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Posts tagged ‘Great White Way’

Jayne Houdyshell Triumphs in Bways’ “The Humans”!

The Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell, an actress I’ve always found astonishing, reaches the peak of her long career in Broadway’s newest and most unlikely hit, “The Humans.” Houdyshell had a two decades long career in regional theater and was “discovered” in mid-life as the mother that couldn’t stop criticizing her lesbian daughter in Lisa Kron’s break-through play “Well” that started at the Public Theater and moved uptown to Broadway. And Broadway has pretty much been her home ever since.

Houdyshell is the kind of actress playwrights dream of and though she has won tons of awards( the Drama Desk gave her a career achievement award a few years back), I can’t remember her having a leading part like the one she has now, and in a hit play to boot. “The Humans” is powered by her powerhouse performance as Deidre Blake, again a mother, but this time an Irish Catholic mother to end all mothers. Deidre is caught between a rock and a hard place as she tries to hold her unwieldy family together as they embark on a tumultuous Thanksgiving gathering in her daughter’s duplex in Chinatown.

It’s one of the best plays of the year. Playwright Stephen Karam has written what all of the American theater has been longing for. A great new American play. Set today, it’s totally current and absolutely vital, and unflinching in its’ detail of the lives we New Yorkers, we humans, live .

With horror film and Internet references galore, Karam and the titanically talented director Joe Mantello ingratiate “The Humans” into your soul and invite you to be a member of this troubled family. They hook you into sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with the at-first-glance very bland Blakes, and there you are experiencing something that you’d never thought you’d be experiencing, a top-level, quality evening in the theater, by some one who’s now going to be considered one of America’s important young playwrights.

What a joy this is to discover so much talent in one place, at one time, doing the thing it should be doing, bringing us the best in theater! Which is what Broadway is supposed to be doing. After all, shouldn’t that be going on all the time on the Great White Way? And so seldom is.”The Humans” is so good, it’s shocking.

And to have the majestic Jayne Houdyshell at the top of the bill, guiding this ship into port, as it were, with a superb ensemble who are all excellently cast and doing what sounds easy, but is really almost impossible, make you believe that they are the Blake family and you’re a friend, who they’ve also invited over for Thanksgiving dinner. But little did you know what you’re in for! Folding chairs, card tables and paper plates and cups. And not a turkey in sight! Only health foods!

Reed Birney is perfect matched as Deidre’s troubled husband Blake. Lauren Klein, is simply amazing and amazingly simple, as Deidre’s wheel-chair bound, dementia-ridden mother “Momo”, Cassie Beck & Sarah Steele as their struggling daughters, one gay and one straight, and Arian Moayed as the genial, still not married, but living together sort-of son-in-law.

Cassie Beck The Humans

Cassie Beck, in particular, (above) as the frazzled lesbian lawyer daughter,Aimee, who is going through a difficult break-up with her lover. And  it is to “The Humans” great credit that the Blake family treat this as something to be compassionate about and otherwise her sexuality is totally accepted in a refreshingly matter of fact way.

And the set! Once again I’ve seen astounding theater set design in one week! First “Hughie”s haunting green-lit majestic, ruined hotel and now David Zinn’s Chinatown duplex that is not as grand as it sounds, and as is just as knock-about and seems about to fall down as the Times Square hotel of the 1920’s in “Hughie.”

You just can FEEL this place shake,as it quavers under the  supersonic,crashing thuds that periodically drop on it from the (un-seen) floor above (sound design by Fitz Patton.) It’s a ground-floor apartment attached to the basement by a spiral stair-case that’s in, as Reed Birney’s father describes it, “A flood zone.”

At one point Birney’s character quips, noting his daughters’ obsession with health foods, “If you’re so miserable, why do you want to live forever?” “The Humans” is so good it will restore your faith in the American theater and make you want to live forever, too, so you can see it over and over and over again. What a joyful surprise this play, Jayne Houdyshell and this production are!

