Monday, December 23, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W51: Anne of Green Gables

12/21/19: Anne of Green Gables
What: Chance Theater revives its holiday production of a musical adaptation of the beloved L. M. Montgomery novel.
And? I gather that if I had already had familiarity with the source material (or its miniseries adaptation), I might have felt more nostalgic fondness for this show. I've really enjoyed the past holiday productions at the Chance, including a darling She Loves Me and a frothy Emma, but this one didn't do it for me--though I lay most of the blame on the writing, which was fairly inactive throughout. Emily Abeles was a real treat as Anne, however.

Emily Abeles as Anne Shirley. Photo by Doug
Catiller, True Image Studio.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W50: Little Women

12/15/19: Little Women
What: Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre's new adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic novel.
And? Lovely work. Full review here.

Samanthia Nixon, Ashley Kristeen Vega, Rachel Schmeling, Desiree Baxter,
and Sara Hymes as Amy, Beth, Jo, Marmee, and Meg. Photo by Allison Stock.

Margin Notes: Little Women

Rachel Schmeling as Jo.
Photo by Allison Stock.

Seen on: Sunday, 12/15/19.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre presents a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel about the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, as they grow and mature into adults.

What I Knew Beforehand
I had earlier reviewed Hedgepig's production of All's Well That Ends Well, and this is my third theatrical adaptation of a novel I still haven't read (yeah, yeah, don't @ me).


Play: You enter the March home through a set of double doors to see a lovely wood-paneled room with tall curtained windows, a (fake) fire burning merrily in the fireplace and a modest, popcorn trimmed tree against the opposite wall. You're encouraged to join the March sisters in making holiday cards at the large, comfortable table in the center, or to help Jo and Meg hang boughs with red bows from the wall sconces. You sip from your cup of eggnog (or wine, or cocoa), munch a cookie, and wait for the show to begin. It's cheery and festive, without decadence. This new adaptation of Alcott's novel prioritizes the importance of home and of these four sisters and their mother in that home, and so it makes sense that the audience should also be welcomed into the family. Although the spell of making us all Marches (which I suspect was their goal) isn't quite achieved, an intimacy with the family and its private concerns mostly is. Beth is the audience's confidant: the heart of the March family and content to stay at home (and a bit fearful of larger society), Beth tells us of her sisters and their dreams, and helps shift us forward in time as the play dictates. While the narration itself is often clunky, I accept it as a necessary evil with this at-home version of the story, and with Jo, Meg, Amy, and Marmee flitting in and out of doors while Beth remains with us. The audience is invited to join in on select carols throughout the play (sing-along lyrics included in the program), as we share in the family's joy and pain. This is a largely successful production, efficiently told and ably performed. It's a bit too easy for the balance of the story to tip to favor Jo, but the play works hard to give equal space to her siblings, including Amy's time quarantined away from Beth's fever, and Meg's jelly episode; though Beth, with her piano covered in cloth dolls, seems more infantilized than she is sometimes played.

My Picks: Best Theater of 2019

Andrew Scott and Sophie Thompson as Garry Essendine and
Monica Reed in The Old Vic's Present Laughter.
Photo by Elliott Franks.

I had an easier time making my list this year than I normally do, but the tragic cause of that is my viewing numbers were down again, with a projected 109 unique shows, and 122 shows overall  for 2019 (one show to go on Dec 28th; also, I am fully aware of just how awful I sound, complaining about seeing only 122 shows this year. Please believe that I do not take my life here for granted, or my ability to see as much theater as I do). I definitely suffered from some activity fatigue this year, partly due to the exhaustion of moving into a new apartment and all its attendant stress; this resulted in some neglect of my Off- and Off-Off- options. In any case, the list wasn't as hard to whittle down, a small mercy for a weary Zelda. But I will say this: the shows that made my top ten list? Astoundingly good theater, every one of them. And while I'm attempting to rank them this year, it's tight as anything for the top five (except Octet, which I knew would top the list when I saw it; basically the top four after Octet are all second, but in an apples and oranges and bananas and mangoes situation).

This year gave us extraordinary new takes on older works, like Erica Schmidt's schoolgirl Mac Beth, the Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof, and the Old Vic's hilarious new spin on Coward's Present Laughter. It also gave us astonishing new work that defiantly challenged expectations of what can be done in the theater, like Dave Malloy's a cappella brain explosion Octet, Michael R. Jackson's breathtaking not-autobiographical A Strange Loop, and Jeremy O. Harris's uncomfortable and gutting Slave Play.  We had actual magic onstage, from Harry Potter to Derren Brown to Slava and his Snowshow (I know some of the shows I just mentioned weren't new in 2019, but Slava excepting, they were new to me in 2019, and as the old refrain goes, this is my blog, dammit).

(also, I hear people are making their Best of the Decade lists as well. That's cool, though as my friend Tyler pointed out, we technically have one more year in the decade, but also I think it would hurt my heart too much to boil a decade down to ten shows. Think of all the gems that wouldn't make the cut!)

