Monday, July 15, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W28: Fiddler on the Roof, The Mountains Look Different

7/13/19: Fiddler on the Roof
a repeat visit (family in town). We were extremely lucky, as this was one of the few shows to not have to cancel its performance due to Saturday night's midtown blackout. We had a couple understudies, including marvelous performances from Bruce Sabath and Adam B. Shapiro as Tevye and Leyzer-Volf, respectively. We also had an understudy Fiddler who, unlike Lauren Jeanne Thomas, was unfortunately not playing the fiddle live. This might not have bothered me (the Fiddler usually mimes the playing in other productions), had I not seen the usual Fiddler who does play live, and had the Fiddler not been standing next to a live clarinet player and cymbal player during the nightmare.

7/14/19: The Mountains Look Different
What: Mint Theater's production of Micheal mac Liammoir's play about an Irish woman whose marriage to the son of a farmer returns her to Ireland after thirteen years in London, a potentially devastating secret in tow.
And? Not really for me.

Brenda Meaney as Bairbre. Photo by Todd Cerveris.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W27: Moulin Rouge!, Ink

the performance of Secret Life of Bees I was supposed to see on 7/05/19 was cancelled due to actor illness (I'm seeing it in a few weeks instead), so as a reward for us all, you get 3.1 paragraphs on Moulin Rouge!

7/03/19: Moulin Rouge!
What: The new musical adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's 2001 hit film, about a penniless composer, Christian, who is lured into the Moulin Rouge and falls in love with its sparkling diamond, Satine.
And? I've been wrestling with how to write my reaction to this, partly because it's as varied and eclectic as the show and source film, and partly because I think there's a longer piece I could write about this at some point. Act One is wonderful, full of the excess and charged energy that thrills through the film, a mix of numbers used in the film (don't worry, "Lady Marmalade" and "Nature Boy" are still there) and new ones chosen (including a gorgeous mash-up of "Shut Up and Dance" and "Raise Your Glass," and a revised "Elephant Love Medley" that nails its spot as the Act One finale). Act Two falls apart a bit for me (which I at least had braced myself for, as bookwriter John Logan often fails to stick the landing with his theatrical work); Satine's illness is barely telegraphed in the first act, so its sudden appearance as a deux ex kill-the-girl (or consumption ex machina, per Duncan Pflaster) toward the end feels more shoe-horned than it needs to be, and the lovers' reunion doesn't reach the full ecstasy required for her final exit to land as it should. The show instead saves that ecstasy for an extended encore/curtain call, so that the audience still leaves happy.

I've been trying to think back to what appealed to me about the film, as well as how I think it appealed similarly and differently to those who were not-me. It traffics a lot in familiar music--but familiar only to some, as most of the film score was new to me. I know I responded to the aesthetic of excess in it (it's part of what I love in Great Comet as well), as well as the earnest idealism, and I responded to the love story. Here with the show, the music nostalgia is a new mix: songs I now associate fondly with the film, new songs (some of which I know, some of which I don't), and the love story is differently painted. Gone is the Orpheus myth that infused so much of the film, gone is the Duke as an ineffectual fop (Tam Mutu brings an appealing menace to his new take on the role), gone is much resemblance to the real life Toulouse-Lautrec (though Sahr Ngaujah is a beautifully realized weathered bohemian who bears the same name and some of the same artistic bent). And at least for me, gone is a chunk of my investment in the love story. This isn't Orpheus anymore; it's a story of the club, and of some players within it (this distinction is made especially clear when the aesthetic of the Moulin Rouge takes over a private moment between Christian and Satine, elevating it Baz-style), and that hurts the emotional weight of the second half.

But with all that, we also have a perfectly-cast Aaron Tveit as Christian, golden-throated heartthrob that he is; we have Karen Olivo, every inch a star in a more actualized Satine (though her accent work is spotty); we have a marvelously lush Moulin Rouge recreated in the Hirschfeld Theater (yes, we've got the elephant and the windmill, thank you Derek McLane), presided over by the wonderful Danny Burstein, in his element as the seedy but benevolent Zidler; we have stunningly visceral choreography by Sonya Tayeh, and a sense of immersion reminiscent of both the frenetic cinematography of the film and of Broadway's recent Great Comet.

I loved the first half. I think the book fell short in the second half. But man oh man, what a ride.

Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

7/04/19: Ink
a repeat visit (family in town)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W25: Kiss Me, Kate, Bare

6/21/19: Kiss Me, Kate
What: Roundabout's revival of the play-within-a-play musical adaptation of Taming of the Shrew.
And? Sadly, mostly meh. The rewrites were clumsy at best and just completely missing the point at worst (you don't need to make Petruchio less sexist in his first song. The point of his first song is gosh he's sexist, maybe we should try to fix that). And frankly any attempts at "fixing" the show were rendered moot for me when Bianca became a literal prop in her own song (not even kidding). Last complaint beyond an overall meh, and then I'll get to the good: Will Chase's clown did not work for me here; I could see how hard he was working, and most of the humor got lost in the sweat. Okay time for the good: Kelli O'Hara singing "So In Love." How much Corbin Bleu has grown into his stage presence, and how effortlessly charming he is as Bill (and what a dancer!). Pretty much all the choreography by Warren Carlyle (though I rolled my eyes at how much he wanted to make sure we caught the double entendre in "Tom, Dick, or Harry"). James T. Lane bringing the house down in "Too Darn Hot." The delightful swing Travis Waldschmidt killing it as he stepped in for Ralph, the Stage Manager.

James T. Lane and the cast. Photo by Joan Marcus.

6/22/19: Bare
What: Queens Shakespeare and What Dreams May Co produce the cult hit musical Bare, about two star-crossed boys in a Catholic boarding school, set against the backdrop of their school's production of Romeo and Juliet.
And? I know this has been a dream project for real-life married couple Jonathan Emerson and Matthew Pohlman, and it was touching to get to see the two of them sing the moving title song to each other. They both brought terrific emotional honesty to their performances. The biggest drawback for this production, sadly, is the same issue I had with this group's production of Godspell previously: the onstage band overpowered the voices far too often, and I couldn't understand the lyrics being sung, particularly in the first half of the show. Still, there were some good voices in the production, particularly La Toya Lewis's Sister Chantelle and Sarah Wiesehahn's Nadia.

Matthew Pohlman and Jonathan Emerson as Jason and Peter. Photo by
Joseph Sebring.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W24: Improvised Shakespeare, Othello[s], Fairview

6/10/19: Improvised Shakespeare
What: A troupe of five players improvise a ninety-minute play in iambic pentameter (ish), based on a suggestion from the audience, using familiar Shakespeare tropes, style, and structure.
And? A delightfully silly romp through Athens in "The Philosopher's Revenge."

6/14/19: Othello[s]
What: Shakespeare Forum's centerpiece of its annual El Barrio's Shakespeare Festival, a re-examination and deconstruction of the tragedy in a variety of iterations and perspectives (Roderigo, Desdemona, Iago/Emilia, and finally Othello himself), with the performers switching roles for each iteration.
And? I know this phrasing isn't terribly helpful to outsiders, but I love how forum the last several Forum productions have been: leaning in to the unique qualities of individual performers to inform the characters portrayed, rather than trying to slot bodies into predetermined personality slots. It yields such heartbreaking honesty, such  simple and clear work, and surprising new relationships. Of especial note here were the different colors visible in Iago, depending on whose lens he appeared in: the Alpha friend to Roderigo, bossy and athletic and confident; the kind if somewhat snarky ally to Desdemona, his duplicity never revealed; the man in the midst of a crisis, unsure of what is true or if everything is true, to himself (I had issues with this iteration, compelling as it was, with whether it is actually Othello; the other three were still Othello, if that makes sense); and the Puck-ish sidekick whose treachery is only at the last revealed, to Othello. I love the first half of this production (Roderigo and Desdemona) and had some issues with the second half, but I also knew that the Iago section had to break the pattern somehow, and was pleased that it did, and did it so thoroughly. Some final quick highlights: Ari Dalbert's heartbreakingly confused Roderigo meeting his death, and Antonio Disla's brash and charismatic Iago delivering his death blow, then leaving him to die alone; Kia Nicole Boyer was honestly my favorite Desdemona I've seen (she also made a good Othello in a later cycle), and I loved the honest love between her and Amara James Aja's Othello; Tyler Moss's precision and active presence as a performer: he's the kind of living actor we all want to be, reacting in the moment to the moment, alive and honest; a small moment containing a world of story: Sara Malinowski's Desdemona in the final cycle, approaching the curtained bedchamber, hesitating, just a moment, as if remember the devastation within those four posters in a previous life.

Kia Nicole Boyer and Sara Malinowski as Desdemona and Emilia in the
Desdemona cycle. Photo by Allison Stock.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W23: Mac Beth, A Strange Loop

6/04/19: Mac Beth
What: Red Bull's new production of Shakespeare's tragedy, as directed and adapted by Erica Schmidt: seven schoolgirls gather in an abandoned lot to play-act the story of Macbeth, with menacing undertones.
And? Seconding Wendy Caster's review on Show Showdown: the idea of another high-concept Shakespeare can get a bit tiring, but this one absolutely worked, I think in large part because concept aside, the Shakespeare was so clear. The text was economically trimmed down, but entertaining and clear, the relationships were beautiful crafted (honestly the most loving Mac and Lady Mac I've ever seen), the entire cast is ridiculously talented, and the concept enhanced, rather than got in the way of, the actual story being told. As the dramaturgical notes in the program warn us (well, those of us who had a chance to read them), there is a bit more at play than seven girls telling each other a story, and I definitely have some thoughts about the pluses and minuses of that bit more; but overall this was such excellent execution, with a much stronger demarcation of the influence of the three Witches on the proceedings, that really enriched the whole thing for me. By the time this posts, the production will have closed, but I'm glad I got to catch it before it did.

