Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quick reviews 2011

These are the shows I saw in 2011 with a quick rating for each and links to reviews (some still to come). Please scroll down for other recent posts.

I also have a complete list of shows I've seen since 2007.

Black Watch - National Theatre of Scotland at St. Ann's Warehouse - off-Broadway
The Cripple of Inishmaan - Druid ensemble tour through ArtsEmerson - Boston
Frankenstein - National Theatre (London) Live broadcast

American Idiot - Broadway
The Book of Mormon - Broadway
The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures - Public Theater - off-Broadway
The Merchant of Venice - Theatre for a New Audience at Emerson's Cutler Majestic - Boston
Once - Broadway

Anything Goes - Broadway
Arcadia - Broadway
Carson McCullers Talks about Love - Rattlestick Theatre - off-Broadway
Completeness - Playwrights Horizons - off-Broadway
The Dream of the Burning Boy - Roundabout Theatre Black Box - off-Broadway
Good People - Broadway
Gruesome Playground Injuries - Second Stage - off-Broadway
Hadestown (Anais Mitchell) - traveling concert version
Invasion! - Play Company - off-off-Broadway
The Lyons - Vineyard Theatre - off-Broadway
Misterman - St. Ann's Warehouse - off-Broadway
The Normal Heart - Broadway
The Public - Powerhouse - New York Stage and Film at Vassar College
The Rocky Horror Show - The Old Globe, San Diego
Seminar - Broadway
Sons of the Prophet - Huntington Theatre - Boston
Sons of the Prophet - Roundabout Theatre - off-Broadway
Through a Glass Darkly - Atlantic Theater - off-Broadway
Venus in Fur - MTC - Broadway

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Awkward turtle (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever opening)

I went to my first Broadway opening! Many thanks to the excellent folks at the Vineyard Theatre for hooking me up with a pair of tickets for opening night. It was fun spotting Tom Kitt and Len Cariou at Angus McIndoe before the show. Yes, Arthur and I gave up our bar stools to Sweeney Todd and his wife! And with minimal fangirling on my part.

Unfortunately, that was most of our celebrity spotting for the night. I couldn't find my nice wool coat because it had been way too balmy in previous weeks to ever break out the winter gear, and there was a total planning failure on my part leading up to packing for the weekend. I don't buy into the idea of theater being a dress-up event (it should be an affordable part of everyday life), but even I knew a hoodie would not do for this special occasion. So I went with a thin, 3/4-sleeve wrap over my cute, fancy short-sleeved shirt. That ensemble was wholly inadequate to the chilly task, and we both felt like awkward turtles just standing around, so we went inside shortly after the house opened.

Loitering outside before then, though, we did spot the fantastic Brian d'Arcy James being interviewed. (The Smash cast is showing up en masse to pretty much every arts-related event right now.) Mo Rocca was there, looking dapper. The self-important dude who does the overrated Battery's Down was wandering around, I think with Carly Jibson (who was sooooo good in the really bad Johnny Baseball musical at the A.R.T.--seriously, considering that amazing cast, the show should have been great, but the book was an unholy mess).

Our seats up in the mezz had a great view. (The balcony was closed--is that common for an opening?). But from up there we weren't able to oogle the stars in the orchestra once we were seated. Alas. The show started about half an hour after advertised, but that's probably normal. There wasn't any late seating, which was a wonderful perk. No cell phones went off. And people pretty much didn't talk or text, as far as I saw. That lack of distractions and the overall enthusiasm from cast and audience made the performance a special experience for us.

The show itself doesn't do it for me. In so many ways. The revisions are half-baked, the premise is beyond dumb, and there is nothing likable about most of the characters. The sets are violently awful, perhaps in an effort to distract from the rest of the mess on stage. And considering that the gay twist was one of Michael Mayer's main reasons for reviving the show, cutting to black before the big kiss is a ridiculous cop-out.

Some of the choreography for the trio is fairly brilliant, though. And Jesse Mueller's voice is perfection.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bonnie & Clyde

I'm a heartless bitch, but even I feel a bit bad about giving this necessarily negative review for the new Bonnie & Clyde musical. The coroner has already been called on this one, so if you have your heart set on seeing it, you better hightail it to the Schoenfeld Theatre by December 30.

This musical had so much potential, but I was pretty sure they would screw it up, so expected it to flop. I just wish it had done so in a bigger, fun(nier), more spectacular way. (Like On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, for example.) Well, at least Jeremy Jordan is available for Newsies, now.

Really, the show isn't all bad. It just ... fails to be good. On the plus side: It's chock-full of really talented performers. The design work is great, especially the projections. And everyone sings the crap out of the (overly eclectic, and mostly forgettable) songs. But the main problem is a failure of vision, of focus. The book is terrible, basically, and it has no excuse for not being awesome and really relevant to what's going on in the country right now.

At its core, the story of Bonnie and Clyde is about a celebrity-obsessed country in financial ruin. But instead of focusing on this historical pair of vain, fame-hungry criminals in order to proffer Crucible-like incisive commentary on contemporary issues, this creative team chooses to focus on the love story. Because that's clearly more ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Remember how I didn't like Laura Osnes in Anything Goes or Grease? I like her even less here. She sings like a dream, but none of the songs are particularly great, so that doesn't really save her performance. And Bonnie Parker had to have been more than a self-centered, lovesick ingenue since she was also an accomplice to bank robbery and murder. But Osnes's performance has no edge or down-and-dirty sex appeal, and her saccharine line deliveries feel so out of place once the bodies start dropping. Some of that must be a failure of Ivan Menchell's writing and Jeff Calhoun's direction, but I'm not sure she could have handled anything darker anyway.

Jeremy Jordan is much better as Clyde Barrow. The boy can SIIIIIING, and he has charm for days. Others have complained about the cloyingly cute young Bonnie (Kelsey Fowler) and Clyde (Talon Ackerman), but I kind of like them. In fact, they have some of the edge that Osnes sorely lacks. Claybourne Elder as Clyde's brother Buck was fine in a kind-of nothing role. And Melissa Van Der Schyff gives a performance better than the one she was handed as Buck's wife, Blanche--and, really, Blanche has the best lines in the show anyway. Unfortunately, I hate country music, so I don't like her songs as well as I should.

My favorite song in the show is definitely the one in the beauty shop about how the women actually prefer the freedom they have while their husbands are in jail. It's hilarious and a bit out of place--and pretty much the only island of joy in this sea of mediocrity that seems to go on and on forever.

I could rip apart other problems in the show, such as how poorly written Bonnie's sad sack not-Clyde suitor is. Or that prison rape jokes are. not. funny. Instead I will bury this nearly dead horse with this bit of praise: I love the use of real photos of the famous duo and newspaper stories about them. I also appreciate how the integration of the projections onto the rustic set leaves parts of the images obscured. That, the precision of the sound effects (i.e., gunshots), and starting the story at the end and then flashing back are the best things about Bonnie & Clyde. (But ending the show right before it catches up to where it began feels anticlimactic, which is really the problem with the show in general. Damn, I guess I really don't know how to end this on a kind note.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Long week in review (11/15-11/20/2011): The Divine Sister / Idiots in concert / The Lyons / Once / Other Desert Cities / Hadestown

The theater week started (normally) in Boston on Tuesday, when I went with Lisa and hubby (I suppose I should just start calling him Arthur, yeah?) to see Charles Busch's The Divine Sister at SpeakEasy Stage in Boston. I never saw the show when it was in New York, and I think that's really, really fine. It's just really not my kind of humor (though I had a blast at Silence! The Musical!, which has a similar feel, I guess). The performances were excellent, especially Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffrey Roberson), and the cast certainly didn't hold anything back in this insane slapstick comedy with music. It was quite a brilliant performance for what it was, I suppose. Not my favorite, but not a waste of an evening, and I like trying new things.

