The Color Purple

Hallelujah! The Color Purple, the new Broadway musical, is a joyous celebration of the human spirit. Culled from Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the impassioned tale is a shimmering mosaic that is more than a triumph in every way. Here is a reason to rejoice! The Color Purple is a serious musical graced with intelligence and humor that is destined to become a classic.

Hallelujah! The Color Purple, the new Broadway musical, is a joyous celebration of the human spirit. Culled from Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the impassioned tale is a shimmering mosaic that is more than a triumph in every way. Here is a reason to rejoice! The Color Purple is a serious musical graced with intelligence and humor that is destined to become a classic.

At the center of the story is Celie, a 12 year old poor black girl living in Georgia just after emancipation. We follow her 40 year journey to survive against what seem insurmountable odds, poverty as well as physical, mental and sexual abuse. Celie has been raped repeatedly by the man she believes to be her father (a cruel JC Montgomery). Two children, Olivia and Adam, who have been taken from her at birth, are the product of these rapes. At 14 she is made a young wife and given to Mister (a strong Kingsley Leggs), who continues to abuse her and works her like a horse. She is soon separated from her sister Nettie (a radiant Renee Elise Goldsberry), her sole source of love and support. We watch her evolution from passive illiterate to a confident loving woman of means.

As Celie, the star LaChanze delivers a galvanizing performance in the role she originated when The Color Purple premiered in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre. LaChanze, who made a memorable Broadway debut in Once on This Island and further cemented her reputation last season as the lead in the Lincoln Center production of Dessa Rose, absolutely soars as the embattled Celie. She creates a sympathetic affecting character that is utterly convincing and touchingly unforgettable. Her beautifully written solos, “Somebody Gonna Love You” and “I’m Here,” are splendid exultations of courage.

The book’s faithful adaptation by Marsha Norman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for ‘Night Mother, distills the many stories surrounding Celie in Ms. Walker’s epic novel to their essence, but adheres more closely to the source material than Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie. There is still the story of Mister’s son Harpo (an exceptional Brandon Victor Dixon) and his love for the headstrong Sofia (an awesome Felicia P. Fields). Ms. Fields with her amazing alto and Mr. Dixon give us the hilariously raunchy “Any Little Thing.”

There is also the tale of Nettie’s missionary work in Africa, where she finds Celie’s children, which is told through their letters. Now, however, there is an emphasis on Celie’s inspirational, yet sexually explicit lesbian love affair with the rebel blues singer Shug Avery (a magnificent and sexy Elisabeth Withers-Mendes). The result is an involving musical adventure that not only culminates with love and redemption, but also resonates with a core of forgiveness.

The gospel, blues, African and pop songs by the music veterans Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray are simply outstanding and beautifully orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick. They are soulful expressions that speed the story’s development, as well as allowing the show’s underlying message to become even more accessible. The dynamic opening number “Mysterious Ways” is a big gospel that cuts against the grain of the show’s bleak center to rejoice in the joy of being alive. The music never lets up, but doesn’t feel pushed. We get other stirring testaments like “Hell No,” “Push Da Button,” “What About Love?” and the big production number “African Homeland.”

The choreography by Donald Byrd is an effective blend of raw sexuality and a blissful good time. The dancers thrust themselves about the stage with a total commitment that is a delight to witness.

John Lee Beatty’s ingenious yet simplistic scenic design is dominated by a radiant sky that Brain MacDevitt’s lighting turns into an ever changing luminous feast.

Commenting on the action throughout the evening are three gossipy women of the church, who function as sort of a Greek chorus and provide comic relief. They are the

wonderfully amusing Kimberly Ann Harris,Virginia Ann Woodruff, and Maia Nkenge Wilson.

Making an impressive Broadway debut director Gary Griffin has turned The Color Purple into a glorious rarity, a pure life affirming entertainment that is a thrill to behold.

gordin & christiano

The Color Purple opened on the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street, on December 1, 2005. Order tickets online HYPERLINK "http://www.Telecharge.com" www.Telecharge.com / 212-239-6200 or at the box office.

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

Losing Louie

The Manhattan Theatre Club misfires again with the new British import Losing Louie directed by veteran Jerry Zaks. The comedy is Simon Mendes da Costa’s second play and was nominated for an Evening Standard Award in London where it debuted last season. The playwright shows promise, but the Americanized production gracing the stage of the Biltmore is a one dimensional mess.

The Manhattan Theatre Club misfires again with the new British import Losing Louie directed by veteran Jerry Zaks. The comedy is Simon Mendes da Costa’s second play and was nominated for an Evening Standard Award in London where it debuted last season. The playwright shows promise, but the Americanized production gracing the stage of the Biltmore is a one dimensional mess.