AnnaSophia Robb and Sophie Kelly-Hedrick as the two Murderers.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

6/07/19: A Strange Loop
What: Playwrights Horizons presents Michael R. Jackson's (deep breath) musical about a black, queer musical theater writer writing a musical about a black, musical theater writer writing a musical about ... you get it. Though he assured us at the talkback it's not autobiographical so much as it occasionally borrows from the truth.
And? Hot damn, this was brilliant. Sondheim-level cleverness-meets-neurosis in the faster songs (to say nothing of the pastiche). Angry and hilarious and painful and the full gamut, with a transformative space and a crazy talented ensemble.

Larry Owens, center, and the cast as Usher and his Thoughts.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

My Annually Inaccurate Tony Predictions

RIP Head Over Heels
The Tony Awards are this weekend, which means I'm legally obligated to have an opinion about who should win, and who should suffer. It's been another kind of weird season for me (well, for Broadway). Not a lot of shows really blew me out of the water, though most shows at least had some element that really stood out, be it design (King Kong) or performance (the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category is a surfeit of riches, with the resulting heartbreak that there are some notable omissions there: I thought Beetlejuice's Leslie Kritzer was a shoe-in for a nomination, and even people who hated the delightful Head Over Heels walked away talking about how brilliant Bonnie Milligan was).

Other disappointing omissions (at least for me) included the stellar work in Lifespan of a Fact and Mike Birbiglia's The New One, as well as Michael Urie's performance in Torch Song. I was surprised that Mockingbird  wasn't nominated for Best Play, especially in light of its other nominations, but that could be due to Scott Rudin being rather an impolitic tool.

Let's get to it!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W22: Octet, The Prom

5/31/19: Octet
What: Dave Malloy's new a cappella musical at Signature, and it's really best if I don't spoil anything further about the content.
And? Holy crap, this was incredible. Thrilling vocals, honest and understated performances, and just an utterly brilliant execution of a concept that, in lesser hands, could have been cynical and clumsy. An astonishing evening at the theater, a truly special show that I'm so grateful I got to see. (also if they don't record me a cast album, I will cry)

The cast of Octet. Photo by Joan Marcus.

6/01/19: The Prom
a repeat visit (family in town)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W20: Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, Little Women

5/17/19: Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations
What: The title basically covers it.
And? Watching this show was a very similar experience to watching Jersey Boys for me, for the following reasons (besides the obvious, that it's a bio/jukebox musical about a legendary music group):

  • it definitely got a bit overhyped
  • people in the audience were singing along
  • the audience-facing narration was exactly the kind of clunk that makes me tired as a writer
  • a part of me is distrusting what I'm hearing, or rather, the horse's mouth of it all, simply because the narrator comes off the cleanest (same issue came up for me with Motown, which didn't have a narrator, but goodness did Mr. Berry Gordy come off looking like he wasn't the control freak that he is)
  • HO-LY SHIT WHEN THEY SING THOUGH. What an absolute thrill to hear those songs live, to watch them move the way they do (Ephraim Sykes, you guys. YOU GUYS)
Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Jawan M. Jackson, James Harkness, and
Derrick Baskin as David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin,
Paul Williams, and Otis Williams. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

5/18/19: Little Women
What: Kate Hamill's latest adaptation presented by Primary Stages, of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel about the March sisters.
And? It was fine, if a bit inert, with a weird dichotomy of seeming to rush through story beats while also going slowly. I think part of this was caused by the scene changes, which would have benefited from the guidance of a choreographer, to activate the redressing of the space, and pair it more specifically with the music. Strong performances from Kristolyn Lloyd (Jo) and Paola Sanchez Abreu (Beth), and a beautiful use of the recurring motif of Beth demanding a real story from Jo.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W19: Burn This, Ink, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, All My Sons, High Button Shoes

5/07/19: Burn This
What: The second major NYC revival of Lanford Wilson's play about the many shapes of grief after a sudden loss.
And? Lanford Wilson is a playwright who's had a big impact on me, and I was excited to see a major revival of one of his plays, especially as it's one I've only read. This was a fairly decent production, though it didn't solve the puzzle the play has always had for me: why does she find Pale so appealing when he's so terribly awful so much of the time? What is it in him that is speaking to her? That aside, I thought it was very well directed and well paced, with great sound and scenic design (*glares angrily at the mess that is Sam Gold's King Lear*), and Brandon Uranowitz was absolute scene-stealing perfection as Larry, and I'm so glad he got a Tony nom for this.

David Furr, Keri Russell, and Brandon Uranowitz as Burton, Anna, and Larry.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.