Then Lisa and I decided we were tired of acting like adults, so we ran off to New York Thursday night after work. We got to Rockwood Music Hall in time to catch the midnight set from the as-yet-unnamed punk trio of (ex-Idiots) Michael Esper, Johnny Gallagher, and Gerard Canonico. We got a nice seat upstairs and I drank a lot a whiskey. Lovely.

Friday we saw Esper again, this time at the Vineyard Theatre for our second viewing of The Lyons. Linda Lavin as the mother was just as excellent the second time around. Kate Jennings Bryant as the alcoholic sister was just as terrible. Dick Latessa as the obscenity-spewing dying patriarch was good but greatly overshadowed by Lavin--well, everyone was. I can see why she chose to do this off-Broadway role instead of reprising her role in the Broadway transfer of either Follies or Other Desert Cities. A role like Mrs. Lyons is a hard one to find. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have seen her performance even once, much less twice. The play itself is ... hilarious, sad, and very problematic. There's a weird scene with Mr. Lyons in the second act that is just SO unnecessary. The same with the sister's scene at the top of that act. Just, terrible really. It was hard to tell whether Bryant was truly awful (overall, but in that scene in particular), or if the playwright (Nicky Silver) spent all his talent on writing the parents and just ran out of steam when faced with the dialogue for the other roles. Overall, the first act is really good (daughter excepted), and the second act is a mess. As always, Esper cries beautifully. (Isn't it time for this man to be in a comedy? Or, even better, a traditional musical comedy? Please?)

Saturday Lisa saw Venus in Fur, which she then RAVED about, before abandoning me to head back to Boston. (I'm seeing Venus this weekend--front row for Hugh Dancy, w00t!) While she was there, I headed to the New York Theatre Workshop for my first viewing of Once. (I'll be seeing it a total of four times before it closes off-Broadway and will then probably park myself at the Bernard Jacobs theater next year.) I bought tickets to three performances as soon as subscriber tickets were available and have since gotten tickets to the closing, which is conveniently on a Sunday evening during a long weekend. I am in love with pretty much everything about this show, as I knew I would be. A show that adds the creative team behind Black Watch to the music of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova was a pretty safe bet for me. Sure, it's cheesy at times, but in a way that I find charming overall. And the music and visuals are breathtaking. I love the entire cast (even with the accent wonkiness). Kudos to Steve Kazee for making me feel even a bit sorry for him--given how attractive and talented he is, it's not so easy to be convincing as a sad sack. Major props to Cristin Milioti for approaching Irglova's stunning vocals and being completely charming in a role that's a bit too twee.

(I don't know if there are any left, since the show is getting good reviews and has already announced its Broadway transfer, but they were offering $20 tickets for all Sunday evening performances. They were available to purchase in advance at the box office--cash only, max 4 per person.)

Then I saw Other Desert Cities, minus Stockard Channing, who was out with an injury. The audience was understandably upset to be missing the show's star. I like Channing and was a bit disappointed, but I didn't mind seeing an understudy. I feel like I certainly get a better sense for the strength of a play itself when left in the hands of a less overwhelming presence. (Indeed, would The Lyons be as enjoyable without Lavin's masterful delivery and the extra oomph she provided even--often especially--in silent moments?) The cast is excellent, including understudy Lauren Klein, but the rhythm of the show was definitely off. And it did sound as though Jon Robin Baitz had written specifically for Channing's voice. I liked the play well enough and would like to see Channing in that role (because Pal Joey should NOT be the only time I see her on stage), so maybe I'll go back when Justin Kirk takes over Thomas Sadoski's role. For me, though, Judith Light made the show.

To wrap up the weekend, I got to see Anais Mitchell's BRILLIANT folk opera, Hadestown, again, this time as a regular concert at Le Poisson Rouge. As most of the audience were diehard fans, Mitchell skipped the exposition and just plowed ahead with the songs, with guest musicians including Ani DiFranco as Persephone and Boston music god Tim Gearan as Hades. I am so in love with this show. If I were rich, I'd bankroll a production of it myself. And I'd convince the Once team to write the book/direct/choreograph/design it. THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN.

After Hadestown, the enormous band/cast came down off the stage and led the audience in some protest/pro-union songs. She then invited everyone to follow her out to Washington Square Park to support the OWS campers there. Here's a very up-tempo version of Hadestown from the park:

And here's the end of my favorite choreographed moment in Once:

Elizabeth A. Davis and Cristin Milioti
Photo by Joan Marcus

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Saturday in review (12/03/2011): Once / Sons of the Prophet

We took a quick two-show (day) trip to New York yesterday. I was excited to see Once at the New York Theatre Workshop for the second time, and to share it with hubby and Lisa. We're all completely in love with the show. The music is great, of course, which everyone who has seen the movie knows. And the story is simple and lovely. So I knew that the magical trio of Enda Walsh, Steven Hoggett, and John Tiffany would make the transition from screen to stage incisive, artistic, and haunting--and distinctly theatrical. (As usual, I am right.)

On the way out, we bought tickets to see it again in January (their second time, plus we'll be bringing our excellent hosts from Chez Church Korner with us). I already have a ticket for next weekend, so that group outing will be my fourth time seeing Once at NYTW. I can only assume it will transfer and get a Broadway cast recording later, and I'm sure I'll wear out that CD because the new arrangements are lush. Lisa and I disagree about how well Once will do in a larger space. She's wrong: It'll be awesome. But go see this gorgeous show with this crazy-talented cast it in this intimate theater with this charming set design while you have a chance. Not a bad seat in the tiny house.

TIP: Take a $20 bill to the NYTW box office immediately and buy yourself a ticket to any Sunday evening performance between now and Jan. 15 (if the show extends, it would only be one additional week). $20 gets you a great seat to any Sunday evening performance. In advance. (Cash only.)

Then we had another repeat show, of sorts. FINALLY, we saw the New York transfer of Sons of the Prophet at Roundabout's Laura Pels, which we had all loved at the Huntington in Boston. The play is much, much stronger but a bit less satisfying. A very unnecessary plotline has been removed, and it's been shortened to 1:45 with no intermission. Joanna Gleason's character is kind of charmingly daffy in a way that it's much easier to sympathize with now, making her much more real in a funny-but-heartbreaking/charming-but-infuriating way. I found her to be so grating in the earlier production, so this part of the rewrite is the most exciting of the changes. I laughed out loud less often at this incarnation, which is fine, but I also cared a bit less about the Douahiy family and what would happen to them, which is not so good. But the paring down has made the connections between characters make so much more sense, especially between the reporter and the older brother, Joseph, who is the heart of the show.

Since they've narrowed the story to fewer conflicts, I wish they'd hit those that are left a bit harder. For example, in the wake of current examinations of society's obsession with football culture, and the ways its stars are treated preferentially, I wish that the pivotal event of the car accident and the controversy surrounding the high school student's delayed punishment were explored more. And with our current economic woes, it's also a great opportunity to look more at issues of "personal responsibility" and the intersections of race and class. (I wish it also touched a bit on the intersection of sexual orientation and class.) Yes, I realize that would get rid of some of the streamlining that makes the current production so much better than its previous version. And, really, the script is SO much stronger now. But maybe it's time to go back in and messy things up a bit. I hope playwright Stephen Karam and director Peter DuBois will continue to refine the play before gets produced regionally. (I assume this play will start popping up EVERYWHERE next season.)

Sons of the Prophet is closing January 1, and I am trying to find a way to see it again before it does. And you should go see it, too.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Rocky Horror Show at San Diego's Old Globe

Photo by Henry DiRocco.

The first weekend in November, my husband and I finally visited San Diego. We had been meaning to go for years but the flight takes about as long as to Dublin, and the Irish have real Guinness and fantastic accents. So it wasn't until the Old Globe announced it was doing the Rocky Horror Show as a fully staged (i.e., non-movie) musical that I really considered it. Then they cast a few American Idiot alumni (Andrew Call, Sydney Harcourt James, and Jeanna de Waal), and I was more interested. When I found out that (HOLY CRAP) Kelsey Kurz from the amazing Huntington Theatre production of Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet in Boston was going to be Brad, that did it.

I bought the tickets and emailed hubby from the car on the way out of town. (I think Lisa was driving us to Poughkeepsie to see Michael Cerveris and Michael Esper in the workshop of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's terrible musical The Nightingale.) I don't have a lot to say in favor of San Diego itself (if you're not a beach bum, it's pretty much boring architecture and creepily deserted of people, but Balboa Park is fantastic, and we got to see some old friends). But I LOVED the show, and I marked Rocky Horror off my bucket list.

Rocky Horror was seriously, hilariously, totally fun. All three times. I hope they'll bring this particular production to New York soon (with a few cast changes). I mean, that would be a disaster for my schedule and my bank account. But I really, really need it to happen. Unless the audiences are going to be awful. (I'm really not ok with the random yelling from the audience, though more synchronized responses like "slut" every time someone says "Janet" or "asshole" everytime someone says "Brad" are fun and don't interfere with the show.)

The design was great for the space, the costumes were excellent (the bondage-inspired ones for the final scene were INSANE and awesome), the staging was fun, and the choreography (especially for Rocky) was very cool. The show lost its Frank and its director during rehearsals, but I couldn't tell from the performance. I really want them to just ship the whole show (other than a few casting exceptions mentioned below) to New York. Immediately.

First, it was great to see Kurz in a completely different role. He has serious musical-theater comedy chops (and he's SHAMELESS, as obvious from the photo below), and I already loved him in the funny-but-serious Prophets, so I'll pretty much just follow him around to anything he's in from now on. I don't remember Sydney Harcourt James from the Idiot ensemble, but he was amazing as Rocky (especially his dancing--ok, and his 12-pack).

Although I wish her voice hadn't copied Little Nell so much, Nadine Isenegger was great as Columbia, and her tapping was ridiculous in the best way. Laura Shoop and Jason Wooten were delightfully creepy as Magenta and Riff Raff and charming as the story-framing ushers. David Andrew Macdonald as the narrator really held the show together and dealt with the vocal audience with aplomb, and he was fine as Dr. Scott, though that's a bit of a nothing role until the fishnets break out (and he has seriously nice legs). The other "phantoms" were good, Kit Treece in particular.

And now the roles I would want recast ...

Look, I like Matt McGrath. He was good even in that dreadful Nightingale musical workship, and I liked him a lot in the Atlantic Theater's production of Pinter's The Collection last season. But his voice was a bit thin for Frank 'N' Furter, and though he threw himself into the role, he was just a little below par in charisma. He was sassy and bitchy and domineering and hilarious. But Frank needs to also be irresistible or what little plot there is kind of falls apart.

I just don't like Jeanna de Waal as a performer, so I wasn't surprised that I spent the whole time wishing I had seen just about anyone else as Janet. de Waal is a fine technical dancer, and she certainly sings better than Susan Sarandon, but she has no charisma, and I just don't like how her voice sounds. That said, this is probably the role in which she will be best cast, ever. And she didn't ruin the show. So, whatever.

This breaks my heart, but I didn't love Andrew Call as Eddie. (There's a photo out there of him as Rocky in a different production, and I would have loved to see that.) His voice isn't strong enough, and (as with his performance as a St. Jimmy understudy in Idiot) he didn't have that charisma needed to really pull of this Elvis-esque role. But I loved him as one of the phantoms, and his slide down the bannister was thrilling. The boy can DANCE. And he carries a tune fine, but they really do need someone stronger, more magnetic for the role.

Now, back to something happier: KELSEY KURZ. Wow, he was completely fantastic at every moment. He was never not acting, never out of character. And Brad and Janet stand around on the sidelines a lot in this show. de Waal just took up space being not particularly Janet-like most of the time, as though she could only act if she were speaking, when she had specific direction. But Kurz just threw himself into that goofball Brad and went for it (his deliveries in Dammit, Janet were so adorkable), and he constantly reacted to everything going on around him--but not in a way that pulled focus. The more theater I see, the more I realize how difficult that must be, because when someone gets it right, it's just thrilling to watch. I'm so glad that I saw the show three times, not just because it was hella fun, but also because it gave me the chance to watch the background characters during the big numbers.

In conclusion, if you didn't see this show, I feel really sorry for you. It was totally worth the cross-country flight. And I'll be keeping an eye on future Old Globe productions.

Here, have some eye candy:

Frank and Rocky. Photo by Henry DiRocco.

In costume for Brad in the finale. Photo by Sydney Harcourt James.

You can check out the production's program here:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Weekend in review (11/11-11/12/2011): Suicide, Incorporated / Morgan Karr / Bonnie & Clyde / Wild Animals You Should Know

I felt like crap this weekend, but I like to think I can separate that from my opinions about the shows I saw. But, you know, full disclosure and all that.

So, yay for a three-day weekend. And OF COURSE Lisa and I used that to go to New York. Full reviews to come, but I'm tired of being so thoroughly behind, so I'm going to start doing these quick weekend reviews in addition to coming back for full reviews later. So these will be for general impressions and recommendations and then (I hope) I'll be able to go back and dig in for the reviews later.

Anyway, here's what I saw:
First up was the latest offering from Roundabout Underground, a program I really love. This is the group's black box space and they use it to foster young artists. So far their biggest success seems to be Stephen Karam, so a big YAY for that. I really like Speech & Debate, and I love Sons of the Prophet (which started at the Huntington in Boston and is now in Roundabout's Pels theater, their larger off-Broadway space, upstairs from the Underground--so Karam is literally moving up in the world).

Right, so the new Underground show is Suicide, Incorporated. I was achy and exhausted, and the theater was overly warm, so I was not at my best as an audience member. Still, I think the show needs to pick up the pace. I was itching to leave toward the end, even though a couple of the performances are excellent. (HOLY CRAP, James McMenamin.) I think the idea of the play is intriguing: a company that helps people write their suicide notes. It's interesting to think about how companies prey on desperate people, how people can learn the wrong lessons from personal tragedy, and how little effort it might take to nudge someone onto or off of the right track. The play isn't as funny or insightful as it seems to thinks it is, and in addition to the production needing better pacing, the play could use some trimming. Still, not bad, and I'm glad I managed to fit it in (more in retrospect than while I was fidgeting in my overly tall seat).

Then I saw Spring Awakening alumnus Morgan Karr's concert at the newly renovated Joe's Pub. In general, I think I like the new space, though I did not like sitting near the new door to the kitchen, which was louder than it should be. The new bathrooms are plentiful. The whole Public Theater is a mess of construction right now, but I think it's moving in the right direction.

Karr is determined to be a pop star, and he certainly has the voice and the drive for it. He has surrounded himself with talented supporting artists, and he goes balls-to-the-wall out on stage. His songwriting isn't my favorite style, but DAYUM that boy can sing. And he put on a SHOW. So go see him when you get a chance. And his 11:11 wish thing is pretty charming, even though his 11/11/11 show started barely before midnight (not his fault).

Next up was the new musical Bonnie & Clyde. I will have very, very much to nitpick about it. For now, I'll just say that for a show filled with so much shooting, it really misses the mark. (Yeah, I'm sure I'm neither the first nor the last to make that super-lame observation.) It's not bad exactly, but it's not good. I was hoping it would be great or hilariously awful, but it is neither. And it isn't shockingly mediocre the way Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Catch Me if You Can are. It just fails to be good. The sound and projections and costuming and design are excellent. The fault lies with the material. The music is pretty forgettable other than about three good songs. And the entire focus of the show is wrong. There are such talented people up on stage, a famous real-life story, and so much potential relevance in this economic climate and culture of fame worshiping. So it's so disappointing for the musical to be so not right. Alas. Also, Laura Osnes has such a beautiful voice, but this is the third show I've seen her in and SHE CANNOT ACT. Just ... NO.

Rounding out the trip was the new off-Broadway play Wild Animals You Should Know, which I think had just started previews that week. I liked it. The performances are very good, as you would expect from Tony Winner Alice Ripley (Next to Normal) and Patrick Breen (the Normal Heart), but really there isn't a weak link in the cast (plus Jay Armstrong Johnson and John Behlmann are so very, very pretty). There are interesting ideas (alas not particularly well explored). Basically, it's fine off-Broadway fare, but nothing that is likely to stick with me for a long time. And the MCC needs new seats like whoa.

While I was at Suicide, Incorporated, Lisa saw Other Desert Cities and really liked it. I'm looking forward to seeing it next weekend.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Out-of-town adventures

After being MIA (read: in bed, sick) for over a month, I am finally back on the blog. (A)live, from San Diego! I tend to plan much of my continental travel around concerts or theater. So I'm here in this lovely city with my lovely husband to cross a musical off my bucket list: The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O'Brien at the Old Globe.

What makes this adventure even better is that the show stars several actors I love. I'm most excited about the casting for Brad: Kelsey Kurz, whom I loved in Sons of the Prophet in Boston (I'm looking forward to seeing the play again off-Broadway, this time with Santino Fontana in Kurz's role). Janet is Jeanna de Waal, formerly of American Idiot on Broadway. Eddie is Andrew Call, who was fantastic in the American Idiot ensemble and whom I also saw as a St. Jimmy understudy. And the musical's lead attraction, Dr. Frank N. Furter, is Matt McGrath, whom I saw recently in a Pinter play at the Atlantic Theater and who was quite good in the dreadful Nightingale workshop at Powerhouse over the summer.

So I'm very excited to see a new city and a bucket-list musical. More later!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Sometimes I just love a show, flaws and all. This was definitely true of American Idiot (can't wait for the tour) and iHomo (we are in such need of serious conversations about unions right now). And now Itamar Moses's Completeness at Playwrights Horizons, which unfortunately just closed.

It seems so long ago now, but Hurricane Irene scrapped one of our NY weekends. Luckily, Lisa and I were able to reschedule Bluebird (Simon Russell Beale!) and Master Class (Tyne Daly!), but Book of Mormon make-up tickets on a weekend weren't available until December. But that meant I had time to see Completeness. (Lisa got a ticket for the Hair tour instead, and her complaints about Diane Paulus's changes to the show were more entertaining and better thought-out than the production was.)

Wow, did I bury the lede for this review! Completeness is a romance for the XKCD crowd. I wonder if non-science-nerds find this show's jargon off-putting, or if actual computer scientists and microbiologists find the dialogue too scientifically simplistic. I'm in no place to judge that because I work at a university, married an engineer, edit scientific books, and am addicted to theater. Also, I own one of the shirts worn in the show and another one looked familiar. Yeah, Moses wrote this play pretty much for me exactly.

Mostly the science problems as metaphors for relationship dilemmas work very well for me. They are generally on the right line between being obvious and too on-the-nose, and I find the dialogue clever and realistic--and often hilarious. But every once in a while it feels kind of lazy, as though Moses thinks the audience might get lost and/or he just couldn't bother to rewrite it better. But I love the idea of trying to tackle romantic problems the way one would a failed science experiment, where the data from each failure refines the approach to the next iteration. And the opposite idea that we can never truly account for every variable in science or in life. That sometimes we rely on intuition and inspiration and take leaps of faith based on the imperfect information available to us.

At the top of the show, computer science grad student Elliot (Karl Miller) twists his girlfriend's complaints about their relationship into an excuse for ending it so he can pursue the adorable woman he hangs around the computer cluster to stare at awkwardly. Molly (Aubrey Dollar) is a microbiology grad student who flees a romantic relationship with her advisor to take up with Elliot, whom she has also been eyeing from across the computer lab. Science is both an excuse for and method of flirting for them, and those science-heavy speeches are definitely the highlight of the script and where the actors' work shines most.

Miller's performance is a revelation. After the show, I texted my husband to tell him that I fell in love with his stage counterpart--both the character and Miller's performance in the role. I know he's been with the show for a long time (originating the role at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa), and it shows in his completely naturalistic acting. He's the most exciting new-to-me actor I've seen in a long time, and I hope he'll be in many, many more NY productions. Dollar was great with the overly excited, jargony speeches and in the flirty parts. I found her a bit acty at other times, but she is certainly better here than she was in Lucy Thurber's Bottom of the World at Atlantic Stage 2 (also, this is a better play).

The dialogue for the exes is in desperate need of rewriting. Heavy slash-and-burn rewriting. It's really dreadful in both wording and sentiment. Meredith Forlenza and Brian Avers, who play multiple roles in the show, just can't overcome the material they're given as the exes. They are much better as the enticing characters who threaten to break Elliot and Molly up. Also, kudos to them for being so charming that I managed to not groan audibly or throw my program on the floor in disgust during the fourth-wall-breaking idiocy (overly long to boot!) in the second act. Like the terrible cell-phones-in-the-theater diatribe at the beginning of Tony Kushner's iHomo, this scene MUST be deleted in future productions.

I'm so sad that I couldn't get back to the city to see Completeness again. Luckily, I think the play will do well regionally, so I'll probably be able to enjoy it again before too long. In the meantime, I'm on the lookout for the script so I can find out from my CS and bio friends how accurate the scientific descriptions of data crunching algorithms, traveling salesman problem, and trial-and-error with yeast experiments are.

And I'm praying to the theater gods (is there a patron saint for theater-goers?) that Karl Miller will stick around New York because I am completely in love with everything about his performance and need to see him in everything he ever does. Yup, I'm adding him to my bucket list.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Anything Goes

[This is a guest review by Lisa.]

I know Sutton Foster was miscast as Reno Sweeney, but I just can’t bring myself to care. She sings and dances the crap out of Anything Goes, and I’d happily watch her do it again and again. I had wanted to see this show since the moment it was announced, so I was ecstatic when theatre buddy Mel said she was willing to pony up for the good seats. If you can’t tell, I was predisposed to like this show. And from the opening strains of the overture I had a smile on my face that didn’t leave until long after the show ended. (It probably disappeared during the less-uplifting Follies, which we saw that evening.)

There are plot twists, mistaken identities, and hijinks all over the place on the way to a typical everything-works-out happy ending. While Billy is trying to woo Hope from Lord Evelyn, Lord Evelyn becomes enthralled with Reno, who is trying to help Billy woo Hope. Meanwhile Hope’s mother Evangeline is being pursued by Billy’s boss Eli Whitney, but she is busy trying to talk Hope into marry Lord Evelyn. In spite of all of the confusion it’s not actually that hard to follow the plot, and in this Cole Porter show the plot is hardly the point anyway.

As Mel has already stated, when it comes to sexy and edgy, Sutton Foster comes across as neither. She’s cute as a button and looks like she is having the time of her life on stage. Still, she lacks the edge that evangelist turned nightclub singer Reno should have. She was too happy in the opening number, smiling her way through the beginning of I Get A Kick Out of You right after Billy Crocker tells her doesn’t really get a such a kick out of her (as anything more than a friend--but what great friends they are). And I expected more from the seductive Blow Gabriel Blow at the top of Act II. But all of that somehow doesn’t matter. Plus, the title number was AMAZING: Sutton Foster and the rest of the cast sang, danced, and tapped their asses off in a very extended and much appreciated version of the song Anything Goes.

