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New York Theater November 2014 Quiz

How well were you paying attention to New York theater this month? Take these dozen questions and find out.

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Emma Stone in Cabaret Photographs

Emma Stone is making her Broadway debut performing as Sally Bowles  in Cabaret thru February 1, 2015. Stone, 26, is best known for her movie roles in The Help and the Amazing Spider-Man.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

Holiday Gifts for Theater Lovers 2014

My Broadway gift guide has proven popular enough in the past couple years that I am updating it for 2014, with information on theater tickets, theater subscriptions, play scripts, cast recordings and new and cherished books about the theater, as well as souvenirs intended as tangible reminders of an evanescent experience.

THEATER TICKETS

Gift cards:  Telecharge gift cards  and TKTS gift certificates allow the theatergoers on your holiday list to pick their own show to go to (or several shows – depending on how much money you put on the card.)

Some suggest it’s better to give a gift card from Visa or Mastercard,because the theater-specific gift cards charge fees for each show.

If you know what specific show your theater lover would love, you can buy tickets for them yourself. (Here is a link to buy tickets to some of the most popular shows, or you can buy from their websites or at their box office.) Some long-time favorites:

THE BOOK OF MORMON

The Eugene O’Neill Theater
Opened: March 24, 2011
Director: Jason Moore and Trey Parker
Twitter feed: @BookofMormonBWY
This new musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (book), the creators of South Park, and Robert Lopez, one of the composer-lyricists for “Avenue Q” (music and lyrics) is about both the founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints and modern disciples. It is outrageous, irreverent in one way, but also deeply reverent to (even while parodying) the best traditions of the Broadway musical.

My review of The Book of Mormon: Ridiculing Religion, Worshiping The Great White Way

Jersey Boys

August Wilson Theater (245 West 52nd Street)
Opened: November 6, 2006
Twitter: @JerseyBoysInfo
The story of the 1950′s-60′s singing group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, whose hits include “December 1963 [Oh, What A Night]” (my favorite) as well as “Sherry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” etc.
Here is what I wrote about the show recently, in an article entitled Jersey Boys vs. Jersey Shore: Although the music is better known than the musicians, and yes there are almost three dozen songs in the show, the story of the group is better than most of those ‘Behind The Music’ documentaries.

THE LION KING
Minskoff Theater (200 West 45th Street)
Opened: November 13, 1997
Twitter: @TheLionKing
Based on the 1994 Disney animated film about the coming-of-age of a young lion in the African jungle, this musical offers African-inflected music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and the visual magic of Julie Taymor. Taymor is the director, a composer and lyricist for some of the songs. But above all, she is the designer of the costumes, masks, and puppets — and it is these visuals that make this show a good first theatrical experience.

MATILDA
Shubert Theater, 225 West 44th Street,
Opened: April 11, 2013
The quirky musical, about a neglected little girl with extraordinary powers, is based on a cartoonishly dark, oddball 1988 novel aimed at children by Roald Dahl. There is much to like in what was unquestionably one of the best new musicals of last season on Broadway (although it was neglected at Tony time.) “Matilda” offers dazzling stagecraft overseen by director Matthew Warchus,  a faithful and intelligent book by David Kelly, and Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics. The production also, however, sometimes feels in need of a translator.

MOTOWN THE MUSICAL
Lunt-Fontanne Theater
Opened: April 14, 2013
It is easy to see “Motown: The Musical” as Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr.’s affectionate tribute to himself. But many who love the music of Motown will not be put off by the lame book from enjoying the musical, which features some three dozen performers playing 90 characters and singing an astonishing 60 songs made popular by the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross, among many others.

This show is closing on Broadway in January, 2015, but promises to return after a national tour.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Majestic Theater (247 West 44th Street)
Opened: January 26, 1988
Twitter: @TheOperaGhosts
The Phantom of the Opera, based on a 1911 French novel by Gaston Leroux, is about a disfigured genius named Erik who lives in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House and falls in love with Christine, an aspiring singer whom he helps…until an old flame of Christine’s named Raoul steps back into the picture.
However, the story in the musical, written and composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber — with more than its share of 1980′s heavy power ballads — is starting to take second place to the story of the musical, which is the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, and probably the most profitable.

Wicked
Gershwin Theater (222 West 51st Street)
Opened: October 30, 2003
Twitter: @WICKED_Musical
The musical tells the story of “The Wizard of Oz” from the witches’ perspective, more specifically from the Wicked Witch of the West, who was not, as a child, wicked at all, but just green-tinted, taunted, and misunderstood. There is so much to like about this musical, the clever twists on the familiar tale, the spectacular set, and music that is a lot more appealing in context (such as the song “Defying Gravity”) that I will forgive the contortions necessary to tack on a happy ending.

Here are some shows that I like that have opened in the 2014-2015 season, which you can also see in my Broadway Guide for Fall 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Disgraced

Love Letters

On the Town

Side Show

There are many superior shows Off-Broadway, although their generally shorter runs can be problematic when looking for a gift. Don’t forget the shows that have not yet opened, although let’s hope that your theater lover is adventurous enough to avoid blaming you for any disappointment.

The best thing about tickets is that this is a gift that gives pleasure twice – at the time you give it, and then when the theater lover actually goes to the show, which can be many months in the future.

THEATER SUBSCRIPTIONS/MEMBERSHIPS

Many theaters – the non-profit ones — offer subscriptions or memberships, which can be a wonderful gift that lasts an entire season…or a terrible burden for the increasing number of theatergoers who are commitment-phobic. (I’ve written a whole article about the waning popularity of theater subscriptions.)

Still, this can be the perfect gift for the right recipient if you pick the right theater, some of whom offer more flexible alternatives to subscriptions, such as flex passes and memberships.

My favorite is Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons logo

Here are others listed alphabetically. (I’ve had a membership/subscription to each one of these at one time or another.) One of the problems you will see when you click on the links is that the subscriptions to some of these theaters this season are already sold out.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music, which makes it easy to buy a purchase of gift membership.

Classic Stage Company

Lincoln Center Theater

MCC Theater

Manhattan Theater Club

New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater

Roundabout Theater Company

Signature Theater Company

 Vineyard Theater

 

PLAYS, SCRIPTS, BOOKS

There are some wonderful evergreen, expensive gift ideas. My favorite:

August Wilson’s complete 10-play Century Cycle, which includes such gems as “The Piano Lesson,” “Fences,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – one play for each decade of the twentieth century, which together offer a compelling look at African-American life through the eye and ear of one of the nation’s greatest dramatists.

Stephen Sondheim’s two-volume collection of his lyrics, Finishing The Hat and Look, I Made A Hat, a collection of lyrics , anecdotes, fascinating scholarly notes, and strong opinions from the composer and/or lyricist of such seminal musical theater as “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” “Company,” “Sweeney Todd,” “A Little Night Music,” “Assassins.”

The downside, besides the expense, is that anybody who would die to get these as gifts probably  already owns them.

A less expensive and less sexy alternative are such perennial reference books as “Broadway Musicals Show by Show” by Stanley Green, now in its eighth edition.

DramaBookshoplogoMy suggestion if you wish to buy a script or a book for somebody is to check out The  Drama Book Shop, at 250 West 40th Street, which has generally friendly, knowledgeable staff, and is one of my favorite hang-outs in the theater district (I should point out that I don’t drink.)  Its hours are from Monday—Saturday,11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Thursdays until 8:00 p.m. They also have a website from which you can order.

The most talked-about new theater books:

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

By John Lahr

100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write

By Sarah Ruhl

Memoirs are always popular. New ones include Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris, Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, and Lady Parts by Andrea Martin

SamuelFrenchlogoAnother excellent place for scripts and theatrical books is Samuel French, the “definitive” publisher of plays and musicals in English – mostly in relatively inexpensive “acting editions.” Also now available are “e-plays” and cast recordings. You can visit at 45 West 25th Street, but it’s not a place to hang out. Their redesigned website has some cool features: Click on “Now Playing” and you will get to a map showing the location of current local productions of the plays it has published.

Applause theatre books logo

Applause Theatre and Cinema Books closed their bookstore on the Upper West Side, alas, but remains a publisher of quality theatrical books, which you can order online.

The online bookstore of Theatre Communications Group offers some wonderful plays it publishes. For what it’s worth, here are their top ten best-selling books in October, 2014.

Bookstores in Theaters: It’s worth pointing out that some of my favorite theaters also have books for sale, mostly scripts of the plays they have produced. These include both Signature and Playwrights Horizons , as well as Soho Rep

ALBUMS

PeterPanLivelogoBroadway Records offers the Broadway cast recording of Matilda, Side Show, and this year Peter Pan Live (the NBC broadcast), as well as wonderful live performances of such Broadway stars as Patti LuPone, Aaron Tveit, Norbert Leo Butz and Laura Benanti at 54 Below.

(A night at 54 Below itself, “Broadway’s supper club,” would make a nice present.)

PS ClassicsAudraMcDonaldLadyDay —  Fun Home, Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill starring Audra McDonald, On The Town, and a huge catalogue of Sondheim shows.

 

Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlightaladdinlogo — Their new releases run the gamut, Aladdin, Beautiful, Cinderella, Dogfight, Fortress of Solitude.

Masterworks Broadway — A division of Sony Classics, they Kinky Boots, as well as The King and I with Yul Brynner, and the 1949 recording of Kiss Me Kate, and the original 1992 recording of Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, and lots of albums that don’t begin with the letter K.

BROADWAY BAUBLES — posters, CDs, t-shirts and other knick-knacks

KinkybootstshirtEach Broadway show offers a range of merchandise that you can buy online in a variety of sites, for example at the Playbill.com store. I happen to favor t-shirts.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS has an online store using the logos and/or Playbill program covers from the best-known Broadway shows for everything from umbrellas and clocks  to iPhone covers and shower curtains to Christmas ornaments. Proceeds from their products help the needy.

broadway-cheer posterAmong the featured offerings this year is a poster, also available as holiday gift cards, that feature some of the best-known Broadway stars toasting the holidays.

 

original-broadway-cast-cd-set-2012-11-cds-10An extravagant gift would collection of the cast recordings from the 2013-2014 Broadway musical season “in one fell swoop. This set of 13 CDs includes Aladdin, Beautiful- The Carole King Musical, Big Fish, The Bridges of Madison County, Bullets Over Broadway, First Date, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, If/Then, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, A Night with Janis Joplin, Rocky and Violet.”

An Off-Broadway cast set of 7 CDs is also available, featuring some of the best Off-Broadway musicals from the past two years: Far From Heaven, Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging, Fun Home, Heathers, Here Lies Love, Murder for Two and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

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I may actually spring for the Playbill Broadway 2015 calendar. Playbills reproduced: Cabaret, Hair, Evita, Fiddler on the Roof, Pippin, Monty Python’s Spamalot, Kinky Boots the Musical, South Pacific, The Producers, Hairspray, Aida, Annie

HOLDING MEMORIES

Theater ticket album

Playbill binder, to put your programs in. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get one of these.

 

Know of a favorite gift you’d recommend? Tell me about it!

 

Broadway’s Thanksgiving Week Schedule 2014

Check out the Broadway Thanksgiving Week schedule for 2015

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

Mike Nichols RIP. Side Show. Punk Rock. Straight White Men. Week in NY Theater

A week full of openings, Great Britain celebrated #LoveTheatre Day,  Elaine Stritch remembered, Mike Nichols mourned, and I’ve given into the promotional fever and include trailers for both Peter Pan Live (on NBC on December 4th) and Into The Woods, which opens December 25th.

The Week in New York Theater Nov 17-23

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Barry Diller envisions a $170 million park and performance space off 14th St.,Pier 55.

Elegant Elaine Stritch

“She was a volcano of ferocity, on a pillar of vulnerability.”~Cherry Jones about Elaine Stritch, at Stritch’s memorial yesterday.

Congratulations to Steven Adly Guirgis  on receiving the $200,000 “Mimi” (Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award) tonight

Side ShowSt. James Theatre

My review of Side Show

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….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…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.

Full review of Side Show

Colby Minifie and Douglas Smith

Colby Minifie and Douglas Smith

 

My review of Punk Rock

Several years before Simon Stephens adapted “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” for the stage (now on Broadway), the playwright wrote the far more in-your-face “Punk Rock,” about a group of troubled English private school students, which has now opened Off-Broadway in a scorching production by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theater… If “Punk Rock” offers little special insight or education about the problems of adolescence, there is no denying that it is a lesson in how to make theater riveting.

