Broadway’s Thanksgiving Week Schedule 2014

Broadway’s schedule is irregular this Thanksgiving holiday week. Below is the calendar, with links to my reviews.  Only three shows will have a performance on Thanksgiving Day, but most have added matinees on Friday.

·
Show Title
Tues Nov. 25 Wed. Nov. 26 Thur. Nov. 27 Fri. Nov. 28 Sat. Nov. 29 Sun. Nov. 30
A Delicate Balance 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm DARK
Aladdin 7:00 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Beautiful: The Carole Kind Musical 7pm 2pm, 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Book of Mormon, The 7pm 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm,
Cabaret 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2:00pm, 8pm 2pm
Chicago 8pm DARK 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 7pm
Cinderella 7pm 2pm, 7:30pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Disgraced 7pm 2pm, 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Elephant Man, The 8pm , 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, A 7pm 2pm, 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Hedwig and the Angry Inch 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Honeymoon in Vegas 7pm 2pm, 8pm   2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
If/Then 7pm ,7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
It’s Only A Play 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Jersey Boys 7pm 2pm, 7pm 2pm8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Kinky Boots 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Last Ship, The 7pm , 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Les Miserables 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Lion King, The 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm,
Love Letters 7pm 2pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Mamma Mia! 8pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 7pm
Matilda 7pm 2pm, 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Motown: The Musical 7:30pm 2pm 2pm, 7:30pm 2pm, 7:30pm 3pm
On The Town 7pm 2pm,8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Once 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Phantom of the Opera, The 7pm 2pm, 8pm 8pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm DARK
Pippin 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 8pm 8pm 2:30pm, 8pm 3pm
Real Thing, The 7pm 2pm, 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm
River, The 7pm 2pm,7pm 2pm,7pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Rock of Ages 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
Side Show 7pm 2pm, 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
This Is Our Youth 7pm 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm,
Wicked 7pm 2pm, 7pm 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
You Can’t Take It With You 7pm 2pm, 2pm, 8pm 2pm, 8pm 3pm
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A Delicate Balance Reviews and Pictures: Glenn Close Back on Broadway

A DELICATE BALANCE Glenn CloseGlenn Close returns to Broadway after an absence of many years, as Agnes to John Lithgow’s Tobias,  a wealthy middle-aged couple whose seemingly serene suburban existence is revealed as a  nightmare involving family and friends, in Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” which is opening tonight and scheduled to run at the John Golden Theater through February 22, 2015.  The cast also features Bob Balaban, Lindsay Duncan, Claire Higgins, and Martha Plimpton.

Directed by Pam MacKinnon (who previously paired with Albee on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”), this is the third production of “A Delicate Balance” on Broadway. The original in 1966, starring Jessica Tandy and Hugh Cronyn, and featuring a Tony-winning performance by Marian Seldes as their spoiled daughter Julia, won for the playwright his first of (so far) three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, even though critic Walter Kerr had called it “an elegantly lacquered empty platter.”

What do the current-day critics think of this production?

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Albee is still what he always was, a wildly uneven author whose worst plays are so bad that it hardly seems possible that they were written by the same man who gave us the best ones. Where does “A Delicate Balance” fall on that spectrum? At its best, it’s thought-provoking and sometimes challenging, but it takes a long time to get moving, and I wonder whether modern-day audiences will be willing to wait for it. …Ms. Close’s performance is quiet, tasteful and underprojected, not surprising for an actor who has been absent from the stage for so long. Mr. Lithgow, by contrast, is in extraordinary form, by turns tightly inhibited and almost shockingly anguished.

Ben Brantley, New York Times As you would expect of these highly accomplished, multi-award-winning cast members, none of them are bad. But they’re giving us the play, instead of living it

 Mark Kennedy AP a revival where everyone does great work

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News, 4 out of 5 stars  a very good production that’s cool, well-composed and captivating….Close, with her aristocratic take on Agnes, comes within inches of coming off as arch. That approach doesn’t hurt the character. But Close’s unintentional habit of tripping over Albee’s dialogue doesn’t help. Lithgow, meantime, is riveting every moment he’s on stage — which is a lot — even when Tobias is silent.