Anyway, we had so many good shows in 2019. Here were some of the best:

Monday, December 9, 2019

An Independent Scholar (or, what else did I do this year?)

In May of last year, I wrote with pride about the publication of my first academic article, in collaboration with my dad, Professor Raymond Knapp. I say first because ... there are now several such collaborations. This has been such a rewarding and joyous process (if occasionally plagued with deadline-induced anxiety).

In the year 2019, I presented at two conferences, Music and the Moving Image (joint paper with Prof. Knapp) and Song, Stage and Screen XIV (my first solo paper), which, while brand-new experiences, were not as nerve-jangling as I'd predicted. Acting aside, I used to be so uncomfortable with public speaking that I would visibly shake with the adrenaline. But both papers went well, even with the oh-so-convenient laryngitis that hit the day before MaMI, and I may say the dreaded post-paper Q&As were manageable. In fact, our MaMI paper will soon be published in MaMI's eponymous journal.

In addition to that, two further collaborations were published this year, one in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, and the other in The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical. So academically speaking, it's been a pretty good year.

Things I Learned:
  • How to make a PowerPoint
    • That I'm allowed to be silly when I make a PowerPoint
  • When one has no university affiliation at a conference, one is an Independent Scholar
    • This has more dignity than calling oneself a civilian and running away
  • Collaboration includes remembering to share your toys and not hoard all the best bits for yourself. Sorry, dad. I'll share better next time.
  • Q&A doesn't have to be about others tearing you down. It can also be a moment to expand, explore, and exchange ideas. I'd apologize for that phrasing, but ... naw.
  • There's a whole field of nerds out there like me who like analyzing musical theater and I'm friends with a bunch of them now.

What I've presented/had published this year:

(to read any of these, please reach out to me)

Weekly Margin 2019, W49: Fefu and Her Friends, NTLive: Present Laughter

12/07/19: Fefu and Her Friends
What: Fefu hosts a gathering of her female friends at her house, ostensibly to plan for an upcoming fundraising presentation. Maria Irene Fornes's 1977 play helped begin promenade theater (with the middle section composed of four scenes performed simultaneously, the audience rotating among the four until they've seen them all), an important ancestor of immersive theater productions like Sleep No More and Then She Fell.
And? If you try to sort out what the show is "about," you might not have the best time. The reason the friends are gathered is more McGuffin than anything else. It's about who these women are when they're quietly unobserved: practicing French, philosophizing about love or genitals, quietly worrying for their safety or for the safety of their friends. And bourbon and ice cubes and croquet and water fights and bad jokes. The actors are perfect, distinct and human, full of will and contradictions, and Montana Levi Blanco's costume design is stunning. While I will admit to not perfectly understanding all that I saw, I'm fine with that; my only real complaint is about the nature of the promenade section of the play: it was not always communicated clearly who was meant to go where, which led to confusion at each stage of transition, and because each scene was in hearing distance of the others, I had trouble hearing the scene in front of me, as my ears strained at catching the farther away dialog.

Ronete Levenson, Lindsay Rico, Helen Cespedes, Jennifer Lim, and Brittany
Bradford as Sue, Paula, Emma, Cindy, and Julia. Photo by Henry Grossman.

12/08/19: NTLive: Present Laughter
NTLive broadcast of the same production I saw at the Old Vic this summer. Still perfection. I wouldn't mind seeing it five more times.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W47: The Dork Knight

11/21/19: The Dork Knight
What: Jason O'Connell's one man show about his obsession with the various film versions of Batman and how it's flavored his personal and professional life, presented as part of Primary Stages' festival.
And? I've been a fan of O'Connell's acting work since I saw his Ferrars brothers in Kate Hamill's Sense and Sensibility, so I was excited to see this work. It's entertaining and engaging, and his impressions are a good mix of spot on and hilarious (except, as he points out, his Catwoman, which leaves something to be desired). While I have reservations about 90 minute memoir solo shows (they tend to fall into the same traps of predictability and self-indulgence), this avoids most of the cliches and has a good payoff. There are no designers credited, but I will say that the lighting and scenic design were both pretty much perfect, for whoever did them.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W46: Slava's Snowshow, Fear, Evita, The Underlying Chris

11/11/19: Slava's Snowshow
What: The New York return of magic.
And? The best way I can think to describe this show is that it's like being inside someone's whimsical dream. There's no real logic, but there is certainly dream logic, and that stream of consciousness takes us freely from a stage filled with bubbles while clown lip sync to "Blue Canary" to a a sea quest with a bed as a ship, to a giant cobweb, to umbrellas filled with snow, with the wind and music and the sound of trains. It's so completely delightful and wonderful, and I'm so happy I went. And I want to go back.

The "Blue Canary" sequence. Photo by Pamela Lajeunesse.

11/13/19: Fear
What: An 80 minute three-hander at the Lucille Lortel. A neighborhood girl is missing, and two men and a teenage boy engage in a battle of truth and fear in a shed.
And? I think it wants to be taut and tense with surprisingly psychological twists, but it is not. It is loose with muddy staging, and I kept wondering why the three of them stay in the shed as long as they do.

Obi Abili, Enrico Colantoni, and Alexander Garfin as Ethan, Phil, and Jamie.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel Photography.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W45: Mean Girls, A Bright Room Called Day

11/06/19: Mean Girls
What: A musical adaptation of Tina Fey's hit film.
And? It was perfectly fine. It wasn't as bad as I worried it would be, based on the show's Tony performance, and the cast was overall very good, especially Kate Rockwell as Karen. The songs aren't memorable but the book is good. Production-wise, I think it relies too heavily on the digital walls, and the choreography is repetitive and uninteresting. But not bad for a Wednesday night in pink.

Ashley Park, Taylor Louderman, Kate Rockwell, and Erika Henningsen as
Gretchen, Regina, Karen, and Cady. Photo by Joan Marcus.

11/10/19: A Bright Room Called Day
What: The Public Theatre revives Tony Kushner's first play, about a group of artists in Weimar Germany, facing the rise of fascism. In this revised version of the text, Kushner himself becomes a character, attempting to fix what's wrong with his play.
And? I wanted to like it more than I did. It's impressive and ambitious, and one can see that it's the same voice that could produce the transportive Angels in America and Caroline, Or Change, but this is less cohesive than either of those, and the revisions to the interruptions don't feel fully formed yet, either in the writing or the performance. Zillah criticizes the playwright for not giving her a life outside the interruptions, and unfortunately that remains true here. There are some impressive performances, particularly Nikki M. James and Linda Emond and Nadine Malouf, though Grace Gummer seems out of her depth a lot of the time. I'm glad I got to finally see a play I'd only read (I've had the luck of that happening several times this year), but I can't say I got everything out of it that Kushner and Eustis wanted me to.

Jonathan Hadary, Nikki M. James, Michael Esper, and Crystal Lucas-Perry
as Xillah, Agnes Eggling, Vealtnine Husz, and Zillah. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W44: Seared, An Enchanted April, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

10/30/19: Seared
What: MCC presents Theresa Rebeck's new play about a temperamental chef in a boutique Brooklyn restaurant, on the verge of hitting the big time.
And? Sadly, like most of Rebeck's work, the play itself is a bit thin. It's not incompetent, but it's not compelling, and it never sticks to the ribs. Still, Moritz Von Stuelpnagel does a marvelous job directing the eye in this fast-paced kitchen, and I know they brought in actual consultants to teach the actors how to properly cook (or at least appear to properly cook) all the meals plated during the show. The big draw for me with this show was Raul Esparza as Harry the chef, and he did not disappoint. It's always immensely satisfying to watch someone do something really well, and with this performance we had Harry as master of his kitchen, and Esparza as master of his acting. We also had the wonderful W. Tre Davis as the restaurant's waiter/sous chef, and who ultimately had the most interesting character journey of the show. Is this a must-see? By no means. But it won't ruin your life.

Raul Esparza and W. Tre Davis as Harry and Rodney. Photo by Joan Marcus.

11/01/19: An Enchanted April
What: A musical adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim's novel about four women from different backgrounds who agree to share the rental of a villa in Tuscany for the month of April.
And? While it is always thrilling to hear a company of actors sing beautifully and unmiked, this is a largely forgetting and unengaging affair.

11/03/19: Harry Potter and the  Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
a repeat visit. still magical. still a weak script, but still so magical.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W43: The Inheritance - Part Two, Little Shop of Horrors, Fires in the Mirror, Soft Power, Only Human

This week I saw my 100th show of 2019 with Fires in the Mirror!

10/22/19: The Inheritance - Part Two
What: Part two of Matthew Lopez's two-part epic play adaptation of E. M. Forster's Howards End (Part one seen 10/07/19).
And? As exquisite as Part One. Beautiful, honest, moving, heartbreaking, spirit-lifting. I was near tears for much of the 3+ hours. I was particularly struck this time by the musicality of the performance, by how in tune and in time with each other all the performers are, expertly orchestrated by director Stephen Daldry. Part Two is harder to watch than Part One in some ways, as characters with self-destructive tendencies deteriorate faster and faster, so I will offer that warning. We are warned in the play that "to fall in love is to make an appointment with heartbreak." But heartbreak is never the end of the story and my goodness, what a special experience to have on Broadway this season.

