Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Dark I Know Well - Adding Machine, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Misery, Spring Awakening - Theatre Reviews

Adding Machine: A Musical - Minetta Lane Theatre - Off Broadway, New York, NY
Original Music by Joshua Schmidt, Libretto by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt, Based on the play The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice, Directed by David Cromer

Les Liaisons Dangereuses - Roundabout Theatre Company - American Airlines Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY
Written by Christopher Hampton, Directed by Rufus Norris

Misery - CanStage - St. Laurence Centre for the Arts Bluma Theatre - Toronto, ON
Adapted for the stage by Simon Moore based on the book by Stephen King, Directed by David Storch

Spring Awakening - Eugene O'Neill Theatre - Broadway, New York
Music by Duncan Sheik, Lyrics and Book by Steven Sater, based on the book by Frank Wedekind, Directed by Michael Mayer

I'll have a review of the uproarious Boeing-Boeing up soon, because I'll need to be reminded of laughter again.

So somehow I managed to see 4 dark shows one after another the other week and the glumness has kept me from posting about them so far. Many were good shows, just not exactly snap happy.

First off, the Off-Broadway show Adding Machine: A Musical that is getting major acclaim for sticking close to the dark surrealness of the original play. It's something that I think I would usually love, love for the twisted darkness of the story (about a loser with an annoying wife who kills his boss, ends up in the afterlife where more bizarre things happen) and how unrelenting it sticks to the original source material, but I just found it annoying and tedious the day I saw it.

Maybe it's because I was already having a morose moment, and secretly looking for something more happy and hopeful? (I like happy music when I'm depressed, depressed music when I'm happy. I'm a bit of a music masochist). There were some great surreal moments, like the office scene, the jail scene or the hilarious post-death sequence, and the finale was great.

Still, I found the songs and score to be mostly attempting at the "smart" Sondheim-like un-melodic Schoenberg-esque sound that adds layers to the musical but just added headaches in my head. The grating singing by the wife (while I know was on purpose as part of the "character") was just that, grating. I found the problem with the story was that the characters still played too closely like stereotypes, making me care very little if their miserable lives got even more miserable since they were making my life miserable. It was like watching The Honeymooners in a Twilight Zone episode.

I respected what it was trying to do and I could see why some would find it brilliant, but it just didn't do anything for me and I simply did not like it. It was too caricatured for me, even though I think that was part of story and production of Adding Machine.

Over at the American Airlines Theatre, The Roundabout Theatre Company presents Les Liaisons Dangereuses. I've never read the book or even seen the movie (or even Cruel Intentions) so I'm going in this blindly based on what I know from popular culture.

While the production is beautiful and luscious, it left me a little cold. While the tales of sex and seduction, with a terrific lead in Ben Daniels kept the production sharp and crisp, it lacked an emotional depth to really reel me in.

I came to really see Laura Linney, one of my favorite movie actresses of all time (so brilliant in You Can Count On Me, Kinsey etc. etc.), and she was good but I'm not sure it was great, especially next to Daniel's more flamboyantly perfect performance.

I was also confused by all the Counts and Madame's so got confused over who was seducing who for what reason but the final 10 seconds had a nice shocking effect that it helped resolve some of the problems I had with the play and made me rethink a lot of what I had just seen.

Back here in Toronto, CanStage ends the season with Misery, the stage adaptation of the Stephen King novel, later made iconic by the film with Kathy Bates in her Oscar winning role. Again, I had never read the book or even seen the movie, and while I'm not a fan of King's per se, I don't look down upon his stuff either. It is what it is which is fine by me.

I wish I could say more of the same for the play but it was funny when it shouldn't have been, and scary only in how hollow it all felt. Including the stilt house set that just looked cheap (or a giant origami frog if you include the roof) and made the suspenseful play seem thin and pointless.

It's almost embarrassing to watch good actors like Tom McCamus and Nicole Cavendish perform these roles that were so iconic, but they fail to add anything or even come close to fleshing out the characters in this two person play.

Thank goodness than that I got to see Spring Awakening once more with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michelle just before they finally left the show last week. While I already hear replacements Kyle Riabko and Alexandra Socha are great and have made the relationship even darker (so I'm going to have to see how that new hayloft scene turns out with the younger looking couple playing up the rape portion more than Groff and Michelle did), I LOVE Groff and Michelle in the roles and as always, they were fantastic in one of their last bouts as Melchior and Wendla.

It was interesting to see all the other new replacements (because at this point, we know Skylar Astin, Lilli Cooper and Remy Zaken are terrific). I LOVE Matt Doyle but I'm not sure if Hanschen was the best role for him, but considering that, he did a pretty great job. Blake Bashoff (Lost) has been surprisingly amazing as Moritz but Emma Hunton, while with pretty voice, wasn't quite as good as Ilse, though not bad.

Thank goodness Christine Estabrook was back as Adult Woman because no one has come close to her interpretation at this point, but it was too bad Stephen Spinella was gone because his replacement Glenn Fleshler doesn't come close, though he has improved a LOT since the last time I saw him.

I had Matt Shingledecker and Eryn Murman fill in for Brian Charles Johnson and Phoebe Strole that night, but they were pretty good. And Jesse Swenson, now famous for Jenny AND Eric's spring awakening on Gossip Girl, was sitting across the stage from my odd-numbered stage seats.

But what I loved about sitting in the stage seats was still noticing how enthralled and into the musical Jonathan Groff seemed. Even when he wasn't in on the action, he sat from the sidelines totally immersed in the story, looking like it was his first time seeing the show. I don't know if it's an act, but it was a good act and he will be surely missed (though I can't wait to see him in Hair this summer).

As for the show, you already probably know I love it since this was my 7th time. Here are the previous reviews for Spring Awakening - Original Review , My 2nd Review, My 3rd Review, My 4th Review, My 5th Review.

Okay, now I need to go watch a comedy before I go slit my wrists.

Adding Machine: A Musical - Minetta Lane Theatre - Off Broadway, New York, NY - ** (2 stars out of 5)

Les Liaisons Dangereuses - Roundabout Theatre Company - American Airlines Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - ***1/2 (3.5 stars out of 5)

Misery - CanStage - St. Laurence Centre for the Arts Bluma Theatre - Toronto, ON - * (1 star out of 5)

Spring Awakening - Eugene O'Neill Theatre - Broadway, New York - ***** (5 stars out of 5)

For more on Spring Awakening
For my original review
See also
One Jonathan Groff To Live
One More Jonathan Groff To Live
No More Jonathan Groff To Live
Broadway Marathon
I Only Stalk Celebrities (Like Jonathan Groff) on Broadway

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