Monday, May 24, 2010

The Metal Children @ The Vineyard

Instead of reading this review, I suggest you stop what you're doing and buy tickets to The Metal Children at The Vineyard. You have until June 13 to see Adam Rapp's (he also directs) thought-provoking play about censorship of young adult (YA) literature.
Tobin Falmouth (Billy Crudup) is the author of The Metal Children, a YA novel about the disappearance of pregnant teenage girls who are then replaced with statues. When the book is banned from a classroom in Midlothia, Tobin is invited to the town by Stacey Kinsella (an adorably bumbling Connor Barrett), the teacher responsible for assigning the book.

Although the play stems from Rapp's own experiences with the banning of his novel The Buffalo Tree, he does not take sides. On the one hand, the actions of some of the zealots in the town are disturbing, but Falmouth is no saint either. And the fact is that the book is influencing many of the girls to get pregnant, modeling themselves after the heroine. The often surprising play even manages to pull of some touching moments. Falmouth is suffering after the departure of his wife, and Crudup plays him with a humanity that makes you sympathize with him, even while condemning some of his actions. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent.

Last year, David Korins created one of my favorite sets for Why Torture is Wrong, and he again impresses here in the way the deceptively simple set constantly shifts to reveal other pieces.

The Metal Children won't leave you with easy answers about the power of art and the responsibility of the artist, but at least it raises the questions.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Friday, May 21, 2010

Welcome To New York, Mitzi

Mitzi Gaynor certainly gave them the old razzle dazzle in her New York City debut on Tuesday night. The legend, most famous for playing Ensign Nellie Forbush in the South Pacific film, is now appearing at Feinstein's through May 29 in "Razzle Dazzle! My Life Behind The Sequins."

After a video montage (there are several of these throughout the evening, highlighting her career, and they are all entertaining), Gaynor appeared, looking adorable in a sailor outfit. As you might guess, her first song was "Honey Bun." Her voice isn't in top condition and there were sound problems on the night I attended, but her charisma more than made up for it. Switching into a new Bob Mackie gown, each more stunning than the last, between every few songs, she does not look her 78 years, and she can still move. She also proves to be quite feisty, not afraid to tell a dirty story or two. For any fan of old Hollywood, her stories alone are worth the price of admission. For all her humor, there are some genuinely moving moments, such as when she speaks about her late husband. I was also impressed by the variation in her set list, of course singing some South Pacific favorites, but also a newer showtune, "Show Off" from The Drowsy Chaperone, and closing with Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine of My Life."

Now that Gaynor has a taste for New York, let's hope she performs here often. If you do attend the show, and I recommend that you do, note that it does not take place in the regular Feinstein's venue, but in the larger ballroom across the hall.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

ITBA Awards Announcement

Though I don't agree with all the winners, once again, I'm proud of my fellow bloggers. I'm also happy for some of my favorites of the season like Red, Yank!, A Boy And His Soul, and American Idiot. If you don't feel like watching the video, here is the complete list of winners:


A View From The Bridge

American Idiot

La Cage Aux Folles

Circle Mirror Transformation


The Glass Menagerie


A Boy And His Soul

Circle Mirror Transformation

Nina Arianda, Venus In Fur
Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Desiree Burch, The Soup Show
Rebecca Comtois, Viral
Viola Davis, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Douglas Hodge, La Cage Aux Folles
Sarah Lemp, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side & Happy In The Poorhouse
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family & Lend Me A Tenor
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime & Yank!
Amy Lynn Stewart, Viral

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is It Comedy?

If there is one lesson to be learned from That Face, it is never to bill a show that deals with an Oedipal relationship and torture, among other things, as a comedy. At the talkback I attended after the show, many audience members felt misled by the mailers describing the show as such (so much so, that they kept bringing it up, even after it had already been discussed). The marketing department might think about calling it a dark comedy, but even that might be a stretch, since there was little laughter at the performance I attended (from what I've heard, it played more like a comedy in England).

That Face, now open through June 27, comes to MTC Stage 1 at City Center from a run at The Royal Court in London. Polly Stenham, who wrote the play at the age of 19, is lucky to receive a strong production directed by Sarah Benson and featuring an excellent cast. Though she shows promise, she borrows too heavily from Tennessee Williams.

The show begins with two schoolgirls torturing a classmate after one of them, Mia (Cristin Milioti), gave her an overdose of Valium. The girls are suspended, forcing Mia's father, Hugh (Victor Slezak), to return from Hong Kong to speak to the school on her behalf. Meanwhile, her brother, Henry (Christopher Abbott), looks after their crazy mother, Martha (Laila Robins). The bulk of the play deals with the disturbing codependent relationship between mother and son. Though the writing is often absorbing, Stenham doesn't take this familiar scenario to new places, and I'm not convinced there was a compelling need for this play to be produced.

But since MTC did produce That Face, at least they've brought together a fine ensemble. Milioti manages to make Mia the most likable character, even after the horrible act she commits. Robins is appropriately unnerving. I've seen Abbott in a handful of shows and I keep saying this--keep an eye out for him. He's going to be big. If you're looking to see some fine performances, then by all means, check out That Face--just don't expect a comedy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hope For The New Musical

The Kid is a refreshing change from the lackluster new musicals on Broadway this season--it has a well-developed story, realistic characters, and a memorable original score. It's not without flaws, but it (along with other off-Broadway fare like Yank!, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Bloodsong of Love, and The Scottsboro Boys) is a reminder that the original non-jukebox musical still exists.

The Kid (music by Andy Monroe, lyrics by Jack Lechner, book by Michael Zam), based on Dan Savage's memoir, is playing at Theatre Row through May 29 (I'm hoping an extension is not out of the question). The always enjoyable Christopher Sieber plays Savage, who decides to adopt a baby with his boyfriend, Terry (Lucas Steele). The show traces the difficult adoption process. They are finally chosen by a homeless teenager, Melissa (Jeannine Frumess is heartbreaking in the role). Director Scott Elliott has a first-rate cast at his disposal. Steele and Sieber have believable chemistry and they both excel at the comedic and tender moments. Susan Blackwell is a standout in the supporting cast as a stern but caring adoption counselor.

Lately, I've been so used to seeing elaborate, realistic sets that the simplicity of the set by Derek McLane seemed jarring, but the few pieces of furniture are effectively used as are the windows to display animated backgrounds by Jeff Scher and videos of those seeking advice from Savage's column.

Though there is a lot of sex talk, The Kid is in many ways a traditional book musical. It is not overtly political and it presents a realistic relationship between the two men. The musical has been criticized for this approach, but it manages to be inoffensive without losing its edge. Dan and Terry's courtship involves meeting in club bathroom and going home together. When Terry gets sick and ends up staying a few days, they bond in the clever love song "Gore Vidal."

Related Reading: New Gay Theater Has More Love Than Politics

Photo credit: Monique Carboni

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Ambitious Musical For The Gallery Players

If you missed the 1989 Broadway run of Tony-winning musical City of Angels, you can catch it at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn through May 23, where it's being revived for the first time in New York. The 43-year-old theater company should be applauded for taking on such an ambitious musical, even if the results are sometimes mixed.

City of Angels (book by Larry Gelbart, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel) takes place in 1940s Hollywood. Screenwriter Stine (Jared Troilo) is writing a movie about a detective named Stone (Danny Rothman) and struggles to keep his integrity while meeting the demands of his overbearing producer/director (Greg Horton). Scenes from the screenplay are interwoven with the real world sequences, differentiated by black and white costumes and sets. Here is where the limits of a small theater company are apparent--the scene changes weren't seamless and the production values weren't as dazzling as I imagine they might have been on Broadway.

The show cleverly spoofs the film noir genre, but sometimes the comedy was too broad for my liking. The characters Donna and Oolie (secretaries to Stine and Stone, both played by Blair Alexis Brown) add some humanity to the show in the moving "You Can Always Count On Me," in which the two woman lament being taken advantage of.

The score is pleasant, if not particularly memorable. A highlight is "You're Nothing Without Me," a power struggle between Stine and Stone. It's the only moment when the two worlds interact, and it's very smartly done.

The capable cast acquit themselves well to the multi-tasking that is required in playing multiple roles, but there were no real standouts.

In February, I had a chance to see Caroline or Change at The Gallery Players, which I loved. Although City of Angels isn't as strong, it's definitely worth the trip to Park Slope.

Photo credit: Bella Muccari

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Forest at the Classic Stage Company

If all you know about Russian theater is Chekhov, it's worth a visit to the Classic Stage Company, where The Forest by his predecessor Alexander Ostrovsky is playing through May 30.

In the Classic Stage Company newsletter, director Brian Kulick describes Ostrovsky as a mix between Chekhov and Shakespeare. In The Forest, Raisa Pavlovna (Dianne Wiest) tries to marry off her niece Aksyusha (Lisa Joyce) to an awkward young man named Bulanov (Adam Driver), but Akyusha is in love with Pyoter (Quincy Dunn-Baker), who she can't marry without a dowry, which she will only get if she marries Bulanov, that is, until Raisa finds herself attracted to him. If that sounds like the unrequited lovers of Shakespeare's comedies, you can see where the comparisons come from. There are some funny moments in the play, especially when Driver is on stage, but they are not without darker undertones. Even in the happy ending, you get the feeling that nobody really got what they wanted.

Other than the chance to see a rarely-produced work, the main draw in this production is John Douglas Thompson, who plays Raisa's nephew Gennady. I'm sorry I missed his raved about turns in Othello and The Emperor Jones because he is truly a mesmorizing performer. There is nothing inherently wrong with this production, but it seems to lack a certain spark whenever Thompson is off the stage.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

More Awards

The Independent Theater Blogger Association (ITBA) announced nominees for its second annual awards today. You can read the full list on Just Shows To Go You, but I just wanted to comment that I'm proud of the fact that we didn't have a set number of nominees in any category, which reflects the strengths and weaknesses of the season. Notice that there are only three nominees for new Broadway musical, while there are five nominees for new Broadway play. Also, there are four nominees for off-Broadway musical. We also have new categories this year for ensemble (yeah!) and solo show.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Meanwhile, off Broadway...

With the Tony nominations today, it's been all about Broadway, but many of my favorite shows of the season have been off-Broadway--Brief Encounter, Yank!, Clybourne Park, etc. This weekend, I saw Stuffed and Unstrung, an improv puppet show for adults now playing at the Union Square Theater, which is unlike anything on Broadway (it's not just another Avenue Q either).

There are two shows going on simultaneously. You can watch the puppets on one of two screens, or you can see the actors in front of you to get an inside look on how the magic is performed (I recommend the latter). Most of the skits are improvised from audience suggestions. The cast of puppeteers, led by Brian Henson (Jim Henson's son), are brilliant at what they do, and Patrick Bristow is an endearing host. In general, I just didn't find the skits that funny, though most people around me were doubled over in laughter (Charles Isherwood, I know how you feel). I preferred the recreations of two of Jim Henson's skits, which were a lovely homage to the man without whom this show wouldn't exist. Another highlight included a recreation of the first date of a couple chosen from the audience (you had to be there). As a lifelong fan of Sesame Street and Jim Henson, it was a treat to see the puppeteers hard at work and having a blast, even if the results were mixed.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Once Again, My Initial Tony Nomination Reactions

I can't believe a year went by so fast. The Tony nominations were in line this morning, and I of course have some opinions. What follows is the complete list of nominations, followed by my initial reactions.

Best Play:
In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play
Author: Sarah Ruhl
Next Fall
Author: Geoffrey Nauffts
Author: John Logan
Time Stands Still
Author: Donald Margulies

Yes, yes, yes! I've seen all 4 of these and think they are all deserving, especially Red and In The Next Room. Earlier in the season, I would have been rooting for In The Next Room to take it, but Red was my favorite play of the year and I'm hoping it wins.

Best Musical:
American Idiot
Million Dollar Quartet

This list just shows what a weak year it was for musicals. I'm surprised Million Dollar Quartet made it over Everyday Rapture, or even Sondheim on Sondheim or Come Fly Away. I am glad American Idiot made the list because it didn't get much love in other categories.