10/23/19: Little Shop of Horrors
What: The latest New York revival of Menken and Ashman's dark musical comedy, at Westside Theatre Upstairs (not to be confused with the current Pasadena Playhouse production).
And? Good clean fun, and a solid production of Little Shop. Nothing revolutionary, but I do appreciate the performers' dedication to finding their own rhythm and delivery to such well-known material. Jonathan Groff's casting definitely feels like Nicole Kidman putting on a putty nose, but if you ignore that, he's delightful and hilarious. Ari Groover, Salome Smith, and Joy Woods as the three urchins are terrific as well, and oh boy is Christian Borle having fun.

Jonathan Groff and Joy Woods as Seymour and Chiffon.
Photo by Emilio Madrid.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W42: Cyrano, The Wrong Man, The Adventure Zone: Become The Monster Tour, Strangers in the Night, Scotland, PA, One Man, Two Guv'nors

10/15/19: Cyrano
What: The New Group presents a new musical adaptation of Rostand's play, with Peter Dinklage in the title role.
And? I'm really struggling with this. I understand that adaptations often suffer if they try too hard to be like the original while exploring nothing new (see: the 1983 Jane Eyre miniseries vs the 2006 Jane Eyre miniseries), and in fact earlier this year I read an excellent YA adap of Cyrano called We Are the Perfect Girl. For this new musical adaptation, perhaps what's making it difficult for me to let go of the original is how often they still use something like the source text, so I can't forget what it was. Or perhaps it's just that all the joy is gone. They've taken out all the playful parts of Rostand's play--Cyrano's duel ballad and his entire man in the moon sequence, Ragueneau's recipe poems, and even Christian's goading of Cyrano on their first meeting. They've taken out the fun, and all that remains is the angst. Well, that and several references to beats that no longer exist (now Cyrano praises Christian's bravery in ... entering a room). Angst with half-earned emotional beats never to heaven go. This Cyrano is brief, which is both a blessing and a curse. It suffers for its brevity, but it also means we're not sitting with it as long as we might be. Peter Dinklage, as one might expect, is a wonderfully powerful presence and a nuanced actor with a pleasing if limited baritone, but I could see him struggling to elevate the material to its poetic ambitions. Grace McLean, as Roxanne's chaperone Marie, is the only one in the cast who remembers there is fun in the world, and she is my takeaway favorite of the evening. Vocally the show is in good hands, with Jasmine Cephas Jones and Blake Jenner singing with beautiful ease notes--and beauty--beyond Cyrano's reach. I just wish the lyrics could match in interest, content, soul. I wish the choreography of the ensemble didn't so deliberately distract from the principals. Also hell no to the show's last line, but spoilers.

10/16/19: The Wrong Man
What: MCC presents a new musical which began life as a musical monologue concept album by Ross Golan, about a down on his luck man in Reno who wrong place-wrong time-wrong woman finds himself framed for murder.
And? Take away Joshua Henry's nakedly honest performance and soaring vocals, take away Ryan Vasquez's smirkingly charismatic evil, take away Thomas Kail's masterful staging of bodies in space (with Travis Wall's balletic choreography), and I'm not sure how much is left for us. Everyone I just mentioned is doing wonderful work, but. The lyrics are repetitive, the story upsetting but unsurprising: yes, we know this narrative and how it usually goes, but please show us something new about it. If it weren't for Henry and his truly special talent, I don't know how much I would have invested emotionally. The production does plenty to elevate the text, but it can't fully hide its deficiencies.

Joshua Henry, center, as Duran, with the company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Margin Notes: Strangers in the Night

Patricia Lynn as Molly in Screwed.
Photo by Al Foote III.
Strangers in the Night

Seen on: Friday, 10/18/19.
My grade: A-/C

Plot and Background
Hunger & Thirst Theatre presents two one-acts, Screwed by Patricia Lynn and Bottling Dreams of the Tearful Don't-Knower by Emily Kitchens, with connective tissue written by Philip Estrera. Screwed is an updated version of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, as governess Molly is interviewed in the aftermath of a tragedy in the house where she works. Bottling Dreams is set in the near-future as an unnamed man attempts to gather supplies for his invalid wife, but gets waylaid by the draw of a stranger who finds him bottling tears. Frank's monologues serve as a frame for the evening, greeting us, transitioning us between plays, and closing out the evening.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've seen and reviewed several Hunger & Thirst productions in the past.


Play: The ideal thing here would be to review the show as a cohesive evening of theater, but I'm struggling to be able to do that. What's especially odd is that Estrera's interstitial monologues, which ought to help the evening cohere, in fact underline how utterly disparate the two centerpieces are in form and content. Each might have been better served if presented individually. So, separately:

Lynn's Screwed is tight and tense, simultaneously gentle and frightening, luring the audience bit by bit into the gothic mystery of the house and the family, and how it's all been slowly tormenting Molly until the crisis point. The characters hold onto their secrets well, dancing between the allure of rescue and the abyss of annihilation. It's an excellent example of a good one-act, with no wasted time but still providing a full emotional journey.

