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Posts tagged ‘Twelfth Night’

“Twelfth Night” in the Park, Cast of Thousands an Amiable Mess


Productions of Shakespeare’s perennial gem of a comedy “Twelfth Night Or What You Will” boasts a cast of literally hundreds, who seem like thousands. Is it too much of a muchness? Almost. 

Directors Oskar Eustis and Kwame Kwei-Armah have taken what is the Shakespeare-in-the-Park’s most enduring positive, the audience, and put all and sundry onstage in the guises of many, many community groups from the Tri-State. It’s overwhelming and it almost overwhelms the play, but not quite. It’s Shakespeare’s best, just about, and seems to weather every storm that is tossed its way. In this case, crowds upon crowds of extras, some of them toddlers, some of them house-wives, all dee-lighted to be onstage at the Delacorte instead of just watching, lining up for hours for tickets and clapping madly.Who can resist a cast that also resolutely SIGNS the play, too? The most beautiful, transcendant moment for me was when an unnamed young, bearded, blonde man, got up and singly signed one of Shakespeare’s more poignant song poems. I wish he was given credit for that in the program. 

Also, because it was virtually the only quiet, thoughtful moment in this amiable, crazy-house of a mess.

There was no intermission. It was only 90 mins. and Shaina Taub’s average music did not send me. It made me long for the first time I saw “Twelfth Night” which was in an historic, traditional production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1969, when I was in college in the Cotswolds, and young Judi Dench played Viola.

“How will this fadge?” I remember her saying til this day, enunciating Viola’s gender confusion. She’s disguised-as-a-boy Cesario, who everyone is falling in love with. Sir Donald Sindon was the wronged Malvolio, and his performance is awfully close to the present Park’s Malvolio, Andrew Kober, who is the only one of the vast ensemble to capture Shakespeare’s tone of comic absurdity just right.

I also enjoyed Nanya-Akuki Goodrich as an amply-figured Olivia, who is so distraught over her beloved brother’s recent death, she is followed around by a New Orleans jazz band, playing a funeral march every time she enters, black handkerchief in hand, copiously weeping. The tiny little high-heeled shoes that costume designer Andrea Hood has provided her with, ankle straps and all, make her teeter-totter between hilarity, despair, love and high fashion.

And Nikki M. James, a past Tony winner for “Book of Mormon” is quite fine as the business-suited Viola/Cesario. She’s not Judi Dench, but she’s owns the character in her own charming, petite way.Twelfth Night Park 5

 

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Tony Predictions Part Four

Tony Predictions Part Four

And continuing on and hopefully concluding, my four-part Tony Predictions, we now come to another hotly contended category, Best Actor in a Musical.

I think although he tied in a surprise at the Drama Desk Awards, with Jefferson Mays, who does 8 or 9 different roles in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” I think former host of the Tonys, Neil Patrick Harris is going to get the ultimate tribute and thank you from the Tony Voters here for his box-office busting drag turn as Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” which I also think is going to get Best Revival of a Musical.Neil Patrick Harris is everywhere on TV, too, talking, talking, talking. He’s campaigning. He wants it. He lost 20 pounds for this role. He’s got the momentum. He’ll get it.

“Beautiful” is going to garner its’ beautiful leading lady Jessie Mueller, who sings almost non-stop, and is hardly ever off-stage playing a marvelously understated Carole King, it’s going to garner Jessie her first Tony as Best Actress in a Musical as well it should. Subtlety and under-playing are not usually awards bait, but in this case, Jessie Mueller is the complete package.

Best Actor in a Play is going to be the its-his-time-to-shine Bryan Cranston, almost as much for his unforgettable Walter White in “Breaking Bad.” And “All the Way” the three-hour political play about LBJ will win Best Play. It also won both these awards at the Drama Desks. This is the year when everybody just wants to THROW as many awards willy nilly at Bryan Cranston as they possibly can. Lucky duck.

Best Actress in a Play will be Audra McDonald for her impeccable “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille” in which though she sings a dozen or more of Billie Holiday’s greatest hits, although she is in the Best Actress in a PLAY category. It’s more than a little unfair to the dramatic actresses who are nominated in this category who just got there by their acting chops. Tyne Daly it’s a shame that you’re up against the unstoppable Awards magnet Audra McD. who will break all kinds of records by winning her SIXTH Tony award tomorrow night.

Audra was nominated in the CORRECT category for the Outer Critics Circle, Best Actress in a Musical, and she won that, too! Like Cranston, there’s no stopping her.

In the Supporting Actors, or Featured as they are called by the Tonys, only James Munroe Inglehart, as the larger-than-life Genie in “Aladdin”, is the only sure thing here in all four categories.

It’s really tricky predicting the other awards here. For Best Featured Actress in a Play it COULD be Celia Keenan-Bolger, for the long-closed revival of “A Glass Menagerie.” Celia has been nominated for a Tony three times and she’s beloved, but she’s up against first time nominee British actress Sophie Okenado making her Broadway debut for “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Sophie’s main problem is her competition is not just Celia Keenan-Bolger, but also her cast-mate Anika Noni Rose as her sister-in-law in “Raisin.” One of these two, probably Sophie, could take this and be the only award that “Raisin” is apt to win. The Tony voters notoriously snubbed Denzel Washington, who let’s face it, is why this great play is being revived so soon after it was just on the Great White Way with P. Diddy. And Felecia Rashad, who won in the Best Actress Category.

Also, in contention, is Mare Winningham for “Casa Valentina” as the real-woman house-mother to a hotel-full of straight transvestites in the Catskills in the 1960s. Any of these women are worthy. And could win. But there’s no clear front-runner here. If “degree of difficulty” comes into play as it often does at the Oscars, the crippled Laura of Celia Keenan-Bolger “Glass Menagerie” might take it. It’s really hard to call this one. But it also should be noted that Mare Winningham WON in this category for the Outer Critics Circle Awards. She tied with Andrea Martin for “Act One” who is not nominated for a Tony. And Celia Keenan-Bolger was not nominated for the OCC. And Celia has picked up some other precursor awards, too, it must be noted, which gives her the edge.

And Sophie Okenado and Anika Noni Rose might cancel each other out, being from the same show, “Raisin”, and “Raisin” wasn’t as acclaimed as “A Glass Menagerie” was.

It’s also hard to call the other Featured Actress in a Musical category winner. It was so close at the Drama Desk it was ANOTHER tie between Lauren Worsham and Anika Larsen for “Gentleman’s Guide…” and “Beautiful” respectively. It could either of these two, who were also profiled together in the New York Times. I’m going to do a coin toss and say it’s Anika.

She plays Carole King’s wise-cracking best friend and co-composer and rival song-writer. It’s a more substantial, and layered role. So I think Ms. Larsen takes this one.This most competitive category is rounded out by Linda Emond in “Cabaret” playing the Lotte Lenya role. And Lena Hall, playing a transgender MAN (who turns back into a woman!) in “Hedwig:And the Angry Inch.” And the stealth candidate is Adriane Lenox, who sings two sizzling songs in “After Midnight” and just steals the whole show. Full disclosure, she was my vote for the Drama Desk in this category.ANYbody could win and surprise in both these Featured Actress categories, really.

And then there’s Best Featured Actor in a Play, where we have the irresistible (to Tony Voters) Mark Rylance as Lady Olivia in the unforgettably delightful Elizabethan mounting of “Twelfth Night.” Even though this show is long closed and Rylance already has already won Tonys aplenty, I think he’s going to win again, against Reed Birney’s terrific, but evil transvestite Charlotte in “Casa Valentina.”

Rylance, who will inevitably recite an obscure poem when he wins, even if he’s there to accept(he may be in London), and bore the audience to death, also has the added bonus of being nominated in the Best Actor in a Play category for his “Richard III” which was performed in rep, with the glittering “Twelfth Night.”

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that though “A Gentleman’s Guide…” seems poised to win the most Tonys, its’ creative team are the ones that are going to carry the day, but none of its’ supremely talented performers look like they are going to win. The competition is THAT tough this year.

Jefferson Mays won the Outer Critics Circle and tied with Neil Patrick Harris for Best Actor in a Musical. And the terrific Bryce Pinkham as Monte Navarro, our hero,or anti-hero, as the most lovable serial killer ever is going to split the “A Gentleman’s Guide..” votes with Mays and they are both going to get steam-rolled by the Neil Patrick Harris juggernaut. Lauren Worsham, in the all-over-the-place, Best Featured Actress in a Musical category,tied with Anika Larsen in this category. Is her adorable, innocent, coloratura ingenue going to surprise and trounce Larsen. She might. She is cuteness and purity and good girl personified.

