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.

1 comment:

Esther said...

Hey Mike,
I totally agree with you about "Gypsy" on Broadway versus last summer. It's gotten even better, and I really loved it at City Center. I think Patti kicked her performance up a notch. She seemed even more obsessed, more desperate, more everything! And I love Laura Benanti - truly one of the most amazing transformations on stage I've ever seen. The way she goes from an awkward girl to a self-confident glamorous stripper is amazing.