Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The play's (not) the thing, Part Two

So here I am, all packed and waiting for the car to come and take me to the airport so I thought I would fill in the time with updating on the final shows I saw on my trip.

You CAN Stop The Beat

Just getting a head start on all the article headlines that will be published on Jan 4th. I had a rule that I would not see any shows that I had already seen or that I could see in London. I broke it twice over when I saw Hairspray and I broke it for one reason: Harvey Fierstein. He was the best thing about the show when I first saw it and so his return could not be missed. I was supposed to see it with a friend who loves the show as much as I do but he bailed on me at the last minute, so fuck him. As it was, I WAS SO GLAD I saw it alone because I forgot until it started that the show makes me weep. So I boo hooed my way through "I Can Hear The Bells" in Act One and then through "Without Love", "I Know Where I've Been" and "You Can't Stop The Beat" in Act Two. I could see the woman sat next to me giving me curious glances in Act One (I wasn't like sobbing or anything but I had tears pouring down my face) and I wanted to just say "yes ok, I'm crying. Problem?"

Harvey Fierstein is without a doubt the most consistent performer I have ever seen. The performance he gave then was the same caliber that I saw in 2003. Phenomenal. So wonderful. A joy. There's only a few weeks left so please, see this show while you still can.

Pink, ponies, happy, sky

Shrek as a musical is not a good idea. It's a show that I went back and forth about seeing but in the end decided that I would go mainly out of a love for Sutton Foster. The rocky out of town tryout in Seattle saw a new choreographer flown in, who also helped with the direction and prior to its Broadway bow, two actors left the production (one not through choice). So I must admit I wasn't expecting great things.

And I didn't get them. But I did have fun. It's a cute and funny show with a solid performance from Brian D'Arcy James in the title role and absolutely magnificent support from Sutton Foster as Fiona and Chris Sieber as Farquaad. John Tartaglia has oddly high billing for such a tiny little role as Pinocchio though. Daniel Breaker, as the new Donkey was fantastic. The songs aren't memorable though and the staging is so very big, so very busy and actually quite ugly. Whether it will succeed or not remains to be seen as their opening night is still several weeks away.

Hi everybody! My name's Katie. What's yours?

All My Sons is quite possibly one of the finest plays of the twentieth century. I saw what is now considered to be a landmark production at the National Theatre back in 2000, starring Julie Walters, Ben Daniels, Catherine McCormack and James Hazeldine. It was so incredible that I went back to see it again when it was brought back by popular demand, this time with Laurie Metcalfe replacing Walters as Kate Keller.

With the bar set that high, it was always going to be tough to get near it. That this new production falls so enormously short is a real surprise. The problem is the direction. A play as incredible as this does not need to be so frantically and fussily directed. We don't need the cast to be sat visibly on the stage when they're not actually in a scene. We don't need them all to randomly cross over the stage during key monologues. We don't need "important lines" of dialogue to be amplified, thereby underpinning their importance. We certainly don't need John Lithgow to announce to the audience that they're about to perform the play and read the initial stage direction. Nor do we need projections, telling us which Act it is, when it's intermission and also projecting war imagery for no good reason throughout. With that to contend with, the play has to put up a valiant fight to be heard. It emerges, bloody but unbowed, proving the strength of the original material.

Dianne Wiest, one of the main reasons I wanted to see this production, was out. Annoying. John Lithgow was fine, Patrick Wilson was serviceable, Becky Ann Baker was fantastic in a small but key role. Katie Holmes obviously took it to heart that the main criticism levelled at "Hollywood" actors when they come to Broadway is that you can't hear them so she bellows her way through the role. The performance is otherwise fine, kind of like Jennifer Garner in the Cyrano revival last year, she neither embarrasses herself, nor does she blow you away. I just could not get past the unnecessary and intrusive direction. Horrible.

I know bad, I've been bad

Mamet briefly had two plays revived on Broadway in the same season. The terrible American Buffalo opened at the beginning of last week to predictably bad reviews and has already closed. Speed-The-Plow is doing significantly better. It does of course have the curiosity factor of being the show Madonna made her Broadway debut in.

