nohway

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2022 at 8:17 pm

What is one of the happiest experiences possible in life? For me,  it is the sight and sound of 1,900 people all conjoined in a special place called musical comedy heaven, everyone rapturously beaming away in the darkness, febrilely attuned to every clever line or lyric,  laughing with total abandon and wafted to an opulent  paradise of  entertainment.  It is, really, the rarest of events, when somehow all the different elements of book, songs, performers, director and design meld into a thrilling whole, with the air in Times square positively crackling with excitement from a preview of  “The Producers,” or either of the last two “Kiss Me Kate” or “She Loves Me” Broadway revivals, “Hamilton,” of course, and, earlier this year, “A Strange Loop.” 

To that privileged short list, add the  revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which after the briefest of runs as an Encores! Production, was so deliriously received that it was transferred to Boadway’s St. James Theater. For we, once ink-stained, now laptop tapped-out wretches who sometimes feel, like the adage says, that we really should have been more careful, with that wish we all shared to be, at least,  a small  observational part of New York theater because so much of it just blows, this revival was a particular godsend after suffering through three resuscitations of shows which by all rights, should have been nothing but delightful – Company, Funny Girl, The Music Man – and were anything but. 

However, this time, this show,. brilliantly directed by Lear DeBessonet, with a heavy lean into the comic aspects of the work, thoroughly mined by a sterling mix of the  finest musical comedy performers in the world, has definitely provided that special kick to a lucky summer audience.  Besides making it an almost non-stop laugh-fueled comedy bonanza, hands down the FUNNIEST show on Broadway, the actors also get full, soaringly thrilling value out of Sondheim’s rich score, and manage to artfully improve the clever but incessantly arch Lapine book, in the process.

Julia “A Star is Born” Lester‘s corrosively funny Red Riding Hood is a literal scream; Gavin Creel and Joshua Henry are an ideally cast pair of patrician dicks as the two princes;  the blessedly ever-employed, always endearing Annie Golden lives up to her surname, as she always has, no matter the show, playing the parts of devoured Grandma, Cinderella’s sage mom in a tree, and the Giant’s scary-ass wife. David Patrick Kelly’s ingratiating clowning actually makes something bearable of the usually unbearably smug narrator/Mysterious Man). I have always found the show only glibly funny at best, but everybody here found their comedic sweet spot and made the whole thing a very melodic, veritable laugh riot. And, although I have always found the dramatic side of this show to be synthetic and dismayingly preachy, I found myself catching my breath at the heartbreaking urgency Patina Miller, quite spectacular here as The Witch, brought to her fraught encounter with her daughter, Rapunzel (Alysia Velez ),  moved by the Everyman soulfulness Brian D’arcy James embodied as The Baker (his choir boy face, a definite asset) and wondering if Sara Bareilles may possibly have been just a little better than the brilliant Joanna Gleason, doing her 11 o’clock number “Moments in the Woods.”

And, finally what this revival had that no other –  and I am also including the original production – possessed was a plethora of beauty to be gazed upon. By this,I don’t mean David Rockwell’s attractive but minimal set design, although I will give it to Andrea Hood’s  wonderfully observed and very performance-savvy costumes, which included a few absolute knockouts. The beauty I am really referring to is that of the actors, themselves, in a cast that is remarkable for its blessedly diverse individuality. The soul-satisfying visual magic is in the soaring cheekbones of Philipa Soo’s charmingly flatfooted Cinderella, forever tumbling to the floor in a glorious welter of burnished orange tulle.It’s in the way Joshua Henry so strappingly fits into his Prince’s dashing mufti, and when Miller’s impassioned Witch makes her sleek-haired glamorous transformation, poured into a dazzling purple brocade pant-dress, I literally gasped at her entrance because, with that SICK body of hers, and the way she insinuated it across the stage, always in hyperactive motion because of all the things she frustratingly needs and wants, she is unquestionably the most beautiful woman on the planet. Velez brings more graceful loveliness in a knockout pink chiffon frock, with her every lyrical,  lilting vocal emission. Her warbling, in that mythically high tower with her mythically long hair,  is also amusing in the way that, whenever Miller hears her daughter’s voice, wafting through the woods, the mother in her is, hilariously, instantly transfixed by the sound, as she sways in time to lilt. 

