Tag: New York

War Paint

Nederlander Theatre, New York
2017-05-20 • 20:00

I’d seen a tryout of this new musical in Chicago last year. It has now made its way to Broadway, with the same principal cast and significantly revised book and song list.

I still have the same issue with the book: it relies on the assumption that it took fifty years for arch-rivals Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden to realise they shared more similarities than real differences. That is however obvious from the start of the play, which therefore sadly lacks any real dramatic tension while moving towards its obvious conclusion. The fact that Rubinstein was a Polish immigrant with a passion for the arts while Arden was a typical Anglo-Saxon interested in horses does little to differentiate the two characters, who were both marketing geniuses.

The show still manages to be quite pleasant, thanks to two powerhouse performances by Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, a very pleasant score… and Michael Greif’s fluid staging in David Korins’ magnificent set. Contrary to what I remember from Chicago, the score actually picks up steam in the second act, with a series of great songs like “Fire and Ice” (whose orchestration is reminiscent of Lena Horne’s “Love” or Judy Garland’s “Come Rain Or Come Shine”) and “Pink” (the most melodic song of all — maybe my favourite).

Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie. Book by Doug Wright.
Directed by Michael Greif. With Patti LuPone (Helena Rubinstein), Christine Ebersole (Elizabeth Arden), John Dossett (Tommy Lewis), Douglas Sills (Harry Fleming), …

Sweeney Todd

Barrow Street Theatre, New York
2017-05-20 • 14:30

This environmental production of Sweeney Todd originated in London, where I chose not to see it — I’ve seen too many productions of Sweeney Todd to be attracted by a small scale affair… and there have been environmental productions of Sweeney Todd before (I remember seeing a particularly good one at the Bridewell Theatre in London — twice, actually).

However, since I had time, I decided to give this New York transfer a try… all the more as the leads are now played by two famous actors, Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello.

Playing Sweeney Todd on such a small scale raises many challenges, which are mostly addressed in a satisfactory manner by director Bill Buckhurst. However, I didn’t quite understand why the set included a board with prices in modern pounds and pence (and a smiley face) as well as a UK electrical socket in plain view (used to power an electric display in the second act).

The infamously complex second act doesn’t play well in a completely fixed setting: scenes that follow one another in rapid succession happen in Mrs. Lovett’s shop, in Todd’s parlour above the shop and in the basement, to name but a few locations. An audience member who had no knowledge of the play would be hard pressed to understand the changes in locales.

It is also quite a shame that this production has given up on singing Todd’s letter to the Judge. It is a notoriously difficult passage to get right musically, but it is an integral part of the score.

Finally, I was shocked that the production allowed the actors to make physical contact with audience members, thus breaking what I hold to be one of the sacred conventions of theatre. I am glad I was safely seated in the mezzanine; I would have left the theatre without any hesitation had it happened to me.

(The Beadle was played by an understudy. As often, he gave a stellar performance — possibly the best one of all. What a wonderful voice.)

Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim. Book: Hugh Wheeler.
Directed by Bill Buckhurst. With Norm Lewis (Sweeney Todd), Carolee Carmello (Mrs. Lovett), Matt Doyle (Anthony), Alex Finke (Johanna), John-Michael Lyles (Tobias), Stacie Bono (Beggar Woman / Adolfo Pirelli), Jamie Jackson (Judge Turpin), Colin Anderson (Beadle Bamford [understudy]).

Pacific Overtures (abridged)

Classic Stage Company, New York
2017-05-19 • 20:00

Even though I’m mad at John Doyle for cutting “Crysanthemum Tea” (among other things) out of Pacific Overtures, I have to acknowledge that what remains of the show still works wonders.

The bare-bones production gives an opportunity to focus on the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics. The orchestrations, by Jonathan Tunick, are delightful beyond words. All the more reasons to lament that some equally brilliant material was left out.

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by John Weidman. 
Directed by John Doyle. With George Takei (The Reciter), Orville Mendoza (Manjiro), Steven Eng (Kayama), Thom Sesma (Lord Abe), Ann Harada (Madam), …

Come Up ‘n’ See Me

York Theatre Company, New York
2017-05-19 • 14:00

Second “developmental reading” of the week at the York. Come Up ‘n’ See Me, a biosical about Mae West, is not exempt from clichés (starting with the framing device of telling West’s life in flashback as she arrives at the Pearly Gates), but it has a highly hummable score. In a way, it is a female counterpart to Cagney, a musical that originated at the York.

Mae West was of course infamous for her innuendos and double entendres… and the libretto seems to rely a little bit too much on them. It could probably use some additional structure beyond the obvious theme of “under a frivolous surface, she was a woman with a golden heart.”

I was particularly happy to see Debbie Gravitte play the lead — she really has that something that sets charismatic performers apart. George Dvorsky’s performance was equally remarkable. 

Music and Lyrics by Bonnie Lee Sanders and Ellen Schwartz. Book by Bonnie Lee Sanders, Ellen Schwartz and Bianca Leigh.
Directed by Crystal Chapman. Music Direction by Tom Spahn. With Debbie Gravitte (Mae West), George Dvorsky (James Timony),  Joel Blum, Tom Bozell, Robert H. Fowler, Tanya Haglund, Jerome Harmann-Hardeman, Jem Jender, Annie McGreevey, Tommy Vance, Victor Wisehart.

Groundhog Day

August Wilson Theatre, New York
2017-05-18 • 19:00

I was quite enthusiastic when I first saw this show at London’s Old Vic in July 2016. It has now made its way to Broadway with its leading man, the wonderful Andy Karl.

I was slightly less impressed by Tim Minchin’s score than the first time, but I still think the show is a perfect adaptation of the movie. The author of the book, Danny Rubin, had enough sense to stick to the original movie script when it made sense… and to dare to re-envision whole segments when it allowed for a more theatrical experience. Together with director Matthew Warchus, they have created a very funny musical comedy — probably the most difficult genre to get right (failed attempts can be pathetic).

Andy Karl gives a superb performance, infused by a strong instinct for dry comedy. His much-publicised injury doesn’t appear to impact his mobility much… even though he is still wearing a leg brace — which now plays a part in one of the seduction scenes.

Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin. Book by Danny Rubin.
Directed by Matthew Warchus. Choreography by Peter Darling. With Andy Karl (Phil Connors), Barrett Doss (Rita Hanson), …


Westside Theatre (Upstairs), New York
2017-05-18 • 14:00

This musical originated at the York Theatre Company in 2015 and has been running for a little over a year at Off-Broadway’s Westside Theatre, where it is scheduled to close in a few days. It is a somewhat lengthy, but neatly executed, biography of actor/dancer James Cagney… evidently a labour of love for its leading man, Robert Creighton, who wrote part of the score.

Even though it is told in flashback, the show feels very linear and overlong. It is redeemed by Bill Castellino’s sharp staging and by Joshua Bergasse’s choreography, brilliant as always. The hard-working cast does a fine job of playing multiple characters throughout the show.

There have been rumours about a possible Broadway transfer. Stranger things have happened.

Music & Lyrics: Robert Creighton & Christopher McGovern. Book: Peter Colley.
Direction: Bill Castellino. Choreography: Joshua Bergasse. With Robert Creighton (James Cagney), Jeremy Benton, Danette Holden, Bruce Sabath, Freddie Kimmel (standby), Karen Hyland (standby).

Hello, Dolly!

Shubert Theatre, New York
2017-05-17 • 20:00

From the second Bette Midler makes her appearance, the audience make it clear they will adore her performance no matter what. And they keep their promise, in spite of the abundant mugging and the notes sung an octave lower (in “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”).

Not that Midler isn’t a good Dolly. In fact, she’s quite likeable. But the amount of slapstick comedy introduced by Jerry Zaks in an otherwise handsome production does everybody a disservice — including to Midler’s costar, David Hyde Pierce. Hello, Dolly! was never a subtle show. But comedy works so much better when played without excess.

Kate Baldwin stands out among the principal cast — her voice is magnificent. But she too has to transform her character into a cardboard cutout.

The choreography by Warren Carlyle is full of giddy invention. There is a very particular step he has designed for “Dancing” which gives the scene a unique, elegant character. 

Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman. Book by Michael Stewart.
Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreography by Warren Carlyle. Music Direction by Andy Einhorn. With Bette Midler (Dolly Gallagher Levi), David Hyde Pierce (Horace Vandergelder), Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), … 

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), …