May 18, 2013
May 15, 2013
Even if Nora Ephron hadn’t written it and Tom Hanks weren’t starring in it, Lucky Guy would probably be a hit. For the play, now running at the Broadhurst Theatre, tells the story of the late New York Post columnist Mike McAlary and is set in the then-high-flying journalism world of the ‘90s. Every reporter I know (and I know a lot of them) has been going to see the show and to relive, at least for a couple of hours, a time when memories of Woodward and Bernstein’s bringing down a president were still fresh, ad-fat magazines were paying big fees for stories and it was just cool to be in the news business.
For the record, my husband K, a non-journalist and a notoriously picky theatergoer, like the show a lot. On the other hand, my college roommate, a one-time actress, and her economist husband in from the coast for a visit, liked it less.
Ephron might have fixed some of the problems had she lived but now we’ll never know how. Luckily, director George C. Wolfe, a friend of Ephron’s, has staged the show with great energy, imagination and wit. His efforts are ably supported by the mood-enhancing video projections designed by Batwin + Robin Productions.
But Hanks listened just as much as he talked, living up to his rep as one of Hollywood—and now Broadway’s—truly good guys. He’s truly good in Lucky Guy too and, if you’re lucky (most performances are sold out) you can catch him and the show before its extended run ends on July 3.
Labels: Lucky Guy
May 11, 2013
The Call tells the story of Annie and Peter, a white couple, who, after many failed attempts to conceive a child, decide to adopt a baby from Africa. Their best friends, an African-American lesbian couple, are equal parts supportive (they want their friends to be happy) and skeptical (they wonder how Annie will deal with a black child’s hair).
The plot, as they say, thickens when the adoption agency makes the titular call to say that it has found a child but she is slightly different from what Annie and Peter had expected. Will they still take her? Will the experience redefine their feelings about parenthood and even about one another?
Playwright Tanya Barfield is the mother of two children adopted from Ethiopia and she writes with great empathy about people who desperately want to be parents. (Click here to read about how her own experience informed the play).
But Barfield trips herself up by layering on so many other issues— homosexuality, AIDS, poverty in Africa, relationships between blacks and whites in this country—that the central questions almost get lost.
Indeed, even Barfield has trouble keeping up with all of it: the gay couple actually gets married twice but for no apparent reason. And an emotional speech by Annie and Peter’s African neighbor, nicely played by Russell G. Jones, goes on so long that I think I might have dozed off.
What keeps the show on track (and kept me awake) are the performances, particularly Butler’s. The actress is also the mother of two young daughters adopted from Africa (click here to read about that) and she conveys Annie’s hunger to be a mother with heartbreaking clarity.
Kelly AuCoin is equally affecting as Peter. Meanwhile, Crystal A. Dickinson provides comic relief as the more outspoken of the two black friends. And, in the play's least flashy role, Eisa Davis is quite good, too, although she and Dickinson display none of the chemistry you'd expect from newlyweds.
Still, the maternal relationship is the primal one here. And despite whatever reservations I may have, Barfield gets points for at least trying to connect the personal preoccupations of upper middle-class folks that dominate so many contemporary plays with the political concerns of the rest of the world, which appear in far too few of them.
Labels: The Call
May 8, 2013
I don’t know how to explain this contradiction. Except to say that no other theater happening I’ve encountered has been as much fun—or as inherently theatrical—as this one is.
The show, conceived and co-written by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, tells the story of Imelda Marcos, the former First Lady of the Philippines whose husband Ferdinand lead a corrupt and oppressive regime for over two decades.
During those years, she threw lavish disco parties, hobnobbed with celebrities from the heiress Doris Duke to the B-movie star George Harrison and spent millions on a Jackie Kennedy-style wardrobe (including the notorious 2,700 pairs of shoes that were discovered after the People Power Revolution pushed out the Marcos government in 1986).
It's a story kind of like Evita's, only with a disco beat. And the club-music score by Byrne and the British musician Fatboy Slim is irresistibly catchy. It was originally released as a concept album in 2010 and there’s no orchestra for the stage show; instead, a dj in a booth spins the recorded instrumentals. But this isn’t just shake your booty music.
Most of the lyrics (and the brief bits of dialog that aren’t sung) are drawn from quotes by the real-life main players who include not only the Marcoses but the opposition leader Benigno Aquino, who, at least in this telling, was also Imelda’s first love.
This is Byrne's first musical but each song advances the story, while remaining true to character. “Why don’t you love me,” Imelda, still determinedly self-involved, laments in her final ballad.
The performances, lead by Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda, Jose Llana as Ferdinand and Conrad Ricamora as Aquino, are all terrific. And the main three not only have great pipes but loads of charisma as well.
But it’s the staging that makes this show and the credit for that goes to Alex Timbers, who here confirms his position as his generation’s most inventive director of musicals.
Timbers and his design team, lead by set designer David Korins, have transformed the Public’s LuEsther Mertz theater space into a ‘70s era nightclub, complete with a big shiny disco ball, video screens on which are projected scenes and settings from Imelda’s life and a series of movable platforms that are constantly being reconfigured by a crew of hardworking young stagehands in brightly-colored jumpsuits.
The audience stands around the platforms and moves as they do. Sometimes we were urged to dance, at others to stand-in for adoring Marcos supporters (I’ll admit I did swoon a bit when the hunky Llana—click here to read an interview with him—shook my hand) and later we became the disaffected citizens who mourned Aquino after his assassination and joined in the revolution that ultimately brought down the Marcos regime.
The politics do get a little fuzzy amidst all the activity. But the total experience, including the terrific choreography of downtown dancemaker Annie-B Parson and the eye-catching projections by Peter Nigrini, works on a visceral level.
There are a few seats in a balcony area overlooking the playing area but it’s far more fun to be down on the floor. Byrne, clad in a grey jumpsuit and looking like some really hip garage mechanic, was in the crowd the night my theatergoing buddy Bill and I attended Here Lies Love and it was an extra treat to watch him bogeying to his own music.
The show’s banal title is drawn from words that Imelda, now 83 and, remarkably, a member of the Filipino congress (click here to read about her current reelection campaign)—is said to want on her tombstone. An apt description for the show itself might be, Here Lies Fun.
Labels: Here Lies Love
May 4, 2013
I’ve read that the act is pretty much a reprise of the one she did at the now closed Feinstein's last spring and later at her birthday concert at Carnegie Hall last October. But I didn’t mind and nor did anyone else in the room.
Labels: 54 Below
May 1, 2013
And, of course, there were the somewhat surprising omissions. Neither Alan Cuming nor Bette Midler got recognized for their performances as, respectively, all the characters in Macbeth and the only person onstage in I’ll Eat You Last, the one-woman show about the late Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers.
After Fiona Shaw failed to get a nod for her controversial portrayal of Jesus' mother in The Testament of Mary, the producers announced that the show will close this coming Sunday.
Al Pacino also got passed over for his idiosyncratic performance in Glengarry Glen Ross. In fact, large swatches of the disappointing fall season got deservedly passed over. Luckily the shows that opened in the spring brought some razzle dazzle back to Broadway and there’s stiff competition in several categories.
Hank’s competitors for best actor in a play include the perennial favorites Nathan Lane for The Nance and David Hyde Pierce for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Not to be counted out are Tracy Letts who gave a revelatory performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the young scene stealer Tom Sturridge from Orphans.
The best featured actress in a musical category is equally fierce, with every single one of the nominees—Kinky Boots’ Annaleigh Ashford, Cinderella’s Victoria Clark, Pippin’s Andrea Martin, Hands on a Hardbody’s Keala Settle and Lauren Ward from Matilda—having performed a number that stopped her individual show.
Meanwhile, any one of the guys (the first three of them previous Tony winners) who are up for best choreographer— Andy Blankenbuehler for Bring It On, Peter Darling for Matilda, Jerry Mitchell for Kinky Boots and Chet Walker channeling Bob Fosse for Pippin—could dance away with that prize. The chance to see their numbers will definitely be a win-win for the viewers who tune in to the awards broadcast.
But this year’s biggest showdown will be between the cheery homegrown musical Kinky Boots (which picked up 13 nominations) and its leading rival, the witty British import Matilda (which got 12). Both are big shows and neither fills the underdog role that made Once a winner when it faced off against Newsies last year but they do represent different wings of the answer to the question “what should a 21st century musical be?"
The Tonys are unlikely to have a definitive answer for that but all the winners will be announced at the ceremony, back this year at Radio City Music Hall, on Sunday June 9 and broadcast on CBS.
However, the fun has already begun as everyone has started second guessing the choices that the nominators made. And this year, my theatergoing buddy Bill and I decided that we’d chime in too. So, click the orange button below to hear us sound off on what we thought of the nomination choices and of the 2012-2013 season as a whole:
Labels: Tony nominations
April 27, 2013
Labels: ghost light