Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on AIN’T TOO PROUD, KISS ME, KATE, BE MORE CHILL, BEETLEJUICE, HADESTOWN, NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE, HILLARY AND CLINTON, INK, THE PAIN OF MY BELLIGERENCE and GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS. 

For theatregoers my age (old) the music of the Motown group The Temptations was part of our youth, but I think younger audience will flock along with the geezers to the Imperial Theatre, where Ain’t Too Proud is in residence for what will probably be a long run. Like Jersey Boys and The Cher Show, this is a bio-musical, working in the group’s greatest hits as it tells their story. Dominque Morissseau was the perfect choice to write the book. She’s a wonderful playwright, the recipient of a MacArthur grant and she’s from Detroit! She has done a terrific job of seamlessly weaving those great 60s songs into what becomes a rather dark story. More on that later. 

The story is narrated by Otis Williams, the last surviving original member of the Temps, as we used to call them, played by Derrick Baskin, and he’s terrific – but so are the other members of the group; particularly, Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin, a great soul singer but a troubled man. Sykes’ rendition of Ruffin’s signature song, “My Girl,” took me back to my boyhood and made me long for my own girl. 

As you might expect, the choreography by Sergio Trujillo, who seems to specialize in what are often derided, unfairly in my opinion, as “jukebox musicals,” captures perfectly the Temps’ slick moves, and the whole thing has been put together perfectly by Des McAnuff who, you might remember, also directed Jersey Boys and The Who’s Tommy. 

The only problem with the show is the second act as, one by one, the Temps die off, Ruffin in a drug overdose when he was only 28. It’s bummer after bummer but, fortunately there are a lot of great songs to get us through the tragedies. 

Director Scott Ellis has come up some new ideas to stage Kiss Me, Kate, the Cole Porter and Sam & Bella Spewack musical at Studio 54. For one thing, he’s had orchestrator Larry Hochman add music to some songs, like “Too Darn Hot,”  to enable choreographer Warren Carlyle to turn them into big dance numbers. He’s also “fixed” the ending, which is right out of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, adding new lyrics to “I Am Ashamed that Women Are So Simple,” in which star Kelli O’Hara is ashamed that people are so simple. There are other PC touches, some of which work, some of which don’t, but essentially this is a first-rate production. O’Hara is sensational, as she always is, but she’s matched by her co-star Will Chase, who has great fun with the role of Fred. 

Be More Chill, at the Lyceum Theatre, is a transfer from Off Broadway last season, It got great reviews then, less than great in this incarnation. It’s a teen angst story about a kid who takes a mind-altering pill to cure his awkwardness and, of course runs into trouble. I liked this show – a lot. I liked Joe Iconis’ songs, Joe Tracz’ book. I liked all the performances. I liked Chase Brock’s choreography. I am at a loss to understand why it’s been slammed. 

I also liked Beetlejuice at the Winter Garden Theatre, based on the Tim Burton film about a jolly ghoul who longs to be brought back to life – if he can only get a living person to say his name three times. Alex Brightman is hilarious in the title role, and Sophia Ann Caruso is touching as a troubled goth teen who misses her recently deceased mother, as she sings in the show’s first song, “Dead Mom.” Eddie Perfect’s music & lyrics capture the tone of the film perfectly, as does Alex Timbers’ direction. P:raise must also go to David Korins’ shape-shifting set. 

Although this has been nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical, it’s a long shot to win, as all the momentum is with Hadestown, but I have to say I had the best time at Beetlejuice than at any musical this season since The Prom. 

Shows which lose in the Tony Roulette tend to close quickly thereafter. I hope this will not be the case with Beetlejuice. 

Hadestown, at the Walter Kerr Theatre is, like Be More Chill, a transfer from Off Broadway, but it’s the show which everyone seems to love, and it has the most Tony nominations. It’s a retelling of the Orpheus myth. The whole shebang – book, music and lyrics – are by Anais Mitchell, and it’s directed by hot young director Rachel Chafkin, whose direction of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 wowed the critics but was not enough to entice audiences to buy tickets after star Josh Groban left. 

The reviews are, as I said across-the-board raves, and everybody I have talked to, with the exception of my companion the night I attended, thinks it’s the bee’s knees. Not me. I just don’t get it. I liked some of the performances, notably Amber Gray’s as Persephone and Eva Noblezada’s as Eurydice, but Patrick Page as Hades growled through most of his role, and his songs, few and far between, were for me the least interesting, musically. 

