Review: Hamlet at Classic Stage Company

by Samuel L. Leiter

Penelope Allen and Peter Scaarsgard in "Hamlet" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Penelope Allen and Peter Sarsgaard in “Hamlet” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

In 1989, when he was forty-nine, Austin Pendleton tackled the title role in Hamlet in an Off Broadway production. Despite stretching credibility—he was too old for the role and encumbered with a comic presence that made him less than ideal for the melancholic Dane—he gave what a New York Times critic called “an intelligent, articulate and reasoned reading”; notably, he excellently captured Hamlet’s sardonic sense of humor.

Except for a few fleeting moments, however, chiefly stemming from Stephen Spinella’s smugly bureaucratic Polonius, there’s very little to laugh at in Pendleton’s own staging of the tragedy for the Classic Stage Company, in which Peter Sarsgaard’s wearily petulant Hamlet seems not to know a joke from a handsaw. Hamlet, of course, is a brilliant wit, but Sarsgaard throws most of his potential laughs away by racing through them and speaking as conversationally as possible, ignoring the meter, and—like the entire cast—performing as if this were a contemporary domestic drama. While he often delivers insight and feeling, he’s rarely more than a shadow Hamlet, lacking the prince’s romantic nobility as his trademark sleepy-eyed persona shuffles uneasily through a colorless and problematic production only fitfully pulsing with life.

Peter Sarsgaard in "Hamlet" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Peter Sarsgaard in “Hamlet” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Pendleton, who, even at 75, remains one of New York’s busiest actor-directors (his staging of Between Riverside and Crazy was a recent cause célèbre), offers a Hamlet with only ten actors. This radical slimming down, while not original (the Bedlam Theatre does a four-actor version), is done without costume changes (other than the inconspicuous removal or donning of a jacket). Constance Hoffman’s modern dress designs provide the nobility with formal clothing while offering not a stitch of eye-catching theatricality for the drably dressed visiting Players. Even at Ophelia’s graveside, Gertrude (Penelope Allen) must stand there in her silver evening gown and high heels.

The production is rife with tics. Actors morph from role to role before our eyes, only rarely assuming identifying characteristics; if, like Hamlet, you’ve always had trouble separating Rosencrantz (Scott Parkinson) from Guildenstern (Daniel Morgan Shelley), there’s little here to help you, not even that one is black and one white. (You’ll be interested to know that R and G have a coke habit). Glenn Fitzgerald’s graying Laertes could be Claudius in another production, while casting senior citizens Harris Yulin as Claudius and Penelope Allen as Gertrude diminishes the possibility that—for all Hamlet’s ravings—passion played a role in their nuptials (or that Hamlet might harbor Oedipal urges).

Lisa Joyce in "Hamlet" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Lisa Joyce in “Hamlet” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The music-deficient sound design (by Ryan Rumery/Soundscape) is mainly ominous droning. Hamlet, despite Sarsgaard’s full beard on the program cover, sports smooth cheeks and a freshly shaved head, not unlike Yorick’s skull, into whose cavity Hamlet echoes some of his lines, skull to skull. There’s no grave, thus forcing Laertes to writhe about on the floor, with Hamlet following, as the dead Ophelia (Lisa Joyce) stands blandly by with the funeral party at graveside. The battlement scenes are so dimly lit by the usually reliable Justin Townsend you’re tempted to help with your pocket flashlight. And principals (one at a time) invade scenes in which they play no part to become distracting pieces of human statuary, waiting to come to life in the following scene.

Walt Spangler’s simplified setting sits on a white Lucite floor capable of being lit from beneath; it’s dominated throughout by a dining table and chairs, a huge wedding cake up center, and an impressive, white floral canopy overhead. This is fine for the opening wedding celebration, but why is it still there for the fatal duel?

