On The Twentieth Century Revival with Kristin Chenoweth – first photo

The first photograph of Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher in Roundabout Theatre Company’s On the Twentieth Century, which opens March 12, 2015 at the American Airlines Theatre.

This will be the third production of this musical comedy, which was written by Comden and Green (“On The Town“), in which a bankrupt theater producer tries to lure a Hollywood starlet into playing the lead in a new epic drama, while they take a luxury train from Chicago to New York.

The show is reportedly based on three sources – the 1934 Howard Hawks film Twentieth Century; the original 1932 play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; and another play Napoleon of Broadway, written by Charles Bruce Millholland about his experiences working for theater producerDavid Belasco.

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20 Musicals That Won The Tonys: Ken Davenport’s Infographic

Theater producer Ken Davenport looked at the shows that won the Best Musical Tony over the past 20 years, sliced and diced facts about them, and produced the infographic below. Most interesting to me:
*Almost half of the Best Musical winners were based on movies.
*The vast majority did not feature stars.
*All but one (“Rent”) were written by a team, rather than a single individual.
*Three-quarters of them made money. (Three-quarters of Broadways overall don’t make money.)

musicalsinfographic

The Freaks of Side Show

freaksinSideshow

The “freaks” (cast) of Side Show, which opens at Broadway’s St. James Theater November 17th.

On The Town Broadway Review: Sex and Art DO Mix

The audience at “On The Town,” the thrilling Broadway revival of the 1944 musical that brought us “New York, New York, it’s a helluva town,” doesn’t wait until the end to give a standing ovation. They stand before the show begins.
That’s because, before the curtain rises on the story about three sailors meeting three dames while on shore leave for 24 hours in New York City, a 28-piece orchestra plays the national anthem in front of a curtain festooned with a giant American flag — one with just 48 stars.
This is how the original musical started, during wartime, a show that marked the Broadway debuts of four now-legendary musical theater artists – composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins and book writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

If “On The Town” does not hold the kind of sacred place as the flag or the Star-Spangled Banner, it is part of its own American tradition – an early American musical comedy classic: The show opened on Broadway just a year after Oklahoma and six years before Guys and Dolls. Not every production has been able to rekindle the original excited reaction to this savvy mix of silken song, dazzling dance and silly story – high-brow art in a pas de deux with middle-brow entertainment. This fourth Broadway production does.

There is no wholesale updating of the material a la It’s Only A Play (The 1949 film of “On The Town” with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra was significantly altered from the stage show, including the elimination of much of Bernstein’s luscious bluesy, brassy score.)  But director John Rando (Urinetown, A Christmas Story) stamps it with his own brand of cheerful vulgarity, with the help of two writers (Jonathan Tolins and Robert Cary), given credit for “additional material.”  Choreographer Joshua Bergasse, making his Broadway debut, pays tribute to the airy jazz-inflected style of Robbins, but turns it more earthy and sensual. “On the Town” was inspired by a ballet, Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free.” It should tell you how splendid the dancing that one of the leads, Megan Fairchild, making her Broadway (and theater) debut, is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.

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Fairchild plays Ivy Smith, a small-town gal herself recently arrived in the big city, who won the title of Miss Turnstiles of June, awarded by the New York Subway System. The three sailors spot the poster for Miss Turnstiles in the subway, shortly after descending from their ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Gaby (Tony Yazbeck) takes one glance and decides this is the girl of his dreams. His two shipmates decide to help him find her, even though Chip (Jay Armstrong Johnson) wants to go sightseeing. But he and Ozzie (Clyde Alves) run into complications. For starters, they are hijacked by sex-starved females — Alysha Umphress as taxi driver Hildy takes on Chip in an aggressive and gymnastic seduction scene in her cab, accompanied by the raunchy “Come Up To My Place” and then the suggestive “I Can Cook Too”; Elizabeth Stanley as  an anthropologist as Claire spots Ozzie at the “Museum of Anthropological History” (I guess the Museum of Natural History threatened to sue) mistaking him for a pre-Homo Sapien (a “Pithecanthropus Erectus” which sounds like it should be censored.) But despite this — and her engagement to an upright judge — her nymphomaniac tendencies get the better of her, and they get (and sing) “Carried Away.”  We eventually see both Ozzie and Chip in their underwear. (These are not the innocents from the film.)