5/08/19: Ink
What: A transfer from the West End: James Graham's play about the first year of Rupert Murdoch's ownership of the British tabloid The Sun, and his collaboration with editor Larry Lamb.
And? Terrific theater. Great rhythm, great staging, GREAT design, sharp writing, and a good cast anchored by Bertie Carvel and Jonny Lee Miller. It was interesting watching this, and thinking about how differently it must have played for a UK audience, where they're more familiar with The Sun, as well as with the real people portrayed in the play (I'd only heard of Murdoch, but none of the others). That being said, it still plays well here, just with less of the Greek tragedy element, of everyone watching knowing where this all is going. Pointed references toward the end, of Murdoch's support for this up-and-comer Margaret Thatcher, or his intention to go into television in the U.S., resonated more with our crowd, however. I was surprised, ultimately, at how sympathetically both Murdoch and Lamb were portrayed, the doubts and hesitations they had along the way. I suppose the point is no one starts out a monster; but we see the choices they make, and how monstrous they can become.

Andrew Durand, David Wilson Barnes, Rana Roy, Bill Buell, Eden Marryshow,
Jonny Lee Miller, Bertie Carvel, Tara Summers, Colin McPhillamy, Robert
Stanton, Erin Neufer, and Kevin Pariseu. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W18: Ruffled Feathers

5/04/19: Ruffled Feathers
What: The brilliant Beth Slack's solo cabaret act.
And? Call me biased because Beth's my friend, but she was so good!!! Beth has a beautiful soprano and a hilarious and twisted sense of humor, both of which she brings to play in her solo show (or "single woman show," as her mother reportedly calls it) about the crisis of turning forty and the expectations she had had about this milestone in her life. This of course yields renditions of songs like "Stars and the Moon," "Old Maid," and "When I Grow Up," as well as "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," "Forget About the [Bird]" (there was a bird motif), and "Out There." I laughed so much my cheeks ached, I cried multiple times, and I was so damn proud of my friend and what she made (all of the patter stringing together the songs was great, too). I can't wait to see what she does next.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W17: Lady in the Dark

4/25/19: Lady in the Dark
What: Master Voices's concert staging of the Weill/Gershwin/Hart musical play about psychoanalysis.
And? This was very good timing for me, as my dad and I are working on final revisions on a paper which covers this show in addition to Man of La Mancha, next to normal, and Anyone Can Whistle. It's a weird show with two really memorable showstoppers toward the end, rendered wonderfully by David Pittu and Victoria Clark. The cast is good, the costumes are sumptuous, and the sound design leaves much to be desired.

Ben Davis, Victoria Clark, and Christopher Innvar as Randy Curtis, Liza
Elliott, and Charley Johnson. Photo by Richard Termine.

Also, and I know this is totally off-brand for this particular blog, but I saw Endgame this weekend and no spoilers, but damn was that a satisfying conclusion to eleven years of MCU.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W16: Stephen Mosher: The Story Teller, Nantucket Sleigh Ride, Tootsie

4/19/19: Stephen Mosher: The Story Teller
What: My friend Stephen Mosher's cabaret, a mix of songs that make him happy and stories from his career, and his family.
And? Absolutely lovely. Stephen is an engaging storyteller (and oh boy, does he have some good stories to tell) with a sweet voice and a disarming humor. I missed the last time he did a cabaret, so I'm grateful I got to catch it this time around.

Stephen Mosher. Photo by Bob Bowen.

4/20/19: Nantucket Sleigh Ride
What: Lincoln Center presents a new work by John Guare, a memory play about a memory play where the memory of everything is incredibly fallible (I think?).
And? I really don't know what to make of this play. It felt deliberately incoherent. John Larroquette seemed almost apologetic at curtain call. There was some talent in the cast (Douglas Sills and Will Swenson were both delightful, but what were they in?) amidst the confusion, but the whole play was just annoying coy about everything.

John Larroquette and Will Swenson as Edmund Gowery and McPhee.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W15: [King Lear], Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma!, What the Constitution Means to Me

4/09/19: [King Lear]
What: Glenda Jackson stars in and Sam Gold directs a new production of Shakespeare's tragedy
And? Oh boy, what a mess. Glenda Jackson is great, but the rest ... what a mess. There's no unity in performance style (or consistent scansion), the designers don't seem to have been in any kind of conversation with each other (or maybe the sound designer just never noticed how the sound bounced off the walls of the gilt box set), the costume designer seems to have some beef with Elizabeth Marvel because what was that cut and color palate, and if there was any unifying vision for the production or any specific story being told, I couldn't find it. I'm starting to think Sam Gold is the latest naked emperor, that Annie Baker's John and the musical Fun Home were good despite his influence, because between this and his nonsense production of Glass Menagerie, I don't really see a coherent storyteller. And I am so extremely tired of putting up with directors who don't take into account all sightlines. We were in the extreme side seating, yes, and the Cort Theatre is a notorious beast for its side seats, but you know what? Rebecca Taichman's production of Indecent didn't neglect any of those seats. It can be done. So I'm done with directors who are too lazy to figure out how. There were entire scenes that took place along the side wall of the box set that I couldn't see. I checked my ticket. Nowhere was it stamped with the phrase "Partial View." The whole thing felt like a waste of everyone's time, energy, and money.