I apparently saw Colin Donnell in the forgettable Johnny Baseball at the A.R.T. last year, and now I’m sad I don’t remember it because his performance in Anything Goes is anything but forgettable. He is absolutely charming as stow-away Billy Crocker who is trying to romance Hope Harcourt out from under Lord Evelyn Oakleigh while pretending to be Public Enemy Number One, all the while avoiding his boss, who thinks he is back in New York. His numbers with Laura Osnes as Hope Hartcourt (Easy to Love, It’s De-lovely, and All Through the Night) are as de-lightful and sweet as his number with Sutton Foster (You’re the Top) is fun. Laura Osnes moves and sings like a Disney princess.

Jessica Stone as Erma is all sass and sexy fun as the not-so-faithful girlfriend of the true Public Enemy Number One and travel companion of Moonface Martin, aka Public Enemy Number Thirteen, in disguise as a minister. Moonface is more caricature than character, but I don’t know if that’s how the character is written or directed or both. In any case, Joel Grey is exceedingly endearing in his portrayal of the hapless guy.

Adam Godley is hilarious as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, the fiance of Hope Harcourt with the secret past who would rather be with Reno. The Gypsy in Me was seriously goofy. John McMartin and new-to-the-show Kelly Bishop as Eli Whitney and Evangeline Harcourt were well cast, although I’d like to see Bishop in something where she has more to do (I loved her as Grandma on the Gilmore Girls). The rest of the ensemble was equally impressive and enjoyable to watch.

This show is just pure fun. Porter has a way with words that makes me giddy and I have happily integrated this cast recording into my rotation of albums I listen to frequently. Kathleen Marshall’s choreography is jaw-droppingly spectacular. Whether there are two people on stage or twenty, the dancing is phenomenal. The costumes by Martin Pakledinaz are wonderful, and I think Foster has more gorgeous outfits for a two-and-a-half-hour show than I would actually take with me on a week-long cruise.

All in all I had a blast at this show and highly recommend going to see Anything Goes.

Rent at the New Rep

I don't like Rent. But I like the New Rep's production of it.

For the pre-Wicked generation, Rent seems to be most people's first musical-theater obsession. Middle-class teens, and the adults they have since become, talk about how the show changed their lives. It seems to have popularized the practice of seeing a production thirty times or more, and it's encouraged newer shows to institute a lottery for a hardcore fanbase among cash-strapped students who would rather spend their money on tickets than on food.

But I don't get it. Sure, some of the songs are lovely (Seasons of Love) or cathartic (Take Me or Leave Me). And there are soundbite messages to inspire (No day but today! Measure your life in love!). And it's always nice when nontraditional, heavy subject matter is wrapped up in musically palatable pieces sung by attractive people so it can be embraced by the masses (here AIDS and addiction; see also mental illness in Next to Normal).

Still, I don't get it. A group of self-obsessed, obnoxious, so-called artists live in squalor, stealing electrical power for their squats from "the man" and generally being useless in the East Village in the early 1990s. Aside from fierce drag queen Angel and her new paramour Collins, there's not a likeable character in the bunch (well, at least Maureen seems to care about the homeless in the tent city, and Joanne is employed even if she is totally p-whipped). But really, for pretty much the entire show (first the movie musical and then on Broadway its closing weekend) I just wanted to punch Mark in the face.

Perhaps if creator Jonathan Larson hadn't died just before its opening there might have been additional changes along the way to strengthen the show. On the other hand, the show also owes much of its success to the mythos of that sad but perfectly-timed news story. So, we're stuck with what we have.

None of this is the New Rep's fault. And to their great credit, I enjoyed the show. Given my dislike for the show in general, I wasn't planning to see this production. But Lisa likes Rent and wanted to go. And when I saw the enticing cast list, I caved and we got tickets. (Thanks, Todd, for the great seats!). This makes I think the fifth show I've seen Danny Bryck in, and aside from that very strange circus-themed collection of performances at the Cambridge YMCA (with the Monkees' Peter Tork in the live band), I've enjoyed them all. And, seriously, I feel sorry for every human on the planet who didn't get to see Bryck as Hedwig. I was also excited to see local star Aimee Doherty as Maureen (I couldn't quite picture it in advance, but she killed in the role--much better than Eden Espinoza on Broadway). And I was happy to see Passing Strange's excellent Eve Kagan and Cheryl D. Singleton again (both wonderful here as well).

Kudos especially to Nick Sulfaro for a shockingly brave performance as Angel. And to John Ambrosino for making me kind of not hate Mark (besting Adam Cantor from Broadway's closing cast). Really the only one not up to snuff was Robert St. Laurence as Roger, who unfortunately is one of the larger parts. Other than him, the entire cast was great, and they sounded so good when they all sang together. Once again, I loved the New Rep's set design (by Kathryn Kawecki). And bravo to director Benjamin Evett for making the show so enjoyable, especially for such a cynical non-Renthead like me. I'm not planning to see the slightly tweaked off-Broadway production, but I do suspect I would like it better in its more intimate home. The huge Broadway stage definitely did not serve this story well.

Rent is playing at the New Rep in Watertown, Mass., through October 2. If you like this musical, I recommend seeing this great production of it.

Edited to add: Lisa just reminded me that the sound for both Passing Strange and Rent were terrible. They need a sound designer stat if they're going to continue to do musicals. The performers and the audience deserve much better. Also, both shows were much whiter than the original casts, which is a shame.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Cripple of Inishmaan (and tour)

Tadhg Murphy and Laurence Kinlan from the tour. Photo by Robert Day.

[Here's a review of a show I saw more than two years ago then again this year on tour. I figured since it's the best thing I've ever seen on stage, I'd better at least say something about it here.]

As you may have noticed, I've seen a ton of shows, by a lot of authors, presented by a bunch of Broadway teams and off-Broadway and regional theater companies. So far this year, I've seen 58 different productions. So I hope it carries some weight when I say that the Atlantic Theater's presentation of the Druid's 2009 production of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Atlantic Theater Company is the best thing I have ever seen on stage.

If you've read any of my previous reviews, you may also have gathered that even when I love a show, I always have at least a few complaints. Not so with Cripple. The production at the Atlantic was flawless in every aspect, from casting to set design to script. I'm so in love with it that I saw it again when ArtsEmerson brought the Druid tour to Boston. It was still excellent (though not perfect), and I'm so glad I got to experience it again.

McDonagh is a fecking brilliant playwright. He may be my favorite playwright, in fact. (I also love the less-violent but also profane Conor McPherson a ridiculous amount.) McDonagh's work is shockingly dark, blisteringly funny, brutal, curse-strewn, and more than a little twisted. (I have still not recovered from reading The Pillowman and cannot even imagine surviving seeing it performed. The Lieutenant of Inishmore is the opposite--it wrecked me when I read it, but on stage I found it more bearable--and very funny.) If you have not seen his brilliant movie In Bruges, go rent it. Now.

This description of Cripple is shamefully stolen from because I am incapable of brevity:
In 1934, the people of Inishmaan learn that the Hollywood director Robert Flaherty is coming to the neighboring island to film a documentary. No one is more excited than Cripple Billy, an unloved boy whose chief occupation has been grazing at cows and yearning for a girl who wants no part of him. For Billy is determined to cross the sea and audition for the Yank. And as news of his audacity ripples through his rumor-starved community, The Cripple of Inishmaan becomes a merciless portrayal of a world so comically cramped and mean-spirited that hope is an affront to its order.
As in all McDonagh works, the characters are ridiculous, outrageous, and oversized but underneath the over-the-top action and bloodshed there are somehow hauntingly human truths about what we need from other people and what they give us (and vice versa). I don't know of another playwright that makes horrible people so vulnerable and horrible situations so funny. Also, the fake-blood budgets for his plays must be enormous!