Kitchens's Bottling is unfortunately mostly bewildering to me as a piece of theater. The language of it continually frustrates me, reminding me of the sort of playwriting we did in school, reaching for an abstract poetry without first grounding anything in story or character. Even putting language aside, the rules of the world and the passage of time are unclear, and the characters exist in the sort of maddening reality where they seem to matter only in their relationship to the Man at the center (the Stranger, when finally asked who he is, replies that he is the Stranger, as if he did not exist before the moment he entered orbit round the Man).

Before, between, and following Screwed and Bottling are Frank's musings, referring to humanity as marbles with the arrogance of a deity, but also finally confessing that he himself is "just a transition. What I mean to say is, I'm not that interesting." This confession is unfortunately all too true until his final quiet moment when, artifice removed, he sits and tells us a story of earlier that day, when he ordered a slice of chocolate cake. It's his only moment of real connection, completely separate from any relation to the two plays of the evening.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W41: The Inheritance - Part One

10/07/19: The Inheritance - Part One
What: A transfer from The New Vic/West End of Matthew Lopez's two-part epic play, which takes the narrative of E. M. Forster's Howards End and transports it to contemporary New York City, to explore the modern male gay experience, a generation whose mentors and cultural ancestors were wiped out by the AIDS epidemic.
And? This production has been hype hype hyped on its way to Broadway, celebrated as the next Angels in America. I think it's definitely worthy of the praise it's earned, though the likening to Kushner's (also) two-part creation is an unnecessary reduction, a lazy crutching on the fact that both plays are (primarily) about gay men in New York. The ambition and scope of the two works are entirely different, as is the style of writing and performance. Angels is about the soul of a country abandoned by the celestial and on the road to ruin; Inheritance is about a generation of men defying both abandonment and appropriation, holding on to each other, to their history, to themselves. Angels has the feel of the final days before the apocalypse; Inheritance is about what came after the end of the world (obviously, both plays are about a lot more, but this is my reduction) They're both important and moving works, but to lump the two together is to not bother to examine either particularly closely.

The Inheritance wins its way into my theater nerd heart very quickly, as it uses one of my favorite theatrical devices: activating the players as storytellers, telling each other the story even as they tell it to us. Bob Crowley's minimal design -- a raised platform, a collection of floor pillows and laptops, glasses of wine -- gives the actors nowhere to hide. But with this unified and dynamic cast, as directed by Stephen Daldry, there's no need to hide. I was surprised to realize how much of the play is just people talking, and how refreshing it is to see that that can still be good theater, in the right hands. This play is funny and honest and heartbreaking and elegant and naked and poignant. And I can't wait to see Part Two.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W40: Hadestown

10/04/19: Hadestown
a repeat visit (family in town). while I'm still not invested in the Orpheus/Euridice love story, I love Hades/Persephone, and every other element of the production: the muscular choreography, the marriage of scenic and lighting design, the beautifully detailed costume design, and the direction.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W39: The Lightning Thief - The Percy Jackson Musical, Caesar & Cleopatra, I Can't See, Terra Firma, Twelfth Night

9/23/19: The Lightning Thief - The Percy Jackson Musical
What: Broadway transfer of a new musical adaptation of the first book of the popular YA fantasy adventure series, about a teenage boy who discovers he's a demigod, and then gets framed for a theft that could lead to an all-out war among the pantheon of Greek gods.
And? I saw this in early previews, so I can hope that the things I'm about to complain about get better: I kept being blinded by the lights, and the sound mix was so bad that the orchestra kept overpowering the singers and I often couldn't hear or understand the lyrics. Unfortunately, both of these elements conspired to make me turn off fairly early on in the show. Although Percy's banter was enjoyably snarky, a lot of the other humor betrayed some laziness on the writers' part (guys, isn't it hilarious when a man wears a dress? isn't femininity by definition just so funny? also, making a crack about a musician ending up in the Underworld is playing to the Christian version of Hell much more than the Greek version, so that joke made no sense, and if it sounds like I'm nitpicking, guess what I was super annoyed that I couldn't understand 3/5 of what I was hearing, so this is what you get). Chris McCarrell as Percy and Jorrel Javier as Grover and Mr. D were both very funny (though again, diction and sound mix meant I missed a lot). Ryan Knowles as Chiron, Hades, Poseidon, and basically any rando the three adventurers met was a consistent delight. Also I liked the concept for Lee Savage's scenic design, but would have appreciated more textual integration.

Also I just realized that this year has three different incarnations of Hades on a New York stage (Hadestown and the Public Works run of Hercules being the other two), and that's kind of fun.

Jorrel Javier, Chris McCarrell, Kristin Stokes, and James Hayden Rodriguez as
Grover, Percy Jackson, Annabeth, and Ares. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

9/25/19: Caesar & Cleopatra
What: George Bernard Shaw's play about, well, Caesar and Cleopatra, a proto-Pygmalion. Presented by Gingold Theatrical Group.
And? Unfortunately distinctly unengaging as a production, though the design is appealing.

The cast of Caesar & Cleopatra. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W38: The Sound Inside

9/19/19: The Sound Inside
What: Adam Rapp's new play, starring Mary-Louise Parker: A tenured and reclusive writing professor at Yale finds herself in an impossible situation, and reached out to her strange but compelling student to help her solve it.
And? I found myself craving a booklist of all the titles and authors name-dropped throughout the 90 minute show. The language of the play is beautiful and compelling, the lighting design poetic, and the structure and story engaging. I do wonder how it might fare in a differently-shaped theater. The scenic design in particular rather feels like it has been plopped into the cavern of Studio 54 and we were all making do. But while I was engaged in the journey of the play, I'm still not sure if I actually liked the play, the story it told. However, days later I still find myself thinking about it, which is probably a good sign.

Mary-Louise Parker as Professor Bella Baird. Photo by Carolyn Brown.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W37: The Great Society, Wives, Slave Play, The Height of the Storm

9/09/19: The Great Society
What: The sequel to All the Way, this is is playwright Robert Schenkkan and director Bill Rauch's second examination of President Lyndon B. Johnson, tracking the decline of his term, as any good intentions are stymied by his need for political maneuvering.
And? Schenkkan and Rauch have now spent two Broadway plays trying to convince me I needed to see one Broadway play about LBJ. I don't remember minding the first play when I saw it, but The Great Society ... this play is nearly three hours when it doesn't even need to be two. It's three hours about how much Johnson failed as a president, as an ally to the African American community, and in the war in Vietnam, without convincing me I should care about whether or not he deserved to fail. I couldn't for the life of me find a story in the series of events I was shown, and once we hit the two hour mark, I became increasingly disengaged and distracted, wondering how much longer this could go on. Brian Cox, though he doesn't attempt LBJ's Texan accent, is excellent, but it's not enough to make this show worth my time.

9/10/19: Wives
What: Playwrights Horizons presents Jaclyn Backhaus's new play, about women defined in history through their relationship to men, but who forge new strong bonds with each other.
And? I loved it. Weird and brilliant and funny and moving, a conjuring really of all of these things and more, in only 80 minutes. While I wasn't bowled over by Backhaus's recent play, India Pale Ale, Wives reminded me of all the things I loved in her other work at Playwrights, Men on Boats. Great stuff.

Adina Verson, Aadya Bedi, and Purva Bedi as Mary Welsh, Martha Gelhorn,
and Hadley Richardson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W36: Derren Brown: Secret, Troilus & Cressida

9/06/19: Derren Brown: Secret
What: Acclaimed mentalist Derren Brown brings his skills to Broadway.
And? He asked us at the top of the show not to reveal any of the show's contents (it's a secret, you see), so I'll just say I had a great time. Sometimes you feel the strings, sometimes you don't, but you find yourself doing the puppet dance regardless.

9/07/19: Troilus & Cressida
What: Hamlet Isn't Dead's latest installment, an all-female cast in Shakespeare's version of the Trojan War.
And? full review here.

The cast of Troilus & Cressida. Photos by Valerie Terranova.

Margin Notes: Troilus & Cressida

Seen on: Saturday, 9/07/19.
Madeline Egan Addis and Natalie Welds as Cressida and
Troilus. Photo by Valerie Terranova.
My grade: B-

Plot and Background
The Trojan War as told by William Shakespeare, including the ill-fated romance of Troilus, a sibling to Hector and Paris, and Cressida. Presented by Hamlet Isn't Dead as an all female epic.

What I Knew Beforehand
I know some remnant details of the Trojan War, and I'd seen Shakespeare in the Park's recent production of this play. And as anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a long-time fan (and reviewer) of Hamlet Isn't Dead and their playful approach to Shakespeare.


Play: This is a weird play. It doesn't end so much as stop, and before that happens, it's this odd mix of star crossed lovers and the politics of war. A bit of Romeo and Juliet meets Julius Caesar, except neither feels finally resolved by play's end. I left the show wondering if this was one of the plays, like Macbeth, where we know we're missing chunks of text (as far as a quick internet search can tell me, nah). And that's the play itself, not a reflection on HID; it's a weird play. Sure, it's an interesting and engaging bit of battle and romance, but it's not a coherent story, and like I said, after all that it just stops. And I don't know that this particular cutting and production does anything to successfully ameliorate these issues. There were definitely times during the performance I felt I'd lost the plot, and story beats that didn't make much sense to me. And though the all-female casting of this is appealing, it's not lost on me that, in this particular cutting, all female characters except the titular Cressida have been excised from the narrative (gone is the ship-launching face of Helen, gone is the seer Cassandra). It's an all-female production with the textual female perspective all but removed. Perhaps what's more worrisome is not that they were removed (HID is good at streamlining their texts, and some male characters are also cut), but how easy it is to lift them out without affecting the narrative. Cressida may be in the title, but this is very much a story of men. 