Glenda Jackson as King Lear. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe.

4/11/19: Fiddler on the Roof
What: The new production of Shraga Friedman's Yiddish translation of Fiddler transfers to Stage 42 after a celebrated and sold out run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
And? Guys, please don't be scared off by the not-in-English aspect (for one, there's supertitles; for two, the performances are so honest and clear, you'll get it anyway). This is hands down the best production of Fiddler I have ever seen. I have never been so moved, so invested in the story of Anatevke, and of Tevye and his family, as I was here. Every moment, every choice, was so specific and honest and personal, from Tevye's wry but loyal regard for Der Fidler (the personification of "Traditsye"), to his trusting but injured relationship with God, to his deeply-felt love for every member of his family (honestly, this is the first time I've ever seen how much Tevye needs to know the answer when he asks Golde if she loves him). I was quietly crying for much of the show, at the love in these characters, at the ache, at the banked fear, and with the grim knowledge of how much worse is to come. But I'll tell you something else: I often think of the tone of the finale as one of grim acceptance and quiet despair; here for the first time I saw a new tone in tandem with these: the will to survive. This will not be the end for these people--they won't let it be. They will not be erased.

Steven Skybell, center, as Tevye with the cast.
Photo by Victor Nechay/ProperPix.

4/12/19: Oklahoma!
a repeat visit

4/13/19: What the Constitution Means to Me
a repeat visit

Monday, April 8, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W14: Beetlejuice, Hadestown, Hamlet

4/02/19: Beetlejuice
What: A musical adaptation of the Tim Burton classic about a dead couple haunted by a new family taking over their home, and the demon who just wants to be loved (and to be allowed to destroy everything).
And? We saw it in previews, which means they're probably still tinkering before the official opening on April 25th. The show is uneven, but when it's good it's really good (and when it's not, it's bloated). Fantastic work by the entire design team. There's a lot of cleverness in the songs (though the ballads are more repetitive than clever--I think the writers have difficulty balancing the very dark humor with an attempt at heart). It runs the standard musical length, 2.5 hours, but it feels longer, and some filler still needs to be removed, from both book and score. Strangely, the two least successful musical numbers are the two Harry Belafonte songs from the film. They just don't stop the show the way you expect them to (the way Miss Argentina's "If I Knew Then What I Know Now" does). (speaking of, Miss Argentina is an uncredited doubling by Leslie Kritzer, who absolutely steals the show as Delia and is my favorite) The cast is pretty good (including NY favorites like Alex Brightman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Kerry Butler, and Rob McClure), wisely not trying to recreate the iconic performances in the film, but finding their own way in (the story, too, deviates from the source material on a number of points, so it's best to go in with an open mind). Also, if you're thinking this is a kid-friendly show, keep in mind what kids you'll be bringing. Because our title character says "Fuck Brigadoon," and he means it.

Alex Brightman, Rob McClure, Kerry Butler, Sophia Anne Caruso, Leslie
Kritzer, and Adam Dannheisser as Beetlejuice, Adam, Barbara, Lydia, Delia,
and Charles. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

4/04/19: Hadestown
What: A new musical adaptation of the Orpheus and Euridice myth, written by Anaïs Mitchell and developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin.
And? I adored Chavkin's production of The Great Comet to so many pieces, and I've heard nothing but good hype about this, so perhaps those expectations set me up for a bit of disappointment. Don't get me wrong, the show isn't bad. But it didn't blow me away. It could just be that there was a bit of a void with the two lead performers and their story. I was way more invested in the estranged-to-reconciled arc between Persephone and Hades (a show-stealing Amber Gray and an always wonderful Patrick Page dropping to the bottom of his range to do his best Leonard Cohen--they both had better get Tony noms for this). The design is gorgeous, particularly when the space breaks (Rachel Chavkin does like to break her plays), and the muscular staging and choreography is meticulously perfect (those Fates! those harmonies! Like three voices and bodies with but one guiding mind, are Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, and Kay Trinidad). The one other complaint I'll voice: we were very close, which is amazing, but in the side section. The stage pictures in this production are very much front-facing proscenium stage pictures, but they do not favor the side-seating, so I didn't get the full visual experience that some others were getting. All this to say: people are loving this show, audibly weeping through it. I had some issues, but I won't tell you not to see it.

