Monday, July 16, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W28: Gone Missing, Straight White Men, The Play That Goes Wrong, Head Over Heels

7/11/18: Gone Missing
What: New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center summer series continues with Gone Missing, a musical based on interviews with real people about lost items, by The Civilians's Artistic Director Steve Cosson and recently deceased Michael Friedman.
And? I really do enjoy The Civilians's style and aesthetic. This was enjoyable, funny, and often touching, taking me by surprise a few times. Glad I caught it.

Susan Blackwell, with John Behlmann, Deborah S. Craig, and
David Ryan Smith. Photo by Stephanie Berger.


7/12/18: Straight White Men
What: Downtown playwright Young Jean Lee's Broadway debut, Straight White Men attempts to find an empathetic insight into the plight of the Straight White Man, as organized and framed by two Persons in Charge, both of whom are genderfluid or nonbinary. The plot of the play tracks a family at Christmas, three grown sons visiting their father; aware of their privilege as Straight White Men, they work to stay #woke (including playing a game called Privilege, built from the skeleton of a Monopoly board), but can't seem to reconcile the seeming failure of the eldest brother who, rather that capitalizing on his early potential, has moved home with their father and is working a temp job.
And? At a recent conference, I heard someone cite this adage about American theater (I can't find the source right now): if a man is unhappy, it's society failing him; if a woman is unhappy, that's her own failing. What's interesting here is the reversal: younger brothers Jake and Drew have decided that since Matt is unmotivated, unambitious, he must also be unhappy, and that the fault for that unhappiness lies in him. What's frustrating is how they repeatedly try to explain him to each other, not letting him speak for himself. What's charming (when everyone's not fighting) is the family dynamic: these boys love playing their games, calling back to old jokes and routines, and the performers are at their most delightful and charismatic in these moments. There's a lot in this show that works, and it's a well-moving ride, but I wonder if the thesis is fully realized yet. It's still an interesting examination, that no matter how progressive these men strive to be, they're still holding themselves to standards of performance and male ambition where growth is the only success and stagnation the truest sign of character fault.




7/13/18: The Play That Goes Wrong
a repeat visit (taking a friend)

7/14/18: Head Over Heels
a repeat visit (taking a friend)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W27: Pass Over, Log Cabin

7/04/18: Pass Over
What: Moses and Kitch, two young black men, pass the time on an empty street under a lamppost, sleeping in shifts, sharing a hoodie and keeping watch. When the night comes, they banter, they dream, they plan for their escape to the promised land, and they keep alert for any passing policemen - the only danger they fear, and one that keeps them trembling. Per the program, this play takes place "Now. Right now. But also 1855. But also 13th century BCE ... A ghetto street. A lamppost. Night. But also a plantation. But also Egypt, built by slaves."
And? The program includes an insert with a note from playwright Antoinette Nwandu, listing some of the play's influences. Waiting for Godot, obviously, makes the list. Also listed are Exodus 7-12, Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th, Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine, and the "Dashcam Video of Philando Castille Shooting." This play has a lot of humor and heart, but there is no escaping that it is fundamentally about institutionalized violence against black men. And there should be no escaping that confrontation. It needs to be confronted. As I left the theater, I saw two women discussing it: the white woman asked the black women what she thought; the black woman raised her eyebrows and said wryly that it was nothing she didn't already know. If theater is a place for creating empathy, then this is a play that more people, especially white people, need to see. The fear that keeps Moses and Kitch trembling and still, arms raised, at just the hint that a policeman might be near, is as shocking to some as it must be self-evident to others. Empathy must be built, both in the theater, and especially in the world, so that the same helpless rage fills everyone, when Moses demands of the policeman, "Stop killing us!"

Not listed among the influences, but another clear reference, was the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood; and as I watched, I thought of how stories about the Big Bad Wolf led to wolves landing on the endangered species list. A creature is labeled a menacing predator and a danger to all, is hunted, is killed. Here in Pass Over, a white man (a walking embodiment of optimism, he sings "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin" with no irony, confident that "everything's goin' [his] way") accidentally wanders onto Moses and Kitch's block, carrying a picnic basket full of food for his mother. But it is clear that Moses and Kitch fear his presence far more than he could ever fear theirs (also, notably: the red hood in this case is the hoodie shared by the two men).

Clearly this play gave me many thoughts. It's devastating. It's excellently crafted and carefully built. Nwandu is a gifted voice directed impeccably by Danya Taymor. The three actors, Jon Michael Hill, Namir Smallwood, and Gabriel Ebert, are perfect. The design, too, is brilliant, simultaneously pointed and subtle (Wilson Chin, Sets; Sarafina Bush, Costumes; Marcus Doshi, Lighting; Justin Ellington, Sound).

Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood as Moses and Kitch.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

7/05/18: Log Cabin
What: Speaking of empathy, that's a capitalized word in Log Cabin, which tracks the friendship between two married couples (two gay men, two lesbians) and their trans friend in the halcyon years just prior to our current administration. Tensions arise as empathy is tested and privilege is confronted.
And? In the context of the current Scarlett Johansson nonsense, I was very pleased to see that at least New York theater is making some strides, casting actual trans actors in trans roles. The play itself, while witty and quick-moving, left me a bit tired: I wouldn't want to be friends with any of these people, competing to see who is the most marginalized, who has the least privilege.

Ian Harvie, Dolly Wells, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Phillip James Brannon,
and Cindy Cheung as Henry, Jules, Ezra, Chris, and Pam.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W26: Head Over Heels, Conflict, Songs For a New World, Mary Page Marlowe, Godspell, Hamilton

