Monday, June 26, 2023

Weekly Margin 2023, W26: The Light in the Piazza

What: City Center Encores! presents the Craig Lucas-Adam Guettel musical adaptation of the 1960 novella/1962 film, about a mother and daughter who visit Florence, Italy. When daughter Clara finds an unexpected romance with a young man there, her mother Margaret must reckon with whether her daughter's troubled past could derail her future. This production recontextualizes Margaret as a Korean war bride, an outsider both in Italy and at home. 
And? I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Encores! is having its third Broadway transfer, thanks to the able direction of Chay Yew and the talented leads (though this time I do wish that, unlike their Into the Woods transfer, they expand the scenic design. Clint Ramos and Miguel Urbino's work is perfectly lovely for a concert staging, but for a full Broadway production, part of the lushness of the show is how we are as swept away by Florence as Margaret and Clara are). Linda Cho's costume design is beautifully tailored, nodding to the original while also making it her own. As for the cast, Ruthie Ann Miles is transcendent as Margaret (I'm not surprised, but it's always gratifying to see her wonderful and nuanced work), and Anna Zavelson, making her NY debut, is a richly voiced and sweet Clara. Andréa Burns, who always shines, makes a meal of the smaller role of Signora Naccarelli. James D. Gish, as Clara's suitor Fabrizio, is handsome and broad-shouldered, with a lovely full voice, but there's a little something missing in his acting, which unfortunately makes the central romance a steeper uphill climb than it should be. Still, it's a lush night at the theater and worth seeing.

Ruthie Ann Miles as Margaret with the company of The Light in the Piazza.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Weekly Margin 2023, W25: The Trouble With Dead Boyfriends

What: Black Watch Theatre LLC presents a new musical by Annie Pulsipher and Alex Petti, about three teen girls hoping to take the perfect date to Prom--even if he's a little undead.
And? full review here.

Zoe Dean and Patrick Voss Davis as Madison and
Zachary. Photo by Sean Salamon.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Margin Notes: The Trouble With Dead Boyfriends

Zoe Dean and Patrick Voss Davis as
Madison and Zachary. Photo by
Sean Salamon.

Seen on: Friday, 6/16/23.

Plot and Background
Teenage best friends Madison (cheerleader), Grace (valedictorian), and Stella (archetype unclear) cast a spell so they can each find the perfect boyfriend to take to Prom, and in due time they do, though each boy is not without his complications. When the red flag about your prom date isn't that he's a vampire or a ghost or a zombie, you know you're in trouble. The Trouble With Dead Boyfriends, a new musical by Annie Pulsipher and Alex Petti, was originally presented at Carnegie Mellon, and is here produced by Black Watch Theatre.

What I Knew Beforehand
Zombie Prom!


Play: The show has a lot of fun ambition. It's campy, it's silly, it's fourth wall-breaking, it wants to empower teenage girls. Each boyfriend's supernatural nature speaks to an abusive or toxic element of his relationship with one of our three heroines. But unfortunately the execution of some of these ideas gets in the show's way in some key places. The opening of any show is so important to clue the audience in to what kind of world this is. But when, midway through a first act with no supernatural energy beyond Grace's ambition to be a witch, Stella announces her boyfriend is a vampire and that's why he can't come to Prom, it just sounds like an absurd lie, until--twist!--yep, there he is in leather pants, bouffant hair, and emo moue. Grace's subsequent announcement of her Puritan ghost boyfriend is at least more believable, now we know what show we're in. The other big roadblock for me is that not enough distinction is drawn between Lucian the Vampire and Silence the Ghost, in terms of their red flag behavior; both boil down to coercing consent, negging, and being condescending dicks. In contrast, football player Zachary's transformation into a physically abusive zombie is more clearly sketched (if prone to a few too many jokes about his inability to speak, which start to feel ableist in their repetition). I also have a few questions about when this takes place (the overhead projector and lack of cell phones point to early aughts; the references to hashtags, selfies, and Kim and Kanye point to much more recent), as well as how a prom queen, a valedictorian, and a girl whose archetype seems to boil down to horny and fat (yes, I want more for her than that, too), got to be best friends, but that wouldn't take as much rewriting to address. The bones of this piece are still a good idea, and some of the songs are a lot of fun--"Dissection Dance," Zachary's ill-advised promposal, and "ZomBaby," a girl group paean to an undead love, are right on the money--but Pulispher and Petti need to decide what kind of show they want to write. Is it full pastiche? Camp with a heart? If they lean more into their strongest choices and differentiate the girls' stories a bit more, this could become a really fun piece.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Weekly Margin 2023, W24: Walking With Bubbles, Days of Wine and Roses

What: A new one-person autobiographical musical created by and starring Jessica Hendy (score by Brianna Kothari Barnes), about her marriage, divorce, and attempts to share custody with Adam, whose mental crises have led to his living on the streets of New York.
And? I don't really know how to talk about this show, except to say that it makes me deeply uncomfortable. I want to celebrate this woman's triumph of the things she's survived, but I can't separate that from the fact that she's sharing truly harrowing moments in someone else's mental distress. It feels voyeuristic, and a tiny bit feeding into the stigma that people with mental illness are a danger to those around them, when statistically speaking they are the biggest danger to themselves. And while one can and should hold Adam accountable for refusing treatment not only during his depression but also during his more serious psychotic break, I can't help feeling like he and his illness are being placed as the monster for Jessica to overcome (perhaps if we'd seen scenes of him when he was healthy, but the only times she gives him voice are when he's unwell, when he is cruel). Even writing that out I know I'm not being entirely fair. She spent years trying to help him, trying to get him to help himself. It's just, in the context of so many other narratives about mental illness, and the fact that in showing the worst moments of her life, she is also showing the worst moments in Adam's, I don't know how to be okay with this show.

Jessica Hendy as herself. Photo source.

What: Atlantic Theater presents a new musical adaptation of the 1958 teleplay/1962 film, reuniting the writing team behind The Light in the Piazza. The chamber musical tracks the courtship and marriage of Joe and Kirsten and their growing addiction to alcohol.
And? I will say, Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel are very good at allowing moments to breathe, to give them space and air and lift (Kelli O'Hara singing a Guettel melody, yes please, always). But it's always very hard for me to watch a story about people destroying themselves. I'll start to check out, probably in self-preservation (see: Over the Rainbow). The pacing and timeline of this show are a bit confusing--sometimes we seem to jump ahead years, and sometimes only days, with no immediate indication of which is which. Brian d'Arcy James and Kelli O'Hara are incredible performers, not just their distinct and unique vocals, but also as truly committed and grounded actors, and it's a gift to see them together. But I think I ultimately don't like the vehicle they're given for it.

Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James as Kirsten and Joe. Photo by Ahron
R. Foster.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

My Dedicatedly Inaccurate Tony Predictions

Well the season itself has been a bit more of a return to pre-pandemic times, but with the WGA striking (hence the upcoming unscripted Tony telecast) and a possible SAG-AFTRA strike on its heels, I'm gonna guess we'll be in for some weirdness come June 11th. But it'll be good to see the live performances from the shows, which has been the highlight for me since I started watching the telecasts in 1998.

What's becoming clearer, though, is how much this behemoth could use an overhaul. As additional design elements, like puppetry and projection, are becoming more prevalent, they warrant their own category. I think there could and should also be space made for combat and intimacy coordination and choreography, artforms as complex as dance choreography. And then of course there's the question of gendered acting categories, which I discussed briefly here.

I still remain grateful to live in this city, and see as much live theater as I do. This Broadway season, I'm grateful to have seen Ain't No Mo' during its short run (and gratified here to have it be nominated so many times), as well as the Broadway transfers of three Pulitzer-winning plays in one season. I'm grateful that two wonderful Encores! productions got themselves the recognition they deserved, as well as Broadway transfers and cast albums. I'm grateful that, for all the clumsy missteps (and, well, a lot of backslides), I can see that there are artists in commercial theater working to make the space more inclusive, both in the stories being told and in who is telling them. I hope we continue to move in this direction.

Let's get to it!

Monday, June 5, 2023

Weekly Margin 2023, W23: Being Mr. Wickham

What: 59E59 hosts the unofficial sequel to Pride and Prejudice, co-written by and starring Adrian Lukis, who played Mr. Wickham in the best adaptation of P&P (don't @ me), which was first presented online by Original Theatre.
And? It was nice to get to see the performance in person, after having watched the filmed version. We were gifted with talkback after the performance, when we learned how much research and thought he put into the revisiting of his most famous role, of his Jane Austen scholarship, and aspects of his own life, and what it was like when turned sixty and started looking back.

Adrian Lukis as Mr. Wickham. Photo by James Findlay.