During that dully executed (pun intended) conventional fencing match (in the course of which Claudius poisons himself), the dead Polonius walks calmly by. Polonius, in fact, is more a zombie than a corpse, since when he’s slain in Gertrude’s bedroom, he simply takes a long, leisurely stroll through the scene, perhaps on his way to take one last pee before shuffling off this mortal coil. Could his addition be compensation for the complete absence of the play’s actual ghost, who appears to have gotten stuck on the LIE coming from Beth Moses?

Volatility is too infrequent in this lugubriously paced, low-keyed, unexceptionally acted rendering of a play requiring full-blooded, and emotion-packed vitality. Only Penelope Allen’s dignified Gertrude gives us a taste of Shakespeare’s classic flavor. After three hours and ten minutes (despite many cuts), one prays that the outmoded way of ending the play will be used—even if destructive of its political intentions—by concluding with Horatio’s “Goodnight, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”; the Fortinbras business be damned. Our prayers are answered. Finally, Pendleton, for the audience’s sake, if not the scholars’, has chosen wisely, if not what scholars would call well.

Hamlet
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th Street
Through May 10

 Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

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Review: Finding Neverland

The cast of "Finding Neverland" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Finding Neverland” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

I must have been about eight-years-old when I jumped off the couch in our family room and fractured my wrist. I was trying to fly and had gallantly tied a bed sheet around my neck in an attempt to soar through the air. Grounded for the season (not by my parents, but by the injury), I set up shop at the kitchen table with my dad’s old dopp kit filled with markers and crayons and a stack of poster board, provided by my mother who I’m sure hoped that a more sedentary expression of my creativity would be the safer route.

Whether it’s building forts in the backyard, donning imaginary crowns and riding unicorns through the forest and muck, or simply flopping, jumping and skipping around—children, by natural order, cannot help being creative. Finding Neverland, the new Broadway musical that opened last night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, is a Technicolor celebration of the imagination. Brought to life by director Diane Paulus and a stellar creative team, you can’t help but leave with a smile on your face—well earned after shedding a few tears throughout.

Matthew Morrison (center) and the cast of "Finding Neverland" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Morrison (center) and the cast of “Finding Neverland” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Based on the life of J.M. Barrie, Finding Neverland follows the famous author’s trials and tribulations as he struggles to break free from the workhorse ethics of London’s theater scene circa early 20th century. Unhappily married and creatively stifled, Barrie finds solace in the children of the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, whom he meets in the park. Their exuberance inspires him to rethink his professional trajectory as he invents the world of Peter Pan, finally giving voice to his childish fancies, with much protest from his producer Charles Frohman.

Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly in "Finding Neverland" (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly in “Finding Neverland” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

With a book by James Graham and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, Finding Neverland is accessible Broadway pixie dust. Sweeping melodies and punctuated patter give away to a solidly crafted storyline that offers enough innuendo for adults while still satisfying audience members who require booster seats. But it is Paulus’s vision, as realized through scenic (Scott Pask), costume (Suttirat Anne Larlarb), lighting (Kenneth Posner), sound (Jonathan Deans) and projection (Jon Driscoll) design that elevates what could be standard fare to an immersive feast of the senses. Emmy Award-winning choreographer Mia Michaels interjects a new vocabulary of movement onto the Broadway stage. Anyone familiar with her work knows of her visceral and uncompromising vision, and the pairing of Paulus and Michaels as a creative team is stuff that dreams are made of.

Take the jump and keep reading!

Read more…

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Categories: To See or Not To See

Theater Buff: Michael Cusumano of “An American in Paris”

Every third Wednesday of the month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer fills out editor Matthew Wexler’s nosey little questionnaire and offers a glimpse of what he looks like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. This month we visit Michael Cusumano, who appears in the new Broadway musical, An American in Paris. Based on the Academy Award-winning film and directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, it’s one of the hottest tickets of the season. Tres bien!

Michael Cusumano (photo: Bill Goulding via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Cusumano (photo: Bill Goulding via The Broadway Blog.)

Name:
Michael Cusumano

Hometown:
Freeport, New York

What would you do on your ultimate Paris dream date?
If I was to imagine my ultimate Paris dream date I would chose the holiday time of year because I fell in love with the outdoor Christmas market. We would hold hands browsing the cute shops, while of course sipping a mulled wine. Get the grand! Then take a ride on the Ferris wheel, and finish the night being cheesy by going to the top of the Eiffel Tower— standing on top of the world and getting lost in each other’s eyes. (I’m a dreamer if you couldn’t tell!)

Favorite French pastry and where to get in NYC?
I’m not a big pastry fan, but I tell ya, I fell in love with ham and cheese crepes. I ate a bit too many while in Paris. There came a time where I had to force myself to walk another route back to the hotel so I wouldn’t pass my favorite crepe stand. If there’s a good crepe place in New York City, please don’t tell me cause I will be in trouble again. 

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Photo provided by Michael Cusumano.

If I weren’t a performer, I would be:
I may have been a roller coaster designer. When I was a kid I was obsessed with two things. Ballet and roller coasters. I asked my parents to pay for a subscription to ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts) Yes… a roller coaster magazine and club, which I belonged to for a few years. At school I would be in class and draw ballerinas or roller coasters all day. Somehow I got straight A’s—don’t ask me how. 

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call? 
Places! I like to blurt out random, inappropriate, silly things to my boys during our excitement before we hit the stage. We are all a little loony in the dressing room. I like to believe it gets us pumped up for the show. I love my boys. I’m lucky to be around them every night. Read more…

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Categories: Theater Buff

Review: It Shoulda Been You

"It Shoulda Been You" (photo: Andrew Eccles via The Broadway Blog.)

“It Shoulda Been You” (photo: Andrew Eccles via The Broadway Blog.)

Marriage is a funny thing. Some last. Many don’t. And others aren’t ever meant to be. It Shoulda Been You, the new Broadway musical with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi, takes a lighthearted look at the evolving institution of marriage from just about every angle. But like most wedding gowns, some perspectives are more becoming than others.

Lisa Howard (l) and Tyne Daly (r) in "It Shoulda Been You" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Lisa Howard (l) and Tyne Daly (r) in “It Shoulda Been You” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Anchored by protagonist Jenny Steinberg (Lisa Howard), It Shoulda Been You follows the day’s proceedings as Jenny’s younger sister Rebecca (Sierra Boggess) prepares for her wedding to handsome fiancée Brian (David Burtka). Jenny’s parents, Judy (Tyne Daly) and Murray (Chip Zien), are none to thrilled with the prospects of a “goy” son-in-law. But Brian’s parents Georgette (Harriet Harris) and George (Michael X. Martin) aren’t exactly jumping for joy either.

Little do any of the parents realize that secret loves lie lurking around every corner, including the timely arrival of Jenny’s ex-boyfriend Marty (Josh Grisetti). By the end of Act I, an unexpected plot bomb drops that would have members of the Supreme Court in a tizzy, and the unlikely reduces to inane as the antics continue.

The production benefits by some of Broadway’s best, including a humorously deadpan performance by Tyne Daly, who spins gold from hay with her Long Island accent and cliché-but-true Jewish mother tendencies. (Trust me, I know from experience.) Equally as droll as the groom’s mother, Harris swigs gin and relishes in her Oedipal relationship with her son. Unfortunately, Burtka is like a dish of melted vanilla ice cream—there’s something sweet there, but no substance. Montego Glover and Nick Spangler are saddled with cardboard cut out characterizations of the maid of honor and best man, respectively.

Lisa Howard in "It Shoulda Been You" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Lisa Howard in “It Shoulda Been You” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

As the two unconventional ingénues, Howard and Boggess must drive the implausible story forward and make a valiant effort. Howard’s voice soars and it’s refreshing to see a full-figured woman take center stage in a role that addresses society’s obsession with weight and body image. Boggess has to play straight (pun intended) to most of the comedic action, and her 11 o’clock number, “What They Never Tell You,” feels like it belongs in another show.