6/25/18: Head Over Heels
What: In Arcadia, King Basilius rules with a stubborn but benevolent-ish hand. But when Arcadia's new Oracle warns of four prophecies which could bring ruin to the land, Basilius flees the kingdom and the curse (with his entire family and court retinue in tow). Hijinks (sooooo many hijinks) ensue when his daughter's shepherd suitor Musidorus secretly dons an Amazon's costume to join the royal progress and basically the entire family falls in love with him/her. Head Over Heels takes its score from the songs of the groundbreaking punk group, The Go-Go's (known for "We Got the Beat" and "Heave Is a Place on Earth," among others).
And? Let's go on a journey. You hear there's another jukebox musical coming, this one using the Go-Go's song catalog. You roll your eyes, but it's on tdf and you like when people break into song in general, so you buy a ticket. You think you know what you're in for: another Margaritaville with a bland, cliche-ridden story and an audience filled with people who know the songs they're about to hear waaaaaay better than you do (you're right about the second part only). Guys, this thing was so joyous, so delightfully intersectionally queer, so downright silly, and I had a fantastic time. I laughed really loudly, I clapped enthusiastically (instead of merely politely), I even teared up at one point (NO ONE saw that coming). Sporting a book by Tony winner Jeff Whitty, directed by also Tony winner Michael Mayer, and featuring a fucking hilarious and talented cast (including Broadway's first principal role originated by a trans woman), Head Over Heels is a giddy fever dream of a Shakespeare-meets-Greek-comedy, full of cross-dressing, sapphic love, and absolutely zero invalidation of anyone's gender or sexuality (did I mention the non-binary plural Oracle, Pythio?). I didn't realize until I saw this show how thirsty I've been for a feel-good musical that wasn't shit. It's been a hot minute since Come From Away, you know?


Taylor Iman Jones as Mopsa, with the company. Photo by Joan Marcus.

6/27/18: Conflict
What: Conflict begins when the privileged decadence of the 1920s is confronted with the harder truths of poverty and desperation. Major Sir Ronald Clive is running for office on the conservative ticket, and is surprised to see a former Cambridge classmate, Tom Smith, less than two years after being reduced to begging for food and lodging, cleaned up and running against him for the labour party. The Lady Dare Bellingdon, sometime-paramour of Clive, begins to question her long-held but barely examined convictions as she befriends and confronts Smith.
And? Mint Theater Company's mission is to produce "worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten." This yields, in general, a rather mixed bag. This production, however, though it showed the same creaking signs that a lot of the old plays at Mint do, also felt timely in a rather bittersweet way: a longing for the days (did they exist?) when politicians ran on principles rather than personalities, leaving pettiness at the door. I found myself more invested than I expected, especially considering that this was more an ideas-play than anything else (particularly as each side of the political conflict argued his point). But I credit the even hand in the writing of both sides, the belief in integrity which underlines much of the worldview, and the earnestness of the performers, particularly Jeremy Beck and Henry Clarke as the two candidates, and Jessie Shelton as the woman who begins to think. And I was impressed that, though this play is focused on the affairs of men, it is the woman at the center who grows and changes, who truly pushes the action of the play forward. Not bad for a play almost 100 years old.

Jessie Shelton, Jeremy Beck, and Graeme Malcolm as The Lady Dare
Bellngdon, Tom Smith, and Lord Bellingdon. Photo by Todd Cerveris.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W25: Girls & Boys, Little Rock, Fire in Dreamland

6/19/18: Girls & Boys
What: An import from The West End's Royal Court Theatre, Dennis Kelly's Girls & Boys is a one woman show, split between an audience-address monologue and memories of raising her children at home. An exploration of family, self-knowledge, and the nature of violence.
And? Absolutely incredible performance from Carey Mulligan - it seemed less a performance and more a real person speaking to us. The marriage of Es Devlin's set design and Luke Halls's video design was elegant and stunning, a beautiful physicalization of the Woman's journey. Kelly's script is well-built and well-directed by Lyndsey Turner.

Carey Mulligan as Woman. Photo by Marc Brenner.


6/20/18: Little Rock
What: A play with music about The Little Rock Nine, nine black teenagers who broke segregation at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Per the program note, the play is "based on research, numerous testimonials, and interviews conducted over a 13-year period."
And? The cast wasn't bad, but the script had the subtlety of an anvil. This was such an important moment in our country's pockmarked history of race relations and discrimination, and I wanted something more out of it than a pedestrian series of scenes explaining the conflict.

Damian Jermaine Thompson,  Rebekah Brockman, Charlie Hudson III,
Stephanie Umoh, Justin Cunningham, Peter O'Connor, Shanice Williams,
and Anita Welch as the Little Rock Nine. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W24: Teenage Dick, The Great Leap

6/12/18: Teenage Dick
What: Playwright Mike Lew adapts Richard III to a high school council election. Jointly produced by The Public Theater, Ma-Yi Theater Company, and originally commissioned and developed by The Apothetae, Teenage Dick aims for an inclusive and diverse experience, with a cast composed of two actors with disabilities, three actors of color, and only one performer who doesn't readily read as an "other" (as in, there is one actor who is able-bodied, white, and male).
And? This was a cool idea, and it had a few really strong moments, some sparks of genius. But too often, I found myself cringing at the jokes or the lack of nuance. The dramaturg's note says that "monsters are not born, they are made"; this is not the story I saw in Teenage Dick. He started off in Machiavelli Land, had a crisis of conscience, and then leaned back into the ends justifying the means. And this may be neither here nor there, but all six actors (including the one playing the teacher) seemed roughly the same age, none of which passed for teenagers, either in appearance or behavior. This play could be piercing and powerful, but it's not there yet. And while it's great to finally start seeing representation for performers with disabilities, I could wish them a better vehicle than this.

Gregg Mozgala, Shannon DeVido, and Sasha Diamond as Richard, Buck, and
Clarissa. Photo by Carol Rosegg.


6/13/18: The Great Leap
What: Eighteen years after American basketball coach Saul taught Wen Chang how to coach China's fledgling team, the two meet again for a rematch - which unfortunately coincides with the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, 1989. Manford, an aspiring Chinese American point guard, is desperate to join Saul's team in time for the rematch in Beijing. Playwright Lauren Yee wrote this partially inspired by her father's own short-lived basketball career in San Francisco.
And? This is terrific. Fantastic cast (seriously, BD Wong. But also Tony Aidan Vo and Ali Ahn and Ned Eisenberg - they are all marvelous), tight storytelling, a well-crafted and compelling narrative that metes out its revelations with a nuanced eye. The climax of the play, the basketball game itself, is riveting. Well worth a visit.

Ali Ahn, Ned Eisenberg, Tony Aidan Vo, and BD Wong as Connie, Saul,
Manford, and Wen Chang. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W23: El Barrio Shakespeare Festival: Lear, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

The Shakespeare Forum, which I've written about several times, achieved this year a long-held dream of its Artistic Director and Co-Founder, Tyler Moss: the El Barrio Shakespeare Festival running from May 31st to June 16th. The festival is framed around Forum's production of Lear, but also includes student presentations, special classes and workshops, and more. It's ambitious and impressive, and represents the many facets of what Forum does and wants to do.