The visual felicity of the show, as well as its alchemic efficacy reaches its apex in the astonishingly expressive handsomeness of the extraordinary Kennedy Kanagawa, who is Milky White the Cow or, more accurately, the eminently skilled  puppeteer who manipulates her. The luminously droll enchantment of the show seems almost encompassed in him, starting with the wonderful free notion of child’s play with a puppet, on his part, to begin with, as well as that necessary suspension of belief on our, the audience’s part, to even believe in and accept the admittedly quite brilliant contraption he wields to such sublime effect. It’s really a double performance, for this cow and her manipulator both react simultaneously to varying events and people throughout the play. The physical and emotional harmoniousness of this is endearingly funny, but funnier still is what happens when they disagree in their reactions and the meta mutual shock and hilarity ensuing from that evokes Michael Redgrave, at his greatest in Dead of Night, playing that legendary  ventriloquist who goes mad after completely losing control over the  abusive puppet upon which his very livelihood depends. 

Redgrave was never more extraordinary, electrifying, really, then, in that, and so is Kanagawa now in this, giving, truly, one of the greatest, most unique displays of stage  mastery I expect I will ever see. The young actor had, amazingly, never done puppetry before and to say he took to it like a duck to water seems almost paltry in light of his near-holy commitment to this art, and the inarguable holiness of the results, where you see great acting and great puppetry seamlessly combined. The one essential thing which Kanagawa must have possessed, going in,  was the most exquisitely unerring timing, evident in the way he whips Milky White around the stage in the heat of many a fraught dramatic moment and then brings her to a sudden halt, with a cocked neck and quizzical eyes,as if to say: “Okay, what now?”

Even that adorable cow, designed by James Ortiz possesses the uncanny beauty I mentioned, which overflows from this Into the Woods, and is all the more awe-inspiring for the way the many who possess it seem unconscious of it; there is no preening from this cast, of actors, no less! Indeed, how could they have the time for it, as this show is constantly on the move, with Kanagawa the most active, I’m sure, with his double beauty duty.

Zeroing in on the particular splendor he brings to an already overloaded table of gorgeousness, is the intriguing way he, always in service to the text, is so blindingly versatile, going from an unimaginably diverse expressiveness of every possible human (or cow) emotion, to , during the show’s rare, more serene moments of calm, with his udderly delightful charge finally at rest, a quite rapturous, somnolent deadpan which evoked no less than the incomparable beauty of the young Buster Keaton to me, appropriate as this performance is also a silent one. 

Suddenly Rob McClure is Seymour (with a luxury assist from Christian Borle)

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2022 at 3:22 pm

Rob McClure has been a modern-day musical comedy treasure for some time now and I wanted to catch him in the long-running revival of Little Shop of Horrors at the West Side Theater. He did not disappoint, serving up great musical chops, hilarious physical comedy and a special quality he has always had that no amount of stage success or schooling can buy – his innately deep humanity. That is, perhaps his greatest and most essential gift of all to the role of Seymour, the nebbishy florist who finally finds success when he cultivates Audrey 2, a uniquely mammoth specimen of flora which, unbeknownst to all but Seymour, demands human blood for it to thrive. 

The carnivorous weed, impressively gargantuan and every color of the rainbow, becomes a media sensation and suddenly customers are flocking to the once moribund tiny shop owned by crotchety Mr. Mushnick, who adopted the orphan Seymour as a child.  The new star of the store is named after Audrey, his sexy co-worker, and also  the woman Seymour secretly loves, played by  another longtime New York musical favorite Tammy Blanchard, who was so sidesplitting funny as the cluelessly imperious bimbo in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, breathes fulsome life into this rather noxiously underwritten part in lyricist Howard Ashman‘s book, based on the Roger Corman 1960 horror potboiler which featured a very young Jack Nicholson in a minor role. Blanchard endows Audrey with her full arsenal of urban moxie and casual voluptuousness, as well as her own distinctive rubber-limbed farcical wizardry, moving across the stage at times with seemingly every arm and leg splayed out in different directions, and then there’s her rousing huge belt of a voice (which puts over her songs, the winsome Somewhere That’s Green and the anthemic Suddenly Seymour, in such a way as to shake the rafters of this intimate theater). There actually exists today a few physically gifted actresses in comedy, in the honorable tradition of Lucy and rangy laugh hunter Rosalind Russell, plus all those silent screen comediennes who soundlessy spoke with their hyperactive Jazz Age flapper bodies like Colleen Moore, Bebe Daniels, Constance Talmadge, Clara Bow and Marion Davies… and then there is Blanchard, whose ANKLES can expressively tell a story. With her own earthy likability, she and McClure have a quirkily convincing chemistry which goes a long way in putting over this show, which has always been half semi-delicious diversion and half too dark and weird, a real bummer by its end, as tragedy after tragedy befalls the cast.  

Blanchard, indeed, has her work cut out for her because if any show tried to promote a heroine like Audrey today, rather than in 1982, the year of its inception, its cancellation would be imminent, provided it even got produced in the first place.. For Audrey has basically one single component to her human makeup – she’s a victim. And, one could surmise, a masochist, the master of her fate being her boyfriend Orin, this creep of a sadistic dentist, who is responsible for the bruises and black eye she tries to conceal at work. Besides that roaring monster Audrey 2, which would have frightened the pee out me as a kid, it’s another aspect of Little Shop which really prevents it from being the adorable, family-friendly show it’s often touted to be by its various producers over the years. To put it bluntly, Audrey is no kind of leading lady I would like to expose my young daughter to – if I had one-and the fanciful musical comedy  context, where anything goes and even bad things can be softened into the dippily unreal, isn’t sufficient cushioning or adequate justification for her upsetting moments of being a human punching bag for Orin, thereby putting the show in the same dubious light as Carousel which, for all its great music, still posits a perpetual -if doomed – wife-beater, Billy Bigelow, as its hero.

As that horrible dentist, Christin Borle, in a bit of luxury casting, finds the perfect showcase for his trademark frenetic energy, amusingy playing a slew of other characters as well. His deadly encounter with McClure’s Seymour is a definite, if grisly, highlight of the show with two physically adept and attuned stage farceurs at the top of their game, performing this nastiness with the perfect skill and aplomb of some legendary comic duo (which, come to think of it, they come mighty close to being here). It becomes delirious, ever more gruesome fun, as they hectically try to outdo/kill each other in song and schtick, until Borle eventually succumbs to an interminable laughing fit on too much nitrous oxide, finally kicking the bucket after a few self-indulgent false alarms, in the most hysterically protracted, over the top death scene I have ever witnessed on any stage. Earlier, in the show,too, he was very funny as a dizzy lady customer, capturing a certain type of NYC deep-pocketed dingbat, forever ostentatiously window shopping or browsing, but rarely ever buying anything, to perfection.  

Aaron Arnell Harrington gives thunderously unnerving voice to the ravenous Audrey 2, here a skillfully manipulated large-scale plant puppet, with the jaws of death snapping shut tightly over her  sundry victims. I did enjoy the more lighthearted first half, but I guess I had forgotten just how dark this show becomes in the second with its nihilistic violence, revengeful plotting and surfeit of death taking over. The book’s dank underbelly dominates the final scenes, as that media interest in Audrey 2 begets financial success for both Seymour and the shop, while the plant’s wacko power and influence over our hapless, helpless hero burgeons, devastatingly claiming almost as many crucial victims by the end of the show as Hamlet, with its corpse-covered finale. The climax is a too facile and edgy nightmare of world domination – reflective of the paranoia of the 1950s over Communists, the atomic bomb, space invaders, you name it, when the original film was made – in the hands, or should I say leaves, of Audrey 2, who never met a man she didn’t like (to eat). The finale feels random and rushed, also quite cold and callous, closing things out on a particularly grim and sour note.  

Stuart Zagnit gives a competent if none too original performance as a stock Mr. Mushnik, and, while the three young ladies (Khalifa White, Cristina Rae and Khadija Sankoh) who form the girl group-like Greek chorus, a notion handily revived for Hairspray, bring a ton of energetic spirit to the proceedings, at this unbridled point in a long run, they often bring it so vigorously and variously, that they sometimes seem to be performing in three different shows.

MUSIC MAN? MORE CHORUS BOY!

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2022 at 2:03 pm

The Music Man, now playing at the venerable Winter Garden theater marks this season’s third underwhelming revival of a long-beloved Broadway musical. It originally opened in 1957 and was immediately embraced for the triumphant performance of its veteran star, Robert Preston, and, more lastingly, the genius of book writer, composer and lyricist Meredith Wilson on  mean spiritedness. His bracingly original and enduring songs ran the gamut from deliciously pointed satire regarding small town meanness (“Iowa Stubborn,” “Pick a Little Talk-a-Little”) to soaring romance (‘Till there was You’, “Goodnight My Someone”) to the most rousing anthems (“Wells Fargo Wagon,” and, of course, “76 Trombones”). Into many of them, Wilson incorporated an innovation derived from the German tradition of sprechesang (to sing and talk), which Lerner and Loewe had employed in My Fair Lady for Henry Higgins’ diatribes against women and improperly spoken English, largely to accommodate Rex Harrison’s limited vocal ability. Wilson went much further in this style, fully embracing it for Preston’s invigorating showpiece “Ya Got Trouble”, as well as the rhythmically delightful opening rouser for the salesmen on a train,  “Rock Island”, the lasting effects of which can be discerned in today’s hiphop/rap music.  

Anticipation for this show ran high before it opened, as its evergreen freshness, alluring nostalgia for a simpler, “nicer” and serene time, complete family friendliness and two adored  Broadway superstars, Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, seemed the perfect antidote for the darkness of guns, war, disease and hate subsuming the world today.

A friend of mine, who is an avid Jackman fan, wanted to know if he should spend $700 for a ticket to see the show. I told him that it wasn’t worth paying that price for any show unless  the starring person of interest, after the show either  a. Fixes you an easily prepared but unquestionably delicious meal with their very own hands, or b. either gives you or lets you give them some form of romantic satisfaction for a minimum of three minutes. 

Of course I was being facetious – he did not listen to me but went ahead and put that dent in his bank account, just as  I remained unmoved in my belief that, at even a normal, slightly more reasonably priced orchestra ticket, this show was, sadly, not worth it.

Ironically, the biggest problem of this problematic production was its huge draw, Hugh “Wolverine!” Jackson, who turns out to be woefully miscast in the title role of Harold Hill, the garrulously inspirational, inordinately ingratiating conman, who convinces a small, uptight Midwest burg to turn over their children to him so he can turn them into an orchestra, although he himself cannot play a single note on a single instrument. Jackman has exhibited charm and charisma to spare in certain films but I have never been a big fan of his musical appearances. That started when I first heard him do his much-lauded Curley in Oklahoma. Physically and in terms of personality and acting chops he seemed to be ideal for the role, but the unmistakably thin, nasal and very covered sound he emitted for the show’s bracing opener about that beautiful morning to me was an almost shocking letdown. 

Harold Hill not only needs a gorgeously assured big fat voice, hopefully with a sizable, sturdily supported belt, he also needs a ton and a half of maybe slightly seedy and cynical alpha moxie. And there, too, Jackman came up short and was more a lightweight – if enthusiastic – juvenile, perhaps too reliant on the unquestioned huge audience love he has always enjoyed to get more loud, down and dirty. Or maybe he just doesn’t have that within himself, or is unable to summon it live, onstage. Whatever the reason, what I saw him do in this show rather convinced me that its tite should be changed from The Music Man to The Chorus Boy.

For that is how he came across and I would not be surprised if that might actually  be what he secretly dreams of being. It is, unquestionably a lot to have to carry every show you choose to book, a huge responsibility to try and satisfy the expectations of fans who have all plunked down some very serious money just to see you doing your thing. In such a scary, weighty position, a superstar might very well look over at the chorus with some kind of weird envy, as they get to come in do a job they like in tandem with hopefully 100% agreeable, agile confreres, then walk out the stage door afterwards,  to have drinks and laughs somewhere, able to be relatively unmindful of a star’s responsibility to be on vocal rest and in bed early to both save and restore his vitally needed physical energy.    

My press seats were luckily near enough to the stage so I could see Jackman’s every nostril-quiver. And quiver they did, with excitement, whenever the chorus would emerge for yet another robust but uninspired big production number, for unlike others who have preceded him in the role, this Harold Hill is a dancer, and this dancer DANCES. Jackman who sometimes seemed merely present during crucial dialogue scenes of exposition, etc, and who was well into “Ya Got Trouble,” before I realized that he was actually singing THE signature song which propels the action of the play, would suddenly snap to attention at the sound of a downbeat, butt already twitching in gleeful anticipation and ecstatically assume his position front and center among a horde of gypsies, all disconcertingly much younger, more attractively fit and obviously better, tighter dancers than he. 

With an unlikely Down Under Peter Pan bringing so little of the necessary hectoring  drive and almost brute conniving force to Hill, who not so much coerces the rubes into submission but bullies them, it is left to  Sutton Foster to bring some emotional weight to the show. That she does, but in her concerted effort to do so, she also comes across as rather grim, bossy and butch. Actually, I would have liked to see her take a note from Jackman’s too feathery approach and exhibit a more lighthearted sense of fun as River City’s much gossiped about librarian, Marian Paroo, who had a suspiciously close friendship with the big boss of the town, old Miser Madison, who donated the library building to the townspeople, most of whom call it the “liberry,” while lamenting the fact that he “left all the books to her.”  I certainly would have enjoyed seeing Foster blithely bring off some of the more flirtatious aspects of Marian, even perhaps suggesting that ”‘where there’s smoke there’s fire.”  

I grasp at these straws of characterization, for Marian is, like so many soprano Broadway ingenues, a little bland and underwritten. Foster, who was so piercingly effective and raw in Sweet Charity, avoiding any Gwen Verdon/Shirley Maclaine reveling-in-my-own-cuteness, while yet delivering the bumptious comedy moments with incredible physical elan. She quite brilliantly reconceived the role and, instead of cluelessly basking in Charity’s blithe airheadedness, rode her not really so funny arc steadily into the finai devastating, terrifying and haunting realization at the end of just how hopelessly, haplessly stupid she had always been and maybealways will be. In severe contrast to Charity, the part of Marian does not give her really that much to do, or any even shallow depths to mine and this heroine’s very pretty, conservatory-sounding music, perfect for a Shirley Jones or, better, Rebecca Luker,  does not lie in Foster’s more forceful sweet spot. 

It could also be said that in Foster, Jackman has found his perfect female match. And I mean that literally, because they are both physically very similar – tall, thin and wiry brunettes who also share a lot of personal qualities, like unquenchable energy and spunk, a down to earth approachability and the kind of sunny optimism and can-do spirit that is very remindful of a simpler, post-war America, when the musical debuted, an America which nations looked up to and perceived as the savior of much of the world from the dark anti-democratic forces of totalitarianism. Unfortunately, so many similarities rather cancel out their sexual/romantic chemistry, there is no frisson between them, no serious differences to tantalizingly surmount on their rock road to love. They come off more like a highly companionable pair of close siblings.

Foster, with no juicy love life on this stage, to speak of, has been also undone by Santo Loquasto’s heavy-spirited costumes, somewhat resembling uniforms at times. The Music Man should obviously be set in the summertime, or at least spring, seasons most likely to cause brash breakouts of spontaneous dancing on the streets or in the park, and the costumes should be light and airy, conducive to cutting an outdoor rug. But there seems to be an awful lot of wool – or at least some bulky, thick fabric that resembles wool, onstage here. 

The choreography,while gut-bustingly energetic with male torsos constantly sailing through the air feels decidedly uninspired, save some clever, adroitly done book tossing during the “”Marian the Librarian” number.

The diverse casting causes more confusion than anything. The precocious little girl, Amaryllis (Kayla Teruel), who makes life hell for  Marian’s withdrawn little brother Winthrop (Benjamin Pajak), is black, as is Zaneeta (Emma Crow), the sheltered daughter of a white couple, Mayor Shinn (Jefferson Mays) and his wife Eulalie (Jane Houdyshell, who must have been about 50 when she had her black baby girl.) If anything, this show is a total period piece of Americana set at the turn of the last century, when the races did not ever mix,  unless one of them was sitting at the dining table, while the other stood, usually in uniform, waiting to serve the soup.   I am obviously glad  for the increased employment of ethnic actors which diverse casting provides, but it has to make some kind of sense, I feel,  and be thoughtfully considered, beyond merely throwing in a black actor here and a Latina there, with Asians still coming up last in consideration, still the “invisible” or, at best, token minority, when there will be MAYBE one of us, as opposed to three of them. I absolutely rejoice on those occasions when  a performer is so good, like Condola Rashad as Joan of Arc, so inspired, that you’re able to fully accept them in a role, whatever their skin color. Nothing like that happens with the casting here, the only result of which is befuddlement. 

More befuddlement occurs by having the ubiquitously cast Houdyshell married to the much younger Mays, whose welcome period style-savvy acting, evoking that Preston Sturges comedy favorite Raymond Walburn, is a rare felicity in the show. Houdyshell, with her goofy pixillated mien, predictably plays her every role – whether it’s the Earl of Gloucester in the gender-bending Glenda Kackson King Lear or Eulalie Shinn, in the exact same way – slightly addled – only maybe  varying the intensity. John McMartin used to wear out his welcome with me in the same way, with predictably unchanging performances his entire long career, in everything from the neurotic boyfriend in Sweet Charity to Captain Andy in Showboat, and a wicked part of me always wonders how much of a cut from their salaries do certain favorites fork out to the two major casting outfits in town, who refuse to ever see so many actors I know, because the same old clique of their hacks is always getting the roles which could be so much more interestingly interpreted by others, for a change.

The number “Pick-a-Little/Talk-a-Little” reminds me of “Gotta Have a Gimmick”  in Gypsy as it’s a comic novelty turn, ferociously original and witty, involving small groups of forceful women, and so much sheer fun that it is capable of stopping the show, if performed with enough sassy brio. Nothing like that happened when I saw it, for the ladies were not individualized or endearingly eccentric enough, like the endearing flock of biddies (including Mary Wickes) were in the very long but quite satisfying Morton DaCosta 1962 film adaptation of the show. The rote schtik that Houdyshell came up  with in this number made me positively yearn for the gargoyle flamboyance of Hermione Gingold.