Amber Gray and the National Theatre cast. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W12: Hillary and Clinton, What the Constitution Means to Me

3/18/19: Hillary and Clinton
What: Lucas Hnath's new play, about an AU Hillary and Bill, during the New Hampshire 2008 Democratic Primary, when Hillary must consider the option of dropping out of the race to become Barack's running mate.
And? The AU-ness of the play at first just seems like a winking disclaimer as to the speculation involved in what happened behind closed doors eleven years ago (it also lets the actors off the hook from attempting a caricature). However, the frame of it, introduced by Laurie Metcalf before she steps into the play as Hillary, posits that there are infinite universes, and infinite Earths--some very different from our own, some strikingly similar--and thus this Hillary could have a different future than the one we, Greek tragedy-style, know awaits our Earth's Hillary. It makes her plight doubly tragic, in some ways: the idea that somewhere, there's a Hillary who did win, but that somehow she can't manage it. I've never really gotten into any of Hnath's work, but this is the closest I've come to engaging with it. It's an interesting exploration, and makes a fair case for why Hillary's manner can seem so manufactured, inorganic. It's helped by the powerful performances from both Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the title roles. Not a must-see, but an interesting thought experiment.

3/20/19: What the Constitution Means to Me
What: Writer-performer Heidi Schreck recalls a teenage pasttime (slash college fund-raising activity) of traveling around to compete against other teens with speeches about the constitution. She uses this memory (and a re-creation of one such speech) to reckon with her own conflicting feelings about the constitution, whom it protects, and how that reflects on the very real experiences she has witnessed in her life.
And? This one is a must-see, if you can swing it. I know that description makes it sound kind of dry and lecture-y, but I promise it's not that. I loved it. It's stirring, it's smart, it's funny, it's heartbreaking, and it's inspiring. This was my first Heidi Schreck play, and I hope to see many more.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W11: Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, Jack & Melissa Present

3/14/19: Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
What: Taylor Mac's newest play, a dark comedy about three servants (a clown, a maid, a midwife) left to clean up the mess of Titus Andronicus.
And? This was my first Taylor Mac, and I really wish I'd been able to catch the much-lauded 24-Decade History of Popular Music, because this one didn't work for me. The humor is at least a third scatological, which isn't my favorite, and I found the design for the stacks of corpses (deliberately not-realistic-looking oversized cloth dolls), a mass of gray limbs, too reminiscent of images I've seen of concentration camp mass graves. Which, while the show does engage with some of the tragedy of Titus (mostly regarding Lavinia), it's more interested in other elements, and I can't think this was a deliberately conscious evocation. I'm sure some people are engaging with this show and getting a lot out of it, but I never keyed in.

Nathan Lane as Gary. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

3/15/19: Jack & Melissa Present
What: Jack and Melissa, a real-life couple and comedy duo performing an evening of sketch comedy and music.
And? It's been a while since I got to see my friend Jack perform, and he and his partner Melissa are delightfully absurd, strange, and engaging. I was happy to see, as a few interstitials, some of their web characters making cameos.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W8: The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Band's Visit

2/18/19: The Scarlet Pimpernel
What: Lincoln Center's concert staging of my very first show I ever saw on The Real Live Broadway!
And? It's always a treat to hear a Broadway score with a full orchestra, sung gorgeously. To hear the score for a show which changed my life given that treatment, sitting next to my sister who took me to see Pimpernel the first (and second) (and third) time, well ... The voices were glorious and full-throated, the small ensemble backed by a large chorus for the group numbers. Parts of the performance definitely felt a bit under-rehearsed (though maybe it's just that my standards for concert stagings have shifted since Encores! has upped their game so much in the recent years), no doubt due to the only newly-cast Tony Yazbeck as Sir Percy (heroic and dashing, with a beautiful voice, funny though not quite as transcendently so as Douglas Sills), and to Norm Lewis's ridiculously busy schedule (he had just finished performing Harold Hill at the Kennedy Center one week prior; but even with book in hand, his richly smooth baritone remains one of the most perfect voices on Broadway). Also acquitting themselves well as the St. Just siblings were Laura Osnes and Corey Cott, earnest and passionate. I must say the real highlight of the performance was Waitress alum Drew Gehling, hilarious in his various turns as Robespierre, Jessup, and the Prince of Wales--I honestly wouldn't mind seeing his take on the title role in Pimpernel. It wasn't a perfect evening: major issues with the sound design (and timing of mics turning on); and the script, though having potential, could still use some work (and I did not care for the new final song, apparently a new English translation of the finale written for the Japanese production). But I'm still glad to have gotten to see the show again in full joyous voice.

Norm Lewis, Tony Yazbeck, and Laura Osnes as Chauvelin, Percy
Blakeney, and Marguerite Blakeney. Photo by Joseph Marzullo.