Ah well – who cares what I think? I just hope I am not becoming what I promised I would never be – an Old Fart. 

At the Mitzi Newhouse theatre, John Guare’s Nantucket Sleigh Ride, his first play in several years, is being given a fun, whimsical production by Jerry Zaks, starring John Larroquette as a one-hit wonder playwright, now a businessman, who goes back to 1975, in Nantucket to relive many painfully hilarious memories. 

It’s true, Nantucket Sleigh Ride is often confusing, but I for one appreciate an absurdist farce once in a while. 

Hillary and Clinton, at the Golden Theatre, is sort of about the Clintons and sort of not. It’s another whimsical play by hot hot hot playwright Lucas Hnath, whose A Doll’s House, Part Two was a hit last season. Laurie Metcalfe and John Lithgow make no effort to impersonate the Clintons and, in fact, Metcalfe is giving pretty much the same performance she gave as Nora in A Doll’s House Part Two. 

The play takes place on the eve of the 2008 New Hampshire primary. Hillary is behind in all the polls and it looks like she will lose to Sen. Obama, which will effectively be the end of her candidacy, particularly as she is out of money – which is why she summons her husband, who has stayed away from her campaign, up to New Hampshire in hopes he can come up with the cash to keep her in the race (which, of course, he does – he being Bill Clinton after all). Obama shows up to offer her the nomination as Vice President if she will agree to drop out in the interest of party unity. Will she take him up on it or won’t she? 

Hillary and Clinton seems rather lightweight, certainly compared to A Doll’s House II. Still, it’s a more or less enjoyable 90 minutes. 

James Graham’s Ink, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, was a huge London last season and has been brought over with it’s two leads intact, again directed brilliantly by Rupert Goold.  The play takes place in the 1960’s. Australian newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch is determined to make a ton of money in London by buying a failing newspaper, the Sun, and hiring a brilliant editor named Larry Lamb, who’s been excluded from the top executive level because he’s an outsider to a club which consists mostly of old fuddy-duddies. Together, Larry and Rupert change newspaper publishing forever, turning the boring Sun into the first tabloid, proving that sleaze always trumps honest reporting. Fittingly, Larry overtakes the best selling newspaper in the country, like David bringing down Goliath, putting the Sun over the top by, fittingly, publishing a picture of a naked woman (well, a semi-naked woman but you can see which way the wind blows) on page three. 

Bertie Carvel and Jonny Lee Miller are sensational as Murdoch and Lamb, and there is strong supporting work from the Americans in the cast. 

I liked Halley Feiffer’s latest, The Pain of My Belligerence, wherein Feiffer plays a journalist who falls for the husband of a woman she has interviewed, even though he is obviously a bad boy and possibly a serial adulterer. Why would a woman fall for such a man? Who knows? I have to say that the fine actor, Hamish Linklater, almost makes this credible with his raffish charm, and I think Feiffer is giving a very courageous performance. 

The play has been given a fine production by Trip Cullman, whose work I have always loved, and is well worth seeing. 

Finally, I have arrived at Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andonicus by downtown performance artist Taylor Mac, which takes place in the aftermath of the carnage in Shakespeare’s play but multiplies it to the nth degree. Nathan Lane plays the title role, a failed clown who is hired as a maid to help clean up the mess, something at which head maid Janice is most adept. Also in the play is Carol, a midwife, played by Julie White, who wanders in and out appearing to be bewildered that she’s in such a weird play. Lane is sometimes funny, sometimes not, as Gary, and Kristine Neilson goes even more over the top than usual as Janice. I usually like all her mugging, but here she’s more than too much. 

If you’re a fan of Taylor Mac and his peculiar sensibility I think you will enjoy this. Everyone else, be prepared to be appalled.

 

AIN’T TOO PROUD. Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

KISS ME, KATE. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.

Tickets: www.roundabouttheatre.org

BE MORE CHILL. Lyceum Theatre. 149 W. 45th ST

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

BEETLEJUICE. Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

HADESTOWN. Walter Kerr Theatre. 219 W. 48th St.

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE. Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

HILLARY AND CLINTON. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

INK. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

THE PAIN OF MY BELLIGERENCE. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd ST

Tickets: 212-279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com  

GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.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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