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: