Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Flashing Back to 2008

So, I was going through my old reviews and found the below review that I circulated on January 30, 2008.  Who knew January 30 was such a big day??  I'll put some comments and a follow-up to what I wrote at the bottom of this post...

JANUARY 30, 2008:  Last night, I saw Next to Normal, the new musical at Second Stage featuring my dear college pal Alice Ripley, Brian D’Arcy James and some younguns I had never heard of before.  I have to say I’m honestly conflicted about the show.

I thought the music was fine, some of it quite nice, but some of it nothing really special.  I responded more to the songs individually than to the score as a whole.  But the opening number is lovely and there are a couple of grand duets and trios throughout the show.  Some of the lyrics were good, some weren’t.  The set was clever, the lights a little much and the sound too loud.  BUT, and here’s where the conflicted part comes in, I was incredibly moved!  I practically cried through the entire show!  So something in this show has touched me.

The story (which I won’t go into, partly because it’s complex and partly because almost anything I say will be a spoiler) is something I’d never seen before and how these particular characters respond to these particular situations was very moving to me.  And the performers are all phenomenal.  I’m telling you, if this show were on Broadway, all the leads would have to be considered front-runners for Tonys.  This is the kind of stuff I haven’t seen Alice do since college.  I’ve always said that as grand a singer she is, she’s an even better actress, and this combines the both.  She’s really wonderful.  I’m hoping this show really leads to bigger and better things for her—she’s finally moved out of the ingĂ©nue arena and into a leading lady.  How that limits her career from now on remains to be seen, but she is truly incredible in this show.  Not that she hasn't been incredible before, of course she has.  But this is on another level, in my opinion.

Brian D’Arcy James is also wonderful, as are the other performers (again, can’t get specific here).  So I imagine that there is something here in this show, because I can’t have been so moved for so long just by the performers.  There was something else that touched me, though I can’t really say exactly what it was.  I’d be really interested to hear what other people think, if they see it.  It has been up on TDF, so you can get a pretty cheap ticket.  I’m happy to be a little more detailed in a plot summary, if you like, though I think not really knowing what the show will turn out to be could be a plus in this instance.

There was a talkback after the performance, which was also interesting.  The authors were there and they asked the audience a question about how something played out.  They gave us three choices—I picked the first choice, along with maybe two other people.  No one picked the second choice and everyone else picked the third.  It was very interesting how so many people see the exact same show in radically different ways!  If the comments of the subscribers who stayed for the talkback are any indication, this will be a successful show for Second Stage.  I hope so.  Alice’s performance needs to be seen.
(Oh, and on the Chinese horoscope front:  I didn’t fall in love at first sight last night, darn it.  Oh well.  I’ll keep trying.) was interesting to me to read what I wrote after all this time.  Next to Normal went to D.C. after the Off-Broadway production to make some changes and, in my opinion, it got brilliantly better.  Here's what I wrote after I saw the Broadway production in 2009:

3/30/2009:  Finally, last night I saw Next to Normal at the Booth Theater.  I think the changes they’ve made to the show since I saw it at Second Stage are really terrific.  The show really hurtles forward now—we get our inciting incident a little earlier and it is quite powerful.  I was quite glad they cut the songs they cut and I enjoyed the new ones very much.  Alice Ripley is giving one of those performances people will talk about for years.  I don’t think I’m saying that just because I know and love her—I really do believe it.  It’s the perfect marriage of performer and role.  I found myself incredibly moved throughout the piece, even though I knew already what was going to happen.  I still gasped at certain points, which was amazing.  But everyone is performing at a wonderfully high level and the show seems more cohesive than before.  I loved it and can’t wait to go back. 

I actually went back four times, both to support Alice and to enjoy the show.  It never failed to move me profoundly.  So I guess what this tells me is to never take my first opinion as gospel, especially if the creators believe enough in the show to keep working and keep shaping the show.  Of course, my original prediction of Tony wins DID come true, so there's that.  I listen to the cast album frequently (it's one of those scores that I have to listen to from start to finish, instead of a song here and there), so Next to Normal will always have a place in my heart.  There are some shows I can't imagine seeing again after their first incarnation, but it would probably behoove me to remember how this one knocked me out on second (third, fourth and fifth) viewing...




Monday, January 26, 2015

Slow Week Ahead

I guess it's a good thing I don't have anything scheduled for this week since the weather people are currently predicting Snowmageddon for my area.  I'll be taking the week off and will see you again soon.  Maybe with some flashback fun...or maybe not.  We'll see how everything shakes out.  May you be safe and warm wherever you are - enjoy some snowy photos, just for fun!  :)





let's look to the rainbow!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Thoughts on Between Riverside and Crazy

I have no idea why I missed the original production of Stephen Adly Guirgis' new play Between Riverside and Crazy last summer at the Atlantic Theater - I like new plays, I liked Guirgis' last play that I saw well enough and I'm a big fan of Stephen McKinley Henderson, who played the lead.  Henderson is always a bright spot of realistic perfection in any play he's in, especially in all the August Wilson plays he's been part of.  But miss the play I did.  So when Second Stage announced they'd be producing a remounting of the production, I jumped on the preview discount ticket offer that came my way.  I saw the show last Friday.

Although I imagine the show is pretty well a done deal by now, this particular incarnation is still in previews, so I'll just give a few thoughts.  I'm hoping to see it again after it opens (which should give you a hint on my feelings), so maybe I'll expound more at a later time.

After all that blah blah blah, I'll say that I was rather gobsmacked by Between Riverside and Crazy - I loved the dialogue, loved the characters, loved the twists and turns.  I did laugh, because some of the dialogue is so hysterical because it's rooted in these characters, but this could also be one of the saddest, most moving plays I've seen in awhile.  I cried quite a bit because I was so invested in what was going on and with what these characters were experiencing.

Stephen McKinley Henderson is brilliant, as always.  It's so great to see him hold a play completely, from start to finish, as opposed to coming on and stealing it from everyone else.  But all of the actors are fantastic.  They are all just so real and natural and this perfectly realized dialogue flows from them.

photo credit: Kevin Thomas Garcia
This is a great story about a cobbled-together family, centered around Henderson's character of Walter.  Walter is a former cop with a pending lawsuit against the NYPD, an ex-con son, former addicts who live with him and a possible grandchild on the way.  The situations he gets in and out of are so unexpected and his reactions to things were completely unique to me.  I will say I had a few quibbles with storytelling, but the people and the situations the story was ABOUT had me at hello.  That first scene is one of the best I can remember...

The play is directed impeccably by Austin Pendleton and the design was fantastic.  I spent much of the pre-show completely jealous of the apartment we were going to see.  The lights and music were also terrific.  This play was well-worth remounting (thanks, Second Stage!) and well-worth seeing.  Everyone should get over there and see Between Riverside and Crazy , I think you'll be so glad you did.

Friday, January 23, 2015

NYCB Winter Season 2015 - All Balanchine II

Last night, I was gifted a ticket to see the New York City Ballet.  I haven't gone to see NYCB for awhile (I was looking at my old reviews and the last one I see is from 2006, which doesn't seem quite possible.  Maybe I'll reprint it as a Flashback Friday someday...).  I used to subscribe to their Fourth Ring Society, where you could buy a membership for a small fee, then pay next to nothing for tickets to whatever performances you chose.  I enjoyed it, but when they discontinued that program, I didn't resubscribe.  Then I became obsessed with the story ballets at ABT and the rest was ballet history.  Or not.

Anyway, it's the great choreographer George Balanchine's 100th birthday year, so they're doing many programs at NYCB of All Balanchine.  My ticket was to the first performance of the second program, consisting of three ballets I've seen in excerpt on video or tv, but never live (at least I don't think I've seen them live - my memory is sketchy): Donizetti Variations, La Valse and Chaconne

photo credit: Paul Kolnik
First up was Donizetti Variations, which premiered in 1960.  It's a lovely, bright and quick piece, with lots of fast footwork, spins, smiles and personality.  The music is by Donizetti from his opera, Don Sebastian.  I really enjoyed the piece very much, especially the lead dancers, Ashley Bouder and Joaquin de Luz.  They were spectacular, so clean and crisp and they seemed to be having such fun.  It was infectious.  I know I made my "oof" noise a couple of times at how fast de Luz was moving.  But they both were so expert at all of the intricate steps and partnering they did.  The corps dancers behind them seemed a little ragged, though, and one poor girl fell in her first variation.  It made me nervous for her throughout, but she recovered quickly and kept the smile on her face.  But there did seem to be some unison issues here and there.  I'm sure once they do the program again, these things will clean up. 

photo credit: Paul Kolnik
After a not-so-brief intermission (where my seat neighbor asked how many acts there were - did she not read her program?), it was time for La Valse, with music by Ravel, first performed in 1951.  I thought this piece was INCREDIBLE.  Everything together just made such an impact on me - the costumes, the sets, the lights, and especially the music and the dancing.  The piece begins with eight 'waltzes' featuring several different combinations of dancers; first, a trio of ladies who move beautfully, yet oddly, that sort of prefaces the strange unease to come.  Then three couples rush on to waltz together, each having a different relationship to each other and the music.  I especially liked the variation with the gentleman from the last couple being overcome by the three ladies of the first variation.  His partnering with the three ballerinas was expert and he showed a lot of energy and emotion in their pas de quatre.  The last two variations of the opening section were with our lead dancers, a beautiful young woman in white who knows she's beautiful, so she is quite flirtatious with the paramour, yet pulls away each time.  Before he lifts her and carries her off, you can see a shadowy figure in the back of the stage, moving towards us.

The second part of the ballet was the three couples and the lead couple, clearly at a ball, when the beautiful young girl in white is dissatisfied with her paramour and decides to flirt with the shadowy figure/man who comes in mid-waltz.  While this is happening, the music is building and has such ominous tones underneath, my heart started racing.  You gradually realize that the shadowy mysterious man is Death and he is trying to claim the foolish beautiful young girl in white.  He gives her gifts (black gloves and a black covering for her white dress), and after she puts them on and admires herself, Death dances her to her death.  It was quite thrilling.  The paramour is devastated and the ballet ends with the other gentlemen lifting the dead girl above their heads, while everyone else waltzes around them.  I just found the combination of the movement and the music so powerful.  I loved loved it.  I will say, however, that the costume on the lead gentleman made him look rather unfortunately like Mr. Molesley from Downton Abbey fame.  Not that there's anything wrong with looking like Mr. Molesley, per se, but I don't really see him as a romantic ballet figure.  : )  I just loved La Valse and hope to see it again.

photo credit: Paul Kolnik
After another lengthy intermission, during which I talked to my other seat neighbors about ABT's upcoming season and how much we like Natalia Osipova, then came the final ballet of the evening, Chaconne, with music by Gluck, from his opera Orfeo ed Euridice.  It was first performed in 1976.  I may be wrong, but I think it was one of the first ballets Mr. Balanchine choreographed on Suzanne Farrell after she returned to City Ballet.  At least that's what I think I remember from the documentary on Farrell that I adore, Elusive Muse.  Anyway, Chaconne.  it is a lovely piece, with dancers in white performing in front of a sky blue scrim, beautifully lit with clouds and light.  The first part of the piece is very ethereal, with lots of lifts and extensions, then the second part with the corps is more structured, almost like court dances.  Everyone was terrific, though there was another stumble and I hate to think it, but it may have been the same dancer that had a bobble in the first piece.  Perhaps she has an ear infection or something which is affecting her balance.  But, even if it was a different girl, they got past the stumble quickly and securely.  If I didn't love the arms and hands of the lead gal, oh well.  Her feet were gorgeous and she had lovely line (except for her arms and hands).  I bought myself a DVD of Balanchine dances for Christmas and one of them is Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins dancing Chaconne.  I may be taking a peekaloo at it over the weekend, not so much for comparisons sake, but to get more enjoyment out of the piece.  I admit to being a little bit sleepy by the end of the evening and maybe my attention wavered here and there.  Watching it again should help me out.

I also want to mention that there's a fascinating art exhibit on the Promenade called Psychogeographies by Dustin Yellin.  It's like 3D/sculpture/collage/color studies all in one.  The pieces are lovely from a distance and quite remarkable up close.  I'll put more photos at the bottom.  I'm hoping to get back for a little more of the Balanchine celebration - they're titling one evening Hear the Dance: Italy.  I'm thinking that has my name ALL OVER IT.

that's exactly what you want to see in your building when you get home late after beautiful ballet


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review - The Last Ship

A bit of good fortune dropped into my lap last night - a generous Tony voter friend had an extra ticket to see The Last Ship, rock legend Sting's first Broadway musical.  To put the cherry on top, Sting is performing in the show at the moment!  Yes, I'm a fan of Sting's.  What gal of my age isn't?!  I watched a PBS special last year that had Sting singing a lot of the songs from this show, as a sort of teaser.  I enjoyed listening to it, but I wasn't sure how dramatic it was.  I was very eager to find out.

