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.


  1. I saw Bonnie & Clyde in Sarasota. I loved Laura in it & I think that she's truly shine when it comes to Broadway.

  2. I know Sutton Foster was miscast but she was so amazing I just can't bring myself to care! I would absolutely go see AG again. Sadly I can not say the same for Follies

  3. Vi, have no fear. I will definitely be going to see Bonnie & Clyde, if only for the laughs. Perhaps it will win me over, though.

    And Lisa, I am totally up for seeing Anything Goes again once the cast changes.

  4. I saw the Lyric Stage Follies, too! It was my introduction to the musical and I really enjoyed it, although at first I couldn't figure out what was going on in Act II.

    I'd like to see Anything Goes but I'm not the biggest Sutton Foster fan. I've seen her 3 times - I also saw Trust, as well as Young Frankenstein and Shrek. I was underwhelmed all 3 times.

    Btw, I saw Jayne Houdyshell in a play, The Receptionist, and she was a hoot. She'd be one of the reasons I'd like to see Follies.

  5. Was Josh Charles in The Receptionist? I wanted to see that, but never managed to.

    I had no interest in Shrek, even with Brian d'Arcy James, whom I love. Not so much with Young Frankenstein, either. I'm not sure she can be blamed for those. But, yeah, I think I'm just not really a fan. (I must say, a belching ogre actually seems like the goofy kind of part that would be a good fit. But the material sounded awful.)

    Have you seen Leigh Barrett in many Boston shows? I'm in love with her as a performer, and I hate that I've missed so many opportunities to see her!