It Shoulda Been You has the good fortune of direction by funny man David Hyde Pierce, who pulls out all of his sitcom expertise to make the most of the thin material. Unfortunately, at its core It Shoulda Been You is ridiculously unbelievable, and the major shift in action sets the show on a course from which it can never recover. Just like in a real marriage, one commits for better and for worse. Be prepared for both and you might get a good chuckle, but I’m not sure these wedding bells will ring for long.

It Shoulda Been You
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street
Open-ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

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Categories: To See or Not To See

Review: Se Llama Cristina at INTAR

by Samuel L. Leiter

(l to r) David Anzuelo, Gerardo Rodriguez, and Carmen Zilles in "Se Llama Christina." (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) David Anzuelo, Gerardo Rodriguez, and Carmen Zilles in “Se Llama Christina.” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

INTAR, the funky Hell’s Kitchen theater devoted to plays by Latino writers, is the perfect setting for Octavio Solis’s Se Llama Cristina, with its appropriately dark and grungy Sam Shepard-like world. Solis, a well-known San Francisco playwright and director, is making his Off Broadway debut with this fever dream of a play, which premiered at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre.

Despite its title, meaning “Her Name is Cristina,” the play—except for smatterings of Spanish—is in English. It opens with two characters in their early 30s, a Man (Gerardo Rodriguez) and a Woman (Carmen Zilles), both of Mexican descent; they’ve both shot up and he still has the needle in his arm. The room they’re in (designed by Raul Abrego) combines expressionist distortions (chairs and tables with uneven legs, a door and window set into the walls at cockeyed angles) and shabby naturalism, with rancid-looking, water-stained walls. The TV sits partly buried in a hole cut through the planked wooden floor, as does a nearby baby crib. Even when the locale—with scenes in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California—moves around, the room remains the same.

Gerardo Rodriguez and Carmen Zilles in "Se Llama Christina." (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Gerardo Rodriguez and Carmen Zilles in “Se Llama Christina.” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

When their haze begins lifting, the Man and Woman don’t know where they are, who the other person is, or even their own names. During the play, he’ll be called Mike, Miguel, and Mikey, and she’ll be Vespa, Vesta, and Vera, a sure sign of identity issues. Pretty soon they realize that their baby is missing; in its place in the crib is a fried chicken leg.

Se Llama Cristina is about parental fears regarding having and raising a child. (Solis says he wrote it to work out his anxieties after the birth of his daughter.) These fears even lead the parents to imagine how life might have been different had they not had the baby, but once that happens and they lose their parental identity they have to rediscover who they are. This takes them on a journey of self-discovery as they recall the events that brought them together (they met when she called a rape hot line and got the wrong number) and led to their becoming the parents they were fated to be.

The outside world invades in the form of Abel (David Anzuelo), the Woman’s super-macho ex, a jealous telephone lineman, and, in a sort of coda, the Kid (Yadira Guevara-Prip), a 16-year-old girl who climbs in from the window to offer an uncomfortable glimpse of what that chicken leg might grow up to be.

The Man is a would-be poet, and the crumpled papers on the floor imply both his writing struggles and, I imagine, his inability to come to terms with being a father. His language, which often resorts (like everyone else’s) to profanity, is pierced with shafts of colorful imagery. The shaved-head Rodriguez, although not especially charismatic, plays him well, but the raven-tressed Zilles, as she did in INTAR’s Adoration of the Old Woman, steals the show as the fiery Woman.

Yadira Guevara-Prip and company in "Se Llama Christina." (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Yadira Guevara-Prip and company in “Se Llama Christina.” (photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)

Solis is a magic realist, shifting gears from gritty naturalism to dream-like theatricalism, allowing him to move freely through time and space and to accentuate the play’s more emotional aspects through heightened stage effects. Director Lou Moreno’s often sluggish staging, however, except for only scattered moments, is determinedly realistic, which clashes with the phantasmagoric mood conjured up by the Caligari-like scenic touches.

The most successful stage realizations of magic realism—including some of Shepard’s plays—work best when a believably realistic environment mutates through lighting and sound into hallucination before resuming its normal appearance; it’s often better to avoid the kind of literal tipoff shown here. Apart from a moment when Abel pops up from behind a sofa, and when the door opens and closes without being touched, the principal otherworldly moments are the swooshing sound effects (created by Frances Sitges-Sardá) heard as the lighting (designed by Christina Watanabe) suddenly changes when scenes end.

There are valuable things in Se Llama Cristina, which runs an intermissionless 90 minutes. Nevertheless, accessible as much of it is moment to moment, and intense as certain moments are, it doesn’t avoid lapsing into incoherence and boredom. Some folks, like the fellows in the elevator afterward, will be scratching their heads when they depart.

Se Llama Cristina
INTAR
500 West 52nd Street
Through May 3

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

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Review: Iow@ at Playwrights Horizons

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Jill Shackner (l) and Karyn Quackenbush (r) in "Iow@" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Jill Shackner (l) and Karyn Quackenbush (r) in “Iow@” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Iow@which I’d like to retitle “Why? Oh! Ugh” is the latest new work to hit the stage at Playwrights Horizons. The world premiere absurdist musical by Jenny Schwarz (book and lyrics) and Todd Almond (music and lyrics) loosely follows the journey of Becca (Jill Shackner) as her mom Sandy (Karyn Quackenbush) abruptly decides to pick up the family and move across country to Iowa (or is it Ohio?) to pursue an Internet obsession. Becca says goodbye to life as she knows it, which includes her bulimic best friend and a talking pony, to go on a bizarre journey to the polygamist promised land. (Isn’t that Utah, by the way?)

Iow@ at its onset is obscurely promising, as Becca learns of her future travels from her A.D.H.D. mother, who rants for a good ten minutes in a steam-of-consciousness manner about everything from menstruation to body image and beyond. As Becca’s mom Sandy, Quackenbush dives in with a quirky, Julie Hagerty-like sensibility. High-pitched and wide-eyed, she—along with the rest of the cast—tackles the absurdist script at high voltage. Unfortunately, there’s not a light bulb in the socket of this play. Regardless of their emotional investments, it simply doesn’t light up.

The cast of "Iow@" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Iow@” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Schwarz and Almond’s script, in a grand sense, touches upon powerful themes including the roles of women in society, parenthood, technology, sexual orientation and racial profiling. The diverse cast each has his or her moment to shine, including Annie McNamara as a cheerleader with a biting tongue (“I’m not a sex object, OK? I’m just a girl with random talents.”) and April Matthis as Black Nancy Drew (“I’ll always be eighteen. But now I’m multi-culti. And I’m hot.”) These zingers are peppered throughout the script and delivered with plenty of punch, particularly set against the creative vision of costume designer Arnulfo Maldonado, who transforms the cast of eight into a schizophrenic ensemble of many.

Where Iow@ loses steam is in its lack of musicality. Almond’s score is dismally droll, dragging the show’s pace through the mud and rarely offering the actors a heightened sense of emotion or deliverability to further the story. They give it a champion effort, though, and under Ken Rus Schmoll’s direction are certainly all on the same page. Unfortunately none of these efforts can salvage a score in search of a melody nor a plot truncated by its own flailing appendages.

Iow@
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street
Through May 10.

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Olivier Awards Sneak Peek

Old favorites return at this year’s Olivier Awards, including revivals of Cats and Miss Saigon, along with electric productions of recent hits in the U.S. such as Here Lies Love, Beautiful – The Carol King Musical and more. Take a sneak peek!

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Categories: The Buzz

Review: Wolf Hall

by Samuel L. Leiter

"Wolf Hall" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog)

“Wolf Hall” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog)

The 2014-2015 theatre season’s hot-button cultural event is the visiting Royal Shakespeare Company’s Wolf Hall, Parts One and Two, Mike Poulton’s admirable double-bill adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Broadway audiences now have the chance to see this production, which premiered in London last year, one play at a time or in a same-day marathon. In a rare coincidence, they may also view the six-part TV version on PBS, starring Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis, which began broadcasting on April 5. I watched the first episode just after getting home from nearly six hours (separated by a two and a half-hour break) at the Winter Garden. Seeing both is illuminating.

"Wolf Hall" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

“Wolf Hall” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

Mantel’s door stoppers (together, over 1,000 pages) have been excoriated by major historians for their alleged distortions of characters and fact, and by Catholics for what they assert are her anti-Catholic views. Her books follow the familiar political, religious, and personal upheavals attendant upon the first three marriages—ranging from 1509 to 1536—of King Henry VIII. (The next three marriages presumably are covered in the final volume of Mantel’s planned trilogy.)

This richly fascinating material has, over the years, spawned an entire genre of novels, plays, and movies focusing on various personages, especially King Henry, Katherine of Aragon, Sir Thomas More, Sir Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and, of course, Queen Elizabeth I, the child born to Henry and Anne. In Mantel’s work, Cromwell is the principal figure.

An old rhyme goes:
King Henry the Eighth,
to six wives he was wedded.
One died, one survived,
two divorced, two beheaded.

Leah Brotherhead in "Wolf Hall" (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

Leah Brotherhead in “Wolf Hall” (photo: Johan Persson via The Broadway Blog.)

Divorce, in fact, was not an option, the proper procedure being annulment, which is what Henry (Nathaniel Parker), claiming the crucial importance of having a male heir, seeks from Katherine (Lucy Briers). After two and a half decades, she’s borne him only a daughter, Princess Mary (Leah Brotherhead), the heiress presumptive to a throne hitherto held only by males. Henry, hoping to get rid of Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn (Lydia Leonard), needs the pope’s approval, England then being Catholic; when Cardinal Wolsey (Paul Jesson), the Lord Chancellor, is unable to convince Rome to grant the king’s wish, he loses his high position, dying soon afterward. Sir Thomas More (John Ramm) becomes the new Lord Chancellor, but soon enough, More, unwilling to support the annulment (which foreshadowed the separation between England and the Catholic Church), meets his own fateful end.

Unlike Robert Bolt’s depiction of More in A Man for All Seasons as a noble martyr (he was canonized in 1935) who refuses to compromise his faith for the sake of the king’s personal wishes, Wolf Hall’s More is an unpleasant religious zealot who persecutes Protestants. Cromwell (Ben Miles), ordered to change More’s mind, is usually considered a master Machiavellian manipulator. Historian Simon Schama describes Cromwell as “a detestably self-serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence, and extracted confessions by torture.” Here, though, he’s the unlikely hero, forced by circumstances to behave nastily in order to serve the king’s interests, if not his own ambitions. The ultimate realist, he has no truck with ideological preconceptions; he’s religious but anti-extremist, heretically supporting an English-language Bible and noting that the Bible never mentions monks, nuns, and popes. Beginning as the right hand man of Wolsey, he gradually ascends in wealth and power (despite his lowly origins as a blacksmith’s son), successfully handles the annulment from Katherine, arranges for Anne’s beheading, and is instrumental in setting up the king’s relationship with Jane.

Read more…

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Categories: To See or Not To See

“Boys’ Night: An All-Male Cirquelesque” Returns

"Boys' Night" (photo: Ben Trivett via The Broadway Blog.)

“Boys’ Night” (photo: Ben Trivett via The Broadway Blog.)

Who says burlesque is only for the ladies? “Boys’ Night” has announced that after the sudden loss of their 3-year home at Galapagos Art Space, they have settled in at The Slipper Room on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The newest edition of “Boys’ Night” will premiere on April 15 at 8 p.m. The “boys” are back for another night of theatrical/burlesque/circus revelry! After headlining the Atlantis cruises final night and rave reviews, the “boys” are itching to welcome spring and show Manhattan what they can do. From dynamic aerial performers to the best of Boylesque, “Boys’ Night” is bringing the sexy for all types.  Featuring Mr. Gorgeous, Jason Mejias, Joshua Dean and Ben Franklin with Special Guest Host Shelly Watson (The Singing Siren).

167 Orchard Street
Doors open at 7 p.m.; Show at 8 p.m.
"Boys' Night" (photo: Ben Trivett via The Broadway Blog.)

“Boys’ Night” (photo: Ben Trivett via The Broadway Blog.)

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Categories: The Buzz

Review: “Gigi” on Broadway

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The cast of "Gigi" (photo: Margot Schulman via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Gigi” (photo: Margot Schulman via The Broadway Blog.)

Oh, Gigi. I’m not sure there’s enough champagne in all of France to keep me buzzed through two-and-a-half hours of your romping through Paris and a side trip to Trouville. That’s not to be said a relatively jovial evening can’t be had in your company, but it’s more like sipping from a cup of sparkling cider than a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

The latest version of Gigi, which opened tonight at the Neil Simon Theatre, is a revival of the 1973 Lerner and Loewe musical, based on the 1958 Academy Award-winning film, based on the 1945 novel by Colette. You get the picture. Young Gigi (a charming Vanessa Hudgens of Disney’s High School Musical franchise) comes of age in the world of Belle Époque Paris—beautifully captured in a soaring scenic design by Derek McLane. She is under the loving watch of her grandmother Mamita (Victoria Clark) and worldly aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty). The elders, who have very different takes on what it means to be a woman, prepare young Gigi for society life as she falls under the spell of a well-appointed suitor, Gaston Lachaille (Corey Cott). Throw into the mix Honoré Lachaille (Howard McGillin), whose past indiscretions come back to haunt him as he revisits his decades-old feelings for Mamita, and you’ve got a recipe for a perfectly fine—if not totally memorable—evening of theater.

The cast of "Gigi" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of “Gigi” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Gigi’s extraordinary film success (it won nine Oscars) might be attributed to the Golden Age of Hollywood or the keen eye of its director, Vincente Minnelli. Unfortunately, we’re living in different times and the book, adapted by Heidi Thomas, doesn’t resonate in today’s world, where songs like “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and “The Contract” either feel creepy or stale. Director Eric Schaeffer squeezes every last bit of emotional gravitas out of the cast, sometimes pushing them to forced highs and lows, particularly in the case of Cott, who writhes through the show’s title number in the second act. Stilted material aside (including a score that never comes close to the writing team’s hits that include My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Brigadoon), there is much to find entertaining in the production, thanks mostly to the grounded and emotionally resonant performances by Clark and Hoty.

Vanessa Hudgens in "Gigi" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Vanessa Hudgens in “Gigi” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Clark, who’s into the double digits when it comes to Broadway credits, is simply divine. At times maternal and at others flirtatious, her clear-toned soprano is as strong as ever and she plays the material as if her life depended on it. Hoty, tasked with a role that teeters on nemesis but ultimately comes from a place of love and protection, is just as brilliant, delivering dead pan humor and sweeping gesticulations in decadent costumes by Catherine Zuber.

And then, of course, there’s Gigi herself. Hudgens takes on a role immortalized by Leslie Caron but manages to put her own stamp on it. She is ebullient and delightful. Youthful and seductive. She is a girl on the brink of womanhood… a spring flower about to blossom. But perhaps director Schaeffer and choreographer Joshua Bergasse have over-watered the pot, leaving very little room for physical spontaneity, which the character (and actress) seems so desperate to embrace.

Will audiences respond to this nostalgic look at what it was like to come into womanhood amid turn-of-the-century France? With plenty of joie de vivre and not much else, only time will tell.

Gigi
The Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Open-ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

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