So don’t miss the Tonys tonight on CBS at 8pm. Hosted by the always watchable Hugh Jackman it will feature production numbers from all the the nominated musicals and a few more extra-special bits, too.

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Drama Desk Award Predictions

Drama Desk Award Predicitons

Yes, the Drama Desk Awards are coming up fast! They are handed out on June 1 next Sunday at Town Hall.

And here are my intrepid predictions! I think critic’s fave “A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Valor” (pictured above ^) Will sweep and get the Best Musical Award and all the others in that musical category. Best Music, Best Lyrics, Best Book, Best Orchestrations(the great Jonathan Tunick, natch.)

And in the hardest fought battle Best Actor in a Musical, I think the Drama Desk-ers being all critics are going to also choose actor’s actor Jefferson Mays for his eight(or nine) roles in “A Gentlemen’s Guide…” over the much more famous Neil Patrick Harris in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Though when the Tonys come up the following week, we could see this reversed.

“Hedwig” will get Best Revival of a Musical. And I think “All the Way” though I LOATHED it myself will get Best Play. THREE HOURS OF HAM! I mean, I like ham. But THREE HOURS!?!?

However, I think the Drama Desk-ers will vote for it. Though something less known might surprise here. It could be anything, if it’s not the obvious Tony front-runner.

Best Actor in a Play will PROBABLY be Bryan Cranston in “All the Way” as LBJ. Another Tony front-runner. Chris O’Dowd in “Of Mice and Men” could be the surprise upset here. And this would REALLY be a surprise.

Best Actress in a Play may very well go to Tyne Daly for “Mothers and Sons”. Though with Audra McDonald in this category, too, it could be Audra. Though the Drama Desk-ers, being all critics through and through. and sticklers for detail, may balk at the Five-Time Tony Winner being put in this category though she sings an endless amount of memorable period songs. Audra won the Outer Critics Circle but she was in Best Actress in A Musical there, not Best Actress in a Play.

Best Actress in a Musical will also be Tony front-runner Jessie Mueller for “Beautiful:The Carole King Musical” where she’s amazingly effective as the ugly ducking who becomes a swan/superstar.

Best Revival of a Play will be “Twelfth Night.” It’s no longer running, but that won’t bother the Drama Desk-ers, who don’t take that into consideration, the way the Tony voters do.

Best Revue will be “After Midnight.”

The Drama Desk Awards are the only awards in all of theater, let it be said, that honor Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway equally, on an even playing field.

And the prestige of these awards has increased since the press are no long allowed to vote for the Tony Awards!

“Twelfth Night” on Bway ~ One of the Best I’ve Ever Seen!

How can I begin to describe the joys of the impossibly wonderful “Twelfth Night” now on Broadway? It’s simply one of the best productions I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE!

The two-time Tony Award winning genius Mark Rylance is probably on his way to another award (or awards) for his astounding performance as Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” Not usually considered a memorable role in Shakespeare’s comedy, which is usually played, as always by a woman, and as a sort of wan, sad, elegant lady,who is mourning the death of her brother. Olivia is usually the straight person in a cast of characters who are off-the-charts loony.

And here the masterstroke is Rylance plays Olivia as the looniest toon of the lot. He seemed to be channeling Margaret Dumont of the Marx Brothers movies. His  love-struck Olivia becomes the absolute center of this production, and the play, too, and it seems absolutely right. AND HILAROUSLY so.

The audience, some of whom were seated on the stage, was absolutely getting EVERY SINGLE Elizabethan joke and laughing so much, it made this marvelous “Twelfth Night” the longest “Twelfth Night” I’ve ever sat through.

With a half-hour pre-show added, wherein you get to see the actors get into their costumes and make-up right on stage and the musicians tune up their authentic, period instruments, this un-cut version was heading to the four-hour mark. But I didn’t mind one bit. I was in theatrical heaven!

One always wishes, if  one is a bardolator, that one could travel back in time to Elizabethan England, and see just what it was that made Shakespeare so great. And the brilliant thing that Rylance and his director of many productions, Tim Carroll have done is that they are so exact in a replication of how this comedy of Shakespeare’s was probably done, you absolutely believe you are in Elizabeth’s England, and that you’re discovering this great play for the first time and finding it  to be one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable. In the hands of Rylance and co., all of whom are on their Elizabethan A-Game, “Twelfth Night” really ranks among one of Shakespeare’s greatest.

It’s an absolute delight from start to finish. All four hours of it.

And we, the press, were warned off coming to see it last night, because the light-board failed, and so we were not going to see it as it was meant to be performed, I was told, by the worried press agent. I decided to go anyway. And we discovered, when we entered, the stage was flooded with candle-light!

And that just made it magical! We were time-traveling!

There did seem as the play went on to be more and more stage lights focused on it, so perhaps the lighting board was being repaired as the show went on, but they were all white or a very pale blue lights

But of course, Shakespeare’s King’s Players DID perform by candle light.

And the stage at the Belasco was full of candles. There were six or eight chandeliers that were dropping candle wax on the actors, and an upstage set piece with more and more candles on it. sort of in the shape of a Christmas tree. So the stage was ablaze with honey-colored light. Which had a warming, charming, and totally disarming effect, which was just right.

And all the female parts are played, as they were in Shakespeare’s time, by men. Rylance’s Olivia dominating every scene, as we watch the character go from a very demure, lady-like, mournful royal in widow’s weeds atop a small tiara,  to a hyped-up matron who is hiking up her skirts and losing her beads, as she falls head-over-heels in love with the young Cesario, who is really a girl Viola, dressed, in disguise as a page-boy. Rylance,who usually blows everyone off the stage, he is such a strong performer, but here he is matched quite evenly by the great Samuel Barnett as Viola, equally convincing as a man or a woman. Tony Nominee and Drama Desk Winner, Barnett will be familiar to Broadway audiences from “The History Boys” a few years back.

I knew he had greatness in him, and the promise he showed in “History Boys” comes to full fruition as this glorious beautiful Viola/Cesario, who matches Rylance’s antic, love-crazed Lady Olivia, beat for comic beat.

And he’s not blowing the great Stephen Fry off the stage as Malvolio. Oh no! Making his American and Broadway stage debut, Fry a major stage, film and television star in England is simply magnificent as Lady Olivia’s simpering steward.

Fry is a towering figure. He’s a huge man, and he makes Rylance’s Lady Olivia seem dainty by comparison.

Also, the large and bosomy Maria of Paul Chahidi, a maid servant of Olivia’s, who is also daintiness personified, as well as the mischievous mischief-maker, who sets much of the plays comic stratagems in motion. Chahidi and Rylance, who are both wearing floor-length gowns, move with such humorously mincing small steps they seem to be floating across the stage, or on roller skates! Hysterical!

The men, who actually play men in this cross-dressed production are at a kind of comic disadvantage, you’d think, against Rylance’s Olivia, Barnett’s Viola, and Chahidi’s Maria(or Mariah or Mary as she’s variously called), but Rylance has wisely peopled the supporting cast with very strong character actors who are as funny as the “women.”

Colin Hurley is a pint-sized Falstaff as Sir Toby Belch, who has to play all manner of drunkeness throughout, and his extremely tall co-hort Sir Andrew Aguecheek is perfectly matched by Angus Wright. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria form the toxic trio of tormentors who want to bring down  the supercilious steward Malvolio, leaving a letter supposedly from Lady Olivia that tells him “Some are born great, Some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Well, “Twelfth Night” itself is having greatness thrust upon it by this astonishing, laugh-riot of a production. Sub-titled “Or What You Will,” which is the Shakespearen equivalent of saying “Whatever”, or “This play is just a trifle. Don’t pay any attention to it. Don’t take it seriously.” And “Twelfth Night,” or as the bill-boards are spelling it “Twelfe Night,” was a name just tacked on to it at the time, because it was performed for Queen Elizabeth I as part of the twelfth night after Christmas celebrations. As if Shakespeare didn’t know what to call it.

The words “Twelfth Night” are never mentioned throughout the play. But I did catch, I think it was Viola saying “What You Will”.

This historic production is a dream come true, and is thrusting a greatness upon “Twelfth Night” as one of the best comedies ever written. It will now always be referred to by all who attempt to match this magic. It’s an impossiblity.

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