2/21/19: The Band's Visit
a repeat visit, to say farewell to Bet Hatikva.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W7: The Cher Show, We Are The Tigers, My Fair Lady, Merrily We Roll Along, The Ferryman

2/12/19: The Cher Show
What: A musical about the life and times of icon Cher.
And? This is the show that Summer: The Donna Summer Musical wished it had been. It knows exactly what it is, and it's very good at it. Is it life changing? No, but it's a fun time, tongue firmly in cheek, eyebrow knowingly raised at both itself and the audience. Bolstered by a gorgeous costume design parade by Bob Mackie (who is also a character in the show) and three brilliant belters (Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, and Micaela Diamond) as three aspects of Cher herself, the show tracks the star's triumphant rise to fame and continued place in the world's affection, without spending too much time on when that star has waned. I had a few complaints, sure--chiefly that I think the show was too quick to forgive Sonny for being such a bad partner (although, since the show is Cher's lens, if she's willing to forgive him, it makes sense that the show would try to, too. I'm just not on board with that). But on the plus column, I really appreciated that the show didn't once misgender or deadname Chaz Bono, and I enjoyed how much the different aspects of Cher (Star, Lady, Babe) supported each other, so that it was a conversation and not just taking turns as she aged up (as it was done in Summer). Also hot damn, that dance number. Hot damn. (you'll know it when you see it)

Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block, and Micaela Diamond as Lady, Star, and Babe.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

2/13/19: We Are The Tigers
What: A cheerleading squad for a perpetual underdog (but prestigiously private) school is having a bonding slumber party that turns surprisingly bloody. After a series of workshops and readings, this is the show's official Off-Broadway debut.
And? There's a lot of potential here, though it still needs some work. The cast is dynamic and diverse (I almost don't want to pick a favorite, but I'm doing it anyway: Cathy Ang as the bright-eyed freshman Mattie), the score is catchy (I had a few issues, including too many moments of characters singing the exact same lines underlining the lack of specificity in the lyric; some syllable/melody issues where the wrong word is getting emphasized; but it's overall enjoyable), and Ann Beyersdorfer's scenic design is pretty impressively flexible for the limitations of the space. I think my biggest issue with where the show is now is a tonal problem. The show is written as a black comedy--like Heathers or Jawbreaker, the characters (at least at the outset) are more types than complex humans--but it's not directed quite archly enough to match the text. So when it veers into the bloody, and the characters start making increasingly bad decisions, there's a disconnect. Heathers the Musical leans into the absurd and violent in a way that makes the escalation seem organic to the world; that justification and style haven't been leaned into enough yet for Tigers to make the escalations seem like the next inevitable step. But with more work, they can probably get there, and We Are The Tigers can join the pantheon of Murder Musicals like Heathers and Sweeney Todd. (thanks to Reesa Graham for her insight in the analysis of this show)

Photo by Mati Gelman.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W6: Superhero, Call Me Madam

2/06/19: Superhero
What: A new musical by John Logan and Tom Kitt at 2nd Stage, about a fractured family, a mysterious neighbor, and the balance of bravery and recovery.
And? I saw this very early in previews, so it's possible the show will grow into something else, but right now it feels fairly underbaked, both conceptually and storywise. I wasn't entirely surprised, as bookwriter/playwright John Logan has a history of disappointing me, of not quite delivering on the potentials he sets up (listen, Red boasted two stellar performances and some amazing painting sequences, but did anyone actually get anything satisfying out of the story? truly?). And the score seemed to hit a lot of the same emotional beats over and over, in terms of the family grieving, and there's only so much even the wonderful Kate Baldwin (and she is wonderful) can wring out of it. I'm pleased the show managed to skirt some cliched tropes along the way, especially the history in some sects of comic bookology of turning women into prizes rather than people, but I was still ultimately disengaged from the show. (side note, in addition to Kate Baldwin being wonderful, the often-antic (and hilarious) Bryce Pinkham delivers a surprisingly quiet but powerful turn as the mysterious neighbor) (second side note: the Playbill and website list a character named Dean Fulton, and for the life of me I cannot recall this character. Anyone else who's seen it, any insight? Was the role cut?)

2/08/19: Call Me Madam
What: Part of New York City Center's Encores! series, about a U.S. ambassador to the Duchy of Licthenburg, and, you know, some romance ensues.
And? Unfortunately, a very inert experience. Carmen Cusack, though funny, feels vocally miscast in the Ethel Merman role, and the sweet voice of Jason Gotay and the adorableness of Lauren Worsham aren't enough to elevate the show to anything memorable. Oh well.

Jason Gotay and Lauren Worsham as Kenneth Gibson and Princess Maria.
Photo by Stephanie Berger.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W5: The Ferryman

2/01/09: The Ferryman
a repeat visit (family in town). still extraordinary. seeing it again in a few weeks. don't judge me.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W4: The Other Josh Cohen, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

1/23/19: The Other Josh Cohen
What: Narrator Josh tells the story of Josh Cohen one year ago, when his apartment got robbed, everything hit the lowest point it could hit, and then a surprise boon arrived in the mail. Starring and co-written by two Peter and the Starcatcher alum, David Rossmer and Steve Rosen.
And? Adorable, silly, and with a good heart. The perfect example of an enjoyable Off-Broadway musical, with pleasant, catchy songs, a versatile ensemble, and two engaging authors/stars.

