Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Seussical

Dr. Seuss, renowned children's author, managed to tuck away some pretty radical thoughts in his accessible, funny, tightly rhymed, and sweetly illustrated books. Seussical, the musical based on a number of his stories, goes even a little further. Individual thought is cherished, even if it annoys the people around you ("oh, the thinks you can think"). War is stupid (does it really matter which side the bread is buttered on?). All people are important ("a person's a person, no matter how small"). You have much to offer just the way you are (as Gertrude learns when she goes to extreme measures to impress Horton). And love is triumphant, even across species. (Horton the elephant and Gertrude the bird decide to help their elephant-bird deal with, uh, cultural challenges by having Horton teach it about earth and Gertrude teach it about sky.)


Seussical doesn't particularly push these messages. Instead, in the strong production currently at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn, it presents an energetic party, with much singing, 17 actors playing over 70 characters, a stage full of inviting props (and many hats), and tons and tons of energy. Seussical is the sort of show where you frequently notice that you're grinning.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thoughts on BroadwayCon


If you follow the musical theatre world on Twitter or Tumblr at all, you may have noticed an explosion of the hashtag - #BroadwayCon. This past weekend (January 22-24), the first annual convention dedicated to fans of musical theatre was held at the New York Hilton Midtown. The show went on despite Winter Storm Jonas. I had the chance to attend because my health insurance company issued me a shiny refund for exercising regularly (Thanks, Obama!). Here’s what I thought.

Monday, January 25, 2016

To Stay or Not to Stay: That Is the Question

My latest Art Times essay is up: 

Every now and then, a controversy breaks out about leaving shows during intermission. Is it fair, acceptable, reasonable, and/or kosher?  (read more)



Thursday, January 21, 2016

King Charles III

A short time into the future, Queen Elizabeth has died, and Charles is king. Lacking his mother's presence, popularity, and willingness to play the game, he initiates a national crisis by refusing to sign a law limiting freedom of the press. His stance is surprising--after all, his life has been severely affected by the depredations of Britain's rabid tabloid press. But Charles believes in freedom.

Playwright Mike Bartlett is smart to choose this particular law. How admirable that Charles chooses principle over his own comfort and the comfort of his loved ones! Bartlett also wisely shows us that Charles genuinely loves his family and does the best he can for them.

These positive feelings toward Charles are important as his behavior becomes more and more extreme, and his worthiness as a person and a king gets called into question.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Collective Mourning: David Bowie

David Bowie's death hasn't suddenly made me like Lazarus any more than I did when I saw it, but it sure has put me in touch with the power of collective mourning. Over the past week, I've listened to, watched, read about and thought about Bowie to an extent I can safely say I haven't before, ever, and probably won't again. Of course, I am hardly alone on this. After the surprising, sad announcement of his death from cancer at the weirdly young (if appropriately sexy) age of 69, Bowie has been the subject of myriad Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, hastily amassed comments from other famous people, encomia by arts journalists, and viral videos by people around the world who loved his music (or could, at least, strum some guitar chords and sing "Space Oddity.").

The outpouring of collective grief over celebrities who die is occasionally the subject of great concern, especially in the media age, many aspects of which seem to be cause for great concern by many people, most of the time, anyway. Among other bad things the Internet has done, apparently, is ruin our ability to mourn privately, appropriately, and without histrionics.




I tend to disagree with arguments about how the Internet is ruining us as a civilization; I certainly pissed away as much time as I do now long before the web was a thing. And I certainly don't see reason to get concerned about the ways we use it to mourn collectively. Maybe this is because so much of the work I do is solitary, and social media reminds me that I exist in the world even when I haven't looked up from whatever it is I'm doing in silence and solitude for hours at a time. I like being reminded at the click of a mouse, especially during dark times, that many, many other people are busily processing the same sociocultural information that I am. There are all sorts of ways to use the Internet for evil, but collective mourning, as I see it, just isn't one of them.

Anyway, mourning David Bowie--or any celebrity, really--is never just an internet thing, though there were an overwhelming slew of posts, comments, references, videos, parodies, and clips from television shows and movies--all of which seem to have made a lot of people feel connected in their surprised sadness. Beyond the Internet, too, it was also all Bowie all the time this past week: his music has emanated from countless bars and restaurants and open mics; his song lyrics and pictures were posted on any number of public spaces; the impact of his incredibly multifaceted career was the topic of countless conversations; and many performers opened or closed their concerts with tributes to him. 

And for good reason, I think. Bowie, perhaps more than any other celebrity to give up the ghost in recent years, was a great and kind unifier; for all his shifting personae and his increasingly well-guarded privacy, his work repeatedly reflected an understanding of how it feels to be an outsider seeking connections with other outsiders. It's why, I think, so many people loved him, followed him, felt a kinship with him, discovered themselves through him. He was, no matter what the guise, ultimately an unsure alien eager to be reassured and loved during his time on earth. Aren't we all? His carefully cultivated aura--that of an absolutely beautiful, impeccably stylish everyman who nonetheless just might stay up all night long being self-destructive, doubting himself or others, or worrying about the same sorts of stupid shit we all stay up all night long worrying about sometimes--is what unites us in sorrow and celebration. It's sad that he's moved on, especially at an age that seems remarkably young by contemporary standards. But as one Internet meme that has circulated during this most thorough and heartfelt collective mourning process reminds us, it's pretty cool that we got to live in the world with David Bowie at all.





Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Marilyn Maye: Marilyn by Request

It's fitting that Marilyn Maye ended her recent show at the Metropolitan Room with "The Secret of Life" followed by "Here's to Life," since she clearly lives by both songs. At 87, she's dynamic, funny, charming, inspiring, and, yes, full of life. And she's a hell of a singer. She also looked fabulous, dressed in black with all sorts of sparkly additions. Every time she moved, she threw off light. But she could do that without the sparkles--that's Marilyn Maye!

Ultimately, it's almost silly to write a review of Marilyn Maye, because she is beyond reviews. When you go to see her, you know you'll get a great show, a terrific show, a generous show. You know you'll laugh. You know you'll get ferklempt. And you know that you will experience awe at her sheer wonderfulness. In fact, when it comes to Marilyn Maye, only one sentence is needed:
See her whenever you can, as often as you can. 
Maye's set included a wide range of songs, many tucked into elegant medleys. They included "I Love Everybody," "Let There Be Love," "It's Love," "Hey Old Friend," "I Love Being Here With You," "Cabaret," "That Face," "Whenever I See Your Smiling Face," "I Was Born to Make You Happy," "My Romance," "Golden Rainbow," "Fifty Percent of Him," "If I Were a Bell," "Luck Be A Lady," "Joey, Joey, Joey," "Bye, Bye, Country Boy," "I'm Through With Love," "What Do You Get When You Fall in Love," "Rain," "Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," "Ain't Misbehavin'," and "Honeysuckle Rose." Like I said, it's a generous performance. (Please forgive any misnamed songs; I'm not 100% familiar with all of them.)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 On Stage

It may be redundant at this point, but I want to echo my colleagues and reiterate that it's really just gob-smacking to be able to live in a time of such bounteous creation, and to have the opportunity to see as much theater as I do. Between my personal theater-going, my responsibilities for our humble blog and my position as a regional critic for Talkin' Broadway (where I cover theatrical productions in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware), I saw well over 100 shows in 2015. Some were unbelievably good, some unbelievably bad, and many held moments of wonder. Narrowing down the list to a manageable number of "bests" wasn't easy, but that is what I have attempted to do herein. So, without further ado, here are the theatrical experiences that have remained foremost in my mind throughout the year (in alphabetical order):
Daniel N. Durant and Krysta Rodriguez in Spring Awakening.
Photo: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top Theater Moments of 2015




This wasn’t my favorite theater season. Yes, it had the sublime Fun Home, but more often I felt mixed about the just-under two-dozen shows I saw. I enjoyed parts, but not always the whole experience. So here’s my “Six Best Theater Moments in 2015.”*

Fun Home

The Shows:
1.     Fun Home—Circle in the Square. Previews began on March 27, still playing. This transfer from the Public Theater shattered me. Based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel and featuring music by Jeanine Tesori and book/lyrics by Lisa Kron (both of whom won Tonys for their contribution), the plot centers on the coming-out of a young lesbian, but also offers an intimate look at a fractured family. Sydney Lucas broke my heart as the child who discovers she is different through a ring of keys, and Judy Kuhn as the unfulfilled mother is haunting when she sings “Days and Days.” I could continue with more superlavatives to describe Michael Cerveris, Beth Malone and Emily Skeggs, but I’ll let the Tony received for Best Musical do the talking for me.

2.     Into the Woods—Laura Pels Theatre. Last performance: April 12, 2015. The Roundabout Theatre Company presented the McCarter Theatre and Fiasco Theater production of the Sondheim/Lapine musical. As Liz said, this scaled down version focused more on the play than sets and costumes (for instance, an actor transforms into Milky White merely by hanging a cowbell from his neck). The 10 actors played multiple parts (and sometimes instruments) and often the key set was the piano. The simple re-telling allowed the audience to focus on the complexities of the story.

3.     The Legend of Georgia McBride—MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre. Last performance: October 4, 2015. This frothy romp by Matthew Lopez tells the tale of Casey (Dave Thomas Brown), an Elvis impersonator who goes from unwilling drag queen to a man who fully embraces his feminine side.  Matt McGrath played the wise, no-nonsense older queen with a sly, knowing humor. Everything about this production was fun – and its message of transformation and acceptance was moving despite its predictability. Plus, the spirited performances filled with country hits by Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton vastly entertained.

4.     On the Twentieth Century—Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre. Last performance: July 15, 2015. Tony winner Kristen Chenoweth (Lily Garland) was a laugh in this musical revival set on a train. Peter Gallagher played the charming impresario with big ideas and little money and Andy Karl was Garland’s movie star fiancé. Zany and delightful, the true star was the staging that swirled the set from a station to a train before your eyes and the dancing bell (train?) boys.

An American in Paris
The Moments:
1.     An American in Paris—Palace Theatre. Previews started March 13 and the show is still playing. Based on the beloved 1951 Oscar-winning MGM musical, this show lagged for me. Ballet stars Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope dazzle when dancing but the songs never reach show-stopping heights with their thin voices. Interestingly, on April 27th, director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon spoke at Symphony Space about An American in Paris, comparing it to his experience in 1995’s West Side Story Suite where Jerome Robbins tried casting dancers in some of the speaking/singing roles before hiring more established theatrical folk to do the bulk of the singing. Perhaps, Wheeldon should have done the same. Still, the big, dreamy 14-minute ballet, featuring Fairchild and Cope, is one of my favorite moments in 2015.

2.     Hand to God—Booth Theatre. Previews started March 14, still playing—Robert Askins’ play about an evil puppet is full of laughs, even though it lags in the second act and tends to oversimplify complex issues. Still, when I think of the moment when Stephen Boyer (Jason)’s hand puppet defiles a Sunday school room, it still brings me chuckles.

·      Note: I did not see the much-lauded Hamilton. Ask me after January 16th, when I see the show, and I’ll tell you if it would’ve made the list.