Friday, April 26, 2013

Stan Mazin Covers New York 2013

New York Broadway/Off-Broadway Reviews 
April 2013
directed by George C. Wolfe
Broadhurst Theatre

Tom Hanks stars in Lucky Guy, the last play written by Nora Ephron.  Directed by multi-award winner George C. Wolfe (The Normal Heart, Elaine Stritch, at Liberty, & Angels in America, to name just a few), the cast performs with great force and energy.  I could not stop thinking of that same energy that came from Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, about Chicago real estate brokers. Lucky Guy takes place with news reporters for various newspapers. The time runs from 1985 to 1998, and the story is basically a true one, about the rise and fall of Mike McAlary (Hanks). The cast is excellent, the play is full of humor, and the dialogue is not for the faint of heart (much like the four-letter words in Glengarry…).  Tom Hanks should be very proud of his first Broadway endeavor.  Most ably assisted by the likes of Michael Gaston, Peter Scolari (Hanks’ Bossom Buddies costar), and Richard Masur, to name just 3 of the perfect 18 member cast, I enjoyed this show immensely.

directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

What a surprise to get to enjoy one of the best musicals to hit Broadway in ’13.  It was a surprise inasmuch as my time (I am very old) was before Berry Gordy, consequently I didn’t really expect I would enjoy this show as much as I did.  Book by Berry Gordy, with music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog, with perfect choreography by Patricia Wilcox & Warren Adams, this show never stopped or slowed down from the moment it began.  The ‘plot’ as such is wrapped around the invitation to Berry Gordy to a 25 year tribute to Motown, which he has refused to attend, mainly because the stars of the event have already left him, and he felt betrayed.  From there with the use of flashbacks, we travel through the rise of Gordy and Motown, and the ultimate events that occur.  But during this trip we are so completely entertained with the likes of the Four Tops, the Marvelettes, the Jackson 5, the Temptations, the Supremes, the Commodores (not necessarily in this order) and so many recognizable individuals, your heart will sing.  Gordy is beautifully played by Brandon Victor Dixon (pictured), with great support by Valisia LeKae (Diana Ross), Charl Brown (Smokey Robinson), Bryan Terrell Clark (Marvin Gaye), and a young truly gifted talent, Raymond Luke, Jr (Young Berry, Stevie, and Michael).  The audience couldn’t wait to give this competent cast the standing ovation it deserves.

directed by Matthew Warchus
Shubert Theatre

Matilda, based on the stories of Roald Dahl, has a book by Dennis Kelly, and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, direction by Matthew Warchus, and choreography by Peter Darling.  One would think this story would be too dark for children, but let me tell you that this ‘event’ is as inviting to children's eyes and ears as well as adults'.  Although the songs may not be of traditional Broadway stock, they are so enjoyable that it helps make this show the hit is has already become.  The three imports from the London production are Lauren Ward as Miss Honey, the sympathetic teacher who discovers and ultimately fights for Matilda’s attributes, Gabriel Ebert, as the maniacal and dimwitted father of Matilda, and Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull, the tyrant head of the school, who tries and succeeds in bullying the students into submission.   The introduction of Matilda (Bailey Ryon at the performance I attended) upsets the ‘machine’ operated by Miss Trunchbull, to a hilarious and satisfying end.  The great addition of Lesli Margherita, who I must admit was brilliant in her portrayal of Matilda’s mother, a woman more interested in her ‘dancing’ partner than her daughter or husband, added the layer of absurdity this musical deserves.  The cast, the music, the direction, the costumes & scenery (Rob Howell), as well as the lighting (Hugh Vanstone) of Matilda all come together to make this 5-star musical work.  If it comes anywhere near you, you must see it!

directed by Jack O'Brien
Lyceum Theatre

Nathan Lane and Lewis J. Stadlen doing burlesque sketches… what heaven!  This play takes place in 1937, the end of the era of burlesque.  A Nance is a straight actor who appeared in these sketches as gay characters.  They were not cast (then) with gay actors, so it was taboo if an actor playing these roles was truly gay.  Nathan Lane plays such an actor, and so the play begins.  A very good looking man (Jonny Orsini) falls for Nathan but problems occur when Lane finds it difficult for various reasons to maintain a monogamous relationship.  I loved the first act, but felt the climax (of the first act), a raid on the theatre, could have been more accomplished than it was… perhaps bright lights blinding and shocking the audience before the blackout.  This is a director’s opinion only.
photo: sara krulwich
The second act was treated a little too much like a melodrama, in my opinion.  But the eight member cast performed their roles well, and the price of admission was more than worth it, after seeing the aforementioned Lane and Stadlen do their sketches and their ‘offstage’ roles.  The Nance is written by Douglas Carter Beane, and directed by Jack O’Brien with choreography (burlesque numbers) by Joey Pizzi.

The National Theatre of Scotland's Production of MACBETH
directed by John Tiffany & Andrew Goldberg
Ethel Barrymore Theatre

I begin this little review by admitting that I am not a Shakespearean aficionado.  On the contrary, I find few Shakespearean plays that I truly enjoy.  That being said, a friend of mine convinced me to go see Alan Cumming in Macbeth.  When I read that it takes place in an insane asylum ward, and that Cumming performed all the roles, my interest was aroused.  It is still Shakespeare… but what a performance Alan Cumming gave.  He is truly a magnificent actor, giving all the nuance of an actor with many more decades of experience to his name.  I have to say that even I appreciated the emotional as well as physical prowess he exuded during this very physically demanding role… or roles, I should say.  Supported by Jenny Sterlin and Brendan Titley,  Alan took the part, chewed it up, and played every inch of the stage (set & costumes by Merle Hensel, and lighting by Natasha Chivers).  What helped make this production so intriguing was the sound by Fergus O’Hare.  Everything from the ambient sound in the room, to the dramatic chords which matched the emotional wattage of the actor, to the beautiful cello music (by Max Richter) worked like a beautiful corsage of the physical, visual (video design by Ian William Galloway), and audible elements of this piece.  I keep saying it was still Shakespeare, but I am happy that I went.

directed by Christopher Gattelli
Elektra Theatre

Having missed this in Los Angeles, I wanted to catch it in NY.  What a delightful parody of the film Silence of the Lambs!!!  The cast was just wonderful, from the great Laura Jordan, who gave an absolutely hysterical impression of Jody Foster, playing Clarice Starling, complete with Jody’s slurring of some of her syllables… to the great Sean McDermott, playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter, with a precise ‘dead-pan’ interpretation, making this character eerie and scary at the same time.  And everyone in between was great in their parts.  Directed and  choreographed by Christopher Gattelli (choreographer of Newsies, and more) this show is truly much more than amusing.  It may be slightly crude, particularly in one of the songs, but when you realize that it is a parody, and the language in the movie left little to the imagination, it works.  The book is by Hunter Bell, and the music and lyrics are by Jon and Al Kaplan.  All the Silence of the Lambs groupies should see this show… I think everyone with any sense of humor will adore it.

directed by David Cromer
Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse

This play was written by Richard Nelson and directed by David Cromer, with choreography by George Balanchine.  As soon as I heard there was a play about George Balanchine (Michael Cerveris), with Igor Stravinsky (John Glover), Sergey Sudeikin (Alvin Epstein), and others, I was curious, having come from a dance background.  Nikolai of the title is Nikolai Nabokov, the composer (Stephen Kunken).  The play takes place in 1948, when Balanchine was working on the ballet Orpheus.
photo: paul kolnik
The only choreography there is, takes place in the first act by Maria Tallchief (Natalia Alonso) and her partner Nicholas Magallanes (Michael Rosen).  An interesting play using a very interesting theatrical device!  All of the parts with the exception of the dancers are supposed to be Russian.  Consequently, when the actors speak to each other, they speak in an American accent, which signifies they are speaking in Russian… but when they speak to either of the 2 dancers (Maria or Nicholas), they speak with a broken Russian accent signifying they are speaking English. I have never seen this before, and it works.  There are 18 people in the cast, and they are all wonderful actors.  The plot as such consists of the creative team and some of their family working and arguing together while creating this ballet.  Costumes are by Jane Greenwood, with a great set design by Marsha Ginsberg, and lighting by Ken Billington. 

directed by Jerry Mitchell
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
When you are seeing a musical whose book is by Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, and it is directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, one just needs to sit back and enjoy… and enjoy we all did!!!  With great sets by David Rockwell, terrific costumes by Gregg Barnes, illuminating lighting by Kenneth Posner, and stupifying sound by John Shivers, how can this show possibly fail???  NO WAY!  Leading the brilliant cast of players is Stark Sands, as the son of a shoe manufacturer, who wants no part of his father’s legacy.  The factory is about to close… his father passes… enter Lola, a fantastical character in drag with ‘attitude’ that doesn’t stop… played to the hilt by the untouchable Billy Porter. (Can you tell I LOVED this show?!?)  The songs are just terrific, and the staging and choreography are first rate.  I have never seen a show that had 2 ‘eleven o’clock’ numbers that stopped the show, back to back… one by Sands and one by Porter.  What a treat for anyone who is not a bigot, and who just loves to enjoy themselves! This is based on the movie of the same name, and honestly it begins where La Cage leaves off… what Lola’s ‘girls’ can do with treadmills in a musical number is nothing short of extraordinary (thanks so much, Jerry Mitchell).  I expect this years Tonys will be quite a contest with Motown, Matilda, and Kinky Boots.

A Chat with Sue Mengers
directed by Joe Mantello
Booth Theatre
A new play by John Logan, about ‘a chat with Sue Mengers’, can star only one person I can think of, and that personage is Bette Midler. Sue Mengers was probably the most successful theatrical agent who ever existed… she handled the likes of Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, Michael Caine, Faye Dunaway, Cher, Joan Collins, Burt Reynolds, Nick Nolte, and countless others.  She had a reputation of smoking both cigarettes and marijuana.  Her verbiage was known to be salty and spicy, to say the least.  This play was directed by Joe Mantello, on a gorgeous set representing Mengers’ Beverly Hills living room (set by Scott Pask, costume by Ann Roth, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, with sound by Fitz Patton).  Lights come up on a beautiful Bette Midler (long straight hair parted in the middle and quite flattering to her).  She stays on the sofa for the entire 90 minutes, and asks one of the audience men to come up on stage when she wants something from the other side of the room… a very cute bit which was played to the hilt.  I never knew Sue Mengers, but I have seen Bette Midler many times, and even though I recognized Bette throughout the performance, I feel I got to know Mengers as well, and also learned quite a bit about agents, and particularly how Mengers operated.  The language as I stated before was quite salty, but personally, I enjoy that kind of language when it is not just for ‘show’, and Bette knew how to deliver every line.  This is so much funnier than what I expected… and the performance could not have been smoother sailing… captivating, enthralling, so highly enjoyable… I’m lucky I was able to see this very special performance, since it is on for a limited run.  Bette Midler can do anything… 

directed by Kristin Newhouse
Minskoff Theatre

Each year Broadway Cares has about 6 fund raisers for Equity Fights Aids, and this is one of them.  Usually regular tourists don’t even know about it.  Every Broadway show that collects money from patrons for the charity, gives it to BCEFA after Easter.  And every show that chooses to, creates an Easter Bonnet for the show, and the presentations range from huge numbers with dancers and singers, to smaller numbers with a couple of people… the numbers are often large production numbers that may make you laugh or cry, but you will be moved.  A running gag that has been performed every year that I have seen the show is the appearance of Officer Lockstock and Little Sally from Urinetown.  They just appear and the audience goes wild.  Then they have their repartee, which is like part of Forbidden Broadway’2013, where they rip everything, every show, and everyone worth tearing apart, to shreds… they leave few survivors, and their bit is absolutely hysterical.  There were numbers by Chicago, Cinderella, The Lion King, Annie vs. Newsies, Spiderman, & Kinky Boots to name a few.  Just knowing that you are surrounded in the audience by actors, singers, dancers, directors, designers of sets, costumes, lighting, and all people in the industry, makes this show and its audience so valuable and special… My New York Theatre Tour takes place after Easter every year, just so I might be able to catch this very special show.  And it never disappoints.
I was only in New York for 8 nights, and I was fortunate to be able to see these ten great shows… so much theatre… so little time… It would really be interesting for me to hear what you think once you see some of these shows.  Thank you for reading.

Stan Mazin


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