A review of the revival of
Rogers & Hammerstein‘s “Carousel” at the Imperial Theatre
I am not particularly fond of Rogers & Hammerstein‘s “Carousel”.
Even though much of the music is among my favorite in the Rogers & Hammerstein catalogue, save for the Soliloquy which to me is a cringe worthy 6 minutes – I even joked pre-show that Soliloquy was my early intermission bathroom break, to hear a brilliant Rogers & Hammerstein score played by a Broadway orchestra is one of the reasons that I decided to attend this Revival,
Much to my dismay I did not even get that.
The orchestrations were flat, two dimensional representations, and the sound design by Mr. Scott Lehrer woefully underwhelming. Sitting in the Orchestra I expected the music to be spectacular but I was sadly disappointed – especially after the recent multi-million dollar remodel of the Imperial Theatre.
I also could just not get past “Carousel’s” main character, Billy Bigelow, the dishonest, wife-beating, carnival barker not being portrayed by a white actor.
Go ahead, get it out of your system, start calling me all kinds of names (you’d be totally wrong) but here’s the thing – perhaps it’s conditioning, perhaps it’s purism, I’m not sure, but in my mind the connotations of such a vile character being played by a Black man is just wrong. The thought kept going through my mind, ‘Why would any person of color agree to play this role?” As far as performance goes, Josh Henry nails it, and nails it strong. His smooth, silk like, baritone voice in any other role would, and have, taken me to great heights emotionally.
Throughout the entire show I felt like I was at a performance of MCC’s Miscast. Great voices cast in the wrong roles.
Further, while I have always felt that the part of Julie Jordan, played by a delightful, if not completely doe-eyed and confused Ms. Jessie Mueller, is terribly underwritten, there were times Mr. Jack Doyle, the Director seemed to forget Julie/Jesse was even in the show. More disappointment came from Ms. Renée Fleming, whose gorgeous operatic soprano voice is just too prim and proper to be Aunt Nettie.
Then there’s the casting of a Middle Eastern actor, the talented and graceful ballet dancer, Amar Ramasar, making his Broadway (and possibly acting) debut, to play “Jigger”, another monster of a character. This is yet another dangerous step towards stereotyping. Every time I heard Billy Bigelow call his name I thought he was using the N-word .
There is some good news. The shining stars of the show were most definitely the lark-voiced Ms. Lindsay Mendez who portrayed Carrie Pipperidge with a delightful and quirky style to her that played extremely well off of Mr. Alexander Gemignani’s playfully-teasing Mr. Enoch Snow. As a matter of fact, Mr. Gemignani’s performance is award worthy in my opinion.
I must also admit to you that while I tend to tune out the seemingly obligatory ballet sequences of most early 20th century musical theater, Ms. Brittany Pollock and Mr. Andrei Chagas were graceful and visually stunning in the Fairground Ballet sequence – a great tribute to the fabulous Choreography of Mr. Justin Peck.
Santo Loquasto’s scenic design was executed well, although there were too many ‘played in front of the curtain’ scenes while scenery was being noisily shuffled around Backstage. Note to Production: PLEASE Oil the stage right light motors and the sheer curtain pulleys.
Sadly, Ms. Ann Roth’s costumes look like they have been recycled from my high school production of ‘Oklahoma!’ And what’s with those baggy pants that come up to the men’s bellies?
The lighting design by Brian McDevitt left me squinting many times to see what was happening on stage and again, that was from Orchestra Row M – I can only imagine what it was like up in the oxygen-tank seats.
Speaking of seats, it appears to me that when they remodeled the theater after “The Great Comet“ they added many more seats then there were before. In my cushy (read expensive) Orchestra seat I was sucking on my knees or more annoyingly to her, scraping the back of the chair of the lady in front of me.
All that being said, I haven’t told you the worst part:
I DIDN’T CRY!!!
Me – the person who “cries at everything” – DIDN’T CRY!!!
If you’ll remember, I said up front that I’m not the biggest fan of this show – BUT when I DO see it I always CRY – ALWAYS! This tells me everything I need to know.
All said, the audience seemed to love the show, hooting and hollering along with their thunderous applause, it was a Press Preview, so perhaps you too will enjoy Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s Carousel as much as they did.
Me, I’m still optimistically looking forward to Lincoln Center’s revival of “My Fair Lady”
Have You Seen This Dog?
A review of
“The Play That Goes Wrong”
at the Lyceum Theatre
April 6th – 7:00pm
When I sawThe Play That Goes Wrong during its first week of previews, I was approached at intermission by one of the members of the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’, who are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery, asking me if I had seen a man with a yellow shirt I told him that I was wearing a yellow shirt to which he replied, “You’re no help at all!” and scurried away muttering under his breath.
At my second viewing last night, as a representative of the Press, I was reprimanded by another ‘Drama Society’ member for my scarf/tie was “Inappropriate for Theatre wear” and “Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to dress?” and followed up with other cast members apologizing to me and arguing with him about how he treats the American audiences.
Such are the antics before the show and during intermission contributing to arguably the funniest and most well executed comedies I have ever seen in my life!
The Play That Goes Wrong now playing at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street, NYC) is every door slamming, pratfall, missed cue, early entrance farcical comedy you have ever seen rolled into one and on steroids! It is nearly two hours of constant laughter, guffaws and “Oh no!” moments ever put on stage.
As I mentioned above, the members of the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’, are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery called, “The Murder at Haversham Manor”, written by Susie H. K. Brideswell, but that play isn’t really important, as a matter of fact, after two viewings, I’m still not sure ‘whodunnit’ or why! It’s the performance, or lack thereof, of the play that is the point here.
You can already sense that things are going to get out of hand from the moment you enter the Theatre and see the crew, led by Annie, the stage manager, played with a subtle brilliance by Bryony Corrigan (during previews I saw Nancy Zamit who was equally great) and Trevor, the company’s lighting and sound operator, played with expert daftness by Rob Falconer, (who spends most of the play in a box above stage right working lights and sound while texting and not paying attention), who are puttering around on the stage fixing last minute set and prop problems. They even enlist the help of an unsuspecting audience member down front. Did I mention the completely inappropriate pre-show house music playing while all this is going on?
When the lights go down we are introduced to Chris, played with appropriate snootiness and skill by Henry Shields, who is the head of the ‘Drama Society’, ‘Director’ of the play, and who plays the character of Inspector Carter. He is obviously stalling for time as the crew is still readying the set, which keeps falling apart as quickly as they can fix it.
From here it gets crazy, so pay careful attention. Each person is three people. The Actor, the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ member, and the character they portray in “The Murder at Haversham Manor”. Got it? Ok. Moving on…
The play within a play opens with Jonathan playing Charles Haversham, (played with deafening subtlety by Greg Tannahill, the worst corpse ever)who is dead (?) being discovered in his study at his engagement party by Robert (the purposefully overacted, pompously riotous, and agile Henry Lewis) playing Thomas Colleymoore, Charles’ best friend, and Dennis (daftly played by Jonathan Sayer) playing Perkins, Charles’ manservant, who can’t remember his lines and shouts most of them.
After discovering the body they try to figure out the best way to break the news to Sandra (delightfully hammed up and overplayed by Charlie Russell) playing Florence Colleymoore, Charles’ fiancè and Thomas’ sister who has also been having an affair with Max (who as portrayed with calculated silliness by Dave Hearn) playing Cecil Haversham ( who gets distracted by audience laughter and applause), Charles’ brother (as well as Arthur the Gardener).
Confused? GOOD! That’s how it’s supposed to be. But it’s not about who plays whom – it’s about the timing. TIMING IS EVERYTHING and it has never been better timed than by this group of actors. While what goes wrong, and I refuse to spoil it for you here, seems to be a sequence of random events ‘just happening’ they are, in reality, a series of perfectly staged ‘accidents’. What impressed me most is that there is nothing happening on that stage that isn’t planned down to the precise moment of execution by this amazing cast. In addition, the physical humor and the agility of the actors getting slammed by doors and trays plus the acrobatics perpetrated by all, including some of the, shall we say, heftier actors, is a thing of beauty as well. Combine that with the acting, overacting, missed cues, forgotten lines, and pratfalls and you have the audience laughing non-stop through both acts and remembering The Play That Goes Wrong long after the curtain (and more) comes down.
In The Play That Goes Wrong whatever can go wrong does go wrong and boy, does every second of it feel so right!
I would like to also mention that this all comes together under the expert Direction of Mark Bell, featuring a beautiful and perfect set design by Nigel Hook, with lighting design by Ric Mountjoy, sound design by Andy Johnson (with special thanks to Duran, Duran) original music by Rob Falconer; the real production stage manager, Matt DiCarlo, and exquisite period costume design by Roberto Surace.