Originally set in Britain and called Losing Louis, the play has been transferred across the Atlantic to Pound Ridge, where it is now called Losing Louie, but why? The texture appears to have been stripped from the characters. There is a vast difference between Louis and Louie, just ponder the names for a moment. Louis is proper, refined, whereas Louie is common almost crude. Although I didn’t see the original production, I can envision the upper middle class English people of the story behaving badly in contrast to their proper demeanor, juggling the conflicts within their nature, and coming off as rather shockingly funny. Their apparent naughty behavior would be at amusing odds with their need to appear correct. There is nothing surprising about the same behavior in the middle class Jewish Americans from Pound Ridge. This is typically what you would expect if they descend a rung or two.

What was probably titillating in the British is now only vulgar in the Americans. The story shifts approximately 40 years back and forth in time with the all the action taking place in the upstairs bedroom of a suburban house, where nothing changes. The concept, which Costa seems to have borrowed from the British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, as presented here is very confusing. When a scene ends new characters enter the exact same room, and it takes some time to figure out that the time has shifted. After a while you tend to catch on, and the use of slamming doors when the actor’s exit, which feels like a jarring gimmick, does remind us that we a ready for yet another time jump. The tale revolves around the consequences of an extramarital affair between Louie (Scott Cohen) and the much younger Bella (Jama Williamson).

When the play begins in the early 1960’s we are confronted by the two in an intimate sexual embrace, where Louie is giving Bella immense pleasure by going down on her. We quickly learn they not married, that Louie’s wife Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff) is pregnant with their second child, and that Bella lives in the house with the family. Just as Louie expresses his deep love for Bella, we discover Louie’s six year old son Tony has been hiding under the bed, which becomes the set up for the unfolding story that jumps almost 50 years ahead to the widowed Louie’s funeral.

Louie’s two sons, Tony (Mark Linn-Baker) and Reggie (Matthew Arkin), along with their respective spouses, Sheila (Michele Pawk) and Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember), are suffering midlife crises. The brothers are still embroiled in their sibling rivalries related to their father, but all sorts of secrets will be revealed as the evening alternates between the funeral and the earlier period.

Jerry Zaks has contributed to the problems in the new adaptation by staging the evening like a farce with a rapid fire pacing that never allows for the truth. For farce to be successful there need to be real moments that periodically stop you in your tracks and all of the action must spring from this basic underlying truth in the text. The evening here is little more than an elaborate situation comedy peopled with ugly one dimensional characters and vulgar situations. There is no meat on the bones and as a result we are not involved, but bored by these people and their crude behavior.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

Losing Louie opened at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue on October 12, 2006. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or at the box office. As Published in Dan's Papers…gordin & christiano

Les Miserables

Les Miserables

Cameron Mackintosh, who brought us Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, is presenting a Broadway revival of his long running smash hit musical Les Miserables just over three years after the show, which is still running in London, closed a successful run here in May of 2003. Directed by John Caird and Trevor Nunn, the same team that directed and adapted the first, this new version with fresh orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke has been slightly scaled down for the smaller stage and boasts an entirely new cast of excellent singers, but the evening feels like a vibrant carbon copy of the masterful original without its stirring heart.

Les Miserables

Cameron Mackintosh, who brought us Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, is presenting a Broadway revival of his long running smash hit musical Les Miserables just over three years after the show, which is still running in London, closed a successful run here in May of 2003. Directed by John Caird and Trevor Nunn, the same team that directed and adapted the first, this new version with fresh orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke has been slightly scaled down for the smaller stage and boasts an entirely new cast of excellent singers, but the evening feels like a vibrant carbon copy of the masterful original without its stirring heart.
The engrossing tale with its multiple plots is based on the 19th century French classic novel by Victor Hugo that resonates with a clarity of vision “an essential spark, an element of the divine; …which goodness can preserve,” that Hugo believes is indestructible and inherent in every human soul. His sweeping story that cuts across a wide swath of characters from many social levels has been smartly cut down by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel so that it unfolds with intense momentum. The saga follows Jean Valjean (Alexander Gemignani), a man of overwhelmingly high morals, who has been imprisoned 20 years in a chain gang for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a child.

Upon his release from prison Valjean becomes a wealthy esteemed citizen, but is nonetheless diligently stalked by the self justified Inspector Javert (Norm Lewis) for breaking his parole. Valjean encounters a compassionate Bishop (James- Chip Leonard) , who influences him toward goodness, and he takes over the care of Cosette (Ali Ewoldt), the daughter of a dying prostitute Fantine (Daphne Rubin-Vega), raising her as his own. Cosette falls in love with Marius (Adam Jacobs) a dashing revolutionary in the failed student revolt.

