Review: ‘Of Good Stock’ at MTC

by Samuel L. Leiter

OfGoodStock1
A group of disparate people gathering for a weekend at a country or beach house—what a lovely idea for a play! At least that’s what writers as gifted as Noël Coward (Hay Fever), Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler (A Little Night Music), Terrence McNally (Lips Together Teeth Apart), Donald Margulies (The Country House), and many others have thought. The newest addition to this subgenre is talented playwright Melissa Ross’s largely entertaining family comedy, Of Good Stock, which premiered at the South Coast Repertory and is now at the Manhattan Theatre Club in a finely acted production smartly staged by MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow.

Ross sets us down at the Stockton family’s lovely Cape Cod home (attractively designed by the great Santo Loquasto) in July, where four weekend guests join food writer Fred (Kelly AuCoin) and his wife Jess (Jennifer Mudge) to celebrate her forty-first birthday. Jess’s father was Mick Stockton, a famous writer who bequeathed her the house and whose family name inspires the punning title. Using a revolving stage, the action moves smoothly from the interior to several exterior locales, including a boatless dock. Soon we meet the bickering younger Stockton sisters, the flakey, childlike, thirty-one-year-old Celia (Heather Lind), called “Cee,” and Amy (Alicia Silverstone), the whiny, tantrum-throwing, self-involved middle one; with Amy is her fiancé, Josh (Greg Keller), who’s meeting the others for the first time. Arriving a bit later is Hunter (Nate Miller), Celia’s chubby, bearded boyfriend, one of thirteen siblings, a thirty-year-old undergrad, who’s gotten Celia pregnant.

Alicia Silverstone in 'Of Good Stock' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Alicia Silverstone in ‘Of Good Stock’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Plot plays second fiddle to sprightly dialogue and character revelation in this often funny, borderline schmaltzy comedy, with most of the attention going to the internecine squabbles and reconciliations among three unhappy sisters. Amy, preoccupied with her impending wedding, is a control freak who pushes Josh a bit too far; the maternal Jess, a judgmental micromanager, is a cancer victim recovering from a mastectomy but with a gloomy prognosis; and Cee, unable to sustain a romantic relationship for more than six months, displays the tics of an insecure teenager, even in the way she sprawls instead of sits.

The sisters struggle to deal with their personal problems while battling the demons of sibling rivalry, compounded by the looming influence on their lives of their famous dad, a notorious philanderer, and their mom, who died of cancer at 40. Ross provides a cathartic scene late in the play when the women are alone, sitting on the dock, reminiscing about their youth and working out their issues, lubricating their tongues and feelings with a $2,000 bottle of scotch. Mudge, Lind, and Silverstone are thoroughly effective, but, after a while, their nonstop love-hate angst wears on one’s patience.

The male characters are wonderfully likable—including Josh, the victim of several strained contrivances—made even more appealing by the charmingly personable performances they’re given. Josh, before he makes an early departure, has a great moment that gets a robust laugh when, suddenly recognizing with perfect clarity what his future with the demanding Amy will be, says, softly, head in hands, “This is. My life… This is gonna be my life.” AuCoin’s Fred, in his ugly plaid pants, is a sweetheart, so even-tempered and good humored in the face of everyone’s crises that you want him as your best friend. Miller is ideal as Hunter, a dude from Missoula, Montana, who adds a question mark to the simplest declarative sentences, and is viewed skeptically by Cee’s sisters, but reveals a heart and sense of humor (as well as an appetite) as big as the great outdoors.

(l to r) Nate Miller, Heather Lind, Jennifer Mudge, and Alicia Silverstone in 'Of Good Stock' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

(l to r) Nate Miller, Heather Lind, Jennifer Mudge, and Alicia Silverstone in ‘Of Good Stock’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Act I is a delight, providing the necessary exposition for appreciating the characters; Act II, not so much, because the stakes never rise to a higher level. There are no big gotcha moments, just more character-exposing small talk, including a touching scene between Fred and Jess. I admit to welling up at several moments and to laughing loudly now and then, but in general, once I knew who was who and what they felt about each other, there wasn’t much else to take home from this weekend in the country.

