Hello Dolly Review: Bette Midler stars as Bette Midler

There are moments in Bette Midler’s Hello, Dolly that offer unsurpassed entertainment, demonstrating the ideal match between show and star that many people expected when they first heard that Midler would be the 15th Dolly Gallagher Levi on Broadway. That excitement (along with outrageously inflated ticket prices) resulted in the highest advance sale of any show in Broadway history.

There are not enough of those perfect moments, however, to justify the ardor for this unexceptional, pastel-hued fourth Broadway revival, nor to explain fully the exuberant acclaim for its star, who has not performed live as a character in a Broadway musical for 50 years. (She played a daughter in the original Fiddler on the Roof!) The reaction to Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly” is a sociological phenomenon that transcends what occurs on stage.

I understand it. I’ve idolized Midler since first hearing her debut album, “The Divine Miss M,” and discovering this sassy songstress with a gorgeous voice, delivering retro sultriness with a persona simultaneously self-mocking, sexy and sincere.

That voice is gone now, judging from the performance I attended at the Shubert, replaced by a rasp of limited range. She also apparently can’t really dance; her movement on stage is more like rhythmic walking, and it’s in bracing contrast to the professional dancers who are virtually flying around her.

What remains vibrant is the Bette Midler persona, evident from the moment she makes her entrance on stage. It is not a grand entrance, at least not initially; it’s a sly surprise entrance. A “horse”-driven bus (actually two guys in a horse suit) comes on stage with a group of passengers reading newspapers that obscure their faces. One of them abruptly snatches the paper down; it’s Bette Midler. The audience greets her thunderously. She walks forward, first lifting her arms out in a diva welcome, then placing her palm against her chest, as if to say “your reception is giving me heart palpitations.” She is playfully portraying somebody who would make a gesture like that, but she’s also sincerely making the gesture.

This is not Dolly Levi Gallagher’s gesture, a widow in late 19th century New York who works as a matchmaker and anything else that might make her a buck. It belongs to Bette Midler, or more precisely to the Bette Midler persona.  The audience is responding not to Dolly but to Bette – and to our memories of the Divine Miss M. I am not dismissing those memories. In live theater, the adoration of the audience can palpably lift up a performer and a production, a gift of energy that is passed back and forth between audience and actors.

There are moments, though, when this “Hello, Dolly” is not just the Bette Midler show, or at least when she shares billing with her character. “Some people paint,” she says at one point. “Some sew. I…meddle.”

It’s delivered as a classic Bette wisecrack, with that mischievous grin and the practiced inflection of Jewish housewife as Borscht Belt comic. Suddenly, somehow, Dolly is Bette, and so Bette is Dolly.

And meddle she does. (They do?) Dolly has been looking for a wife for the “half-millionaire” Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce), and has decided that that wife should be herself. This means she must sabotage his planned proposal to New York milliner Irene Malloy (Kate Baldwin.) Dolly does this by arranging for Horace’s two assistants Cornelius (Gavin Creel) and Barnaby (Taylor Trensch) to woo (respectively) Irene and her assistant Minnie Fay (Beanie Feldstein, making a memorable Broadway debut.) Dolly is also busy scheming to prod Horace into reversing his adamant opposition of nuptials between his niece Ermengarde (Melanie Moore) and Ambrose (Will Burton) because of Ambrose’s disreputable career – he’s an artist. Is it a spoiler to reveal that love – or at least Dolly – triumphs?

Most of the supporting cast is at least competent; both Creel and Baldwin have voices to die for. Pierce feels miscast: His grumpy Horace is so off-putting that Dolly couldn’t desire him for anything but his money, which changes what we think of her. (That presumes, of course, that we think anything of the characters, as opposed to the performers.) The real heavy-lifting — sometimes literally —  is done by the vigorously athletic, inexhaustible and sometimes exhausting ensemble.

The plot is book-writer Michael Stewart and songwriter Jerry Herman’s adaptation of a play by Thornton Wilder, who adapted it from an earlier play of his, which was an adaptation of a German play that was in turn adapted from an 1835 English play. It is, in other words, almost two centuries old; it’s hardly an insult to call it old-fashioned. Director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle seem happy to keep it that way. Santo Loquasto, whose past innovative stage and costume designs have garnered many awards, here opts for familiar postcard-looking backdrops, and blindingly bright pastel costumes, as if imagining what the stereotypical tourist would have worn had they existed at the turn of the 20th century. They all seem to be acknowledging that their job is to preserve the vehicle. “Hello, Dolly” has always served as a vehicle for its star – originally and most notably (and most repeatedly) Carol Channing, but also Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman, Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, Phyllis Diller, et al. Each has tried to own the part; some merely rented it.

Bette does own Dolly, but Dolly doesn’t always live in Bette; the melding of the two is only periodic. It fails conclusively during Dolly’s conversations with her dead husband Ephraim, which are played as straightforwardly sincere, without an overlay of the Divine Miss M’s self-mockery, and paradoxically came off to me as insincere. She also disappoints in “Before the Parade Passes By,” one of the four or five supremely tuneful songs in Jerry Herman’s score.

Where Midler shines is in comedy. This was evident even in The Rose. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in that serious 1979 film as a self-destructive rock star, but it was the brief comic scene of her crashing a gay bathhouse that is the most memorable. It’s her 1980’s movie comedies that thrust her into the mainstream, and her campy revues that perfected her comic persona and cemented her adulation by her long-time (heavily gay) fans. Comic verve is one talent that can actually improve with age.

Where Bette Midler reaches something close to perfection in “Hello,Dolly” is in two show-stopping scenes that couldn’t be more different. There’s the over-the-top “Hello, Dolly” number at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, where she descends the stairs in a gown of screaming red sequins and baubles and a crown of red plumes — a vision of glamour, yes, but somehow a comic vision of glamour. It’s the number most audience members are likely to agree with the hyper waitstaff as they sing:

Oh, hello Dolly, well, hello Dolly

It’s so nice to have you back where you belong

 And then there is the odd scene near the end in a courtroom, where she is eating a meal. (I must have missed the explanation for this.) She dips a turkey leg into a gravy boat, but that’s not enough. She dips her fingers into the gravy, but that’s not enough. Oh, what the hell, she lifts the gravy boat up to her mouth and just drinks the whole thing. Her meal stops the show, literally. “Hello, Dolly” grinds to a halt, the entire cast on stage watching her eat. It’s like a scene from another show – Beckett? Carol Burnett? It might or might not be Dolly, but it’s all Bette, and it’s hilarious.