My participation in this festival was sadly (but joyfully) limited to two events: Seeing Lear and performing in an encore presentation of our all-female staged reading of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (with some of the players shuffled around).

6/07/18: Lear
What: King Lear, aging and (unbeknownst) slipping into dementia, divides his kingdom among his daughters, seeking a sort of royal retirement. Sabotage, subterfuge, and disguises, along with the ever-quickening disintegration of Lear's mind, lead to wrack and ruin for nearly everyone touched by Lear. Under Sybille Bruun-Moss's direction, the role of Lear is shared across the entire cast.
And? I've always been a big fan of form and content conversing in a meaningful way, and this is especially true when a production has a "gimmick" of some sort (think: Deaf West's Spring Awakening, where the inability of the adults to communicate clearly with the children is mirrored against the Deaf and the hearing communities' similar difficulties). The splintering of the role of Lear among all the players here is not only a reinforcement of one of the tenets of Forum (you're not barred from playing any role in the canon, and the most important thing you can bring to that role is your own unique self), but a visceral exploration of what it means to have dementia - how changeable and unpredictable your personality can be. So we can have Denny Desmarais's heartbreakingly lost Lear asking audience members if he is Lear, Antonio Disla's furiously hurt Lear, railing at his daughters for knocking his legs out from under him, Melody Lam's joyfully childlike Lear attentively listening to the ramblings of Poor Tom, and Adam Goodman and Alenka Kraigher's despondent and bitterly laughing Lears when finally reunited with the banished Cordelia. All these disparate parts culminate in a gutting coup de theatre that is simultaneously shocking and inevitable.

I will say that sometimes this device, which is indicated in the program, but not made immediately explicit in the production, does result in some lack of clarity, particularly in the first half of the play (some of the cutting down to a two-hour run time also contributes to confusion). However, I still found myself profoundly moved by this production and this cast, staged with casual grace by Bruun-Moss (and assistant director Gwenevere Sisco). And I haven't even mentioned Tyler Moss's witty and unforgiving Fool, Frankie DiCiaccio's delicate Cordelia, or Harry Waller's insecure Regan yet. But there's not a weak link in this cast, and it's yet another particularly Forum production which I am grateful to have witnessed.




6/10/18: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
What: Tom Stoppard's debut play, about two minor characters from Hamlet trying desperately to make sense of the scraps of plot they're given, while flipping coins which always seem to come up heads. We presented a staged reading of this about two years ago, and were asked by Forum to bring it back for an encore presentation in their Festival, with a few shuffled players in the parts.
And? This is one of my favorite plays, and Guildenstern is one of my favorite parts I've gotten to play. This second go around was an interesting variation on the first, with some added stressors and anxieties, but came with an amazing group of women that I am so lucky to have worked with. On a personal level, I particularly appreciated how, with Erin Keskeny's Rosencrantz as opposed to Kelly Zekas's, I couldn't let myself fall into the patterns of the first time; as Rosencrantz has changed, so too must Guildenstern. The performance, like last time, was once again thrilling and joyous, and I was so moved to be surrounded by such a supportive audience. I have so much admiration for the five women I performed with, and it was an honor to share the space with them, to see them be amazing.

Erin Keskeny and Zelda Knapp as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Photo by Zelda Knapp.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

My Habitually Inaccurate Tony Predictions

The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One
and Two
. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
So I have a theory. Our beloved Hamilton was a bit of a tsunami on the Broadway scene. The show delayed its advancement to Broadway from its run at the Public, thus leaving space for Fun Home to claim the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015; with plenty of warning, many shows delayed their arrival on Broadway to a post-Hamilton season, which explains how overstuffed last season was, and why so many shows felt left out in the cold come awards season. Now, the tide's flowing back out and we've got an emptier season. And, at least for the Spring half of it, a bit of a disappointing one. I can't say I came at this list with particularly strong feelings, either for the frontrunners or underdogs, but I will be interested to see what triumphs come June 10th.

With the caveats that I'm not going to see The Iceman Cometh because of my vow to not sacrifice any more of my time to the words of Eugene O'Neill, and that I haven't yet managed to score tickets to either Mean Girls or Harry Potter and the Controversial Fanfic, let's get started.





Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Going Postal: I've gone legit

Last year, my dad (author of the award-winning two-volume set: The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity and The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity) asked me to collaborate with him on a proposed article about the growing trend of letter-writing-as-songs in musical theater, and how that device collapses both space and time within a song. I of course said yes because that sounded super fun and cool and if you think I'm being sarcastic, you don't know me very well.

After many many drafts, revisions, killings of our darlings (sorry Daddy Long Legs, we were very proud of what we wrote about you), I am proud to announce that our article, "Going Postal: Collapsing time and space through sung letters in Broadway musicals," is now published in Studies in Musical Theatre.

The article covers the early markers of this trend, She Loves Me and 1776, traveling through Passion and culminating in the more recent examples in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hansen (with quick drop-ins on Sondheim's frequent indulging of this temporality in Pacific Overtures, Assassins, and others).

Check it out here!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W19: Our Lady of 121st Street, Paradise Blue, Me and My Girl

5/10/18: Our Lady of 121st Street
What: Former students, friends, and relatives gather when beloved but stern teacher Sister Rose dies. However, with a missing body, the mourners must instead face their own ghosts.
And? This was really well done. Excellent cast, particularly Hill Harper, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Maki Borden, and Dierdre Friel. Satisfyingly staged and structured; it was fun realizing how the disparate scenes were were seeing interconnected. I think I was ultimately disappointed that the play didn't so much end as stop, with many threads left unresolved. I recognize that that's probably a very deliberate point on the part of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, so it's just a personal preference on my part.

Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Hill Harper, Dierdre Friel, and Kevin Isola as
Inez, Rooftop, Sonia, and Gail. Photo by Monique Carboni.


5/11/18: Paradise Blue
What: Trumpeteer and club owner Blue is looking for a way out of Paradise (the name of his bar and of his neighborhood in Detroit), while his girlfriend, friends, and newcomer Silver look for a way to keep the club afloat, even if it's without him.
And? Another really finely performed, staged, and designed offering from Signature, by new-to-me playwright Dominique Morisseau. It's a sad story, but Pumpkin's arc of liberation is beautifully rendered.

