him by the authors. What should have been a breakout star turn just seems rather bland, particularly when compared with the performance of a real Broadway star, Norbert Leo Butz, as the FBI agent leading the team which is trying to catch Frank. Butz has one of show’s two best songs, “Don’t Break the Rules,” with which he stops the show. The other song is a beautiful ballad “Fly, Fly Away,” sung by Kerry Butler, who appears briefly as the nurse Frank almost marries, before he has to go once again on the lam.

I’m not saying that Catch Me if You Can is bad – it’s not. A lot of the time it’s quite delightful. It’s just that it has to compete for your dollar with The Book of Mormon and Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Anything Goes and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and Sister Act (which I’ll get to shortly), as well as Baby It’s You and The People in the Picture (neither of which I’ve seen yet, so no comment). Compared to those, for pure entertainment value it can’t compete. Musical comedy fans should definitely see it. Civilians, you could miss it.

Whenever I write about a show, I try to imagine who might like it and then write for that person. I sat there at Wonderland, the new Frank Wildhorn musical at the Marquis Theatre, trying to envision that person. An “American Idol” fan, maybe? A Wildhorn fanatic? A Jekkie? If you’re one of these, by all means go. You’ll encounter a pretty witless attempt to modernize Alice in Wonderland, by re-imagining Alice as a soon-to-be single Mom (she’s separated from her husband because he has lost his job, which makes her an unsympathetic character for 49% of the population — i.e., men) and sending her down the service elevator in the apartment building where she is staying with her so-to-be ex’s mother into a tacky “wonderland” where the Caterpillar is a jivin’ dude and the Mad Hatter a demonic dominatrix. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, all Alice wants to do is find her way home, and she’s helped to that end by the White Knight, here envisioned as a comic book superhero wannabe. She also has a daughter named Chloe who’s kidnapped by the Mad Hatter’s fearsome minions as part of her plot to depose the Queen of Hearts.

Janet Dacal is OK as Alice, in a part which could have used some star wattage (I kept imagining what Sutton Foster might have done with the part). Carly Rose Sonenclar, as Chloe, is the reincarnation of Andrea McArdle as Annie. What a voice! I kept wishing she’d sing “Tomorrow.” I also enjoyed Darren Ritchie as the charmingly goofy White Night. His performance of one of the best songs in the show, “One Knight,” done with backup superhero sidekicks like a boy band, stops the show.

Wonderland tries really hard to be another Wicked. I’m sure that’s how they sold it to investors who, sadly, are gonna lose their dough on this misfire.

Sister Act, at the Broadway Theatre, is a musical version of the popular Whoopi Goldberg film. I have no idea how it compares to the film, which I haven’t seen, so all I can say is that on its own it is great fun. Alan Menken’s music is loaded with Broadway pizzazz and Alan Slater’s lyrics are very witty. Director Jerry Zaks keeps things spinning along at a hilarious clip, and the show features a Star Is Born performance by Patina Miller as a wannabe singer who finds herself in a convent where she has to hide out from her ex-boyfriend, who’s trying to kill her as she witnessed him commit a murder. Broadway stalwart Victoria Clark is also delightful as the Mother Superior.

Off Broadway, there’s a charming little musical by the York Theatre at Theatre at. St. Peter’s called Tomorrow Morning, The characters are two couples, one at the start of their relationship and the other at the end, who turn out to be the same people ten years apart. Laurence Marc Whyte wrote the whole shebang, and his score consists of one lovely song after another. This show has been derided as shamelessly sentimental, in that it doesn’t wind up being cynical about love and romance. I’m an old softie who still believes in both, so I found the show very poignant. All four performers are terrific, too.

I wasn’t wild about Peccadillo’s revival of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which has closed after a very successful run at the Theatre at St. Clement’s. The songs by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields were the best part, but the show itself just seemed too old-fashioned, and Peccadillo’s production looked like community theatre. Don’t feel bad if you missed this.

Also closed is the Transport Group’s revival of the Michael John LaChiusa musical Hello Again, based on Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which was done as “environmental theatre” in a large loft. You sat at a table and the action took place all around you, and sometimes right there on the table. This action involved a lot of, well, fucking, which I found distasteful (but then, I’m a prude – when the actors in a film I’m seeing start going at it, I go out for popcorn). The performers were excellent, but the main problem for me with this show was LaChiusa’s music, which I have never liked and which in this show was as boring as all his other scores.

Hello Again was a Hot Ticket. Don’t feel bad, though, if you missed it.