To end this section on a positive note, hot DAMN Greg Pragel's fight choreography. From the earlier sparring bits to the final epic battle, Pragel's kinetic unarmed combat shows the performers to their most athletic and acrobatic advantage, kicking and striking and howling their warrior rage.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W35: American Moor

8/26/19: American Moor
What: Red Bull Theater presents Keith Hamilton Cobb's (mostly) one man show about a seasoned black actor who loves Shakespeare, who understands the character of Othello on a deep level, and who is tired of having that character explained to him by white directors.
And? Although the central idea and argument of the play are strong, the structure lacks a bit of focus, and it begins to repeat its points. But Cobb is a wonderful and charismatic performer, compelling and interesting and my goodness, he is excellent with Shakespeare's text. I really would like to see his Othello. And his Titania.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W33: Sea Wall / A Life

8/12/19: Sea Wall / A Life
What: Transfer from an earlier Off-Broadway run at The Public. A pair of monologue plays by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne, of two men telling stories of family and loss.
And? I think this production might have gotten a skosh overhyped for me. At least, on the scale of heartbreaking monologue plays from across the pond about losing children, it's very hard (possibly impossible) to beat Carey Mulligan in Dennis Kelly's Girls & Boys. That being said, I read that Sea Wall  was written specifically for Andrew Scott to perform, and though Tom Sturridge was fine, I would have loved to see Scott's version (Jake Gyllenhaal was fine and charming in his piece, too). I think ultimately both plays feel a bit underbaked to me; the first play is too close in time to the events told, but it's neither immediate or distanced enough to reach any conclusive idea (I know the point is it doesn't conclude, but that's life, not theater), while the second play does a fine job of melding the two timelines without actually communicating any ideas I haven't heard before. And then the final moment, when the two are woven together in a wordless epilogue, just does not work for me. Is the point that they are two stories among many? I already know that. This tells me nothing new. Is the point that in each window is another story of life, of death? I know that, too. The two plays already have enough thematic joiners for me to accept them as one piece. The epilogue is unnecessary and an unearned attempt at a final emotional manipulation. (rereading this, it sounds like I hated the shows. I didn't; I just think they could be better, and hope this isn't the final draft)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge as Abe and Alex. Photo by Richard
Hubert Smith.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W32: Bat out of Hell

8/09/19: Bat out of Hell
What: Jim Steinman creates a musical out of a post-apocalyptic Peter Pan and Meatloaf's song catalog.
And? I don't even know. The reviews I've read so far are way kinder than I expected; and well, a New York audience will give anything a standing ovation these days. This is one of the most inarticulate things I've seen at this production level. It feels like it was staged as a concert, then they shipped in a set and didn't bother to change the staging to respect the new spatial parameters (seriously, is there an entrance to the subway tunnel inside the Falco living room? Can anyone tell me?) (also someone should tell the stagehands moving set pieces during scenes that if they can see us, we can see them). The choreography is repetitive and communicates nothing, shoving the ensemble into numbers where they don't belong, and further problematizing the question I kept having throughout: where exactly am I meant to be looking right now? The script is a silly non sequitur of cliches, and keeps hinting that it knows how silly it is and wants to be camp, without actually understanding what camp is (for other examples of this misunderstanding, see: the most recent Met Gala). (Lena Hall and Bradley Dean both know what camp is and do their damnedest but seriously what is this show) The most valuable thing I took away from the production was a newfound respect for director Ivo van Hove's use of livestream and multimedia in his productions: there's often a lot going on, but no matter where you look, you know the story being told and even with multiple focal points, he's good at directing the eye. Anyway, Bat out of Hell is a show that I saw.

Andrew Polec, center, as Strat with the cast. Photo source.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W31: Hannah Senesh, Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoots Macbeth, In the Green

7/29/19: Hannah Senesh
What: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and the Museum of Jewish Heritage present Lori Wilner and David Schechter's play based on the diaries and poetry of Hannah Senesh, a Jewish Hungarian Zionist and paratrooper during the second world war, whose heroism made her a symbol of hope for the resistance.
And? I think it would benefit from a different director (perhaps one who is not also the playwright), in terms of finding new and unique ways to stage evocative moments. I kept waiting to be surprised. The story is a good one, and Hannah Senesh is a true hero and an inspiration, but too often this performance couched itself in cliches which sapped moments of their full emotional potential.

Lexi Rabadi as Hannah Senesh. Photo by Victor Nechay.

8/03/19: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoots Macbeth
What: PTP/NYC presents Tom Stoppard's paired one-acts about two separate troupes putting on Shakespeare: the first, a schoolgroup who speaks Dogg (a regrammared English that starts to make sense if you listen with your ears crossed); the second, a troupe of unemployed actors in someone's living room, interrupted repeatedly by a government official making sure they're not being subversive.
And? I read this script years ago and assumed it was too bizarre for me to ever see it produced. Seeing it produced ... it's still bizarre, but it hits a lot of the Stoppard standards: playing with familiar material, intellectual absurdism, political subversion. Mostly good performances, with Christo Grabowski (Fox Major/Hamlet/Banquo/Cahoot) and Christopher Marshall (Macbeth) strong standouts.