Steve Rosen and David Rossmer as Josh Cohen. Photo by Caitlin McNaney.

1/27/19: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
What: A two-part theatrical sequel to a little-known British book series.
And? Whatever you've heard about the show is probably true. There are definitely writing problems abounding--character inconsistency or total lack of any character work at all (with the exception of Harry Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, performed excellently by Jamie Parker and Anthony Boyle, respectively), a story that might not know who or what it's about if you asked it, and a contrivance here or there to get us where we need to be--which explains why people who have read the script but not seen the production object so strongly to it. But guys, seeing it? It's fucking magical. At the end of each part of the show, as you leave the theater, they hand out buttons printed with "#KeepTheSecrets" and I do want to respect that, especially as the secrets most worth keeping (and most worth experiencing without spoilers) are more in the staging and production than necessarily in the plot (which has been spoiled left, right, and twice on Sundays). So I'm not going to delve into specifics of what they do or how they do it, but damn, guys. Our seats were up in the balcony (third tier of the theater), which frankly are excellent seats for how this show is done. You get the full scope and scale of the thing, the rake and angles are well-built so there's no partial view action. Sure, you can't see the sweat beading on their foreheads, but you can see everything else. They've renovated the entire theater, so I fully recommend taking a stroll through the various levels of the lobby before settling into your comfortable seat. And then watch the magic. Because it's fucking magical. It's so thrilling to see artists and craftspeople working at the top of their game, and that's what we're getting from this Tony-winning creative team (seriously, one of the best lighting designs I've seen on Broadway).

The cast. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W3: Blue Ridge

1/16/19: Blue Ridge
What: In a halfway house in North Carolina, a wrench is thrown into the recovery of several residents when walking disaster (and sometimes violent) Alison moves in.
And? After thinking about it a few days, I still don't know what the title has to do with the content of the play, beyond indicating the region. However, I mostly appreciated the play itself, even if it did seem to go off the rails narratively as it went on. Fantastic performances by all, especially the always wonderful Marin Ireland, and the rising star Kristoyn Lloyd.

The cast. Photo by Ahron R. Foster. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W2: To Kill a Mockingbird, Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, Choir Boy

1/09/19: To Kill a Mockingbird
A repeat visit with a friend. We were in the front row (which ended up being slightly partial view during the trial scenes due to scenic design/staging), and it was a treat to get a close look at the nuances of performance, especially when it wasn't a character meant to be in focus. I was particularly taken with Shona Tucker, who with no lines emulated fully crafted character work, as both a spectator at the trial and as Mrs. Henry Dubose's much put-upon maid (she also understudies Calpurnia), as well as Thomas Michael Hammond's Bailiff (he also understudies both Atticus Finch and the prosecuting attorney Horace Gilmer). I still have issues with some elements of the adaptation (particularly the fact that it's no longer Scout's story or journey; she's there to tell Atticus's journey), but it's a moving piece of theater.

1/10/19: Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine
What: Undine, a powerful PR entrepreneur who reinvented herself after college to remove any traces of her "ghetto" upbringing, must return home to her Brooklyn family when her con artist husband leaves her penniless and pregnant. Over the course of her gestation, she must reckon with the the lies she's told others and herself, and recognize what happiness can look like.
And? Glad I caught this before it closed. Fantastic performances, funny and moving, and a delightful showcase for the versatile cast as well as Montana Levi Blanco's costume design.

Cherise Boothe as Undine. Photo by Monique Carboni.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W1: True West, Improvised Shakespeare

1/03/19: True West
What: Roundabout's revival of Sam Shepherd's play about two brothers--one a transient small-potatoes thief, the other a screenwriter--whose rivalry and estrangement come to a boil.
And? I was pretty bored by the show (but I've never really gotten Sam Shepard). Paul Dano was great, Ethan Hawke was better than expected. The set design was pretty good, but the lighting design employed a device I've been seeing a lot lately that I'm not too kicked on (a proscenium frame of lights that glare brightly between scenes to shrink the audience's pupils, to cover the set transitions). That device worked for me for The Father because it seemed to feed, and be fed off, the content of the story; I didn't see any form/content matching here.

Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano as Lee and Austin. Photo by Joan Marcus.

1/06/19: Improvised Shakespeare
What: A troupe of five players improvise a ninety-minute play in iambic pentameter (ish), based on a suggestion from the audience, using familiar Shakespearean tropes, style, and structure.
And? Another absolute delight, complete with a scene of badly-accented French soldiers hatching a plan in rhyme, an impression contest, way too many babies, and more in Laying An Egg.