All else aside, the most bizarre bit of casting has got to be for the role of Marcellus, Harold Hill’s antic little comic sidekick, which, in the movie was given to the diminutive, endearing comic Buddy Hackett, with his funny adenoidal voice. In this roductin, he is played by a hulking Golem of a guy, Shuler Hensley, best known for his Broadway debut as an impressively daunting, yet touchingly forlorn Judd Frye in the 2002 Oklahoma revival, as well as the Monster in Mel Brooks’ staged Young Frankenstein and a stint as the sinister Javert of Les Miserables. Easily possessed of an authentic gravitas, always, with a touch of sadness as well, convincingy tortured roles might seem to be more his bailiwick than leading River City’s populace in the latest dance craze, the frenetic Shipoopi, which is also the score’s weakest song. And Loquasto, going in for “Let’s dress the big guy in something cute!” as if dealing with a dancing bear, really did this poor actor no favor by putting him in an ill-fitting, ridiculous looking get-up which Emmett Kelly might have craved for a spot of clowning at the circus. 

I mean, who the heck was in charge here?

I can easily recall when the revival of Guys and Dolls, sizzlingly directed by Jerry Zaks, was the hot- hot-hottest ticket in town, with  the Technicolor eye candy of Tony Walton’s  splendid sets and costumes snappily adorning the two huge stars which they became as result of all this, Nathan Lane and Faith Prince.  That was back in 1992 and, judging from this and the underwhelming – to me – blockbuster Bette Midler revival of Hello, Dolly in 2017,  he seems to have lost any creative spark and just presents these old things in the most flat and conventional, if expensively presented, way.  Some might think he’s beautifully honoring the traditions of their past, but to me it feels more lazy and phoned in with random bad new notions that actually can work against the show, like the indiscriminate, beyond annoying  shrieking he had the entire cast of Dolly – save Midler – doing, making it even more difficult to discern if Beanie Feldstein, the loudest screamer, as Minnie Fay, actually had any talent to speak of ( which was proven by the films, Ladybug and Booksmart).

There is no sudden, stupid screaming in The Music Man, except from certain audience members who have paid so much for tickets, that they will cheer and jump to their feet in a standing o, at the slightest provocation, so determined are they to not just enjoy the show but simulate orgasms to convince you of it.  And, actually a standing ovation, too common to begin with at too many performances which don’t deserve them, is pretty much cravenly built into the tiresome curtain call high-jinks, which is perhaps where Zaks directed most of his attention.  The two stars enter to receive the thunderous applause and bow before the entire assembled cast behind them, all clad in cornball high school band outfits because, basically, that is what they are. However, despite the stars’ costumes being designed in dazzling white, my mind pervertedly flew to the drabber appearance of the Salvation Army, which figured in Guys and Dolls, part of  Zaks’ once truly exciting vision of theater, as  I waited for the wholesome, forced jollity to be over.

Screwball Highjinks for the New Depression

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2022 at 7:08 pm

You have just a few more days to catch Graham Techler’s The Panic of ‘29, at 59 e. 59, and, if you like the Art Deco era of 1929, as well as the daffy screwball comedies of the slightly later late 1930s, this gaudy mash-up of both is highly recommended as an agreeable, if rather hectically demanding, summer divertissement.

The beyond twisted plot begins with Wall Street tycoon Richard Whitney (Brian Morabito, hamming it up, exquisitely), an egomaniacal narcissist who thinks the world revolves around him. His world consists of his  sweet doormat of a secretary, Dot (Olivia Puckett, endearing and fetching), the guy she loves, blood and guts pulp writer Jimmy Armstrong (Will Roland, whose hilarious whiny nasality would have had him steadily employed at Warner Brothers back in the day), Eva (a strong, salt-of-the-earth Joyelle Nicole Johnson), a blase cabaret proprietor and her innocent lamb of a sister Ingrid (Jaela Cheek-Lomax, doing, what seemed like a dippy homage to Butterfly McQueen), who tends the bar, their featured singer, Lady Generosity (Julia Knitel, a comely triple threat, rather providing the true beating heart of this production), who warbles Barrett Wiggins’ agreeable Roaring ‘20s ditties of love and whoopie-making, and the man in her life, Irish cop Officer Kent (Will Turner, handsome and Cary Grant-funny), who has a poet’s soul, as he hunts down notorious cop killer (a truly hilarious Rachel B. Joyce).

The Crash of 1929 puts the kibosh on all of their lives, as Whitney jumps to his death from a skyscraper, while the impoverished others all shuffle off to eke by, somehow, in a cartoonish Shantytown. A lot was covered in a quite lengthy and chaotic first act of an admittedly somewhat overlong play, which was so tangled and seemingly over-populated by a surfeit of characters and plot twists that the person with whom I arrived to see the show, threw in the towel and left. My own head spinning from both the overloaded exposition and the sultry heat of a NYC summer outside, I was half inclined to leave, as well, but something about the scruffy likability of the big cast on that tiny stage, and Techler’s wonky but often surprisingly effective and funny one-liner-filled dialogue kept me in my seat.

I was indeed glad I stayed, because in  Act 2, which was just as determinedly eccentric and defiant of logic as the one that preceded it, with everybody showing up for one reason or another in Niagara Falls for the denouement of every loose end of plot and person getting tied up in the infuriatingly neat, coincidence-ridden manner of a Dickens epic, director Max Friedman, slowed things down to a brisk trot rather than a frenetic gallop, letting you breathe in the elusive charm of the piece and, damn it, even kind of fall in love with what turned out to be the one of the most beguiling ensembles of quirky troupers ever to be brought together on any Gotham stage.

Things that bothered me in the first half, like one of the actors playing a variety of comic bit parts, having an anachronistic  Brooklyn hipster’s man bun barely concealed by his period fedora, I was able to get over, in my appreciation of the all-out comic joy he was both experiencing and delivering to the audience. This was, in its way, emblematic of the entire rather unique experience of this overly ambitious, audaciously silly and sneakily charming rag bag of a Depression-era fantasia, somewhat akin to the most outrageous urges of Preston Sturges, had he been on crack. After certain jolting  fits and starts on my part, to effortfully enjoy what I was watching, I finally loosened my seat belt of presumptuous expectation and really began to enjoy this bumpy but comically rewarding night, wafting out of the theater, afterwards, into the still sultry night on a cloud of authentic fun. 

Sirakian Makes The Kite Runner Soar

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2022 at 9:17 am

The younger fellow you see here in the photo is Eric Sirakian, and he is the best reason to see The Kite Runner. The task he faces with every performnce is monumental, for he is required to break your heart not once, but twice, in each act of a decidedly mixed bag of a play.

And, glory be, that is exactly what he does, bringing mysterious commitment and untold passion to two roles: first, of Hassan, a boy who is the best friend of Amir (Amir Arison), the story’s complex narrator, and then playing Sohrab, the son of that boy. Without him, the play, set first in oppressive, strife-torn Kabul and then Los Angeles, refuge of the newly free, by Matthew Spangler, adapted from Khaled Hossein’s beloved book, and directed with spotty panache by Giles Croft, would be a sometimes turgid, heavy-handed and quite manipulative piece – the type of thing which cheaply wrenches tears from the audience over a false alarm death scene. The cast is led by Arison – recounting certain turbulent events of his past, – whose slick and glib TV-inured acting reads as just that – acting, and the synthetic histrionic torrents he calls up, instead of simply BEING, is in marked contrast to Sirakian, who merely but signally exists truthfully onstage with such organic aplomb. Two other cast stand-outs are Faran Tahir, effectively forceful as Amir’s ever-disapproving father, and Azita Ganizada, who has a fresh and charming appeal as our narrator’s wife.

But I keep coming back to Sirakian, who, like no other actor in all my long playgoing experience, had me holding back embarassngly loud, wracking sobs during his big scene of rejection by Amir, which called up every betrayed friendship I’ve known personally, or even read about. And damn it, if – just after I’d sufficiently composed myself during intermission – this kid didn’t rake me emotionally all over the coals again, with another desperately pleading, thwarted moment with Amir in that aforementioned second act.

It all just verified once more the true power of acting when it is this great. Moments like Brando with Rod Steiger in the back seat of that car in On the Waterfront, or Hepburn, so ravaged and terribly alone in the house in Long Day’s Journey into Night, as the sun sets, leaving her to face all those excruciating hours in the dark, or, earlier in her career, as poor Alice Adams, being so desperate at a party to make an impression among rich snobs who will never accept her. Onstage, there has been Francis Conroy as the terrible alcoholic, Mrs. Constable, in the Lincoln Center revival of Jane Bowles’ brilliant In the Summer House, proving that she was the only one involved, including Director Joanne Akalaitis, who even knew from the play. I recall Irene Worth in Sweet Bird of Youth, facing the house from the stage and using the audience, instead of co-star Christopher Walken, as recipient of her gaudily magnificent monologues, one more theatrical moment which destroys you with its consummate truth and beauty, and will vividly live on within you forever.

And you, too, can experience this rarest kind of miracle, which is happening on a regular basis, at a theater named after a woman who was herself capable of such wonder, Helen Hayes. Gloriously abetted by handsome tabla virtuoso Sala Nader, a 20-something RADA/Yale-trained marvel making his Broadway debut, whose bruised voice, huge poignant eyes and performing genius evoke the young and quite beautiful Peter Lorre, long before he became Guignol fodder – and was then, after the empathy he was somehow able to muster as the child murderer in M (1930), possibly the greatest living actor – is doing this eight times a week.

