The State of Gay Love? Daniel’s Husband and Gently Down The Stream Reviews

The gay couples at the heart of two separate plays currently running Off-Broadway have been together for years, and yet, neither are married because one partner in each of the relationships doesn’t want to be, apparently on philosophical grounds:

“Who ever said we were meant to be legal?” Harvey Fierstein as Beauregard says in “Gently Down The Stream,” a play by Martin Sherman through May 21st at the Public Theater. “ We’re supposed to be outlaws; we’re supposed to be inventing new rules, not imitating all the old conventions, not going backwards.”

“The entire concept of marriage, I find it outdated, musty and fundamentally wrong… The only thing to be gained by gay marriage is the legal stuff,” Matthew Motolongo as Mitchell says in “Daniel’s Husband,” a play by Michael McKeever, in a Primary Stages production through April 28 at the Cherry Lane. “We’ve gone to our lawyer and had all of that taken care of.”

The decision not to get married has unforeseen consequences in both new dramas. Do these plays say anything about the state of love after the nation-wide legalization in 2015 of marriage between two people of the same gender? Or do they say more about the state of gay playwriting?

Click on any photograph by James Leynse to see it enlarged.

“Daniel’s Husband” begins the way so many gay plays have in the 49 years since “Boys in the Band” first opened Off-Broadway – gay friends gathered together making witty banter. At a dinner party in a tastefully appointed home (admirably detailed by set designer Brian Prather), we get to know Mitchell, who makes a living as a gay romance novelist, an odd occupation given his cynicism; and Daniel (Ryan Spahn), his partner of seven years, an architect who clearly likes structure in his life; he does want to get married. Their guests for the evening are Barry (Lou Liberatore), Mitchell’s literary agent and best friend, and Barry’s date, Trip (Leland Wheeler), whom Barry met just a few weeks earlier, one of an endless series of short-lasting Barry boyfriends less than half his age. Trip, 23, has never seen a record album before, and he doesn’t understand Mitchell’s attitude towards marriage.

Almost an hour into the 90-minute running time, “Daniel’s Husband” turns into a different play. Since the second half is fresher and more powerful, I feel comfortable revealing what is obviously meant to be a surprise twist, but shouldn’t be. Daniel gets deathly ill, unable to speak. This winds up putting Mitchell at odds – psychologically, and legally — with Lydia, Daniel’s mother. In the first half of the play, we heard Daniel say that Lydia was a selfish mother, and we saw her during a visit drinking champagne and badmouthing Daniel’s dead father. This was preparation for her becoming the villain in the second half. This is true even though (or maybe in part because) she says: “I’m not the villain in this. There is no villain in this.” But she is made the classic straw man – a character who exists to be knocked down.

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. Rather than deriving any satisfaction at what we could take as Mitchell’s comeuppance, we are moved by Montelongo’s depiction of Mitchell’s desperate love for Daniel. Similarly, both Anna Holbrook as Lydia the selfish mother and Leland Wheeler as Trip the twink defy the potential for stereotype baked into their roles.

Just as Lydia and Mitchell wind up warring with one another, so do the two halves of the play. Both wars are undermining…and avoidable. Had McKeever begun “Daniel’s Husband” with Daniel’s illness – and shelved the first half, perhaps to be used in a future play – “Daniel’s Husband” might have been a wholly affecting drama.

Click on any photographs by Joan Marcus to see them enlarged.

Like Michael McKeever in “Daniel’s Husband,” playwright Martin Sherman in “Gently Down the Stream” 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 Beau’s.

Beau (Harvey Fierstein) is a New Orleans-born piano accompanist who lives as an expatriate American in a London flat lined with books (the elegant set is by Derek McLane.) The play begins in 2001, when Beau, using a new-fangled online dating site, has just hooked up with Rufus (Gabriel Ebert, Tony winner for Matilda, and a veteran of Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.) Rufus is a 28-year-old eccentric, bipolar lawyer. Beau is 62. Beau doesn’t expect this “assignation” to last beyond a day. “I’m old enough to be your ancestor.” Yet it develops into a relationship that we track through some sharp-edge curves over the next 13 years.

“Gently Down the Stream” also has a second track. Rufus is interested – obsessed – with gay history. He doesn’t just ask Beau many questions about the past; he insists on videotaping Beau’s recollections. Much of “Gently Down The Stream” is taken up with these recollections, rather awkwardly inserted monologues about old lovers meeting tragic ends – “I knew it would end badly, because that was just simply the way it was with our lot” — and sad moments in gay history. It turns out that, much like Zelig or Forrest Gump, Beau has a talent for being at the right place at the right time – or, with certain tragic events, the exact wrong place. He was also friends, or at least acquainted, with such gay celebrities as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin and Larry Kramer, and lesser known but no less intriguing historical figures, like singer Mabel Mercer (Beau was her accompanist.) Add in the references to AIDS and the crystal meth epidemic among gay men, and the play starts to feel like a forced crash course in gay life. There is another rich layer simply in the casting of Harvey Fierstein, who since his Broadway debut as the author and star of Torch Song Trilogy in 1982, has himself become a figure in gay history.

All of Beau’s recounting of both his personal and communal past, much of it morose, offers a bracing explanation for the character’s pessimism about the future. Even the gay moments (in both senses of the word) are laced with melancholy. In one of his monologues, Beau recalls how “gay life, always secret and furtive and forbidden, blossomed” during World War II, and tells the story he heard from a veteran named Sam of a soldier from the hinterlands, temporarily stationed in New York, taking a room at the YMCA to have sex for the first time with another man, and jubilantly singing the nursery rhyme “Row, row, row your boat/gently down the stream” – which had an odd effect:

“…and suddenly from another room, he heard another soldier’s voice, joining in, a very deep baritone, and then from another room, another voice, and, and then the entire Young Men’s Christian Association, including Sam, seemed to be singing, but not just singing, singing a roundelay, everyone remembering their own childhood and the pain of it, and now suddenly this sense of release….Sam said that was the happiest moment of his life. “

But such euphoria ended abruptly, repression returned at the end of the war, and when Beau met Sam, he had become a drunken bum in Rio.

Beau’s experiences, and that of his circle, have bred in him a sense of hopelessness, leading him to self-sabotage. Convinced that the relationship will end badly, as all his others have, Beau rejects Rufus’ marriage proposal, and in effect pushes him away.

Playwright Sherman, whose best-known play, Bent, was about gay inmates of Nazi concentration camps, obviously knows where Beau’s pessimism comes from, but he evidently does not share it. He presents the optimism of a new generation, embodied not just by Rufus, but by the lover that Rufus eventually finds, Harry (a delightful Christopher Sears), a performance artist younger than Rufus. When Harry, in torn jean, black leather, pierced and tattooed full punk regalia, croons the Gershwin’s The Man I Love, there is something so hilarious, charming and touching about it that you begin to share the play’s optimism, even if Beau never does.

It’s been just 14 years since Massachusetts became the first state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage, six years since New York State, and just two since the Supreme Court legalized it in all 50 states – a decision that, many say, the new administration will try to undermine. Surely, nobody would be surprised by the recent study that concludes that married LGBT adults are happier than single ones. But if there’s been enough time to offer some sociological insight, we may have to wait for our dramatists to fashion from this new reality searing dramas with sophisticated insights.

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Casa Valentina Review: Straight Men in Dresses On Broadway

It is no surprise that Harvey Fierstein is the one who authored “Casa Valentina,” a remarkably well-acted if under-cooked play about a 1960’s Catskills resort for heterosexual men who liked to wear dresses. In his Broadway debut 32 years ago, Fierstein wrote and starred in  “Torch Song Trilogy,” portraying a drag queen longing for the same three things everybody in New York wants – an affordable apartment, a job that’s bearable, and somebody to share it all with – as well as an implicit desire to be accepted as is.  Since then, Fierstein has helped turn his fascination with cross-dressers into something of an industry-wide trend – writing the book for the musicals  “La Cage Aux Folles” and “Kinky Boots,” and playing Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray.” He even portrayed Robin Williams’ brother, a makeup artist who transforms Williams into the title character of the film “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Most of his dress-wearing characters seem to have a different primary “want” than the original Arnold Beckoff in “Torch Song Trilogy” – above all, they want to entertain. But now, with his first non-musical Broadway play in three decades, Fierstein returns admirably to his first impulse – to acquaint theatergoers with precisely observed characters from a little-known world.

It is 1962, and a married couple run the Chevalier d’Eon Resort in the Catskills. George is portrayed by Patrick Page, the best thing about both Spider-Man and A Time To Kill , and his wife Rita is played by Mare Winningham, the former brat pack movie idol who has lately made a splash on the New York stage, in such works as Tribes, After The Revolution and Picnic. When George is dressed as a woman, her name becomes Valentina. One by one we meet their six guests, all married men here by themselves to relax as women for the weekend. Jonathon (Gabriel Ebert, who won a Tony playing Mr. Wormwood in Matilda) is a newbie. Most of the others are regulars. Tom McGowan plays short, stout Bessie, an Army Sergeant with three grown children who spouts Oscar Wilde and otherwise cracks wise. The handsome Nick Westrate portrays the beautiful Gloria. The accomplished veteran actors Reed Birney, John Cullum and Larry Pine each play distinctive and very different characters. The greatest strength of “Casa Valentina”  is how it defies the long tradition of cross-dressing as comic shtick  and implicitly asks us to respect these characters – some of whom, let’s face it, appear awkward and faintly ludicrous in costume designer Rita Ryack’s dresses. It is a testament to Fierstein’s writing, Joe Mantello’s direction and above all the acting by this terrific cast that we have no problem treating them seriously.

The play is engaging when we get glimpses into the lives of each man through their reminiscing and simply by seeing them changing from their male to their female identities. Jonathon explains how “Miranda” first emerged in his life when he was a young child, and how, on his wedding night, he put on his bride’s wedding dress. His wife caught him, and laughed, thinking he had done it as a joke, and grateful that her new husband finally showed that he had a sense of humor. Jonathon has not put on women’s clothes in front of her again, waiting until she is out of the house, and dressing only as Miranda in the windowless basement…until this weekend. The other guests offer makeup and other tips to Jonathon to turn him into Miranda

But the playwright clearly figured that such scenes were not enough for a full-length drama, and so injects some conflict…a plot…some melodrama.

The resort is going bankrupt, and Valentina hopes to have it rescued by Charlotte (Birney), who is the editor of a nation-wide movement magazine, with a readership of heterosexual cross-dressers who might flock to the resort upon Charlotte’s endorsement.  Charlotte is very taken with her own activism — “Not to toot my own horn, but there’s a Christ-like element to my journey.” This is just an early clue of what eventually becomes unavoidably clear: Charlotte is the villain. (Her resemblance to the cigarette-smoking Bette Davis of the later melodramas may not be coincidental.)

Charlotte insists that the members of this new East Coast chapter of her organization, The Sorority, publicly reveal their identities, and that they sign an affidavit affirming that they are not homosexual: “Our goal is to see the laws against cross dressing expunged for once and for all. As long as transvestite is synonymous with homosexual it will never happen. No decent society will ever welcome us.”

What ensues is a debate. The best line in the debate (albeit stacked), again from Charlotte: “Fifty years from now, when homosexuals are still scuttling about as the back-alley vermin of society, cross dressing will be as everyday as cigarette smoking.”

Theoretically such a discussion should be intriguing, but it goes on way too long; it’s as if the play had been hijacked for an organizational meeting or a  hearing. (Even Rita comments: “Are we running a resort or Congress?”)

Meanwhile, George/Valentina is also in legal trouble; a postal inspector has interrogated him about an envelope mailed to him full of cross-dressing, homosexual pornographic images – images meant for somebody else at the resort, although it is not clear who…initially. Charlotte’s villainy comes to full flower in the resolution of this melodrama, complete with blackmail, violence, emotional confrontation… .the end of Paradise (with many unsubtle allusions to the Garden of Eden.)

Notes in the program and at the end of the script by the playwright and the director make clear that “Casa Valentina” is based on an actual bungalow colony (which is now a summer camp for Hasidic families!) and that at least some of the characters were drawn from real people. The Sorority – officially Tri-Ess, the Society for the Second Self – is an actual organization that currently has 30 chapters. We are even offered the beginnings of a glossary: “The gentlemen in our play are not drag queens or female impersonators.” Much of this is interesting; some of it provokes more questions than it answers. None of it guarantees a satisfying work of theater.

Casa Valentina

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, New York

Written by Harvey Fierstein

Directed by Joe Mantello

Set design by Scott Pask, lighting design by Justin Townsend, costume design by Rita Ryack, music and sound design by Fitz Patton, fight direction by Thomas Schall

Cast: Reed Birney, John Cullum, Gabriel Ebert, Lisa Emery, Tom McGowan, Patrick Page, Larry Pine, Nick Westrate, Mare Winningham

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

Tickets: $67.00 – $125.00 

Casa Valentina is set to run through June 15

Broadway Responds to Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ Ban

Andrew Rannells in Russia Tea Room, one of dozens of Broadway stars appearing in the video entitled "Russian Broadway Shut Down - Government Deems All Theatre Homosexual Propaganda"

Andrew Rannells in the Russian Tea Room. He is one of dozens of Broadway stars appearing in the satirical video entitled “Russian Broadway Shut Down – Government Deems All Theatre Homosexual Propaganda”

Broadway responds satirically to official LGBT discrimination in Russia, and to a specific Russian law, enacted in June, 2013, punishing citizens “who disseminate information aimed at minors ‘directed at forming nontraditional sexual setup’ or which may cause a ‘distorted understanding’ that gay and heterosexual relations are ‘socially equivalent,'” according to an account by news wire service AFP.

The video, entitled “Russian Broadway Shut Down – Government Deems All Theatre Homosexual Propaganda,”  was created by John Walton West and composed by Jason Michael Snow.

Among those in the video:

Michael Urie, Andrew Rannells, Harvey Fierstein, Roger Rees, Laura Osnes, Joanna Gleason, Analeigh Ashford, Andy Karl, Santino Fontana, Andrea McArdle, Stephen Schwartz, Eric Anderson, Ann Harada, Michael Cerveris, Laura Benanti, Stephanie J. Block (these last two as lesbian cosmonauts!), Sierra Boggess, Leslie Kritzer, John Bolton, Jackie Hoffman, Lena Rocker Hall, Jeremy Jordan and Jonathan Groff (these last two as gay Olympian lovers!)

JeremyJordanandJonathanGroff

Fall Theater 2013: Too Much Theater?

They have their new Rocky

RockyBwayThey have their new (19th?) Sally Bowles.

Cabaret-Sketch

Betty Buckley takes Manhattan -- Off-Broadway!

Betty Buckley takes Manhattan — Off-Broadway!

Michelle Williams and Il Divo are making their debuts; Neil Patrick Harris has set the date; Harvey Fierstein has a new play about straight cross-dressing males.

And that’s just on Broadway.

Off-Broadway is generating even more excitement -evidenced by my Off-Broadway Fall 2013 Guide — including new plays by August Wilson and Horton Foote, who both have been dead for years

There’s a world premiere by Terrence McNally — NOT the one on Broadway — at Pearl Theatre Company, about the entire history of theater. Heard of it?

20at20Logo

 

Off Broadway ticket giveaway –

– still time to enter — and win TWO pairs of tickets to your choice of two plays Off-Broadway out of more than 40 available.

 

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact it’s raining,but the feeling of being rained upon ~Chekhov

Most common misperceptions about writing: 1.Anybody can do it. 2. It makes you happy-Theresa Rebeck

The Week in New York Theater

September 2, 2013

Making theater news in August, from left: Julie Harris, Zachary Quinto, Eric Anderson and Amber Iman of Soul Doctor, Spider-Man, Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez of First Date, Carole King

Making theater news in August, from left: Julie Harris, Zachary Quinto, Eric Anderson and Amber Iman of Soul Doctor, Spider-Man, Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez of First Date, Carole King

New York Theater August 2013 Quiz

Answer these ten questions to find out how well you were paying attention

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MichelleWilliams

Roundabout’s 19th Sally Bowles?

cabaretsallybowles1Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain My Year with Marilyn) reportedly picked to play Sally Bowles in Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of Cabaret.

How many Sallys were there in the last Roundabout revival?

Rob Kendt @RobKendt It ran for six years, I lost count.

Jonathan Mandell: Wow, by my count, there were 18 Sally Bowles in the Roundabout’s last Cabaret. Is that possible?
Natasha Richardson,Jennifer Jason Leigh,Susan Egan,Molly Ringwald,Katie Finneran, Joely Fisher,Brooke Shields + 11 more

Diep Tran ‏@diepthought So I guess judging from the inclusion of Alan Cumming and Roundabout, we should expect a 6-year run with 18 Sallys?

Jonathan Mandell: That’s a new Sally Bowles on average every four months.

HollywoodtoBroadway

Hollywood movie to Broadway musical

The 2013-2014 Broadway theater season so far includes six shows – five of them musicals, one a play – that were movies.  Click on the link for a listing in the order of their planned openings on Broadway, with summaries from the original films

Jose S Piano ‏@JoseSPiano Keep in mind that both “Big Fish” and “Bridges…” were books first – which you mention in your annotations.
So was “A Time To Kill”. -Would they have eventually been adapted for Broadway if they had not been turned into films first?

Jonathan Mandell: That’s the question, isn’t it? Is it that these stories are strong or that the shows are brands? (Both? More of one?)

Nick Bailey ‏@NicholousBailey Bridges of Madison County  is based on the RJW novel, and has little to nothing to do with the film, new characters, structure, focus

Howard Sherman ‏@HESherman  Let’s remember that one of the greatest film musicals, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, is actually a jukebox movie musical.

London revival of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along will be “broadcast” in U.S. movie theaters Oct 23 (in NYC: Regal Union Square)

Comet6SooandSteeleIt lives! Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 starts new 14-week run Sept. 24 in Kazino tent set up on 45th between 8th and Times Square

Will Swenson will be replacing Will Chase in Second Stage’s Little Miss Sunshine. (Chase is leaving for a movie) #WhereTheresAWillTheresAPlay

The first SIX pages of this week’s New Yorker magaizne are ads for: 1. Raisin in the Sun, 2. @Betrayal 3. The Book of Mormon.

Jesse Oxfeld ‏@joxfeld  Look at current New York, too.

The Ethan Hawke Macbeth cast at Lincoln Center will include John Glover, Daniel Sunjata, and Brian D’Arcy James

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Il+Divo

Simon Cowell’s hot opera quartet Il Divo will be singing Broadway tunes with Heather Headley for one week only, November 7 to 13 only, at the Marquis Theater.

New Romeo Julian Cihi

New Romeo Julian Cihi

Japanese-born Julian Cihi, recent graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, is the new Rome in the Classic Stage Company’s Romeo and Juliet, replacing Finn Wittrock (Death of A Salesman) who left for a role in the film of The Normal Heart.

Meanwhile The Old Globe is doing a new musical version of Romeo & Juliet, The Last Goodbye, with Jay Johnson and  Talisa Friedman

What does it say about the world that the two hot Shakespeare plays this season are Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet?

Billy Flood @Bflood28 What does it say about #postracial myth that both casts of R&J needed 1 white actor in the pair…

Jonathan Mandell Why not see it positively? Both casts of R&J have people of color. The whole point of Bway prod. is mixed race conflict

Billy Flood: Not the point. They couldn’t cast both leads of color in either production… Very telling. Mixed race conflict has been done before. Casting both Romeo and Juliet as People of color on Broadway…hasn’t

Jonathan Mandell: So do that in your new theater in Buffalo. Race conflict is the choice by Romeo and Juliet on Broadway, so they need two races

Billy Flood: Nice side step. I will

Katie Labovitz ‏@klabovitz What does it say when the R&J tv commercial uses a quote from Perez Hilton to promote it?
“Tragically hot”

“Becoming Dr Ruth,” new play about sex therapist @AskDrRuth, w Debra Jo Rupp, (“That 70’s Show) Oct 11 – Jan 12, Westside Theater

They have little money and high unemployment but, thanks to autonomy, artists have high job satisfaction — in Europe anyway

Q&A with Kenny Leon on The Raisin in the Sun he’s directing on Broadway, and new Tupac Shakur musical, also heading (he hopes) to Broadway

AugustWilsonwindow

Too Much Theater? The New Marathons

At a time when commercial theater is moving increasingly toward productions of ninety minutes with no intermission, adventurous theater artists seem to be experimenting with elaborate works of moment and circumstance, requiring endurance..

Consider:

MikeDaisey*In All The Faces of the Moon at the Public Theater, Mike Daisey will deliver a different new monologue starting on September 5 every night for twenty-nine nights, each on the secret history of New York City. “Night after night he will strive like Scheherazade to tell the largest story ever attempted in the American theater,” the Public Theater says. Russian artist Larissa Tokmakova will paint a different painting each night to illustrate Daisey’s stories. There will also be a live, free podcast.

*Lucy Thurber’s The Hill Town Plays, also opening on September 5, tell the story of the pivotal moments in a woman’s life from age thirteen to her thirties in five different but related plays (Scarcity, Ashville, Where We’re Born, Killers & Other Family, and Stay) in five different theaters—Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Axis Theater, New Ohio Theater, and b

From August 26 to September 28, artistic director Ruben Santiago-Hudson is gathering together some sixty performers to do staged readings of August Wilson’s entire American Century Cycle of ten plays at WNYC’s studio and theater, The Greene Space, in front of a live audience.

Full article on The New Marathons in Howlround

Marathon Theater Chat

Excerpts

Terry Teachout: @terryteachout Remember my Drama Critic’s Prayer: “Dear God, if it can’t be good, let it be short.”

Jessica Franken  @jes3ica I am drawn to excess. I binge-watched Orange Is The New Black on Netflix, and will binge-watch Aditi Kapil’s trilogy at Mixed Blod

Paul Hufker @PaulHufker the trend in modern theatre is in keeping w the trend in modern attention spans: far too short. #newplay

Tesseractt Theater @TesseractTheatr I’ve had playwriting teachers flat out say “keep it short if you want to get produced”

Trish Causey @MusicalThtreMag I’ve been told to keep it to as few characters as possible. Big casts cost too much. Grrrrr! #newplay

Jonathan Mandell: Some of the marathons might be deliberately thumbing nose at “requirement” to be short. #newplay

Tesseract Theater Sometimes a thumbed nose loosens us to start a new artistic age… i hope to see more long form

Brian O’Neal @ArtsJunkieTC On any production, I’m thinking to create an event as much as a play. A play is the protein in event sandwich

Annie

Annie is to close January 5, 2014, after just 487 regular performances.
The original Annie on Broadway ran for six years (1977-83) and 2377 performances. This second revival is ending after 14 months.

First preview of The Glass Menagerie tonight (Opening Sept 26). Student rush tickets: $35.

First preview tonight for Big Fish with Norbert Leo Butz and Kate Baldwin. Here are some of the songs

ONeill Center: Submissions to the 2014 National Playwrights Conference open Sept 20-Oct 25 http://bit.ly/n9Qn5T

Cutting-edge theater St Anns Warehouse will get a permanent home in pre-Civil War “Tobacco Warehouse” building in Brooklyn Bridge Park

To do Hamlet and Shaw’s Saint Joan in repertory with just four actors would be bedlam. Theater Bedlam begins it November 8 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater

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The new Brooklyn theater housing Theater for a New Audience has a new name: Polonsky Shakespeare Center, (Polonsky Foundation gave $10 million)

Find a tiny snippet of Jason Robert Brown’s score on new Bridges of Madison County website .

Adultery’s been big in theater (Oedipus?) & in his life, says Mike Nichols, 81, directing Betrayal on Broadway

Barron B. Bass and Austin Trow in The Recommednation at The FleaMy review of The Recommendation

From the moment he saunters on stage wrapped only in a towel and asks a member of the audience to hold his clothes so he can get dressed, we have the character Aaron Feldman pegged. He is a son of privilege, charming and friendly but used to getting his way, always having people do things for him.

When we first see Dwight Barnes, he’s sitting in a jail cell, with a mean stare – and he too is a familiar figure, although more from TV and the movies.

How the two characters clash, and what it means, is more or less the subject of Jonathan Caren‘s The Recommendation, a play at The Flea through September 22 that considers the nature of friendship and attempts to offer us a glimpse at the class system in America.

Full review of The Recommendation

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.Joel Grey made his theatrical debut in On Borrowed Time. 72 years later,he’s directing play for New Jersey’s Two River Theater 9/14-10/13

Sondheim on PBS News Hour

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I don’t think you choose your material. I think it finally chooses you – Horton Foote

08cityroom-shakespeare-blog480

Armed with a small sign offering Shakespeare by request (“Cheaper than Broadway,” it says), Will Barnet, 23, performs regularly as Hamlet, Prince Hal, Richard III, Romeo and even Juliet. for hours in Greenwich Village and on the High Line, as well as in Central Park and at farmers’ markets, where he often gets food in addition to tips

Why aren’t there better aps for Broadway?

Recommended minimum age for Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Measure for Measure: is 18.  However, I think some shows should have a maximum age. e.g. Recommended for theatergoers under 20 (uber hip fare). or under 11 (juvenile)

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AndyKarlThe revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch  is opening a the Belasco Theater April 22, 2014

Casa Valentina, Harvey Fierstein’s new play about straight crossdressers in ’60s Catskills resort,opens April 23 on Broadway.

They have their Rocky. It’s Andy Karl, six-time Broadway vet (Jersey Boys, Drood) .

Broadway on Broadway, annual outdoor concert in Times Square, is canceled this year, says The Broadway League, though they don’t say why

EdwardAlbeeQ & A with Edward Albee, 85, great playwright, difficult interview subject.

Park Ave. Armory

My review of The Machine

In telling the tale of the 1997 chess match between Man and Machine – Garry Kasparov, the world’s top ranked chess player, and the IBM chess-playing computer Deep Blue — playwrightMatt Charman, director Josie Rourke (artistic director of London’s famed Donmar Warehouse) and the rest of the creative team hose a nearly mechanical bio-drama masquerading as a modern gladiator sport, staged with great flash in cavernous Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory, complete with arena (in-the-round) seating, mock Jumbotron video projections, TV sports commentators, a logo that looks like something that would be used for the Super Bowl. Once or twice Garry Kasparov even stands up on the table and does the kind of dance a wide receiver does on a football field after scoring a touchdown….This is presumably a fantasy, not meant to be taken literally, and it is actually a welcome relief from the little, leaden scenes of flashback biography that are threaded throughout The Machine.

Full review of The Machine

Tony Awards Hangover. Reasons To Be Prickly. The Week in New York Theater

Alan Cumming self-portrait. See "15" below for explanation.

Alan Cumming self-portrait. See “15” below for explanation.

Buy tickets to Broadway

It’s hard to believe it was only a week ago that so many theatergoers felt euphoric after the Tony Awards – not so much for the winners (though there were surprises, some of them pleasant) but for how the show was received. The Tony broadcast has 20 percent more viewers than last year, and there were fewer complaints than most years (but still some — see “11” below.) Several of the big winners announced extensions or national tours.

It took a few days for a different tone to set in. Melissa Errico revealed what she clearly considered shoddy behavior by the Classic Stage Company after she took sick leave from her leading role in Passion. Neil LaBute personally insulted a critic who did not like his latest play “Reasons to be Happy.” Novelist Jonathan Franzen claimed New York theater as a bastion of sexism. We learned Lysistrata Jones is going to be made into a movie.

It wasn’t all ugly news. The Tony Awards announced a change next year that could mean the inclusion of Off-Broadway for the first time in 67 years. The first major play has been adapted for YouTube (see “16” below)

And Moss Hart’s “Act One” will be a musical on Broadway. That’s the memoir where Moss Hart wrote: “The theater is not so much a profession as a disease, and my first look at Broadway was the beginning of a lifelong infection.”

The Week in New York Theater

June 10, 2013

AChristmasStoryonTonysYou saw it on ‪The Tonys last night. Now ‪A Christmas Story will return to NYC,at The Theater at Madison Square Garden December 11 – 29

The ratings are in. The Tony broadcast had 7.24 million viewers, 20 percent more than last year.

Norman Buckley ‏‪@norbuck: It was such a great year for theatre. Maybe somehow that fact made its way out to the hinterlands.

Alia Jones-Harvey ‏‪@aleostar Phenomenal year of shows led to a great show last night! Glad that I DVRed it to watch over again tonight!

VanyaandSoniaandMashaandSpikereview

‪Tony best play winner ‪Vanya, Sonia Masha and Spike has extended its run to August 25th. Sigourney Weaver leaves July 28, replaced by Julie White.

It’s rotten that ‪”Vanya Sonia….”  has a limited run, but at least, unlike big ‪Tony winner ‪”Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  you can still see it

Jonathan Mandell: Those of you planning a Tony drinking game connected to swipes at Smash, probably stayed sober last night.

Jonas-Olof Rosin ‏‪@JonasRosin:  Nah, I took the safer route and only stopped drinking when they mentioned Smash.

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The Assembled Parties Samuel J. Friedman TheatreThe Assembled Parties with Tony winner ‪Judith Light has been extended through July 28.

Why do plays get short-shrift on the Tonys?

Maybe because it’s designed as a variety show. You don’t get drama on variety shows.

Jason Cochran ‏‪@bastable  In the ’80s, it did whole scenes. And it was great. Still remember ‘Lettice and Lovage’ and ‘Fences.’

Theresa M Collins ‏‪@TMCollinsPhD It’s a TV show & competing with NBA finals tips the mass appeal into overdrive

Miles Lott ‏‪@mlottjr‬  It was done long ago, with brief scenes, like James Earl Jones in Fences. Not impossible

George Pappas ‪@happygpappy  I wish they would do it again. I remember Spacey doing it poorly the year he hosted. That was the end of that!

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Passion with Melissa Errico.‪

Classic Stage Company fired Melissa Errico,   inelegantly, because of her throat operation, and had only paid her $555 a week, she writes in her latest blog.

Terry Teachout ‏‪@terryteachout  For the record, I wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “I’ve never seen or heard a better Clara.”

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TheMuppetsMusical?Alex Timbers,who directed ‪”Peter and the Starcatcher” for Disney, is pitching a stage musical using Muppets.

Other ‪Disney Theatrical adaptations in development: “Shakespeare in Love,” “Father of the Bride,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

2013 Tony winner ‪Kinky Boots sets sights on 2014: A national tour will begin next year in Las Vegas.

Harvey Fierstein  ‪@HarveyFierstein Stark Sands – Soul of a Man (‪@KinkyBootsBway):

TKTS

June 26, ‪TKTS urns 40 years old with Times Square lunchtime celebration featuring ‪Forbidden Broadway,  Harvey Fierstein and Julie Halston

Christopher Dee ‏‪@Chrisx5x5 I went there the very first day and got tickets to That Championship Season

AnnwithHollandTaylorNYTheater‪Ann to play final performance on June 30 after 19 previews and 132 regular performances

My review of “Reasons to Be Happy”

Josh Hamilton and Jenna Fischer in Reasons To Be Happy

Josh Hamilton and Jenna Fischer in Reasons To Be Happy

Jenna Fischer’s last day as Pam Beesley in the TV series “The Office” was her first day on an Off-Broadway stage, in what could be called a play series. She portrays Steph in Neil LaBute’s “Reasons To Be Happy,” the same character whom we first saw on the same stage at the Lucille Lortel Theater screaming at her boyfriend Greg in LaBute’s 2008 (lower-case) play “reasons to be pretty.” That play moved to Broadway the following year. This play, directed by the playwright, shouldn’t.

