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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

What a season!  A superlative blend of four promising new musicals, three dynamite plays (and another really enjoyable one), and a play revival that reinvented what that play was about and another that had only excellent notices.  When it comes time to award this season, there simply aren’t enough trophies to go around.

Just a glorious season for Off-Broadway.

Oh, right, the Tony Awards are only for Broadway shows.  Yeah, that season was a letdown as a whole.  A few inspired performances and pieces, but as a composite, the NY Times’s two critics called it a B- season.  To me, its more along the lines of C+.  Barely-there books in the Musical category, Plays that sound better on paper than on stage, and revivals of a slate of classics that were generall more about competence than brilliance.

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August Wilson’s Fences, a Pulitzer-prize winning masterwork of theatre, has reached Broadway once again.  While I may have an impression that the play is let down only by not having that glorious ensemble of characters that his other masterwork (in my mind) has, namely Joe Turner’s Come And Gone, it is certainly as joy to watch.  It may not be Joe Turner or The Piano Lesson (my second favorite Wilson play), there is something special in Wilson’s work.

The original production featured James Earl Jones and Mary Alice, both Tony winners for their performances.  One difference this time around is that the role Alice played was considered a Featured role, and Viola Davis is considered a Lead.  The role, Rose Maxson, is very much a reactor to the main character, her husband Troy Maxson.

Troy is an interesting theatrical and literary character.  He is ultimately revealed as a man who doesn’t look around enough to let himself grow with the times, rather choosing to fence himself in.  Quite literary, in fact, as the play builds.  A man who rose through the first half of the century, witness to both world wars, the depression, and, as the play takes place, the early days of the Civil Rights movement – along with everything in between.

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Wrestling isn’t exactly a subject I’m looking to see a play about.  Sure, I watched a little as a kid.  Overly muscular men in tight, usually little, clothing wasn’t exactly worth passing up, even if I didn’t quite understand it at the time.  And the dramatic developments were truly ludicrous, which is captured elegantly and held up for its own insanity in Kristoffer Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize finalist The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.

Narrated by the central character, Desmin Borges’s Macedonio “Mace” Guerrero, TEEOCD (for short, that’s a long honking title) is filled with the insights of a young man growing up admiring professional wrestling, fully aware of the complex training and Machiavellian coordination that goes into the enterprise.  To say the show is well-scripted and insightful would be selling it short, and that whole Pulitzer finalist thing should speak well enough on its own.

Mace tells the tale of his own career as a secondary performer in the THE Wrestling organization, including acting as fall-down fodder for the titular Chad Deity.  And yes, his entrance is indeed elaborate and as ridiculous as you’d imagine.  Eventually tired of watching a less-talented, but clearly charismatic, wrestler, he ventures to a Brooklyn basketball court to discover a young man primed for his own spotlight, Vigneshwar Paduar, whom Mace brings to the head of the wrestling organization with a bid for stardom.

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The best thing you can say after a joyful musical is “I want that in my life”.  And, yes, after watching The Kid, I can honestly say that I want that in my life.  A kid, maybe or maybe not, but the completeness of experience that the main character achieves is utterly relatable, it took me by surprise.

Based on Dan Savage’s account of him and his younger partner’s adoption of their son, The Kid is very much an old fashioned book musical.  Likeable characters express their feelings in song, there are archetypes abound, and it ends with a happy conclusion.  The show is endearingly sentimental, if a bit too smooth for its own good.  Savage is fairly well-known as a columnist on “politics and relationships” (read: sex) – a joke that gets reused about a half-dozen times throughout the show.  He’s always been fairly open about his personal life, and other people’s personal lives, without too much concern for over-sharing.  After all, his column’s subject is already over-sharing.

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When I go to a one-performer show, I expect a loose narrative for the performer to show off his or her talents – particularly if the show is steeped in music.  I don’t expect a fully-formed plot with character development that relies as equally on the dramatic skills of the performer as his/her well-recognized comedic and musical talents.  While Sarah Jones & Anna Deveare Smith have transcended the genre by inhabiting multiple characters to create a narrative, musical performers tend to rely on their vocal prowess to enrapture the audience.  Having seen both Bea Arthur and Elaine Stritch do this incredibly well, I was still struck by the balance of an actual plotline in Sherie Rene Scott’s Everyday Rapture.

I had seen the earlier incarnation of the show at Second Stage, and was thrilled to hear it was finally transferring to the big stage.  Strangely hosted by the Roundabout at their play revival theatre, Everyday Rapture isn’t simply a one-woman performance.  There are some other performers contributing, but Scott, with co-writer Dick Scanlon, is delivering arguably the most complete new musical of the season.

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The show may start with calling itself an illusion, but there’s far more depth to be found in the current revival of La Cage Aux Folles than in most shows you’ll find on the Great White Way.  While still ostensibly cartoonish and dated, this production directed of the show by Terry Johnson brings forth real heart and emotion in the best spirit of musical theatre.  By stripping down the production, Johnson eliminated some of the spectacle.  There are still plenty of sparkles, spangles, and costume changes, but never enough to weigh down the show.

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I’d ballot in the morning.
I’d ballot in the evening.
All over this la-a-and.

Its Tony time again.  Nominations arrive on May 4 in the wee morning hours.  I was torn between writing this post on who I’d vote for this year, if I did indeed have a vote, or to write who I think will actually get nominated.  And, given that I am full of opinion, I was leaning towards just laying out my imaginary ballot.  But, alas, I’ve chosen to withhold my preferences until the esteemed official voting bloc does its thing.  Then I can complain loudly and proudly.

Looking over this year’s field, a trend I’ve noticed over the last few years has solidified into practice.  Two seasons ago, A Catered Affair reached Broadway.  It was an interpolation of an old Bette Davis-Ernest Borgnine-Debbie Reynolds film, spun by Harvey Fierstein and featuring strong performances from Faith Prince and Tom Wopat.  However, despite the obvious beauty of the show, it was clear watching it that it wasn’t quite baked.  It was rushed through development to get to Broadway.  It had its fans, but ultimately was overshadowed by long-developed shows In The Heights and Passing Strange, which both had extended Off-Broadway runs before facing off for Best Musical at the Tonys, along with also-well-developed Xanadu.  In The Heights took home the prize, and is the only new musical from that season still running.

Last year, the Best Play and Best Musical winners were both imports from Britain, God of Carnage and Billy Elliot, respectively.  In fact, both were well-loved shows across the pond before making their way here.  The development made them successful in both cities, and each easily dominated their category.  Carnage blew away very strong competition, challenge from Neil Labute’s Reasons To Be Pretty, Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, and Horton Foote’s Dividing The Estate.  Billy, however, faced no real challenge from its only major competition in the Off-Broadway transfer of Next To Normal.

This year, once again, the shows in contention for Best Musical are generally an imperfect bunch.  Addams Family is a morass of cut & paste.  All About Me wasn’t worth knowing.  American Idiot is a staged version of a punk album that doesn’t bother to name its female characters.  Burn the Floor was all smoke.  Come Fly Away does land enough.  Everyday Rapture should be the extinguished Special Event category, since it’s really a one-woman show.  Fela! doesn’t tell enough of Kuti’s story.  Memphis’s book completely falls apart in the second act.  Million Dollar Quartet is a stunt, aiming only at tourists’ wallets.  Each one could use some more development, but it’s no surprise the best two of the bunch (in my opinion) had Off-Broadway runs.  And the two best revivals are both British imports.  Once again, fully developed productions are few and far between.

Producers seem to be rushing shows to the big stage, rather than fully investing in a show’s development.  I read that Yank!, which I enjoyed, is coming up next season.  But, frankly, it’s not ready.  The second act needs work, and some of the songs need to be replaced.  Its simply too soon, despite a stellar performance from Bobby Steggert, for the show to make it to Broadway.

Bake it properly, and the show will rise well.  Take it out too soon, and it will fall.  Such has been the Broadway scene for the last few years.  Its economics, certainly, impacting the length of time an investor will wager on results, but the last few years have shown diminishing returns for those who don’t properly develop their shows.  And we all suffer when that happens.

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