Last but not least, a huge shout-out to J.J. Abrams who, on a rare night off from filming Star Wars in London, asked to see some original English theatre and fell so much in love with this play that he decided to bring it here to the Colonies for all of us to enjoy!
Thank you J.J.!
Oh… I almost forgot…
The Play That Goes Wrong (Running Time: 2 hours including one intermission) stars the original Olivier Award winning West End cast featuring Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill and Nancy Zamit. (Bryony Corrigan was on for Nancy Zamit at this reviewed show).
Produced by Kevin McCollum, J. J. Abrams, Kenny Wax, Stage PresenceLtd. and Catherine Schreiber.
Co-written by Mischief Theatre company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, The Play That Goes Wrong is a riotous comedy about the theatre. The play introduces The ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ who are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong…does, as the accident prone thespians battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call.
A review of the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ new production of
THE MIKADO: or, the Town of Titipu
at the Kaye Playhouse
by Moshe Bloxenheim
December 31, 2016
The new NYGASP production of THE MIKADO has closed after an all too limited run, but even though I had already reviewed one cast during the run, attendance of later performances convinced me that the alternate principal actors deserved mention as well (and I could clean up some of my worst typos). So here is the expanded “get the whole set’ review, in the usual text below and DOC attachment formats.
A review of the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ new production of
THE MIKADO: or, the Town of Titipu
At the Kaye Playhouse
Covering the performances of December 31, 2016, January 5 & January 8, 2017
As this MIKADO is a significant production for NYGASP, it seemed only fair to cover ALL the performers who alternated in the lead roles.
According to theatrical legend, a falling Japanese battle sword inspired Sir William S. Gilbert to create a new operatic satire of English foibles set in the contrasting framework of the Japonaiserie craze that was then sweeping London. Whatever the cause, Sir William, aided by his producer Richard D’Oyly Carte then embarked placing THE MIKADO in as authentically Japanese a setting as could be possible for an 1885 English Comic Opera Company. The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Player’s (NYGASP) brand new production of THE MIKADO sets the work as it might have appeared newly born in Sir William’s mind – a very English world in “Japanese” fancy dress that has yet to be touched by the research in costume and sets that was to come.
To prepare the audience for this cerebral concept, NYGASP’s Mr. David Auxier has written very brief and effective tongue-in-cheek prologue that confronts Sir W.S. Gilbert with the challenges faced by an author in a successful theatrical partnership: To create a new work that is acceptable to his composer partner Sir Arthur Sullivan, their producer Richard D’Oyly Carte and some very distinctive and demanding members of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. Suffice it to say a Japanese sword figures most effectively, literally knocking the author into a world based on the characters, expressions and Japanese goods he had just experienced.
Sir William’s hero, Nanki-Poo arrives in the town of Titipu. He is, in fact, the heir to the throne of Japan, but has disguised himself as a minstrel to escape the matrimonial claims of the formidable lady Katisha. In his musical wanderings, Nanki-Poo has fallen in love with Yum-Yum who is a ward of Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor. When Ko-Ko is condemned to death under the Mikado’s ban for flirting, the town of Titipu promote him to Lord High Executioner under the reasoning that Ko-Ko can execute other miscreants after he carried out the job on himself. Circumstances soon require that Ko-Ko execute SOMEBODY and as he would rather not be the victim, he strikes a bargain with the love-blighted Nanki-Poo. Betrothals are made, revelations are prevented, complications run cheerfully rampant, logic is taken to lunatic extremes and eventually all ends happily with more than a few sacred cows being taken on.
Musically, THE MIKADO shows its composer Sir Arthur Sullivan as a worthy match to Sir William’s language. Sir Arthur clearly enjoys the characters of THE MIKADO and carefully fits the music to the characters and actions, whether for Ko-Ko’s busy sounding list, Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum’s youthful, romantically teasing “Were You Not To Ko-Ko Plighted,” Katisha’s threatening yet sympathetic melodies or the brashly imposing “A More Humane Mikado” sung by the title character. This score is not simple accompaniment, but is a vital contribution to the setting and action of the play and THE MIKADO shows both men at a creative high point.
In revising and refreshing THE MIKADO, NYGASP has cast the roles very carefully and quite successfully.
Mr. Jesse Pimpinella’s Nanki-Poo may appear at first glance to be a wide-eyed youth, but he certainly knows when he has the advantage and takes it, to the glee of the audience. This Prince disguised as a Wandering Minstrel is uniquely artless and direct and I am sure time and experience will make Mr. Pimpinella’s performance even more enjoyable.
It is easy to see why Nanki-Poo falls in love with Yum-Yum because the charming Ms. Quynh-My Luu is everything one could hope for in the role. Her Yum-Yum is a pretty and sweet girl but Ms. Luu also adds a bit of assurance and a hint of steel that brings certain scenes to new life as well as making the most of some classic bits of humor. Vocally, Ms. Luu’s redition of “The Sun Whose Rays are all Ablaze” is a highlight of the evening and reveals the smooth transition from the girl first seen in “Three Little Maids From School” to a woman who is aware of her powers.
Yum-Yum’s sister Pitti Sing is given a wonderful zest by Ms. Jessica Rose Futran. Her character is always a bit more aware of the situation to excellent effect, delightfully culminating in her desperate, yet eager taking of the spotlight in the Trio “The Criminal Cried’
Ms. Lauren Frankovich is quite winning as Yum-Yum’s other sister, Peep-Bo, with her drolly unfortunate tendency to state the obvious when everybody else would rather not hear it.
One wonders HOW these three girls became the wards of the cheap Tailor Ko-Ko, but the audience should consider itself very fortunate that Mr. Adam B. Shapiro is performing as the guardian who became Lord High Executioner. Already amusing in the prologue as the unsatisfied Arthur Sullivan, Mr. Adam B. Shapiro takes elements from that introduction and creates what is for me one of great Ko-Kos. This is a man who cannot believe where he has ended up and is waiting for the other anvil to drop. Nevertheless, this Ko-Ko is more than a cartoon and even when he is forced to woo the aggressive Katisha, there is byplay between the two that is very human. Mr. Shapiro’s mastery of musical numbers is a pleasure to witness ranging in moods and delivery from the updated list of social quirks in “A Some Day it May Happen” through the comic yet touching ballad “Tit-Willow.”
Ms. Cáitlín Burke’s Katisha is fantastic. In the prologue as the lead Contralto and in Katisha’s later Act One entrance, the fire and storminess of the part blast onto the stage, but Ms. Burke then reveals shading in the character that makes her so much more than a villainess. Katisha may be a pain in the neck, but she earns our sympathy and beneath the bossiness it is clear that she has something to offer. Ms. Burke’s ability to capture all this makes for musical, dramatic and comic gold, especially in Act Two when Katisha mourns her single state in “Alone, and yet Alive,” and is then won over by the fearful Ko-Ko, culminating in the buoyant duet “There is Beauty in The Bellow of The Blast.”
Considering Katisha’s demanding presence in his court, the Mikado clearly has a lot to put up with and Mr. Cole Grissom plays the Emperor of Japan with the smooth, disdainful air of one who might easily have entire the cast executed; would it not make such a mess and bother. In the Mikado’s song, “A More Humane Mikado,” Mr. Grissom’s character knows how uncomfortable the townsfolk are in his royal presence and uses that to great advantage. HE is the Mikado and do not forget it!
Another man with aspirations to power is Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else. Mr. Andy Herr builds an admirable Pooh-Bah of flash and cash who is obviously rooted in the prologue part of the urbane producer, Richard D’Oyly Carte. Both men will do it all – so long as there is money in it. Pooh-Bah uses his alleged dignity to his advantage as Mr. Herr shows quite entertainingly but I truly enjoyed his eagerness to gild the lily in “The Criminal Cried as he Dropped Him Down.”
In the Gilbert and Sullivan canon there are Ko-Ko roles, Pooh-Bah parts and Katisha contraltos, etc., but not as much thought about Pish-Tush, “A Noble Lord.” But it is here where the genius of NYGASP’s new version lies, because this Pish-Tush is the William S. Gilbert of the prologue who is dreaming up this new operetta. The estimable Mr. Chris Vaughn embodies the author discovering, enjoying and even critiquing his own idea; Tentative at first, as a dreamer realizing who he is supposed to be, Gilbert/Pish-Tush becomes a keen witness and eager contributor to the proceedings.
In the course of the current production, other NYGASP members have taken on these roles and deserve their own mention too.
Mr. Daniel Greenwood’s Nanki-Poo gives the air of innocence that such a young hero must have, but adds a delightful touch of awareness that allows him to deliver a line or even a pause that homes right into the humor of the moment. Vocally as well, this Nanki-Poo ranges from heroic to tender to whimsical with ease.
If Mr. Greenwood knows how to provide just the right amount of cleverness, Ms. Sarah Caldwell Smith understands how to take part in the most nonsensical situations with skillful sincerity, giving THE MIKADO another truly fine Yum-Yum. Musically as well Ms. Smith is superb and her scene and duet with Mr. Greenwood in “Were You Not To Ko-Ko Plighted” is an “anti-flirtatious” highlight.
If Yum-Yum lacks irony, Ms. Amy Maude Helfer makes a very effective Pitti-Sing with her air of one who has a good idea of how silly things are becoming and has to pitch in against her better judgment. She is neatly contrasted by Ms. Alexandra Haines as the third little maid, Peep-Bo: a most amiable girl who drops social bricks with amusing nonchalance.
As their guardian, Mr. David Macaluso’s truly funny Ko-Ko is indeed a tailor out of his element. Even when he wants to take advantage of his new rank of Lord High Executioner, this Ko-Ko knows something is bound to go wrong. It is just a question of What Now? Yet for all Ko-Ko’s foolery, Mr. Macaluso also develops a subtly sympathetic side that really works well in his wooing of the daunting Katisha.
Ms. Angela Christine Smith creates a marvelous Katisha who may enter in a fury, but we can see her humanity from the very first. If we feel the force of this lady’s anger and desire for vengeance, Ms. Smith also makes us see the despair and loss of hoped for love. This Katisha has been hurt and she is downright heartbreaking in her aria “The Hour of Gladness is Dead and Gone.” Though the “Daughter-In-Law-Elect” is a bossy-boots there is a feeling that she may be doing it to ensure that she is not left out in the cold. While Ko-Ko’s winning of Katisha is still wonderfully comedic, Ms. Angela Christine Smith made me root for Katisha too.
Katisha’s intrusive presence seems to be the one thing that visibly annoys the Mikado because Mr. Chris White splendidly portrays him as a dangerously jovial fellow – this Emperor clearly takes pleasure in his absolute power and how is it his fault if his witty inclination for boiling oil may unnerve some people?
One citizen of Titipu who does not care extreme punishment is the “Lord High Everything Else” Pooh-Bah. Mr. Matthew Wages quite lives up to Sir W.S. Gilbert’s best satire of mendacious bureaucracy and class consciousness. This Pooh-Bah will certainly “…put in his oar” to great amusement, and does very nicely too in the prologue as the eager Richard D’Oyly Carte.
As I mentioned before, the role of Pish-Tush is now far more significant because he is now the unconscious W.S. Gilbert who is literally dreaming up the show in front of us. As played by Mr. Joshua Miller, Pish-Tush/Gilbert is ever the creative playwright who is happy to see how the plot unwinds to his prodding, even if he might give a grimace or two at a rhyme or joke that his characters deliver.
The Chorus of Noblemen, Schoolgirls and Townspeople are all to be praised, populating Titipu with as Victorian a suburban London crowd as could ever be found in Japan.
In addition to the admirable cast, Mr. David Auxier’s brilliant reconsideration and careful direction of THE MIKADO goes very far to ensure the success of this production. With the directorial assistance of Mr. Kelvin Moon Loh, Mr. Auxier has not missed a trick in highlighting and reviving the humor of the story and its characters while keeping everything united and moving merrily along. These gentlemen understand that this is an English comedy set in a “Japanese” framework of the imagination –The non-English setting pointing out the absurdity and parody without being a caricature on its own. Even the most radical of changes are carried out with respect to context: While I am quite partial to the original “Mi-ya Sa-ma” chorus that greets the Mikado of Japan and his entourage, I believe Mr. Auxier’s new lyrics “Oh Mikado, Great Mikado” are not merely an effective substitution, but cleverly add to the Gilbertian whimsy of the moment by allowing the citizens of Titipu to express their true feelings while ostensibly chanting praise of their monarch.
In addition, Mr. Auxier’s choreography is very well done, ideally setting off the music and singing or to create tableaux that highlight the story itself.
The unreal, dreamlike atmosphere is further enhanced by the beautiful setting by Mr. Anshuman Bhatia – based on Japanese Block prints and Mr. Quinto Ott’s highly stylized costumes that feature exotic yet recognizable touches such as straw derbies and ornate open framework bustles and even snippets of other Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Mr. Ott truly excels with his fanciful Mikado regalia and Katisha’s striking outfit. Mr. James Mills also rises to the occasion in his make-up work especially in his expressive design for Katisha. Sets, costumes and visages all look extremely well under Mr. Benjamin Weill’s deftly handled lighting and all unite to give a sort of picture-book aspect that is most appealing.
In the first version of this review I had mentioned that the first performance I saw under the baton of Conductor and Music Director Aaron Gandy seemed a bit out of sorts. Knowing how good the NYGASP musical direction usually is, I assumed this was a unique occurrence. I am pleased to say that later shows found Mr. Gandy and the NYGASP orchestra back in top form. Mr. Gandy and the musicians clearly enjoy the vitality and range of Sullivan’s music and share the same energy and sense of fun as the performers onstage.
Production Stage Manager David A. Vandervliet and Assistant Stage Manager Annette Dieli do amazing work ensuring the smooth flow of THE MIKADO, ensuring that it entertains without a hitch.
There is always much risk and a great deal of work inherent in any new production. So Producer David Wannen and Mr. Albert Bergeret, the founder of NYGASP and Production Manager deserve special congratulations for their willingness to bring this new version of the classic work to fruition. As it is now, NYGASP’s new staging of THE MIKADO has shed a lot of distracting addenda, firmly and happily returning the focus back to where it belongs: on Sir William Gilbert’s witty libretto and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s timeless score.
Thursday, December 29, 2016 at 3:00 PM– Bring Your Grandparents Day – Respect your Favorite elders with a pre-show family overture (1:45 in the theater) and a backstage tour featuring the character of your choice following the performance!
Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 2:00 PM* & 7:30 PM – New Year’s Eve – A New York tradition since 1978! Join the NYGASP Company for a rousing toast to the New Year – including Auld Lang Syne with the audience, cast, and orchestra – following a performance of The Mikado.
April 12, 2015 and April 21, 2015 – Opened April 23, 2015
THE VISIT offers so much that one does not usually get in a typical new musical nowadays: a score with memorable songs, a plot that is thought provoking and best of all, a Star Turn of the Highest Caliber. THE VISIT is also a brave show, in the sense that it does not try to stroke the audience’s sensibilities and even dares to make them work at understanding what happens onstage. In the VISIT, the citizens of the desperately poor Swiss town of Brachen welcome Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world, who is returning to the hometown that she had fled long ago. The impoverished villages hope that they can persuade Claire to use her wealth to revitalize the town. To their surprise Claire agrees but lays out a deal. She will endow the village with untold billions if they kill the man who loved her, impregnated her and then denied being the father of her child, forcing her to flee Brachen when she was a young girl and make her own way in a cruel and dangerous world. That man is Anton Schell, an impoverished shopkeeper who can’t even win the respect of his own family. The leaders of the town indignantly reject such a horrendous offer, but soon after townspeople start buying expensive items from Anton’s store, charging their purchases to some unmentionable windfall they expect and talk darkly about how Anton had so foully wronged poor Claire…
Mr. Terence McNally has created an often powerful book based upon the original play by Mr. Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Mr. Fred Ebb’s lyrics and Mr. John Kander’s music further hone the sharpness of this Brechtian Fractured Fairy Tale. Justice, revenge, the violent collision of love and self-interest, and the moral fluidity of honorable people are all covered in rather raw terms, but somehow there is a humor and even lightness that flavors even the most severe and unsavory moments of this story with a touch of vaudeville. Messrs. McNally, Ebb and Kander work very carefully together contrasting the diverse feelings of the Brachen denizens with their attempts to form a united front in the face of poverty with such numbers like the community glee “Out of the Darkness.” They eventually show these same people descending into moral self-delusion with the bitterly entertaining “Yellow Shoes.” As far as Claire is concerned, her very first entrance provides her with firm dramatic footing augmented with strong numbers like the unforgettable matrimonial success catalogue “I Walk Away” or Claire’s soulful description of her feelings for and about Anton and their broken past in “Winter.”
Admittedly, not every song is a gem – Anton’s first number “I know Claire” has a very general feeling as if it could be from any show at any period from 1965 to the present. In fact there is sometimes an uneven style that seems less an attempt at being rustic and more a case of needing more work. Nevertheless much of what is on offer is choice indeed.