 

Hello, Dolly

Book by Michael Stewart, based on “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder; Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman

Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreography by Warren Carlyle; set and costume design by Santo Loquasto. Lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Scott Lehrer.

Cast Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce, Donna Murphy (at certain performances), Gavin Creel, Kate Baldwin, Taylor Trensch, Will Burton, Melanie Moore, Jennifer Simard, Cameron Adams, Phillip Attmore, Giuseppe Bausilio, Justin Bowen, Elizabeth Earley, Taeler Elyse Cyrus, Leslie Donna Flesner, Jenifer Foote, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Stephen Hanna, Michael Hartung, Robert Hartwell, Amanda LaMotte, Analisa Leaming, Jess LeProtto, Ian Liberto, Kevin Ligon, Nathan Madden, Michael McCormick, Linda Mugleston, Hayley Podschun, Jessica Sheridan, Michaeljon Slinger, Christian Dante White, Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing and Richard Riaz Yoder

Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes including one intermission.

Tickets: $59.00 (fat chance) to $229.00

It is worth noting that on Tuesdays beginning June 13, 2017, the role of Dolly Levi will be played by Donna Murphy. Donna Murphy will also perform the role of Dolly Levi on June 27 – July 2, July 5 – 9, Sunday evening – July 30, September 6 – 10, Sunday evening – October 15, Monday evening – October 30, November 1 – 5, Friday – November 24 @ 2pm,  and Sunday evening – January 7.

“Hello, Dolly” is scheduled to run through January 14, 2018

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A Dolls House, Part 2, with Laurie Metcalf: Review, Pics

Laurie Metcalf is the fifteenth actress since 1889 to portray Nora Helmer on Broadway, the character in Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” who slams the door on her husband and three children. But she is the first Nora to knock on that door 15 years later, in Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” a clever, surprisingly amusing and thought-provoking new play performed to winning effect by a quartet of first-rate actors: Besides Metcalf, they are Chris Cooper as Nora’s husband Torvald, Jayne Houdyshell as her former nanny Anne Marie, and Condola Rashad as her now grown-up daughter Emmy….A modest theatrical piece, …Hnath’s play is basically just five two-character scenes that run a total of 90 minutes without an intermission…But the simplicity of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is deceptive…

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Brigitte Lacombe to see it enlarged

 

 

2017 Drama Desk Award Nominations: Hello, Dolly, Anastasia, Come From Away Lead.

Drama Desk Awards LogoHello, Dolly, Anastasia, and Come From Away lead the 62nd annual Drama Desk Awards, which honors achievement by professional theater artists on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway.

The winners will be announced at Town Hall on June 4.
The complete list is below:

Outstanding Play
If I Forget, by Steven Levenson, Roundabout Theatre Company
Indecent, by Paula Vogel, Vineyard Theatre
A Life, by Adam Bock, Playwrights Horizons
Oslo, by J. T. Rogers, Lincoln Center Theater
Sweat, by Lynn Nottage, The Public Theater

Outstanding Musical
Anastasia
The Band’s Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
Come From Away
Hadestown, New York Theatre Workshop
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical

Outstanding Revival of a Play
The Front Page
The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
“Master Harold”… and the Boys, Signature Theatre Company
Picnic, Transport Group Theatre Company

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Falsettos, Lincoln Center Theater
Hello, Dolly!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sweet Charity, The New Group
Tick, Tick…BOOM!, Keen Company

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Bobby Cannavale, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Daniel Craig, Othello, New York Theatre Workshop
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
David Hyde Pierce, A Life, Playwrights Horizons
John Douglas Thompson, Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Laura Linney, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Amy Ryan, Love, Love, Love, Roundabout Theatre Company
Harriet Walter, The Tempest, St. Ann’s Warehouse

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Nick Blaemire, Tick, Tick…BOOM!, Keen Company
Jon Jon Briones, Miss Saigon
Nick Cordero, A Bronx Tale
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Christy Altomare, Anastasia
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity, The New Group
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Laura Osnes, Bandstand

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo, Lincoln Center Theater
Danny DeVito, The Price, Roundabout Theatre Company
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Jeremy Shamos, If I Forget, Roundabout Theatre Company
Justice Smith, Yen, MCC Theater

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Randy Graff, The Babylon Line, Lincoln Center Theater
Marie Mullen, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, BAM
Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
Emily Skinner, Picnic
Kate Walsh, If I Forget, Roundabout Theatre Company

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Jeffry Denman, Kid Victory, Vineyard Theatre
George Salazar, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos, Lincoln Center Theater

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos, Lincoln Center Theater
Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia
Nora Schell, Spamilton

Outstanding Director of a Play
Richard Jones, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Anne Kauffman, A Life, Playwrights Horizons
Richard Nelson, What Did You Expect?/Women of a Certain Age, The Public Theater
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
Daniel Sullivan, If I Forget, Roundabout Theatre Company

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Bill Buckhurst, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
David Cromer, The Band’s Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

Outstanding Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Warren Carlyle, Hello, Dolly!
Aletta Collins, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Kelly Devine, Come From Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn, Roundabout Theatre Company

Outstanding Music
Stephen Flaherty, Anastasia
Dave Malloy, Beardo, Pipeline Theatre Company
Richard Oberacker, Bandstand
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away
David Yazbek, The Band’s Visit, Atlantic Theater Company

Outstanding Lyrics
Gerard Alessandrini, Spamilton
GQ and JQ, Othello: The Remix
Michael Korie, War Paint
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away
David Yazbek, The Band’s Visit, Atlantic Theater Company

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Terrence McNally, Anastasia
Itamar Moses, The Band’s Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
Richard Oberacker, Bandstand
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away
Joe Tracz, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical

Outstanding Orchestrations
Doug Besterman, Anastasia
Bruce Coughlin, War Paint
Benjamin Cox, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
August Eriksmoen, Come From Away
Jamshied Sharifi, The Band’s Visit, Atlantic Theater Company

Outstanding Music in a Play
Daniel Ocanto, Graham Ulicny, and Sean Smith, Alligator, New Georges in collaboration with the Sol Project
Marcus Shelby, Notes from the Field, Second Stage
Bill Sims Jr., Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club

Outstanding Revue
Hello Dillie!, 59E59
Life is for Living: Conversations with Coward, 59E59

Outstanding Set Design for a Play
David Gallo, Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Laura Jellinek, A Life, Playwrights Horizons
Stewart Laing, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page

Outstanding Set Design for a Musical
Lez Brotherston, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, St. Ann’s Warehouse
Simon Kenny, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Jason Sherwood, The View UpStairs

Outstanding Costume Design for a Play
Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Murell Horton, The Liar, CSC
Toni-Leslie James, Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
Stewart Laing, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Ann Roth, The Front Page

Outstanding Costume Design for a Musical
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Toni-Leslie James, Come From Away
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Anita Yavich, The View UpStairs
Paloma Young, Bandstand
Catherine Zuber, War Paint

Outstanding Lighting Design for a Play
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent, Vineyard Theatre
James Farncombe, The Tempest, St. Ann’s Warehouse
Rick Fisher, The Judas Kiss, Brooklyn Academy of Music
Mimi Jordan Sherin, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Stephen Strawbridge, “Master Harold”…and the Boys, Signature Theatre Company
Justin Townsend, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club

Outstanding Lighting Design for a Musical
Jeff Croiter, Bandstand
Mark Henderson, Sunset Boulevard
Bradley King, Hadestown, New York Theatre Workshop
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Amy Mae, Sweeney Todd: The Barber of Fleet Street
Malcolm Rippeth, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, St. Ann’s Warehouse

Outstanding Projection Design
Reid Farrington, CasablancaBox, HERE
Elaine McCarthy, Notes from the Field, Second Stage
Jared Mezzocchi, Vietgone, Manhattan Theatre Club*
John Narun, Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey, Life Jacket Theatre Company
Aaron Rhyne, Anastasia

Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
Mikhail Fiksel, A Life, Playwrights Horizons
Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, The Encounter
Brian Quijada, Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Radio Drama Network
Leon Rothenberg, Notes from the Field, Second Stage
Jane Shaw, Men on Boats, Playwrights Horizons/Clubbed Thumb
Matt Stine, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
Simon Baker, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, St. Ann’s Warehouse
Peter Hylenski, Anastasia
Scott Lehrer, Hello, Dolly!
Nicholas Pope, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Mick Potter, Cats
Brian Ronan, War Paint

Outstanding Wig and Hair
David Brian Brown, War Paint
Campbell Young Associates, Hello, Dolly!
John Jared Janas, Yours Unfaithfully, Mint Theatre Company
Jason Hayes, The View UpStairs
Josh Marquette, Present Laughter
Tom Watson, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club

Outstanding Solo Performance
Nancy Anderson, The Pen (Inner Voices), Premieres
Ed Dixon, Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose
Marin Ireland, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground
Sarah Jones, Sell/Buy/Date, Manhattan Theatre Club
Brian Quijada, Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Radio Drama Network
Anna Deavere Smith, Notes from the Field, Second Stage

Unique Theatrical Experience
CasablancaBox, HERE
The Paper Hat Game, The Tank/3-Legged Dog
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, National Theatre of Scotland
The Ephemera Trilogy, The Tank/Flint & Tinder

Outstanding Fight Choreography
J. David Brimmer, Yen, MCC Theatre
Donal O’Farrell, Quietly, Irish Repertory Theatre
Michael Rossmy and Rick Sordelet, Troilus and Cressida, New York Shakespeare Festival
Thomas Schall, Othello, New York Theatre Workshop
Thomas Schall, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
U. Jonathan Toppo, Sweat, The Public Theatre

Outstanding Adaptation
David Ives, The Liar, Classic Stage Company
Ellen McLaughlin, The Trojan Women, The Flea Theatre

Outstanding Puppet Design
Basil Twist, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Lyndie Wright, Sarah Wright, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, St. Ann’s Warehouse

SPECIAL AWARDS:

Outstanding Ensemble
The Wolves, The Playwrights Realm: The superbly talented cast of Sarah DeLappe’s debut play -Mia Barron, Brenna Coates, Jenna Dioguardi, Samia Finnerty, Midori Francis, Lizzy Jutila, Sarah Mezzanotte, Tedra Millan, Lauren Patten, and Susannah Perkins-jelled as one, proving that team spirit is just a alive on the stage as it is on the soccer field.

Special Award to Phil LaDuca: Proving that character comes from the ground up, the designer’s innovative flexible dance shoe ensures that hoofers on any stage remain on point.

Sam Norkin Award: Lila Neugebauer: During a season that saw her helm the original works The Antipodes, Everybody, Miles For Mary, and The Wolves, and resurrect the works of esteemed playwrights Edward Albee, Maria Irene Fornes, and Adrienne Kennedy in Signature Plays, director Lila Neugebauer has shown that her dauntless insight into the human condition knows no bounds.

TOTAL NOMINATIONS:

Hello, Dolly! – 10
Anastasia – 9
Come From Away – 9
The Hairy Ape – 8
Bandstand – 7
The Band’s Visit – 7
The Little Foxes – 7
War Paint – 7
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – 7
Jitney – 6
A Life – 5
946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips – 4
The Front Page – 4
If I Forget – 4
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 – 4
Notes from the Field – 4
Falsettos – 3
Present Laughter – 3
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical – 3
The View UpStairs – 3
CasablancaBox – 2
A Doll’s House, Part 2 – 2

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Broadway Review: Death by Chocolate

“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare; neither knew chocolate.” That insight by Sandra Boynton (author of “Chocolate: The Consuming Passion”) helps explain why we must make do with such a cartoonishly dark chocolate dramatization as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” currently at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne.

 

The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s macabre story stars a top-hatted Christian Borle (Something Rotten, Peter and the Starcatcher, etc.) as chocolate entrepreneur Willy Wonka and a trio of child actors who alternate in the role of 10-year-old Charlie Bucket, an impoverished, upstanding chocolate-lover who is the only one of five juveniles to survive a visit to Willy’s factory.

There might well be theatergoers over the age of ten who will get a sugar high from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” but I am not one of them. The overall effect manages to be too obvious and yet too bland. It doesn’t live up to the promise of its big sister, “Matilda,” which was much praised for its clever lyrics, dazzling stagecraft, and faithful stage adaptation of another one of Dahl’s stories. I would be hard put to use any of those adjectives to describe “Charlie.”  I have nothing especially negative to say about most of the performances, including Christian Borle’s, although nothing especially positive to say about the actors portraying the four insufferable children who, like Charlie, won the sought-after golden tickets to go on the chocolate factory tour — whose misbehavior during the tour one by one leads to their demise. Their ends are clearly meant to be clever, but don’t sparkle in the execution.   Director Jack O’Brien mercifully casts these roles with adults, but then mercilessly pushes them into broadness — not that I expect nuance from somebody drowning in chocolate, or bursting into goo, or ripped apart by giant squirrels.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I recognize that the hard work of many talented hands with impressive track records went into the refashioning of this show since its London debut four years ago. They even remade the exterior of the Lunt-Fontanne to look like Willy Wonka’s factory, complete with cutesy warning signs, and have installed an array of exotic (overpriced) chocolate treats for sale in the lobby. In the scheme of things, such effort should pay off, and it does. I suspect there are enough moments to make the show at least intermittently enjoyable for adult chaperones. What stood out for me:

~The Oompa Loompas, the workers in Wonka’s factery, cleverly devised by genius puppeteer Basil Twist as puppet bodies with the puppeteers’ actual heads in bright orange wigs, choreographed by Joshua Bergasse to hilarious and toe-tapping effect.

~Jackie Hoffman as the boozy mother (Mrs. Teavee) of one of the four insufferable children, social media-obsessed Mike Teavee (portrayed by Michael Wartella) Hoffman’s comic mischievousness has elevated every show in which I’ve seen her (from On The Town to Once Upon a Mattress to the just-ended Feud on FX.) Here she is also given one of the new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong”, that attempt topical humor in order to appeal to adults. Sample lyric:

Here in the bosom of America
We love the things that make our country strong. We give our little sons
lots of love and lots of guns.
So, what could possibly go wrong?

~John Rubinstein — the original Pippin, Tony winner for “Children of a Lesser God,” unrecognizable as Grampa Joe, one of Charlie’s four wizened grandparents, the grumpy then exhilarated one who accompanies Charlie to the factory.

~The Candy Man, the song  by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley composed for the 1971 movie that Sammy Davis Jr. made an improbable hit.  Borle sings it at the very top of the show. He also sings another hit from that movie, “Pure Imagination.” Both songs are so familiarly tuneful as to be singer-proof (not that they needed protection from Borle), and they provide a lift, especially for those with a fondness for the movie.

A word about that movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” which was the first adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” starring Gene Wilder and distributed by Paramount. Roald Dahl was a prolific author of macabre novels for kids, which have been turned into more than a dozen movies, and now three musicals. But the 1971 movie reportedly so “infuriated” Dahl, presumably because of the liberties it took with his 1964 novel,  that he refused to allow any more adaptations of the book during his lifetime.

He died in 1990. In 2005, Warner Bros. made a new movie of the book, starring Johnny Depp.

I wonder what Dahl would have made of that movie, and of the new Broadway musical.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Book by David Grieg, based on the book by Roald Dahl; Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman;
Directed by Jack O’Brien. Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse;
Scenic Design by Mark Thompson; Costume Design by Mark Thompson; Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman; Sound Design by Andrew Keister; Video and Projection Design: Jeff Sugg; Puppetry Design: Basil Twist; Hair and Wig Design by Campbell Young
Cast Christian Borle; Jake Ryan Flynn, Ryan Foust and Ryan Sell as Charlie in alternate performances; John Rubinstein, Emily Padgett, Kathy Fitzgerald, F. Michael Haynie, Ben Crawford, Emma Pfaeffle, Alan H. Green, Trista Dollison, Jackie Hoffman, Michael Wartella, Yesenia Ayala, Darius Barnes, Colin Bradbury, Jared Bradshaw, Ryan Breslin, Kristy Cates, Madeleine Doherty, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Stephanie Gibson, Talya Groves, Cory Lingner, Elliott Mattox, Monette McKay, Kyle Taylor Parker, Paul Slade Smith, Stephen Carrasco, Kristin Piro, Amy Quanbeck, Michael Williams, and Mikey Winslow

Six Degrees of Separation: Broadway Review, Pics

Near the end of Six Degrees of Separation, Allison Janney, portraying the first rich white victim of a young black con man, tells her husband that she doesn’t want to turn the experience into an anecdote, “with no teeth and a punch line you’ll mouth over and over for years to come.” But it was an anecdote that John Guare heard from friends, reportedly at a dinner party, that inspired him to write Six Degrees of Separation in the first place, and his 1990 play, now being revived on Broadway for the first time, in fact feels like the theatrical equivalent of a dinner party anecdote. It is funny – sometimes very funny — well crafted, coated with a patina of sparkling sophistication, even at times pointed and almost poignant. It’s an enjoyable entertainment. But it does not add up to the significant experience that Allison Janney’s character feels. And, while the play touches on such matters as race and class and the struggle for connection in modern life, it does not offer the profound insights that the playwright evidently intends.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Frozen Cast. Sound Tonys Restored. Rebecca Saga Returns…in Court. Week in NY Theater

The Broadway season is not over until the end of this week, but the awards season has already begun.

The Week in Theater Awards

Sound design Tony categories reinstated for next year

 

Among her many other accomplishments, Lee founded the National Asian Artists Project, which does fully staged New York productions of classic musicals like Carousel, Oliver!, and Hello, Dolly!, cast mainly with Asian actors.

2017 Outer Critics Circle Nominations – Anastasia, Hello, Dolly; The Band’s Visit lead

2017 Drama League Nominations

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

(l-r): Katrina Lenk as ‘Manke,’ Adina Verson as ‘Rivkele’ in INDECENT,

Indecent

There are many reasons to find deep satisfaction in the arrival on Broadway of the play “Indecent,” a fascinating tale wondrously staged about a century-old Jewish drama that featured a scandalizing kiss between two women, whose Broadway cast was prosecuted for obscenity.
It marks the long-delayed Broadway debut of Paula Vogel, who at 65 is one of the theatre community’s most admired playwrights…”Indecent” is also something of a homecoming and even vindication for “God of Vengeance”…”Indecent” is further proof that a play can explore a range of frighteningly relevant issues – threats to the arts and an entire culture, anti-immigrant bigotry, homophobia, even genocide – and do so in a production that is not only enlightening, and moving, but entertaining.

Laura Linney as Regina (left) and Cynthia Nixon as Birdie (right)

The Little Foxes

Now we call it racism, sexism and domestic abuse, but it’s just everyday life in “The Little Foxes,” Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play about a rapacious Southern family, which is being given an engrossing Broadway revival with a superb cast at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater.

The production, finely directed by Daniel Sullivan, is getting the most attention because of a gimmick, but it’s a smart, appealing gimmick: Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon take turns portraying either Regina or Birdie at alternate performances.

I saw it with Laura Linney as Regina and Cynthia Nixon as Birdie, which was the cast on opening night, and thus how the two will be considered by the Tony nominating committee – Linney for best actress in a leading role, Nixon in a supporting role. And they surely will be nominated

Anastasia

In dramatizing the legend surrounding the youngest daughter of the last Czar, the show has created a new villain, a Soviet official named Gleb….Anastasia winds up promoting nostalgia for the last reign of the Romanovs, those elegantly attired autocrats who sponsored pogroms against the Jews and violently suppressed popular Russian calls for democracy.
..the real strength of this production – its beautiful design and its wonderful cast…Given the pleasures in this escapist fare largely geared to children, few parents will probably care that we have to endure lines like “Anya survived for a reason: to heal what happened or Russia will be a wound that never heals.”

Andy Karl

Groundhog Day

Andy Karl gives an inventive, energetic and wholly winning performance that is the main reason to see this musical adaptation of the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray.

Ryan Spahn as Daniel and Matthew Montelong as Mitchell in Daniel’s Husband

Daniel’s Husband

Given Mitchell’s explicit arguments against gay marriage in the first half of the play, the turn of events becomes an implicit refutation of Mitchell’s beliefs, a one-sided argument for the necessity of gay people getting married. “Daniel’s Husband” becomes an odd and simplistic cautionary tale. Only the acting under Joe Brancato’s direction saves us from utter authorial strong-arming

Gabriel Ebert and Harvey Fierstein

Gently Down the Stream

Playwright Martin Sherman seems to believe that same-sex marriage is important, and that there is some resistance to it from within the gay community that he finds regrettable. But Sherman’s approach is less an argument than a simple explanation for attitudes like those of Beau, portrayed by Harvey Fierstein.

The Week in New York Theater News

Rebecca logo

“Rebecca” will never open on Broadway, according to the  attorney for its producers admits during the trial against the show’s former publicist. The producers have lost the rights to it.

Some history on The Rebecca Saga:

Rebecca Producer: I was duped, I was raped

The Weirdness of Rebecca

The (would-be) stars of Rebecca speak out

 

 

“Orange is the New Barack” Capitol Steps’ new political vaudeville, June 18th only at Symphony Space

For the Helen Hayes Theater, their Broadway house, Second Stage Theater is commissioning new works by Lynn Nottage, Paula Vogel, Will eno, Lisa KRon, Robbie Baitz, and Young Jean Lee.

Disney has cast Caissie Levy  as Elsa, Patti Murin as Anna, Greg Hildreth as Olaf in the stage musical “Frozen” — which is coming to Broadway an Aug-Oct run at the Denver Center

If I Forget, Steven Levenson’s Jewish family drama, to be taped by BroadwayHD for on-demand viewing the Fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Outer Critics Circle Nominations

outercriticscirclelogo

“Anastasia” and “Hello, Dolly!” lead in the number of nominations for the 2017 Outer Critics Circle Awards, with 13 and 10 respectively, followed by “The Band’s Visit” and “Come From Away,” each with seven.  The winners will be announced on Monday, May 8th

Outer critics announce

Danny Burstein and Jane Krakowski announce the nominations

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY

A Doll’s House, Part 2

Indecent

Oslo

Sweat

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL

Anastasia

A Bronx Tale

Come From Away

Groundhog Day

Holiday Inn

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY PLAY

If I Forget

Incognito

A Life

Linda

Love, Love, Love

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL

The Band’s Visit

Hadestown

Himself and Nora

Kid Victory

Spamilton

 

OUTSTANDING BOOK OF A MUSICAL

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)

Terrence McNally Anastasia

Itamar Moses The Band’s Visit

Chazz Palminteri A Bronx Tale

Danny Rubin Groundhog Day

Irene Sankoff & David Hein Come From Away

OUTSTANDING NEW SCORE

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)

Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens Anastasia

Alan Menken & Glenn Slater A Bronx Tale

Tim Minchin Groundhog Day

Irene Sankoff & David Hein Come From Away

David Yazbek The Band’s Visit

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A PLAY

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)

The Front Page

Jitney

The Little Foxes

Othello

The Price

OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)

Finian’s Rainbow

Hello, Dolly!

Miss Saigon

Sunset Boulevard

Sweeney Todd

OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A PLAY

Lila Neugebauer The Wolves

Jack O’Brien The Front Page

Daniel Sullivan The Little Foxes

Rebecca Taichman Indecent

Kate Whoriskey Sweat

OUTSTANDING DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL

Christopher Ashley Come From Away

David Cromer The Band’s Visit

Darko Tresnjak Anastasia

Matthew Warchus Groundhog Day

Jerry Zaks Hello, Dolly!

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHER

Andy Blankenbuehler Bandstand

Warren Carlyle Hello, Dolly!

Savion Glover Shuffle Along

Kelly Devine Come From Away

Denis Jones Holiday Inn

OUTSTANDING SET DESIGN

(Play or Musical)

Alexander Dodge Anastasia

Nigel Hook The Play That Goes Wrong

Mimi Lien Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Scott Pask The Little Foxes

Douglas W. Schmidt The Front Page

OUTSTANDING COSTUME DESIGN

(Play or Musical)

Linda Cho Anastasia

Susan Hilferty Present Laughter

Santo Loquasto Hello, Dolly!

Ann Roth Shuffle Along

Catherine Zuber War Paint

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGN

(Play or Musical)
Christopher Akerlind Indecent

Donald Holder Anastasia

Natasha Katz Hello, Dolly!

Bradley King Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Kenneth Posner War Paint

OUTSTANDING PROJECTION DESIGN

(Play or Musical)
Duncan McLean Privacy

Jared Mezzocchi Vietgone

Benjamin Pearcy for 59 Productions Oslo

Aaron Rhyne Anastasia

Tal Yarden Indecent

OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN

(Play or Musical)
Gareth Fry & Pete Malkin The Encounter

Gareth Owen Come From Away

Nicholas Pope Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Matt Stine Sweeney Todd

Nevin Steinberg Bandstand

OUTSTANDING ORCHESTRATIONS

Doug Besterman Anastasia

Larry Blank Holiday Inn

Bill Elliott & Greg Anthony Rassen Bandstand

Larry Hochman Hello, Dolly!

Jamshied Sharifi The Band’s Visit

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A PLAY

Daniel Craig Othello

Michael Emerson Wakey, Wakey

Kevin Kline Present Laughter

David Oyelowo Othello

David Hyde Pierce A Life

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Janie Dee Linda

Sally Field The Glass Menagerie

Allison Janney Six Degrees of Separation

Laura Linney The Little Foxes

Laurie Metcalf A Doll’s House, Part 2

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Christian Borle Falsettos

Nick Cordero A Bronx Tale

Andy Karl Groundhog Day

David Hyde Pierce Hello, Dolly!

Tony Shalhoub The Band’s Visit

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Christy Altomare Anastasia

Christine Ebersole War Paint

Katrina Lenk The Band’s Visit

Patti LuPone War Paint

Bette Midler Hello, Dolly!

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY

Michael Aronov Oslo

Danny DeVito The Price

Nathan Lane The Front Page

Richard Thomas The Little Foxes

Richard Topol Indecent

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Johanna Day Sweat

Jayne Houdyshell A Doll’s House, Part 2

Katrina Lenk Indecent

Nana Mensah Man From Nebraska

Cynthia Nixon The Little Foxes

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

John Bolton Anastasia

Jeffry Denman Kid Victory

Gavin Creel Hello, Dolly!

Shuler Hensley Sweet Charity

Andrew Rannells Falsettos

OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Kate Baldwin Hello, Dolly!

Stephanie J. Block Falsettos

Jenn Colella Come From Away

Caroline O’Connor Anastasia

Mary Beth Peil Anastasia

OUTSTANDING SOLO PERFORMANCE

Ed Dixon Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose

Marin Ireland On the Exhale

Sarah Jones Sell / Buy / Date

Judith Light All the Ways to Say I Love You

Simon McBurney The Encounter

JOHN GASSNER AWARD

(Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)

Jaclyn Backhaus Men on Boats

Sarah DeLappe The Wolves

Paola Lázaro Tell Hector I Miss Him

Qui Nguyen Vietgone

Bess Wohl Small Mouth Sounds

Nominations Talley for 3 or more:

 

Anastasia – 13; Hello, Dolly! – 10; The Band’s Visit – 7; Come From Away – 7; Indecent – 6; The Little Foxes – 6; Groundhog Day – 5; A Bronx Tale – 4; The Front Page – 4; War Paint – 4; Bandstand – 3; A Doll’s House – 3; Holiday Inn – 3; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 – 3; Oslo – 3; Sweat – 3

Celebrating its 67th season, the Outer Critics Circle is an association focused on New York theater, with members from more than 90 newspapers, magazines, websites, radio and television stations, and theater publications in the United States and abroad.

Anastasia on Broadway: Review, Video, Photographs

In dramatizing the legend surrounding the youngest daughter of the last Czar, the show has created a new villain, a Soviet official named Gleb….Anastasia winds up promoting nostalgia for the last reign of the Romanovs, those elegantly attired autocrats who sponsored pogroms against the Jews and violently suppressed popular Russian calls for democracy.
..the real strength of this production – its beautiful design and its wonderful cast…Given the pleasures in this escapist fare largely geared to children, few parents will probably care that we have to endure lines like “Anya survived for a reason: to heal what happened or Russia will be a wound that never heals.”

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged

Groundhog Day Musical Review: Indestructible Andy Karl, From Jerk to Jack-of-all-Trades

So there was Andy Karl, the star of “Groundhog Day,” on stage in what’s supposed to be a seduction scene, but he was proudly showing off the elaborate black knee-brace on his bare outstretched leg, sticking a glass of Scotch on top of it. The brace was the only visible sign of the accident that injured Karl three days before the opening, causing him to miss several performances on doctor’s orders. But here he was back again in spectacular form, adding this cheeky bit of improvisation in an inventive, energetic and wholly winning performance that is the main reason to see this musical adaptation of the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray.
Like the movie, the musical tells the story of TV weatherman Phil Connors who, in a metaphysical twist, is suddenly forced to relive over and over again a single day, Groundhog Day, February 2, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, an actual small town that turns Groundhog Day into an annual celebration. That celebration is built around a groundhog named Phil, who either sees his shadow or doesn’t, thus predicting whether spring will come six weeks early.
It’s not as easy to predict who will like “Groundhog Day,” a musical built around Andy Karl as Phil Connors, despite the Olivier Awards for Best Musical and Best Lead Male performance that the show received in London.
The story, with a book by Danny Rubin, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with the late Harold Ramis, is fairly faithful to a movie that I love, and that I have watched, um, repeatedly. Yet the translation to the stage presents logistical problems that the theatrical team solves with only varying degrees of success. The score by Tim Minchin, best known for Matilda, is full of clever, saucy lyrics and music that ranges from rock to jazz to country to funk to folk to lovely ballads. Yet some of these original songs seem inserted jukebox style rather than flowing organically from the action. Director Matthew Warchus has assembled a 20-member supporting cast comprised mostly of reliable Broadway regulars, and hired the same exuberant choreographer Peter Darling and the same design team that wowed audiences at Matilda, including Paul Kieve, a master of special effects. Yet supporting cast, choreographer and designers are sometimes employed in what one can describe as cartoon extravaganzas – technically impressive fast footwork and flashy stage effects that fill both eyes and ears but reach neither mind nor heart (nor funnybone!) All I can say about “Groundhog Day” without ambivalence is that Andy Karl’s performance is one that nobody should miss.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.