Kathleen Turner “High” closes low ~ on Easter Sunday!

Well, blink and you’ve missed her. Kathleen Turner was starring on Bway for a bunch o’ days, but she won’t be after tomorrow late afternoon. Her intermittently interesting starrer “High” is leaving on a season low. Closing on Sunday. Easter no less.

Kathleen Turner, once a great screen beauty, is now, in her later years beginning to resemble Winston Churchill. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, per se. Her force, her magnetic star power is in full blaze in “High” but the rather weak and extremely clichéd play she’s in “High” is the Bway season’s biggest low. And no match for a blazing, charismatic talent like Turner’s. She literally blows it to pieces.

Usually, a play this mediocre does not make it to Broadway these days. Shows used to open and close in one night. Not so anymore when there are millions of dollars at stake . Shows get workshopped to death in places far from the glare of the Great White Way’s white-hot spotlight.Preparation and caution is all.

But how this low “High” ever made it to the Rialto is a mystery. It simply may have been the star’s wanting to do it. And that’s not really enough.

It’s a BIG part for a BIG GAL,a swearing, formerly alcoholic nun. And these days Miss Turner is nothing if not BIG. She hasn’t passed over into the plus sizes, but she’s getting there. And now she’s sporting a neck the size of Texas.

There’s virtually no sets, and not much in the way of costumes. And there’s one extended nude scene for its’ homo druggie, which actually is the play’s best scene. And Bway newcomer Evan Jonigkeit is more than up to the task. He and Ms. Turner have a nude wrestling scene. He’s nude. She isn’t. And she gets him to the floor, from which he and the play barely get up in the second act.

Jonigkeit does manage to REALLY score in the climatic gutter death scene between him and Turner in Act Two. But by then it’s the play’s death rattle you’re hearing. And it’s too little, too late.

All the characters are more or less repulsive and non-relatable. And Bull Dog Turner’s George C. Scott-like attack-style of acting was much better suited onstage as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” which she successfully essayed several seasons back. Here she just sort of endlessly stands there with her basso profundo voice bellowing in the Booth Theater like she was Enrico Caruso with a sore throat.

Supposedly an expose of corruption in the Catholic Church (and guess what overly used plot device vice that means?) playwright Matthew Lombardo really offers nothing new at all on the subject. “Doubt” starring Cherry Jones in the role of Sister Aloyisius that won her a Tony for Best Actress in a play. And won Best Play, too. And a brace of other Tony and awards galore.”Doubt” has covered all this very same ground and did it a lot faster, and better. Memorably so.

Ms. Turner’s Martha lost the Tony to Ms. Jones’ indelible nun that year and here as Sister Jamison Connelly she’s gonna lose, too. Though stranger things have happened on Broadway. Valerie Harper in Mr. Lombardo’s other Bway bomb, er, offering “Looped” (which I actually kind of enjoyed) got Valerie Harper a Tony nod for her boozy bravura Tallulah Bankhead. Turner could pull off that hat trick, too. The critics were kind.

Me? Ms. Turner reminded of Greater Tuna. The fish, not the show.

Daniel Radcliffe Delights Bway! In “How To Succeed…”

Daniel Radcliffe is absolutely a delight and a revelation in the latest revival of Bway vintage musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” He is so successful from his Harry Potter decade of family film franchise stardom that he never has to do anything for the rest of his professional life. Unless he wants to. And he certainly didn’t have to take on the singing and dancing challenge that J. Pierpont Finch represents in “How To…” But he did! And he triumphs!

Surprisingly. When the tiny Radcliffe busts a movie(or rather) move in the “Groundhog” football dance number the teenage girls in the audience (yes! teenage girls in a Bway audience!) started squeeeeealing with delight. That’s just the first act! And by the “Brotherhood of Man” finale number that concludes this rousing revival,the diminutive Radcliffe has utterly proven himself as a bona fide Broadway singing and dancing sensation!

And his “I Believe In You” the famous Men’s Washroom song sung to an invisible mirror — Fawgeddabowit!

 “How To…”, a creaky curio at best, really needs that star power and charisma in the central role that Radcliffe dazzlingly provides, or it really is pretty much a bunch of nothing. And very sexist too boot. Its’ heroine Rosemary’s singing of the delights of “I’ll be happy to keep his dinner warm. Waiting for him to wearily come home from Downtown” as the other girls in the steno pool sing ” Don’t Cinderella! Don’t give up the Prince!” and the glories of the “New Rochelle PTA!”

Feminists in the audience will be cringing. But not so the teenage girls who were SCREAMING their way through one Radcliffe number after the other after the other. They were in Harry Potter cult heaven! I’ve never seen anything like this reaction on Ole Broadway before…It reminded me of what it must have been like when Frank Sinatra sang to the swooning bobby-soxers at the Paramount. Not that I was there, mind you. But I’m just saying…it’s VERY unlike OLDE Broadway to have this much young blood pumping wildy through its’ veins. But why not? It works! In spades!

“How to…” harks back, way back,  to the days when stars were expected to sing seven or eight numbers (at least!) all night long. And dance, too! And Radcliffe does all that to a fare-thee-well.

He has a very nice, serviceable singing voice, too, and an undeniable charm that makes his supposedly Machiavellian rise to the top be be absolutely and utterly believable. His character,  J. Pierpont Finch simply by reading this “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” book rises to the top of the World Wide Wicket Corporation by simply following the book’s simply laid out rules. Unctously read as an off-stage voice by narrator Anderson Cooper. Yes, THAT Anderson Cooper! It seems every body wants in on this successful boy’s new next act. Singing, and dancing and with a perfect American accent, too! I loved it!

This plot strangely mirrors Radcliffe’s charmed life in a marvelous way. The boy is so utterly disarming, as the book says, “without really trying”, he succeeds and succeeds again, as Radcliffe as Harry Potter has done in the decades-long franchise now about to reach its’ cinematic conclusion this summer. It’s been the most financially successful franchise series in cinema history.

 And when the last movie “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Pt.2” is released and Daniel Radcliffe will  still be singing and dancing his way into America’s hearts in this charming revival which will run and run as long as Radcliffe wants it to be in it.

 With, I’m predicting a “Best Actor in a Musical” Tony Award to boot!

Having seen Radcliffe naked and acting his heart out to the tune of a Drama Desk Award Nomination for Best Actor in a Play for “Equus” couple of seasons back, one knew he had the dramatic chops to sustain this startling career transition to serious stage actor and now morphing even further into a singing and dancing Bway phenom.

Justin Bieber, Look Out!

Daniel Radcliffe is now crooning and swooning in a Big Phat Bway Musical Hit!

I’m beginning to think that Radcliffe can do just about anything! Of course, he is fully supported by one great show tune from the pen of the late great Frank Loesser after the other.

This show won the Pulitzer Prize it was considered so timely, so edgy, when it first came out 50 years ago, but without the spiffy stealth updating by director Rob Ashford and an able supporting cast, including TV Vet John(“Night Court”) Larroquette in the Rudy Vallee part of J. B. Biggley, the boss of World Wide Wickets and the beauteous, ample heaving bosoms of the headiest of  Hedy La Rue’s of Tammy Blanchard, one wonders just how pertinent this dated story could possibly be today. In a post-Enron world, a mild satire of corporate shenanigans could go over like the lead balloon it proved to be when Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullaly (pre-“Will and Grace”) essayed it back in the ’90s. He and it were so boring and she was so grating, I walked out at intermission. But he won a Tony anyway.

But the rise and surprise of Daniel Radcliffe made me stay and stand and applaud! Aren’t we lucky to have him on Broadway delightfully re-inventing this war-horse and his own career at the same time! As far as I’m concerned Broadway has a new star! Daniel Radcliffe! Long may he shine!

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