The opening scene of THE VISIT makes for a most appropriate introduction to the threadbare inhabitants of Brachen: Ms. Diana Dimiarzo’s plays the Mayor’s wife and local gossip and Messrs. David Garrison, Rick Holmes, Aaron Ramey, Timothy Shew and Jason Danieley are the town’s Mayor, Priest, Policeman, Doctor and Schoolteacher respectively: all are excellent as desperately respectable people who will throw aside all scruples if they have to, all the while convincing themselves of their decency.
Just as bad – and very good – are the members of Anton’s own family. Ms. Mary Beth Peil is wonderfully acerbic as Matilde Schell, a wife who never hesitates to reminds Claire that she is the woman who married Anton, yet doesn’t even find much satisfaction in that fact. Mr. George Abud is Anton’s son Karl and Ms. Elena Shaddow plays daughter Ottilie, showing a very effective indifference for a father who couldn’t even afford to let them have things from their own family store. The promise of prosperity brings this family and the town to life, even though they all have to keep tamping down that little part of them that knows what the price will be. Mss. Piel and Shaddow and Mr. Abud make this painfully clear in the song “A Car Ride;” a pleasant and simple number sung with Anton where the Schells enjoy what is the first happy family moment that they have had in many years. Everyone is delighted but the unspoken cost is still there.
Contrasting the dingy indigence of Brachen’s people is Claire Zachanassian’s astonishing entourage led by Mr. Tom Nelis’ imposing Butler Rudi. Mr. Matthew Deming is Eunuch Louis and Mr. Chris Newcomer takes the role of Eunuch Jacob. All three are always dressed in dapper suits, carefully hatted and walking in eye-catching footgear. These performers shine in their marvelously fantastic roles, often taking the spotlight with remarkably controlled insanity beginning with the Eunuch’s startling backup chorus in “I Walk Away.”
Since this is a show about a present that can never escape the past, the figures of the young Claire and Anton are part of every scene whether reenacting their amour or watching the current situation. Ms. Michelle Veintimilla and Mr. John Riddle truly haunt the show, vividly showing the joy of young love and standing aside as observers to the demands and cruelties of the real world. When Ms. Veintimilla and Mr. Riddle join their present counterparts (such as in the beautiful song “You, You, You”) the contrast of destroyed youthful romance and the cynicism, hurt and longing that has taken its place is deeply moving.
Of course the present Anton has long been a beaten down man who cruelly sacrificed love for security and has since had to make do without either. Mr. Roger Rees plays this role expertly rising from the miserable storekeeper to the hopeful former lover who dares to hope a little. Mr. Rees displays every turn of amazement, disgust and realization that is inherent in Anton Schell as he sees the past catch up with him and the future demand his removal. Mr. Rees makes it painfully clear that anyone in Brachen could have been as cruel and stupid as Anton had been in his youth, but there are times in the middle of THE VISIT when Anton is less caught by the story than bogged down in it.
Of course it is a task indeed for Anton to approach the level of the fabulous Claire Zachanassian – especially when Ms. Chita Rivera so embodies that adjective. This is natural, not only due to Ms. Rivera’s phenomenal performance but because Claire’s presence simply permeates the play – even when the action does not focus on Claire, it occurs because of her. Ms. Rivera imbues this glamorous and wealthiest of women with the world weary brio of one who is always in charge, but when Claire turns to the only happy memory of her past, Ms. Rivera lets the joy and pleasure of that youthful love melt her hardness. This is one of the reasons that Claire Zachanassian is not a monster of vengeance, but someone all too human and desperate to take back something that had been stolen from her so long ago. This performance keeps the play’s ending from being the grotesque finale that it might have been and transforms it into something that ought to be seen to be appreciated: a true example of Theatrical Power at its height.
Director John Doyle does amazing work with THE VISIT giving the story the universal feeling that a fable ought to have. But Mr. Doyle wisely never paints anyone as an outright villain, making the wrongs committed all the more real. People can disassociate themselves from bad actions that happen in the present just as they did so many years ago. Other folks may demonstrate what can happen when justice is withheld. But the moral caprices are far from alien. Unfortunately, while the show engrosses and appeals and appalls two thirds of the way through THE VIST seems to get stuck. The depiction of Anton feeling trapped and his putting up with the emotional justifications of an apologizing villager is essential but the storytelling at this point seems to go awry and put a drain on the energy of THE VISIT’s surreal narrative. Maybe Anton ought to have more or different emotional power as he watches his own world turn on him, but as done now, Anton, Mr. Doyle and THE VISIT seem to just soldier through this void, until theatrical balance returns. Happily the ending is well worth it.
Ms. Graciela Daniele’s choreography lets the citizens of Brachen make much use of Mr. Scott Pask’s spare scenic design with its decrepit railroad station setting and Claire’s vast pile of luggage and coffin. With the addition of Mr. Japhy Weideman’s lighting, we are taken all over Brachen from station to hotel to woods to past and present with amazing clarity, giving a wonderful meaning to the idea of dealing with people’s baggage. Then also, both Mr. Doyle and Ms. Daniele gives nodding acknowledgement to the notion that Claire Zachanassian now has some trouble with her limbs, but they allow Ms. Rivera to soar gloriously beyond such commonplaces as physical infirmity in this mythic role. When handling the young Anton and Claire too, director and choreographer are amazingly able to let these shades be a part of the action and still keep them firmly in the past.
Music Director David Loud contributes mightily with the orchestra allowing the different types of numbers – choral to star solo to ghostly echoes – to shine and fit the action even when the music suddenly shifts from one style to another.
The costumes by Ms. Ann Hould-Ward with hair and makeup by Messrs. Paul Huntley and J. Jared Janas are downright spellbinding with the dusty threadbare denizens of Brachen contrasted strikingly against the glamorous and dapper beings that are Claire and her crew and the cream white garb of the young Claire and Anton.
As it is now, Ms. Chita Rivera and Messrs. Kander and Ebb’s score make THE VISIT a truly amazing spectacle to behold and well worth the trip to the Lyceum Theatre, but there is still a feeling of inertia in the middle of THE VISIT that cannot be ignored and must be endured as one goes from the extraordinary start to its dazzling finish.
Running Time: 95 minutes, no intermission
149 West 45th Street
Between 6th Avenue and Broadway
Box Office Hours: Mon – Sat: 10am – 8pm | Sun: Noon – 6pm
Online Tickets: Or Call 212.239.6200
About the reviewer:
I am a computer programmer, wannabe writer who loves theater and just got into the habit of inflicting my theatrical opinions.
I live in New York. Moshe can be reached at MB1224@aol.com
THE BAND WAGON is an energetic celebration of the music and lyrics of Messrs. Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. Based on the 1953 MGM film THE BAND WAGON, Mr. Douglas Carter Beane uses the original screenplay by Ms. Betty Comden and Mr. Adolph Green to provide a workmanlike pastiche of scenes in which to launch the songs; many of which had originally been created for the 1931 Broadway review of the same name. And what a lovely score there is, with fun numbers like “I Love Louisa,” the wistful “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan,” and the intense “Dancing in the Dark” to name but a few. All are played with the flair and obvious pleasure that has come to be a hallmark of the Encores! Orchestra which is led for THE BAND WAGON by Mr. Todd Ellison. Indeed there is such a wealth of beloved songs that the couple behind me had a lovely time quietly singing along with the music onstage and I had not the heart to turn around and ask them to stop.
The plot is simple: Hollywood Screen Idol Tony Hunter is slipping at the box office and in hopes of revitalizing his career Tony has accepted the invitation of British Thespian Jeffrey Cordova to star in a new Broadway show. Tony arrives in New York only to learn to his reluctant surprise that the show is going to be a musical that Jeffrey will direct – his first musical to be precise. Adding more to Tony’s hesitation is the fact that his former friends Lily and Lester Martin – who aren’t exactly thrilled to be working with Tony again – are supposed to supply the book and score to this new production. Toss in Paul Byrd, a self-important choreographer, and his girlfriend Garielle Gerard, a former member of the Tony Hunter fan club and you know that there are going to be complications, hijinks, tantrums and spur-of-the-moment decisions of such significance before they make it to Broadway, that I wondered why they didn’t simply resort to Judy and Mickey’s barn – actually someone DOES ask that same question in the show.