It’s intriguing to see the evolution of Karl’s reaction to yet another repeated day in Punxsutawney – shocked, hostile, destructive, hedonistic, suicidal, resigned…until finally, he becomes enlightened: He takes the time to learn speak French, play piano, recite the almanac…and to learn about the lives of the individual townspeople of Punxsutawney, and to care about them.
The creative team makes a show of caring about the townspeople too; the most obvious example is their giving solo songs to people Phil has treated dismissively — Nancy (Rebecca Faulkenberry), a beautiful blonde who feels doomed to being mistreated by men ( “Playing Nancy”), and to Ned Ryerson (John Sanders), Phil’s nerdy high school classmate who now sells insurance (“Night Will Come.”) In and of themselves, these are lovely songs, but they are not enough to turn the characters from Phil’s cartoony adjuncts into people we feel we know.
The one character who gets her full due, while also serving as one of Phil’s foil, is the one portrayed sympathetically by Barrett Doss — Rita, the associate producer who has accompanied him on the trip to Punxsutawney from their home studio (which is apparently in Ohio.) A highlight of the musical is the scenes that chronicle Phil’s courtship of Rita. On each first date he does something that makes her slap him in the face, but day after day, he tries to fix his faux-pas of the previous first date.
In “One Day,” one of Rita’s several songs, we see her ambivalence towards even the possibility of love:

One day, some day, my prince may come
but it doesn’t seem likely
and even if he came and he liked me
it’s likely
he’d be
not quite
my type

The song continues, after a scene in which Phil asks what she wants in a man. She sings:

He’ll be tender but tough, and smart but not smug
and attentive but not fawning and he’ll smell good in the morning
and he’ll dance.

Phil interrupts: “This is a guy we’re talking about, right?”

This mix of mockery and heart was central to the success of the movie, a tone it navigated with great skill. The musical is not always as successful in doing so.
As in the movie, there is a series of scenes in which Phil, driven almost mad by the day’s repetition, tries to kill himself. At one point, he electrocutes himself with a toaster in a bathtub, and we instantly see him wake up the next morning in bed — one of the several terrific stage effects designed by Paul Kieve. But we also see ensemble members commit suicide in a macabre array of ways, while Karl sings a Minchin song entitled Hope:

Never give up hope
Never let yourself be defeated. if you tried it once, you can try again

The problem here is that the song is a soaring, tuneful ballad, and rather than funny, as the juxtaposition is surely meant to be, it comes off as confused and tasteless.

It must be said that Karl’s performance is untouched by this occasional tonal dissonance. He manages the transition from cynicism to sentiment credibly. He is also able to juggle admirably the comedy, romance and demanding physicality of the role. In doing so, Andy Karl establishes himself as a leading man in a way that his eight previous turns on Broadway have not, as good as they were; his last two were as Rocky Balboa in Rocky and the muscle-headed boy-toy in On The Twentieth Century.
Karl also drives home the most important themes of “Groundhog Day,” which resemble those of “Our Town,” albeit nearly overshadowed by state-of-the-art Broadway stagecraft — the everyday is wondrous if you take the time to pay attention; nobody takes the time to pay attention.

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 Preview the score

Groundhog Day
August Wilson Theater
Book by Danny Rubin, based on the screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis; Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Matthew Warchus. Choreography by Peter Darling. Scenic Design by Rob Howell; Costume Design by Rob Howell; Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone; Sound Design by Simon Baker; Video Design by Andrzej Goulding; Hair Design by Campbell Young Associates; Make-Up Design by Campbell Young Associates; illusions by Paul Kieve
Cast Andy Karl, Barrett Doss, Rebecca Faulkenberry, John Sanders, Andrew Call, Raymond J. Lee, Heather Ayers, Kevin Bernard, Gerard Canonico, Rheaume Crenshaw, Michael Fatica, Katy Geraghty, Camden Gonzales, Jordan Grubb, Taylor Iman Jones, Tari Kelly, Josh Lamon, Joseph Medeiros, Sean Montgomery, William Parry, Jenna Rubaii, Vishal Vaidya, Travis Waldschmidt and Natalie Wisdom

Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, including one intermission.

Tickets: $69.50 to $159. General Rush and digital lottery: $40. Premium: $219

The Little Foxes Review: Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon Alternate Roles in Lillian Hellman’s Tale of Greed

Cynthia Nixon, left, and Laura Linney, as Regina

Now we call it racism, sexism and domestic abuse, but it’s just everyday life in “The Little Foxes,” Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play about a rapacious Southern family, which is being given an engrossing Broadway revival with a superb cast at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater.

The production, finely directed by Daniel Sullivan, is getting the most attention because of a gimmick, but it’s a smart, appealing gimmick: Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon take turns portraying either Regina or Birdie at alternate performances.

I saw it with Laura Linney as Regina and Cynthia Nixon as Birdie, which was the cast on opening night, and thus how the two will be considered by the Tony nominating committee – Linney for best actress in a leading role, Nixon in a supporting role. And they surely will be nominated. In any case, it is the casting I preferred to see, since both actresses can be said to be playing against type.

Click on these photographs by Joan Marcus of the “blue performances” (Laura Linney as Regina) to see them enlarged.

The malevolent heart of “The Little Foxes” belongs to Regina, a juicy role originated by the fabulous Tallulah Bankhead on Broadway, and portrayed by the great Bette Davis in the 1941 film directed by William Wyler. Regina Hubbard Giddens is what you might call a piece of work – coquettish, crafty, manipulative, murderous. The daughter of a store owner who snubbed her and gave his entire inheritance to her two greedy brothers, Regina married Horace Giddens (Richard Thomas) in hopes that he could further her insatiable ambitions. But, though he is a kind-hearted and respectable banker, he has gravely disappointed her, so much so that she has not shared her bed with him for ten years.

As the play begins, it is 1900, Horace has been in a hospital in Baltimore for five months because of heart trouble, and Regina is scheming with her two brothers to land a deal with a Northern industrialist, Mr. Marshall, to build a cotton mill on their plantation.  Regina and her brothers need Horace’s money to make the investment, but he has not replied to their letters. So Regina dispatches his young beloved daughter Alexandra to travel by herself to Baltimore to convince him to come home, indifferent to his feeble condition, wanting only his money.

Laura Linney, an 11-time Broadway veteran (Tony nominated for Time Stands Still) and accomplished screen actress (Oscar-nominated for Kinsey, You Can Count on Me, and The Savages), has in previous roles given off a flower child vibe (she played Mary Ann Singleton in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the Cities miniseries.) It makes her portrayal of Regina all the more impressive – at times calculatedly charming, at other times sarcastic or bitter or venomous, at all times hardened steel.

Cynthia Nixon, a 13-time Broadway veteran who made her Broadway debut at age 14 and won a Tony for Rabbit Hole ,is also an accomplished screen actress (Sex and the City.) In previous roles, her persona has been someone who knows her own mind, who can come off as bossy. Birdie, by contrast, is a delicate soul and music-lover, the one-time belle of an aristocratic family brought down and then bought out by the Hubbard family. She is married to Regina’s brother Oscar, who humiliates and abuses her, as does his brother Ben: “Twenty years ago,” Ben tells Mr. Marshall about Birdie’s family during the dinner party at the start of the play, “we took over their land, and their cotton, and their daughter.” Birdie has become an anxious and insecure drunk. It is to Nixon’s credit that she does not portray Birdie as a skittish woman, who talks too rapidly and too much (which is how I’ve seen other actresses depict the character.) Rather than the foolish woman her husband Oscar accuses her of being, Nixon’s Birdie is a woman with natural enthusiasms, and innate intelligence, who is constantly being beaten down. This makes her victimization all the more upsetting.

Having Linney and Nixon swap parts elevates Birdie in our consideration of the play – she is no longer just a minor character — and I think this makes sense for our era’s heightened sensitivity to women’s degradation. That she is so dismissed by the other characters is the very reason we should not do so ourselves.

Linney and Nixon wouldn’t shine so brightly without a supporting cast full of stand-out performances. Richard Thomas is exactly right as the goodly, dying Horace Giddens. Thomas made his Broadway debut at the age of eight, and has been in a dozen Broadway plays over the past 50 years, yet for a couple of generations he’s still best known as the aspiring writer John-Boy Walton in The Waltons, a saga of a family in Virginia that ran as a TV series in the 1970s and then as a series of TV movies in the 1980s and 1990s. One can almost see his Horace as John-Boy grown old, with life turning out not the way he had hoped. Darren Goldstein, best-known for portraying jerks (Oscar Hodges in The Affair, Calhoun in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson), here takes it up a few notches with Oscar Hubbard, a blunt, dull, vulgar man who has no discernible redeeming qualities – he even kills animals every day for sport, and then throws their bodies away, while the African-Americans in the area go hungry. Goldstein deserves credit for keeping such a character credible. So does Caroline Stefanie Clay, who portrays Addie, a character who is 180 degrees from Oscar — a kindly black servant who is a fount of wisdom and dignity. Michael McKean, like Thomas nearly enshrined for youthful roles (Laverne and Shirley, This is Spinal Tap), and last on Broadway as J. Edgar Hoover in All The Way, seems to get better and better as he ages. His Ben is a subtle knave, more articulate and intelligent than Oscar, but no less evil. (McKean is also terrific as the mentally ill older brother lawyer Chuck in Better Call Saul, the prequel TV series to Breaking Bad.)

The Little Foxes 1939 nypl.digitalcollections.86f82796-eb02-e6a0-e040-e00a180638c2.001.w

Eugenia Rawls and Tallulah Bankhead The Little Foxes,  Feb 15, 1939.

After rhapsodizing about Tallulah Bankhead in the original Broadway production of “The Little Foxes,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in his review: “It is obviously unfair to discuss Miss Hellman’s new play as if it were a vehicle. Although in my opinion it does not have the general significance she intends, it is an unusually creditable example of the well-made play that is skillfully written and that communicates burning convictions.”

It’s true that Hellman didn’t do nuance. “The Little Foxes” might be admired more if the good characters weren’t quite so saintly and the bad characters so utterly evil. The playwright took the title from the Song of Solomon in the Bible: “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” But she might as well have called it The Gentle and the Jackals.

But the play’s craftsmanship and its intensity have not diminished in this fifth, fierce, Broadway production (the last in 1997 with Stockard Channing as Regina), enhanced not just by the performances but by Scott Pask’s elegant set and the sumptuous costumes by Jane Greenwood. And I believe the changing times – and these particular times – have invested “The Little Foxes” with greater significance.  The issues of race, class and gender that Hellman weaves into her play are far more at the forefront of our consciousness and concerns now.  (One feels the impact of some seemingly throwaway lines, such as the brothers’ promise to force wages low and prevent any strikes in their mill, and Addie responding to Horace’s promise of leaving her some money: “Don’t you do that, Mr. Horace. A colored woman in a white man’s will! I’d never get it nohow.”) I’ve always been chilled and enthralled when Addie says “there are people who eat the earth” and “there are people who stand around and watch them eat it. Sometimes I think it ain’t right to stand and watch them do it.” Hearing this now, it feels like a timely call to arms.

Click on these photographs by Joan Marcus of the “green performances” (Cynthia Nixon as Regina) to see them enlarged.

The Little Foxes

MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater

Written by Lillian Hellman; Directed by Daniel Sullivan

Set design by Scott Pask, costume design by Jane Greenwood, lighting design by Justin Townsend, sound design by Fitz Patton,

Cast Cynthia Nixon as Regina/Birdie, Laura Linney as Regina/Birdie, Darren Goldstein as Oscar Hubbard, Michael McKean as Ben Hubbard, Richard Thomas as Horace Giddens, David Alford as Mr. Marshall, Michael Benz as Leo Hubbard, Francesca Carpanini as Alexandra Giddens, Caroline Stefanie Clay as Addie and Charles Turner as Cal.

Running time: Two and a half hours, including two 10-minute intermissions

Tickets: $89 to $179

The Little Foxes has been extended to July 2, 2017.