Lucy Van Atta, Peter Schmitz, Christo Grabowski, Zach Varricchione, and
Connor Wright as Gertrude, Claudius, Hamlet, Osric, and Laertes. Photo by
Stan Barouh.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W30: Hamilton, The Woman in Black, Rutherford and Son, Witness for the Prosecution, Present Laughter, Whodunnit [Unrehearsed], The Lehman Trilogy, The Bridges of Madison County, Henry V, or Harry England

London Week Continues!

7/22/19: Hamilton
What: The London run of a super obscure Broadway musical that you probably haven't heard of.
And? My seventh time (yes, I deserve to be hated). I am pleased to report that this show remains absolutely wonderful, though it gets fewer laughs throughout in the UK than in the US (except King George, whom they adore). The cast was great (especially Tarinn Callender, officially my favorite Hercules Mulligan), and the production is tight, high energy, and as thrilling and heartbreaking as one could want. King George's question to America, "Do you know how hard it is to lead?" felt very uh well ... apropos, if we look at where we are.

Jason Pennycooke as Thomas Jefferson with the cast. Photo by Matthew

7/2319: The Woman in Black
What: The long-running two hander adaptation of Susan Hill's novel, about an aging man who enlists the help of a young actor to tell the story of his haunted past.
And? Sure I've seen it like six times. What's your point? Scariest time I've had in a theater, and I adore the amazing storytelling achieved by just two actors and a wicker chest full of props.

Matthew Spencer and Stuart Fox. Photo source (no photographer given).

Monday, July 22, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W29: Hamlet, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Disaster struck my second attempt to see The Secret Life of Bees, as rainwater began leaking through the ceiling and dripping down the brick wall, causing the show to pause about twelve minutes in. Then as they cleared the area, the ceiling opened more and water started gushing down. Rather a disaster, but no one was injured and Atlantic handled things as best they could. It's bad luck, as the show closed that upcoming weekend so not many attendees were likely to be able to rebook--and as I left town Friday evening, I definitely wasn't. Holding out hopes that it gets that commercial transfer everyone thinks it will, so I can see it at last.

London Week Begins!

7/20/19: Hamlet

What: We kick off our London week with Iris Theatre's outdoor promenade production at St. Paul's Church. It's the same-ish story as The Lion King, but fewer lions. (you can call me the worst all you want, it won't stop me)
And? It's a tight-feeling cut of the show (though it still comes out to about two and a half hours), periodically moving the audience among different areas of the churchyard gardens as we follow the story of Hamlet's unintended self-destruction. This production has several different devices in play, some of which work more effectively than others (of all the Shakespeares, I think Hamlet is a much harder fit for a fascism frame than a number of the histories. That aspect ultimately feels forced without being activated or integrated with the rest of the piece). In this production, Hamlet, like their portrayer, is trans non-binary, and what then becomes particularly telling is the recognition of whom Hamlet is out to, who may suspect or outright know, and who is and isn't using the correct pronouns (going by the fact that court characters use masculine pronouns, but that schoolfriends Horatio and (initially) R&G use feminine, I infer that Hamlet is out at school but not at court). It lends a new and lovely affection and intimacy to Hamlet's relationship with Horatio, as well as an interesting edge to their relationship with Ophelia: how much does she know? She uses masculine pronouns when speaking to and of Hamlet, but is that only because she knows others are listening in? (A quick note: I looked at Jenet Le Lacheur's (Hamlet) twitter, which confirms she/they pronouns; my inference is that Hamlet’s pronouns are also she/they, as Horatio calls Hamlet "my lady," but Hamlet self-refers, in the Gravedigger scene, as "they." If I am being in any shape disrespectful or sweeping in my understanding, I welcome correction for my errors). I also know that Le Lacheur didn't want the production to just be about Hamlet's gender, as if it were a gimmick, but I didn't want to let this go by without celebrating their performance, or what this layer adds to the story.

Final wrap-up thoughts because I am sleepy and jetlaggy:

  • great performances from Jenet Le Lacheur (hot damn, the nunnery scene), Paula James (Polonius, Grave Digger, others, all marvelous), and Iris alum Jenny Horsthuis (Ophelia, Guildenstern, Fortinbras, others); 
  • for the rest, I don't think the text work is consistently strong or clear, and hearing is hampered by the side-effects of an outdoor space; 
  • being in the churchyard gardens, a stone's throw from Covent Gardens, is a real treat of atmosphere, with roaring crowds for street performers, music, and the clanging of the church bells--you'd think all that would be distracting but instead it helps further isolate this small kingdom from the world around it.

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!