Lawrence Harbison, our The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on PIPPIN. THE BIG KNIFE, I’LL EAT YOU LAST, THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, ORPHANS, SCRAMBLED EGGS and MOOSE MURDERED.

Roger O. Hirson’s book for Pippin (back on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre) always gets short shrift, as do most musical books, so I have decided to start my comments with it. Pippin is supposed to be about the son of Charlemagne; but, really, it’s a contemporary tale of a confused 20-something trying to find something to believe in, and to make his way in the world. When the show first came out, in 1972 (71?), its context was very much the Vietnam War. This time around, I saw in Pippin’s story a parable about young people cast adrift from a world which does not value them, who somehow must navigate the tricky path to adulthood, all too often a slippery slope.

Diane Paulus has reconceived the show as a circus, complete with phenomenal acrobatics. Amazingly, many of the acrobats she has hired are also terrific dancers, and they execute Chet Walker’s Fosse-inspired choreography with wonderful aplomb. Pippin is no longer a goofy hippie – he’s an archetypal contemporary 20-something – and Matthew James Thomas is terrific in the role. Andrea Martin (Berthe) and Charlotte D’Amboise (Fastrada) both stop the show, Martin with her feisty rendition of “No Time at All,” which she finishes hanging upside down on a trapeze, and D’Amboise with “Spread a Little Sunshine,” wherein she demonstrates that she’s still got it as one of the best dancers on Broadway.

Don’t miss Pippin. You’ll have a great time. Expect multiple Tony Awards.

As for The Big Knife, at the American Airlines Theatre, director Doug Hughes does the best he can with Odets’ creaky drama, a poison pen letter to Hollywood, but in the end the play just collapses under the weight of contrivance. Bobby Cannavale seems at sea in the pivotal role of a movie star who tries to take on the insidious studio system and loses. Marin Ireland, as his wife, seems at sea too. Both actors have been much better elsewhere. The best performance comes from Richard Kind as a malevolent studio boss, but it’s not enough to save this turkey of a play.

Bette Midler is giving quite a star turn at the Booth Theatre in John Logan’s I’ll Eat You Last, wherein she plays the late super-agent Sue Mengers. She sits on a sofa the whole time, and manages to hold the audience in the palm of her hand as she regales us with tales of how she became one of the top Hollywood power brokers. Mengers was a ruthless, indefatigable woman, but with a wonderful catty wit which is on full display here.

Midler’s snub from the Tony nominating committee is inexplicable. Puh-lease … Bette wuz robbed.

A different kind of star turn is on display at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, in the revival of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful. Cicely Tyson has come out of retirement to play Carrie Watts, the old lady who just wants to go home to the town of her youth. Tyson is heartbreaking as Carrie. Even if Midler had gotten a Tony nomination, Tyson would still be a shoo-in. Director Michael Wilson’s production is haunting, and there is wonderful work here from Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Carrie’s son Ludie, from Vanessa Williams as his catty wife Jessie Mae, and from Condola Rashad as a young woman Carrie meets on the bus on her way home.

Bring plenty of Kleenex.

It’s just been announced that Lyle Kessler’s Orphans, at the Schoenfeld Theatre is closing in a couple of weeks, a victim of the Tony Roulette. Had it opened earlier in the season it might have had a shot at finding an audience, but there is just too much competition this time of year, even with the presence in the cast of Alec Baldwin, who is terrific as Harold, the gangster on the lam who because a strange father figure to two childlike young men. Ben Foster is terrific as Treat, the thuggish older brother, but the performance being given by Tom Sturridge as Philip, is seared in my memory. Sturridge plays Philip as if he were a feral cat, jumping all over John Lee Beatty’s dilapidated set. He’s phemonenal.

Orphans deserved better. It’s a great play, being given a great production by A-list director Daniel Sullivan. See it before it closes.

I also enjoyed Scrambled Eggs, at the Beckett Theatre, a comedy by Robin Amos Kahn and Gary Richards about a menopausal woman who tells us the story of her trials and travails. Amy Van Nostrand is wonderful as Our Heroine, and is ably supported by Anne O’Sullivan, Mary Catherine Wright, Jim Frangione, Candace Brecker and Michael Dean Morgan as a Cast of Thousands.

Scrambled Eggs will have particular resonance for 50-something women; but I’m not of their number and I found it quite amusing.

Finally, I read Arthur Bicknell’s Moose Murdered, his self-published memoir of how the most famous bomb in Broadway history happened. You know the one I mean. It’s a cautionary tale, told quite wittily, about how the best laid plans of mice, men and playwrights oft can go astray. It would have been easy for Bicknell to seek revenge for what happened to him and his play; but this is a man with great good humor and a philosophical outlook on life. He’s probably been kinder to the culprits than they deserved.

Anyway, I recommend his book. You can get in on Amazon.

PIPPIN. Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE BIG KNIFE. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300
I’LL EAT YOU LAST. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL. Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd ST.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
ORPHANS. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
SCRAMBLED EGGS. Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: 800-447-7400
MOOSE MURDERED. Available at www.amazon.com

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

“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

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