J. Alphonse Nicholson and Simone Missick as Blue and Silver.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W18: Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Travesties, The Band's Visit, A Brief History of Women

(note: I saw no shows W17. strange but true)

5/02/18: Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
What: Three ages of Donna (Ducking, Disco, and Diva) tell the story of Donna Summer's childhood, rise to fame, and the obstacles she met along the way.
And? Long story short: really lazy writing, really excellent performances. The book, such as it is, exists on bare bones, only enough to get us from one song to the next, and consists too frequently of narration rather than action (telling vs. showing). However, one embarrassingly bad fight scene aside, I thought this was very well staged (and of a more consistent quality than Frozen or Carousel), and the three women playing Donna were terrific, with incredible voices. The casting of the ensemble was a bit of a treat, too: only five men, balanced by twelve women (not counting the three Donnas), a reversal of the usual gender disparity. Many of the women played both male and female roles, with one delightful lantern hung on the affair (black actress Jenny Laroche referring to her character, Norman Brokaw, as a white man, as if it were self-evident to all of us). I'm not particularly familiar with Donna Summer's song catalog, but those around me were, and met the beginnings of many numbers with enthusiastic applause. For those looking for a fun (and under two hours!) evening with stellar renditions of her songs, this will be a good fit.

LaChanze, Ariana DeBose, and Storm Lever as Diva Donna, Disco Donna,
and Ducking Donna, with the ensemble. Photo by Joan Marcus.


5/04/18: Travesties
A repeat visit (family in town)

5/06/18: The Band's Visit
A repeat visit (family in town)

5/06/18: A Brief History of Women
What: Told in four parts at twenty-year intervals, A Brief History of Women follows the unassuming Anthony Spates from 17-year old footman in a 1920s English manor, to retired 77-year old hotel manager in the very same converted house. He and the house remain ever faithful, even as the characters around them change with each new decade.
And? It doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement to say the scene changes were my favorite part, but guys, the scene changes were freaking awesome and delightful. The play itself was ultimately eh for me, though it did feature some good performances from the ensemble. And the title is entirely misleading and kind of a mistake.

Antony Eden, Louise Shuttleworth, Russell Dixon, Frances Marshall, and
Laura Matthews as Tony Spates, Gillian Dunbar, Dennis Dunbar, Pat
Wriggly, and Jenny Tyler. Photo by Sara Krulwich.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W16: Frozen, The Metromaniacs, Travesties, YOU / EMMA

4/17/18: Frozen
What: Live stage adaptation/expansion of the Disney hit film. Princesses Elsa and Anna are as close as sisters can be, until the manifestation of Elsa's winter powers injure her sister, and she withdraws until she can regain control. At her coronation as queen, she instead loses control and sends the kingdom into eternal winter. Only Anna can bring her sister back, and rescue the kingdom.
And? During the opening sequence, a twenty-minute montage of six songs which covers the younger days of the two princesses, leading up to Elsa's coronation, I was blown away. The storytelling and staging were great, the cast was stellar, and I trusted that this beloved film's adaptation was in good hands. However, as the show went on, it never quite lived up to its opening. I questioned a lot of the staging choices throughout (even some of the content choices), and the ending felt beyond rushed. "Let it Go," the film's breakout hit song, was an excellent closer to Act One, and some of the effects, particularly in that number, were very well rendered. But, to quote another song from the score, this show's "a bit of a fixer upper."

Caissie Levy, Patti Murin, and the ensemble as Queen Elsa, Princess Anna,
and the people of Arendelle. Photo by Deen van Meer.

4/20/18: The Metromaniacs
What: David Ives's updated translation of Alexis Piron's French farce (complete with rhyming couplets). Ives describes the play as "a comedy with five plots, none of them important." So we'll leave it at: changing partners, mistaken (and faken) identities, and some Rooney-Garland-style "let's put on a play."
And? Utterly delightful, start to finish. Marvelous and polished cast, nonsense plot, and hilarious rhyming couplets which continue to surprise. I loved it.

Adam Greene, Amelia Pedlow, and Noah Averbach-Katz
as Mondor, Lucille, and Dorante. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Margin Notes: YOU / EMMA

Valerie Redd as You/Emma, watching a montage of bad boys.
Photo by Samantha Fairfield Walsh.

Seen on: Saturday, 4/21/18.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Paz Pardo adapts Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary into a multimedia solo performance which places the audience as the protagonist (hence the title, YOU / EMMA) who must contend with the tragic mundanity that brings Emma Bovary to her ruin. We are reminded just how young Emma is as she enters a loveless marriage, a friendless life, and disappointing affairs, at an age when contemporary young women are leaving home for college. Flaubert himself makes a few cameo appearances to both claim full ownership of Emma while also denying all responsibility for her unhappiness.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'd seen (and reviewed) an earlier production by Wandering Bark, also starring Valerie Redd. And I read a plot summary of Madame Bovary on Wikipedia about half an hour before the show.

Thoughts:

Play: "Flaubert doesn't tell us what you dream about that night," our narrator confides to us midway through Paz Pardo's 65 minute exploration of what it is to live Emma Bovary's journey. The play is a giddy mixture of whispered secrets, flights of fantasy, confrontations with a negligent author, and the woeful realization that, with all the possible futures Emma imagines for herself, she's stuck with a lonely reality riddled with irresponsible choices. The actress onstage telling us our story is Emma, and so are we (Flaubert claims he is too, but half an hour later he denies it), stuck in a cage only partly of our own making. It's a rather cynical story, and Pardo doesn't let Flaubert off the hook for it, demanding that Emma be given her due, demanding an answer for why he created her, then abandoned her with no friends, no one to love or to love her, and nothing but her dashed fantasies and rising debts to keep her company.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W15: Lobby Hero

4/13/18: Lobby Hero
What: Second Stage finally has a Broadway house in the newly renovated Hayes Theater, and commemorates it with a revival of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero, a play about what we're willing to sacrifice - career, family, friendship, integrity - to get what we want.
And? Lonergan is not a playwright I particularly care for, but this is probably the work of his I hate the least. The cast is good, including the Hollywood guests (Michael Cera is surprisingly well cast as Jeff; and Chris Evans is actually pretty great as Bill, and doesn't try to charm his way around his unlikeable character), with Brian Tyree Henry a particular standout as the upright William with a moral dilemma.