The operatic musical began life as a French pop-opera album and, indeed, the soaring music by Claude-Michel Schonberg with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer lifts the evening into another dimension making it easy to understand just why Les Miserables has been so popular. There is nothing little about this show, and the overflowing staging brilliantly mirrors that largeness making effective use of an inventive set design by John Napier that has a revolving center allowing for the many scenes to easily evolve from one to the next with overlapping progressions that often keeps much of the cast on stage at the same time.

One Day More

The entire cast is on stage as the first act ends with the rousing anthem “One More Day.” The unforgettable number is teeming with the voices and raw emotions of the characters we have just met, and all the evening’s elements come together in an overwhelming surge that is magnificent.

In the title role Gemignani hides behind his splendid voice and his Valjean fails to register with the necessary intensity to give his performance weight. He is lacking in the early scenes only feigning real emotion, and as a result his characterization fails to build. He does redeem himself beautifully in the ballad “Bring Him Home” – one of the highlights of the evening, but if only the entire performance possessed the same belief.

In the less complex role as Javert, Lewis does somewhat better, but he too is not forceful enough and their interactions remain vapid rather than compelling.

While some of the actors are unfortunately miscast, others lack passion and a couple overact outrageously, but they all sing handsomely. The unevenness of the performances, however, is what keeps this Les Miserables from becoming the emotionally moving extravaganza of the 1987 original and the evening although still powerful feels disappointingly gutless.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan’s Papers

Les Miserables opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre, 233 West 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenues on November 9, 2006. For tickets call 212 239-6200 or visit the box office.

 

Heartbreak House

George Bernard Shaw is a world renowned British playwright, a literary figure whose impressive body of work lists several novels and more than 50 plays including Pygmalion (1912), which was turned into the perfectly sublime musical My Fair Lady. At the time of his death in 1950 he was considered by many to be one of the greatest playwrights in the English language. His plays are filled with wit and are striking because of his comments on contemporary issues and values that encourage the audience to become engaged in evaluating the world.

George Bernard Shaw is a world renowned British playwright, a literary figure whose impressive body of work lists several novels and more than 50 plays including Pygmalion (1912), which was turned into the perfectly sublime musical My Fair Lady. At the time of his death in 1950 he was considered by many to be one of the greatest playwrights in the English language. His plays are filled with wit and are striking because of his comments on contemporary issues and values that encourage the audience to become engaged in evaluating the world.

Roundabout Theatre Company is presenting a handsome production of Shaw’s 1919 classic Heartbreak House that appears as timely today as when it was first produced. Written just prior to World War I the play’s observations on a self involved society spiraling out of control in the face of incumbent disasters seems even more relevant today with our conflicting values and ongoing war . Our world is besieged not only by war, but also poverty, terrorists, global warming, natural disasters, and now the chilling realization that North Korea has recently developed nuclear power. The play often considered Chekhovian in nature; because of the playwright’s emphasis on the pre war atmosphere is one of Shaw’s finest.

The story is peopled with diverse complex layered characters, but ultimately not easy to do. The adults in his story are like a bunch of gifted articulate children having a devilishly good time in the face of looming danger, but no one is what they seem to be. The characters are like puppets in his skillful hands full of surprises sprouting brilliant ideas and observations. The style needs to have a wackiness bordering on farce even tripping over the edge, but always remaining grounded in truth with many real moments. This crazy house is symbolic of the world and everyone wants to get out of it.

Set in the country manor house of Captain Shotover (Phillip Bosco), an 88 year old wise sage who is secretly developing explosives, and run by his charming free spirited daughter Hesione Hushabye (Swoosie Kurtz), an extravagant bohemian with a temperamental nature and a keen intelligent wit, the story actual revolves around the young Ellie Dunn (Lily Rabe). She a strong willed yet naïve young women, who has come to the bewildering house in hopes of cementing her engagement to the older Boss Mangan (Bill Camp), an aggressive businessman, but is secretly in love with the debonair Hector (Byron Jennings), a Casanova she shockingly discovers is Hesione’s husband. Hesione herself is determined to abort Ellie’s loveless engagement to Mangan amidst all sorts of wild discoveries.