Full review of Punk Rock

 

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ConstantineMaroulisinRockofAges

Rock of Ages will close on Broadway on January 18, 2015

NYCn950

Half of all Broadway shows this season are set in specific NYC neighborhoods. There are Off-Broadway set in all five boroughs.  Why? Actor Tony Danza, “Disgraced” playwright Ayad Akhtar and “Grand Concourse” playwright Heidi Schreck ,  “This Is Our Youth” set design Todd Rosenthal, “On The Town” choreographer Joshua Bergasse and others explain.   Broadway’s Muse: New York City Neighborhoods

Straight White Men

My review of Straight White Men

The rowdy brothers of Young Jean Lee’s stimulating “Straight White Men,” which has now opened at the Public Theater, play a board game called Privilege, where Jake draws a card that says:

“What I said wasn’t sexist/racist/homophobic because I was joking. Pay fifty dollars to The Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center.”

Drew’s card says: “I don’t see race. Pay two hundred dollars in reparations.”

A scene like this seems to confirm what we suspected from the provocative title –that Lee, a Korean immigrant known for her avant-garde downtown theater pieces, has written and directed an acid satire of America’s de facto ruling class. But “Straight White Men,” as it turns out, is nothing of the kind. Rather, it is a sympathetic, intelligent look at a family of four men, and the different ways they are adapting to a changing world.

Full review of Straight White Men

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#LoveTheatre

MT @FringeNYC #NYC didn’t provide funding for FringeNYC this year. Let’s prove we’re here to stay! http://bit.ly/11Elvfg

Allegro1

My review of Allegro

Move over, Encores! In their second musical restoration after Sondheim and Lapine’s Passion last year, the Classic Stage Company now brings us Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro, billed as the first fully-staged production in New York City since the musical debuted on Broadway in 1947, shortly after the Rodgers and Hammerstein hits Oklahoma! and Carousel, shortly before their South Pacific and The King and I.

The CSC revival is pared-down, lasting 90 minutes with no intermission. There is minimal scenery; the stage is nearly in the round. The fine cast of 12 – led by Claybourne Elder at Joe Taylor Jr and Elizabeth Davis as his wife Jenny –  plays its own musical instruments.

Aficionados will likely be in heaven, even if they nitpick. Those previously unacquainted with “Allegro” might come to understand why this is the least known of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals.  It’s best to think of it as an educational experience.

Full review of Allegro

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Mike Nichols

Mike Nichols dies at 83 – director, performer, writer, one of only 12 EGOTs (winner of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.)

My last lunch with Mike Nichols by John Lahr.

Playwrights Horizon’s artistic diretor Tim Sanford,  playwright Lynn Nottage and Sundance theater head Philip Himberg met with the New York Times theater editors over  the Times policy of reviewing non-New York shows

Tommy Tune

Tommy Tune Joins the Cast of ‘Lady, Be Good’ for Encores!

A Delicate Balance 6 Lithgow and Close

Reviews and pics of A Delicate Balance

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HeartofRobinHoodlogo

 

The Heart of Robin Hood, a play by David Farr, will run at Broadway’s Marquis Theater March 10-August 23 2015

(Chris Miller writes the music. Nathan Tysen writes the words.)

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Should arts be pure and covered apart from worldly issues (re: Cosby allegations?) Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post says no

Musicals that strive for justice are the ones that last, says Dallas News theater writer Nancy Churnin

Trailers for Peter Pan and Into The Woods which, if nothing else, are the most promoted stage-to-screen shows this year.

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.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

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

Allegro Review at CSC: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Unknown Musical

Allegro 2  Claybourne Elder and Elizabeth A. Davis  Photo credit Matthew MurphyMove over, Encores! In their second musical restoration after Sondheim and Lapine’s Passion last year, the Classic Stage Company now brings us Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro, billed as the first fully-staged production in New York City since the musical debuted on Broadway in 1947, shortly after the Rodgers and Hammerstein hits Oklahoma! and Carousel, shortly before their South Pacific and The King and I.

The CSC revival is pared-down, lasting 90 minutes with no intermission. There is minimal scenery; the stage is nearly in the round. The fine cast of 12 – led by Claybourne Elder at Joe Taylor Jr and Elizabeth Davis as his wife Jenny –  plays its own musical instruments.

Aficionados will likely be in heaven, even if they nitpick. Those previously unacquainted with “Allegro” might come to understand why this is the least known of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals.  It’s best to think of it as an educational experience.

There is nothing wrong with the score. Although to my ears, the songs do not compare to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best-loved melodies, several come close to standards (So Far, The Gentleman is a Dope.) If Rodgers is not doing his top work here, the lyrics often have the unmistakable mark of Hammerstein, clever and/or heartfelt:

Youre the smile on my face, or a song that i sing! Youre a rainbow I chase
on a morning in spring;
Youre a star in the lace of a wild, willow tree – in the green, leafy lace of a wild, willow tree.

 Even the story begins well enough, with the birth of Joe Jr. to Joseph Sr. and Marjorie Taylor, heralded by what amounts to a small-town Greek chorus, which lends an “Our Town” feel to the proceedings. We follow Joe, the son of a small-town doctor and mother who was the daughter of a small-town doctor, as he grows up wanting to do nothing but become a physician himself and join his father’s practice. But the story soon becomes what we can call, at best, old-fashioned. His mother disapproves of his relationship with his childhood sweetheart Jenny, seeing her as too greedy and ambitious, but Marjorie dies, and Joe and Jenny marry. Jenny and her father Ned disapprove of Joe Jr.’s choice of careers because it would take so long for Joe to make any money, if ever. (Cue the deliciously clever song “Money Isn’t Everything,” which pits the arguments for and against living for the dollar:

Money isn’t everything. What can money buy?

An automobile so you won’t get wet; champagne so you won’t get dry.

Can money make you honest?
Can it teach you right from wrong/
Can money keep you healthy?
Can it make your muscles strong?

Can money make your eyes red, the way they get from sewing?
Can money make your back get sore, the way it gets from mowing?

 So Joe Jr. gives up the dream he’s had his entire life…. and becomes a physician at a big city hospital.  The title song “Allegro” is in fact launched by the too-rapid speed in which everything is done in the hospital:

Our world is for the forceful, and not for sentimental folk,
but brilliant and resourceful and paranoiac gentle folk
not soft and sentimental folk!
“Allegro” a musician
would so describe the speed of it, the clash and competition
of counterpoint –

If there ever was a time that one surrendered one’s principles by serving in a big city hospital rather than setting up a practice in a small town, that time is long gone. Yet, we see how it corrupts Joe, forcing him to deal with rich people in order to raise funds, and shifting him increasingly away from practicing medicine and more towards hospital administration. If that weren’t evil enough, his wife Jenny is two-timing him — as if moving to a city made adultery inevitable.

It’s hard to put aside this ludicrous turn of events,  which, dare I say, was a tad hypocritical coming from the sophisticated and successful team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, both born in New York City. (Scholars suggest that it was his ambivalence towards his success that inspired Hammerstein to write “Allegro,” which is often called his most personal work.)

Given the extensive use of ensemble singing, and because the actors are also the orchestra, the CSC production of “Allegro” feels like an oratorio rather than “fully staged” musical theater, and the show suffers in at least two ways because of this. There is none of the dancing that supposedly distinguished the original show (choreographed by Agnes de Mille.) It is also hard to feel fully vested in the characterizations, cut down from more than 60 in the original. There are a few stand-outs, such as Jane Pfitsch as a hospital nurse who has a crush on Joe, but that’s because she’s the one who sings “The Gentleman Is a Dope.” She also plays a mean trumpet.

Allegro1

 

Allegro

At Classic Stage Company

Music by Richard Rodgers; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Directed and designed by John Doyle; musical direction and orchestrations by Mary-Mitchell Campbell; original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett; original dance arrangements by Trude Rittmann; original choral arrangements by Crane Calder; costumes by Ann Hould-Ward; lighting by Jane Cox; sound by Dan Moses Schreier; hair, wig and makeup design by Rob Greene and J. Jared Janas

Cast: George Abud (Charlie Townsend), Alma Cuervo (Grandma Taylor/Mrs. Lansdale), Elizabeth A. Davis (Jenny Brinker), Claybourne Elder (Joseph Taylor Jr.), Malcolm Gets (Joseph Taylor Sr.), Maggie Lakis (Hazel), Paul Lincoln (Minister/Brook Lansdale), Megan Loomis (Millie/Beulah), Jane Pfitsch (Molly/Emily), Randy Redd (Dr. Bigby Denby), Ed Romanoff (Ned Brinker/Mr. Buckley) and Jessica Tyler Wright (Marjorie Taylor).

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Allegro is set to run through December 14th.