THE BOOK OF MORMON. Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT. Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or (877) 250-2929/(800) 755-4000

ANYTHING GOES. Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING.

Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or (877) 250-2929

WONDERLAND. Marquis Theatre, 1534 Broadway

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or (877) 250-2929/(800) 755-4000

SISTER ACT. Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway\

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

TOMORROW MORNING. Theatre at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Ave (Citicorp Center)

TICKETS: 212-935-5820 or www.yorktheatre.org

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. Closed

HELLO AGAIN. Closed

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

—– George F. Will

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 5 April 2011

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison,The Playfixer, usually brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry tells you about this year’s Humana Festival.

Actors Theatre of Louisville Artistic Director Marc Masterson, who is moving on to helm South Coast Rep after this season, has really gone out with a bang. This year’s Humana Festival, the 35th annual edition, has easily the strongest lineup of any of the 10 Masterson has produced.

I started this year’s Humana Marathon off on the right foot with A. Rey Pamatmat’s engaging Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them, about a pair of teens, Edith and Kenny (brother and sister), who have been pretty much abandoned by their father, who has moved out and is living with his girlfriend. He puts money in the bank for them, but that’s about the extent of his involvement in their lives. Their mother is dead. Also in the mix is another teen, Benji, a gawky youth who is in love with Kenny. Edith is a crack shot with her bee-bee gun. One night Dad and his girlfriend show up; but before they can enter Edith shoots her. She winds up in the hospital and Edith winds up in reform school. Meanwhile, Benji is thrown out of his home when his mom discovers he’s gay. He goes to live with Kenny. Eventually, after Edith makes a daring escape from reform school, the three teens become a sort of family. Teresa Avia Lim (Edith), John Norman Schneider (Kenny) and Cory Michael Smith (Benji) were all wonderful. May Adrales’ direction was wonderful. Everyone seemed to love this play, me included.

Pretty much everyone also loved Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s Bob, too, even though it was a tad too long (but that’s fixable). The play is a surreal biography, covering the life from birth to death of Bob, who is abandoned as a baby in the ladies’ room of a White Castle and who rises, in a series of hilarious steps, to become wealthy and famous. Jeffrey Binder was wonderful as Bob, and Aysan Celik, Polly Lee, Danny Schele and Lou Sumrall were delightful as multiple characters Bob meets on his life’s journey. Sean Daniels’ direction was clever and inventive.

Anne Washburn’s A Devil at Noon was a play which mystified pretty much everyone I talked to. Washburn tried to juggle multiple plot strands, but none of them made much sense. One seemed to involved covert surveillance of a novelist who I am told was based on Philip K. Dick. Who knew? Washburn’s obtuse, NYC “downtown theatre” sensibility went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter. There were multiple ditches at the intermission.

Adam Rapp’s The Edge of Our Bodies was the Surprise Hit this year. Of course, every play is a surprise; but I call this one the Surprise Hit because it’s a narrative monologue. The audience started out game to endure it and wound out being completely captivated by this tale of a 16 year-old girl named Bernadette who plays hooky from her Connecticut prep school to journey into Manhattan to tell her 19 year-old boyfriend that she’s pregnant. She meets his Dad, who’s dying of cancer, and has a strange encounter with a man who picks her up at a bar, but she never finds her boyfriend, as it becomes increasingly obvious that he is ducking her.

Rapp’s writing was very compelling (as always); but what really made this piece was the exquisite performance by Catherine Combs as Bernadette. When we see this play in NYC, as I think we will, I hope she gets to recreate her performance.

Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine was also a crowd-pleaser. It was about a couple who decide to join a community comprised of people who live as if it were the 1950s, a much less complicated time than our harried era. Of course, this utopia turns out to have its dark underside, which emerges as the play progresses. Harrison’s writing was witty and fresh, and Anne Kaufman’s staging was superb. Unfortunately, Harrison built to what should have been a powerful ending and then pooped out. But most of the play was wonderful.

Molly Smith Metzler’s Elemeno Pea was the most conventional play in the Festival. It was also a Festival Fave, especially for me. It was set on an estate on Martha’s Vineyard, owned by a fabulously wealthy couple. The central character is Simone, personal assistant to trophy wife Michaela. She has invited her sister Devon for the weekend, and Devon is appalled by the excess she sees. Meanwhile, it soon emerges that Michaela’s husband is dumping her.

The play is extremely funny and I hear there are plans for a commercial production, most likely with stars. Of all the plays in this year’s Humana Festival, this one has I think the strongest legs.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

—– George F. Will

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