I've heard lots of chatter, here and there, about The Last Ship, though I hadn't read any of the reviews out of a vague hope that I'd see it eventually.  After seeing the show last night, then reading the reviews today, it's interesting to find where opinions coincide and diverge.  I rather expected to come out of the theater without really liking or disliking it, I don't know why that was my pre-show impression, but I ended up enjoying the production more than I thought I would.

That's not to say The Last Ship is a brilliant musical, I don't think it is.  It has some serious storytelling issues, the score starts to sound a bit repetitive as the evening goes on (though some of the blame can be put at the feet of the orchestrator, I think) and it's too long.  But all in all, I found the performances to be terrific and I was quite moved a few times, especially at the end of each act.  At intermission, I said to my Tony voter friend, "wow, I got a little teary there," and he said, yes, he was surprised to have been affected there too.  There you go.

Inspired by Sting's boyhood, the plot is a tad jumbled: a young man, Gideon, lives in a shipbuilding town.  His father, grandfather and probably all great-great grandfathers of the past have worked at shipbuilding.  The father expects his son to continue the tradition, but Gideon only wants out.  After a confrontation with his father, Gideon runs away.  He wants his girlfriend, Meg, to come with him, but she refuses.  He promises to come back for her.  Fifteen years pass and Gideon finally comes back for the funeral of his father.  Once he's back, he expects to just pick up his life (and his girlfriend) as if he never left.

The parallel story is of the shipbuilders themselves.  While Gideon was gone, the industry died and the town is now dying as well.  The men are all on the dole and are refusing jobs in the town's new scrap metal factory.  The local priest, who is coincidentally dying, convinces the men to build one more ship and sail it away.  How and where they're supposed to sail it is not really clear, but I'm sure it's a metaphor for getting their lives and their dignity back.

I found the shipbuilders' story much more interesting than Gideon's story, or the love triangle that presents itself when Gideon tries to win Meg back but she's now with Arthur, who used to work in the shipyard but now works for the scrap metal factory.  There's also the problem of Meg's son, Tom, who just happens to be Gideon's son (and Gideon, dumb bloke, is the last one to figure it out).  I come from a middle class working family, so I could relate to the working men who just want to work the jobs they've worked their entire lives.  The inability to change and move forward was familiar to me.  Of course, I could also relate to the character who just wants to get out, but I don't think Gideon's story is written strongly enough for me to care about him.  He just seems to be a surly guy who wants whatever he can't have - why he's like that is never explained.  He talks about his father beating him throughout his life, but then why did he come back for the funeral?  I just think some of the storytelling is a little sketchy, which puts more of a burden on the score.

Sting's music is beautifully evocative of a specific time and place and most of the songs really build character and move the plot forward.  There were a couple of songs that just sounded like old 1980s Sting songs to me, but most of them were lovely and cohesive and just right for this musical.  But, as I said before, there did feel a sameness in sound and tempo as the show went on, that a variation in orchestrations might have helped with.  The rousing numbers for the shipbuilders came off best for me, though the charming number between Gideon and his son (once he finally figures things out) was sweet and poignant as well.  I wasn't as sold on the numbers for the female characters, but it's clear that Sting is much more comfortable musically writing for the men.  Oddly enough, I think there might be too many songs in this musical.  Maybe a little more libretto would've been helpful, especially if it had focused more on the town and less on the love triangle.

Photo credit: Sara Krulwich
I loved seeing an entire cast of actors who looked like real people, not stereotypically perfect chorus boys (and girls).  Everyone in the cast was great, most especially Fred Applegate as the salty priest who just wants one more ship to cheer before he dies.  He gets most of the best lines in the show.  I also really loved Aaron Lazar as the new love interest for Meg; although he's presented by the townspeople as a sell-out for leaving the shipbuilding business, Lazar makes him a three-dimensional character with reasons for doing what he does and regrets for what he can't do.  Plus he sings beautifully.  And he's dreamy.  Whoops, did I say that out loud?

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
Speaking of hot (WHOOPS, SORRY), ok, Sting is just not right.  He is right at home on that stage and really finds a lot of nuance in his role as Jackie, the former foreman of the shipyard.  He has heartbreak and doubt that he hides in beer and bravado, but comes to life when the shipyard is working again.  Of course he is fantastic when singing the role, hello, he wrote it.  He wrote beautiful builds in that character's songs as he begins to feel hope again.  I told my friend it was rather meta watching Sting perform in a musical based on his own life, but not play the version of himself.  And in Sting's typically self-effacing manner, he did not take the final curtain call, though he totally could have.  He's Sting.

So, all in all, I had a good time at The Last Ship.  I enjoyed the music, I enjoyed Sting, I found the moments where the men all came together quite moving.  The set and lights were great and I saw it with a lovely friend.  Can't ask for much more than that...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thoughts on Charles Ludlam's Camille (starring Charles Busch)

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before how much I adore Charles Busch - I try to see all of the plays he writes and I try to see all of the plays in which he performs.  It's genius when he stars in his own plays, but I also love seeing him tackle other roles.  One of the highlights of my New York life was seeing him in the title role of Auntie Mame opposite the brilliant perfection of Marian Seldes as Vera Charles.  When I saw a blurb on Facebook, of all places, that Charles would be taking on Camille as imagined by the genius Charles Ludlam, I was in.

Presented by Red Bull Theater, Camille was one of their Revelation Readings where they 'share great classic bring diverse plays of heightened language...'  I was happy to see their production of The Mystery of Irma Vep last year, so I knew they'd do Ludlam and his Ridiculous Theatrical Company proud with Camille.  To ensure the right balance of style and emotion, Ridiculous Theatrical Company member Everett Quinton directed the reading and took on his old role of Nanine, the maid (and was spectacularly funny throughout).

I got to the theater a little early and was happy to run into two handsome friends outside the theater - it was nice to chat for a few too-brief minutes.  Once inside the packed Lucille Lortel Theatre, I was thrilled to see so many other familiar names on the cast list, most especially my longtime crush, Rocco Sisto, who I just never see enough.

from Red Bull Theater's Facebook page

Of course the reading was riotous great fun.  The audience was ready to have a grand time and so, I think, was the cast.  Charles Busch was a magnificent Margeurite, witty and charming, with a fatal sadness underneath.  There were a few of his famous comic touches, naturally, but there was also a lot of pathos in his performance as the dying courtesan.  His scenes with his young lover's father were especially touching, I thought.  But everyone in the cast was fantastic, as I knew they would be.  I know the story of Camille, from film, ballet and opera, but had never seen a stage play version before.  This gender-bending version was very successful, I thought, in finding the right tone throughout - both the camp qualities and the very serious 'heartbreaking' qualities were mined beautifully.  I also (as usual) loved spotting all of the classic film, cultural and literary references throughout the script.  I think they all really did an expert job for only having one day of rehearsal!  

I found this out because I stayed after the reading for a "Bull Session" (as described in the program).  A gentleman very familiar with Ludlam's work, Marvin Carlson, was there and spoke briefly about how he compares Ludlam to Moliere in that they both ran a company, wrote the plays, directed and starred in them.  There aren't many people who do that, either then or now.  After Carlson talked for a few minutes, Charles, Everett and another cast member came out as well.  Then the questions from the audience really picked up.  Charles spoke very movingly of having seen Ludlam play Margeurite and how that performance really sparked his  theatrical imagination.  He also felt as if he could hear some of Ludlam's line readings in his own performance as Margeurite.  Everett spoke charmingly about what it was like to be in the Ridiculous Theatrical Company and what it was like to perform in Camille, then and now.  He got choked up when talking about Ludlam and how hard it was to keep the company going on shoestring budgets.  There were several people in the audience who had also seen Ludlam perform Camille and it was fun to hear them stand up and share their experiences.  Charles also spoke beautifully about what it is in Garbo's performance of Camille that so moves him, and also about how comedy is ephemeral and hard to describe.  It was a lovely talkback and I'm ever so glad I stayed.

I wish I could remember all of the delicious lines that made me either howl with laughter or ruefully smile with feeling.  I think I need to dig out my Ludlam anthology and take another look at the Camille script.  I did a reading once of Caprice, which was a riot, and I'm a big fan of Ludlam's writing.  I only wish I could've seen him star in one of his own plays; I'm sure I would've adored him as much as I do Charles Busch.  I hope hope hope more performances of Camille are on the horizon.  I would love to check it out again and I can see it making a lot of people happy for a long time.  But I'm ever so grateful I was there last night, watching magic on stage and feeling theatrical warmth all around.  It made a chilly night much warmer...