The entire cast of the Atlantic production was spot-on, but Aaron Monaghan was really completely brilliant as Cripple Billy (Tadhg Murphy was also so, so good in the tour). My heart hurt for him the entire show. (And my ankle had sympathy pains for the way he had to walk. I'm sure there was some sort of costuming trickery with his shoe, but it really did look like he was walking--or shuffling, really--on his ankle for the entire show.) Kerry Condon was also excellent as Slippy Helen, possibly the most difficult of the characters to keep real and even a little bit likable. No, really, everyone in this cast was perfect. And it had brilliant direction by Garry Hynes and charming set design by Francis O'Connor.

I was so disappointed when this didn't transfer to Broadway, as had been rumored. I'm so, so glad I had the chance to revisit it on tour. And I'm very grateful for the kinds of works that ArtsEmerson is bringing to Boston.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Off the hook (Funny Girl, Lysistrata Jones)

Bobby Cannavale; Lauren Ambrose (photo: Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

I'm not a fan of the musical Funny Girl. Well, perhaps that's unfair to say. Maybe the movie is nothing like the stage version (as with Hair). In any case, I'm generally uninterested in seeing the upcoming revival. The gorgeous Lauren Ambrose (excellent in the recent Torchwood: Miracle Day TV series and, of course, on Six Feet Under) seems like a crazy physical choice for the homely Fanny Brice. And my boss, an obsessed opera fan who knows way more about vocal technique than I do, is convinced Ambrose can't sing the role. But I love her and the idea was interesting enough that I thought I might force myself to see the show.

But now they've cast Bobby Cannavale as Nicky Arnstein, so I'm off the hook. I didn't like him in either of the plays I've seen (Trust at Second Stage and The Motherfucker with the Hat on Broadway), and I'm even less interested in his singing. So, yay, there's one bound-to-be-pricey show that I don't have to fit into my budget and schedule. I am very much looking forward to the reviews, though.

I also plan to skip Lysistrata Jones because I get enough antifeminism in real life. I mean, have you seen the ad? I just ... I'll have to rant about that in a separate message. For now, behold this stunning (in a bad way) spot they're using to try to sell tickets. #doingitwrong

Monday, August 29, 2011

Broadway voices I want to marry

I guess I'm procrastinating some of my real reviews and indulging my fangirl obsessions here. It's the Monday after a hurricane, so cut me some slack.

Broadway voices I would hetero marry if I could, just so I could have them sing to me every day:***
* Skylar Astin
* Declan Bennett (
* Gerard Canonico
* Gavin Creel (
* Raúl Esparza (
* Michael Esper (
* Joshua Henry
* Christopher Jackson (
* Brian d'Arcy James (
* Morgan Karr (
* Justin Levine (
* Bryce Ryness (
* James Snyder (
* Aaron Tveit

Broadway voices I would gay marry if I could:
* Uzo Aduba
* Kate Baldwin (
* Laura Benanti (
* Heidi Blinkenstaff
* Andréa Burns (
* Rose Hemingway
* Arielle Jacobs (
* Rebecca Naomi Jones
* Kelli O'Hara (
* Christina Sajous
* Josefina Scaglione
* Elizabeth Stanley
* Alysha Umphress (
* (Holly Brook - not on Broadway yet, but she sang in the Whisper House musical at Powerhouse and at the Old Globe in San Diego, and I hope the show--with her in it--comes to NYC) (

Broadway married voices that I would travel back in time to double marry in Utah:
* Tony Vincent ( and Aspen Miller Vincent (

I know the list is heavy with people from Spring Awakening, American Idiot, and In the Heights. I think that's a large part of why I kept going back to those shows over and over, rather than the list being biased by my love for the shows, but a fangirl can't really be objective about such matters.

What do you think? Do you think some of my choices are crazy? Am I crazy for leaving off some of your favorites?

*** I don't want to marry the people. Some of them I probably wouldn't even enjoy talking to. But I am head-over-heels for their voices.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Scott Brown (the critic, not the Masshole)

Ok. This is the funniest thing I've read in a really long time. It's unfortunate that theater critic Scott Brown shares a name with my hated U.S. Senator, but the guy can't help that. He can, however, put new playwright Zach Braff's whiny friend (aka Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence) in his place quite hilariously.

Scott Brown's Response:

Dear Bill,

I do, in fact, wear a monocle. Not by choice.

At 6, I contracted a rare eye disease that left me half-blind and hideous. The monocle helps correct my eyesight — but, unfortunately, not my revolting deformity. Also, I'm told I give off a Lovecraftian fetor that makes women swoon, and not in the I-am-now-having-an-orgasm way.

Ack! "Lovecraftian fetor"! See, there I go again. Sometimes I try to compensate for my "mutilation" (my mother's little term of art for my disability) by using big words and too many hyphens. It's a defense mechanism. I can't say it's improved my love life much — you certainly nailed that one. Twice a year, I pay a blindfolded prostitute wearing a respirator to service me. (And she's not as funny as Anna Camp. In fact ... I've never seen her smile! That might just be the respirator, though.)

The rest of the year, I pour my frustrations into my reviews and my secret desk-drawer mystery novel, The Killing Pun: A Harlan Grantham* Theater Mystery! Which I would be honored if you'd read. (Sorry to impose! I know you must get this all the time, but it's not often I rub elbows with powerful television producers!)

This is all pretty personal stuff, and difficult to talk about. But I'm glad you brought it up. I believe that intelligent, open dialogue heals all wounds — perhaps even my rancid ocular cavity. I'm so glad this didn't degenerate into snark.



P.S.: I'm sorry I didn't like your friend's play.

To fully enjoy its brilliance, you have to read backward to Lawrence's complaint letter and the original review that prompted the whining. (I also don't think Braff's play is great, though Brown and I disagree on where it goes wrong, and I don't spend nearly as much space ragging on Garden State.)

As I mentioned before (in reference to Vassar/NY Stage & Film's request for Internet silence regarding their productions including The Nightingale and Nero), the New York Times has invited guest columnists to contribute to its Theater Talkback series this summer on a variety of theater-related issues (including what good can come from bad reviews, whether audiences should boo, and if preshow announcements should be nixed). I'm really enjoying the discussions so far.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

All New People,com_plays/task,viewPlay/id,147

(Justin Bartha and David Wilson Barnes. Photo by Joan Marcus.)

All New People is a new play by Scrubs star Zach Braff, who also wrote and directed the indie-darling movie Garden State. I'm not sure if he picked the songs, but both the movie and the play do have killer music, which might be the best that can be said of them. This odd black comedy starts out with the fantastic Justin Bartha standing on a chair, with his head in an electrical-cord noose, smoking a cigarette--and finding it difficult to reach the ashtray.

That scene is excellent, but it's probably the best in the play, and it has only one character and no dialogue. Can you see where I'm going with this? Well, anyway, he's then interrupted by Krysten Ritter as a flighty British (*cough*) expat who is there to show the off-season beach house to a potential renter. Hijinx are then heavily contrived to ensue. I will be extremely vague about the plot here because it's clear that the play relies heavily on the surprises it can keep.

Let me start at the end, when Anna Camp, as an escort and aspiring music star, breaks out a ukelele and sounds very lovely singing along. (Braff really does use music well.) Camp was great as the cult leader's wife on True Blood a while back, but the writing for her part here--and therefore her performance of it--aims for Brittany on Glee and never quite gets there. Ritter's slightly less dense character is a bit better written but still not believable, and her accent is embarrassingly, distractingly bad. (It was a bit better in the filmed flashback, but the difference between the two was another distraction.) And I did not in any way believe her character's backstory. In fact, I find the play's flippancy toward the topic is fairly offensive.

