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.

3/30/18: Yeomen of the Guard
What: Blue Hill Troupe's production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta about the various topsy turvy machinations to rescue a man falsely accused of sorcery.
And? Unfortunately, not a very compelling performance, and the voices were generally not good enough to compensate, though Zina Ellis gave an excellent standout performance as Phoebe.

3/31/18: Kings
What: Lobbyists and politicians play a game of chess as they negotiation power, sway, and ideals in Washington, D.C.
And? I don't know that the play has a specific point it's trying to make, aside from American politics being a garbage fire of compromise and corruption (which, fair, but also we know that), and most of the scenes feel a bit dormant even as the characters negotiate (aside from the televised debate, which is fiery and with clear stakes). It's well-performed, however, with a satisfyingly modular set.

Gillian Jacobs and Eisa Davis as Kate and Representative Sydney Millsap.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

4/01/18: Pygmalion
What: Bedlam presents its rather timely production of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, about flower seller Eliza Doolittle who takes dialect lessons with phonetic expert Henry Higgins, so that she may earn a better living in a more refined environment (you bet your mother hubbard I recycled my synopsis from My Fair Lady last week).
And? It was an interesting experience, seeing this. My Bedlam-viewing forays have been uneven of late (their Saint Joan and Sense and Sensibility remain among some of my favorite things I've seen in New York, but their other work has been more mixed; and I greatly disliked their Peter Pan last season). Bedlam's approach to Shaw's play is more straightforward than many of their others: I said afterward that it had less "play" than their plays usually do. So in a way, it feels less signature Bedlam, aside from the delightful opening scene, and the somewhat overplayed hat-switching visit to Mrs. Higgins. Largely, though, I thought it was well done, and solidly anchored by the excellent Vaishnavi Sharma as Eliza Doolittle and the surprisingly subdued Eric Tucker as Henry Higgins.

Annabel Capper, Edmund Lewis, Vaishnavi Sharma, Eric Tucker, and Nigel
Gore as Clara Eynsford-Hill, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza Doolittle, Henry
Higgins, and Mrs. Eynsford-Hill. Photo by Ashley Garrett.
Of note: both this revival of Pygmalion and the Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God feature the female pupil portrayed by a woman of color, and the teacher by a white man, drawing allusions to the White (Male) Savior trope.

4/01/18: Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
What: NBC's live concert staging of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical about Judas and his best friend, Jesus.
And? (no, I didn't attend, but I watched it and I have thinks) I love the growing trend of televised musicals, mostly because I love musicals, even though most of them so far have disappointed in one way or another (and then there's the Christopher Walken Peter Pan, which still feels like a horrible fever dream). My friend Marissa and I had been eagerly anticipating JCS, though, for two main reasons: 1, we love our trash show; 2, a BIG problem with all the other televised musicals so far has been the clunky pacing of all the (under-rehearsed) non-musical scenes -- but JCS doesn't have any of those. It's a sung-through show, which means pacing is entirely at the discretion of the music director.

On the macro level, I thought this was terrific. It was energetic and well-filmed, featuring fantastic voices (mostly) and great design. Brandon Victor Dixon was fan-freaking-tastic, as were Norm Lewis and Ben Daniels. Sara Bareilles and John Legend were weaker on the acting side, but great on vocals (the weirdness in "Gethsemane" aside). On the micro level, this concert staging had issues. Too many songs had no internal arc or journey, and no forwarding action to them. They were done as if this were just a concert of songs as opposed to a concert staging of a story. JCS may not be lauded for its story beats, but it does have them, and they were often neglected. I'm grateful they at least cast a good actor as Judas, since he has most of the emotional weight of the narrative.

John Legend and ensemble as Jesus and the Apostles. Photo by Virginia Sherwood.

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