Best Book
Everyday Rapture
Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott
Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones
Joe DiPietro
Million Dollar Quartet
Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux

It was a weak year for book of a musical, but Million Dollar Quartet barely had a book. I'd like to see Everyday Rapture win this just because it's more deserving than the other 3.

Best Original Score
The Addams Family
Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Music: Adam Cork
Lyrics: Lucy Prebble
Music: Branford Marsalis
Music: David Bryan
Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan

I still think American Idiot should have been eligible if Tommy was. I've only seen Memphis on this list and I wasn't crazy about the score. I'm hoping that Enron or Fences wins just to make a statement about how weak a year it was for new musicals.

Best Revival of a Play
Lend Me a Tenor
The Royal Family
A View from the Bridge

I haven't seen Fences yet, but the other three are strong productions with The Royal Family being my personal favorite.

Best Revival of a Musical
Finian's Rainbow
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music

I'm so glad Finian's Rainbow and Ragtime were remembered. I was disappointed with both A Little Night Music and La Cage, but I found a lot to admire in both, so overall I think they are all deserving, but I'm rooting for Finian's or Ragtime.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Jude Law, Hamlet
Alfred Molina, Red
Liev Schreiber, A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken, A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington, Fences

I missed Hamlet and I haven't seen Fences yet, but I was wowed by both Molina and Schreiber. I liked Walken also, but really, he was just Walken being Walken.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Viola Davis, Fences
Valerie Harper, Looped
Linda Lavin, Collected Stories
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family

From what I heard, Viola Davis is the one to be beat. I'm glad Valerie Harper was recognized because she was the only reason to see Looped.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Kelsey Grammer, La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball, Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!

I'm seeing Promises, Promises tonight, but overall I approve this list. I do feel bad for Kevin Mambo, though, but Ngaujah is pretty mind-blowing (I didn't see Mambo). Grammer was the highlight of La Cage for me, and I'm glad he was recognized in addition to Hodge. Also very happy for Chad Kimball, who was the highlight of Memphis for me.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Montego Glover, Memphis
Christiane Noll, Ragtime
Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture
Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music

Yeah!!!!! Kate Baldwin and Christiane Noll!!!!! I was afraid they wouldn't be recognized because their shows closed too early. I'm thinking Sherie Rene Scott has the best chance at winning, though.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
David Alan Grier, Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken, Enron
Eddie Redmayne, Red

Yeah!!! Jon Michael Hill and Eddie Redmayne! Two of my favorite debut performances of the year. Is this Race's only nomination?

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Maria Dizzia, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play
Rosemary Harris, The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht, A View from the Bridge
Scarlett Johansson, A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell, Lend Me a Tenor

I could take or leave Johansson on this list, but everyone else is very deserving, but I'm especially happy to see Maria Dizzia and Jan Maxwell (being a little greedy this year, aren't we?) on this list.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Kevin Chamberlin, The Addams Family
Robin De Jesús, La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow
Levi Kreis, Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime

YEAH!!!!! If there were two nominations that I cared the most about, it was Fitzgerald and Steggert. I am bummed that American Idiot's Tony Vincent didn't make the list though. I also loved Stark Sands and Michael Esper in American Idiot, but I really thought Vincent had a shot as the sinister St. Jimmy. As much as I love Robin De Jesús, sometimes when I was watching him in La Cage, I felt like I was watching Sonny from In the Heights in drag. I also thought Kreis was a terrific Jerry Lee Lewis, but I wish someone would recognize Robert Britton Lyons, who was just as strong as Carl Perkins.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran, Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away
Lillias White, Fela!

No surprises here. I'm excited to see Finneran's performance tonight.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
John Lee Beatty, The Royal Family
Alexander Dodge, Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto, Fences
Christopher Oram, Red

I loved The Royal Family set. Never got to Present Laughter.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Marina Draghici, Fela!
Christine Jones, American Idiot
Derek McLane, Ragtime
Tim Shortall, La Cage aux Folles

I hope American Idiot wins this one.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Martin Pakledinaz, Lend Me a Tenor
Constanza Romero, Fences
David Zinn, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play
Catherine Zuber, The Royal Family

I don't have too many opinions on this category.

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Marina Draghici, Fela!
Santo Loquasto, Ragtime
Paul Tazewell, Memphis
Matthew Wright, La Cage aux Folles

Or this one, except I wasn't too impressed with the Ragtime costumes.

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin, Hamlet
Neil Austin, Red
Mark Henderson, Enron
Brian MacDevitt, Fences

So far, only seen Red, and I loved the lighting.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Kevin Adams, American Idiot
Donald Holder, Ragtime
Nick Richings, La Cage aux Folles
Robert Wierzel, Fela!

American Idiot better win this one too. I think even those who didn't like the show agree that the design elements were strong.

Best Sound Design of a Play
Acme Sound Partners, Fences
Adam Cork, Enron
Adam Cork, Red
Scott Lehrer, A View from the Bridge

I don't know too much about sound design, I'll admit.

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Jonathan Deans, La Cage aux Folles
Robert Kaplowitz, Fela!
Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen, A Little Night Music
Dan Moses Schreier, Sondheim on Sondheim

See above.

Best Direction of a Play
Michael Grandage, Red
Sheryl Kaller, Next Fall
Kenny Leon, Fences
Gregory Mosher, A View from the Bridge

I'd like to see Michael Grandage win. Have I mentioned I loved Red?

Best Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Ragtime
Terry Johnson, La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones, Fela!

Way to snub Michael Mayer for American Idiot. I'm pretty bummed he wasn't recognized, but I'm glad Marcia Milgrom Dodge got a nomination. Also, Warren Carlyle should be recognized for what he did with Finian's Rainbow.

Best Choreography
Rob Ashford, Promises, Promises
Bill T. Jones, Fela!
Lynne Page, La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp, Come Fly Away

No Steven Hoggett for American Idiot?! I loved his choreographey and actually preferred it to the Spring Awakening choreography, which was of a similar frantic nature. Oh well, I hope Jones gets his second win, though I haven't seen Come Fly Away yet.

Best Orchestrations
Jason Carr, La Cage aux Folles
Aaron Johnson, Fela!
Jonathan Tunick, Promises, Promises
Daryl Waters & David Bryan, Memphis

Seriously??? No Tom Kitt for American Idiot??? This is actually the only category I think American Idiot was a lock to win. Whatever.

So, what do you all think?

Edit: Although I felt there were some snubs, I was very happy with the way the Tony nominations turned out this year. For once, shows that have been closed for a while were not ignored--Finian's Rainbow, Ragtime, and The Royal Family--and I think the nominations for the most part represent the best of a fairly weak year.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Cumming With a G Not Cumming With an S

Former Cabaret star Alan Cumming is now appearing in a cabaret show of his own at Feinstein's. The first week of his engagement ends tonight (my apologies for not getting this post up sooner, I was having computer troubles) and he will be appearing again from June 22 through June 26.

I saw a dirtier version of this show at Joe's Pub in January. He was just as entertaining in this equally intimate venue, but I think Joe's Pub was a little more suited to his raunchy brand of humor. He joked that he enjoyed Feinstein's because he was the youngest there by about 20 years (sorry, Mr. Cumming, but I'm pretty sure my friend and I were the youngest).

The set list included musical theater songs and some songs that he wrote or co-wrote with pianist Lance Horne (also accompanying was Yair Evnine on cello). The evening began with a passionate "Mein Herr," a song from Cabaret that of course Cumming did not perform in the revival. One of the highlights was a Hedwig and the Angry Inch medley. Cumming did mention that he was supposed to be in a musical this fall, but because he left that production (Spider-Man), he'll be able to see his friend John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig. Does this mean Mitchell will definitely be in it? If so, that's good news. If not, well, I guess Cumming is available.

Cumming mentioned his initial reluctance to perform a cabaret because he didn't know how to sing without being a character. But part of his talent is that he is able to fully create a character in every song. Even when not singing, he is a strong storyteller. An extended story about his appearance on the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade was particularly hilarious, but I won't spoil it here.

Now that Cumming will no longer be on Broadway this fall, who knows when we'll get to see him on the New York stage again. In the meantime, this show is not to be missed.