Of Good Stock
Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage 1
131 West 51st Street, NYC
Through July 26

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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Categories: To See or Not To See

Review: ‘An American in Paris’ Original Cast Recording

by Mark Lingenfelter

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71B7KGcgUHL._SL1500_The most captivating aspect of the current Broadway production of An American in Paris is the sum of its parts—how all elements of musical theater come together to tell the story in the most exquisite of ways. With the June 2nd release of the Original Broadway Cast Recording on the Masterworks Broadway label, only a few of those elements are represented. Though they do a fine job of standing on their own, this album is ultimately an aural souvenir program that reminds you of a night well spent at the theater if you’ve been lucky enough to see the show.

Loosely based on the Academy-Award winning film of the same name and set to the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin, An American in Paris tells the story of an American soldier, struggling composer, and aspirant cabaret performer who all fall in love with the same French girl. The seventeen tracks are not the first to contain many of these Gershwin standards. Shows like My One and Only, Crazy for You, and Nice Work If You Can Get It all took songs from the Gershwin catalog. Though I would not say that any track on this particular album is a definitive version of a Gershwin song (which isn’t really the point anyway), I will concede that the recording captures the essence and fine performances of the talented cast.

Robert Fairchild, who plays the “American” of the title, exudes vocal charm on “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” and “Liza.” Max Von Essen come across vocally solid on “I Got Rhythm.” Brandon Uranowitz’s “But Not For Me” is hard to listen to— not because of his singing, but because his performance is so heartbreakingly honest. Sultriness slides out of the speakers on Jill Paice’s confident “Shall We Dance?” and she shows range when joining Uranowitz on “But Not for Me.” Leading lady Leanne Cope solos on only one track, “The Man I Love,” and her vocals are sweet, though not as captivating as when she performs onstage.

There is much use of George Gershwin’s orchestral work in the show, well represented in the opening “Concerto in F,” “Second Prelude,” and Act II’s “An American in Paris” ballet. It’s fun to listen to the recording and hear themes and snippets from other songs in the dance music and accompaniment that you may not hear at first listen in the theater. An American in Paris’s score was adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher and orchestrated by Christopher Austin. Sam Davis’s dance arrangements will leave you with “Fidgety Feet” for more than a few measures.

Though not all of An American in Paris’s cast album is “‘S Wonderful,” there are enough delightful bits for anyone who is a fan of the American Songbook—and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”

Available on Amazon and i-Tunes.

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Categories: The Buzz

Broadway’s ‘It Shoulda Been You’ Celebrates Marriage Equality

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.)

In honor of the Supreme Court’s historic decision to give marriage equality to all, It Shoulda Been You is inviting everyone to celebrate love and equality with buy-one, get-one-free tickets to share with your spouse (even if you haven’t had the chance to make it officially legal yet!). This special offer will end Monday, June 29 at 12 p.m.

Directed by Emmy and Tony Award-winner David Hyde Pierce, It Shoulda Been You has been celebrating marriage equality since it began performances in March. The only show on Broadway to include a gay wedding, a lesbian wedding, and a straight wedding, the production regularly expands on its message of love and acceptance in a variety of ways. Several couples have proposed and exchanged vows on stage, including a young gay couple who are now happily engaged. The producers of It Shoulda Been You recently invited all of the Justices of the Supreme Court to see the show for a positive example of what love and marriage equality look like.  

It Shoulda Been You is a culture clash for the ages when two families from wildly different backgrounds come together to celebrate a wedding. As if the union wasn’t complicated enough, the bride’s ex-boyfriend arrives, bringing the wedding to a screeching halt and throwing both families into hysterical chaos. Plots are hatched, promises broken, secrets exposed—and the bride’s resourceful sister is left to turn an unmitigated disaster into happily ever after. It Shoulda Been You puts a refreshingly modern spin on the traditional wedding comedy, proving that when it comes to wedding day insanity, it’s all relative.  