I've seen clips of the pivotal "I've been bad" speech from her and it's pretty horrible. Luckily, the revival has three absolutely stellar performances to carry it along. Jeremy Piven and Raul Esparza are both terrific but the stand out is Elisabeth Moss who was so quiet and unassuming in her performance that you never really knew if she was trying to give herself a leg up in the job world, or tear Piven down. I thought she was fabulous. The play is a mere 70 minutes and so is performed without intermission. 25 minutes into the play, a latecomer appears. She's front row centre. Somehow, she's allowed to take her seat and climbs over people, holding on to the stage for balance. Jeremy Piven singled her out during the Broadway Cares speech for some embarrassment, which was pleasing. I could NOT believe she was allowed to take her seat and didn't stand at the back for the performance.

Every night. Bended knee.

Horton Foote is about a million years old and still going strong. He wrote Dividing The Estate a fair while ago and it's had regional stagings in the past twenty years but has never been in New York. When it was off Broadway, he pulled it from award contention when, due to the age of the play, the Lortel committee wanted to consider it a revival. One wonders, now that it's opened on Broadway and has Tony possibilities, whether history will repeat itself.

Kind of August: Osage County Lite, the play concerns a family who are cash poor but land rich and the infighting that goes on between parents, grandparents and siblings over whether the estate should be divided or not. It was charming and amusing enough (particularly the playwright's 55 year old daughter Hallie, who looks incredible for her age) and Elizabeth Ashley is regal and imposing enough as the owner of said estate. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't swept away and bowled over by it.

Short and sweet

I spent Thursday with my dear friend Lottie and then had the evening to myself before meeting Christina at 11 for the midnight showing of Twilight (it had to be done). So I had some time to kill, I took myself off to TKTS to see what was there, hoping for Pal Joey. Nope. Not there. That is the last Broadway show I wanted to see, so I looked at the off-Broadway listings and selected Saturn Returns, a play at the Mitzi Newhouse, which is a gorgeous little theatre and sounds intriguing enough.

It's one man, seen at thirty year intervals of his life, aged 28, 58 and 88. Three different actors take on the role and are all wonderful, particularly John McMartin as the oldest incarnation. Special mention has to go to Rosie Benton who plays three different women in his life and is absolutely glorious at all of them (at 88, she's his care nurse, at 58, his daughter and 28, his wife). It's a beautiful and moving play and as it unfolds and you learn about this man's tragic life, it's absolutely heartbreaking. It is the best play I've seen on my trip in fact.

Bewitched, bothered and bored to tears

Oh Pal Joey. I got a ticket to see this on Saturday night. Christian Hoff was off for the weekend with a foot injury and so I saw his understudy, Matt Risch. As we all now know, Hoff is gone for good and Risch has the role permanently. So technically I didn't see the understudy, I saw the first performance of the new lead actor. Of course, gossip and rumor are flying that Hoff was not that injured and it's a cover story for getting rid of him as he wasn't working in the role. Whatever.

All I know is, the show itself doesn't work. This time there's been a book overhaul, characters eliminated, songs moved around and still, still it's not an interesting show. The problem may be the fact that you don't like any of the characters. Or that only two of the songs in the whole damn show get any room to breathe (Bewitched, bothered and bewildered and of course, Zip!). There's just something that doesn't quite work.

I can't really judge Risch as he'd had like a day of rehearsal before being thrown on the stage but he coped very well and I'm sure by opening night his performance will be fully there. Stockard Channing was a bit of disappointment. Her comic timing was fine enough but her singing was horrible. She actually spoke all her songs and didn't seem terribly interested in them while she was doing it. The show belongs to Martha Plimpton, who, as Gladys Bumps, now gets the act two showstopper of Zip! and knocks it out of the park. See it, if only for her.

And that, as they say, is that. It's been a wild ride in NYC and I'm really sad to be going back home but all good things have to come to an end I guess.

No comments: