Month: March 2017

The Wild Party


The Other Palace, London
2017-03-24 • 19:30

17 years after its New York premiere, Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party finally receives its London premiere, in a stunnin production led by the insanely talented Drew McOnie at the recently rechristened The Other Palace (formerly the St. James Theatre).

There are many exciting performances, but none as powerful as John Owen-Jones’s as Burrs. Donna McKechnie manages to outshine everyone else as Dolores, the part originally created by Eartha Kitt on Broadway. The orchestra gives a brilliant performance and manages to make LaChiusa’s complex score thrillingly appealing.

Music and lyrics: Michael John LaChiusa. Book: Michael John LaChiusa & George C. Wolfe. Directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie. With Frances Ruffelle, John Owen-Jones, Tiffany Graves, Ako Mitchell, Sebastian Torkia, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Donna McKechnie, …

Come From Away

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, New York
2017-03-11 • 20:00 [last preview]

On 11 September 2001, almost 40 commercial aircraft were ordered to make emergency landings in Gander, Newfoundland when US airspace was closed. (Gander once used to accommodate transatlantic aircraft in need of refuelling, which is why it is equipped with a rather large airport.) The warm welcome given by the local community to the 6,500 stranded passengers and crew members is the subject of this surprisingly uplifting musical.

Come From Away is one of those free-form, almost sung-through, musicals that lean a little more towards a song cycle than towards a traditional theatrical piece, with characters frequently talking/singing to the audience. Although there have been such musicals for a long time, they seem to have become a lot more frequent lately.

Even though I missed a more theatrical approach (the lack of sets, especially, is a big obstacle in my book) and even though the style of the music isn’t really my cup of tea, I was won over by Come From Away’s unique mixture of warmheartedness, humour and sheer energy. The twelve actors play an amazing number of characters with astonishing ease and fluidity. The intermissionless play ended on a high just when I was starting to look at my watch.

Are Newfoundlanders the most welcoming people on the planet? It is remarkable that a play set in the aftermath of 9-11 ends up celebrating human resilience in such a heart-warming manner. The audience seemed genuinely touched.

In Transit

Circle in the Square, New York
2017-03-11 • 14:00

This a cappella musical, which is nearing its 100th performance, has been doing so meagrely in terms of grosses that I was convinced it would close before I got an opportunity to see it. (I had a ticket to see it in December, but I gave it up in order to be able to catch the first preview of The Band’s Visit, which was worth it.)

The show starts looking like an old-fashioned revue until it appears there is a common backstory linking those characters whose only commonality, at first, is that they travel by subway.

As charming as it is, it doesn’t quite feel at home in a Broadway theatre, be it the modestly-sized, 650-seat, Circle in the Square.

I can’t say the score touched me very much, in spite of the cast’s undeniable commitment (although I couldn’t help noticing that James Snyder sometimes looked like he’d rather be elsewhere, especially during the ensemble numbers).

The audience was genuinely enthusiastic at the end, though, which is probably what keeps the show running in spite of its disappointing grosses.

Written by: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, Sara Wordsworth. Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Music Director: Rick Hip-Flores. With Justin Guarini, Telly Leung, Laurel Harris (understudy), James Snyder, Moya Angela, Erin Mackey, …

Sunday in the Park With George

Hudson Theatre, New York
2017-03-10 • 20:00

In October 2016, New York City Center presented a few performances of a concert version of Sunday in the Park With George, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford. Much to my chagrin, I was unable to attend. Public and critical reception was so encouraging that a limited run was announced at the newly reopened Hudson Theatre which, after serving as a Broadway house on and off, had become an event space of sorts.

I have seen about a dozen productions of Sunday, but rarely had I seen such effective chemistry between the two leads. Gyllenhaal and Ashford are tremendously touching, which makes the ending particularly wonderful. (I’m one of the few people who like Act 2 better than Act 1. When done properly, the final scene can pack a phenomenal punch.)

Gyllenhaal’s performance is closer to Mandy Patinkin’s than the reviews had led me to believe. As for Ashford, she’s one of the few “younger” Broadway stars who actually deserve the praise being showered unto them. She is capable of making powerful connections with the audience without so much as blinking an eye; that’s the very essence of charisma.

There is hardly a weak link in the cast, but the ever wonderful Penny Fuller does a fantastic job with the roles of George’s Mother and Blair. And on top of having the best Playbill bio ever, Robert Sean Leonard shines as both Jules and Bob.

The production is simple but effective. Like most recent productions of Sunday, it relies heavily on projections — although less strikingly than the Menier Chocolate Factory production. Much of the budget seems to have gone into designing the Chromolume, which might not have been the most enlightened choice (no pun intended). For one thing, a curious audience member can easily guess what the Chromolume is going to look like by observing the theatre’s ceiling before the performance. Also, such a large-scale work probably wouldn’t attract the kind of comments that it does in the play. And, finally, it looks as if it was designed for people sitting in the dress circle and balcony; I could see people sitting in the orchestra twisting their necks trying to see what was going on above them.

But those are quibbles compared to the immense qualities of a very successful production. It’s a shame the producers decided not to submit it for Tony Awards consideration, because it would have been a strong contender in many areas.

Directed by Sarna Lapine. Music director: Chris Fenwick. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Annaleigh Ashford, Brooks Ashmanskas, Phillip Boykin, Claybourne Elder, Penny Fuller, Robert Sean Leonard, Ruthie Ann Miles, …

Sousatzka


Elgin Theatre, Toronto
2017-03-09 • 20:00

Garth Drabinsky, the theatrical producer who gave Ragtime to the world— and who was subsequently sent to prison for fraud and forgery —, is making a comeback of sorts with this new musical based on the novel Madame Sousatzka by Bernice Rubens (which was already used as the basis for a 1988 John Schlesinger movie starring Shirley MacLaine).

I haven’t read the novel, but I did watch the movie on my flight to Toronto. If the script of the movie can rightly be described as underwritten, Craig Lucas’s book for this new musical goes squarely in the opposite direction by providing tons of background and back stories for the characters. As a result, the storytelling is a bit tedious and not all of the numerous flashbacks sit well within the context of the current drama.

If I were a show doctor, I would advise strongly to choose between the back story of Madame Sousatzka — a Polish survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto — and that of her wunderkind piano pupil, Themba — a South-African boy whose father is in jail for leading protests against the apartheid and whose mother had to flee the country when he was a young boy. The libretto of the musical ends up being cluttered by such an overload of background and good sentiments.

The score, by Broadway greats David Shire (music) and Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics), has its moments, especially some of the songs written for the title character, like the lovely “The Life I Left Behind.” The Zulu-inspired songs, on the other hand, didn’t do much for me — some of them sounded a little bit too much like left-overs from The Lion King.

Victoria Clark is wonderful as Madame Sousatzka. I wish Maltby & Shire hadn’t felt they had to include so many high notes in her songs — sure, she has a nearly operatic soprano voice, but I think she sounds better when she comes back down to her lower register. Newcomer Jordan Barrow is quite charismatic as her pupil. One can only lament that the legendary Judy Kaye has so little to do — that is a tragic waste of her talent.

Directed by Adrian Noble. Choreography by Graciela Daniele. Music Director: Brad Haak. With Victoria Clark, Montego Glover, Jordan Barrow, Judy Kaye, …