Dear Evan Hansen

The Music Box, New York
2017-05-17 • 14:00

I was lucky to see the very first performance of this musical in Washington in July of 2015. It has now made its way to Broadway… with, amazingly, the exact same cast, except for one secondary role.

This second viewing hasn’t changed my opinion: Dear Evan Hansen has a great original book and a wildly charismatic leading man. The score, on the other hand, doesn’t appeal to me very much… and I’m not quite convinced by Michael Greif’s directorial approach, which makes the show look like every other show he has directed.

The drawback of moving to Broadway is that the play has lost some of its intimacy. Beside, the size of the house seems to encourage the actors to sing at the top of their lungs… which not only gets on my nerves and makes some of the lyrics difficult to understand, but has also taxed the voices quite a bit. Most voices sound tired, including Ben Platt’s. I’m pretty sure everybody would gain from taking it down a notch.

Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul. Book by Steven Levenson.
Directed by Michael Greif. With Ben Platt (Evan Hansen), Laura Dreyfuss (Zoe Murphy), Rachel Bay Jones (Heidi Hansen), Jennifer Laura Thompson (Cynthia Murphy), Mike Faist (Connor Murphy), Michael Park (Larry Murphy), Will Roland (Jared Kleinman), Kristolyn Lloyd (Alana Beck).


Cort Theatre, New York
2017-05-16 • 19:00

Sholem Asch’s Yiddish-language play The God of Vengeance (1907) provides most of the context for this contemporary work. Asch was born in Poland. He owed much of his early fame to The God of Vengeance, which was created in German at Berlin’s Deutsches Theater before being presented in may other countries, including the United States, where it was produced on Broadway, at the Apollo Theatre, in 1923.

The play was (and probably still is) controversial because of the way it mixes religion with sexuality and other profane themes. Paula Vogel has used a rather common theatrical device by having a “generic” troupe of actors portray Asch’s friends and family as well as various actors that presented The God of Vengeance over the years. In doing so, she has managed to touch subtly on many sensitive issues… although one might wonder in the end what Indecent is truly about (assuming a play has to be about something).

The staging is an integral part of the conceit of the play… and it’s doubtful Indecent could ever be presented in any other fashion. It’s inspired, sometimes a little pretentious, sometimes very powerful in its ability to literally suspend time. The play-within-a-play device works wonders, repeatedly.

The cast is wonderful… but Richard Topol’s performance as Lemml, the simple tailor who falls in love with The God of Vengeance and becomes a life-long advocate of the play, has to be singled out for its honesty and generosity.

There is a particularly striking moment in the play which reminds us that, as Jews were sent to their deaths by thousands in Europe during WWII, the rest of the World was sometimes trying to think happier thoughts. It doesn’t appear to be meant as a judgment, just as an observation on History… but it does deliver a powerful punch. That’s what good theatre does.

By Paula Vogel.
Directed by Rebecca Taichman. With Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, Adina Verson, Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva.

Miss Saigon

Broadway Theatre, New York
2017-05-15 • 20:00

Miss Saigon is back where it started — at the Broadway Theatre, where the original production opened in 1991.

This new production, which I loved in London (when in opened in 2014 and again on closing day in 2016), seems to have lost some of its steam while crossing the Atlantic. Maybe the sheer size of the house is at odds with the scaled-down production: the Broadway Theatre is huge and notoriously difficult to play to, especially when the house is very far from full. Or maybe I happened to catch the show on an off-night.

There were several aspects of the performance that I would describe as sloppy: jagged chorus lines during “The Morning of the Dragon,” the monitor showing the conductor in the wings in full view of the audience (spoiling the blackouts that I admired so much in London), the rumbling noise made by the set piece carrying Chris and Ellen’s bed at the beginning of “I Still Believe” (further ruined by a crude light that destroyed the visual illusion I found so brilliant)… to give only a few examples.

The only major asset left from the London production is the impeccable sound design, which makes each syllable of each word crystal clear. And a very good cast. But the magic seems to be gone.

Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. & Alain Boublil. 
Directed by Laurence Connor. Musical Staging and Choreography by Bob Avian. With Jon Jon Briones (Engineer), Eva Noblezada (Kim), Alistair Brammer (Chris), Katie Rose Clarke (Ellen), Nicholas Christopher (John), …

Desperate Measures

York Theatre Company, New York
2017-05-15 • 14:00

This musical, “loosely based on Measure For Measure by William Shakespeare,” is given a couple of performances as part of the York Theatre Company’s Developmental Reading Series. It appears to have been around for more than ten years, so it cannot rightly be described as new.

The score, not very convincingly described as “country & western,” is an absolute delight – especially as performed here by a piano, a bass, a violin (alternating with a mandolin) and a guitar (alternating with a banjo). The book and lyrics, written in rhyming verse, are irresistibly witty and clever. The humour blissfully crosses into un-PC territory at times, which probably limits the show’s commercial potential… but Desperate Measures would most definitely deserve a healthy Off-Broadway run.

Words fail me to praise the achievements of the great, great cast, which brought out with infinite talent the delicious comedic content of the play. It was fun to see the talented A. J. Shively again (after La Cage aux Folles, February House, Unlock’d and Bright Star) as well as Lauren Molina, infamous for being one half of The Skivvies, whom I also saw in Marry Me a Little and as a hilarious Countess Charlotte in A Little Night Music in Boston. Heath Calvert’s incredibly mellow voice also deserves a special mention.

Music by David Friedman. Book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg.
Directed by Bill Castellino. Music Direction by David Hancock Turner. With Bill Buell (Father Morse), Heath Calvert (Sheriff Green), Erika Henningsen (Susanna, aka Sister Mary Jo), Lauren Molina (Bella Rose), A. J. Shively (Johnny Blood), Nick Wyman (Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber).

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York
2017-05-14 • 18:30

This musical, which opened in London in 2013, has finally made it to Broadway, but in a rather different form.

For one thing, the producers have hired a new director, Jack O’Brien (the original production was directed by Sam Mendes). The first act has been given a radically different structure, giving more prominence to Willy Wonka and sadly eliminating the part of Charlie’s Father in the process. New songs have been added, like the lovely “The View From Here,” while several songs from the 1971 movie have been inserted: “The Candy Man,” “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “The Oompa-Loompa Song” — “Pure Imagination” was the only song from the movie in the original London production, much to the audience’s chagrin.

In my opinion, this New York production is, overall, a more satisfying version of a show that’s been problematic since day one. Yet, there are moments when the discomfort of the American creative team at dealing with such un-PC material as a Roald Dahl novel is so palpable one is led to wonder why they chose to base a musical on it in the first place.

Christian Borle, arguably the most talented Broadway actor of his generation, gives yet another shining performance as Willy Wonka. He portrays the many complexities of the character with admirable gusto and inexhaustible charisma. Special mention to Emily Padgett for her touching portrayal of Charlie’s mother — her rendition of “If Your Father Were Here” is one of the show’s most touching moments. 
Music by Marc Shaiman. Lyrics by Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman. Book by David Greig. Based on the novel by Roald Dahl. With songs from the 1971 film, by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
Directed by Jack O’Brien. Choreography by Joshua Bergasse. With Christian Borle (Willy Wonka), Emily Padgett (Mrs. Bucket), John Rubinstein (Grandpa Joe), Jackie Hoffman (Mrs. Teavee), …

A Bronx Tale

Longacre Theatre, New York
2017-05-14 • 15:00

I have fond memories of seeing the World Premiere of this new musical at the Paper Mill Playhouse in February last year. It has now moved to Broadway, almost unchanged, retaining two of its male leads, Nick Cordero and the silky-voiced Richard H. Blake.

I found the story even more moving than in my memories and Alan Menken’s score even greater than I remembered, in no small part thanks to Doug Besterman’s catchy orchestrations. The staging is smooth and most of the cast is highly charming.

My only quibble is that some voices sounded tired, especially in the second act… and that the child actor who plays Young Calogero tried too hard to please with too few assets — a typical case of over-eagerness. 

Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Chazz Palminteri.
Direction by Robert de Niro & Jerry Zaks. Choreography by Sergio Trujillo. With Nick Cordero (Sonny), Richard H. Blake (Lorenzo), Bobby Conte Thornton (Calogero), Ariana Debose (Jane), Lucia Giannetta (Rosina), Bradley Gibson (Tyrone), Hudson Loverro (Young Calogero). 

Sunset Boulevard

Palace Theatre, New York
2017-05-13 • 20:00

This semi-staged version originated in London, where I saw it in April last year.

Glenn Close herself made an announcement before the show over the public address system to ask the audience for their indulgence given that she was “battling a cold.” It was indeed a little painful to see her struggle with the score, but it didn’t prevent the audience from going wild every time she was on stage. (Close’s understudy is Nancy Anderson, who’s a lot younger. I would have liked to see her take on the role.)

The production looks tighter and rather more fluid than in London. Michael Xavier seems to have found his pace; his performance was more convincing. As in London, most of the pleasure comes from hearing one of Lloyd Webber’s best scores played by a decent-sized orchestra.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Book & lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton.
Directed by Lonny Price. Musical direction: Kristen Blodgette. With Glenn Close (Norma Desmond), Michael Xavier (Joe Gillis), Siobhan Dillon (Betty Schaeffer), Fred Johanson (Max von Mayerling), …

The Golden Apple

New York City Center
2017-05-13 • 14:00

This mythical sung-through 1954 show, which is almost an opera, has achieved legendary status among musical theatre aficionados. Based on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, it boasts one of the most glorious scores ever written for the musical stage, as well as some wildly clever lyrics. The score by Jerome Moross lies somewhere between Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; it is bouncy and rhythmic, unmistakably American… and mostly superb.

This Encores! production could hardly have got it more right. The direction by Michael Berresse wisely chooses to showcase the material instead of commenting on it. As always, Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is original and to the point… while the brilliant cast does complete justice to the show. I have always loved Lindsay Mendez: her voice is about as amazing as her comic timing. Mikaela Bennett sounds eerily like Audra McDonald. And it is always nice to see the charming Ryan Silverman, who recently played Giorgio in Passion both in New York and in Paris. 

Music: Jerome Moross. Lyrics: John Latouche.
Directed by Michael Berresse. Music Director: Rob Berman. Choreography by Joshua Bergasse. With Mikaela Bennett (Penelope), Ryan Silverman (Ulysses), Lindsay Mendez (Helen), Baron Cowperthwaite (Paris), Jason Kravits (Hector Charybdis), …


Barbican Theatre, London
2017-05-07 • 15:00

After Les Damnés, Ivo van Hove has created another screen-to-stage adaptation of a Visconti movie. I still can’t really see the point, all the more as the use of microphones deprives the endeavour of some layers of theatricality. Van Hove’s trademark rawness is still there — magnificently defended by a superb cast —, but the physical characteristics of the production create a sense of distance that keeps the audience on the outside.

Conceived and directed by Ivo van Hove. With Jude Law, Halina Reijn, Gijs Scholten van Aschat, Chukwudi Iwuji, Robert de Hoog, Aysha Kala.