The story becomes the education of Ellie and depends on her underlying naiveté. Thrown into the house are Lady Ariadne Utterword (Laila Robins), Shotover’s conventional daughter and Hesion’s sister, who neither has seen in many years, and her absurd narcissistic husband Randall Utterword (Gareth Saxe). There is also Mazzini Dunn, Elle’s humble father, who has been outwitted by Boss Mangan, and Nurse Guinness (Jenny Sterlin), who brazenly does her job caring for Shotover.The play ends in a blaze of explosive air raid attacks with impending doom that threatens their very existence leaving us to question what will happen to their world.

The evening has been wonderfully designed. The set by John Lee Beatty is reminiscent of an old shipping vessel floundering at sea. The costumes by Jane Greenwood display character beautifully with lushly flamboyant fabrics.Director Robin Lefevre has wisely emphasized the romantic attachments and animated viewpoints of Shaw’s characters. He, however, has not encouraged the actors to go far enough in displaying the startling idiosyncrasy inherent in these lunatic dreamers.

As the story progresses, they become increasingly aware that liberation can only be achieved through the destruction of their world as they know it, and their behaviors need to become a crescendo of madness in an attempt to disguise their true nature. The accomplished actors deliver polished performances that feel strident and often measured rather than lived in. The life is rushed instead of manic and we are conscience of their skill, but not moved or involved.

Much is very funny, because of the clever writing instead of the thrill of discovering. Ultimately the evening is rather tepidly dull instead of exciting and scathingly funny.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

Heartbreak House opened October 11, 2006 on Broadway at American Airline Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street between Broadway and Eight Avenue. Tickets are available by calling 212-719-1300, online at Roundabout Theatre, or at the box office.

 

The Vertical Hour

Photo: Paul Kolnik

David Hare’s new drama, The Vertical Hour, the first of his plays to premier on Broadway, continues his discussion of the war in Iraq, which was the basis of his most recent New York production, Stuff Happens, at the Public theatre. The central character is played by the much acclaimed film star Julianne Moore, an actress whose film work reflects thoughtful subtleties. Making her Broadway debut here she is decidedly miscast in a role that appears to be complex, but which is unfortunately underdeveloped.

Photo: Paul Kolnik

David Hare’s new drama, The Vertical Hour, the first of his plays to premier on Broadway, continues his discussion of the war in Iraq, which was the basis of his most recent New York production, Stuff Happens, at the Public theatre. The central character is played by the much acclaimed film star Julianne Moore, an actress whose film work reflects thoughtful subtleties. Making her Broadway debut here she is decidedly miscast in a role that appears to be complex, but which is unfortunately underdeveloped.

Moore plays a Yale political science professor, Nadia Blye, an expert on terrorism, who was previously a war correspondent and is well known for her right wing views on the war. In the play she is thrown into a pointed debate with Oliver Lucas, a liberal country doctor, who has harsh criticism for the war in Iraq. The weathered British actor Bill Nighy plays Oliver, a character that seems to have been more fully fleshed out by the playwright; Hare has given him some of the evening’s best lines. Andrew Scott is a physical therapist Philip, Nadia’s fiancé and Oliver’s estranged son. He completes a triangle that makes up the principal cast.

Nadia and Philip have traveled to Shropshire, an isolated rural spot in England near the Welsh border to meet Philip’s father. Most of the play takes place in Oliver’s garden beautifully and minimally recreated by set designer Scott Pask with outstanding lighting effects by Brian MacDevitt that are stunning.

The confrontations between Nadia and Oliver feel rather preachy even if they do give the playwright ample opportunity to share intelligent views on the war as well as a multitude of other things. The smart script is packed with many witty lines and often makes for a compelling debate, but ultimately lacks dramatic impact. The second act of the rather long evening is more successful than the tedious first.

Julianne Moore as Nadia is charming and luminous, but she is just not believable as the opinionated journalist. She is not tough enough and inherently too nice in a performance that doesn’t go far enough. She often appears to be apologizing for her beliefs rather than expressing a committed stance with passion. There are many moments the performance feels indicated rather than lived in.

The character actor Bill Nighy as the rural doctor gives a highly mannered and postured performance that seems utterly contrived. He delivers a completely inorganic display of theatrics that I found annoyingly distracting. He appears to be outrageously playing to the audience with a dazzling display of artful technique instead of relating to the other characters.

Photo: Paul Kolnik

Andrew Scott as his son Philip, who is smitten with Nadia and fears his womanizing father will destroy their relationship, is everything Mr. Nighy is not. He is truthfully organic, in a riveting performance that accumulates with surprising nuance.

The play has been helmed by the British director Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for directing his first American film “American Beauty” and brought Broadway his productions of The Blue Room and the Tony Award winning revival of Cabaret, which originated at London’s Donmar Warehouse, where he is the founding Artistic Director. His handsome production is simple allowing for the philosophical views and moralistic opinions, on terrorism and capitalism to be heard. If the evening doesn’t fully satisfy as theatre it is nonetheless jam packed with tasty ideas.

gordin & christiano

The Vertical Hour opened on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street on November 30, 2006. Tickets are available at HYPERLINK "http://www.telecharge.com" www.telecharge.com call 212-239-6200 or visit the box office.

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

A Chorus Line

A glossily refurbished revival of the Michael Bennett classic, A Chorus Line, has arrived on Broadway 16 years after the endearing musical ended a nearly 15 year run becoming in the process one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever. When it opened in 1975 Chorus Line was considered an extraordinary ground breaking achievement winning nine Tony awards including wins for best score by Marvin Hamlisch, best lyrics by Edward Kleban, best book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante as well as multiple wins for the actors. The current reincarnation clones the brilliant original in almost every detail right down to the costumes, and while the dancing remains gripping, the evening fails as drama where the original soared.

A glossily refurbished revival of the Michael Bennett classic, A Chorus Line, has arrived on Broadway 16 years after the endearing musical ended a nearly 15 year run becoming in the process one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever. When it opened in 1975 Chorus Line was considered an extraordinary ground breaking achievement winning nine Tony awards including wins for best score by Marvin Hamlisch, best lyrics by Edward Kleban, best book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante as well as multiple wins for the actors. The current reincarnation clones the brilliant original in almost every detail right down to the costumes, and while the dancing remains gripping, the evening fails as drama where the original soared.

 

As a reproduction the show looks as great now as it did 16 years ago. At first glance nothing has changed designers Robin Wagner (sets), and Theoni V. Aldredge (costumes) has given us what appears to be an exact replica of the first show. Natasha Katz has even adapted Tharon Musser’s wonderful lighting plan. Director Bob Avian, who co choreographed the first outing, has made a wise choice to carefully restore the original look and sound as a loving tribute to the landmark musical. When the curtain rises on the revival there is a rush of adrenaline that takes you back to the excitement from 1975 and your expectations grab hold with a spine tingling jolt as the dancers begin their routine that unfortunately fades as the evening unfolds.

The innovative story, conceived by Michael Bennett, about dancers auditioning for eight parts in the chorus of a big Broadway musical, where they in turn “put their lives on the line” revealing their unique stories in the process remains cleverly novel giving everyone a moment to shine. Bennett was a dancer himself and actually culled the material from hours of tapped interviews with real “gypsies” as an inspiration to their spirit of sacrifice. The writers then shaped it through workshops at the Public Theatre into what you hear today. Many of the “gypsies” actually appeared in the original providing some of the evening’s most moving and authentic moments. Their craving for the job and acceptance was beautifully realized, and their struggles clawed at your heart. Here their nervousness feels feigned and punctuated and while their tales remain heartbreaking, they have now been sentimentalized distancing you for the raw truth.

Each of the dancers/actors possesses wonderful qualities that fit their respective parts, but they have not been guided into living in the life of the text, and ultimately we feel nothing. What remains passionately resilient about the imaginative musical that is performed in just over 2 hours without an intermission is the exhilarating Marvin Hamlisch score, the fabulous lyrics by Edward Kleban, the intoxication of the vibrant dancing and the impressive choreography that has been stimulatingly restaged by Baayork Lee.

With advance bookings of almost 10 million there must be a new generation of theatre people, dancer’s included, who have never seen the landmark original, as well as many craving a blast of nostalgia. They may not know the difference or even care, because when these awesome performers break out into dance, singing and moving in one seamless whole the evening is, indeed, thrilling becoming “one singular sensation.” You forgive them their shortcomings and everything seems exactly as you remembered it.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

A Chorus Line opened on October 5, 2006 at the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or at the box office.

Martin Short: “Fame Becomes Me”

Photo by Barry Gordin

Martin Short the Tony award winning star of Little Me has come to Broadway with his very own show Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, a blissfully entertaining spoof of the current trend by stars to tell their life stories on The Great White Way. The multi award winning Short has starred in several films, but is probably best known for his television appearances that includes an Emmy Award for his work on SCTV Comedy Network. He is an immensely talented physical comedian that has given us stand out characterizations on “Saturday Night Live” as Ed Grimley, Jackie Rogers Jr., songwriter Irving Cohen and lawyer Nathan Thurman as well as snaring two Ace Awards for comedy specials he co-wrote, produced and starred in. The greatly admired wit created the hilarious Jiminy Glick for “Primetime Glick,” and even had his own daily show, “The Martin Short Show,” so there are apparently few limits to his extraordinary gifts.
Co- written by Short with Daniel Goldfarb Fame Becomes Me is an outrageously fictionalized autobiography about an over the hill celebrity, who bares his soul on stage. Created as a satire on ego tripping stars like Elaine Stritch, Billy Crystal, and Suzanne Sommers, who have spilled their guts in the name of art, the show is a wacky pack of lies with an edgy charm that is built around Short’s many talents. He unabashedly announces right up front “If I’d saved, I wouldn’t be here,” and that is probably the only telling moment in the entire surreal evening.

Photo by Barry Gordin

Martin Short the Tony award winning star of Little Me has come to Broadway with his very own show Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, a blissfully entertaining spoof of the current trend by stars to tell their life stories on The Great White Way. The multi award winning Short has starred in several films, but is probably best known for his television appearances that includes an Emmy Award for his work on SCTV Comedy Network. He is an immensely talented physical comedian that has given us stand out characterizations on “Saturday Night Live” as Ed Grimley, Jackie Rogers Jr., songwriter Irving Cohen and lawyer Nathan Thurman as well as snaring two Ace Awards for comedy specials he co-wrote, produced and starred in. The greatly admired wit created the hilarious Jiminy Glick for “Primetime Glick,” and even had his own daily show, “The Martin Short Show,” so there are apparently few limits to his extraordinary gifts.
Co- written by Short with Daniel Goldfarb Fame Becomes Me is an outrageously fictionalized autobiography about an over the hill celebrity, who bares his soul on stage. Created as a satire on ego tripping stars like Elaine Stritch, Billy Crystal, and Suzanne Sommers, who have spilled their guts in the name of art, the show is a wacky pack of lies with an edgy charm that is built around Short’s many talents. He unabashedly announces right up front “If I’d saved, I wouldn’t be here,” and that is probably the only telling moment in the entire surreal evening.

Put together like a vaudeville Forbidden Broadway that is little more than a potpourri of sketches Fame pokes fun at today’s mega celebrities in addition to some classic icons. The show boasts clever songs by the dynamic duo from Hairspray, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who co-conceived and directs the evening), that although not exactly memorable are serviceable. They range from show tunes to 60’s like rock with some rousing gospel as well. The creative team has been smart enough to surround the engaging Short with an ensemble of five extremely talented supporting players, who contribute very funny bits that allows the star some time to catch his breath.

Mary Birdsong is bone chillingly real with her perfect reincarnation of Judy Garland and very silly as Joan Rives. Nicole Parker delivers audience pleasing impersonations of Ellen DeGeneres, Britney Spears and Celine Dion that poke fun at Ellen’s spastic dance movements, Britney’s baby dropping and Celine’s egomania. Composer Marc Shaiman performs double duty as a Short’s comic foil and onstage pianist. Brooks Ashmanskas is the most wicked of all with his shocking pastiches of Broadway dance legends Tommy Tune and Bob Fosse. And then there is Capathia Jenkins, who brings down the house with her 11th hour number about big black ladies “Stop the Show.” Fame Become Me wouldn’t be complete if Mr. Short didn’t bring out some of his classic characters, and they produce some of the evening’s most dazzling moments. We get the star at his best bringing to life his memorable creation of the cigar chomping Broadway producer, Irving Cohen, but the highlight is Jiminy Glick. The grossly overweight talk show host, who really doesn’t listen as his guests attempt to answer his insufferable questions, is an absolute non stop riot. Each evening there is a different quest celebrity picked right out of the audience. At the opening night performance we attended a game Jerry Seinfeld was a perfect delight.As an over the top musical revue that is little more than a slap in the face at celebrities taking themselves too seriously the evening is a laugh filled riot. Forget you troubles have a good time, but don’t expect anything more. There is still a show with a starring role for the wonderful Mr. Short that will take advantage of his many gifts, but we will have to wait a while longer and settle for this trendy re-hashing. Meanwhile be thankful he didn’t save.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published on Hamptons.com

Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eight Ave. For tickets call 212-239-6200.

 

The Drowsy Chaperone

Photo by Joan Marcus

The Drowsy Chaperone, a spoof of Broadway musicals from the 1920’s, is an homage to the golden era of theatre when people longed for nothing more than to be magically transported to another world. Although little more than a parody of stock characters singing a pastiche of songs from the period that steels boldly from later day musicals as well, the evening is served with such tremendous style and wit that the loving tribute actually stops time. We are allowed for a brief hour and 40 minutes to chase all the blues away and escape into the madness of the musical theatre world.The evening begins with the audience sitting in a pitch black theatre for a few moments before we hear the voice of our host, simply referred to as Man in Chair, saying “Dear Lord please let it be good.” We are then taken into the cluttered New York City apartment of this die hard musical theatre fan, where he sits stage right in an overstuffed easy chair next to his record player. Yes record player, no CDs for him, he loves the static from the needle saying, “To me that’s the sound of a time machine starting up.”

Photo by Joan Marcus

The Drowsy Chaperone, a spoof of Broadway musicals from the 1920’s, is an homage to the golden era of theatre when people longed for nothing more than to be magically transported to another world. Although little more than a parody of stock characters singing a pastiche of songs from the period that steels boldly from later day musicals as well, the evening is served with such tremendous style and wit that the loving tribute actually stops time. We are allowed for a brief hour and 40 minutes to chase all the blues away and escape into the madness of the musical theatre world.The evening begins with the audience sitting in a pitch black theatre for a few moments before we hear the voice of our host, simply referred to as Man in Chair, saying “Dear Lord please let it be good.” We are then taken into the cluttered New York City apartment of this die hard musical theatre fan, where he sits stage right in an overstuffed easy chair next to his record player. Yes record player, no CDs for him, he loves the static from the needle saying, “To me that’s the sound of a time machine starting up.”

To cheer himself he decides to play the cast recording from one of his favorite ditzy shows, The Drowsy Chaperone. He tells us to ignore the lyrics as he ushers us back in time to the Morosco Theatre November 1928 by playing the record, and the madcap musical suddenly bursts to life right in his apartment. Our ecstatic guide shares his running commentary throughout the evening encouraging us to let loose for a zany ride down memory lane.
The show with its screwball characters singing and dancing is nothing more than silly fun that whimsically floats on air. The musical within the musical tells the tale of a pampered Broadway star Janet Van De Graff (Sutton Foster), who plans to give up show business to marry the dashing bachelor Robert Martin (Troy Britton Johnson). Her producer (Lenny Wolpe) attempts to sabotage the wedding by having the Latin lover Aldolpho (Danny Burstein) seduce her, but Aldolpho mistakes her chaperone (Beth Leavel) for the star instead. All sorts of crazy shenanigans arise involving the rest of the wacky characters that include a pair of lunatic gangsters posing as a vaudeville team (Jason and Garth Kravits), the wedding hostess Mrs. Tottendale (Georgia Engel), her man servant Underling (Edward Hibbert), the producer’s blonde bimbo girlfriend Kitty (Jennifer Smith) and several others.

The imaginative scenic design by David Gallo magically comes to life from out of nowhere. Set pieces float from the ceiling, emerge from walls, and characters make elaborate entrances right out of the refrigerator. There is even a trap door that allows for dramatic exits that descend through the floor.

Man in chair is a contrived gimmick, but as conceived by Bob Martin, who co-authored the show with Don Mckellar, he’s a charming delight that keeps the outstanding cast on their magical carpet ride and saves the evening from being just another parody with his refreshing comments, “This is ridiculous,” or “I hate that scene,” and reminding us; “Everything works out in musicals. In the real world nothing works out and the only people who burst into song are the hopelessly deranged.”

Indeed everything about this intoxicating cocktail as directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw is

Photo by Joan Marcus

spiked with sparkle and wit. The uniformly vivacious performances are often hilarious never failing to keep you smiling throughout. The engaging songs with their vibrant score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison give everyone a moment in the spotlight. The dynamic ensemble is having the time of their lives and their effervescent joy is contagious. The audience was absolutely delirious with laughter from start to finish.

gordin & christiano

The Drowsy Chaperone opened on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets, on May 1, 2006. Tickets are available through Ticket master by calling 212-307-4100 or online at HYPERLINK "http://www.ticketmaster.com" www.ticketmaster.com or in person at the theatre box office.

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

The Clean House

When Sara Ruhl’s play The Clean House begins we are confronted with a character in a spotlessly clean all white house telling a rather long and apparently very funny joke in Portuguese. There are no subtitles, but we know the joke is funny from the character’s demonstrative body language and the enjoyable relish with which she embellishes her tale.We soon learn that she is Matilde (Vanessa Aspillaga) the Brazilian maid of Lane (Blair Brown) a cleanliness obsessed workaholic doctor, who freely admits, “I did not go to medical school to clean my o

wn house,” and herein is one of the comedy’s central conflicts. Matilde soon confesses to us that she doesn’t like to clean; in fact cleaning makes her depressed, so much so that she would much prefer to spend her time discovering the world’s funniest joke.Virginia (Jill Clayburgh) Lane’s sister, who uses cleaning to make herself feel better insists that, “People who give up the privilege of cleaning their own houses are insane people,” and comes to Matide’s rescue by offering to clean her sister’s home for her.
When Lane realizes to her horror that Virginia has been cleaning her house instead of Matilde, she fires the maid, but events turn even bleaker when the three discover Charles (John Dossett), Lane’s surgeon husband, is having an affair with Ana (Concetta Tomei) his 67 year old breast cancer patient, who the surgeon believes to be his soul mate.