Brian Tyree Henry, Bel Powley, Michael Cera, and Chris Evans as
William, Dawn, Jeff, and Bill. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Twenty Years a Theater Junkie

Twenty years ago, I visited my sister - then a freshman at Columbia University - for my spring break. We had a fun first-visit-to-New-York planned: Central Park, Empire State Building, New York pizza, Staten Island Ferry, and my first Broadway show. Twenty years ago, my life changed forever.

Let's be clear, I was already a theater fan. Both my parents grew up loving live theater, and they took us to a lot; as well as playing All the Cast Albums on road trips and at home (and let's not forget that fateful day Dad showed us the VHS of Into the Woods). My Mom is such an advocate of supporting live theater that we saw all the community theater my small town had to offer, some of which was great and some of which was ...  you know, not great. But I was predisposed to have my life changed, I suppose.

Seventh grade is a bad year for many people, and it certainly hadn't been a good one for me so far: nearly all my friends from sixth grade and beyond suddenly stopped talking to me (I still don't know why), my best friend and sister had left for college, and I was feeling a bit rudderless. Two big things happened that year: Mom took me to audition for my first community theater youth show, and Mom sent me to New York to visit my sister.

I'd seen, at this point, a range in quality of live theater: school shows, community theater, non-Eq tours, and the occasional quality Equity production (I can think of three: the Broadway company of Beauty and the Beast in their LA run; a lovely production of She Loves Me playing in Roanoke; and one of the tours of Les Miserables, starring the future Tony-winning Alice Ripley as Fantine). But sometimes the right thing has to find you at the right time.


Weekly Margin, 2018 W14: Yerma, Saint Joan

4/04/18: Yerma
What: Park Avenue Armory hosts The Young Vic's production of Simon Stone's modernized adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca's 1934 Yerma: a woman's fixation on conceiving, and whose perpetual inability to do so poisons her pysche as well as her relationships with all of those around her.
And? I'm of two minds on this. I thought the performances were, across the board, excellent. I thought the stage craft was impeccable - like a magic trick, those scene changes. The staging concept - the characters interacting within an enclosed glass box, their voices piped out to us - gave the whole performance an air of a scientific experiment observed, or of pets in a terrarium (I did think the interstitial music was, in general, too overbearingly loud). However, I don't think I particularly like the play itself, or the story it's telling. It's not just that it's contributing to the Hysterical Woman trope; it's that I'm not sure what they intend for me to take away from what I saw. Was I affected? Yes. But the final moment is one of horror, and it comes at a moment when the main character has lost all sympathy already. Miserable People Being Miserable has never been a favorite narrative of mine.

Brendan Cowell and Billie Piper as John and Her (Yerma).
Photo by Stephanie Berger.


4/05/18: Saint Joan
What: MTC's revival of George Bernard Shaw's play about Joan of Arc, a woman of conviction, courage, and integrity, one whom the world was not yet ready to embrace, and whom the world would still prefer remain a dead saint, rather than a living woman.
And? An adequate production of an excellent and moving play. I don't know that it has anything new to tell me beyond what I'd already gotten from the last two excellent productions I'd seen (National Theatre Live and Bedlam). There are a few tonal inconsistencies for me, namely that we have period costumes, but some of the performances are incongruent with that aesthetic, favoring instead distinctly contemporary inflections and delivery. Had the entire cast made this choice, it would be a statement; when only some do, it looks like carelessness. Scott Pask's scenic design is pleasing, with rows of large hanging flutes, reminiscent of a church organ, or of wind chimes. Condola Rashad is excellent as Joan, and the ensemble also includes good performances from Max Gordon Moore, Patrick Page, and Jack Davenport.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W13: Children of a Lesser God, The Lucky Ones, Yeomen of the Guard, Kings, Pygmalion, Jesus Christ Superstar Live

3/28/18: Children of a Lesser God
What: Revival of Mark Medoff's Tony-winning 1979 play about the professional and personal relationship between a speech therapist and a deaf student, exploring the interpersonal dynamics within the Deaf community, and the divides between them and the hearing world.
And? Unfortunately, this play has not aged particularly well. Lauren Ridloff is mesmerizing; Joshua Jackson is serviceable.

Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson as Sarah and James.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.


3/29/18: The Lucky Ones
What: Rock duo The Bengsons tell the true story of Abigail's childhood: of an extended and interlocked family that shatters into pieces when tragedy strikes.
And? I loved it. The narrative could use some tightening, but I loved this. It was heartbreaking without being sentimental, and it kept shifting its shape, as Abigail examined the tragedy from different angles, trying to understand, and trying to reconnect the scattered pieces of her childhood and memory. There's a piercing quality to the lyrics of these songs, and that poetry is grounded by the everydayness of the dialogue. Shaun starts the show by telling us that everything is true, even the parts that didn't happen (a phrase-flipping of an Ann Patchett quotation in the program), and we need that reassurance. Some things are so unbelievable they have to be true.



Monday, March 26, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W12: My Fair Lady, Harry Clarke, Grand Hotel, Julius Caesar

3/20/18: My Fair Lady
What: Bartlett Sher/Lincoln Center's lush revival of the Lerner & Loewe classic, about flower seller Eliza Doolittle, who takes dialect lessons with phonetic expert Henry Higgins, so she may earn a better living in a more refined environment. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
And? It's fine; neither definitive nor disgraceful. Lauren Ambrose has great presence and charm. Fuller review/defense of the show's merit here.



3/22/18: Harry Clarke
What: David Cale's one-man show starring Billy Crudup in an encore run after its stint at Vineyard. A shy midwestern man creates an alter ego, London-born Harry Clarke, insinuating himself into the life and family of a man he randomly sees on the street.
And? There's a lot to admire here. The noir of it all is satisfying, the writing is tightly structured, and Billy Crudup is absolutely wonderful at transforming himself physically and vocally among all the characters (and among Philip's various personae). I will admit that I am bothered that the narrative is playing into some unfortunate stigmatizing tropes about queer people and about mental illness. I don't think it's deliberate stigmatization, but it's there.

Billy Crudup. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

My Fair Lady Doesn't Hate Women. Henry Higgins Hates Women.

