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 FOLLIES, TEMPORAL POWERS, PLAY IT COOL, THE LAPSBURGH LAYOVER, THE TENANT and BLUEBIRD.
The Broadway musical season has gotten off to a fine start with the wonderful revival of Follies, the 1971 Stephen Sondheim/James Goldman musical at the Marquis Theatre. The original production, legendary to many, closed at a loss, and the Roundabout’s revival of 10 year ago didn’t fare very well either. This is one of those shows which perhaps was ahead of its time; but this time around, it’s time is now.
I assume you know the story, which is about a reunion of ex-showgirls in the dilapidated theatre where they performed 30 years before in a Ziegfield Follies-like series of revues, examining the hopes and dreams of their younger selves, contrasted with their disillusionment in the present. Sondheim’s score much, though not all, of which is delightful pastiche, is truly one of his greatest; and Goldman’s book, always underrated, here emerges as one of the finest Broadway musical books for all of Sondheim’s shows.
Eris Schaeffer’s direction is brilliant. As for the performers, the four leads (Bernadette Peters as Sally, Jan Maxwell as Phyllis, Ron Raines as Ben and Danny Burstyn as Buddy) are all great, ably supported by the likes of Elaine Page (who nails “I’m Still Here”), Terri White, Mary Beth Peil and Jane Houdyshell, whose rousing rendition of “Broadway Baby” practically brings down the rafters. I counted no less than six times that the show was stopped cold by these wonderful performances. When’s the last time you were in a Broadway theatre and that happened?
The Mint Theatre has a hit with another play by Teresa Deevy, whose Wife to James Whelan was so great last season, called Temporal Powers. A highly-regarded playwright in Ireland in the 1930s, Deevy’s work was forgotten until The Mint dug it up. That’s what they do better than anyone else.
Temporal Powers is about a dirt-poor Irish couple who have been recently evicted from their home and are now squatting in an abandoned building. The husband, Michael, finds a packet containing a large sum of money in the rafters; and the question then becomes, where did it come from and what does he plan to do with it? Naturally, his long-suffering wife Min has her own ideas, and as the drama plays out she emerges as the central character in this enthralling tale.
Jonathan Bank’s production is first rate, and his ensemble of actors are the equal of any you will see on a New York stage this season. This production has been extended twice, but it can’t run forever. It’s a don’t-miss.
Play It Cool, at the Acorn Theatre, is a witty, noir-ish musical set in 1953, in a nightclub in Hollywood called Mary’s Hideaway which caters to homosexuals and lesbians, which means it’s very much of an underground place as homosexuality in those days could land you in the hoosegow. The Mary in the title is a former jazz singer who, because she dresses and acts like a man, has had to abandon her career. She pays protection dough to a crooked cop named Henry; and the great question is, will it be enough to keep the hounds at bay?
The book, by Martin Casella and Larry Dean Harris, maintains just the right amount of tongue in its cheek; but it’s the jazz-infused songs by Philip Swann (music) and Mark Winkler (lyrics) which make this well-worth seeing – that and the fine performances. Sally Mayes is wonderful as Mary; but there is fine supporting work too from Robyn Hurder as the club’s chantoosy, Michael F. McGuirk as the charmingly crooked cop, Chris Hoch as a Hollywood insider and Michael Buchanan as a cute guy fresh off the bus, dreaming of Hollywood stardom.
Play It Cool is great fun.
At The Lapsburgh Layover, at Ars Nova, we are international travelers whose plane has had to make an unscheduled stop for repairs in some sort of mittel-European country. While we wait, we are invited to a nightclub and treated to a goofy show (again, a noir spoof), which turns apocalyptic at the end. The four performers are also the writers, and they all delightful, managing to make the ridiculous premise of their show sustain right up until the end, when it kinda falls apart as the audience is enlisted to defend the world against The Attack of the Giant Frogs.
Some might roll their eyes at all the silliness; but I quite enjoyed myself. If you’re in the mood for Something Completely Different …
The Tenant, at West Park Presbyterian Church, is another one of those increasingly ubiquitous “site-specific” evenings, this one put together by a group which calls itself the Woodshed Collective, who have taken the Roman Polanski movie and fractured it into scenes, written by several different writers, which take place all over the building. You can stay in one room and watch whatever happens, or you can follow the performers around.
Woodshed tries very hard to duplicate the experience of Punch Drunk’s Sleep No More of last season; but the problem is, you don’t know where to go, so much if this is incomprehensible. My advice, if you go, is follow the guy with the Polish name whom everybody meets in the first scene. I think he’s the central character – but who knows?
Bluebird, which has closed at Atlantic Stage II, a play by British playwright Simon Stephens, was an episodic look at one night in the life of a London cabbie, played with haunting brilliance by the great British actor Simon Russell Beale. The entire run was sold out, and deservedly so. Beale was wonderful, but so were the actors who played his many passengers on the night when he tries to get in touch with his ex-wife, whom he hasn’t seen in 5 years.
I hope you managed to get in.
FOLLIES. Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
TEMPORAL POWERS. Mint Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: www.minttheater.org or 212-315-0231
PLAY IT COOL. Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE LAPSBURGH LAYOVER. Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St.
TICKETS: 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111
THE TENANT. West Park Presbyterian Church, 165 W. 86th ST.
BLUEBIRD. Atlantic Stage II. Alas, closed.
For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: email@example.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
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt