Friday, June 08, 2012

Tonys Catch-Up - Nice Work, Porgy & Bess, End of the Rainbow, The Best Man, Starcatcher, Wit, Master Class, The Columnist - Theatre Reviews

Nice Work If You Can Get It - Imperial Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Book and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, Book by Joe DiPietro inspired by material by Guy Bolton and P.J. Wodehouse
Directed and Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall

The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess - Richard Rogers Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music by George Gershwin, Lyrics by Ira Gershwin, Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, Libretto by Dubose and Dorthy Heyward, Musical Book Adapted by Suzan Lori-Parks, Musical Score Adapted by Diedre L. Murray
Directed by Diane Paulus, Choreographed by Ronald K. Brown

End of the Rainbow - Belasco Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Peter Quilter, Directed by Terry Johnson

Gore Vidal's The Best Man - Schoenfeld Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Gore Vidal, Directed by Michael Wilson

Peter and the Starcatcher - Brooks Atkinson Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Rick Elice, based on the book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers

Master Class - Manhattan Theater Club at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - *** (out of 5 stars) Written by Terrence McNally, Directed by Stephen Wadsworth Ended run in Summer 2011, 

Wit - Manhattan Theater Club at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - **** (out of 5 stars)

Written by Margaret Edson, Directed by Lynne Meadows
Ended run March 17th 2012

The Columnist - Manhattan Theater Club at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by David Auburn, Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Runs until July 8th 2012

So I've been a bit tardy on my blogging and reviews, but with this weekend's Tony Awards coming up, I thought I'd catch up with some thoughts of shows up for awards this season that I didn't already mention in my Best of Stage 2011 write up (incl Once, Venus in Fur, Jesus Christ Superstar while at Stratford), or in previous reviews (click for Other Desert Cities, Leap of Faith, One Man Two Guvnors). I also saw Newsies at Paper Mill (very fun 3.5 stars, but waiting to see it on Broadway before I review), Clybourne Park (4 stars, 3rd time seeing play, 1st with this cast and production, Great play, least effective cast I've seen. Some standouts performances but also one of the worst performances that takes the whole play down a level), Lysistrata Jones (2 stars, an unfunny disappointment), Bonnie & Clyde (2 stars, a boring mess with a great cast), Follies (4 stars, a grand production where I thought Jan Maxwell stole the show), The Lyons Off-Broadway at Vineyard (4 stars, Linda Lavin flips pages amazingly in a play that is entertaining until an out-of-nowhere 2nd act scene that takes Michael Esper and the play to another level), Don't Dress for Dinner (3 stars, which isn't as funny as One Man Two Guvnors but didn't deserve its critical whiplashing, especially since Spencer Kayden and Ben Daniels are very cute and funny in it), Stick Fly (3.5 stars, an entertaining play about a rich BLACK family and the fact that they too, like rich White families, have problems too), and Death of a Salesman  (4.5 stars, a possibly biased review (since my involvement) but a must-see production with an astounding cast (every single one of them down to the smallest roles) in a heartbreaking production of the classic play). I'm saving my review of Ghost for another time. It needs further explanation.

Nice Work If You Can Get It is the "new" Gershwin musical Tony nominee Joe DiPietro (Memphis) has cobbled together with some of the greatest musical theatre songs (by the Gershwins) and strung together by a threadbare story of a bootlegger forced to hide her loot in a playboy's summer house during the Prohibition era. Throw in the clout of Broadway star Kelli O'Hara as the bootlegger and the marquee name of Matthew Broderick as the playboy under Tony nominee Kathleen Marshall's (Anything Goes) direction and dance steps, and you've got yourself a new hit. Deservedly or not.

The story is ridiculous in that old-timey musical way, so it can be partly forgiven, assuming you can stay awake in the horrendous first act (1 star for Act 1), yet strangely, by the second act, once you've relegated that there is little originality in this "new" musical, the laboured set up DiPietro clunkily set up, finally pays off when a true spirit of musical zaniness hits its stride (3.5 star for Act 2). All despite Kathleen Marshall's lazy choreography (one of her worst, that seems catered to their worst dancer, Broderick), poor-man's casting (Tony nominee Michael McGrath as Nathan Lane, Robin Hurder as Megan Hilty), and Matthew Broderick acting in a completely different show planet (which, to be honest, was entertaining in its own way, just didn't legitimize the show itself).

On the other hand, Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara (South Pacific) glows as always, even as a tomboyish bootlegger, and is sexy as hell singing beautiful Gershwin songs in completely wrong contexts. Estelle Parsons (August: Osage County) is a total hoot in her 10 seconds on stage, Tony nominee Judy Kaye (Mamma Mia) swings on a chandelier, while Jennifer Laura Thompson (Little Miss Sunshine, Urinetown) works (the laughs off) a wedding dress.

Just beside the Imperial where Nice Work is running, sits The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess at the Richard Rogers Theatre, in a new re-working of the opera by THE Gershwins and Debuse and Dorothy Heyward. While I've never seen the opera, I was excited to see Tony nominee (and 4 time winner) Audra McDonald sing the sh!t out of these songs. And she does. And other than fellow Tony nominee Philip Boykin, that's about all I remember (I saw it back in January but even after the show, that's pretty much all I remember).

While I'm not against making changes to classics, and would been on Team Diane and Suzi after Stephen Sondheim jumped on them, I can't say I loved this truncated version of Porgy & Bess, as totally missed the point of the story. Although to note, Norm Lewis was out my night, and while understudy Nathaniel Stampley seemed to do a fine job, he just seemed to overpowered by Audra's powerhouse performance, making her affair with Boynkin's Crown the heart of the story. David Alan Grier was a welcome surprise (who knew he could sing that well), but the ensemble and Porgy seemed to fade into the background against MacDonald and Boynkin. Maybe I would have liked the show more if it more accurately called The Gershwins' Crown & Audra MacDonald's Bess.

End of the Rainbow is Tracie Bennett's production (well not really but it's basically hers) to showcase her amazing impersonation of Judy Garland. She sings, she acts drunk, she cries at her drunken state, she gets depressed and breaks down. Let's give her an award! Just like they do at the Oscars and Emmys! Bennett's Tony nominated performance really is an impressive powerhouse performance (you know, cause she sings AND breaks down), but while it seems to accurately portray Garland, I still felt no empathy or emotional resonance behind the act.

Part of that problem is Peter Quilter's play, which really is an empty vessel that takes a small glimpse into Garland's later life as she's falling apart and rolling around on the ground peeing like a dog (an actual scene in the play). We're supposed to be seeing Garland's dramatic downfall and some of the most salacious events in her life, and yet the play was SO BORING. Michael Cumpsty was good as Garland's piano accompanist. There was music. She sings "Over the Rainbow". She might win the Tony for this. I would vote for Nina Arianda in Venus in Fur instead.

Gore Vidal's The Best Man stars everyone. I give it 3 stars. Good political play. Some nice lines. Nothing spectacular. Nothing revolutionary. Straightforward direction. Fun plot about the race for the democratic spot for presidency. Sure, not The Best play but entertaining.

What we're really here to see is the CAST. James Earl Jones, Michael McKean, Eric McCormack, Kerry Butler, Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen, Jefferson Mays, John Larroquette, The Kitchen Sink (apologies to SarahB). What a cast! Does everyone get their own dressing room? Is there even enough room backstage?

James Earl Jones is terrific as the current President. He's so good that we don't even question a Black President in America in the 20th century. It's James Earl F#$KING Jones! And he lights up the stage, bounces about and delicately presses in some zingers like a pro. Angela Lansbury doesn't quite bounce across the stage anymore, sitting most of the time, but like the pro that she is, she too knows how to milk a line, a laugh, or a pointed zinger, and manages to turn a staring role from her few minutes on stage (in what essentially is a cameo, though still longer than Estelle Parsons in Nice Work).

Eric McCormack and John Laroquette as opponents in this political race are fine, and Michael McKean is good in his minor role, though partially upstaged by Corey Brill who seems to have a larger part. Jefferson Mays does sweaty well, but seems to be over-characterizing a pivotal role.

And did Candice Bergen and Kerry Butler take the play called The Best Man too much to heart? The usually terrific Butler seemed to be playing Clio/Kira from Xanadu again. While Candice Bergen (who sadly had a stroke a few years ago and says her memory is not quite the same) seems to float through the play.

Peter and the Starcatcher, the prequel to Peter Pan, is an overly clever and innovative production, with movement by Steven Hoggett (nominated for Once), and music by Tony nominee Wayne Barker, that utilizes a mostly bare (yet strikingly beautiful) set by Tony nominee Donyale Werle, telling the tale originally written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson for Disney Books.

Having never read the book the play is based on, I was surprised at how dark and complicated the story (which seems to be marketed to the young) was, with some overstuffed and overdirected beginning that is hard to latch onto. The play drags as it tries to both tell the tale, be modern and clever, all while using the most simple theatrical tricks, while utilizing its medium sized frenetically energetic cast in multiple roles.

Once things start to calm down, the play becomes far more enjoyable as we're allowed to sink into the wildly imaginative tale and hold onto the terrific performances, and the clever use of a rope as the set. Tony nominee (and Smash star) Christian Borle, in a 180 performance from last year's Angels in Amerca, fully envelops his role again, this time as Black Stasche, a pre-hooked Captain Hook, in all his over-the-top glory.

Celia Keenan-Bolger is truly winning and lovely as Molly, and her chemistry with the boys, and lead Boy Adam Chanler-Berat, gives the play its ultimate charm.

Unfortunately I found the ultimate story a little waning as things started to slide far too conveniently into Peter Pan place. The story didn't seem as clever as the production lends itself to be, but a terrific ensemble (including a hilarious Arnie Burton), a stellar leading cast, and a cool production (when it calms itself down a bit) still keeps things entertaining enough.

Manhattan Theater Club has had a pretty great run at the Friedman Theatre. The American Plan, The Royal Family, Time Stands Still, Venus in Fur. I've never really had a bad time there. This past season saw Venus in Fur make a commercial transfer, while revivals of Master Class and Wit garnered acclaim for their lead actresses. 

Tyne Daly was terrific as Maria Calas in the revival of Master Class but the play (which I had never seen) had some beautiful moments and hilarious lines, but felt more like something one must learn and respect in school than something I can love on my own. Alexandra Silber and Garrett Sorenson stood out over Sierra Boggess (The Little Mermaid) as students.

In another play about a teacher who lords over her students, Tony nominee Cynthia Nixon brought an emotionally walloping performance in Wit in a terrific revival (in which I had only ever seen the HBO film) that excised any thought of Nixon's famed character Miranda. A great ensemble created a solid production, but this was all Nixon as her Vivian starts off strong and crackling and slowly cracks until her final demise. Stunning and my alternative pick to Arianda for Best Actress this year.

The Columnist  gives Tony nominee John Lithgow a platform for a terrific performance as journalist Joseph Alsop. I only wish the play were as strong as the performance, with a muddled first act giving no direction into where it eventually truly shines in a stronger second act, when only SOME random scenes from Act 1 finally comes together. Brian J. Smith (Gossip Girl) gives a surprisingly good performance, while Boyd Gaines is strong in a weak role. Margaret Colin was out my day, and the understudy was fine against Lithgow but unmemorable.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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