Mabel Garrett, Harlem Jazz Age Entertainer

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2022 at 9:09 am

http://www.thehidehoblog.com/blog/2022/03/mabel-garrett-the-story-of-a-cotton-club-girl-12

Not Just Another Sloe-eyed Vamp

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2022 at 7:40 am

happy birthday Lenore Ulric

Sadly forgotten now, she was one of the brightest stars on Broadway n the teens and 1920s, Belasco’s muse who starred in hit after hit, with her smouldering appeal, Armagnac voice and unqiquely exotic look with slumbrous eyelids over those enormous orbs of hers. enabling her to play everything from a south sea island princess (Bird of Paradise), a French coquette (Kiki), a mulatto nightclub hostess (Lulu Belle) to Garbo’s rival and 2nd Empire courtesan-nemesis OLympe, in Camille.

Dear Ruth Gordon, brilliant superintendant of our theatrical past, honored this supernova a few times in her memoir, once recalling a time in the upstate facility where Ulric wound up, when Camille as on TV in the common room.

“That’s me, talking to Garbo!” she announced but none of the other residents would believe her.

looks like William Haines and maybe Walter Pidgeon are in these charming home movies

Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2022 at 4:43 am

It was around 1978 when journalist Bob Weiner took me to a Joffrey ballet company party in the Village on 6th Avenue. It was a small affair in terms of the intimate space and number of guests, but it was PACKED with star power because THEY were there. Woodward was quite involved with the dance, on boards and such, and even took ballet class when she was middle-aged. At this soiree, she radiated her stock in trade: glowingly fresh and natural, a total people person, exuding warmth and realness, mingling easily with all the guests.

He was a different story and, yes, along with Marvin Gaye, Kris Kistofferson, Issey Miyake, a boy I met in San Francisco named Kevin Kalihi, with the body of a quarterback and Brooke Shields’ face, who went crazy, and my Edward, quite the handsomest man I ever saw. Shorter than I expected but gorgeously compact and perfectly proportioned, he wore that God-given face someone once likened to Praxiteles’ Hermes, like any miracle of nature, say, a panther, would, with unaffected, unconscious ease, those electric blue eyes registering 20 feet away. His navy suit and baby-blue shirt fit him with razor-blade precision, as Heineken in hand, he remained apart from his wife’s schmoozing and just prowled around this loft space, checking it out – the furniture, what was hanging on the walls – with an interest that didn’t seem feigned.Of course everyone was too timid to approach this living god somehow fallen into our midst, although you know they were all – myself, incuded – CLOCKING his every move from the corner of their eyes. It’s funny when you think of such a jaded been everywhere/done everybody Manhattan crowd being so quiveringly agog in the presence of true sublime pulchritude, but it does happen here every time there’s a unicorn in the room, nothing enslaves le gratin more than sheer, mere beauty.

s

And I realized that night that I am the biggest, saddest, most hideously predictable cliche in the world. Because I went home, fell right asleep from a surfeit of chablis, and immediately had the most intense erotic dream about him.

Shouldn’t She Give It a Rest Already?

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2022 at 8:47 am

These days, Christina is grateful that her story is reaching new audiences through platforms that did not exist when she first started to write.

“It is thrilling that Mommie Dearest is now an ebook…I wanted to make sure that each new generation of readers would be able to access the original work,” she said. “Now, there is a new generation of readers who use social media and ebooks as their means of information gathering. Welcome!”

Christina Crawford – facebook

Another thing the author is thankful for is one of her upcoming projects, a two-act musical adaptation of Mommie Dearest, which is currently in its planning stages.

Christina shared some of the details with Open Road Books, “Since I began my career as an actress, my first love was the theater; it is a joy to see this work come alive. Now we are working on the next stage of development, which leads to actual production. There are various steps to climb, including finding a lead producer and funding, but we believe it will happen.”

Christina is also working on the final installment of her memoir series.

“The final book will begin with leaving my home state of California in the early 1990s, traveling briefly to Maryland and Washington DC, and then spending 20 years in beautiful rural north Idaho,” Christina explained.

She did not confirm when the book will be released, but she encourages fans to stay tuned.

Happy birthday, Isabel Jewell

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2022 at 8:25 am

the most special of character women – such was your vivacity, commitment and passion that you made even the smallest of roles, like your one-scene seamstress in A Tale of Two Cities (1935), seem novelistic in their rich sensitivity and observant detail.

I love this unusual shot of you, because you look as though you have assumed the exotic guise of a great dramatic actress, like Garbo, Elisabeth Bergner, Paula Wessely, Alla Nazimova or Asta Nielsen. Because, in your smaller way, that is exactly what you were.