The guys in this show, however, are excellent and really elevate the mediocre material. Although the plot just doesn't hold, every interaction between Justin Bartha and David Wilson Barnes is absolutely riveting, and they ground the goofy characters so well that it's like they're in an entirely different (good) play than when the women are involved. It's likely that the male characters are just better written. But, also, their wordless moments are the best of the play, and to me that's the mark of excellent acting.

Right, so ... the play. It's ... hmm ... funny at times. But the sight gags are predictable. On the other hand many of the jokes come out of nowhere and seem shoehorned in. Plus the airhead-escort bit gets old really, really quickly, especially when the other female character is also a ditz. And it's unconvincing that all of the characters end up in the same place together to begin with, much less remain there together given the circumstances. When the central premise bringing the characters together is shaky, it's hard to be invested in the action.

The fire chief/drug dealer, played by Barnes, is clearly there to be entertained, so I actually believed his character would hang around. He is playing probably the most chaotic, unpredictable character, and (stupid backstory aside) that makes his staying there the most believable in many ways. (I refuse to believe if an escort is told she can keep the money and NOT work that she'd stay, even if the client were Justin Bartha.) And Barnes's performance is certainly the highlight of the show--even better when he and the wonderfully beleaguered Bartha interact. I hope to see them both in a million other productions.

The ending is bland. I don't know. It just all feels a bit pointless and much of the dialogue seems trite. I love black comedy, with the darkness and humor being good counterpoints, but that's a precarious balance. And I love silly slapstick, but then it needs to give up on any pretense of depth. Plus, I hate when shows include their title in the dialogue. ("So you're all astronauts on some sort of ... star trek?")

This review ended up being much more negative than I expected when I started writing it. I suppose Peter DuBois must have directed the hell out of this script to make it so enjoyable at the time, as it all seems to fall apart on further reflection. I had a good enough time while I was watching it--thanks mostly to the absolutely perfect Bartha and Barnes and, to be fair, some truly hilarious lines. But it's only two weeks later and already the show is mostly gone from my memory, and what I can remember makes me angry.

I ran into someone there who had seen All New People multiple times. I seriously have no idea why.

But have I mentioned how wonderful Bartha and Barnes are? ;)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Talls,com_plays/task,viewPlay/id,151

(Gerard Canonico and Shannon Esper. Photo by Joan Marcus.)

I laughed so hard when I saw The Talls in its first weekend at Second Stage Uptown that I had to go back after it opened--and I dragged Lisa with me. She didn't love it as much as I did, and I didn't laugh nearly as much the second time around. That's not to say that the play got worse, though.

In some ways, the show was much better. The first time, I found the play hilarious but a bit lacking in feeling (even though it deals with a tragedy), and now it seems to have found a better emotional balance. I found Christa Scott-Reed's ice queen with a heart of woe much more affecting this time around. And though quite too old for the part, Michael Oberholtzer has really settled into his role as the obnoxious but secretly sweet brother. Sadly, Lauren Holmes has not improved. In addition to looking too old, she doesn't make a convincing teenager with her acting either. And her main method of emoting seems to be to whine, pout, and squint her eyes. Peter Rini is really quite excellent in a nothing role; the playwright seems to have forgotten about his character, much as the grieving wife has.

As the central character, I wanted a bit more from Shannon Esper. She certainly looks believable as a high school senior. And she was great with the humor. But--and this may very well be mostly a problem with the script--I didn't find her arc quite believable. Her annoyance and rebellious streak certainly rang true, but something felt missing in her tender moments with her mother. Again, that might just be some clunky writing she couldn't quite overcome.

Timothee Chalamet continues to steal the show, bringing endless adorkable charm to what is a strangely written character. (I've never been a preteen boy, but I find it hard to believe that one would ever WANT to see his sister kiss someone, much less go farther.) This time I couldn't tell if he was creepily focused on his sister, the guest, or just the idea of sex. Gerard Canonico's performance as a young, ambitious (and, ok, short) campaign manager is wonderful. I found his transition from uptight chaperone to seduced to seducer much more believable than in previews. While I am completely in love with his singing voice, his performance here and as Moritz in Spring Awakening have been achingly real. While I'd love for him to sing to me every day forever, I definitely look forward to seeing him do more straight plays too.

This play, by Anna Kerrigan, is pretty good off-Broadway fare. I suspect that she owes much to Carolyn Cantor's direction to cover up some script flaws. A little fluffy, perhaps, but the show delivers on the laughs and has some depth. I'd check out her other work. The costume design and set are fantastic. I really have loved all the Second Stage Uptown shows I've seen, though their mainstage shows have been improving too.

Sorry for the inelegant review lacking in humor. The Talls closes this Saturday (Aug. 27), and I want to finish this before then. Go see this play. It's worth seeing for Canonico and Chalamet's performances alone.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

These divas leave me cold (Follies, Anything Goes)

Lisa and I saw Follies and Anything Goes weekend before last, so we experienced several big-name or up-and-coming divas: Bernadette Peters (who was on my bucket list), Elaine Paige, Jan Maxwell, Sutton Foster, Laura Osnes. Overall, the experience made me sad.

Anything Goes is a great time: everyone looks like they're having a blast; there's an insane tap number that is just jaw-dropping; and Sutton Foster is clearly in love with the show. Still, although I had fun, I didn't love it. Part of the problem is that Foster seems completely wrong for the part. I mean, based on off-stage videos (like in the hilarious Side by Side with Susan Blackwell), she is probably excellent to have a few beers with. I'm sure she knows hilarious jokes, probably rude ones. And the girl can sing and dance. She works hard and has fun and I just don't buy her as the risqué, sex-on-legs Reno Sweeney. Her number at the top of Act II in the nightclub fell flat because of it. (The Tony voters clearly disagreed.)

AG was the second time I'd seen Foster on stage. Previously, she failed to convince me as a dominatrix in the Second Stage play Trust. I firmly believed she'd yell at and beat the hell out of her clients if they so wished. I did not believe that she'd be at all erotic while doing so. She's a pretty girl, but something about her just comes off as too goofy to be sexy. Alas.

Back to AG, Laura Osnes has a beautiful singing voice, and when she dances it's like she's floating above the floor. Seriously, I have no idea how she moves so smoothly or sings so effortlessly. Stunning. She should not, however, be allowed to open her mouth except to sing in this show. Her acting is so acty and her line deliveries remind me of high school plays. *sigh* And I was rooting for her. I actually voted for her in that terrible Grease casting show on NBC back in 2007. (In fact, I owe my current Broadway obsession to that--as I've said, awful--show.) I saw her in the terrible production of Grease on Broadway that followed. I was so happy, and impressed, when she took over for Kelli O'Hara in South Pacific (though I didn't see the show until closing, when O'Hara was back). And I'm glad for her that she's getting the chance to originate a role on Broadway, though I think the Bonnie & Clyde musical will be truly dreadful. What I'm saying is that I was rooting for her. But every time she talks--so earnest and so forced--it kills my theater-loving soul a little bit. I thought it was just a problem with that completely charmless (and toothless) Grease revival but her acting was really bad in both it and AG. (Perhaps with the better direction and better material of South Pacific she was fine. She certainly got good reviews for it.)

So, after filling up on post-show Belgian fries at BXL across the street from AG, we saw Follies. (It was still in previews, but it did have a recent out-of-town tryout in D.C.) This is a Sondheim musical, and one that I loved at Boston's Lyric Stage a few seasons ago. So it was the fall production I had been most excited for. I expected to still love the show itself, and I've wanted to see Bernadette Peters on stage since I first saw the video of Sunday in the Park with George oh so long ago. Oh, well. I could not be more disappointed. I don't care a whit about her Sally Durant. Her little-girl voice grates. And her singing voice isn't that impressive. Mostly, I can't see why anyone would have an affair with or marry (and, indeed stayed married to) that simpleton who is completely lacking in charisma or passion, other than her obsession with Ben. *snore* And I don't remember feeling that way, that complete lack of compassion for Sally, with the Lyric's production (possibly because Leigh Barrett is absolutely perfect, always).

Jan Maxwell, on the other hand ... HOLY! Why would anyone cheat on her Phyllis? Brilliant, witty, not preserved-within-an-inch-of-her-life. And HER VOICE! And her dancing! And her acting! And, just, everything about her performance was stunning. Despite the accent, I liked Grams Mary Beth Peil, too, but Solange is such a minor part. Other than Elaine Paige's fantastic I'm Still Here and Jayne Houdyshell being generally amazing at all times, I really didn't care what happened in the show except when Maxwell was on. And wow, is she ON. Overall, I'm sad that I didn't like the show more in general. I remember feeling in love with the musical itself the first time around. Now I think I probably never need to see it again. That can't be entirely Peters's fault, of course.

Anyway, I must be a terrible Sondheim fan and a diva-hater because I am out of love with Follies and did not enjoy Gypsy. And Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, and Sutton Foster all leave me cold (well, ok, LuPone was perfect in Company). If Peters takes a Tony Award over Maxwell, I will throw things at my TV.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Matt and Ben at Central Square Theater

[I'm not able to see Matt & Ben before it closes this weekend, so I'm very glad to have this guest review from Lisa, my frequent partner in crime. Very frequent this month, actually: We're going to NYC together the next three weekends.]

A script falls from the sky. Hilarity ensues!

Cambridge native Mindy Kaling (best known for her role on The Office) and coauthor Brenda Withers have created a fantastically funny play showing a might-have-been version of the pre-fame friendship of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, complete with phone calls to Casey and flashbacks to high school.

There are surprise special guests, an awesome fight scene, and more in this alternate universe. The two aspiring stars are spending the day in Ben’s Somerville apartment trying to work on a script when their lives are suddenly changed forever. The friends are actually working on “adapting” another script when Good Will Hunting literally falls into their lives. This leaves them to struggle with questions about everything from their friendship to their careers to what to do with Good Will Hunting when it suddenly appears and then won't leave.

Marianna Bassham and Philana Mia are brilliant as the not-too-bright but naturally charismatic Ben and the overly studious and much more driven Matt. Aside from a few points where the script lags a bit, this show is great fun.

Matt & Ben plays through Sunday, Aug. 14 at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

Also, David Schwimmer looks like a mushroom! (It’s worth going to the show just so you’ll know what that means.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bucket list, part II

Earlier I gave you the list of performers I want to see at least once in my lifetime. Here is my list of shows I want to see, sooner rather than later. (I'm sure I'm overlooking many important works, of course, so this list is a work in progress. Feel free to make suggestions!)

Shows and playwrights I've never seen but really need to:
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (love Carson McCullers--no idea if this is any good as a play, but I want to see it)
Damn Yankees
The Rocky Horror Show
Thoroughly Modern Millie

Bertolt Brecht
Anton Chekhov done well [I have high hopes for the Lyric Theatre production in Belfast]
Eugene O'Neill (It doesn't count that I've spent a lot of time at his theater.)
August Wilson

NOT on my list:
Les Misérables
The Phantom of the Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber's entire oeuvre (but I AM going to see Ricky Martin in Evita--SHUT UP. I have a soft spot for Menudo and for that show.)

Shows I've already seen (NYC or regional) but want to see again:
Altar Boyz
American Idiot (but probably only with the original choreography--YAY FOR THE TOUR!)
Black Watch (heartbreaking, but I could watch it over and over)
Billy Elliot (though preferably in London with decent accents)
A Chorus Line (my first Broadway show, and still one of my all-time favorites)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (with John Cameron Mitchell, if possible)
Inherit the Wind
Man of La Mancha
The Music Man
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Sweeney Todd
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

NOT on my list:
Act II of Sunday in the Park with George

(Click below for a list of people whose work I love and want to see more from.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Go see The Talls,com_plays/task,viewPlay/id,151

I went to New York last weekend and only saw one play (Anna Kerrigan's The Talls at Second Stage Uptown) and one concert (Declan Bennett at Rockwood Stage 1). All that extra time should have given me plenty of time to write my review for The Talls, but as the show was still in its first week and I don't want to nitpick while it's in previews, I'm going to wait to review it after I see it again in a couple of weeks.

Since it's a short run and I'm tired of only recommending shows after they close, I just wanted to pop in to say how much fun I had at this play. As the youngest sibling of the very tall Clarke family, Timothee Chalamet steals the show, with both the best dialogue and the most hilarious delivery. Gerard Canonico (still the shortest actor in the cast even though Chalamet is just a high school junior) and (the much taller) Shannon Esper are delightfully awkward together, both physically and emotionally.

I laughed embarrassingly loudly during this show and spent much of the 80 minutes with a hand clamped over my mouth. Sure, it's broad comedy, but it has heart--and great 1970s-era costumes. If a bit of fluff and a belly laugh is what you're looking for, head up to 76th Street and see The Talls this month.

(This ended up being an accidentally Idiotic weekend. Canonico did his two shows at Second Stage then headed downtown to Rockwood to play drums for Bennett's CD-release show for the excellent Record:Breakup. The band also included his American Idiot pals Chase Peacock on bass and Jared Stein on piano. Sometimes my theater world feels very small. And that's just fine with me.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Quick hits 1

My longer list of shows I've seen this year obviously includes shows that have closed. And there are a ton of productions I saw this year that I haven't gotten around to reviewing yet (plus shows I saw in past years that are still running). I do hope to double back to them.

In the meantime, here are my brief impressions of shows I've seen that are still running, in case you're looking for recommendations of shows to see (or to avoid). I'm just going from the lists of Broadway and off-Broadway shows at If no dates are given, the show's run is open-ended.

Avenue Q - off-Broadway (not for the easily offended, but smart and hilarious)
Billy Elliot - Broadway (not for those who care about accurate British accents, but heartwarming with great music and dancing)

Anything Goes - Broadway
Sons of the Prophet - off-Broadway - currently scheduled for Sept. 20 through Dec. 23

Blue Man Group - off-Broadway (weird and fun)
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying - Broadway
Jerusalem - Broadway - closes Aug. 21 (heavy, but Mark Rylance's Tony-winning performance is definitely worth seeing)
Silence! The Musical - off-Broadway - currently extended through Sept. 24 (not for the easily offended, or for people who don't remember the movie well, but so much fun)
The Talls - off-Broadway - closes Aug. 27 (I laughed so hard and so often that I was embarrassed and had to clamp my hands over my mouth at times)

All New People - off-Broadway - closes Aug. 14
Follies - Broadway - closes Dec. 30
Rock of Ages - Broadway (fun if you like that kind of music, and really much better than I expected)
Wicked - Broadway (quite a spectacle; I saw this on tour in Boston not on Broadway, so take from that what you will; a good time, but with all the hype I was a bit disappointed)

Catch Me if You Can - Broadway
Hair - Broadway (tour) - closes Sept. 10 (not my favorite songs, and I wish it had more of a story and developed characters, but the wall of sound created by so many voices is quite impressive, so if you like the music, this might be for you)
Priscilla, Queen on the Desert - Broadway
War Horse - Broadway/London's National Theatre

Bluebird - off-Broadway - currently scheduled for Aug. 9 through Sept. 9
The Book of Mormon
Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling - off-Broadway - currently scheduled for Sep. 9 through Oct. 23
The Lyons - off-Broadway - currently "scheduled" for September through November
Master Class - Broadway - closes Sept. 4
Once - off-Broadway - currently scheduled for Nov. 15 through Jan. 1
Porgy and Bess - Boston pre-Broadway tryout Aug. 17 through Oct. 2 - currently scheduled to start on Broadway Dec. 17
The Submission - off-Broadway - currently scheduled for Sept. 8 through Oct. 22