Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Review roundup

The Country Girl
Much ink already has been spilled--largely by the New York Post's Michael Riedel--about the behind-the-scenes troubles with this starry revival of Clifford Odets'...well, it's hard to say masterpiece, since he himself referred to it as a superficial work. But brushing all that aside, and keeping in mind that the performance I saw was an early preview, my verdict is that this revival, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand and Peter Gallagher, is not a disaster. Merely a disappointment. Freeman, no stranger to the stage, just seems ill-at-ease as washed up, alcoholic actor Frank Elgin. The telling moment happens early on, when Elgin is brought in by director Bernie Dodd (Gallagher, back in full Sky Masterson mode here) to wow the show's writer and producer. Unable to read well from the script, Dodd encourages Elgin to improvise. Unfortunately, the audience never gets that wow factor the writer and producer are supposed to see. From there, it all gets a little unintentionally meta. Dodd is waiting for that spectacular performance from Elgin why we wait for the same from Freeman. But all we see is a competent, never thrilling, performance. The McDormand/Gallagher scenes sizzle a little more, but without a strong core, it's not enough. An integral scene also was cut out of the performance I saw, although it has since been restored. Best wishes to the cast and crew to get this together before opening, but sad to say it had a long way to go upon my viewing.

I posted my thoughts on this show following the first preview at City Center last summer, and although much of what I said still holds, time has only made it better. Among the improvements: Tony Yazbeck's scene as Tulsa, always my least favorite in the show, is actually enthralling now. Patti LuPone has a better wig. Oh, and her performance, thrilling at City Center, has blossomed even further: frightening, sexual and raw, single-minded force. Also even better is Leigh Ann Larkin, so at the end of her rope as frustrated Dainty June that "If Momma Was Married"

Sunday in the Park with George
Attention all producers looking to land helicopters onstage or fly cars over the audience: It is quite possible to use modern technology to create stunning visuals that add heart, not spectacle. From George's (Daniel Evans) first stroke to the creation of the act-closing tableau, Sam Buntrock's London transfer, now presented by Roundabout at Studio 54, is an exercise in dazzling understatement. Critics already have given the leads (Jenna Russell is the dual role of Dot and Marie) who came across the Atlantic with the show, but the supporting ensemble are equally strong, particularly Mary Beth Peil as George's snooty and aloof mother and Jessica Molaskey as the silently suffering wife of George's artist acquaintance, the alter ego to what a weaker Dot would have become. Between this, Gypsy and South Pacific, It's going to be a tough race for best revival this year.

Monday, April 21, 2008

State of the blog

I've had this blog for about a year and a half now. When I first started, I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. But I've done it long enough now that I know what I like to do -- and, thanks to StatCounter, I know what people are more likely to read. So, with that in mind, I think it's time to finally give this blog an official structure.

My intentions are now to post semi-weekly, keeping theatre reviews on the weekend and kind of a weekly column-type posting during the week. I much prefer the long-form of writing, and I've determined that -- by and large -- my autobiography is just not interesting enough to sustain a blog!

I work much better under regular deadlines, even false deadlines, so with luck, a regular schedule will keep me posting much more regularly, too.

So, I'll be back in a few days to catch up on some more reviews, then perhaps even more reviews this weekend (I'll be checking in on the folks in Texas this weekend). Then, after that, I'll start the regular schedule. So thanks to those who've stuck with me!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Review roundup

It's been a while, so I have a lot of reviews to catch up on!

South Pacific
One doesn't have to be a cockeyed optimist to think, going into this revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, not seen on Broadway in more than six decades, that it would be lovely. Just the promise of the now-too-rare full orchestra playing the overture is enough to guarantee that. Fortunately, Lincoln Center's revival, headed by Bartlett Sher, is much more than that. Great leads: Just try to resist that lump in the throat while Paulo Szot sings "This Nearly Was Mine," and Kelli O'Hara is wonderfully understated as self-described hick Nellie Forbush. Even greater supporting cast: Danny Burstein seems to channel a wacky Hanna-Barbera sidekick--in a good way--to his Luther Billis, and Loretta Ables Sayre makes a smashing debut as the ambitious Bloody Mary. Sure, the show is dated, drags in quite a few places and is almost ridiculous in the number of reprises. Still, this revival is no dusty time capsule. Without any attempts of updating or misguided parallels to the present, the piece itself remains relevant, particularly in a time when nightly news reminds us just how many people are still "carefully taught."

The Four of Us
Playwright Itamar Moses certainly found a way to shut me up. I had a couple of key criticisms about his latest, "The Four of Us," now being put on by Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center Stage II, and in a sudden, last-minute postmodern moment, he had his actors make those exact criticisms for me. Touche, Mr. Moses! It might beg the question of why you didn't just fix them, but no matter. In all, "The Four of Us" is an enjoyable if sometimes pedantic of two budding writers, one finding sudden success and the other finding sudden jealousy. Gideon Banner and Michael Esper are winning as the two writers playing out the non-chronological vignettes that shape the writers' imbalanced friendship. And scenic designer David Zinn makes great use of the small stage space, with an Alice-In-Wonderland-like wall of doors that open to reveal small set pieces to indicate different locales.

That's right, I wrote out the title. The curse seems to have lost its charm, because this production of Shakespeare's most accessible yet trickiest tragedy is actually -- gasp -- good. Director Rupert Goold moves the action to an underground bunker in a decidedly Russian setting, although all references to Scotland remain intact. Patrick Stewart is equal parts tortured, terrifying and pathetic as the power-hungry anti-hero. Kate Fleetwood makes a dazzling debut as his lady, a steely, sexy devil-on-the-shoulder. And special standout honors go to Tim Treloar, who manages to flesh out the amorphous character of Ross into something memorable. Yeah, there are a few odd choices. Like why does Banquo get up and walk offstage after he is murdered? And do we really need to see the porter urinate into the sink? But overall, it's a production well-deserving of the critical praise it has received.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Closing the book and sticking it on the top shelf

Lest I turn into an all-Jay-Leno blog, I should mention that he has apologized for the remarks to Ryan Phillippe. Per People, Leno said:

In talking about Ryan's first role, I realize that what I said came out wrong. I certainly didn't mean any malice. I agree it was a dumb thing to say, and I apologize.

Not exactly contrition, but it's something. No more of this. I promise.

Also, I've never really gotten why People magazine always identifies everyone by age. Always, says Mike, 24. (gotta practice now before D-Day in August)