The cast works very hard to flesh out the cinematic shadows they are saddled with. Mr. Brian Stokes Mitchell gives a pleasantly light performance as Tony Hunter that is in keeping with the “aw shucks” 1950’s ambiance. In fact he’s a somewhat more entertaining but slightly flawed “Father Knows Best” figure; trying to marshal his troupe to a successful first night and at the same time renew his career and inspiration. But there was very little Tony Hunter for Mr. Mitchell to work with so I took Mr. Mitchell at his word that this was his role and just enjoyed watching him try to make the best of it. Song and dance-wise he was simply delightful.
The Great British Dramatic Actor Jeffrey Cordova is a theatrical babe in the woods who is such a good sport and so eager to take up the latest half-baked idea that he would be absolutely impossible to believe as a character had not Mr. Tony Sheldon had so much fun playing him with a wink and a nudge. Jeffery is unreal, but Mr. Sheldon makes him amusingly good company.
Complementing Jeffrey Cordova is his devoted right-hand man Hal Meadows. Hal is down to earth and often keeps Jeffrey from running off the rails. As the show proceeds Hal is often the one who is there to keep things moving forward for everybody. Mr. Don Stephenson plays Hal with wonderful understatement often providing an ideal counterpoint to the more volatile “creative” people.
Speaking of volatile, Mr. Michael Berresse is the egocentric choreographer Paul Byrd. Byrd is something of the heavy of the piece – determined to have an advanced ballet produced in the show at all costs (Boo! Hiss!). Thankfully Mr. Berresse remembers that this is a MOVIE version of Broadway and NOT “A Chorus Line” and if he does not quite twirl a moustache and mutter “Curses,” he does exude a villainous single-mindedness to his plot to inflict his interminable ballet upon the public, even at the expense of the show.
It is surprising that Paul Byrd has a girlfriend as talented and idealistic as Gabrielle Gerard who clearly seems to overshadow him. There is something of a blushing “Gee Whiz” demeanor in Gabrielle that Ms. Laura Osnes makes believable. Here is a sweet and likable young lady who has something of a full story to tell us. Better still Ms. Osnes makes us root for her.
Lester Martin is another incompletely drawn character; he is there to sit at the piano and push his music while worrying about losing his wife Lily to Tony Martin. Somehow Mr. Michael McKean brings him sweetly to life and makes us care for this man who knows that his wife had settled for him after Tony left for Hollywood.
Indeed I too was in love with Ms. Tracey Ullman’s Lily Martin. Lily is not glamorous nor does she have any major dance number, but she is the most three dimensional and sympathetic of all the people trying to bring this musical to a successful Broadway opening. Here we have a successful woman who was deeply in love and only married her best friend Lester because she could not have Tony. She has to work out her feelings for both men while trying to keep the show from closing out of town. Watching Ms. Ullman’s superb portrayal of Lily, I thought, “What an amazing musical there might have been had Lily Martin been the focus of THE BAND WAGON – not Tony Hunter.”
The rest of the ensemble do their best to be believable city people and show folk, not even cracking a smile during the most ludicrous of Paul Byrd’s dance excesses.
The problem with adapting a well-known and beloved film into another form is that the original is a ghostly presence that haunts whatever new version is created. In the case of THE BAND WAGON an exorcism would have been a good idea. Mr. Douglas Carter Beane’s book does not want to risk alienating the audience who remembers the original – like the musical duo I mentioned before – but at the same time he often forgets that the speedy development of the plot points that might work in a movie may come across as incomplete onstage. Interactions that can mean a lot in close-up need more fleshing out when on a big stage. Matters that should be detailed are merely relayed to the audience in a second hand way, sometimes with minimal exposition: Who really cares about Tony Hunter and his bad movie making decisions?
Director and Choreographer Kathleen Marshal has to make the most of the uneven script but she cannot get beyond some of the moments that are staged for the sole purpose of setting a song that has no logical place in the script. She tries to interest us in these musical numbers that are often part of the Broadway bound show in a show but beloved as some of these scenes are in the movie (like “Triplets” and “Louisiana Hayride”) it might have been better just to assemble them as some sort of independent entre-act rather than waste time in a painful attempt to make them integral. Again, I have to hearken back to Mr. Beane’s adaptation. I understand that this BAND WAGON is based on Hollywood’s take on Broadway, but the creaky conventionalities (commercial entertainment versus ART, the comeback of the has-been, etc…) and the hackneyed theme of the Lester and Lily Martin’s plot for the Broadway Bound show are either a spoof or a lousy script.
Even when there are departures that seem promising, everything is firmly buried in what Mr. Beane assumes are the Hollywood conventions of the day. Mr. Beane claims the script was a tribute to Ms. Comden’s and Mr. Green’s work as a writing team. As an admirer of the duo, I had this sinking feeling that they’d have demanded a rewrite Happily when the musical numbers get going they are a lot of fun to hear and watch. Ms. Kathleen Marshal does know how to make performers move and some of the staging is memorable such as for the song “I Love Louisa.”
Mr. Derek McLane’s excellent sets and Mr. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting followed and highlighted the action smoothly, while Mr. William Ivey Long’s costumes were very much of the 1950’s and he allowed himself a sly joke of dressing some performers in the show within the show as recognizable characters from other musicals of the era. But little point: Ms. Osnes please tuck in ALL of your hair for “Triplets” – it just spoils the point when the three babies sing about how they are all alike when one of them is sporting long flowing curls down past her shoulders. Then too in “Triplets”, Mr. Brian Ronan’s sound design is either muffling some of the lyrics or amplifying the performers’ mumbling of them – and not only in that number.
I feel like a grump writing down all these criticisms – especially as the audience seemed to be having a whale of a time. And I enjoyed THE BAND WAGON too for what it was: a pleasant diversion that entertained in spite of its story – not because of it.
Cast & Credits
Book by Douglas Carter Beane
From the screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Arthur Schwartz
Lyrics by Howard Dietz
Based on the classic MGM film
Produced by special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures
Featuring The Encores! Orchestra
Guest Music Director Todd Ellison
Directed and Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Starring Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tracey Ullman, Michael McKean, Tony Sheldon, Laura OsnesWith Michael Berresse, Don Stephenson, Lawrence Alexander, John Carroll, Joyce Chittick, Jason DePinto, Ericka Hunter, Dionna Thomas Littleton, Gavin Lodge, Erica Mansfield, Brittany Marcin, Paul McGill, Kaitlin Mesh, Jermaine R. Rembert, Brandon Rubendall, Jennifer Savelli, Eric Sciotto, Samantha Zack
On whom the Belle told…
A review of Encores! Concert Revival of
At New York City Center
February 9, 2014
A wealthy, well-connected celebrity decides to share “Her Inspiring Life Story” with the world. This is the basis for Patrick Dennis’ classic camp novel LITTLE ME which in turn formed the book for the rollicking vaudeville of a musical with the same title. In bringing LITTLE ME to New York City Center, Encores! has spared nothing in their new concert production: great performers, superb choreography and excellent staging, all of which set off this tuneful and happily silly show to the best advantage.
Mr. Neil Simon was clearly mining comic gold when he adapted LITTLE ME for the stage and Mr. Jack Viertel’s concert version does not tarnish the show one whit. Miss Belle Poitrine has decided to dictate her memoirs to the fascinated author Patrick Dennis and give the world “the Truth” of her start as a dewy, well-proportioned lass from the wrong side of the tracks who, due to heartbreak, rose to prominent wealth, culture and social position on the right side of the tracks. She relates all the people who have helped her along through hardship, war, disaster, Hollywood and Monte Carlo beginning with her one true love and all the other men who happened along the way, bankers, performers, producers, princes and so on…
The company truly romps through the show, most of them even being without the scriptbooks that Encores! had everyone carry onstage as a constant reminder to one and all that this is a “show in concert. Only one script is ever seen and it generates one of the best laughs of the evening.
There are performers who understand the virtue of facing farce with an absolute straight face and Ms. Judy Kaye is certainly adept at this high comic art. She sails serenely through the most outrageous narratives never tipping her hand at the absurdity of a situation (and boy can they be fantastic). As a result, Ms. Kaye creates an unforgettable contemporary Belle Poitrine: a woman with an outrageous – but heroic – past and who clearly not content to rest on her massive pile of laurels. In doing so, Ms. Kaye wins the adoration of the audience and gets some of the best laughs of the evening.
Neck and neck with Ms. Kaye in capturing the admiration of the audience is the young Belle Poitrine (neé Schlumpfert) who bravely climbs her way out of highly emphasized poverty. Ms. Rachel York’s Belle is sincerity personified whether she is taking poise lessons in a hotel room with a rich banker or personally comforting a prince who has the pressures of the kingdom on his frail shoulders. Additionally, Ms. York shows each step of her character’s evolution rising from naïve innocence to sophistication maintaining a blatant nobility and intrusive purity that makes her presence onstage all the funnier and likeable. Musically as well Ms. York can do no wrong and when she and Ms. Kaye join forces in the number “Little Me” they wreak considerable pleasure.
