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.