“Sex and art don’t mix,” Madame Dilly, a drunken vocal coach played by Jackie Hoffman, tells Ivy, her student, trying to get her not to go on a date with Gabey. “If they did, I’d have gone straight to the top.” 

That’s where “On The Town” is.

On the Town

At The Lyric Theater

Music by Leonard Bernstein; book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on an idea by Jerome Robbins

Directed by John Rando; choreography by Joshua Bergasse; music direction by James Moore; sets and projections by Beowulf Boritt; costumes by Jess Goldstein; lighting by Jason Lyons; sound by Kai Harada; hair design by Leah Loukas; makeup design by Joe Dulude II; associate choreographer, Greg Graham; production stage manager, Bonnie L. Becker; additional material by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins; music coordinator, John Miller

Cast: Tony Yazbeck (Gabey), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip), Clyde Alves (Ozzie), Megan Fairchild (Ivy), Alysha Umphress (Hildy), Elizabeth Stanley (Claire), Michael Rupert (Pitkin), Allison Guinn (Nun/Singer/Lucy Schmeeler), Phillip Boykin (Workman/Miss Turnstiles’ Announcer/Dream Coney Island Master of Ceremonies/Bimmy), Stephen DeRosa (3rd Workman/Bill Poster/Figment/Actor/Nedick’s Attendant/Diamond Eddie’s Master of Ceremonies/Conga Cabana Master of Ceremonies/Conductor) and Jackie Hoffman (Little Old Lady/Maude P. Dilly/Diana Dream/Dolores Dolores).

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including one intermission

Tickets: $37 to $150

It’s Only A Play Review: Nathan Lane, Selfies, and Sniping

It’s Only a Play Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Outside, on a shingle hanging from the marquee of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, Ben Brantley is quoted as saying: “Deliriously Dishy…It’s a Hit.” But inside, on the stage, Brantley is quoted as saying: “This is the kind of play that gives playwriting a bad name.”

Both Brantleys happen to be right.

Yes, the first is from the actual review by the New York Times critic of the star-studded revival of Terrence McNally’s backstage comedy “It’s Only A Play” at the Schoenfeld, while the second is from the fake Brantley review of the play-within-the-play, entitled “The Golden Egg.”

But what better way to describe a show whose first half hour is the funniest I’ve seen all season, and whose overlong second act is among the dullest? I’ll credit Nathan Lane for the first, and blame Terrence McNally for the latter.

“It’s Only A Play” takes place in the townhouse of the producer of “The Golden Egg” on the night of its Broadway opening – in the first act, the characters wait for the reviews; in the second act, they react to them. Nathan Lane plays James Wicker, best friend of the playwright, who has flown in from the West Coast for the opening. James turned down the play because he has become a star of a TV series—but also because he thought the play was a turkey. He is the first guest to enter the upstairs room, in search of a phone (the updated script has him explaining that his cell phone is broken), where he meets the temporary party help, Gus, a newcomer to New York (portrayed by newcomer Micah Stock, making an impressive Broadway debut), who describes himself variously as “an interdisciplinary theater artist” and “an actor-slash-singer-slash-dancer-slash-comedian-slash-performance artist-slash-mime. I have a black belt in karate and can operate heavy farm equipment.”

One by one the other party guests enter this inner sanctum (while the real party is supposed to be going on elsewhere in the house.) Stockard Channing plays Virginia Noyes, a washed-up, coked-up Hollywood movie star who took the part in the play to revive her career, and feels guilty that her ankle bracelet went off during her performance.

Megan Mullally is the producer Julia Budder, a naïve, well-meaning Mrs. Malaprop who has more money than taste. Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter movies makes his Broadway debut as Sir Frank Finger, the manic bad boy wonder British theater director, wearing the same kind of clashing plaid suit as the batty Mr. Wormwood in Matilda, and whining that he is always praised, no matter how awful and way-out his direction.

Eventually, Matthew Broderick enters in top hat as the hapless, idealistic playwright Peter Austin. Given the excitement that the duo of Lane and Broderick generated in both “The Producers” and “The Odd Couple,” it’s hard not to feel disappointed at Broderick’s oddly stiff and distant performance, as if his entire body was filled with Botox. In fairness, Broderick is saddled with long, sincere speeches that inveigh against what Broadway has become and long for what it once was. (“We’ve let Broadway stop mattering….”)

Rounding out the seven-member cast is F. Murray Abraham, who came to fame playing the villainous Salieri in Amadeus, and who is cast here as Ira Drew, McNally’s acid portrait of a theater critic who is crashing the party, a corrupt, untalented, self-regarding parasite who secretly yearns to be a playwright himself.

These generic pot-shots are easier to take than the zingers that the incessantly name-dropping McNally lobs at actual people. Brantley is called “a pretentious, diva-worshipping, British-ass-kissing twat” three times. McNally has replenished his 35-year-old insider play with references to the latest celebrities (Shia LaBeouf, Alec Baldwin, Rosie O’Donnell, James Franco), yet seems to relish trafficking in mean-spirited insults towards such veterans as Faye Dunaway, Rita Moreno, Frank Langella and Tommy Tune; what have they ever done to him? He also indulges in a joke at the expense of older theatergoers; without them, “It’s Only A Play” would have box office like “The Golden Egg.” At the same time, despite the present-day setting and the almost desperate-seeming addition of topical references — selfies; sexting; chat rooms; a nearly bizarre listing of almost two dozen first-rate contemporary (mostly non-Broadway) playwrights such as Lynn Nottage, Christopher Shinn, and Julia Cho — the premise of the play is so out-of-date as to make McNally seem stuck in the past. (As if to prove this, he throws in “Monica Lewinsky” as the punch line to the list of playwrights.)

There are plenty of jokes that worked for me, even after the first half hour. But the hearty laughter began to seem hollow, and even haunting, when I thought how much people are paying to see exactly the kind of show that the playwright – the fictional playwright depicted in “It’s Only A Play” – laments.

ITS_ONLY_A_PLAY_Cast_Selfie_(photo_by_F._Scott_Schafer)

 

It’s Only a Play

At the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

By Terrence McNally; directed by Jack O’Brien; sets by Scott Pask; costumes by Ann Roth; lighting by Philip Rosenberg; sound by Fitz Patton; hair, wigs and makeup design by Campbell Young Associates;.

. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Cast: F. Murray Abraham (Ira Drew), Matthew Broderick (Peter Austin), Stockard Channing (Virginia Noyes), Rupert Grint (Frank Finger), Nathan Lane (James Wicker), Megan Mullally (Julia Budder) and Micah Stock (Gus P. Head).

Tickets: $77.00 – $172.00

It’s Only A Play is scheduled to run through January 4.

It’s Only A Play Reviews and Photographs

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In Terrence McNally’s backstage comedy “It’s Only A Play,” bound for Broadway in 1978 and finally arrived there 36 years later, a group of stars — played by a group of stars — await for the reviews of a Broadway show opening night — which is what they are doing tonight.

What DID the critics think?

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: …A show whose first half hour is the funniest I’ve seen all season, and whose overlong second act is among the dullest.. I’ll credit Nathan Lane for the first, and blame Terrence McNally for the latter…Despite the present-day setting and the almost desperate-seeming addition of topical references — selfies; sexting; chat rooms; a nearly bizarre listing of almost two dozen first-rate contemporary (mostly non-Broadway) playwrights such as Lynn Nottage, Christopher Shinn, and Julia Cho — the premise of the play is so out-of-date as to make McNally seem stuck in the past. (As if to prove this, he throws in “Monica Lewinsky” as the punch line to the list of playwrights.)

Ben Brantley, New York Times:  deliriously dishy revival…[Nathan Lane[ is sterling. He and [Stockard[ Channing — who is hilarious as a washed-up, substance-and-plastic-surgery-abusing Hollywood star — give the show a sheen and a heart it might otherwise lack. Megan Mullally is rather endearing as a clueless but kind rich-lady producer in whose deluxe townhouse (designed by Scott Pask) the show is set. F. Murray Abraham seems to be enjoying himself as a mean old critic who really just wants to belong to the club. Micah Stock (whose name in the ads is quaintly prefaced by “and introducing”) is charming as a hatcheck boy with Broadway dreams. Rupert Grint is a bit too overcharged as a wunderkind director out of Britain, and Matthew Broderick a bit too undercharged as the beleaguered playwright. They might benefit from reciprocal blood transfusions. But all the cast members fulfill their raisons d’être, which is to sling a whole lot of mud in the nicest possible way….As for Mr. McNally’s play itself… it mostly has the depth of a shot glass

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: B+ a hilarious and star-packed evening of theater in-jokes that often plays like a nonmusical version of Forbidden Broadway….Despite McNally’s considerable revisions, there’s just not enough plot here to sustain a two-and-a-half-hour show.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: already the hottest ticket in town—and rightly so….directed with cattle-prodding energy by Jack O’Brien, is as funny as the new Broadway revival of “You Can’t Take It With You” tries too hard to be.

Linda Winer, Newsday: this is the rare Broadway comedy that’s as smart as it is funny.

David Cote, Time Out New York: 2 stars (out of 5): Mostly plotless and spun from the sketchiest of stereotypes and hoariest of showbiz prejudices, this insider trifle is too long, too shallow and not nearly funny enough.

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: 3 stars (out of 5): Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick made magic and a megahit together in “The Producers” …Now the Great White Way’s dynamic duo is back on stage in Terrence McNally’s 1985 comedy “It’s Only a Play.” The reunion is wildly hit and miss — Lane is the hit, while Broderick is the, well, you know.

Elizabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: 2 stars (out of 4): Thank heaven for Nathan Lane, an alchemist who turns comic lead into gold. And he’s been handed a lot of lead in “It’s Only a Play.” Terrence McNally’s 1980s backstage romp has been spruced up with contemporary zings, but quips about James Franco and Alec Baldwin can’t hide its creaky bones and sagging spirit….That a reviewer would be at the opening-night party of a show he’s going to write about is one of the play’s dumbest conceits.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: The material is slight, but these actors give it a lift, with one notable exception [Matthew Broderick]

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The comedy’s slight plot, about the high drama (and low comedy) of the opening night of a new Broadway show, is still a trifle. But the well-aimed and highly personal zingers are more malicious, and delicious, this time out.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: a rollicking comedy with perfect casting and deft direction…four-time Tony Award-winning McNally has earned his right to laugh – this is his 21st Broadway production – and his knife work is like that of a five-star chef: enough to bleed, but good-naturedly enough to not nick the bone.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: If only it were a better play…A lot has changed on Broadway in 30 years, but for McNally it all comes down to changing not much more than a few tons of famous names.

Matt Windman, AMNY: While act one offers plenty of silly, lightweight fun, the play essentially collapses in the self-indulgent, overly sentimental act two.

Broadway Lights Dim In Tribute

The Broadway marquees will dim for two theater artists, Geoffrey Holder and Marian Seldes, who both died this week – tonight (Wednesday) for Seldes and Friday night for Holder.  In addition, Lincoln Center announced that for the first time ever, “the distinctive digital  signage (known as  Blades) along West 65th Street” will be  lit from 7:45―8:00 PM “with a special message in her honor.  In addition to serving for many years as a Juilliard School faculty member, Miss Seldes appeared in a number of Lincoln Center Theater productions.”

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Given the controversy that occurred after the death of Joan Rivers last month — in which the Broadway League first announced the lights would not dim for her, but reversed their decision after a social media rebellion — some may wonder about the history of the Broadway light dimming, and the criteria.

Robert Simonson attempted to answer these questions in Playbill four years ago. Nobody knows for sure when the tradition began, but some sources date it to the death of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II in 1960, and say it was a rare practice until the last couple of decades.  The Broadway League, the trade organization of Broadway theater owners and producers, decides who gets the honor. So far this year, the lights have dimmed for Ruby Dee, Lauren Bacall, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joan Rivers, Elaine Stritch, Eli Wallach, Robin Williams.

As British actor Michael Simpkins put it when reflecting on the bestowing of this “quaint and courtly gesture” on Natasha Richardson in 2009,  “it is not surprising that the world of theatre should have such a keen sense of tradition: its output is so ethereal. …It may only have been a dimming of some lights for a mere 60 seconds, but in its own way, Broadway’s tribute was as profound a testimony as an entire mantelpiece of awards.”

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The Country House Review: Trivial Actor Stuff Starring Blythe Danner

Country House, The Samuel J. Friedman TheatreTo help explain how “The Country House” could be so mediocre despite an award-winning playwright’s classic inspiration, a first-rate production and an exemplary cast, let’s start with a scene involving all six characters in the play. The great actress Anna Patterson (portrayed by the great actress Blythe Danner) has gathered her extended family in Anna’s country house in the Berkshires near the Williamstown Theater Festival for the first time since Anna’s adult daughter Kathy died of lung cancer a year earlier. Kathy’s widower Walter, a director of action flicks, has brought along his new, much younger girlfriend Nell, an actress. The others ask Walter and Nell how they met:

Nell: We met at Starbucks.
Susie [Kathy’s daughter]: Ew, you’re kidding
Nell: I know
Elliot [Kathy’s brother, a failed actor]: Didn’t see that coming.
Walter: I’d just finished auditions for the picture I’m about to do…
Elliot: You mean people actually audition for those things?
Walter: …and there, sitting at a table outside, was this… angel, crying into her latte.
Anna: Oh, dear.
Nell: Soy latte.
Michael [Kathy’s ex-lover, a rich TV actor]: Why were you crying?
Nell: Let’s just say I was having a bad day.
Michael: What happened?
Nell: It’s too trivial to go into. Actor stuff. I was up for a pilot; I didn’t get it.

Donald Margulies, the Pulitzer-winning playwright who was full of insight about marriage in the exquisite “Dinner With Friends,” has filled this new play, an MTC production running at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater through November 9, with…actor stuff that’s too trivial to go into – but he goes into it anyway.

Students of Chekhov will recognize “The Country House” as an update of “The Seagull” with a little “Uncle Vanya” thrown in. Christopher Durang did something similar two seasons back in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which is also set in a summer theater colony, Bucks County, and also features a character that is a famous actress. But Durang’s play successfully combines a parody of Chekhov with an homage to him; it is both funny and affecting. By contrast, “The Country Wife,” although it has some witty lines and touching moments, largely undermines itself. Nearly every time there is a promise of a compelling scene, it swerves into something tired and trite about the nature of celebrity or the actor’s life.

This is especially too bad because of how fine the cast is, well directed by Margulies’ long-time collaborator Daniel Sullivan. Danner’s lovely performance as an aging actress is no surprise; one wishes she was on stage more frequently. Sarah Steele, who plays Eli Gold’s feisty daughter on The Good Wife (and who was terrific Off-Broadway in Slowgirl and Russian Transport), is a delight as Anna’s feisty granddaughter. Daniel Sunjata, Broadway heartthrob and Tony nominee since Take Me Out, and a TV star of Rescue Me and Graceland, is completely convincing as Michael, a laid-back hunky TV star who is ambivalent about his success, especially with the ladies. (By the end of “The Country House,” every single woman in the house will try to seduce him.) The true standout is Eric Lange making his Broadway debut as Elliot, Anna’s caustically witty, loser son who fails at everything he does, blaming his mother’s lack of love for his shortcomings.

Had Margulies made these characters a family of doctors or even circus performers, he might well have been forced to avoid much of what’s banal and outright irritating about “The Country House.”  It doesn’t help that yet another Broadway play about actors, wedged in between last season’s egregious “Bullets Over Broadway” and lumbering “Act One” and this season’s forthcoming revival of Terrence McNally’s “It’s Only A Play,” is at least one play too many.

When Elliot holds a staged reading of his first play, enlisting the rest of the household to play their parts, the curtain comes down before the first line is read, rising after the play is completed. The face and posture of the performers indicate how awful it was, but the audience is spared any of it—something MTC might have considered.

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The Country House

At Samuel J. Friedman Theater (261 West 47th Street)

By Donald Margulies

Directed by Daniel Sullivan; sets by John Lee Beatty; costumes by Rita Ryack; lighting by Peter Kaczorowski; sound by Obadiah Eaves; music by Peter Golub. thecountryhousebway.com.

Cast: Blythe Danner (Anna Patterson), Kate Jennings Grant (Nell McNally), Eric Lange (Elliot Cooper), David Rasche (Walter Keegan), Sarah Steele (Susie Keegan) and Daniel Sunjata (Michael Astor).

Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.

Tickets: $67.00 – $125.00

The Country House is scheduled to run through November 9th.

 

You Can’t Take It With You Broadway Review

Annaleigh Ashford

Annaleigh Ashford

“Your family and mine … it just wouldn’t work.”
Alice, the most normal member of the eccentric Sycamore family in the old-fashioned crowd-pleasing comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” is talking to the man she loves, explaining why she can’t marry him.
“Everybody’s got a family,” Tony protests.
“But not like mine,” Alice says.
Actually, in the 78 years since Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman debuted their comedy on Broadway – a show for which words like wacky and zany and madcap were surely coined — there have been many, many such families, including many Sycamores: The production directed by Scott Ellis that has now opened at the Longacre with a cast of 20 led by James Earl Jones is the sixth on Broadway. An Oscar-winning 1938 film version directed by Frank Capra with a cast led by Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore pops up all the time. But, most to the point, the show’s characters and plot have clearly inspired everything from The Addams Family to La Cage Aux Folles to Arrested Development — and arguably, one way or another, every other “family” sitcom on TV.

Still, one can see this Broadway revival as especially well-timed, coming just a few months after Lincoln Center’s stage adaptation of Moss Hart’s memoir “Act One.”
That memoir focused on Hart’s first big hit with George S. Kaufman, “Once in a Lifetime,” which opened on Broadway in 1930. Six years and several collaborations later, their “You Can’t Take It With You” was deemed by critic Brooks Atkinson “a much more spontaneous piece of hilarity…written with a dash of affection to season the humor…” The comedy won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

If the humor is more familiar now, “You Can’t Take It With You” is in the hands of a first-rate director, who has assembled a meticulous team of designers, added original music by Jason Robert Brown, and cast some wonderful performers to blow things up — sometimes literally.

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James Earl Jones is Grandpa, who decided some 35 years ago, to stop working and start enjoying life. He keeps a collection of snakes, and spends his days attending circuses and college commencements. He also has not paid any income tax since 1914, when the United States started collecting it.
His daughter Penelope (Kristine Nielsen, so wonderful in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) has written plays for the last eight years, ever since a typewriter was delivered to the Sycamore household by mistake, with two live kittens as companions, and a skull that pivots open as a container for her candy. It is a clue to the manic quality of the events to follow that she’s named her two kittens Groucho and Harpo.
Penelope’s husband Paul (Mark Linn-Baker) spends night and day creating fireworks, which provide some lively punctuation to each of the three acts of the play. Their daughter Essie (stand-out Annaleigh Ashford, from Kinky Boots and Masters of Sex) spends most of her day practicing her dancing, to hilarious effect, often to the accompaniment of her husband Ed (Will Brill) who plays the xylophone.
The household is far from a nuclear one, however (unless you are describing their level of energy), for there are various hangers-on whose connection to the Sycamore residence we learn only in passing. Mr. DePinna (Patrick Kerr), for example, helps Paul with his fireworks; he was delivering the ice to the Sycamores eight years ago, and never left. The priceless Julie Halston portrays a drunken actress that Penelope the playwright has dragooned into the household to read one of her plays.

This is the household that Penelope’s other daughter, the straitlaced Alice (Rose Byrne from Bridemaids, making her Broadway debut) fears is too much of a handful for Tony Kirby (Fran Kranz), a junior Wall Street executive, and his family.  That there will be sparks is never in doubt. But the look on the face of Mrs. Kirby (Johanna Day) as she regards the eccentricities of her future in-laws is unmatched — except maybe by the double-take by Elizabeth Ashley, who plays the deposed  Grand Duchess Olga Katrina, working as a waitress at Child’s Restaurant. I see I left out the G-men and Russian revolutionaries, and the dance master Boris Kolenkhov (Reg Rogers) who thinks everything stinks.

“Art is only achieved through perspiration,” Kolenkhov declares.

“Yes,” Grandpa concedes, “but it helps if you’ve got a little talent with it.” It helps even more, as Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman and the creative team behind this production demonstrate, if you have a lot.

You Can’t Take It With You

At Longacre Theater

Written by: George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart

Directed by Scott Ellis, scenic design by David Rockwell, costume design by Jane Greenwood, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Jon Weston, original music by Jason Robert Brown

Cast: James Earl Jones, Kristine Nielsen, Rose Byrne, Annaleigh Ashford, Elizabeth Ashley, Mark Linn-Baker, Crystal A. Dickinson, Julie Halston, Byron Jennings, Marc Damon Johnson, Patrick Kerr, Reg Rogers, Will Brill, Fran Kranz, Johanna Day, Nick Corley, Austin Durant, Joe Tapper, Barrett Doss, Ned Noyes, Pippa Pearthree

Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including two ten minute intermissions

Tickets: $37.00 – $152.00

You Can’t Take It With You is scheduled to run through January 4, 2015

This Is Our Youth Review: Michael Cera and Kiera Culkin Far From Avenue Q

ThisisOurYouthSaraKrulwich

Is this OUR Youth? His sister was murdered six years ago, his rich, abusive father has just kicked him out of the house, and 19-year-old Warren, portrayed by Michael Cera in the crackling Broadway debut production of Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 play, drags a suitcase full of his vintage toy collection and $15,000 in cash that he has stolen from his Dad to the Upper West Side apartment of Dennis (Kieran Culkin), his 21-year-old drug dealer. Warren asks Dennis whether he can stay with him for a couple of days. Dennis tells him to go somewhere else, but there’s nowhere else to go. “Everyone’s parents are home,” Warren says. “I’m not allowed in their houses.”

“Nobody can stand to have you around. And you can’t get laid,” says Dennis, who calls Warren his friend.

This is far from Avenue Q, although both plays focus on bewildered people navigating the unnerving transition between childhood and life as an independent adult. Given the harshness of the characters’ attitudes and their recklessness, the title can sound admonishing – as if the playwright is asking us to join him in tut-tutting the anomie, aimlessness and self-destruction of an entire generation. But one monologue offers a clue to what the title, and the play, is really about. In a long self-justifying (and, one suspects, partly self-parodying) speech, Dennis defends to Warren his making a profit off his friends through his drug dealing. “I’m providing you schmucks with such a crucial service…Plus I’m providing you with precious memories of your youth, for when you’re fuckin’ old…. You’re going to remember your youth as like a gray stoned haze punctuated by a bunch of beatings from your Dad and, like, my jokes.” The title, in other words, is a statement from the characters.

The beauty and wonder of Lonergan’s play is that it depicts with unblinking specificity a group of foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, hyper-articulate but clueless rich kids on the Upper West Side in 1982. But the playwright somehow brings us inside those characters, with lots of humor and little judgment, so that the audience can freely identify with them – not “What have our youth come to?” but “Yeah, I’ve been there.”

Director Anne D. Shapiro, who won a Tony for “August: Osage County,” and did wonders with “The Motherfucker with the Hat,” here again teams up with scenic designer Todd Rosenthal to present a production of this three-character play suitable for an 1,100-seat Broadway house like the Cort, with largely positive results.  Rosenthal’s set, like that with Hat, opens up to suggest a wider city — there is an impressively realistic backdrop of the post-war apartment buildings that loom behind and above Dennis’s apartment. The characters’ rough-housing seems designed to fill up the stage.

All three performers are making their Broadway debuts, with little to no previous stage experience. Those who know and like Michael Cera from “Arrested Development” and “Juno” will be happy getting just about the same poker-faced, man-boy character in “This Is Your Youth,” although he is projecting his voice in a way that makes clear he is new to the stage. His interpretation seems narrower in range than Mark Ruffalo, the original Warren Straub (a role that began Ruffalo’s collaboration with Lonergan, which led to one of my favorite films, “You Can Count On Me.”) But Cera contributes a comic timing that lands every laugh, and a final touching moment that feels devastating.

Tavi Gevinson, who became a celebrity at age 12 because of her fashion blog, Style Rookie, is at age 18 (born the year “This Is Our Youth” debuted), impressive as a stage presence, holding her own with two movie veterans as Jessica Goldman, the object of Warren’s desire.  She has a horn of a voice, and a clear-cut future as a performer if she wants it, and her duet of attraction and anxiety with Cera certainly holds our attention, even if there is less in her character of an apparent interior life that a more experienced actress might have brought to the role.

As Dennis, Culkin delivers striking arias of bullying and bravado that mask the vulnerabilities he shares with his cowed pal.  It is a performance that makes you hope he will return (again and again) to the theater.

Not much seems to happen on stage in the course of the 48 hours when “This Is Our Youth” is supposed to take place. But the characters would consider what happens off-stage during that time cataclysmic- nothing less than the end of their youth.

 

This Is Our Youth

At Cort Theater

By Kenneth Lonergan

Directed by Anna D. Shapiro; sets by Todd Rosenthal; costumes by Ann Roth; lighting by Brian MacDevitt; sound by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen

Cast: Michael Cera (Warren Straub), Kieran Culkin (Dennis Ziegler) and Tavi Gevinson (Jessica Goldman).

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including one intermission.

This is Our Youth is scheduled to run through January 4th.

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