On March 20th, I saw a preview of the newest revival of My Fair Lady. This production has been lately included in lamentations over the reviving of dated and sexist material; I find its inclusion in the conversation misguided chiefly because people are lumping it in with Carousel, an unfair and inaccurate coupling. Entering a This-Is-Zelda's-Opinion Zone, I'll start by saying Carousel is a bad show.

How is Carousel bad?
  • It's a bad story
  • It has a bad protagonist
  • It's full of bad messages romanticizing abusive and unhealthy relationships (some of which the current revival tries to mitigate)
  • I can stand only half the score
  • It's angered me since I saw it as a child. Even child-me knew it was bad
  • It's bad, you guys
My Fair Lady is a good show, with some problematic characters. There's a difference.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W11: A Brief History of Colonization, Much Ado About Nothing, Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craiglist

3/16/18: A Brief History of Colonization
What: Kal Mansoor's one man show, as part of Emerging Artists Theatre's New Work Series, is part epic movie pitch, and part a humorous survey of India's colonial history.
And? Kal Mansoor is a good writer, and the piece was entertaining and informative. The frame could use some tightening, and the presentation would benefit from a director, but the work is solid and shows good potential.




3/17/18: Much Ado About Nothing
What: Hamlet Isn't Dead's latest installment, a musical and playful take on (full disclosure) one of my favorite comedies.
And? Truly delightful and hilarious. Full review here.


James Michael Armstrong, Noah Ruff, and Joe Regan as Leonato, Claudio,
and Don Pedro.

3/17/18: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist
What: Rejected and depressed, Walt is on the brink of suicide when Tilda Swinton - supposedly answering a craigslist ad placed by Walt's ex-boyfriend - arrives to upend his life as she pursues what is sure to be her next Oscar-winning performance.
And? This was so dang silly and fun. Full review here.

Byron Lane and Tom Lenk as Walt and Tilda.

Margin Notes: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craiglist

Byron Lane and Tom Lenk as Walt and Tilda Swinton.

Seen on: Saturday, 3/17/18.
My grade: B+

Plot and Background
Rejected and depressed, Walt is on the brink of suicide when Tilda Swinton - supposedly answering a craigslist ad placed by Walt's ex-boyfriend - arrives to upend his life as she pursues what is sure to be her next Oscar-winning performance. Playwright and star Byron Lane brings his farce to New York after a successful run at LA's Celebration Theater.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'm a big ol' Buffy nerd (see: my other blog), and was very excited to see Tom Lenk be silly in something.

Thoughts:

This was exactly the ridiculously fun and silly play I thought it was going to be. While there is a narrative of growth and change for poor Walt, beset on all sides by neglectful parents and a callous ex (to say nothing of his new Oscar-winning roomie), most of the fun to be had comes in the person of Tom Lenk's outrageous performance as Ms. Swinton. Tilda here seems to a glorious melding of the eccentric and celebrated film star, the absurdist/dadaist twitter account @NotTildaSwinton, and Tom Lenk's own social media fashion brand, LewkBewk. Which delightful eccentricity of Tilda's to choose as your favorite? Is it when she declares that she was in the movie Die Hard (she played Christmas)? Is it when, upon being told that someone has merely read The Chronicles of Narnia but not seen the film, and she hastily averts her eyes, muttering "Trash!" Is it when she tells literally everyone she meets that they remind her of someone, who just happens to be a role she has played, and how many times they seen that movie? Is it when she steals a patron's flagon of beer and painstakingly downs the whole thing? Or is it her entrance in a hooded cape made of bubble wrap? That's rather hard to beat. Tom Lenk is perfection in a role he seems born to play, delivering the most absurd lines with conviction and deep gravitas.

Margin Notes: Much Ado About Nothing

James Powers, Morgan Hooper, and
Megan Greener as Balthazar, Verges, and
Dogberry.

Seen on: Saturday, 3/17/18.
My grade: A+

Plot and Background
Leonato plays host to the prince, Don Pedro, and his soldier friends, and love is in the air: Claudio, with the prince's aid, woos and wins Leonato's daughter, Hero. When the verbal sparring between too-witty-for-their-own-good Beatrice and Benedick gets out of hand, Don Pedro leads the others in persuading the two combatants of each other's unspoken affection. Complicating matters is Don Pedro's bastard brother, Don John, who is set on ruining as much happiness as he can. Hamlet Isn't Dead presents Much Ado About Nothing as part of its ongoing journey to present the entire Shakespeare canon in chronological order.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've seen (and reviewed) several Hamlet Isn't Dead ventures, and I know a few of the artists involved. I also have Much Ado accidentally-half-memorized, because the Branagh film is one of my favorites.

Thoughts:

Play: I always enjoy a Hamlet Isn't Dead production, and this one may be the most fun I've seen. Evident in every moment is the company's affection for the text and joy in playing. Director James Rightmyer Jr. leans full tilt into the title's meaning - there is, indeed, much ado along the journey the characters take, but as things wind to a happy end and the company joins in (very catchy) song, there is the most joy and release as they hit the nonsense refrain of "hey nonny nonny." Shakespeare sticklers may note the combining of several roles for economy here - servant Ursula and Leonato's brother Antonio become Leonato's wife Ursula; Balthazar, Don Pedro's musician, absorbs some smaller roles, like Conrade and the messenger; the Friar, too, is merged with the Sexton - this economizing largely works, though it makes the argument over grief and anger between Leonato and Ursula a bit confusing, stakes-wise (Ursula's passivity might make more sense regarding a niece than a daughter). This is a small quibble, though - I thoroughly enjoyed myself during this high-quality performance.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W10: Carousel, Escape to Margaritaville, The Signature Project, The Bloody Deed of 1857

