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Archive for April, 2010

Anyone who saw Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations (with Jane Fonda) will fondly recall the scene where Zach Grenier, as Beethoven, composes a one of the titular variations by talking through the elements of music he’s conceiving.  That scene was probably single best moment on stage of the play (which had many great moments) because it was a showcase of the moment of creation.

In John Logan’s Red, that moment happens wordlessly, as Alfred Molina & Eddie Redmayne prime a canvas with incredible energy.  Its simply dynamic, and is likewise the best moment in the play.  Although this is more the frenetic preparation for a much more intense creative work, the emotion is nonetheless powerful. (more…)

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More like Mistakes, Mistakes.  It’s always disappointing to walk out of a show knowing exactly what went wrong with good ingredients, much like I do when I screw up cooking.  Optimal ingredients just don’t always go together.  And sometimes the execution is off.

But, there is a bright spot.  It’s a blond that was plucked from a rising Broadway career to play a divine supporting role in Bryan Fuller show with a devoted cult following.

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So, the reviews were excellent.  Since I’m so late in getting to this review, I wasn’t sure there was much I could add, since the reviews generally covered Encores’s latest showpiece with an angle I enjoyed: Donna Murphy as musical comedy genius.  And, yes, Murphy was absolutely stellar, owning every moment on stage with dynamic, ebullient deliciousness.

I could write more about that, but frankly, I’m more interested in a tangent to the conversation the other writers I’ve linked to have started.  Murphy’s natural talent and charisma are enormous, so why isn’t she working more?  Mostly, its her health.  During the runs of Wonderful Town and Lovemuzik, she broke down physically.  Perhaps her in a play role might be a good fit for her.  I mean, she practically is Auntie Mame, so why not cast her in that, rather than the musical?  Of course, who wouldn’t want to see Murphy take on Jerry Herman’s masterpiece?

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I guess Blackface is in.  In what, I have no idea.  After A Behanding in Spokane‘s ridiculous black character and Lend Me A Tenor‘s Otello moments, The Scottsboro Boys one-ups them all and turns the minstrel concept on its ear.  In fact, the whole construct of a minstrel show is upended by Kander & Ebb’s latest “last show”, and done so with supreme excellence.

Using such a viciously constructed format to essentially deride the formula (let alone the concept) of a minstrel show to take a musical look at the Scottboro Boys’ historical experience is, quite honestly, a stroke of genius.  I knew the story, and still the emotional drive John Kander & Fred Ebb elicit during their songs balanced by David Thompson’s book was quite astonishing.  Overall, I think its the best newly constucted musical I’ve seen in quite some time, at least since 2004’s Caroline or Change – easily trumping the new constructs I’ve enjoyed since then, including Fela!, Xanadu, Passing Strange, Grey Gardens, Spring Awakening, In The Heights, Billy Elliot, The Light In The Piazza, & the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  Easily.  Perhaps the best first-run musical I’ve ever seen.  Perhaps.  I’m not a huge fan of superlatives, but, I really feel this show deserves it.  And I’m not alone.

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Screwball farce only works with a fever pitch built from a slow burning snowball.  Circumstances need to pile up, with only a single, hilarious evolution towards a fabulously silly conclusion.  On paper, Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor, is not really a perfect farce.  Its got the elements, but its first act fundamentally does not move the snowball down the hill with any real momentum.  And the characters are fundamentally two-dimensional in a way that doesn’t necessarily help the play along.

However, in the revival directed by Stanley Tucci, the centrifugal force of the final act is so well driven, that the show ends up being a delight.  Tucci has been a part of many a poorly written script, and its nice to know he knows it.  His acting talents have often been wasted, but his flair for detail and humor carries through in his first Broadway directing effort.

And he debuts with a cast of his friends, most notably including Tony Shalhoub and his wife Brooke Adams.  (That’s Shalhoub’s wife, not Tucci’s.)  Also on board are Broadway vets Jan Maxwell, Mary Catherine Garrison, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Anthony LaPaglia, and Jay Klaitz.  Making his Broadway debut to round out a generally solid cast is Justin Bartha, who’s better known for his bland film work.

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It’s one thing to use off-putting language to make a point.  However, epithets and bigotry used for the same of calling attention to yourself is entirely another story.  Martin McDonaugh is a master of being off-putting, and his newest play, A Behanding in Spokane, finds the writer very clearly in his element.  However, that’s not always a good thing.

The play opens with Christopher Walken sitting on a bed.  And just seeing his delightful scowl is enjoyable.  Walken, here as an aging white supremacist, does his best to chew the scenery and own every moment he’s onstage.  Particularly enjoyable is the final scene, where he’s on the phone with his mother.  It’s  vintage Walken, done magnificently to the nth degree.

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Yes, its been a bit since I’ve posted.  That whole work thing finally getting in the way (thank goodness).  Well, almost, but close enough.  Anyway…

I do have reviews of my theatre exploits, but in the meantime, here’s a lovely clip of the Mad Men cast taking on the title song from Bye Bye Birdie.  If you know either show, this is good fun.

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