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Archive for April, 2017

“Charlie” 3 Hours of Chocolate! Gag Me!

It’s this time as the very tail end of a very vigourous theater season, like this one, draws to an end, that one begins to count the hours ~ of the plays one is forced to watch. Or endure would be a better verb. After three hours of yak-yak-yak at “Oslo”, and three hours of chocolate at “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, even though I’m diabetic, I think I’ll take the chocolate. But it’s bittersweet, because not until the last twenty minutes or so does “Charlie” really get sweet enough and funny enough and touching enough not to gag on.

All praise to the divine Jackie Hoffman as the most neurotic of the five sets of adults who have to watch their children die from overeating, over-bubble-gumming and over-greediness.

Jackie Hoffman scored such a big hit playing Mamasita, Joan Crawford’s tart-tounged house-keeper in “Feud” on TV is back on Bway, always a cause for rejoicing.
She, and the utterly delicious, stupendous and tireless Christian Borle as Willy Wonka, really do pull the ending together of this chocolate-coated mishmash. Accompanied by the delightfully woebegone child actor playing Charlie Bucket, Ryan Foust.

Together with Michael Wartella, playing Jackie Hoffman’s obnoxious gadget-obsessed son Mike TeeVee (Jackie is Mrs. TeeVee) they make the magic finally happen as the over-long and rather dreadfully unfunny “Charlie” suddenly comes at last(!) to life. The first act was like watching a dancing corpse that wasn’t dancing, and then we’re saved by Act II and in the final stretch by indefatigable Borle, and an animated video sequence that enthralls as Mrs. Tee Vee watches her son turn into a…well, I guess you’ll have to see it. If you can stand the other over two and a half hours.

This is quite the worst thing I’ve ever seen the brilliant director Jack O’Brien do. The same can be said for the usually excellent composer/lyricist duo of Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman. It’s their weakest work ever. Only the over-familiar, but not written by them, “Candy Man” and “World of My Imagination” really work as music you want to listen to and remember. But they’re standards already. And the um-pa lum-pas(I almost forgot them) are adequte. They’re puppets.

Otherwise, these great talents are just doing it for the paycheck, I’m sorry to say. Which looks like it’s going to be substantial no matter what the critics say. It’s a pre-sold franchise. It might as well have been set in McDonald’s. The Outer Critics Circle nominated it for nothing. No surprise.

The nearly sweating-himself-to-death Christian Borle is just astonishing agile  as Willy Wonka and Jackie Hoffman lands every single(badly written) joke, and makes them seem funny. No mean feat, but the lady is a comic genius. And plucky, little Charlie Bucket does tug at your heart strings even though you know he’s doing so.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2As Charlie and Willy ascend into a candy-coated, one hopes, heaven in a transparent, plastic elevator, you are genuinely happy for them. Also it means this long schlog which nearly put me in a diabetic coma is coming to an end.

Outer Critics Circle Nominations Out

Indecent 3Ground Hog Day 2Littlr Foxes 7This season’s Outer Critics Circle Awards have just been announced today. These are critics who write for publications outside New York City proper. IOW, “the bridge and tunnel awards” as they are jocularly known. And there are some surprises and some notorious Left-outs. And they usually prefigure the Drama Desk Awards to some extent which are announcing on Thursday and to a lesser degree the Tonys.

You also have to take in to consideration that missing are some major players, who will figure greatly when the Tonys announce next week, because shows like “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812″,”Dear Evan Hansen” and “Significant Other” were done Off Broadway so were eligible and considered at that time, last year or the year before and are not eligible this year except for the elements and performances that are new.

I’ll note that “Anastasia” has gotten the most nominations 13, with “Hello, Dolly” coming in second with 10.

“Little Foxes” with its’ two alternating leading ladies, saw Laura Linney nominated in lead and Cynthia Nixon in Supporting.

I’d also like to give a tip of the hat to the terrific actor, Michael Aronov , who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Play, enlivening that three hour snooze fest of “Oslo” which also got nominated for Best Play. Go figure.

Completely MIA was “Amelie.” Sad, but no surprise there.Michael AronovThe complete list of nominees are at broadwayworld.com.


“Indecent” Glorious Lesbian/Jewish Musical Play

“Indecent” is Pulitzer Prize Winning Lesbian playwright Paula Vogel’s masterpiece. This great American playwright has finally found her voice at age 68 and her greatest triumph. “Indecent” is now at the Cort Theater on Broadway and long may it run. As long as “Fiddler on the Roof,” which it strangely resembles, though it is really a straight play with a lot, and I mean a lot, of  joyous songs and dances  in Yiddish . Perfectly, flawlessly executed under director/collaborator Rebecca Taichman’s masterful hand.Paula Vogel & Rebecca Taischman

At this point in my LONNNNG, career as also a gay playwright, actor, director and critic, I thought I knew every gay and lesbian play backwards and forwards and inside out, four ways to Sunday and back again. But “Indecent” shocked me, not by its’ touching, almost reticent depiction of Lesbian-Jewish love at the turn of the last century. (1907 to be exact), but by the fact that “Indecent” is a play-within-a-play-within-in play and that play was the first successful lesbian play just about ever.

And it was written by a newly married heterosexual Jewish playwright Sholem Asch and called “Got fun Nekome” or “God of Vengeance.” “Indecent” is a celebration and almost a complete re-staging of this incredibly important, seminal, nearly lost GLBT play. We see scenes from it acted out and re-acted endlessly.Indecent 3

It’s certainly one of the best plays of the year, and the most pertinent in this era of incipient terror that is upon us. “Indecent” couldn’t be more timely, or more beautiful. And it’s simple, so simple, and yet utterly complex. So complex, it has sub-titles or super-titles above the action telling us what, when and in what language, the present scene is taking place. It’s a very nifty device, and the shifting Yiddish/English text is glorious in its’ magnificent execution.

Imdecent 1It’s ensemble cast of seven, plus three on-stage actor/musicans,  is flawless. And the story and history of “God of Vengeance” is unbelievably dramatic and true.

Of course it was banned and the cast jailed when they LAST tried to do it on Broadway in 1923. By that time “God of Vengenance” had been a hit all over Europe and also in the Yiddish theater here in New York. But they hit the proverbial wall uptown when they were declared “Obscene, indecent, immoral and impure” and shut down immediately.

It’s ninety minutes and a harrowing delight. Let me add that the final song “Wiegala” heard near the play’s conclusion, was written by Ilse Klein, a nurse at the children’s hospital in Theresienstadt, one of the most notorious concentration camps. She sang this song as a lullaby for the children in the wards there before they were to be transported. It is said she sang this song in line to the gas chambers.Indecent 8Are you crying yet? I was. Yes, “Indecent” will move you to tears and to dance and sing and celebrate Paula Vogel’s breath-taking triumph of a life time.

Movies That Shouldn’t Be Made into Musicals “Ground Hog Day” & “Amelie”

If you think you’re seeing double, you’ll be seeing triple and quadruple in the current mish-mash that is passing as a hit musical from London, “Ground Hog Day.” I have to say that if you haven’t seen the 1993 Bill Murray movie set in Puxitawney, PA., you’re really out of luck. Because this musical doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.. But, so I’m told,  if you’ve seen the movie, it does. Otherwise, it’s a godawful mess. Or is it? Or is that EXACTLY what it’s supposed to be? Utterly and immensely confusing, like it’s central character, Phil, a TV weather person, played very engagingly by the swaggering Andy Karl.Ground Hog Day 3

But don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Andy Karl, having seen him long ago as one of the five “Altar Boyz” Off Broadway. He was the muscle- bound one and he continued in that vein with the tremendous performance he gave in “Rocky:The Musical” which I just loved. But audiences didn’t. I thought it was a real lollapalooza and Karl gave a knock-out performance as the iconic Rocky Balboa, made famous by Sylvester Stallone. Yes, he sang, danced AND boxed his heart out in “Rocky.”Andy Karl Rocky 1

Then he had the colossal bad luck of dislocating his ACL in previews for “Ground Hog Day,” and now has become something of a Broadway legend and also, believe it or not, a front-runner for the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, because despite performing in a black knee brace, he went on!

They should re-label “Ground Hog  Day” as “Andy Karl MUST GO ON!”

In the great theatrical tradition, nothing could stop him from giving this powerhouse, but utterly confusing performance.” Obviously in pain, he went bravely forward, over and over and over again, as the repetitious “Ground Hog Day”, a science-fiction musical if ever there was one, repeats and repeats and repeats itself. With Karl leading the charge, injured though he is, and with his knee brace clearly showing (he’s in his underwear a lot, as usual. And thank god for those terrific thighs!).

And audiences are going wild.

“Ground Hog Day” will have to run on fans of the movie, and perhaps, garbled and senseless (to me, a non-believer) as it was, that’s what audiences are craving these dark days in our country’s history. A feel-good, only partially funny, gigantic musical that makes no sense whatsoever. The world has gone mad in Puxitawney, Pa, and that’s the plot, such as it is.  Puxitawney is where the famous Puxitawney Phil, the ground hog who if he doesn’t see his shadow when he peaks of his hole in the ground means we’re getting six more weeks of winter. As far as I could tell, he didn’t see it. Thank god, it’s really now spring in NYC!

So, it’s Feb. 2nd and time and Ground Hog Day itself, keep repeating, repeating and repeating  in our beleaguered hero’s brain, while those townsfolk around him make merry and march and re-march and re-march. There is no end to those parading Pennsylvanians!

The music itself is also not much of anything. Tim Minchin who debuted so powerfully a few seasons back with the wonderful “Matilda”, here goes backward in time to really forgettable music and lyrics that seemed to be in a time-warp of their’ own, as if the magical “Matilda” had never happened.

And since this show was generated out of Australia, the small town PA. people are REALLY cartoons of what Pennsylvanians are like. Whatever they are, Pennsylvanians are not singing Australians, with bad American accents. And so the nightmarish cartoon juggernaut that is “Ground Hog Day” continues to roll over and distort and distort and re-distort everything in its’ path.

The Bill Murray movie couldn’t be this non-funny or garish. Oh, yes, and there aren’t any jokes. But there are lots of flying sets, one of which injured Andy Karl and may have won him a Tony. He deserved it for “Rocky,” but not for this mess.

And no, I’m not going to find the movie of “Ground Gog Day” and now watch it just to make sense of this gob-bil-di-gook. It would be just too painful. And I’m sure not funny, after what I’ve just been through with “Ground Hog Day:The Musical.” It’s like a night-mare you want to forget.

And “Amelie”! I hate to say anything negative about “Amelie”. It’s like kicking a kitten. I saw this French language movie, and I didn’t like it ,and can’t remember anything about it, except that Audrey Tautou is endlessly cute, and became a French icon of the ages. And I never could understand why. But there, like the Eifel Tower, she stands. Starring in French films of wildly varying quality. But an American musical?

And not casting a French girl in the lead? New York is NOT Paris, and good as she was in the original Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” off-Broadway in the circus tent, and Tony-nominated for “Hamilton,” as his hapless wife, Eliza, Phillipa Soo never had to utter a single word of dialogue. Both these great early successes for the now 26-year-old Soo were wordless, sung-through pop-operas and boy, can she sing!

She possesses one of the great powerhouse voices, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her over and over and over again on the CDs of “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” But here in “Amelie:The Musical” with REAMS of trite, banalities to make cute, piquant, quixotic and adorable, she’s utterly at sea. She’s at a loss with no script OR music to bolster her as she had both so memorably in “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” I wonder if it will even last until the Awards are handed out in June? Somehow, I doubt it. And I’m a Francophile.

Superb! Superb! Superb!Laura Linney & Cynthia Nixon On Bway in “Little Foxes”

When theater is this good, it’s a joy! And something as good as the current revival of “Little Foxes” on Bway at MTC with two of our absolute best actresses, Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney alternating  roles is an evening to be treasured. And treasured again because you can see it a second time with the parts of the villainous Regina and the flibbertigibbet Birdie played by these two towering woman of the American Theater reversed. The critics were given a choice of who to see in which role first and I chose Nixon as Regina and Linney as Birdie. And I’ve never been happier! I can’t wait to see it again with the roles reversed! It’s a win-win situation. And to my knowledge this is an historic first. Actors have switched roles before, but not actresses.

And how smart of Artistic Director Lynn Meadow to allow this to happen on Bway! This is something we never see! Men have been switching up historically, since as long as I can remember. “Becket” is one example. “Othello” is another.  But women? Never! All the more cause for rejoicing. And with one of America’s great stage directors Daniel Sullivan doing the work of HIS career, too! Why I just want to tear my program up and throw it into the air like confetti! Except I won’t because it’s too precious to me as a memory of a theatrical experience that was just about perfect!Of course, I saw Bette Davis do Regina in the movie, and she was pure evil. And she got ANOTHER Oscar nomination. I saw Elizabeth Taylor, of all people, doing the last revival of “Little Foxes” to be on Bway back, when I was in high school. So I felt I knew what I was going to see when I went in to the Samuel J. Friedman Theater on W.47th. But this “Little Foxes” was a total revelation. Never before have I see Regina played as more than a two-dimensional witch of a woman. Nixon added intelligence. I’d almost say compassion to Regina’s bitchy mix.

She seemed torn, for a second, just a tiny second, as her ailing husband (a very good Richard Thomas) climbed to his death on their staircase, like perhaps she considered going to help him. But of course, she does not. She resolutely stared into the audience as he chillingly dies, crying out for her help. Shivers. It gives me shivers just to write about this.

And never also has the character of Aunt Birdie been played as anything except pathetic and bonkers. When I saw Felicia Montealegre play it opposite Elizabeth Taylor, she was totally mad, and sad. And I thought “What hell it must’ve been for her to be married to Leonard Bernstein,” which in real life,   she was.

Laura Linney has none of that. Birdie is her Hamlet. She’s feigning madness to shield herself from the blows that life and her husband (a frightening oaf, Darren Goldstein) is dealing her. When the hulking Goldstein hits her across the face, you could hear the audience gasp as well as scream. Otherwise, the production was so taut and tense, you could hear a pin drop. This superb “Little Foxes” has preserved playwright Hellman’s original three-act structure, which is kind of refreshing.  Act One and Act Two ending with curtain lines that punch you right in the gut. It’s a well-made play. Remember them?

And it’s an astonishment to see that in Laura Linney’s hands, playwright Lillian Hellman has written not one but TWO famous scenes. Of course, there is the staircase scene where Regina lets her husband die. But there’s also a staggering scene at the beginning of Act Three, where Birdie fiercely charges to her niece Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini)”Don’t be like me!” because she has never had “a happy day, a whole happy day” in her life. Birdie is a symbol of the aristocratic south that is truly gone with the wind. And Regina is its’ frightening, mercenary 20th century future.

And both actresses play these juicy roles with such smartness that we are unavoidably reminded its the repressive, male dominance of their patriarchal society that have driven them to madness(though perhaps feigned here) and murder, for real.

Cynthia Nixon, Laura Linney, director Dan Sullivan are all here to remind us that there is greatness in living theater and that “Little Foxes” is a tremendously underestimated American play. Lillian Hellman would be turning cartwheels were she still with us. Brava, Divas!

I would also lastly like to note that come the Tonys (the nominations are to be announced shortly), Ms. Linney will be considered in the Leading Actress in a Play category for her Regina and Ms. Nixon in Supporting for her Birdie, because that’s how they appeared on Opening Night.

#Little Foxes, #Laura Linney, #Cynthia Nixon, #Lillian Hellman, #Broadway (more…)

Today is “Dolly Day!” As in “Hello, Dolly!”

It’s FINALLY Opening! What else? “Hello, Dolly” with Bette Middler on Bway. I will be seeing it in less than a week! Can’t Wait! Here’s the skinny!


IN CELEBRATION OF TONIGHT’S OPENING OF  “HELLO, DOLLY!” STARRING BETTE MIDLER        New York, NY –  As previously announced, to commemorate tonight’s official opening of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler on Broadway, Mayor Bill de Blasio will officially proclaim tomorrow, Friday, April 21, “Dolly Day” in New York City.  As promised, the proclamation, has been hand-delivered to the Sam S. Shubert Theatre.  An image of the proclamation follows on the next page of this release.

The Broadway revival of Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman’s masterpiece Hello, Dolly! is directed by four-time Tony Award® winner Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award® winner Warren Carlyle.

This Hello, Dolly!, the first new production of this classic musical (based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker)  to appear on Broadway since it opened more than fifty years ago, pays tribute to the original work of legendary director/ choreographer Gower Champion, which has been hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history.

“War Paint” 2 Incomparable Divas, the Play Not So Much

The Women! The Divas! Patti Lu Pone & Christine Ebersole! Incomparable! Superb! Not to be missed! The play, “War Paint” ~ you could miss it.

And what a shame that Catharine Zuber’s magnificent hats and costumes were worn in the service of a less than deserving musical.

“War Paint” should’ve been grand on every level, and it’s just not. Granted trying to dramatize the story of two woman who hated each other in every way possible sounds good on paper. But in real life, they never met, and so they don’t here. It’s delicious to think of the possibilities, especially with these two magnificent performers, who are at their absolute best here, dramatically and vocally. But alas! The facts, such as they are barely can hold a massive evening about them together.

Talking about “War Paint” is like crying over spilled milk. In fact, that would’ve been a more accurate title. “Spilled Milk”. We should glory in the stupendous performances of two of the greatest actress/singers on this planet. And they are glorious. To see each of them in roles that they more than can get their teeth into is a feast of great acting that we will rarely see again. And flawless, flawless, flawless.

There is nothing audiences enjoy more than a cat fight but since these titans of the powder puff never meet or interact(until the end), it’s like watching two super musicals playing out at the same time. One great story seems like a distraction to the other. Once you get into one saga, you’re snapped back into the other…and so it goes…

And the music is just so-so. There are two stupendous numbers at the end one for each of them.First up, as the play moves to its’ inexorable climax as the women age, is Christine Ebersole’s beautiful/sad reflection of her life in “Pink.” I could listen to that song forever, and probably will. The program lists the number as “Forever Beautiful” but it will always be pink to me.

Followed all too quickly by Patti Lupone’s grande finale “Beauty in the World” as an aging Helena Rubenstein sings an aria to end all arias to the great artists whom she commissioned to paint portraits of her in oils and sketches throughout her long life. Rubenstein herself is vibrantly alive in this mega-number and Lu Pone essays it as if she were Callas herself singing “O Mia Bambino Caro.”

Who could resist these transcendent moments? Unfortunately, we have to slog through  nearly two hours of dull to get to the fabulous. But when “War Paint” gets there, it really gets there.

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