My full review of Reasons to Be Happy

David Cote wrote a negative review of this play at Time Out New York, which said in part:

If Neil LaBute were to teach a course on playwriting, I bet his lesson plan would look something like this: “Week 1: Dumbing down characters to pad out dialogue and pump up conflict.” “Week 2: “Stringing together two-person scenes, no matter how monotonous it gets.” “Week 3: Embracing flat, shallow protagonists whose poor life choices are both predictable and banal.” …A wish for the future: Reasons to be Silent

LaBute wrote a comment beneath the review online:

david: actually i have taught writing courses at various universities and workshops and my lesson plan invariably begins by having students read the collected works of George Steiner, who was clever enough to remind us that “a critic casts a eunuch’s shadow.” some shadows, of course, are more portly than others but their effect on mankind is basically the same. brief and passing. keep enjoying the free tickets while they last. nl

(Why don’t playwrights ever call me names? I didn’t like LaBute’s play too, and I’m just as fat as David Cote)

Cote got his change for a retort:

I wasn’t surprised to see that Neil made a comment… but I was taken by the speed. Fifteen minutes! He might have written a new play in that time. If I were to review the comment, I’d say formulaic and lazily composed: one star. If he paid genuine attention to his critics, though, his work might improve.

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James Lapine’s stage version of Moss Hart’s Act One begins March 20, 2014 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. Hart’s classic autobiography eloquently chronicles the playwright and director’s impoverished childhood and his determined struggle to escape poverty and forge a career in the theater . Act One will have sets by Beowolf Boritt, costumes by Jane Greenwood, lighting by Ken Billington, original music by Jeanine Tesori and sound by Daniel Moses Schrier.

Ethan Hawke stars in Macbeth (not solo) in October

OffBroadwayTonyThe Tony Awards May Finally Include Off-Broadway

An announcement on the Tony Awards website means that the Tonys, which has never honored Off-Broadway, may finally begin to do so, at least in a small way.

“The Awards Administration Committee has announced that starting with the 2013-2014 season, New York-based theatre companies can now be eligible to receive the Regional Theatre Award.

Nora ‏‪@nhousey02  That’s fantastic! There are so many amazing shows off-broadway

Tony Caselli ‏‪@TonyCaselli The risk, of course, is that an already NYC-centric industry just becomes more so.

NY/NJ Theater Critic ‏‪@PatrickJMaley  A better solution would have been to preserve regional as is and add a non-Broadway NYC category.

“The world most glaringly dominated by male sexism is…New York City theater”-Jonathan Franzen in letter to NY Times

So, is NYC theater a welcoming, progressive community? A catty, bigoted one? Both simultaneously? Not a community at all?

Addie Patterson ‏‪@survivorqueen I think it’s a mix of both

The Write Teacher(s) ‏‪@TheWriteTeach  Community. Hands down, a community. Anything else is just…misinformation.We’re thinking that we need different adjectives. Welcoming to artistry, the beauty of the transformative power of theatre..”Close minded?” Perhaps like any older tradition, change is sometimes met with hesitation and skepticism. 🙂

Val Sherman ‏‪@screenwriternyc I wish Franzen would have been verbose enough to back up his claim. He’s never at a loss for words.Number of female playwrights, directors, and producers much higher in theatre than in film or television.

Blake Delong ‏‪@blakedelong feels to me more like a contsellation of communities than one singular community, but for the most part they’re very welcoming.

Danny Carroll ‏‪@DannySt_Fortune  A “constellation of communities” always surprised to see each other it seems, like roving tribes in a desert.

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Emma Watson (Hermione in Harry Potter), “I’d love to try theater. I’ve never done it before” except in her college, Brown.

Billboard Broadway cast albums chart for the week:

1 ‪@PippinMusical

2 ‪@MotownMusical

3 ‪@KinkyBootsBway

4 ‪@CinderellaBway

5 ‪@WICKED_Musical

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Alan Cumming self-portrait. See "15" below for explanation.

Alan Cumming said of his picture: How i feel right now, at the prospect of two perfs of @MacbethBroadway today

Playwrights Annie Baker, Melissa James Gibson, Amy Herzog, talk at The Greene Space Wednesday at 7 p.m., $15

Howard Panter,head of Ambassador Theatre Group (UK company taking over Foxwoods Theater), will be knighted. Alas, in NYC, sir is a putdown…

 “I’m sorry, sir, I can’t help you.” “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” “May I help you sir?”(meaning: You don’t belong)
NeilPatrickHarrisTonyhost
Happy 40th Birthday, Neil Patrick Harris, four-time Tony host, star of Cabaret, Proof,Assassins on Broadway. Good Samaritan of the American stage

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Here’s to better Dads on Broadway. There’s a meanie in ‪Matilda; selfish in ‪Pippin; dead in ‪Annie.

“The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.” ― James Joyce, Ulysses ‪#Bloomsday

David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face, adapted for Youtube:

Part 1

Part 2

2013 Outer Critics Circle Winners Pick Up Their Awards

EarlickedHarveyFiersteinLongtime rocker and now Broadway songwriter Cyndi Lauper seemed to be getting the cold shoulder from Arthur Treacher, he of the fish and chips but also of Camelot and a dozen other Broadway shows, while Dame Flora Robson (Lady Macbeth on Broadway) looked perplexed while her fellow Sardi’s caricature seemed to be licking Kinky Boots bookwriter Harvey Fierstein’s ear at the awards ceremony for winners of the 2103 Outer Critics Circle.

Cicely Tyson, who won for best leading actress in a play for her role in “The Trip To Bountiful,” told the crowd at Sardi’s that she had been “terrified” to return to the Broadway stage after an absence of 30 years. “I didn’t know where upstage was or downstage was.” She soon relearned, and has been sweeping all the theater awards.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged in a slideshow.

Lucky Guy. Kinky Boots. Broadway Beasts

Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, Billy Porter in Kinky Boots, Porridge the dog in Pippin.

Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, Billy Porter in Kinky Boots, Porridge the dog in Pippin.

BroadwayOpeningsApril2013Lucky Guy and Kinky Boots opened on Broadway last week, Matilda is opening this week — one of a dozen Broadway shows still to open this month, to finish the Broadway Spring 2013 season, a season marked by an unusual number of non-human cast members. Below: a poll to choose your favorite Broadway beast.

Orlando Bloom and Rachel Weisz will both be making their Broadway debuts — Weisz in a cast that includes her husband Daniel Craig.

New York theater is not just Broadway — not even in April.  Nominees for Lucille Lortel Off-Broadway were announced. The League of Independent Theater (aka Off-Off Broadway) held its first-ever political candidate forums to address the issues facing some 50,000 independent theater artists in New York.

All that was good news. This was also a week of bad news, if you care about arts criticism.

The Week in New York Theater

April 1, 2013

orlando-bloom-romeoOrlando Bloom and Condola Rashad will star on Broadway in “Romeo and Juliet.” The production, which will also feature Jayne Houdyshell and Joe Morton, opens September 19 at Richard Rodgers. Bloom (“Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”) will be making his Broadway debut. Rashad, the daughter of Phylicia Rashad, made a splash in “Stick Fly” and is about to performer in “The Trip to Bountiful”

Sutton Foster and Jesse Tyler Ferguson will announce the nominees for the Tony Awards on April 30th at 8 am from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. 

Lucky Guy 1 Broadhurst Theater

My review of Lucky Guy

“Journalists aren’t nearly as interesting as they think they are,” David Eisenhower once said, a quote that Nora Ephron cited favorably in her final media column for Esquire in 1977. This was before Ephron became a movie director and screenwriter, and long before she wrote “Lucky Guy,” her play about the late tabloid columnist Mike McAlary. “Lucky Guy” is now opening at the Broadhurst starring Tom Hanks in his Broadway debut.

Ephron, whose play is being produced posthumously,  obviously changed her mind about journalists, for “Lucky Guy” depicts New York City newspaper columnists and editors who find each other fascinating.  Theatergoers are likely to find them less so.

That is why “Lucky Guy” is luckiest in having snagged Tom Hanks to return to the stage after an absence of decades.  He is certainly the reason why this script made it to Broadway. The production is also lucky to have George C. Wolfe directing, for he almost redeems what is otherwise a largely thin, plodding endeavor full of boozy sentimentality. He does this by injecting some clever stage business and a few well-orchestrated moments — and by having hired a first-rate cast.

Full review of Lucky Guy, including photo gallery

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March 2013 Theater Quiz

March 2013 theater quiz — test how well you were paying attention.

Sample question: Who are Smith and Clarke?

  •  A new song-writing team
  •  The law firm representing Julie Taymor in her continuing lawsuit against the producers and composers of Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark
  •  The producing team trying to get new investors for Rebecca
  •  18th century New World explorers who are the subject of a forthcoming musical
  •  The stars of Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Richard Rodgers TheatreStars are no guarantee:  “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” starring Scarlett Johansson did not recoup its $3.6 million capitalization during its 15-week run.

Astoria is a growing center for the arts

Duet between Bernadette Peters and Megan Hilty in Smash

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Milo O’Shea, classic Irish-born character actor, veteran of 10 Broadway shows, has died at age 86. (Loved him in The Verdict)

RichardGreenbergplaywrightBreakfast At Tiffany’s, Assembled Parties, Far From Heaven…all by Richard Greenberg

— and all opening within a few weeks of one another in New York.

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Roger-red-seats

Roger Ebert, 6/8/1942 – 4/4/2013

Film critic Roger Ebert has died at age 70. ‪@ebertchicago is no more. His last film review was five days ago. His last Tweet was yesterday. He died on the day after his 46th anniversary as a film critic! Here’s what he wrote yesterday.  The optimism makes you cry.

LucilleLortelplaynominees

Nominees for 2013 Lucille Lortel Awards for Off-Broadway

Giant, just nominated for a Lucille Lortel award, is getting a cast album in May

Kinky Boots 8

My review of Kinky Boots

Is it a shock to say that “Kinky Boots” just isn’t kinky enough?

It could have been. Harvey Fierstein wrote the book, he who began his career as a 300-pound teenage drag queen on the Lower East Side. Cyndi Lauper is making her Broadway songwriting debut, she who began as the girl with the tie-dye colored hair who just wants to have fun…..

The stage version delivers a couple of stand-out performances; a few touching moments; several catchy melodies presented with verve and panache in a diverse score of genuine pop tunes — one of which, “Sex Is In The Heel” is already a certified hit in the clubs — flavored by funk, disco and even a tango.

“Kinky Boots” is professionally put together, it’s entertaining…and it’s both safe and familiar.

Full review of Kinky Boots

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Rachel Weisz and Daniel CraigIt’s official: Daniel Craig will star with wife Rachel Weisz in Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, at the Ethel Barrymore Barrymore opening November 3. Weisz (The Bourne Legacy, The Constant Gardener) will be making her Broadway debut.  Craig (best-known as James Bond) appeared on Broadway in 2009 in “A Steady Rain.”

Remember Rob McClure from Chaplin? He joins Tony Danza in Jason R Brown’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” at the Papermill Playhouse, aiming for Broadway

On American Songbook with Michael Feinstein on PBS, ‏Stephen Sondheim said his favorite composers are George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.

A brief history of applause — Nobody is sure how applause began, or when — babies applaud; applause is mentioned in the Bible — but we all know where it wound up: In the theater.

Speaking Theater to Power

 

John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, which conducted its first ever political candidate forums.

John Clancy

The League of Independent Theater held its first political candidate forums last month, and is planning to make endorsements in New York City political races. With some 50,000 independent theater artists in New York City, roughly 86 percent of them regular voters, the league’s executive director John Clancy says he is convinced that an organized voice can make a difference

Backstage is laying off its theater critic and eliminating all theater reviewing in the publication by the end of the month.

Howlround dedicated the week to essays on theater criticism.

Last words of Matilda author Roald Dahl. He was not afraid of dying: “It’s just that I will miss you all so much…Ow, fuck!”

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New, wonderful-sounding series from New York City Center: “Encores! Off-Center.”  Great musicals for $25

The Beasts of Broadway

Best Broadway Beast Poll

How to keep old shows feeling like new:

“Hands down, when you’re in a long-run show, the best thing that happens is there’s turnover in cast,” says Wicked stage manager Meredith Abel. “….those influxes of difference make everybody, like, step up.”

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All The Way by Robert Schenkkan , about LBJ,wins 2013 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association Award for Best New Play produced outside of NY

The New York Shakespeare Exchange’s Sonnet Project, Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets filmed in NYC locations, kick-off party April 26 at  The Drama Bookshop. 

Closing today: Annie Baker’s The Flick, at Playwrights Horizons, which sparked complaint and controversy

Kinky Boots Review: Cyndi Lauper’s Broadway Songwriting Debut

Stark Sands and Billy Porter star in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway, by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper

Stark Sands and Billy Porter star in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway, by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper

Buy tickets

Is it a shock to say that “Kinky Boots” just isn’t kinky enough?

It could have been. Harvey Fierstein wrote the book, he who began his career as a 300-pound teenage drag queen on the Lower East Side. Cyndi Lauper is making her Broadway songwriting debut, she who began as the girl with the tie-dye colored hair who just wants to have fun.

The Broadway musical they’ve put together, which has now opened at the Al Hirschfeld, tells the same story as the 2005 cult British film of the same name: A shoemaker partners with a drag queen to make footwear sturdy enough for a man but fabulous enough for a woman – kinky boots for cross-dressing professionals and enthusiasts.

The stage version delivers a couple of stand-out performances; a few touching moments; several catchy melodies presented with verve and panache in a diverse score of genuine pop tunes — one of which, “Sex Is In The Heel” is already a certified hit in the clubs — flavored by funk, disco and even a tango.

“Kinky Boots” is professionally put together, it’s entertaining…and it’s both safe and familiar.

That’s not a crime; it’s just a disappointment. To observe that the show, which takes place mostly in a small struggling industrial town in Northampton, has echoes of both “Billy Elliott” and “Once”  (in a mashup with “La Cage Aux Folles,” which Fierstein also wrote)  is to realize that there’s less here as fresh  or memorable.

Like those other musicals based on British movies, “Kinky Boots” is more or less inspired by a true story — in this case, less. Yes, shoe manufacturer Steve Pateman created the Divine Footwear line in order to save W J Brooks Ltd, the Northampton shoe-manufacturing firm that had been in his family for a century. But, look at the local news accounts, and you’ll see no mention of his partnering with a drag queen. There is no evidence he ever even met one. He was responding to a request from a “fetish shoe shop” in Folkstone for women’s shoes in men’s sizes.  And – is this worse? – it didn’t save the company, which shut down a few years later (before the film was made.)

So Lola appears to be a wholly invented character — not just a self-invented one. This is fine by me, since Billy Porter’s performance  as Lola is one of the two best things about “Kinky Boots”

Born Simon, trained by his washed-up professional boxer father for a career in the ring, Lola early on took a liking to women’s clothes. We see him getting mugged in a London street outside the club where he performs his drag act.

Charlie (Stark Sands), who just happens to be walking by, comes to the rescue. He had moved to London on the insistence of his girlfriend Nicola (Celina Carvajal) who pushed him to leave Northampton and the shoe manufacturing firm, here called Price and Son, run by his father. But his father died shortly afterwards, and Charlie was forced to move back and take over the business. He is back in London only to talk to a retailer, in hopes of convincing him to buy a huge stock of unsold shoes and help the ailing firm.

Lola takes off his heavy boot to attack his attackers, hitting Charlie instead by accident. She brings him into her dressing room to look after him, and, when he awakes, she happens to complain about the expensive but cheaply-made shoes she has to wear, which keep on breaking. The rest is….well, not history, but the show.

Click on any photo to see enlarged in a slide show

Much of “Kinky Boots” seems in search of a conflict to provide drama. So there is a thug-like prejudiced factory worker Don (the excellent Daniel Stewart Sherman) who makes life uncomfortable for Lola, when, reverting temporarily to Simon, he starts working at the factory as a designer. This culminates in a strangely choreographed slow-motion boxing match that is all manner of mistake. There is Charlie’s conflict with Nicola, especially when she hatches a plan to sell the factory and turn it into condominiums. There is the interaction between Charlie and Lauren (Annaleigh Ashford), a factory worker who pines for Charlie. And there is the dynamic between Charlie and Lola. As the pressure mounts in Act II to produce the shoes and make an impression at the Milan shoe fashion show, Charlie turns testy, nasty, even bigoted towards Simon, insulting him for being less than a man — an abrupt turnaround from his accepting attitude in the first act. Both Charlie and Lola also have unresolved conflicts with their fathers, something that eventually serves to bond them, and that Fierstein (who also wrote the book for “Newsies” with its mostly fatherless characters) makes one of the central themes of the show, along with tolerance and acceptance and the true meaning of manhood. Both the conflicts and the themes feel as manufactured as the footwear, but without the same attention to good craftmanship.
It doesn’t help that Stark Sands is such a bland presence compared to his role in “American Idiot” that I literally checked the Playbill for the little slip of paper that would tell me that the role was being played by his more clean-cut understudy. There is something a little too unthreatening about this show.

The late film critic Roger Ebert found a similar problem in the film : “The movie is in the naughty-but-nice British tradition in which characters walk on the wild side but never seem to do anything else there.”

Here at least they don’t just walk; they dance. Director-choreography Jerry Mitchell, who also staged the over-the-top drag extravaganza “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” (and 18 other Broadway musicals), here goes for relatively understated, saving the lavish production numbers for the first and second act finales, employing all 32 cast members. He oddly inserts the half-dozen “Angels” — Lola’s backup drag singers and dancers — into the proceedings whenever he feels like it, even when it makes no sense to the plot. (Why would Simon be so careful to dress as a man at the factory, and then bring along his flamboyantly cross-dressing pals to strut on the assembly line?)

I said that Billy Porter was one of the two best things about “Kinky Boots.” The other is the decision by Cyndi Lauper to accept Harvey Fierstein’s invitation to write the songs for the show.The range of styles here, soaring ballads like “I’m Not My Father’s Son,” disco anthems like “Raise You Up/Just Be,” clever, comic ensemble pieces like “The Most Beautiful Thing In The World” (in which separate characters are each talking about shoes), and the catchy rocking “Everybody Say Yeah,” show a pop singer who seems to understand the specific demands of musical theater.  If “Kinky Boots” might not go the distance, Cyndi Lauper and Broadway are a good fit.

Kinky Boots

At the Al Hirschfeld

Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, scenic design by David Rockwell, costume design by Gregg Barnes, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, sound design by John Shivers, musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Stephen Oremus.
Cast: Stark Sands, Billy Porter, Annaleigh Ashford, Celina Carvajal, Daniel Sherman, Marcus Neville, Paul Canaan, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, Kyle Taylor Parker, Kyle Post, Charlie Sutton, Joey Taranto, Andy Kelso, Tory Ross, Jennifer Perry, Josh Caggiano, Aaron Bantum, Adinah Alexander, Eric Anderson, Eugene Barry-Hill, Stephen Berger, Caroline Bowman, Sandra DeNise, Eric Leviton, Ellyn Marie Marsh, John Jeffrey Martin, Nathan Peck, Robert Pendilla, Lucia Spina, Sebastian Hedges Thomas, Marquise Neal, Clifton Oliver

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.

Tickets: $57.00 – $137.00

Buy tickets at Broadway Guide