3/06/18: Carousel
What: Since Lincoln Center and Bartlett Sher are busy with My Fair Lady this season, Jack O'Brien is in charge of the current prestige Rodgers & Hammerstein revival. Fiercely independent Julie Jordan falls in love with charismatic rogue and carnival barker Billy Bigelow. They marry, but it's a tense partnership, with his violent temper making everyone fear for Julie's happiness and safety. After learning of Julie's pregnancy, Billy agrees to aid in a robbery that would help him support his family, but when it goes south, he commits suicide to avoid imprisonment. In the afterlife, he is given the chance to redeem his existence and help the family he left behind, fifteen years later.
And? I don't like this show. I never have. I saw it as a young child and had an instantaneous recoil against a narrative about a man who foolishly ruins the lives of his entire family, but then the show wants to redeem him. I wanted none of it. I still don't want much of it. So my repulsion to the content aside, I will say: I respect the craft I see Hammerstein the bookwriter doing, experimenting with form, having scenes that seamlessly shift between song and spoken word - a clear antecedent to Sondheim and his collaborators. This production is solidly anchored by the heartbreaking earnestness of Jessie Mueller's Julie, the perfectly-delivered soliloquy of Billy by Joshua Henry, and the amazingly hilarious and heartfelt Carrie as performed by Lindsay Mendez (my GOD, these three). The rest of the cast was uneven - neither the ballet dancers nor the opera star are particularly good actors, but they're good at the dancing and the singing, respectively. Outside of a few isolated small personal interactions, I was not particularly fond of the staging of the show ("Blow High, Blow Low" was a high point, however), or of the set design. Also it's Carousel. [further note: it's still in previews, and I've been told they're experimenting with different revisions of the script, so the production that opens might be different from what I saw]



3/07/18: Escape to Margaritaville
What: A new musical based around the song catalog of Jimmy Buffet (some classics, some new material, if my understanding is correct). Workaholic Rachel takes her bff Tammy on a week-long bachelorette holiday to a tiny island with a volcano which may or may not erupt. While there, both women find romance in unexpected places. Also everyone drinks a lot.
And? I mean ... if you want to see a brightly-colored musical with songs by Jimmy Buffet and don't care if there's an actual story or conflict, this is a show you might enjoy. It was kind of fun seeing it on blizzard night - we hardy few who made it there were invited to move in close and enjoy. The show is harmless; I was mostly bored. Also, I managed to make a lot of my friends hilariously angry when I announced on Facebook that until that night I didn't realize Jimmy Hoffa and Jimmy Buffet were two separate men. So that was fun.

Andre Ward, center, as Jamal. Photo by David Gordon.

Margin Notes: The Signature Project

Patrick Dunning with musician Cat Patterson and
dancer Melissa Maricich. Photo by Ingrid Butler.

Seen on: Friday, 3/09/18.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Dubliner Patrick Dunning has been working on a massive artwork for the past twenty-five years, made entirely out of 171 4x4 canvases covered in signatures. He tours these canvases around, gathering further signatures and stories to tell, in this multimedia performance of visual art, storytelling, music, and dance, in the ongoing quest to complete his magnum opus.

What I Knew Beforehand
I knew loosely that this was a multi-media performance somehow related to an artwork, but not much else, as I wanted to let myself be surprised.

Thoughts:

In telling the story of his life and of his art, Patrick Dunning speaks of passing "beyond the visible light." Sometimes this means when people, such as his father - immortalized in a metallic paint portrait visible only under an X-ray of Square 43 - pass away. Sometimes it means that you need to reexamine a thing to see its full nature; look at it from a different angle, or, more literally, from a different light (ultraviolet, infrared, and X-ray, to name a few) to see what's there. The mission to make each moment of life and of his work worth this reexamination is at the heart of his mural, and of the performance piece around it, The Signature Project. From a distance, his massive mural is a celestial celebration, with Earth, the stars, the crescent moon, the galaxy, framing a shining sun with a heart at its center. Up close, each 4x4 square within the work is a tapestry of signatures in different colored acrylic inks. Up close, he can tell you the story of individual signatures on his mural. Some squares have hidden within them metallic paintings seen only by X-ray. Some squares are overlaid with sections of an ornately flowered silhouette of a man embracing the painting, the central heart in his chest, but visible only under ultraviolet light. Every inch of his mural is crafted and planned, and Dunning has so many stories to tell. He doesn't know when the work will be finished. He doesn't know where the work will go. But perhaps it is the journey of the work, his travels, his stories, and the stories he collects along the way, which make this memorable: it is a work of memories set to outlive every person whose name is but a piece of its whole.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W9: Three Tall Women

3/01/18: Three Tall Women
What: Three ages of women (A, 92; B, 52; C, 26) look back on A's life, its bitterness and its sweetness, looking for how she became who she is. The first act/half is realism, the second half/act, more an imagined deconstruction.
And? Honestly, I had a really tough time focusing during the first half. The second half, though, was terrific, with a gorgeous set concept by Miriam Buether (so much poetry in its reveal), and stunning performances by Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf. I saw the first preview, so there was a technical snafu at the transition, but otherwise this is in pretty good shape.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W8: Ghost Story

1/10/18: Ghost Story
What: Three women deal with the grief, pain, and growth that cancer leaves in its wake.
And? While I don't fully agree with the play's philosophy, I like the structure of it, and the performers are quite good. Full review here.

Randa Karembelas, Chelsea J. Smith, and Elissa Klie as Lisa, Meryl, and Hannah.
Photo by David Fletcher.

Margin Notes: Ghost Story

Elissa Klie and Chelsea J. Smith as Hannah and
Meryl. Photo by David Fletcher.

Seen on: Friday, 2/23/18.
My grade: B

Plot and Background
Three women - Meryl, a healer; Lisa, her client facing a return of her breast cancer; and Hannah, Meryl's girlfriend - are haunted by the spectre of illness, and by questions they cannot answer. Little Spoon, Big Spoon partners with Cancer Hope Network to present this one-act by Mark Ravenhill, with 20% of the ticket sales going to CHN.

What I Knew Beforehand
I'd seen (and reviewed) an earlier Little Spoon, Big Spoon production, which included two of the same cast members as this show. Otherwise, I knew very little of the play going in.

Thoughts:

Play: I like very much the idea of these women sharing strength with each other - giving when they see another is weak and needing support, and accepting that support when it's given. The play is an interesting sort of skirt to the gritty and mundane unpleasantness of illness, dealing instead with its emotional scars, the worries and fears, but skipping ahead past the actual dying. However, I remain troubled by a recurring theme in this play, which is the characters' choosing a lie over the truth, albeit with good intent. Lies wait to be found out; truths simply are. And this action is a bit too central to the play for me to completely look past it. Looking near it, though, I like the non-linear fluidity of the narrative, the idea that these three women perpetually haunt the same space, whether they are physically in the room together or no. The play's tagline is "We are the stories we tell ourselves;" I would addend that with "and the people we carry with us."

