A Tale of Two Cities had its opening night down in Sarasota last weekend. Thankfully, I wasn't there. But others were! And here's what they thought. They were largely kinder to the show than I expected, but it's not off Suckwatch until I say so. Recognize.
Stage Notes was there, and called it "A Tale Worth Telling". "The work’s not yet done, but this Broadway-bound musical is on the right path, thanks especially to a handful of stirring Jill Santoriello songs, Michael Donald Edward’s brisk staging, Tony Walton’s ingenious scenic design and a strong company led by James Barbour, pouring his soul into a towering performance as Carton."
Local paper The Herald-Tribune said the show, "needs work to make it more dramatically and emotionally compelling, mostly in the first act... There is much to praise about the show, and it certainly will impress Asolo audiences. But it needs more punch before it is ready for Broadway."
Variety was relatively kind to the musical, acknowleging it's many similarities to Les Miserables (including an act one closer titled "Until Tomorrow" - not kidding.) "Santoriello has crafted some pretty melodies and a few comic songs (at least one of them unnecessary) matched with lyrics generally better at revealing character traits than advancing the story. But in both script and direction, the show needs more dramatic tension and greater emotional punch."
Everyone seems in agreement that James Barbour and Natalie Toro are turning in top-notch performances, and that it's a fairly compelling story, if one that we've, uh, seen before. I've definitely witnessed director Michael Edwards making magic out of lacking material before. But can Broadway really stomach another epic drama musical about love and redemption, set against the backdrop of a war in France?
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Cate Blanchett hasn't even started as the new Artistic Director of the Sydney Theatre Company, and already she's kinda getting trounced.
Colin Moody, a member of the company, resigned, saying, 'An Oscar for acting is not a suitable recommendation to run the biggest theatre company in the country.' Well, that's true. Here's what The Guardian said:
"Moody said he could not longer take the 'office politics' and 'hypocrisy' at the Sydney Theatre Company, adding the company had been 'importing people asking them to do a task that they haven't a clue how to do'."Ouch!
Blanchett will share the "the top job in Australian theatre" with her husband, Andrew Upton. Though she does seem drastically underqualified, Upton is a screenwriter, playwright, and director who seems more credible as an artistic helmer. Cate Blanchett is already effecting change in Sydey - she persuaded Giorgio Armani to become a patron of the theater and donate a good chunk of change.
Still, it's hard enough for movie actors to be welcomed on Broadway in an acting capacity - is this only the beginning of the trouncing of Cate Blanchett?
Monday, October 29, 2007
Aw! At today's first annual Fido Awards, the corgies from The Queen were presented with the award for "Best Historical Hounds". They also took home the top honor, "Best in the World"! In the whole world!
FYI their names are Poppy, Anna, Alice, Oliver and Megan.
Helen Mirren, in her quest to do something totally awesome every moment, sent a message of praise for her co-stars: "I know one should avoid acting with animals and children, but these little chaps were a pleasure to work with and deserve all the plaudits for their fine performances." Aw!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I have it on very good authority that a high-profile production of Hamlet is in the works for next year. I won't come right out and say who's playing the gloomy prince... but I will give you the chance to guess!
Here's a hint... the actor was in The Coast of Utopia. Hey, that eliminates almost half of the actors in New York!
Thursday, October 18, 2007
A Feminine Ending made me feel awkward. On the one hand, it's an exploration of what it means to be a young female artist, which seems interesting and relevant to me. On the other hand, it's clearly written by a young female artist, and is distractingly autobiographical. I'm all for playwrights writing what they know, but being familiar with some of Sarah Treem's other work, I have to wonder if she's capable of writing stories that don't mirror her own.
Production notes explain the plot of A Feminine Ending: "Having recently graduated from a major conservatory, and with a rocker boyfriend on the brink of stardom, aspiring composer Amanda Blue's 'extraordinary life' seems to be all mapped out. But when she's called home to answer her mother's distress call about a marital crisis, Amanda's grand plan starts to unravel. A Feminine Ending is a bittersweet new play about dreams deferred, loves lost, and learning to trust a woman's voice in a man's world."
The play is constructed of scenes and direct-address monologues from Amanda (Gillian Jacobs), who explains growing up hearing everything in harmony, attending a conservatory to pursue orchestral composition, graduating and falling for a hunky on-the-brink rocker (Alec Beard), and finding herself having to prioritize art, relationship, and family - oh, did we mention that her family might be falling apart? As the "extraordinary life" ahead of her begins to look less and less appealing, the buttoned-up and always in control Amanda has to reliquish control and embrace the terrifying unknown that the future holds for any young artist trying to make it in New York.
For all the times we hear the word "extraordinary" in this play, it's striking how completely typical this story is. It's the story of almost every single young person who wants to be an artist! Which would be great and really relatable, if it weren't so generally told. It takes Amanda nearly the whole play to figure out what the whole audience knows from the beginning - that this rock star dude actually probably WON'T provide wedded bliss for decades to come, and that she probably WOULD be better off getting to work composing instead of fretting endlessly about this and that. Is this supposed to make young women look intelligent, or interesting? Eek.
Gillian Jacobs has a tough task in playing Amanda Blue, and she's working feverishly to create high stakes and make this *matter* to the audience, but the result lacks depth, and I couldn't help watching her from the perspective of an older, wiser sister who's waiting for the younger sibling to come around to reality. Perhaps this isn't aided by Blair Brown's direction, which is warm and fuzzy when Amanda's world should feel harsh and anxious. Marsha Mason is always a lot of fun to watch, and does solid work here as Amanda's neurotic mom, but she's handicapped by what seems like oddness for oddness' sake and some strange and implausible fits of cruelty towards her daughter. Joe Paulik stands out as Amanda's high school boyfriend, the prerequisite oddball with a heart of gold who provides some much-needed contrast to the dreamy rockstar hunk.
Maybe I would have enjoyed the play more if I was less familiar with Sarah Treem's background (she got her MFA from Yale two years ago), or if I was less familiar with her other work, which includes a play about a young poetess, who also happens to be a recent grad of a major MFA program, with a boyfriend with big aspirations and an "extraordinary life" ahead of her. Also, it really rubs me the wrong way when plays make noise about being about the female experience, and then turn out to be the stories of women deciding what to do with their men. Is that all there is?
Friday, October 12, 2007
In fact, she's excellent.
I'm still reeling that I'm writing these words - "she's excellent". Truth be told, I have utterly detested Claire Danes ever since she abandoned Angela Chase characters in favor of playing precious, mannered good girls in films far and wide. From Juliet to Cosette in that awful film of Les Miserables to T3 to The Family Stone, she made me want to slap her. Oh, and I hated her in The Hours. And I didn't see Evening, but I hated her in the previews.
Well, imagine my surprise when I found myself charmed by her performance in Roundabout's surprising revival of Pygmalion. Rather than her usual wide-eyed, lost soul film acting, the role of Eliza Doolittle immediately pitches Danes into a character who is gritty, imperfect, gutsy, and not always a good girl. She sinks her teeth into the role pretty fearlessly, especially for an actor still in previews who has never once performed in a play. (She's done two dance shows, but no actual plays). It's not an easy role technically or emotionally, but Claire Danes embodies Eliza with aplomb - from the brassy, salty flower girl to the newly proper lady who will never quite fit in, she is convincing, dynamic, and charismatic enough to make every one of her scenes more interesting than the last. She's not entirely there yet and falters a few times, but as performances continue and she gains the confidence of commanding the stage, there's no doubt that her performance will only deepen and strengthen.
In less surprising but equally satisfying news, Jefferson Mays is triumphant as Henry Higgins. I have to confess to never having seen Pygmalion onstage, but it's hard to imagine that this interpretation of Higgins has been seen before. Mays' Higgins is not the patriarchal taskmaster, but an energetic, set in his ways little boy who never grew up and just wants to play with his linguistics toys. The boys' club created by him and Boyd Gaines' Colonel Pickering reminded me of high school science club, populated by adolescent males who are more interested in the behavior of molecules than the feelings of human beings, let alone women. This new interpretation of the character is fascinating, and just watching the minutiae of Mays' performance is bewitching.
The rest of the cast is more spotty - Boyd Gaines is as lovable as ever, Helen Carey is wonderful as Mrs. Higgins, but Jay O. Sanders seems like he hasn't quite figured out what he's playing yet, and Brenda Whele's painfully general Mrs. Pierce seems yanked off a regional theater stage. But those few hitches aside, it's a totally respectable production with two leading performances that may be the most surprising of the season.
Also - I should note that I saw Pygmalion for $20 through their Hiptix program, which is totally convenient and easy to use. I just called up the hotline, joined the program, and order two tickets. Our seats were far back, but the American Airlines Theatre isn't huge enough for that to be a problem, and it sure beat doing student rush.
Monday, October 08, 2007
A whole lot of reasons.
But something's been bugging me since I saw it a few weeks ago, and I finally put my finger on it. (If you don't want spoilers, don't read on.) The whole play is supposed to hinge on our hero, Jackie (Alison Pill), right? She's the one who seems like a "lamb", but really is all feisty and smart and maybe a little out of control but STRONG and take-no-prisoners, right?
