Wednesday, February 29, 2012

theatre review CARRIE, THE MUSICAL, Off Broadway, February 28

For almost 24 years I've been waiting to see another production of the musical Carrie.  I saw the original 1988 Broadway production which was notorious for closing as soon as it opened and losing millions of dollars and basically loved every minute of it (read all about my analysis of that production and the musical in my previous blog post).  Sure, some of the 1988 Broadway production was horrifically bad but many parts of it were wonderful in their beauty and how they were amazingly imagined.   The three creators of that musical have never let anyone perform the show since then, so there was really no way for anyone to fully experience the show until now.  Instead, they've spent the past few years revising the material, trying to fix what was wrong back in 1988.  We went to the "preview" of some of the new material last August, where the three creators and director of this new production spoke about the revised version of the show.  Read about that night in my blog post here. So, I knew going in that this wasn't going to be the same experience it was 24 years ago, but would it actually be better or worse with the added years and the tinkering to the music and script?   So, it was with much excitement but also some hesitation that we went down to the Village last night to see the new, revised, production of Carrie.

For those who haven't read the Stephen King novel that the musical is based on or haven't seen the 1970's movie that featured Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her mother, Carrie tells the tale of a shy 17 year old girl.  She is a loner, an outsider who is picked on at school and has an extremely religious mother who basically keeps her sheltered.  When Carrie realizes she has telekinetic powers, she uses them to get back at all of those who have wronged her with the story culminating at the prom, the most sacred of high school events for the popular kids.  "A Cinderella story with a vengeance" as one of the creators calls it.

Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson
 The original 1988 Broadway production was basically called one of the worst musicals ever.  And with minimal story telling, ill conceived costumes, some fairly bad choreography, a couple of truly bad songs and a set design that included an unexplained giant white staircase in the finale, it was easy to see why.  There was an earlier workshop of the first act of the musical in 1984 that was more effective in telling this story.  Unfortunately many of the good elements of that workshop were gone by the time the show got to Broadway and the director and producers of that production made so many changes for the worse.

It is extremely interesting that this production has done an almost complete 180 on two key elements when comparing this production to the original Broadway one.  The 1988 production was all about choreography and had very minimal dialogue with relatively no scenes that weren't musicalized.  This production has almost no choreography (and trust me, it isn't missed) and adds valuable dialogue scenes that bring considerable weight to the story.  Many things that weren't explained in 1988 are well thought out and portrayed now.  Carrie's powers being one of the key elements that is now more effectively shown, with a natural beginning that shows Carrie discovering her powers and then honing them.  Also, good girl Sue, who is really the only kid who tries to help Carrie, has much more to do now and by having her basically tell us the story in flashback, it is a much easier way to get us into the plot as well as to help us better understand what Sue, and the other kids, were thinking at the time of the events shown in the musical.
Ranson at the Prom

Many elements from the 1984 workshop production have fortunately been put back into this production.  These include the aforementioned dialogue scenes, including a much more effective act one finale that is almost word for word what it was back in the 1984 workshop.  This act one ending provides a chilling and exciting end to the first act.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised with what the creators have been able to achieve with this new production.  Now, not everything works, and perhaps the show isn't as "scary" or "dangerous" as it could be, but with two key actresses in the lead roles and an imaginative production, the themes of outsiders, bullies and the religiously lost are front and center. The songs that were on the bad side back in 1988 are gone and the new ones are quite good, I even liked the many new lyrics that have been added.  The costumes are perfect too.  This is a good musical, finally.  One that I think will actually get some good reviews. 

So, as you can tell, this production isn't at all like the original.  The creators have revised about 1/2 of the music, including adding many new songs, added new scenes and a new framing device.  All of which results in a far better show.  Director Stafford Arima is to be commended for his ability to not only mold the material into the effective musical that it is but also to get the three original creators excited enough about the show after twenty years to write new music, lyrics and dialogue and to really rethink the whole piece.  Those three creators are Michael Gore who wrote the music, Dean Pitchford, lyrics and Lawrence D. Cohen who wrote the book.  We actually saw Gore and Pitchford at the show last night, so it is nice to see them still involved with the production even when it must be pretty much in its final format since it officially opens tomorrow night.

Molly Ranson as Carrie is a jaw dropper.  She so perfectly plays the part that you can't help feel her pain with all of the rotten things the other kids are saying and doing to her.  Ranson wrings every nuance out of the role as well.  She perfectly gets the shy, sheltered kid who is fearful of the kids at school as well as her mother.  The way she looks at good guy Tommy with love in her eyes but how she is always so cautious when speaking to anyone who she thinks is really trying to trick her, perfectly portray a person we all knew growing up.  When she transforms herself before going to the prom into an exceedingly beautiful girl, you can't help but feel for her, especially if you know what is going to happen to her once she gets to the prom.  She also has a pretty amazing and powerful voice that is effectively used throughout the show.

Carrie gets a little crazy in the high school gymnasium
 Marin Mazzie is playing Carrie's religious mother Margaret as more of a calm, completely in control character then the crazy religious fanatic we've seen before.  When Carrie begins to challenge her control, Mazzie expertly plays the part of a woman who doesn't know where to turn when she no longer has the upper hand.  Mazzie's delivery of her act two solo "When There's No One" is one of the most amazing, theatrical and painfully raw arias in a musical, ever.  I actually connected with the character of Margaret for the first time when hearing this song last night, something I didn't do when Betty Buckley sang this in the original Broadway production.  And I am a huge Buckley fan, so that is really saying something!

The rest of the cast was fairly good, no major pluses or minuses.  While most of the actors looked slightly older than the high school aged kids they were portraying, they all managed to pull off their parts effectively. 

Mazzie and Ranson- note the use of projections for
windows to turn the back wall into Carrie's home.

Design wise the show is very good.  A simple set design by David Zinn that uses various doors and platforms is effective, even with minimal furniture pieces it perfectly evokes the various locales of the show.  I especially liked the traditional gymnasium doors at the back of the stage that were expertly used at the end of the prom sequence.  Lighting by Kevin Adams helps very well in the scene changes and making the space become other settings.  The use of projections by Sven Ortel, especially during the prom sequence is very effective.  Sound design is also top notch, with clear consistent sound throughout as well as some extremely eerie moments at the opening, a nicely done storm sequence at the end of the first act and a really effective use of sounds, both lovely and horrifying during the prom scenes.

The high school kids
Downsides to the show would be the choreography in the opening sequence, which was somewhat rudimentary and too stylized.   The small cast, while effective in most of the scenes was somewhat of a letdown during the prom when there were only five couples there.  I can't completely fault this production for that though, since it is an Off Broadway production and the cast for this show is somewhat large for Off Broadway.  But a scene like a prom, that should have many people there just doesn't come across that well with a very small cast.  I also think a better ending would have helped really connect us with this story.   As it is now is ends with the focus on Sue, not on Carrie where it should be.

The very bloody finale
Still there are some very effective and wonderful moments happening at the Lucille Lortel Theatre with this production of Carrie.  Those who loved the camp value of the 1988 production will be disappointed as pretty much any moments that got unintentional laughter are gone and everything is portrayed in a straight forward fashion.  Many of the iconic images from the film and those we've imagined from the book are on display here.   Just the image in this show of Carrie returning from the prom, in her blood soaked dress is one I won't soon forget.

Carrie which was originally only running through the end of March has now been extended to April 22nd.  I'm sure if the reviews are good it will be extended again, or might even possibly move to an open run at another Off Broadway house.  I just hope that this production will get an official cast recording and that the creators will finally release performance rights to the show.  I'm sure if they do there will be many productions of this out there -even in a more PG-13 rated high school version, and I think those productions are ones that could clearly drive home the themes that Carrie is all about, especially when performed in an actual high school.

Official Show Site

Highlights from two of the songs:

Clips from several songs including part of "When There's No One"  -

Interviews with the creators and Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson:

Christy Altomare and Derek Klena perform one of the new songs "You Shine":

Sunday, February 19, 2012

broadway birthday CRAZY FOR YOU -Happy 20th Birthday!

Twenty years ago today the Broadway musical Crazy For You opened.  It would go on to win the 1992 Tony Award for Best Musical and run for 1,422 performances.   Based on the 1930 musical Girl Crazy, Crazy For You was billed as the "The new Gershwin musical comedy" as it was a musical with a new book but interpolated many of the songs from the George and Ira Gershwin catalog including many from Girl Crazy like "I Got Rhythm."  It also included the hugely popular Gershwin songs "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "They Can't Take that Away From Me" which were from the Gershwin musicals Oh, Kay and Shall We Dance respectively.

With a book by Ken Ludwig, Crazy For You is the story of Bobby Child, the young, wealthy son in a banking family who just wants to sing and dance.  The show starts with him auditioning for Bela Zangler, the impresario of the Zangler Follies.  When he fails to impress Zangler, his mother who wants nothing to do with Bobby's dancing business sends him off to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on a theatre there. In Deadrock he meets Polly, the daughter of the owner of the theatre and he falls in love with her.  But when Polly learns who he is, the man who is there to foreclose on their theatre, she wants nothing to do with him.  So Bobby comes up with a plan, he will disguise himself as Zangler, get the Follies girls to Deadrock to put on a show to raise money to save the theatre and end up with Polly.  Happy Ending, right?  Not exactly, as the real Zangler shows up in Deadrock, and that's just the first Act!

Harry Groener and the female ensemble
The original Broadway cast included Harry Groener as Bobby, Jodi Benson as Polly, Bruce Angler as Bela and Jane Connell as Bobby's mother.  Groener, Benson and Angler were all nominated for Tony Awards.  The show included beautiful costumes by William Ivey Long, who would also win a Tony for his efforts and an imaginative set design by Robin Wagner.

Crazy For You was the first Broadway musical to combine the talents of director Mike Ockrent and Susan Stroman.  Ockrent previously directed the hit show Me and My Girl and together they would go on to create the Broadway shows Big, the Musical and A Christmas Carol as well as get married and work together until Ockrent died in 1999.  Stroman would win a Tony award for her spirited choreography for Crazy For You and go on to direct and choreograph Contact, The Producers, Young Frankenstein and The Scottsboro Boys.  Stroman has now won five Tony awards.

Benson and Groener
A London production of Crazy For You opened in 1993 and ran for almost three years.  A production at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse was filmed and aired on PBS' Great Performances in 1999.  While a Broadway revival has yet to happen a revival in London is currently playing, it opened last Fall after a successful Summer production in Regent's Park.  

A new Gershwin musical Nice Work If You Can Get It opens on Broadway this April.  It is an updated version of the musical Oh, Kay and will feature songs from that show, including "Someone To Watch Over Me" which was also heard in Crazy For You and others from the Gershwin catalog.  It will be interesting to see if there will be any other songs in this show that were also in Crazy For You and if Nice Work If You Can Get It will be as successful as Crazy For You was. 

So Happy 20th Birthday Crazy For You!

Harry Groener and the Broadway cast perform "I Can't Be Bothered Now" from the Tony Awards:

theatre review MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, Encores, February 16

The City Center Encores production of Merrily We Roll Along concludes a two week run today.  The Encores series of semi-staged concerts provides an interesting glimpse into lesser performed shows.  Usually the concerts last less than a week, but with a show like Merrily, one with a phenomenal score by Stephen Sondheim that has never had a Broadway revival, I guess they knew the demand would be so high that they added an extra week of shows months before it started performances. 

I recently wrote about the 30th Anniversary of the opening of the show on Broadway.  Read my posting about that here.  This is yet another show that has an amazing score but suffered from book problems.  Fortunately an original cast recording was made and anyone who has heard it but never saw a production of the show will most likely wonder why the original Broadway production didn't run longer.  The main conceit of the show, and the play the musical was based on, is to show what happens to three close friends at the start of the show, with them basically all disillusioned and some not talking to the others and then go backwards a couple of years at a time to show how they got that way, with the show ending with a scene that shows how the three friends first met, all three of them full of hopes and dreams. I've talked about all of that in my previous blog post, so let's get straight to my review of this production.

Keenan-Bolger, Donnell and Miranda
Directed by frequent Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, the Encores concert production was a fairly realized version of the show with the majority of the actors off-book.   With a minimal set design and the orchestra housed on a level above the stage that was also used effectively in several key scenes, this production also used the wall behind the stage and beneath the orchestra for digital projections that clearly and effectively displayed the changes to the characters over the years.  This was most wisely used during the overture where all of the photos and images started in the past and then progressed to the present.   Then as the show went on we saw some of the images we previously saw in the opening but now, as we went backwards in time, to help ground the current scene about to unfold.   The book for this production combines elements of the various revised versions of the show, of which Lapine directed the first major one back in 1985.

Wolfe, Miranda, Donnell, Keenan-Bolger and Grupper
The Encores cast was led by Colin Donnell, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Celia Keenan-Bolger as the three leads Frank, Charley and Mary.  All three were fine in the parts with Miranda and Keenan-Bolger especially memorable for several key moments.  The part of Frank is an extremely difficult one to play since it is basically a shallow part, with most of the events that made him the way he is happening off stage, being talked about but not shown until later (in a scene that happens earlier in time), or not really shown, so there isn't much for an actor to act against.  For example, we still don't really know why Frank turned away from composing to become a Hollywood producer or why he decided to start sleeping with Gussie, which ended his marriage. And while the structure of the play being told backwards basically deprives us of any of the characters being sympathetic for a very long time, Charley and Mary have many more moments than Frank and earlier in the show to latch on to so those parts are much richer to play.  Donnell does get his moments, but they come very late in the show - and he does provide an excellent singing voice for the signature Sondheim songs.  The part of Mary has usually been played by an overweight woman, but the skinny Keenan-Bolger provides the appropriate elements of heartbreak, unrequited love and delusion from the start.  I guess the thinking has been that only overweight women can play someone who isn't loved, but I completely bought Keenan-Bolger's portrayal.  The same goes for Miranda as Charley.  You clearly see how much he loves Frank, even when Frank is obsessed with fame and fortune while Charley realizes those things aren't the ones that should be focused on.  Miranda also does just fine with his character's comical breakdown song, "Franklin, Shephard, Inc."  I especially loved the use of wigs in this production to show the changing hair styles of the times.  In fact Miranda and Keenan-Bolger were virtually unrecognizable in the beginning due to their garish 1970's hair styles.

Donnell and Stanley
The other three supporting parts were all effective and well rounded, especially Elizabeth Stanley as Gussie.  You clearly saw the woman who came from nothing and tries to latch onto whatever she can to make her succeed, even though her life is obviously always empty no matter what she tries to do.  I loved Adam Gruper as Joe, Gussie's husband and the producer of the show that makes Frank and Charley a success.  And Betsy Wolfe as Beth, Frank's first wife, has to launch into probably the best known song from the show, "Not a Day Goes By" with little emotional lead in (considering what made her the way she is we won't see until later) but she more than delivers -making it the devastating song that it is.   She sings the song again in the second act, but of course from a completely different perspective, and makes it just as heartbreaking then too, knowing what we already know happens years later.

Overall Lapine's direction was fine, but the large ensemble cast needed to be better staged as with the small stage space they sometimes got in the way of the main characters.   This made it somewhat hard for us to determine who to focus on, especially in some key moments, particularly the end of the show.

Merrily We Roll Along is still a show with a book that needs some help but the many changes made to the show over the years have helped to better focus it.  The ending, which is really the beginning, with the Sondheim gem "Our Time" is still an emotional, amazingly touching song and there really isn't one bad song in the score.  As I said in my other posting, it is one of those shows that will be continually tried over and over again to get right due mainly to the rich and fulfilling Sondheim score at it's core.  And while this Encores production wasn't able to deliver on all fronts, it was extremely nice to hear that score with this cast and see this show again, even if the problems with the book of the show are still not quite resolved. feature with clips from the show and interviews:

"Old Friends" - rehearsal video with Donnell, Keenan-Bolger and Miranda:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

theatre review RED, George Street Playhouse, February 12

The Tony winning play Red is having it's New Jersey premiere this month in an excellent production at the George Street Playhouse.   Based on a two year period in the life of the expressionist abstract painter Mark Rothko, the play by John Logan won the Tony Award for Best Play two years ago. 

Bob Ari and Randy Harrison
Red is set in Rothko's New York City studio in the late 1950's when Rothko has been commissioned to create a series of murals to hang on the walls of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York's Seagrams building.  Red is a play of many layers.  On one hand it is the story of a teacher and a student, on another the story of a man trying to hold on to what he believes art is and how no one truly sees it the way he does, let alone the up and coming crop of "pop" artists like Andy Warhol.   On another level it shows the shifting balance between the young and the old as the uneducated youth becomes just as knowledgeable as the older teacher.  And it is also the tale of a man with many demons who talks about his eventual suicide as if that is the only way his life could possibly end.  Interestingly, Rothko was a painter of layers, with thin layers of paint layered on top of other thin layers of other paint colors so those colors would sometimes show through the other layers.  Logan has expertly created a play in line with the way Rothko created his art.

Rothko is portrayed by Bob Ari and Ari is giving a well thought out and fully fleshed out performance, one where Rothko is a pompous, egotistical man,  full of himself, self centered and set in his ways but truly afraid of the new crop of younger artists that are now on the scene.  Sure, he might toss off these individuals with contempt and as having nothing in common with himself, but he, and we, know that there is also a fear of what's "hot" and trendy that also make him despise these new artists.   You see, Rothko is at the point in his life when he thinks that basically no one except himself is worthy of viewing, let alone owning, one of his paintings.  He believes everyone simply views his paintings as a commodity and that no one truly sees the pain and beauty in his work.

The assistant Ken, played by Randy Harrison, is at first in awe of Rothko but over the course of the 100 minute play, and the two year period the play covers, he begins to question Rothko's ideas of what a painter is and what paintings stand for and eventually strikes back at Rothko verbally in an emotional monologue toward the end of the play.   That speech, handled expertly by Harrison, truly shows Rothko how wrong his views are as well as how the younger up and coming artists might actually know more then he does.  It is at the end of this moment when Rothko truly sees Ken as his equal.

Both actors are so passionate in their performances, not only with the way they inhibit the characters but also with the one scene where they are painting the base layer on a canvas as well as the way they handle the sometimes difficult dialogue.   And while Ari's performance is layered it is really Harrison who's character grows the most over the play.  Quiet and unsure of himself in the beginning he grows into someone of self assurance and confidence.

Vividly directed by Anders Canto with lighting by Dan Kotlowitz that includes an amazingly lit scene toward the end of the play, Red plays through February 26th.

George Street Playhouse Official Site

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Replacement Broadway casts come in a couple of varieties - there are the replacements with legitimate Broadway credentials and then there are "stunt" replacements where an actor, usually from a semi-hit tv show takes over the lead in a show for a limited number of weeks most likely to get some press and drum up business from tourists for a show that needs a boost at the box office.  I usually prefer the first type of replacements and tend to steer clear of the stunt casting variety, but when it was announced that pop-star Nick Jonas would be taking over the lead in the successful revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying our niece Brittany said that she would really love to go, so off we went, with some reservation on my part I might add.  

Telling the story of a young man's rise up the corporate ladder at a company that is so big no one really knows what anyone else is doing, this revival of How To Succeed is a fun filled comedy with winning performances, joyful dances and some truly comical moments.

Nick Jonas in the opening number
And, I'm happy to report that not only was I pleasantly surprised with Jonas' performance as well as the other new members of the cast, but that the show is even more of a well-oiled machine than it was when we saw the show last Spring.  In Jonas' defense he actually had several Broadway credits before becoming a teen pop phenomenon as one of the Jonas Brothers.   So unlike the many other stunt replacements who have no theatre experience before finding themselves headlining a Broadway show, Jonas has had much experience including his recent stint of playing Marius in the 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables, both in the London cast and in the concert version that was broadcast on PBS and available on dvd.   While I thought Jonas was a little wooden in the concert version of Les Mis, and seemed a bit too focused on hitting all the exact beats and marks necessary that got in the way of him seeming more natural, his singing and look were perfectly in line for the character.  

Beau Bridges
And while Jonas has a better singing voice then Daniel Radcliffe, he is still a little focused on making sure he hits all of his marks that slightly gets in the way of him being the natural in the role that Radcliffe was.   Sure, he is charming, and at only 19 he has a professionalism that actors 10 years older don't have, but he needs to relax just a little bit more in order to really excel in the part.  Now, we only saw him a week into his run, so I'm sure he will naturally evolve and be even better as he gets more performances under his belt.   And, I think that if we hadn't seen Radcliffe twice in the part I would have thought Jonas was even better than I did.  Still, he is giving a really nice performance and will impress anyone who sees him.

Two other cast members have joined the show.  Beau Bridges is now playing J. B. Biggley, the head of the company that Jonas starts working for and Michael Urie is now Biggley's nephew, Bud Frump, the annoying office worker who uses his relationship to the boss to get ahead.  While Bridges might not have the comic chops of his predecessor John Larroquette, he is giving a nice, touching performance filled with warmth and charm and manages fine on the couple of songs he has.   Urie, best known for playing the part of Mark on tv's Ugly Betty, is giving a perfect scene stealing performance, right up there with how one imagines Charles Nelson Reilly who originated this part in the Original Broadway cast was.

Michael Urie
Rose Hemingway is still playing the part of Rosemary, and she has to have one of the most powerhouse of voices on Broadway right now.   Mary Faber is still Smitty, the nosey secretary and Rosemary's friend, and together they are even better in their parts then before with Faber hitting some great comment moments and Hemingway having fun with her new leading man.

Rob Bartlett and Ellen Harvey are still playing Mr. Twimble/Mr. Wopper and Biggley's secretary respectively and like Hemingway and Faber are hitting every comic moment imaginable with Harvey still delivering a phenomenal high note in the second act showstopper "Brotherhood of Man."  Tammy Blanchard was out the night we went, so the part of Hedy La Rue, the sexpot girlfriend of Biggley, was played by understudy Paige Faure and while Faure wasn't quite as funny as Blanchard was when we saw her last Spring, she still made a good impression in the part.

The rest of the ensemble is also delivering even better than before with the various choreographed moments and the hijinks are even funnier than I remember.  It is nice to see the cast still hitting high marks throughout the show even though the show is coming up on it's 1 year anniversary.

My only quibble, which goes back to my earlier comment about Jonas, is that a song like "Grand Old Ivy" that was a knockout with Radcliffe is now less successful due to the fact that Jonas hasn't quite let himself go in the part.   In this song he is supposed to not know the choreography as he is following Bridges as Bridges sings his college's fight song.  But where Radcliffe expertly moved a split second behind Laroquette, since he was watching him do the moves first, Jonas is doing the moves at the exact same time as Bridges, which made absolutely no sense, as he isn't supposed to know the movements for this cheer.   Jonas is so focused on making sure he does everything correct that he is missing some of the smaller moments like this one where he isn't supposed to know what he should do next.  But hopefully in time, Jonas will relax and be even better in the show.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the show including Nick singing parts of three songs:

Nick performs "I Believe In You" -

Nick sings "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" from the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

theatre review BOEING, BOEING, Papermill Playhouse, January 28

The Paper Mill Playhouse production of Boeing, Boeing is one of those productions where you want to love it, but just can't quite get to that level of commitment.  It has a game cast, perfect set and fine direction, but as a farce that should be laugh out loud funny, while all of the elements eventually come together there is just something missing that would elevate this to the level of zaniness it really needs to achieve.

Written by French playwright Marc Camoletti with an English translation by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, Boeing, Boeing was a huge hit when it premiered in London in 1962, running for seven years.  However a subsequent Broadway production lasted only 23 performances.  The play returned to London and Broadway in 2007 and 2008, respectively, and had a fairly respectable run of about a year in each city.

John Scherer and Beth Leavel
The play focuses on Bernard, an American in Paris who is dating three air hostesses of different nationalities at the same time and is also engaged to all of them.  He has no plans to actually marry them of course and none of the three girls have any clue that the others exist.  He thinks he has his life perfectly figured out based on the fight timetables for their three respective airlines.  While one is leaving Paris, one is arriving with the third already in the air thousands of miles away.  This way he has a different girl every two days and never gets bored.  His housekeeper Bertha tries to help Bernard, but she is sufferable and tired of the constant changes of menus and having to switch out the pictures and the linens every time a new girl has touched down and is on her way to Bernard's apartment.

Beth Leavel, Anne Horack, John Scherer,
Matt Walton and Brynn O'Malley
Weather delays, a new faster Boeing jet and Bertha's constant threats to quit all get in the way to destroy Bernard's perfectly planned out life.  Fortunately Bernard's school friend Robert has just arrived and he tries to keep the girls from knowing another one is also in the house, even when all three of them happen to arrive within minutes of each other.  Robert is really the star of the show and for the recent Broadway revival, Mark Rylance won the Tony for his performance,

Now, having never seen a production of this show before, I'm not quite certain what made the former runs of this show so healthy, but the Paper Mill production seems to be lacking the appropriate pacing that farce requires in several earlier scenes.  Perhaps this is what happened with that 23 performance original Broadway run. The play starts slow and continues that way for about the first 30 minutes, this pace means there are very few laughs in the beginning of the show except for a chuckle here and there.  While it might seem correct to let the show build to the all out insanity that we know will come later, it is just too slow for a comedy.  Director James Brennan might be thinking this is the correct approach, but if that was his plan he needs to remember this is a comedy after all, we are there to laugh.  The fact that he almost always has most of the ladies practically screaming their lines also forces the audience to suspend any sense of reality that the other ladies who sometimes are just behind a door in one of the other rooms in Bernard's apartment never hear a word that is being said.  Brennan also adds a little too much flatulent sounds in one scene that combined with the screaming ladies and the slow beginning turn this into a lesser comical farce than I think it could be.

Matt Walton and Beth Leavel
John Scherer as Robert looks like your typical American who is somewhat lost outside of his familiar surroundings.  He does fine with the comic moments and partners well with anyone in the cast for the hijinks but lacks a little in his natural comic abilities to really make this into the show I wanted it to be.  He seems to be pushing a little too much in several moments which makes it less of a farce and more of am acting exercise.  Matt Walton as Bernard is your perfect 60's man who thinks he can have it all until all hell breaks loose.  He looks great, is romantic and loving with each of the girls, but is eager to tell Robert of his exploits and Walton plays all of these elements of Bernard beautifully.

The ladies in the show are all pretty good.  All four are basically playing stereotypes of the 60's and they play them splendidly.  Beth Leavel is Bertha and she manages to ring just about every comical bit out of the part including a funny bit of a tumble down the stairs with all dignity lost, bloomers exposed and legs spread.  As the three flight attendants,  all three are pulling off very humorous accents, Anne Horak was my favorite as the German girl, all hard and rough around the edges and Brynn O’Malley as the Italian one was all fiery and passionate.  Both of them made really indelible impressions.  Only Heather Parcells as the American girl with a thick Southern accent was just ho hum.  But I think that is more to do with the part and direction and not Parcells, as the character isn't given nearly as much funny business as the other girls.

The fun curtain call
The show does end with an upbeat choreographed curtain call that almost makes up for some of the lesser moments that came before.  But while Boeing, Boeing is a fun show it isn't quite as funny as I was hoping it to be.  Interestingly enough, the sequel to this show, Don't Dress For Dinner is being produced on Broadway this Spring by the Roundabout Theatre Company.  I'm curious to see what happens after the events of Boeing, Boeing and I hope that it is more humorous than what is on stage at the Paper Mill.

Paper Mill Playhouse Website

Highlights from the show:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

theatre review THE ROAD TO MECCA, Broadway, January 21

Athol Fugard's 1984 play The Road to Mecca is finally having it's Broadway debut this month after premiering off Broadway in New York back in the late 80's.  Inspired by the true story of a woman that Fugard heard about and saw a couple of times but never actually spoke to, The Road to Mecca is set in a small town in South Africa in 1974.  It is the story of Miss Helen, a woman in her 70's who is somewhat of an oddity and how her neighbors and the rest of the town believes it would be best for her, and the community, if she moved out of her house and into a Christian home for the elderly.

Miss Helen is a free spirit, an independent woman who lives alone and who over the years has created hundreds of large sculptures out of odd objects and has planted them all over her yard in front of her colorful house.  So the recommendation to move her into the elderly home is really a question about what is best for Miss Helen vs what is best for a community who sees her house and yard as an eyesore.

Rosemary Harris and Carla Gugino
Rosemary Harris is Miss Helen and I can't imagine anyone giving a better performance than Harris does.  She perfectly plays the range of emotions that come with someone who might be starting to forget things, who realized that she just might be somewhat of a danger to herself and facing the fear of possibly being forced out of her home, which is really her sanctuary.  She is wonderfully balanced in the part by Carla Gugino.  Gugino is Elsa, a young school teacher who is an old friend of Helen's and who has come for a short visit once she receives a troubling letter from Helen.  And while at times Miss Helen is a mother figure to Elsa the roles reverse several times throughout the play to the point of where you truly see why these woman are connected to each other and how they both truly need the other to survive.  Gugino can be just as feisty as Harris is, but we soon come to realize that she has just as many problems to deal with as Helen does.  Gugino is one of those actresses that has been good in everything we've seen her in.  This is her third Roundabout Theatre Company show.

Jim Dale is the Reverend Marcus who's church oversees the retirement home as well as he is a friend of Helen's.  He truly believes he is doing what is right for her, by almost making the decision to move into the home for her, but there are also underlying emotions between Helen and Marcus as well.  While Dale is known for his comical roles, his work here is beautifully understated, nuanced and lacking any comical notes, all of which round out and deepen the part he is playing.

Jim Dale, Carla Gugino and Rosemary Harris
All the figures Mill Helen created were mainly religious icons and they all face East- toward Mecca, hence the name of the play.  And while she might appear to be a recluse she is still extremely passionate about things, and Harris instills a fierce passion into her performance as well.  This is a three character play of words and emotions with a slow beginning and middle that builds to a completely riveting and luminous last third.  Harris and Dale have an encounter toward the end of the play that is one of the best acted pieces I've seen in many years of theatre going.  Director Gordon Edlestein and lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski have created an amazingly theatrical moment where the entire stage becomes alive with color, emotion and light.   During this monologue by Miss Helen, Dale does some of the best acting I've ever seen with barely saying a word.   Two theatre legends giving two truly memorable performances.

Fugard's play is very interesting in how it focuses on the treatment of the elderly by those around them as if they are second class citizens while taking place in a setting that deals remotely with apartheid and the fight of black South Africans for their freedom.  The focus on one with the underlying current of the other is an interesting metaphor.  It was extremely interesting seeing The Road to Mecca just one week after seeing the new play The Convert as they are both set in South Africa but deal with completely different, but similar issues of religion and political unrest even though they are set 80 years apart.

Miss Helen's "Owl House" became a National Monument in the small town of Nieu Bethesda.  The Road to Mecca is playing through March 4th.

Official Show Website

Highlights from the show: