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Archive for the ‘British’ Category

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” Wonderful New Musical Off-Bway!

FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND

“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” is the most wildly inventive musical of the Off-Bway season. And if anyone would have told me I’d be raining superlatives over a two-person love story that’s set simultaneously in Brooklyn and Antartica (!) I wouldn’t’ve believed them! But it’s true! It’s all true! And 19th Century Arctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton has come back to life(Through a date searching app on the Internet) to make wild, theatrical magic love to a single 45-year-old Mom with a baby named Zach in an unheated apartment “far out” in Brooklyn, well, it just sounds preposterous.

But the theater exists to make the unbelievable, believable.And “Ernest Shackleton” amazingly does just that .Our heroineKat (the extraordinary singer/actress/musician Val Vigoda) is an experimental music composer, whose living room is filled with every kind of electronic musical device imaginable, including a red, heart-shaped electric violin, which she barely puts down and a set of amplified drums that she beats all her many frustrations out on. This assemblage of electronicaErnest Shackleton 2 is backed by a gigantic computer screen, behind the stage, on which we see her many, many wild fantasies play out on.

The frigidity of her (very) cold water flat and the stress of her life as an artist. “I gave my life to art!” she plaintively sings, sends her over the edge and into the imaginary arms of studly Arctic hero, Ernest Shackleton, who calls out to her romantically through the Internet dating site, “Katherine! Katherine!..”and then enters her own version of Antarctica, through (where else?) her refrigerator.

Wade McCollum and Val Vigoda are the star-crossed lovers linked by the heroic struggles both are going through. He, to reach his high-flown Arctic goals, and she, well, just to survive her life. Her baby never stops crying, her computer’s keyboard keeps re-looping the word “Alone,” and they spend “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” finding each other in the highly unromantic ice and snow, which the dauntless duo here turn into a winter wonderland.

The fiery Ms. Vigoda has also written the equally red-hot, heartfelt lyrics to go with Brendan Milburn’s Irish-inflected score.

There are a lot of sea shanties mixed in with the hard-rock and the love songs and the rock-solid book is by Joe DiPietro of “Memphis” fame, who really knows his way around a musical.  And underground there is massive musical amplification on  every kind of instrument imaginable by Sound Designer Rob Kaplowitz and Orchestrators Ryan O’Connell and Glen Milburn. And the super-skillful director Lisa Peterson makes the duo seem like a cast of thousands.

At no time do Kat and Shackleton strain our credulity, as the metaphor of his ice-bound ship, the Endurance, freezes over and sinks, stranding them and a crew of 22. This is based on a true story, which I won’t spoil here.(You can look it up. It’s a recorded fact.)And they had a videographer with them, too! As newsreel footage of Shackleton’s impossible dreams becomes all of our dreams of achievement, love and survival against all odds.“Ernest Shackleton’s motto was “Optimism is a form of moral courage.”
I left “Ernest Shackleton” filled with more optimism, and hope, yes, hope for the innovative American Musical than I’ve felt since well, since “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”
He sings “FOR MY LOVE, IT IS TIMELESS AND VAST AS THE SKIES
IT IS STRONG AS THE TIDE AND THE WAVES WHEN THEY RISE
IT IS I, ERNEST SHACKLETON, HERE IN COMMAND
AND I PROMISE MY DARLING WE’RE GONNA FIND LAND!”

#Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, # Ernest Shackleton, #Val Vigoda,#Wade McCollum,#Antartica, #Artic Explorer, #Endurance, # Electric Violin, # Single Mom

“Hello, Dolly!” Bette Midler! Wow! Wow! WOW!!!!!

Hello Dolly 2Is “Hello, Dolly!” newly revived on Bway with the legendary Bette Midler and selling like hot cakes, one of the greatest shows ever??? PRETTY Close! It’s an instant contact high, as they used to say in the ’60s. The minute you hear the first few notes of that famous score, Gerry Herman’s best by far, you’re instantly elated.

Like your lungs are filling up with helium! Hello Dolly 1

The Orchestra got applause at the first notes. The conductor got applause! The scenery got applause, when the curtain went up. The chorus, when they first entered, got applause. And Bette Midler? Well, she stopped the show cold by just dropping the newspaper that she was hiding behind, to her lap. She got an ovation! And it just didn’t stop! And I mean, the crowd was just going wild from seeing her. In person. At age 72. And “back where she belonged” on Bway, where she’d never been before.

Well that’s not exactly true. When I was in college, I saw her in “Fiddler on the Roof” as Tzeitel, the oldest daughter of Teyve, who gets married as the cast sings “Sunrise, Sunset.” And I remember looking at my program and trying to find “that girl,””She’s going to be famous, ” I thought. The girl who had the most infectious smile…She still does. She was “Midler from Fiddler” for three years. But Supporting no longer.Hello Dolly 5She’s the star of stars now of “Hello, Dolly!” and she is just flat out wonderful in it! The audience was going CRA-ZEE, as I’ve said. And the whole show is just miraculously infectious like Bette’s crinkly smile. Just what is it that makes it so fabulous? It’s like bottled joy! I’m not kidding. You just can’t be in a bad mood around Bette Midler’s role of a lifetime, Dolly Levy. A matchmaker, made in heaven.

Hello Dolly 10

Broadway veteran director Jerry Zaks is at the absolute zenith of his long career here and so is stalwart choreographer Warren Carlyle.. They have lovingly recreated  what must’ve been the sugary-up, rainbow feeling of the late, great Gower Champion’s two-dimensional, but fabulous dancing. And it gets better.

Another Broadway baby who has been around for quite some time Gavin Creel completely owns the role of Chief  Hay and Seed Clerk Cornelius Hackl, who is just bursting to get a day off and go to Manhattan.(“Hello, Dolly!” is set firmly in turn-of-the-last-century Yonkers.) And “Put on His Sunday Clothes” and go dancing and he “won’t come home until” he ‘”kisses a girl,” which of course he does.Gavin Creel 1

The Six Foot plus Creel has just been nominated for a Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. As has his co-star Kate Baldwin, and Bette, too, mais oui. AND David Hyde Pierce, “Hello, Dolly!”s resident scrooge.

Creel has been nominated for a Tony twice for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Hair”, but never won. This may be his year. And he’s an Out Gay LGBT actor, and I’m very, very proud of him. He also WON an Olivier Award in London for his role as Elder Price in “The Book of Morman.”

It certainly is Bette’s year, who has NEVER been nominated for a Tony, but this year I predict she will be dodging all the awards that are going to be hurled at her. Her powerhouse Dolly Levy lives up to her legendary alter ego The Divine Miss M, make no mistake.

Hello Dolly 12Meaning that Sophie Tucker and the Mermaid-in-the-Wheelchair are never far from her Dolly, who, of course, has a wicked twinkle in her eye, 72-year-old widow though she may be.

Her conversations with her late husband Ephraim, which she delivers downstage center, are very moving indeed. She gets to exercise her dramatic chops here and grounds her Dolly in a great well of loneliness as she plaintively begs her late husband’s ghost “to let me go, Ephraim.” She wants to rejoin life “Before the Parade Passes By” and she does.Hello Dolly 11

With her irrepressible humor and warmth,  a lark and a flirtation and an active persuing of “half-a-millionaire, Horace Vandergelder” keep her moving forward  even while she is trying to make matches for Cornelius and his fellow clerk Barnaby (a marvelously pint-sized bundle of joy, Taylor Trensch). David Hyde Pierce is masterful here. too, as Horace. Pierce mightily holds his comic own as the pinch-penny object of Dolly’s overly effusive affection.

Hello Dolly 13“Hello, Dolly!” is a much sturdier and more delightful vehicle than I ever imagined it to be. I saw it with Ginger Rogers of all people when I was a mere child, and I don’t remember being THIS excited about it.

In the hands of all these great Broadway pros and one certified legend, the divine Bette, I just never wanted it to end. And with the way the public is storming the box-office it may never end. Ever. And I don’t want it to.

This is Broadway at its’ absolute, level best. Pure old-fashioned escapism superbly done and it’s best, it’s absolute best.Hello Dolly 9#Hello, Dolly! # Bette Midler # Broadway, #Musical Comedy, #Gavin Creel # David Hyde Pierce

 

 

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.

Kate Burton Wows Kevin Kline in “Present Laughter” on Bway

That supremely under-rated British American actress Kate Burton is really holding her own against her over-blown. self-absorbed actor-husband played by Kevin Kline  in Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter” on Broadway now . Its’ modest charms seem lost in the cavernous St. James theater.

Not one of Coward’s top drawer plays like “Blithe Spirit”, Coward tossed it off(and I mean that in more ways than one) while on tour during WWII with his war play “This Happy Breed.” He must’ve been very bored because the soignee part of Garry Essendine is partially based on his own self.present Laughter 4 As a vehicle, I suppose it can’t be beat, and it certainly is a big, juicy part, and Kline absent from the stage for far too long, makes the most of it. Or makes too much of it. really. I didn’t think you could overact this part of the always acting actor of the Old School Garry Essendine, but Kline comes dangerously close.

I missed Frank Langella is his ’96 production of “Present Laughter.” It was much faster and much funnier and had the great Alice Janney in the part of the no-nonsense, soon-to-be ex-wife Liz, that the Great Kate, is now essaying so elegantly. Liz Essendine, really, I’ve now come to think is the back-bone of the play, and Coward wrote it for Joyce Carey, his almost constant cohort and muse. And wrote a better part for her than he wrote for himself. Liz has to stand up to Garry and she’s the one who is really holding his household and Himself together as all hell breaks loose, as it always would and SHOULD in a comedy.

Garry is doing nothing more than swanning about in glamorous dressing gowns and ascots and acting, ACTING, and OVER-ACTING all the time. Coward himself would have no problems with this and Frank Langella certainly hit the right note, but oddly Kevin Kline doesn’t. Too many years in movies has dulled his panache. He seems huffing and puffing and sometimes breaking such a sweat running from schtik to schtik that he is a tad, dare I say it? Too old for the role.

But “Present Laughter” wouldn’t be on Broadway at all if it wasn’t for Kline’s movie star rep and his making all those films. His ex Patti LuPone is having no problem with holding the stage and playing and singing and ringing the rafters just down the Bway block as Helena Rubenstein in “War Paint” But more on Patti later.Kate Burton has quite a history with “Present Laughter” herself having originally played the part of the over-sexed ingénue Daphne Sillington, who has famously “lost her latch key”, in Act One in 1982, opposite George C. Scott. You see, actors keep wanting to revive Garry Essendine, but Kline barely makes it to Act III.

I also don’t remember “Present Laughter” being so long and so slow, especially in Act I. Another factor that defeats Kline. He has to do too much heavy lifting and is really having to put Act III energy into Act I trying to make it more madcap than it is really meant to be.

Someone who really lifts the level to the right manic place is Bhavesh Patel as the demented, obsessed playwright wannabee (read fan) Roland Maule. Patel is so fanatical that he rightly suggests the gay sub-text that we’ve known is there. If only the latch-key losers who keep hiding themselves in Essendine’s guest bedroom were male, the play would seem more relevant and less dated. But alas, in Blackpool, in 1942, when the play premiered in the U.K., Coward could not have done that. So what we’re left with is half-baked piffle. And you know what that tastes like.

 

Kevin Spacey to Host This Year’s Tony Awards

This seems to be a very unusual, low-octane choice to host the high-powered Tony Awards broadcast, but there it is. Two time Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey. However, he did win one Tony at the beginning of his career.

The most serious of recent Tony host choices  have all been song and dance men lately. Neil Patrick Harris or Hugh Jackman. Or Comics like James Corden.

The Tony Awards announced today that Tony and Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey will host  the 71st Annual Tony® Awards live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Sunday, June 11 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. This will be Spacey’s first time hosting the Tonys. He won a Tony Award in 1991 for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in “Lost in Yonkers.” The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.  

 

I was their 2nd choice for Usual Suspects, 4th choice for America Beauty and 15th choice to host this year’s Tony Awards. I think my career is definitely going in the right direction,” said Spacey. “Maybe I can get shortlisted to host the Oscars if everyone else turns it down.”

“We are thrilled to have Kevin, who has mastered the Broadway stage, the big and small screens and the West End, host this year’s Tony Awards! His spirit and passion for live theatre makes him the perfect host, and we can’t wait to see the energy he brings to Radio City on Tony night!” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing.

 

“We’re excited to be working with a witty and charming host who is not only a Tony-winning actor and fan of live theatre, he’s also a president who is a true champion of the arts,” said Executive Producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner.

 

“A true star of television, film and theater, who better than Kevin Spacey to host this year’s Tony Awards?” said Jack Sussman, Executive Vice President, Specials, Music and Live Events, CBS Entertainment. “With his extensive repertoire, charisma and unparalleled dedication to live theater, we are thrilled to have him join us for this prestigious television event.” 

 

Award-winning producer and actor, Kevin Spacey, received a Tony Award in 1991 for Best Supporting Actor in Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.” Spacey has also starred in the Broadway and West End productions of “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” opposite his mentor Jack Lemmon; as well as the title role in the Sam Mendes production of “Richard III,” which toured to 12 cities around the world as part of the three year Old Vic/BAM/Bridge Project. He was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) by Her Majesty the Queen for his services to theatre. He has also won the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards for Best Actor for his role in “The Iceman Cometh.”

 

Inspired by Jack Lemmon, Spacey has often launched initiatives to help young people get their start in the competitive worlds of film and theatre, including: The Kevin Spacey Foundation, which offers support to young actors, writers, directors and producers (including workshops during the tour of “Richard III”); And the short film competition “Jameson First Shot,” awarded writer/directors from South Africa, Russia and the US, Canada and other countries with the opportunity to direct a short film starring a major actor. Most recently Kevin was awarded an Honorary Knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen for his work at the Old Vic, education and philanthropy.

 

Spacey currently stars in and executive produces the Netflix original series “House of Cards.” Since the show premiered in 2013, he’s been nominated for multiple Emmys and has won both Golden Globe and SAG Award for his performance as Frank Underwood. He has won Academy Awards for his performances in “The Usual Suspects” and for “American Beauty”. He was most recently seen opposite Michael Shannon in “Elvis & Nixon”. He will next be seen in “Billionaire Boys Club”, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” and “Rebel In The Rye” for director Danny Strong. For over a decade, Spacey served as the Artistic Director of The Old Vic Theatre Company in London. Spacey recently stepped down from this role, but during his time appeared on stage at the Old Vic in productions of “National Anthems,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Speed the Plow” with Jeff Goldblum, “Inherit the Wind,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” and the acclaimed production of the one-man show, “Darrow” – an examination of the legendary Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow.

 The Tony Awards announced today that Tony and Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey will host  the 71st Annual Tony® Awards live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Sunday, June 11 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. This will be Spacey’s first time hosting the Tonys. He won a Tony Award in 1991 for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in “Lost in Yonkers.” The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.  

 

I was their 2nd choice for Usual Suspects, 4th choice for America Beauty and 15th choice to host this year’s Tony Awards. I think my career is definitely going in the right direction,” said Spacey. “Maybe I can get shortlisted to host the Oscars if everyone else turns it down.”

“We are thrilled to have Kevin, who has mastered the Broadway stage, the big and small screens and the West End, host this year’s Tony Awards! His spirit and passion for live theatre makes him the perfect host, and we can’t wait to see the energy he brings to Radio City on Tony night!” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, President of the American Theatre Wing.

 

“We’re excited to be working with a witty and charming host who is not only a Tony-winning actor and fan of live theatre, he’s also a president who is a true champion of the arts,” said Executive Producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner.

 

“A true star of television, film and theater, who better than Kevin Spacey to host this year’s Tony Awards?” said Jack Sussman, Executive Vice President, Specials, Music and Live Events, CBS Entertainment. “With his extensive repertoire, charisma and unparalleled dedication to live theater, we are thrilled to have him join us for this prestigious television event.”   

Award-winning producer and actor, Kevin Spacey, received a Tony Award in 1991 for Best Supporting Actor in Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.” Spacey has also starred in the Broadway and West End productions of “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” opposite his mentor Jack Lemmon; as well as the title role in the Sam Mendes production of “Richard III,” which toured to 12 cities around the world as part of the three year Old Vic/BAM/Bridge Project. He was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) by Her Majesty the Queen for his services to theatre. He has also won the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards for Best Actor for his role in “The Iceman Cometh.”

 

Inspired by Jack Lemmon, Spacey has often launched initiatives to help young people get their start in the competitive worlds of film and theatre, including: The Kevin Spacey Foundation, which offers support to young actors, writers, directors and producers (including workshops during the tour of “Richard III”); And the short film competition “Jameson First Shot,” awarded writer/directors from South Africa, Russia and the US, Canada and other countries with the opportunity to direct a short film starring a major actor. Most recently Kevin was awarded an Honorary Knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen for his work at the Old Vic, education and philanthropy.

 

Spacey currently stars in and executive produces the Netflix original series “House of Cards.” Since the show premiered in 2013, he’s been nominated for multiple Emmys and has won both Golden Globe and SAG Award for his performance as Frank Underwood. He has won Academy Awards for his performances in “The Usual Suspects” and for “American Beauty”. He was most recently seen opposite Michael Shannon in “Elvis & Nixon”. He will next be seen in “Billionaire Boys Club”, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” and “Rebel In The Rye” for director Danny Strong. For over a decade, Spacey served as the Artistic Director of The Old Vic Theatre Company in London. Spacey recently stepped down from this role, but during his time appeared on stage at the Old Vic in productions of “National Anthems,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Speed the Plow” with Jeff Goldblum, “Inherit the Wind,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” and the acclaimed production of the one-man show, “Darrow” – an examination of the legendary Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow.

 

A Canadian Feel-Good Musical About 9/11? “Come From Away” Says “Yes”!

Having spent a large part of the past 17 years traveling to Canada and reporting very positively on Canadian culture, once again, I was not surprised by the fact that one of the hottest tickets on Bway right now is, of all things, a feel-good musical about 9/11! No, I’m not kidding. Only Canadians could have written this foot-stomping and even funny look at a tragedy, that I who was also stuck in Canada while it was happening can verify. I was trapped at the Toronto Film Festival with my camera crew of three. We were lucky. We had TRAIN tickets so we could get out of there as scheduled. But no planes were flying. FOR DAYS!

Which is what “Come From Away” is dealing with. It’s the rather arcane story(on paper) of some 7000 passengers getting diverted to Newfoundland, a small island in the far eastern part of this very large and large-hearted nation. “Come From Away” is the most positive take on Newfoundland I’ve ever seen and so enjoyable it makes the case very well for Americans, who are restive and restless in this particularly troubling time in our history to just get on a plane, boat or train as soon as possible and move there, lock, stock and barrel. Which is what “Come From Away” tries to depict. And the openness, do-good-ed-ness, politeness and warmth many American will find a tad unbelievable. But it’s true. Yes, they ARE like that. Meryl Streep recently called them “the nicest people in the world,” and I think she’s right.

Newfoundland, particularly, as strange as it may seem, is the butt of endless Canadian jokes, akin to our own misguided Polish jokes. As in “How many Newfis does it take to screw in a light-bulb?” etc.

But not the Newfoundland in “Come From Away”. The husband-and-wife writing team of Irene Sankien and David Hein, Torontonians  both, have done their homeland proud here. The strangest thing that their Newfis offer to the “plane people” is their tradition of kissing a fish(pictured above and also below),And yes, that’s Drama Desk nominee and Broadway stalwart Chad Kimball as the put-upon gay fish kisser, Kevin I. Yes, there’s a gay couple on the stranded plane, too, who are both named Kevin. “It was cute at first, but then it got old” says one Kevin.

Kimball is also called upon to play President George W. Bush, and he does it with raising nary a snicker. The Other Kevin, the amazingly versatile Cesar Samayoa also plays a Muslim, and many other dizzying roles. The whole singing cast of twelve is made to seem like a cast of thousands in that respect as they flash instantly from one role, and one accent and nationality, at the speed of light.

In such a strong ensemble, it seems unfair to single out individual actors, but I have to mention another Broadway bright light Jenn Collela, as the pilot of one of the grounded planes. She gets almost the only complete solo in “Come From Away” as  she sings about her girlhood dream of becoming a pilot in the on-point “Me and the Sky.”Come From Away 4

I wish some of the other characters were more developed. Kimball ALMOST gets a solo in “Prayer” but then others join in. It’s hard to sit for an intermission-less 90 minutes, and try in identify with an amassed crowd, as opposed to single characters. But I’m old-fashioned that way. I like characters. In plays. In musicals. On film. And this is the flaw in “Come From Away” and leads to many of its’ distressing lulls.

It’s got a rousing opening number “Welcome to the Rock” that the entire cast sings and I wish there were more songs like this. The great Christopher Ashley as director whips them into a frenzy, as much as he can. It’s hard to whip a singing throng.

This is currently being talked up as a possible Best Musical of the Year. But against “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” which is just across the street, I wonder….I play the music for “Natasha, Pierre…” morning, noon, and night, and I’m talking about the ORIGINAL circus tent Off Broadway cast album which stars Phillipa Soo. And now, FINALLY, they’ve recorded Josh Groban and the Original BROADWAY cast singing it, which is due in stores any minute now….

“Come From Away” is a musical that is incredibly timely in that it’s not too early and not too late in the cultural conversation to be embraced and enjoyed for its’ light-hearted look at a national tragedy.

It’s recency cuts both ways.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” Explodes with Hilarity, on Bway!

“The Play That Goes Wrong” gets everything hilariously right on Broadway. This latest Brit import will keep you laughing long after it’s over. And watch out! It’s so stupendously funny it may run forever!

Right now it’s cracking up audiences at the Lyceum and everything about it is top drawer as the British say. Low comedy, high comedy, physical comedy, double and triple entendres, malapropisms, vaudevillian spit-takes… Every comic stop is pulled out and it’s a joy to watch the Cornley University Dramatic Society explode with inept hilarity as they try to stage a dreadful 1930’s style thriller “The Murder at Havisham Manor” well. And of course, they can’t. It’s seemingly impossible for them to do anything right.

A direct cousin of that other great Brit backstage farce “Noises Off”, ” The Play that Goes Wrong” is set entirely ON the stage, during a particularly horrendous performance of this Whodunit that has hoary, horrific dialogue and no suspense whatsoever. Think Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” as if written by the Mouse.

Yes, it’s snowing outside(scraps of large white pieces of paper thrown at the window from stage right) and the assembled have gathered for the engagement party of a lord, who, of course, is found dead (well, almost) as the curtain rises. Actually the incredibly lithe Greg Tannahill is found creeping into place as the dead man, as the curtain precipitously goes up. He’s the most hilariously active corpse I’ve ever seen in a play on Broadway, or anywhere, as everyone WILL keep stepping on his extended hand causing him to jump in pain as he tries to lie stock still . And all and sundry keep sitting on his prone figure sprawled on the chaise longue stage center.

I was quite taken particularly with Dave Hearn’s upper class twit and brother to the (almost) dead man. New to the stage, he keeps snickering to himself as he finds the audience applauding or laughing at his antics, and then starts bowing to them and applauding himself, as every other cast member keeps slapping his hands down to get him to stop. This is an ancient theatrical device known as the “Klaptrap”. No, I’m not kidding, and this is what actors in the 19th century up to and including Tallulah Bankhead would do to acknowledge the audience’s approval. Hence, the word “clap-trap.” And yes, there’s a lot of claptrap in “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Thank god! And I loved every minute of it!Also a particularly agile physical comedian, he doesn’t let one set-piece (or way ward prop) go by without tripping over it or slapping him in the face. He seems also always to be in danger of injuring himself, so much of his comedy is death-dying in its’ oafish, but perfectly-timed  hilarity.

It’s written by a comic trio sent from heaven to make us all split our sides in a way I didn’t think possible in this dark time. Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields have my undying admiration and gratitude for keeping us all bouncing in our seats til we think we can bounce no more. But we can! I was still bouncing in Act Two!

Lewis I thought was wearing a fat suit. Well, he either is or isn’t, and the fat jokes abound, particularly when he is caught on a collapsing second floor balcony. I didn’t think a person of his great size could move at that rate of speed. But he does.

Pint-sized Jonathan Sayer is paired with Lewis in most scenes as the malaproping, ancient butler who at first I thought was named Florence. He has all his multi-syllable words written on his hands and STILL he gets them wrong as he pronounces “façade,” as “fuck-aid.” Lewis is always seeming to be about to sit on him or squash him in various iterations.

Lastly, there is the John Cleese, stiff-upper-lip chap  Henry Shields as “The Inspector,” who is being played in hilarious dead pan by the Cornley Society’s Director, Chris Bean, who gets the proceedings rolling (or is it roiling?) by announcing that at the outset that he is making his “de-boo” and that the Cornley Dramatic Society has now increased its’ funding to the point where they don’t have to do “Roald Dahl’s James and the Peach” or “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cat.”

They are the new Monty Python-like comedy-theater group, who all as one seem to be claiming British drama school LAMDA as their alma mater. And this type of finely honed, precisely timed physical comic mayhem has not been seen in New York since the late Charles Ludlam’s Theater of the Ridiculous.

Calling themselves, appropriately, the Mischief Theatre, I feel that they are going to be around forever, so precious and unique is their gift of inspired laughter. “The Play That Goes Wrong” is STILL running in London and won this year’s Olivier award for Best New Comedy.The Play That Goes Wrong marquix

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