So WHY is it Dennis (Bobby Cannavale), the sly, attractive charmer, who resolves the drama into a happy ending? Why does it have to be Dennis who steals the inverted Jenny stamp, and offers to whisk her away to the land of infinite margaritas? All this yelling and screaming and fighting for two hours, only to have Jackie proven incapable of getting her due, and then have her rescued by an unlikely, outer-borough prince charming? I'm sorry, fuck that! It just sucks.
The Scene also left me with this feeling, like women everywhere were being put down, but in such a under-the-radar way that it was difficult to pinpoint. But now that I'm rethinking it, The Scene resolved with Tony Shaloub's life having been ruined by an sexy evil vixen, and Patty Heaton's character getting rescued by Chris Evan Welch. Does Theresa Rebeck hate women, or just think we can't take care of ourselves? Hard to imagine that of the playwright responsible for Bad Dates. But then again, that play resolved in Mr. Right finally coming along. And it really sucks that the only female playwright represented on Broadway this season can't do better.
What gives, Rebeck? You got some splanin to do.
I heard through the grapevine that Laura Benanti's agency is a little harried these days. Her manager is saying Ms. Benanti is unavailable for projects in late winter/early spring '08, but they won't tell anyone, not even her agents, what she's got going on.
Looks like Gypsy is on, folks.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Cause they like you, and they want you to see Sarah Treem's play A Feminine Ending, which starts previews this week. They like you so much that they're offering you a discount code. I'm seeing it very soon, and will write about it sometime next week. In the meantime, here's the info:
Order by Oct 17 and tickets are $35 for performances Oct 4-15 and $40 for performances Oct. 16 – Nov. 11. Reg. price $50. Use code FEBL.
HOW TO ORDER:
* Online at www.playwrightshorizons.org
* By phone with Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
* In person at the Box Office: (Noon-8pm daily)
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Jaime tagged me in this fun meme game thats roaring through theater blogs faster than that video of Jenn Harris and Jeff Whitty. Never having been tagged before, it makes me feel, really, really, really popular. Here's the rules:
TO DO: List 5 things that certain people (who are not deserving of being your friend anyway) may consider to be "totally lame," but you are, despite the possible stigma, totally proud of. Own it. Tag 5 others.
1. I enjoy musicals more than rock concerts. There. I said it.
2. I like tofu, tie-dye, recycled everything, organic everything, yoga, and have spent periods of my life listening to nothing but Phish, The Grateful Dead, and Dave Matthews Band.
3. I have an aquarium, and spend a lot of time watching the fish swim around. I mean, a LOT of time. Just sitting there.
4. I am attracted to David Hyde Pierce. But not as attracted as I was when I was sixteen and he was Niles Crane. And yes, I'm aware.
5. I am a feminist. Many do consider it "totally lame", and it continues to carry a lot of stigma, but I am totally proud of it.
I'll tag back-in-action Rocco, that hot chick who writes No Stop Til Brooklyn, that drunk chick who writes Vera Vogue on Parade, up-and-coming artist Jeffrey Songco, and blogger demi-god Ken Levine, even though he doesn't know who I am.
at 2:32 PM
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Today's New York Times looks at the throngs of tweens storming Broadway to get to shows like Legally Blonde. Campbell Robertson's headline is "Tweens Love Broadway, But Can't Save it Alone". The article a general tone of disappointment in the trend of young Broadway-loving teens whose taste hasn't advanced beyond cotton-candy-colored sets and splashy, belty tunes with less substance than sequins and sparkle. Is catering to this audience really a good thing? Well, no. But...
Here's the thing. While I'm as annoyed as anyone at the groups of squealing 14-year-olds dressed to the nines as they wait at the stage doors, what is going to happen as they grow up? I know my taste wasn't exactly refined when I was that age - I just wanted to see Les Miz over and over and over again. And I loved Jekyll and Hyde, and Planet Hollywood, and Times Square. And you know what? I grew up, kept loving Broadway, and started to figure out what was good and what blows.
So I think there's a big glaring silver lining to this current tween trend in theater right now, which is that in 5-10 years, there will be a big audience of young adults who fell for Broadway in a big way at a young age. All of the theater grown-ups that I admire were Broadway-obsessed as tweens/teens. So I say bring em on, the more the better.
Just don't walk slowly in front of me on 8th Ave, or I will crush you.
And speaking of Legally Blonde, I hear there's an incriminating video of Laura Bell Bundy botching the final note of Act One at the MTV taping. If anybody has said video, be a pal and pay it forward, knowwhatimsayin?
In just a few weeks time, Bob Saget will be The Drowsy Chaperone's Man In Chair. I can only hope he will spice up the sweet lil Canadian show that could with his own one-of-a-kind brand of enthusiasm. Think of the possibilities.