If there is anyone who can truly blight the irrepressible Belle’s life it is Mrs. Eggleston, a wealthy snob of the first rank and the mother of Belle’s one true love. While Mrs. Eggleston’s oedipal control of her son is not complex, Ms. Harriet Harris’ starchily droll demeanor makes her the perfect cartoon villainess to root against.
If Belle cannot achieve her heart’s desire there are many, MANY other men who desire her, starting with Tony Yazbeck who plays the devoted and world-wise George Musgrove. The handsome urbane George may not be the man who can assure “happily ever after” for poor Belle, but the charming Mr. Yazbeck makes it a close thing. His rendition of “I’ve Got Your Number” is both a seductive call and a wink at the real Belle that George can see and still love.
Ah, but then there are a LOT of other men in Belle’s life: The stingy banker Amos Pinchley whom Belle converts to generosity; Monsieur Val Du Val, France’s rude answer to Maurice Chevalier, Deliveryman and Hollywood Director Otto Schnitzler and Princes AND soldiers and, and, and… All of whom are portrayed by Mr. Christian Borle.
This is the gimmick.
And a worthy gimmick it is too, for the dynamic Mr. Borle never holds back on the fun, allowing full lunacy of expression whether he is a man toggling through on-and-off amnesia, a Prince calling on his loving subjects with some rather unfortunate news or the innocent nearsighted doughboy Fred Poitrine who rapidly weds and widows Belle. Not only does Mr. Borle play his goofy roster of characters to the hilt, but he also carries their numbers quite admirably (“Real Live Girl” is a joy) – especially in the role of the ridiculously wealthy, hyper-educated true love of Belle’s life, Noble Eggleston. As Noble, Mr. Borle has gotten the deadpan demeanor down beautifully, whether he is explaining the difference between a gift and charity to young Belle (charity is better) or training a rapidly sinking linerful of people how to swim before the ship goes under. There is no doubt that Noble is something of a wet smack (even before the boat sank) but he is Belle’s drip and he loves her – which makes him kind of endearing. We know he will always be forced to leave, but Noble somehow manages return to Belle. It is commendable when an actor can carry off a constantly varying array of portrayals, but it is really something when he must also perform one consistent role that has to thread its way in between his other characters at the same time. If Mr. Borle does not deliver absolute perfection in such a complicated tangle of personas, he does pretty darned well.
Following Mr. Borle through his ever changing personalities is the worthy Mr. Robert Creighton who capably does his share to shift from role to role, matching the scenes as he ranges from the stingy banker’s craven son to a preacher in World War I to a prince’s aide-de-camp and so on.
Naturally there are a whole host of others who make up Belle’s life: Her mother Momma Schlumpfert, who, in Ms. Gealen Gilliland’s skilled hands, can make even the oldest profession seem naughtily respectable, the Buchsbaum brothers Bernie (Mr. Lee Wilkof) and Bennie (Mr. Lewis J. Stadlen) who memorably launch Belle into show business, Belle’s fascinated ghostwriter Patrick Dennis, played with amusing understatement by Mr. David Garrison and a delightful crew of talented ladies and gentlemen who range from the rag-tag denizens and highfalutin upper crust of Venezuela, Illinois to the various friends who flock around Belle at the close of her recollections.
With the changes in characters and the loosely linked scenes LITTLE ME is strongly reminiscent of the old Broadway review, Director John Rando firmly keeps the narrative focused and the action flowing, yet there is an improvised feel that is well in keeping with the tongue-in-cheek nature of the show.
Dance-wise too there is a sort of “why not?” atmosphere that matches well with the show’s air of intense parody. Choreographer Joshua Bergasse covered a wide range of dance styles and never wastes a movement. He and the cast were clearly having a ball with the material and their enjoyment is happily infectious. Mr. Bergasse’s arrangement of the vaudeville number “Dimples” sung by Belle with her union-suit clad “police” backup was one of those hilariously outrageous moments of theater that will always be stuck in my memory.
This of course leads us to the songs with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and music by Cy Coleman. How can one fault such an enjoyable score with numbers like “Be a Performer!” and the standard “I’ve Got Your Number,” especially when the music is performed by the Encores! Orchestra conducted by Mr. Rob Berman? Under his baton, Mr. Ralph Burns’ orchestrations sweep over the audience with real energy. Mr. Berman is definitely into “Little Me” and the musicians and singers certainly benefit from his enthusiasm.
The look of the show keeps in with Encores! tendency towards lavish simplicity. Mr. John Lee Beatty is certainly a master at using the outline of a house to indicate a hometown setting or placing a set of tables and some small backdrops to create a busy nightclub scene. His scenic designs for LITTLE ME certainly always highlight the action and never draw the focus away from it even when Mr. Beatty slips in his own small visual wisecracks (such as the Buchsbaum Brothers nameplates “BENNIE”, “& BERNIE”). With all the praise I have been lavishing on LITTLE ME it is downright curmudgeonly to mention a fault now, but I really think that Mr. Beatty ought to remember that the people in the upper gallery cannot fully see the back of the stage; so even if his wonderful gag backdrops get a large laugh from the lower two levels of the theatre, there is an entire third level of spectators that he excludes from the jokes because of he did not consider the sight lines. If this happened once or twice, I might have overlook such a problem, but such joke screens set off each major scene and leave the upper seats feeling somewhat gypped.
Still it is impossible to be resentful when we also have Mr. Ken Billington’s atmospheric lighting and Sound Designer Scott Lehrer efforts adding their own running gag to the evening by visually and audibly expressing – with some frequency – what true love means to Belle and Noble.
Mr. Paul Tazewell adds his own measure of deviltry in his costumes for LITTLE ME. They may echo the periods in which each scene is set, but they are never museum pieces – unless they need to be. Young Belle’s costumes alone are a skillful sartorial map of her advancement in the world and slyly remind us all to what her rise is attributed to.
It is a shame that this past Sunday evening was the final performance because as done at Encores! LITTLE ME clearly deserves further exposure. It is a solid, entertaining show that reminds us how wonderful it is to simply have a good time at the theater and walk out afterwards with a broad grin and a strong desire to buy the show’s album.
About the reviewer: I am a computer programmer, wannabe writer who loves theater and just got into the habit of inflicting my theatrical opinions.
I live in New York.
Moshe can be reached at MB1224@aol.com
Cast & Credits
Book by Neil Simon
Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh
Music by Cy Coleman
Based on the novel Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen
and Television/Belle Poitrine, by Patrick Dennis
Directed by John Rando
Choreography by Joshua Bergasse
Starring Christian Borle, Robert Creighton, David Garrison, Harriet Harris, Judy Kaye, Lewis J. Stadlen, Lee Wilkof, Tony Yazbeck, and Rachel York
With Cameron Adams, Stanley Bahorek, Meggie Cansler, Gaelen Gilliland, Arlo Hill, Reed Kelly, Justin Keyes, Eloise Kropp, Josh Lamon, Jenny Laroche, Samantha Massell, Skye Mattox, Paul McGill, Jason Mills, Vivian Nixon, Lindsay O’Neil, Manuel Stark, Clay Thomson, Kathy Voytko, and Amos Wolff
Review of “Porgy & Bess” on Broadway by Sierra Rein, Guest Reviewer
I almost pinched myself whilst sitting in the balcony of the Richard Rogers theater Friday night (August 3, 2012) – finally I would be able to see the Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess,” featuring at least three amazing musical theater performers – Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald, and David Alan Grier. I had never seen a production of it before, neither on stage nor on the screen. I had only heard clips, and of course have heard “Summertime” in both classical and cabaret styles over the years. But I never knew the show from top to bottom, the characters, the plot, and am not an expert on the score or the history of the show. I went in with innocent/virgin ears and eyes.
It was brilliant. Moving, gorgeous, amazing music, vocals to die for (in both the classical and the more modern musical theater sense). The running time was obviously cut down to reflect Broadway audience schedules, but I could have seen another 1/2 hour of material. I know there are purists who rail against the cuts, the edits, the character changes, how certain songs do not have the original orchestrations or vocal harmonies as the original. And I say that I understand this; however this Broadway version whets my appetite to want to see more, so in a way it’s a great introduction to the original show.