Monday, February 19, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W7: At Home at the Zoo, Chess (twice)

1/10/18: At Home at the Zoo
What: Edward Albee's famous The Zoo Story is paired with a prequel, Homelife, to show Peter's relationship with his wife, Ann, prior to meeting a strange man, Jerry, on a park bench, who seems determined to unsettle him.
And? I saw this the last time it was done in New York, at Second Stage, and was disappointed at the time - Homelife seemed to have been written for the sole purpose of giving us a clue who Peter was prior to Jerry, but I was just bewildered by it. This time, however, I was mostly won over by Homelife. Yes, aspects of it are still bewildering (it's Albee), but the relationship felt real, and was affectingly performed by Katie Finneran and Robert Sean Leonard. I had a sense of what could be lost in the next act. But then, for the first time, The Zoo Story half didn't work for me. It was working for a while, mind you - Paul Sparks did great work with the dog story. But the final escalation felt inorganic, and so I felt nothing at the conclusion, because I didn't trust it. I'm not sure what went wrong here, but something did.

Top: Katie Finneran and Robert Sean Leonard as Ann
and Peter. Bottom: Robert Sean Leonard and Paul Sparks
as Peter and Jerry. Photos by Joan Marcus.


1/10/18: Chess (twice)
What: Kennedy Center, a la New York City Center's Encores! series, presents a concert staging of Chess with newly revised script by Danny Strong. Florence, a refugee from Hungary, is poised at the epicenter of an East-West rivalry during the height of the Cold War, as two chess champions, one Russian, one American, vie for the title amid geopolitical machinations and romantic entanglements.
Why Twice? Well, Raul Esparza, Ramin Karimloo, Karen Olivo, Ruthie Ann Miles, and Bryce Pinkham.
And? One of musical theater's famous problem shows, Chess once again attempts to fix itself and find its "final" version. It's still Chess. It's still got its infectious score with its lyrics that don't always make sense or sit comfortably on the melody, and a story that never quite works. But the cast is great, strong acting and strong vocals (the unfortunate exception to this turned into a moving moment of live theater: Raul Esparza has been battling an infection all week. We could hear him struggling with the notes at the top of his register on Saturday; on Sunday they delayed curtain 15 minutes, then announced that he was sick but would perform regardless. His Sunday Freddie shouted a bit less, took a good deal of his stuff down an octave (the high stuff just wasn't there when he reached for it), and was aided and supported by Florence/Karen Olivo. He was conserving what limited access he had to his high range for his big act two number, "Pity the Child," and while it was still rough, it was incredibly performed. When he finished, the entire cast burst into applause along with the audience, and I saw several wiping tears from their eyes. It was a wonderful reminder of the camaraderie and support that is built in a company of players). Back to the show: It's a well-staged concert, and this was probably the funniest version of the show I've encountered, so I assume that's part of what Strong added, along with more specific ties to contemporary conflicts between the USSR and the US.

Karen Olivo as Florence. Photo by Teresa Wood.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W6: Relevance, Hey, Look Me Over!, He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box

1/10/18: Relevance
What: At a literary conference, Lifetime Achievement honoree Theresa goes head to head on the topic of feminism with newcomer (and grant winner) Msemaji, and when their panel debate goes viral, both must reckon with the value of the individual voice versus the cacophony of social media.
And? I caught this early enough in previews - and rewrites - that several scenes had actors with script in hand. That being said, I found this a compelling exploration of the importance of the individual, as opposed to being defined solely by othering labels. I don't know that the playwright has as yet presented as balanced an examination as he ultimately wants, since it's so clear in the opening scene that Theresa starts out in the wrong, and never quite recovers enough for us to consider she might have the higher ground. The cast was pretty great, particularly the two leads, Pascale Armand and Jayne Houdyshell.


Jayne Houdyshell and Pascale Armand as Theresa and Msemaji. Photo by
Joan Marcus.

1/10/18: Hey, Look Me Over!
What: Bob Martin revives his Man in Chair persona from The Drowsy Chaperone to curate a revue  in honor of New York City Center Encores!'s 25th anniversary, selecting songs from eight musicals (and an overture from a ninth) of the past they haven't yet visited. (Wildcat, All American, Jamaica, Milk and Honey, Mack & Mabel, Greenwillow, Sail Away, George M!, and the overture from Subways are for Sleeping)
And? Listen, I had fun. Was it a coherent revue? Not really. But I knew to expect that going in. I got what I love to get out of the Encores! series: a glimpse at shows I probably won't get to see full production of, with a full orchestra and top notch talent. In this case, the only music I knew ahead of time was Mack & Mabel, "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" from Sail Away, and "Give My Regards to Broadway" from George M! - everything else was new to me. Highlights: Bob Martin's sweet and off-beat Man in Chair, Carolee Carmello's robust "Hey, Look Me Over!," Douglas Sills and Alexandra Socha completely charming us as the titular Mack and Mabel, Clifton Duncan bringing the house down with "Never Will I Marry," and Bebe Neuwirth reminding us why she's a legend with "Why Do the Wrong People Travel."

Douglas Sills and Alexandra Socha perform from Mack & Mabel.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Weekly Margin, 2018 W5: Jerry Springer - the Opera, The Chekhov Dreams

1/31/18: Jerry Springer - the Opera
What: Jerry Springer's show is going normally - full of broken angry people telling terrible secrets and riling up the audience - when a disgruntled ex-employee shoots him dead. When Jerry arrives in Hell, Satan requests he hosts one last show, featuring Jesus, Adam, Eve, Mary, and possibly the big man himself.
And? The first half, pre-murder, was basically the same joke, over and over: people saying horrible things but singing them operatically (including the recurring refrain "What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fucking fuck"). The second half also felt pretty labored, honestly, and the fact that after the parade of awfulness, the show seemed to be shooting for an actual moral message, felt unearned. The cast is talented, but it wasn't enough. That being said, to quote Michael Bluth, I don't know what I expected.

Will Swenson and Terrence Mann with company as Satan and Jerry Springer.
Photo by Monique Carboni.


2/02/18: The Chekhov Dreams
What: A depressed Jeremy is shaken from his three-year stupor by his hedonistic brother, who prompts him to join an acting class. Now he no longer dreams of his dead fiancee Kate; Anton Chekhov is there, too.
And? Some problematic stuff, but I had a mostly fun time watching it. Full review here.