Elizabeth Vincentelli, NY Post, 2 1/2 stars out of 4: This new “A Delicate Balance” is like a Christmas fruitcake that’s been left out too long: It’s boozy and loaded with goodies — Glenn Close! John Lithgow! — but it’s also on the dry side….Lithgow is best when Tobias is playing along with the women in his life, but his big letting-it-all-out scene feels forced. And Close’s one-note, tight-lipped performance keeps the audience at arms’ length,

 Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: ….This is an ensemble effort, with no one performer stealing the show as Elaine Stritch did when she played Claire in the 1996 Lincoln Center Theatre revival. The performances are all sharp — Higgins’ Edna is especially crisp — but they’re still coalescing. This is the kind of work that will deepen over time.

More below the photographs.

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Linda Winer, Newsday: although the play still dazzles with wit, gorgeous writing and the lurking terror of mortality, we miss the accumulating shock (the playwright) gave to the characters’ lives of cozy self-satisfaction (in a previous production.)…Lithgow is droll and manor-born as the retired Tobias, though we never believe he is as ineffectual as Agnes claims. Oddly, Close, who has three best-actress Tonys, seemed daunted at a recent preview by Agnes’ exhilarating but Olympian monologues. Stumbling over the words is a special problem for a silver fox who fancies herself the fulcrum of the family’s equilibrium. For reasons unknown, while designer Ann Roth dresses everyone else with an acute timeless conflation of the mid-’60s and today, Close’s Agnes is overdressed to distraction, lounging around the living-room in gowns and jewels….Nothing, alas, is delicate.

Marc Snetiker, Entertainment Weekly: B In her first leading Broadway appearance since 1994’s Sunset Boulevard, Glenn Close makes a comfy return to the stage as the self-important Agnes, whose self-pity is as dramatic as her pashminas. Close exudes the kind of veteran flair and magnetism you’d presume from such a marquee name. But although this seems to be Close’s marquee, it’s John Lithgow who runs away with the show

 

Jesse Green, New York Magazine Close, her eyes gleaming with Agnes’s useless intelligence, is superb with this material, totally believable as a lockjawed suburban virago. More fully even than Rosemary Harris, who played the role in the great 1996 revival, Close justifies Albee’s rewrite of the line “our dear Republicans, as dull as ever” to “as brutal as ever” for that production. Alas, he did not have to change it back for this one.

David Cote, Time Out New York: 4 stars out of 5…Pam MacKinnon directs this solid revival with a keen ear for the curling, teasing rhythms of Albee’s ornate lines, and the performances are top-notch, including the perfectly deadpan Balaban and a sinister Higgins as the unwelcome guests. Martha Plimpton finds sympathetic notes in the difficult, shrill role of Julia, and Close and Lithgow handle their tricky speeches with grace and nuance. If Close is a touch too frosty, she’s thawed by Lithgow’s warmth.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline Hollywood: the affable Tobias of John Lithgow smolders, bursts into flame and slowly grows cold. It’s as rich a performance as I’ve ever seen…Nothing in Pam MacKinnon’s finely calibrated but emotionally uneven and infrequently unnerving staging measures up to the sheer power of either Albee’s dramaturgy or Lithgow’s inhabitance of Tobias.

 Matt Windman, AM New York: two stars out of four.  surprisingly flat and likely to disappoint both those unfamiliar with the three-act play, as well as those who still remember its much acclaimed revival from two decades ago with Elaine Stritch and Rosemary Harris

Side Show Review: Broadway Comeback of Hilton Sister Musical

The real Hilton sisters

The real Hilton sisters

Daisy and Violet Hilton, twin sisters permanently connected at the hip by a ribbon of flesh, were spectacularly popular entertainers in the 1920’s, so it seems fitting that “Side Show,” a musical about them that lasted just a few months on Broadway when it debuted in 1997, is back on Broadway in a spectacularly entertaining production. There’s nothing more quintessentially show business than a comeback, especially for a show with such a cult following; it was by far the most eagerly anticipated musical of the Broadway season in a poll I conducted.
The show’s devotees will surely debate the many changes in this production (which received huzzahs in both La Jolla, California and Washington D.C)  There are flashbacks now that show more of the Hilton’s miserable upbringing; the male characters are more fleshed out; most noticeable of all, the design is way more explicit – the freaks of the side show, from Tattoo Girl to Lizard Man to Geek, are now unmistakable grotesques. But those less in thrall to the musical’s legacy are more likely to see that the “freakery” is itself largely but a side show. Yes, “Side Show” is a story about being an outsider, and about finding love — the best songs in the show, both sung by the sisters, are “Who Will Love Me As I Am,” which closes the first act

and “I Will Never Leave You,” the 11 o’clock number. But “Side Show” is also at heart a conventional show about show business,  a stars-are-born musical that doesn’t dig very deep. It does, however, allow for one musical number after another that are both visually splendid and wonderfully performed.

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“Come look at the freaks, “ the ensemble sings at the very beginning of the show. The Hilton sisters, the outgoing Daisy (Emily Padgett) and the grounded Violet (Erin Davie) are the star attraction of a carnival run by their exploitative legal guardian known only as Sir (a terrifically slimy Robert Joy), when they are approached by a hustling producer Terry Connor (the always reliable Ryan Silverman) and his sidekick, the song-and-dance man Buddy (Matthew Hydzik.) They want to turn them from a sideshow exhibit into vaudeville stars, on a par with Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice and W.C. Fields. “I’m very well-connected,” Terry sings (one of the many new songs.)
“So are we,” Daisy cracks.
This doesn’t sit well with Jake (stand-out David St. Louis), who performs as an African cannibal in the sideshow, but who is actually from Hackensack, New Jersey, and whose primary job is to protect the sisters. He delivers the first of the power ballads of the evening, “The Devil You Know.”
With Terry’s help, the sisters take Sir to court, and win control over their own lives.
We see them in increasingly polished numbers, wearing one after another of Paul Tazewell’s dazzling costumes. Davie and Padgett manage to present distinctive flavors in their performances, but also exhibit in the coordination of their dancing exactly why audiences must have been so thrilled by the Hilton sisters.
The second act continues with their show business career but also turns into a love story – or, rather, a story about the difficulty of finding real love. Violet is in love with Buddy, and Buddy wants to marry her; but he’s gay. Jake is in love with Violet, but she can’t see an interracial relationship working. Terry wants Daisy, but only if she’ll undergo an operation that will separate her from her twin.

“Side Show” ends in 1932 with something of an affirmation of the sisters’ independence and individuality, but, to the credit of the creative team, there is a hint of a less-than-happy future; they are cast in a film called “Freaks,” which adds an edge to the song “Look at the Freaks” when the ensemble repeats it as the closing number.  This is nowhere near as sad as the actual story of the Hilton sisters, who lived some four more decades without any further success.  Having been abandoned by their latest manager at a drive-in, they worked their final years as grocery store clerks. But “Side Show” is, after all, a Broadway musical.

Side Show

At the St.James Theater

Book and lyrics by Bill Russell; music by Henry Krieger; additional book material by Bill Condon; directed by Mr. Condon; choreography by Anthony Van Laast; musical direction and arrangements by Sam Davis; sets by David Rockwell; costumes by Paul Tazewell; lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer; sound by Peter Hylenski; special makeup and effects by Dave Elsey and Lou Elsey; hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe; makeup design by Cookie Jordan; illusion consultant, Paul Kieve; orchestrations by Harold Wheeler;

Cast: Erin Davie (Violet Hilton), Emily Padgett (Daisy Hilton), Matthew Hydzik (Buddy Foster), Robert Joy (Sir), Ryan Silverman (Terry Connor), David St. Louis (Jake) and Blair Ross (Auntie/Bearded Lady/Ensemble).

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

The River Review: Hugh Jackman, Two Women, and a Sea Trout

They’ve asked us not to reveal the ending of “The River,” a play by Jez Butterworth (author of “Jerusalem”) starring Hugh Jackman as a man who likes to fish. But I’m not sure what difference knowing the ending would make, since it’s only slightly less enigmatic than the beginning or the middle of this play.

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The man (he’s not given a name) has invited the woman (also without a name, portrayed by Cush Jumbo) to join him in his remote cabin built on a cliff above a river, that has belonged to his family for generations. We gather from their conversation that she is his new girlfriend. Some of her comments are drily amusing, almost (but not quite) repartee. She wants to show him the beautiful sunset. He is too busy gathering his fishing equipment for some night-time fishing; since there’s no moon, the sea trout will be out in force, a once-a-year phenomenon that will be a wonder to behold. She is not sure she wants to go.

Blackout. We see the man calling the police to report a missing person. But then we hear a woman’s voice – she’s not missing after all; false alarm – but the woman who then appears on stage is, as it says in the program, The Other Woman (Laura Donnelly), and, when the man asks her what happened to her, she explains that, when they went out to fish at night, she lost track of him, and went wandering, and ran into another fisherman, who helped her catch a big trout. She gives the man the trout. He begins to prepare it for cooking. The Other Woman (Donnelly) then goes offstage into the bedroom, and it is The Woman (Jumbo) who returns.

And so it goes, for the 85 minutes of the play, alternating scenes of the man with the woman and then with the other woman. Not much happens. Some moments are repeated; both the woman and the other woman, for example, talk about a robin that got caught in the cabin. The characters talk a lot about fishing, and about love, so that one suspects the playwright is using one as a metaphor for the other. The man tells the woman (or was it the other woman?) that he has never invited any other woman to his cabin, that he vowed only to invite his one true love there – that if he ever invited any woman afterwards, his love for her would be a lie. Both women talk of a sketch they’ve discovered in the cabin of another woman in a red dress.

“The River” is darkly lit, atmospheric, best thought of as a stage poem (the characters often speak as if reciting a poem, and actually recite a few), or a puzzle embedded with clues, with the slightest of payoffs at the end. For those with little tolerance for ambiguity or obscurity, it’s a lot of hooey. For fans of Hugh Jackman, it’s a chance to see him in the flesh, gutting and then cooking a trout.

The River

Circle in the Square Theater

By Jez Butterworth

Ian Rickson (Direction), Ultz (Scenic and Costume Design), Charles Balfour (Lighting Design), Ian Dickinson for Autograph (Sound Design), Stephen Warbeck (Music)

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Laura Donnelly, Cush Jumbo

Tickets: $35 – $175

Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission

The River is scheduled to run through January 25, 2015

November 2014 Openings Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway

Three Broadway shows — The River, Side Show and A Delicate Balance – are opening in November, as are some two dozen Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway# plays and musicals.   This makes for tough choices or a severely hectic schedule for avid theatergoers, especially since five of the shows are opening on November 16th alone – and four more the very next night!

Below is a list, organized chronologically by opening date, with descriptions of most of the shows. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Nothing, of course, is guaranteed about any of these shows, even those that seem the most promising. (This is why I write reviews.)

Color key: Broadway: Red or Gray✫. Off Broadway: Blue or Light Blue✫. Off Off Broadway: Green.

* Asterisks are next to those shows to which I have been invited (and plan) to review as of this writing.(This will likely change as the month progresses.)

November 3

*The Oldest Boy (Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater)

Sarah Ruhl’s latest play tells the story of Tenzin, the toddler son of an American woman (to be played by Celia Keenan-Bolger) and a Tibetan man (Joel de la Fuente) who is recognized as the reincarnation of a high Buddhist teacher

November 5

*Wiesenthal (Acorn Theatre)

Written by and starring Tom Dugan, the play tells the true story of Simon Wiesenthal, more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice.

November 6

*Sticks and Bones (The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center)

With a cast that includes Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter and Bill Pullman, the New Group opens its 20th Anniversary season with the first major New York revival of David Rabe’s Tony Award-winning play Sticks and Bones, “a savage and savagely comic portrait of an average American family pulled apart by the return of a son from the Vietnam War.”

You Got Older (HERE Arts Center)

Directed by Anne Kauffman, and featuring Reed Birney and Brooke Bloom: Mae comes home to take care of Dad.

The New York City Icon Plays: Love in Irish Pub (Quinn’s Bar)

Eight short plays presented in a real Times Square area Irish Bar

Powerhouse (New Ohio Theatre)

The life of idiosyncratic composer and electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott, whose  compositions were used in countless Looney Tunes cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s.

November 11

Lost Lake (MTC at New York City Center – Stage 1)

A new play by David Auburn ( Proof): Veronica (Tracie Thoms) rents a lakeside property and is pulled into the problems of its owner (John Hawkes).

November 12

*Grand Concourse (Playwrights Horizons)

Called to a life of religious service, Shelley is the devoted manager of a Bronx soup kitchen, but lately her heart’s not quite in it. Enter Emma: an idealistic but confused young volunteer, whose recklessness pushes Shelley to the breaking point.”

Written by Heidi Schreck and directed by Kim Fagan, the play features a four-member cast that includes Bobby Moreno, who was so amazing in The Year of the Rooster.

November 13

Lypsinka! The Trilogy (The Connelly Theater)

 

November 16

*The River (Circle in the Square Theatre)

A trout fisherman in a remote cabin tries to hook a woman into some night-time fishing. Two words: Hugh Jackman.

*Our Lady of Kibeho (Signature Theatre,The Irene Diamond Stage)

Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) is inspired a true story: In 1981, a village girl in Rwanda claims to see the Virgin Mary. Ostracized by her schoolmates and labeled disturbed, everyone refuses to believe, until others start to see her as well.

The Erlkings (Theatre Row- Beckett)

A look at the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre.

Tamburlaine, Parts I and II (Polonsky Shakespeare Center)

The Elizabethan play by Christopher Marlowe, edited and directed by Michael Boyd, starring John Douglas Thompson

Major Barbara (The Pearl)

November 17

*Side Show (St. James Theatre)

The Hilton twins, Daisy and Violet, were in real life conjoined twins who were trained by their guardians to become performers, and became the highest paid performers on the vaudeville circuit. “Side Show” purports to tell their story.

This “reimagined” revival of the 1997 musical was well-received in D.C., and is one of the most anticipated shows of the season.

Punk Rock (MCC Theater)

Simon Stephens (who adapted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) writes about a group of highly-articulate 17-year-old British private school students preparing for their A-Level mock exams, while hormones rage.

Straight White Men (Public Theater)

Young Jean Lee, an innovative downtown playwrights, “defies expectations with a conventionally structured take on the classic American father-son drama….When Ed (Austin Pendleton) and his three adult sons come together to celebrate Christmas, they enjoy cheerful trash-talking, pranks, and takeout Chinese. Then they confront a problem that even being a happy family can’t solve….what is the value of being a straight white man?”

Blank! The Musical (New World Stages)

“Each night, a talented ensemble takes to the stage—with no script, no rehearsal, and no idea what will happen—to perform a brand-new smash hit musical… that you help to create!”

November 18

By The Water (NY City Center – Stage II)

The play by Sharyn Rothstein looks at the effect of Hurricane Sandy on one family.

November 19

Allegro (CSC)

This revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s least known musical, written after their success with Oklahoma and Carousel, follows the life of a physician named Joe Taylor, Jr.

November 20

A Delicate Balance (Golden Theatre)

Glenn Close returns to Broadway in a cast that includes John Lithgow and Martha Plimpton in another one of Edward Albee’s caustic Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpieces, about a long-married couple who must maintain their equilibrium as over the course of a weekend they welcome home their 36-year old daughter after the collapse of her fourth marriage, and give shelter to their best friends who seek refuge in their home, all the while tolerating Agnes’ alcoholic live-in sister. The Edward Albee-Pam MacKinnon match-up, which brought us the priceless recent Broadway production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” holds great promise to repeat the feat.

Pitbulls (Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre)

Keith Josef Adkins, a playwright best-known as the founding artistic director of New Black Fest,writes about a pariah named Mary in a small black community in rural Appalachia — pitbull country – who is viewed suspiciously when a pitbull is killed on the Fourth of July.

On A Stool At The End Of A Bar (59E59 Theaters – B)

November 23

*A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) (Signature Theatre)

Sam Shepard’s “dark, fragmented, modern-day take” on Oedipus Rex

Me, My Mouth and I (Cherry Lane)

Written and performed by Joy Behar.

November 24

Self Made Man: The Frederick Douglass Story (Arclight Theater)

Frederick Douglass arrives back to his place of birth where he is planning to murder his former owner. But first he tells us his life story.

* Asterisks are next to those shows to which I have been invited (and plan) to review as of this writing.(Consider this a work in progress.)

✫Grey means Broadway shows, and light blue means Off-Broadway shows, to which I’ve been invited past the opening.

#The list includes only a small selection of the shows Off-Off Broadway, with an emphasis on those running more than two weeks and with official openings.

For a look at the whole season, check out Fall 2014 Broadway Preview Guide and Off-Broadway Preview Guide

The Real Thing Review: Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal Make Their Broadway Debuts

The Real Thing: Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal

The Real Thing: Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal

Both Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal are making their Broadway debuts in ‘The Real Thing,” Tom Stoppard’s trickster meditation on what is reality versus artifice in art, politics and above all in love, but Cynthia Nixon is the most interesting performer in this disappointing Broadway production, although not for what she does on the stage.

Nixon appeared in the original Broadway production of “The Real Thing” when she was 18 years old, as Debbie, a small enough role that she simultaneously appeared in David Rabe’s “Hurly Burly,” walking back and forth between the theaters each night – thus giving birth to the Nixon Rule; Actors Equity forbids any performer to appear in two Broadway shows at the same time.

We now see Nixon playing Charlotte, the mother of the character she played in “The Real Thing” 30 years ago. In the first scene of the play, Charlotte walks in on her husband Max (Josh Hamilton), the door slamming behind her, which knocks down the house of cards he is building. This turns out to be significant in several ways we learn later. Right now, Max has larger concerns – Charlotte says she was in Switzerland, but he found her passport in her recipe drawer. He suspects adultery. She reacts in outrage, comparing his snooping to being burglarized, and she storms off.

“Is it anyone I know?” Max calls after her.

“You aren’t anyone I know,” Charlotte replies.

In the second scene, we find out that that scene wasn’t real. Charlotte and Max are not married to one another. Charlotte and Max are actors, and they were performing a scene in a play, entitled “House of Cards,” written by Charlotte’s actual husband, Henry (portrayed by Ewan McGregor). Max is married to Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal.) Soon, though, life imitates art, as we eventually discover that Max’s actual wife Annie is in fact having an affair….with Henry.

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The play winds up centering on the relationship between Henry and Annie, and what Henry learns about real love. Henry, a pedantic wordsmith, starts off believing that real love can’t be captured on stage or in words. “Loving and being loved is unliterary. It’s happiness expressed in banality and lust.” But his reaction to Annie’s “real life” infidelities – in scenes that cleverly mirror the “staged” interaction of the first scene – evolve, until the playwright (both Henry and Stoppard) finds the words…and the feelings.

This, anyway, is what we were left with in previous productions. It doesn’t quite work for me in this one.

Ewan McGregor, an undeniably charismatic movie star still probably best known as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars movies, is an intelligent actor with extensive experience on stage, but he doesn’t seem precisely right as Henry. Henry is a cerebral man a bit battered by life and trapped by his own intellect. Yes, he is charming in his own way, but one pictures the sort of uptight hyper-articulate charm played so well by Roger Rees or the arch snob charisma done by Jeremy Irons; both actors have played Henry to great acclaim.

McGregor comes off as no less sexy and laid back as Gyllenhaal, which makes them fitting subjects for a great photo shoot, but a mismatch as a middle-aged man hurt by his second wife in precisely the way he has hurt others before her.

Director Sam Gold adds about a dozen pop songs from the 1960s, some of them sung by the actors at the beginning of each act. There is some justification for this in the script, but not in any way that makes sense. Henry prefers these pop tunes over classical music, but this is a running joke in the play, because his preference embarrasses him, and we see him forcing himself to learn to love Bach; he only responds to it when he notices that Bach’s “Air on a G String” is identical to pop group Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

Set designer David Zinn has created a single set – an apartment with white walls full of books. The interplay between reality and fiction is confusing enough without all the scenes taking place in the same locale.

Still, no production can completely ruin all that is delightful, dense and dazzling in Stoppard’s work, threaded with allusions to Strindberg, Wilde, Coward, John Ford (the author of the 1633 incest drama, Tis A Pity She’s a Whore), all topped by Stoppard’s own insights and observations tumbling forth from his characters as rants – let’s call them arias – on the difference between plays and real life (“thinking time”), on political posturing, on what makes good writing. “The Real Thing” makes good writing.

The Real Thing

 

Disgraced Theater Review: Bluntly Provocative, Dramatically Satisfying

disgraced-large-643x441When Amir was a child, he spit in the face of a Jewish classmate, a girl he had a crush on, he says in “Disgraced,” Ayad Akhtar’s bluntly provocative play that has now opened at Broadway’s Lyceum Theater. Amir is explaining to his nephew that he had been imitating his Pakistani-born mother, who had spit in his face when she discovered an affectionate note the girl had written to him in class. “You will end up with a Jew over my dead body,” his mother had said to him.

Now Amir is a successful, hard-charging corporate attorney in New York working for a largely Jewish law firm. He has angrily rejected the Islamic religion of his childhood because of attitudes like his mother’s, changed his name so it is not recognizably Muslim or Pakistani, and married a white woman – not a Jew but a blonde WASP.

His wife, Emily, is an artist who not only incorporates motifs from Islamic art into her paintings but defends Islam from her husband’s attacks. She also inadvertently sets into motion the two plot lines that climax, at a dinner party with another couple, in the most explosive surprises of the play (which I refuse to give away.)

It is easy to argue that the playwright exerts an almost mathematical craftiness in his work: His wily navigation through charged terrain includes putting the anti-Muslim arguments into the mouth of the Muslim character, and giving the non-Muslims the reasonable counter-arguments.

But it is hard to dispute that “Disgraced, which debuted at Lincoln Center’s experimental LCT3 two years ago, introduces a fresh and important new voice to the American stage; the play is in my view deserving of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that it won. What makes this all the more astonishing is that “Disgraced” was the first play Ayad Akhtar ever wrote (after twenty years of writing fiction and screenplays.) He’s already on his third play, The Invisible Hand, which opens December 8 at New York Theater Workshop.

Akhtar does not shy away from the kind of in-your-face beliefs that confront us daily in the world outside the theater, and that have even escalated into even greater relevance since its Off-Broadway production; he includes a character (Amir’s nephew) who credibly voices the extremist views of some Muslims. There are fierce debates about Islamic terrorism and of Islam itself.  But what he has created is not just a needed exploration of an urgent clash of world views, but a deeply satisfying dramatic experience.

And, in the Broadway production directed by Kimberly Senior, he has lots of help in making that happen.

Hari Dhillon portrays Amir as somebody who has donned the identity of an arrogant corporate player in order to shield himself from the resentments and vulnerabilities of his ethnic identity. As the play progresses, we see his ambivalence and internal conflicts apparently more clearly than he does. Gretchen Mol,who was so dazzling as Gillian Darmody in the just-completed HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” is completely transformed as Amir’s demur, intelligent, well-meaning blonde wife Emily. Similarly,  Josh Radnor, who played Ted Mosby for nine years on the CBS series “How I Met Your Mother,” is unrecognizable as Isaac, the bearded Jewish museum curator who is interested in Emily’s art work — and in Emily. He is persuasive as he turns from nerdy and complacent to enraged.  Karen Pittman,  the only one of the actors who is a holdover from the Off-Broadway production, makes the most of her role as Jory, who is Isaac’s wife and Amir’s colleague — and, as it turns out, rival — at the law firm.  That Isaac is Jewish and Jory African-American adds another (crafty) layer to Akhtar’s exploration of ethnic identities and tensions. Rounding out the cast is Danny Ashok as Abe, Amir’s nephew, who has changed his name from Hussein, but, by the end of the play, changes it back.

John Lee Beatty’s set and Jennifer Von Mayrhauser’s costumes establish the outwardly comfortable life of these affluent residents of the Upper East Side. There is never a feeling that the play is satirizing these characters, even when Emily is serving a fennel and anchovy salad or chirping with Isaac about the London art scene. But what “Disgraced” does do, smoothly and theatrically, is confront us one by one with our assumptions and pieties about the culture clash that is defining our era.

Disgraced

At the Lyceum Theater (148 West 45th Street)

By Ayad Akhtar; directed by Kimberly Senior; sets by John Lee Beatty; costumes by Jennifer von Mayrhauser; lighting by Kenneth Posner; sound by Jill BC Du Boff.

Cast: Hari Dhillon (Amir), Gretchen Mol (Emily), Josh Radnor (Isaac), Danny Ashok (Abe) and Karen Pittman (Jory).

Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets: $37.50 – $138.00

Disgraced is scheduled to run through February 15, 2015

The Last Ship Review: Sting’s Hometown Tale on Broadway

Sting’s songs are haunting and lyrical, the creative team is made up of Broadway royalty, the acting helps lend a sense of authenticity to this heartfelt tale based on the struggles of the shipbuilding community where the rock star grew up in Northern England. So why did “The Last Ship” ultimately feel to me so much like an overlong commercial for beer or aftershave lotion — all manly fellowship and honest, muscular effort, without much purpose except to work up a sweat?

The opening scenes promise much more than that.

 

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Gideon (Michael Esper) is returning to Wallsend after 15 years of self exile to attend a funeral.

“Someone close?” a fellow sailor asks on the ship bringing him to port.

“No,” Gideon replies. “Just me dad.”

In the song “All This Time,” Gideon explains why he went away.

So I ask myself why the hell would I stay?
Just churches and pubs where ye drink or ye pray, and the sky’s still the same old battleship grey,
if only the pubs stayed open all day

Once back in town, he goes first to the church, to confession with the local priest, Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate), who reminds him of the promise he made to his girlfriend Meg to return for her.

GIDEON: Aye, a promise I broke.
FATHER O’BRIEN: Or that you haven’t kept yet.

He then goes to find Meg (Rachel Tucker) at the Ship at the Hole Pub. There, the laid-off workers from the closed shipyard, led by former foreman Jackie White (Jimmy Nail), have just rejected a businessman’s offer of working at his scrap yard.

“You can keep your blinders on as the world leaves you behind,” the businessman says, “or you can face reality and apply for a new job with me.” They choose the former.

We’ve seen this set-up before in musicals, gritty, atmospheric tales of plucky British workers challenged by an industry in crisis – in Billy Elliot, The Full Monty, Kinky Boots.

But while the others set sail, this two-masted ship stays waterlogged.

In one of the two plots, Father O’Brien, who has just discovered he is dying, gives the town a mission – build one last ship, and sail it “out into the wide world.” In the other plot, Gideon discovers that Meg is now in a couple with another man, and that Meg has a 15-year-old son – Gideon’s!

Now, the book, by John Logan (Red) and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal, If/Then), reportedly borrows from two separate real-life incidents — involving Scottish shipbuilders who staged a “work-in” in the 1970s, and more recently by a Polish priest who illicitly funded unemployed workers to assemble a ship that was to sail around the world.

So, shouldn’t this be as inspiring on stage as it was in real life? But it isn’t. Perhaps this is in part because we do not see:

  1. much point in their building the boat
  2. their overcoming many obstacles to do so
  3. their spending much time in the actual construction – a couple of shifting around of two-by-fours, some welders emitting orange sparks, and lots of synchronized stomping and jaunty thrusts in the air (giving me a momentary urge to shout out “Stop your prancing and build the boat already!”)
  4. the boat

David Zinn’s industrial-looking set suggests the immense size and power of a shipyard, but we never actually see a boat. The design team only suggests it, climaxing with one special effect at the end.

The ship-building must compete with the love triangle, which offers opportunity for some lovely ballads – oddly enough, most notably “What Say You, Meg” by Gideon’s rival, Arthur (Aaron Lazar, last seen on Broadway as the rival in A Little Night Music!)

Here is a video of the song as sung by Sting

and a snippet of the song sung by Lazar in the Chicago production

Some have suggested that it was Sting’s modesty that prevented him from making this story more obviously autobiographical, turning Gideon into a rock star returning to his blue collar hometown. That might not have worked, but the current Gideon seems to have done very little in the 15 years of his absence except…be absent. There’s none of Sting’s charisma built into the character; you almost wonder why Meg, having found a more mature, loving partner and lovely balladeer in Arthur, would feel conflicted after meeting the man who abandoned her as a teenager. Esper, who was terrific on Broadway in both American Idiot and in The Lyons, makes the most of Gideon and does it in fine voice.

Indeed, the cast of almost two dozen is full of first-rate performers. Applegate is a delight as Father O’Brien, the Irish-born unorthodox (foul-mouthed), caring and beloved priest of the town, even though my tolerance for twinkle-eyed Irish priests with irreverent wisdom is not what it used to be.

Standouts include four performers making their Broadway debuts:

Jimmy Nail, a well-known singer-songwriter in Europe who came out of retirement to help Sting with the songs, is channeling his father, who was a foreman in a Newcastle shipyard. Rachel Tucker is silver-voiced and persuasive as a Meg who has hardened on the outside, but remains softly romantic underneath it all.

Collin Kelly-Sordelet plays Gideon as a young man, and also the son Gideon didn’t know he had. He is the 19-year-old son of stage fight director Rick Sordelet, and exhibits a grace on stage that will serve him well.

Shawna M. Hamic as the feisty barkeep Beatrice Dees who leads the Act II opener, “Mrs. Dee’s Rant” with its much-needed humor:

When I was a maiden truly,
Such dreams would fill my head
I thought I’d marry a goodly man, to keep me warm in bed.

A goodly man, a shapely man,
of noble heart and true, instead I married a shipyard man and the rent’s always overdue.

If to an untrained ear, too much of the music seems much the same, I’ll wager that theatergoers who did not know of Sting before might be moved to explore his music further; for his fans, the lilting, sweet-sad, folk-tinged music might be enough to satisfy.

I suspect “The Last Ship” will be a future Encores! concert, treated like rediscovered sunken treasure.

 

The Last Ship

At the Neil Simon Theater

Book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey; Music by Sting; Lyrics by Sting; Associate Music Director: Dan Lipton; Musical Director: Rob Mathes

Directed by Joe Mantello, choreographed by Steven Hoggett

Cast: Michael Esper, Rachel Tucker, Jimmy Nail, Fred Applegate, Aaron Lazar, Sally Ann Triplett, Collin Kelly-Sordelet, Eric Anderson, Ethan Applegate, Craig Bennett, Dawn Cantwell, Jeremy Davis, Bradley Dean, Alyssa DiPalma, Colby Foytik, David Michael Garry, Timothy Gulan, Shawna M. Hamic, Rich Hebert, Leah Hocking, Todd A. Horman, Sarah Hunt, Jamie Jackson, Sean Jenness, Drew McVety, Johnny Newcomb, Matthew Stocke, Cullen Titmus, Jeremy Woodard.

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes including intermission.

Tickets: $55 to $147. Lottery: $30.

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.

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

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