What I appreciated the most about this production was the care the director and actors took to make these people absolutely, 100% real and emotionally present. Not a moment was glossed over, not a down-dirty piece of information was missed. Drugs, rape, babies, love, death, poverty, obsession, hope, nature, racism, big city vs. country life – all were dealt with from the ground up, nothing ignored. I felt immense tension all through my body watching some scenes; others made me tear up and have a lump in my throat, they were so gorgeously done; still others were perfectly attuned to the comic side for relief.
This was one time of many that I had seen Norm Lewis perform on stage, and unsurprisingly his Porgy was amazing. He just radiated hope and love and care, a true hero you wanted to root for. He was in constant struggle with his physicality, his crippled state, and it was brilliant to see him consistently hold that physicality for the entire show. His “nothing” with a wry smile into “I Got Plenty O’Nothin” was pitch-perfect, you just instantly fall in love with him and want to follow his journey with your whole being.
His Porgy was the perfect antidote to Audra McDonald’s Bess. She burned with the physicality of a druggie, from her speech (a bit of a stutter), to her sensuality, to a leg tremble that appeared at intense moments of decision. I have never seen her perform on stage (I have only listened to her amazing voice on CD) and I was awestruck by her ability to make Bess a truly conflicted character, and I followed her struggle and the love she had for Porgy (and moments of hopelessness for that love to survive) until the end. Her stellar vocals aside, I would watch that woman on stage doing anything – she was specific, grounded, consistent, and mesmerizing.
Indeed, the entire cast floored me with the exact same strengths. I rose to give them a Standing O as soon as the curtain came up for bows. This music is not easy, and to perform it with full emotional power is not easy as well (and sometimes dangerous to the vocal chords). Not one person held back, and the other characters on stage GAVE of themselves in full. I loved the care that the director made to make their stories as vibrant and as fully human in scope and power as Porgy and Bess’ love affair. I was rooting for everyone, and interestingly enough I understood where the villains and antagonists of the story were coming from too – they were 3D villains and a part of the world of the play (as a**holes are in the real world), not stereotypes. Yes, this is an OPERA and has the breadth and scope of an operatic story, but everything was done with such specificity that the audience should be able to track the true emotions of everyone involved.
And David Alan Grier…what can I say?! He played the scoundrel Sporting Life with stray cat pizazz, hitting the light and the dark sides of his character perfectly. It wasn’t too hard to imagine his character strutting down the streets of New York. I’m hoping someone in the future might write the sequel to “Porgy and Bess” (uh oh, do I hear a “blasphemy!”?) just so I can see how this scoundrel does his thing in New York. He invoked an evil Cab Calloway, and was pretty amazing.
I praise this production for introducing me to the world of “Porgy and Bess,” and look forward to seeing the original in one form soon. In the meantime, the souls of the story are being brilliantly portrayed on Broadway – it closes September 23rd, so go see it! My husband stated that it was the best musical he had ever seen (he’s a stickler for character motivation and storytelling, and he was just as thrilled as I).
About the Reviewer:
SIERRA REIN SAG-AFTRA • AEA
Sierra was last seen at Goodspeed Musicals in “City of Angels” as Angel City 4 Alto and Donna/Oolie understudy. She also has performed with members of the New York City Opera in a reading of the new opera “Strange Fruit” and had her New York City stage debut with Theater Ten Ten’s “Ruddigore.”
Her vocal group, Marquee Five (www.marqueefive.com) won a MAC Award for Vocal Duo/Group and released their debut CD, “8-Track Throwback,” in 2011. She yearly sings with the Definitely Dickens Holiday Carolers. She has also performed in numerous composer showcases in New York and has become a regular at The Salon open mic. She has regularly appeared at open mics, for composer showcases, and has shot many videos with her puppet, Kay “ThePal” Pringle. Along with her husband, Pete, they perform online puppetry via www.ThePal.us (his puppet’s name is Jay ThePal).
Favorite credits: Chiffon in “Little Shop of Horrors” (Utah Shakespearean Festival), Sister Sophia in “Sound of Music” and Nimue in “Camelot” (Fullerton CLO), Nadia in Ovation-winning “bare” (Hudson Theater), Second Soprano in “Master Class” (Odyssey Theater), roles in “The Pajama Game” and “The Boys from Syracuse” (Reprise!), and Ellen Beach Yaw in cult favorite “A Mulholland Christmas Carol” (Theater of N.O.T.E.). In 2007, she premiered “Ridin’ High,” her debut cabaret show (directed by Calvin Remsberg). Read a more detailed bio here.
I was SO happy to be able to sit down with “America’s Gaysian Sweetheart” Alec Mapa after his delightful one man show, “Baby Daddy” currently playing at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. Here is the video interview:
• “Smart, hilarious and funny.” — Ellen DeGeneres
• “Alec Mapa is a freak. No one should be this talented” — Variety
• “Truly insightful, hilarious, pungent and persuasive… See it! It says something important about how we live today.” — Edge
• “Both funny and poignant” — BistroAwards.com
• “By turns filthy, fierce and fabulous, Mapa’s seemingly mundane anecdotes are an outrageous delight… utterly divine.” — Next Magazine
After selling out a short run in February, ALEC MAPA (Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, The View, RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Gossip Queens, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure) returns to New York with his critically acclaimed and wildly popular new show ALEC MAPA: BABY DADDY. It runs July 19 – 29, Thursday – Sunday at 7:30pm. The Laurie Beechman Theater is located inside West Bank Cafe at 407 West 42nd Street — at Ninth Avenue, accessible from the A,C,E,N,R,V,F,1,2 & 3 trains at 42nd Street). Tickets are $22 (plus a $15 food/drink minimum). To purchase tickets call 212-352-3101 or visitwww.SpinCycleNYC.com.
A review of Encore’s! Concert Revival of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
At New York City Center
by Moshe Bloxenheim, Guest Reviewer
May 13, 2012
Let’s face it: “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” may not have the historical significance of “Show Boat” or “Oklahoma” but this past weekend, Encores! proved most delightfully that a show that promises good songs, brilliant comedy and an all out hilarious time well deserves to be rediscovered by a new generation.
Based upon Ms. Anita Loos’ classic novel of the same name, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” introduces the audience to the deliciously motivated Lorelei Lee; a young lady from Little Rock, Arkansas who departs the Prohibition America of 1924 for Paris. Gus Esmond Jr., Lorelei’s wealthy young button manufacturing Sugar Daddy, is reluctantly sending her to Europe for “education,” though it is soon all too obvious that France has more to learn from Lorelei than France will ever teach Lorelei. As Lorelie’s travel companion and occasional accomplice Dorothy Shaw is Paris bound too. Dorothy will never have Lorelei’s mercantile charms but she knows how to enjoy her own brand of romance. On board the “Ile de France” the girls encounter a wealth (both figuratively and literally) of attentive men ranging from the attractively athletic US Olympic team to the wandering Sir Francis Beekman – husband of the tiara selling dragon, Lady Phyllis Beekman. Also making the journey is the dipsomaniacal society matron Mrs. Ella Spofford whose son Henry, Lorelei feels, would make a perfect match for Dorothy. Lorelei’s own love (and financial) life is troubled by Gus Esmond Jr.’s possible discovery of some events in her past and the presence of the determinedly clean living zipper magnate Josephus Gage.
All this and Paris too…
I must say that the gentlemen of the cast all did the one thing necessary to ensure the success of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:” They never acknowledged that they are the joke. Being the unequal participants in the battle against sex, all men WANT to be used for Lorelei’s convenience. And from Gus Esmond, Jr. down to the cabin attendants on the “Ile De France” there was an earnestness of urge over intellect that assured the success of every plot twist and joke that came along.
Gus Esmond, Jr. the standard young businessman of the period: a man who wants to maintain the success of his father’s button business. Mr. Clarke Thorell gives Gus a sort of Wall Street “Ghee Whiz” persona that can make us believe that, for all her demands, Gus really loves Lorelei and would throw over the fastener fortune for her (against her better judgment). Better still Mr. Thorell never lets Gus exhibit an inkling that his fortune might have some influence on Lorelei’s ardent passion for him. Even when Gus utters such a belief, it is more the insult of a jealous lover than a man who fears a gold digger.
Gus’ primary reason for jealousy is his discovery of Lorelei wearing the first Paris dress to use a ZIPPER! A zipper manufactured by his father’s competitor Josephus Gage to be precise. Josephus is a gleefully prime example of the unnervingly healthy, athletic exponent of exercise and proper diet and Mr. Stephen R. Buntrock cheerfully lets the whole world know what a moving experience really can be. As far as Mr. Buntrock is concerned, Lorelei can get Josephus under her spell, but it a supremely wholesome hex.
Mr. Aaron Lazar makes Henry Spofford start out as a rather uptight, main line stick of a young man – the sort who usually interferes with romance – but the more Lorelei forces him and Dorothy together, the more he relaxes and wins everybody over, becoming the fellow that a girl would happily move to Philadelphia for.
On the other hand, when Mr. Simon Jones concludes as he began: having a lot of fun playing Sir Francis Beekman as a the eternally routed roué who will try to sneak in as good a time as he can have, when his formidable wife isn’t watching. Sir Francis would be putty in the hands of any girl so his scenes around Lorelei are entertainingly inevitable.
Also predictable in the best way possible are the father and son duo of Monsieur’s Robert and Louis Lemanteur, detectives hired by Lady Beekman to pursue Lorelei. In the persons of Messrs. Brennan Brown and Steven Boyer, the Lemanteurs are genuine stage Frenchman of the sort who are here less to move the story forward than to remind us that everyone is in France. They may be crude caricatures of the amorous “Oooh La-La” mode but they are enjoyable, fondly drawn parodies.
Another duo that is part of the Paris scene is the song and dance team of Mr. Philip Atmore and Mr. Jared Grimes who join Ms. Megan Sikora (as the ever rehearsing dancer Gloria Stark) in the show stopping number “Mamie is Mimi.” Messrs. Atmore and Grimes are billed under their own names and with their talents, certainly have no need to be onstage in any other guise.
Other notable males are the willing athletes of the 1924 U.S. Olympic Team. Led by Mr. Luke Hawkins, as “Frank,or the Olympic Team” and Mr. Eric Bourne as “George of the Olympic Team,” along with their teammates, these eye catching men may work hard to keep their amateur status, but they are pros delivering some wonderful dances and backing up the ladies on the “Ile de France” to the hilt.
If the men cannot see their status as prisoners of war in the Battle of the Sexes that is “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” the women are all eager combatants and the general who rules the field is clearly Ms. Megan Hilty as Lorelei Lee. Ms. Hilty does not so much steal the show as slip it happily onto herself like one of Lorelei’s diamond bracelets or a luxurious mink coat. She shows us a young lady who is not so much confident of her charms as she is unconscious that it could be any other way. Lorelei accepts it as natural that the best favor she can do for a man is to accept anything that he can offer her – especially something valuable. Such a character could easily seem greedy and venal, but Ms. Hilty understands that for Lorelie there is a generosity in receiving as well. Her pleasure in receiving gifts of bonds and jewelry is both that of a child getting a birthday present and of a benefactor who loves to see the thrill men get when they give her something. Additionally, while Lorelei can often seem childish and naïve, there is clearly a formidable brain ticking away in this young lady’s head, and Ms. Megan Hilty is brilliantly hilarious as someone who vaguely knows that Europe is somewhere near France yet can convince an unwilling businessman than she understands his business better than he does. And while keeping in this superbly comic character Ms. Hilty performs her musical numbers with unforgettable panache, truly stopping the show when she delivered the Broadway standard “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Here is truly one of the great Lorelei Lees.
Though Ms. Hilty may be the unqualified star of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Ms. Rachel York earns much laughter and applause for her part in the proceedings. As fellow good time girl and travel companion Dorothy Shaw, Ms. York is darned good company for both Lorelei and us. Dorothy views Lorelei as we do: she is an audience member who is fascinated and amused by her friend, even smiling at Lorelei’s obvious disapproval of her own admittedly unprofitable tendencies in love. Then when Dorothy does fall in love, Ms. York makes it a believable process allowing us to see a girl who is first amused, then intrigued and finally smitten.
Mrs. Ella Spofford, the mother of Henry, is a dithery matron who can’t understand why her son won’t let her have a little drink. Ms. Deborah Rush knows how to keep Ella funny and likable as the lady who just wants to enjoy herself – even if she tends to fall into the bottle when doing so – and Ms. Rush keeps us amused even with Ella’s sillier moments.
Mrs. Spofford’s opposite is Lady Phyllis Beekman, a lady of imposing proportions and demeanor. The excellent Ms. Sandra Shipley knows that she is playing a cartoon of a gorgon and never lets us down as chief villainess, whether she is keeping an eye on her constantly wandering husband or continually demanding proper payment for the diamond tiara that Lorelei was born to wear.
Ms. Megan Sikora plays another one of the archetypes of the 1920’s, the constantly working showgirl who enjoys her time with the boys. Gloria Stark aspires to the comforts of a sugar daddy, but is all too often practicing her dance routines for an impending show. Happily when she has her chance to perform numbers like “The Practice Scherzo” and “Mamie is Mimi” Ms. Sikora lets us see that she well and truly deserves her time on stage.
The rest of the cast are all up to the same standard, joining gleefully in the comedy and tunefully in the music whether we are in New York, shipboard or in Paris. They are a pleasure to watch and deserve fulsome praise for their part in the success of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
In the original musical Ms. Loos and Mr. Joseph Field had written a romp that parodies sex appeal yet even now has a surprising and rather refreshing innocence to it. In adapting this show to the concert stage Mr. David Ives clearly has understood that even if “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is called a “Book Musical” the authors had intended that such a thing was never meant to get in the way of out and out entertainment. Instead of worrying overly much about plot development and motivation, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” occasionally lets a number take over the stage while the storyline takes a breather and we are all the better for it. Especially when being treated to the music of Mr. Jule Styne and the lyrics of Mr. Leo Robin who provide a truly great score consisting of songs like the uproarious confessional “I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock,” the insanely diverting “It’s Delightful Down in Chile” and the absurdly essential “Button up with Esmond.” Music Director Rob Berman leading the Encores! Orchestra deliver a polished sound that makes it all sound fresh and alive using Mr. Don Walkers original orchestrations to give us the feeling that we are listening the sound of 1948.
Mr. Randy Skinner’s eye catching choreography is just fun, moving things forward when it has to or deliberately recollecting a time when a chorus was there to set an atmosphere or simply show off the available talent.
Like everything else, Mr. John Lee Beatty’s minimal scenery, effectively lit by Mr. Peter Kaczorowski, and Mr. David C. Woolard’s costuming never try to directly evoke the 1920’s, but rather how the 1920’s looked to those were remembering them in the late 1940’s. Mr. Woolard’s attire for Dorothy as the chic flapper alone would have deserved high praise but his celebration of Lorelei’s ripely voluptuous charms clearly assisted Ms. Megan Hilty in creating her unforgettable characterization.
For the most part Mr. Scott Lehrer’s sound design was good, but there were occasional lapses of clarity for the singers. Indeed, I thought that part of the problem with the least successful song; “Keep Cool with Coolidge” was an inaudibility of lyrics that left the audience rather puzzled.
There is an old saying that “it isn’t only what you do but how you do it” and Director John Rando certainly makes “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” do IT! Blessed with a great cast, good material and a solid production, Mr. Rando makes sure that even when story is standing still, the show MOVES. He clearly knows that comedy must be performed earnestly and that absolutely nothing on stage should give a hint that this is farce. And Mr. Rando wisely allows everyone a chance to shine, knowing that this makes Ms. Hilty’s success as the star even more impressive.
As with every Encores! production, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was a limited run that has already sadly ended. But between the excellent reviews, the ecstatic audiences and the demand for tickets, I would not be the least surprised to learn of this production being moved to another venue for a more extended run and I can only say that I should be delighted for the chance to enjoy it again and would recommend it to everyone I can.
About the reviewer: I am a computer programmer, wannabe writer who loves theater and just got into the habit of inflicting my theatrical opinions. I live in New York. Moshe can be reached at MB1224@aol.com
Directed by Charles Messina, (The Accidental Pervert), Moolahis fast moving, one word, Who’s On First type vaudvilian humor and it’s very enjoyable. Here’s what the invitation said about it:
MOOLAH tells the story of two con men who fall out of favor with the Mob.
Ant’ny is a dandy, sharp-talking shyster and small-time bookie.
His younger cousin Sonny, a gay hit man, runs a hair salon by day and moonlights as a contract killer by night. Sonny’s salon slogan: cut by day, clip by night.
This darkest of comedies reveals the fortunes and misfortunes of the two in a “Waiting for Godot” meets “The Sopranos” thriller which penetrates the core issues of love, money and sexuality.
These men are desperate.
Each one with a bounty on his head.
Each one conning the other only to discover they have only conned themselves.
I got a chance to chat with Messrs Pantoliano, Cantone and Shaw after the reading and they were wonderful to chat with as you will see below. Enjoy!
Oh, and if you’d like to become a Producer of Moolahand help see this marvelous piece go to Broadway by investing, please contact Mr. Shaw by email and tell him Elli at broadwaykingdom sent you!