When Sara Ruhl’s play The Clean House begins we are confronted with a character in a spotlessly clean all white house telling a rather long and apparently very funny joke in Portuguese. There are no subtitles, but we know the joke is funny from the character’s demonstrative body language and the enjoyable relish with which she embellishes her tale.We soon learn that she is Matilde (Vanessa Aspillaga) the Brazilian maid of Lane (Blair Brown) a cleanliness obsessed workaholic doctor, who freely admits, “I did not go to medical school to clean my o

wn house,” and herein is one of the comedy’s central conflicts. Matilde soon confesses to us that she doesn’t like to clean; in fact cleaning makes her depressed, so much so that she would much prefer to spend her time discovering the world’s funniest joke.Virginia (Jill Clayburgh) Lane’s sister, who uses cleaning to make herself feel better insists that, “People who give up the privilege of cleaning their own houses are insane people,” and comes to Matide’s rescue by offering to clean her sister’s home for her.
When Lane realizes to her horror that Virginia has been cleaning her house instead of Matilde, she fires the maid, but events turn even bleaker when the three discover Charles (John Dossett), Lane’s surgeon husband, is having an affair with Ana (Concetta Tomei) his 67 year old breast cancer patient, who the surgeon believes to be his soul mate.

The first act is a tidy set up for the second act, which makes an abrupt change after the intermission. The soap opera comedy becomes decidedly surreal sprinkled with what feels like all sorts of contrivances as the story attempts to tackle some serious questions about love and commitment and the real meaning of friendship. The focus shifts onto Ana’s illness and how the other’s attempt to cope with their respective dilemmas and Ana’s impact on their lives.

The spotless Clean House of the title becomes littered figuratively with trash and cluttered with provocative ideas as the characters struggle to make meaning out of their impact on one another.

The handsome production that is being staged at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater under Bill Rauch’s cute direction suffers from a lack of subtlety that is one of the evening’s biggest problems. The performances and, indeed, the entire proceedings feel forced and obvious. The play has been turned into a contemporary screwball farce without a lived in quality. The actor’s don’t seem to be relating to each other, but instead displaying qualities that feel imposed upon them by the director. The overall effect is to distance us from the action instead of bringing us into the story.

Sarah Ruhl’s play, which was the runner up for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, comes to Lincoln Center with considerably high expectations. The play has been touring the country to much acclaim and the 32 year old playwright was a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

The set design by Christopher Acebo and the lighting by James F. Ingalls are dazzling and dramatic, but unfortunately are the most memorable aspects of the evening. Sarah Ruhl is definitely a playwright with great promise and her Clean House is crammed with imaginative even thought provoking ideas that unfortunately don’t add up to compelling or even involving theatre. At its best Clean House is an admirable failure but with all the encouragement Ruhl has received she’s bound to get it right sooner or later. One thing is for certain, we are sure to hear more from her.

gordin & christiano

The Clean House is now playing at The Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street at Broadway. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit the theatre box office.

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

A Chorus Line Opening Night

Arnold Scassi, Joan RIvers

Photography by Barry Gordin

Peter DuBois, Michael Alden
Tyler Hanes (Plays Larry), Barry Gordin
Brian Stokes Mitchell, Allyson Tucker

Ronald Dennis, Joy Behar, Eve Behar

 

 

 

 

Liza Minnelli, Playwright Tricia Walsh Smith

Photography: Barry Gordin

Arnold Scassi, Joan RIvers

Peter DuBois, Michael Alden
Tyler Hanes (Plays Larry), Barry Gordin
Brian Stokes Mitchell, Allyson Tucker

Ronald Dennis, Joy Behar, Eve Behar
Liza Minnelli, Playwright Tricia Walsh Smith
Sandra Bernhard, Rosie O’Donnell, Liza Minelli
Rosie O’Donnell, Philip Smith (President of The Shubert Organization)
Original Building
Priscilla Lopez, Kelly Bishop
Sarah Jessica Parker