It Shoulda Been You features an original book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music by Barbara Anselmi. Tony and Emmy Award-winner Tyne Daly and Tony Award-winner Harriet Harris, lead an all-star cast of Broadway luminaries which also includes, Sierra Boggess, David Burtka, Lisa Howard, Edward Hibbert, Tony Award-nominee Montego Glover, Josh Grisetti, Adam Heller, Michael X. Martin, Anne L. Nathan, Nick Spangler and Chip Zien. 

It Shoulda Been You’s equality offer is valid for all performances in July. The offer may be redeemed via Ticketmaster.com using the code MEQ1, by calling 877-250-2929, or in person at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre box office (256 W 47Th Street).

Watch Lisa Howard sing the show’s 11 o’clock number, “Jenny’s Blues.”

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Broadway by the Year at Town Hall

by Mark Lingenfelter

Larry Gatlin (photo: Maryann Lopinto via The Broadway Blog.)

Larry Gatlin (photo: Maryann Lopinto via The Broadway Blog.)

The Broadway by the Year concert series at Town Hall is, in many ways, an embarrassment of riches. It’s an evening of musical theater songs introduced with a healthy dose of musical theater history and context by creator and host Scott Siegel. Though I’m partial to anything in the series featuring songs and shows written before the 1940s, I was happy to attend the 15th season’s final concert this past Monday night featuring Broadway musicals from 1991 to 2015.

In an evening written by Siegel, directed by Scott Coulter and musical directed by Ross Patterson, 27 songs were presented in chronological order (save for an early appearance from a 2015 musical as the second number). The two-and-half-hour concert featured many Broadway vets, many of which performed songs from shows and roles that they originated, alongside new talent featured in the Broadway By The Year Chorus—all accompanied by the Ross Patterson Little Big Band.

Larry Gatlin started off the evening, recreating “Look Around” from the 1991 musical The Will Rogers Follies, accompanying himself on guitar.  For the second number, we skipped forward to 2015 with Tony Danza showing up to recreate “Out of the Sun” from this season’s Honeymoon in Vegas with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. The number exemplified one of the great aspects of the concert series: with no staging, props or costumes, the audience can simply hear the song. Just music and lyrics. Danza’s humor shined through.

Christina Bianco (photo: Maryann Lopinto via The Broadway Blog.)

Christina Bianco (photo: Maryann Lopinto via The Broadway Blog.)

And while I’m on the topic of comedy, Christina Bianco took the stage to sing “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, but quickly turned the number into a medley of Mary Poppins songs sung with hysterical, spot-on impersonations of Julie Andrews, Kristin Chenoweth, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion and Bernadette Peters.

Siegel is always game to include tap dancing into his concerts and Broadway by the Year regular Jeffry Denman and Jimmy James Sutherland did just that with “Pennies from Heaven” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)” respectively, representing two musical reviews, Swinging On a Star (1995) and After Midnight (2013). Another recurring Broadway by the Year highlight is the “unplugged” number. Klea Blackhurst stood center and sang, “I Got Rhythm” from the 1992 musical Crazy for You, an adaptation of the 1943 MGM film Girl Crazy. Without the aid of a mic, Ms. Blackhurst belted to the rafters and it was in this moment that I experienced what it is like to be engaged with a performer.

Randy Graff (photo: Maryann Lopinto via The Broadway Blog.)

Randy Graff (photo: Maryann Lopinto via The Broadway Blog.)

And while there were a few selections that didn’t quite land (an ensemble of what looked like college students singing Avenue Q’s “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” made me ask the question, “Where are you now?”), my favorite moments were when soloists stood at the mic and just simply sang and told the story through the song:  Quentin Earl Darrington’s powerful “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime (2009 Broadway revival), Gay Marshall’s heartbreaking “It Never Was You” from Love Musik (2007), Sarah J. McMahon’s beautiful title song from The Light in the Piazza (2005) and last, but certainly not least, Randy Graff recreating her solo from A Class Act, “The Next Best Thing to Love” (2001).

Coming up on July 20 is Siegel’s annual Broadway Unplugged. Be sure not to miss this evening billed as “Great Show Tunes! Great Stars! Great (Big) Voices! No Microphones! The pure human voice—the way it used to be on Broadway.” Big voices scheduled to appear include Stephanie J. Block, Carolee Carmello, Matt Cavenaugh and more.

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‘Love and Information’ Inaugurates A.C.T’s Strand Theater

by Jim Gladstone

'Love and Information' (photo: American Conservatory Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

‘Love and Information’ (photo: American Conservatory Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

San Francisco’s newest performance space—the American Conservatory Theater’s sleek Strand Theater—debuted last week with a bracing production of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, a fusillade of more than 50 shrapnel-sharp vignettes that collectively reflect the messy intermeshing of raw emotion and data that fuels daily life in contemporary Western society.

A scientist describes dissecting mouse brains in the midst of a blind date in a cozy restaurant. A couple debates whether sex can be boiled down to the dissemination and remixing of genetic code. Subway riders discuss the news of a faraway earthquake. Two young lovers stumble over words to describe the experience of physical pain.

Churchill’s script is structured less like a conventional drama than a rapidly scrolling Facebook timeline or Twitter feed. Through a combination of authorial intent and viewer interpretation, the scenes—between five seconds and five minutes in length—are played by a game cast of ten and bounce off of each other relentlessly, echoing, contradicting, and forming motifs that undoubtedly vary from the mind of one audience member to the next.

Before ever reaching the audience, the scenes have already been through an earlier level of interpretation beyond that of a conventional play: Churchill’s script is a words-only affair, with no character descriptions, stage directions, or even a prescribed order of presentation. It’s like a loose shuffle of unbound sheet music sans time signature or even a suggestion of what instruments should be played.

Director Casey Stangl, dramaturg Beatrice Basso, and the ingenious design and sound team—Robert Brill, Jessie Amoroso, Lap Chi Chu, C. Andrew Mayer, and Micah Steiglitz—have chosen to very specifically ground the British playwright’s scenes in San Francisco through video projections and costumes (there’s a Giants fan prominently featured in that subway scene).

This wise production choice adds ballast to the script and helps keep its abstractions from feeling overintellectual. It also underscores how appropriate this play is, at this time, in this city. The barreling force of the show’s split-second shifts in lighting, projected images, and percussive soundtrack nearly overwhelm the viewer with relentless change as the growing impact of high technology sometimes dizzies the residents of San Francisco (and their onstage avatars).

Historical image of the Strand Theater (photo: American Conservatory Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

Historical image of the Strand Theater (photo: American Conservatory Theater via The Broadway Blog.)

The Strand Theater itself—as high tech as local venues get—was built on the bones of a one-time burlesque house in a skid row neighborhood now home to Twitter headquarters. In Love and Information, ACT puts a stake in San Francisco’s tremor-prone ground, claiming that live theater can roll with the changes, remaining vital and engaging, even as audiences find their attention smithereened by competing media.

Artist rendering of the Strand Theater (photo: A.C.T. via The Broadway Blog.)

Artist rendering of the Strand Theater (photo: A.C.T. via The Broadway Blog.)

This is a production as interactive and engrossing as the most immersive multi-player video game. But the world it engages you with is not the stuff of fantasy. It’s reality.

Love and Information
The Strand Theater of the American Conservatory Theater
1127 Market Street, San Francisco
Through August 9

Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.

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Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids

Evite_Word_v6Do you need your summer fix of the brightest Broadway and Hollywood talent? Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids will raise awareness about the plight of kids in foster care, particularly those ages 10- 21 whom many consider “unadoptable” because of their age. This special event is presented by Seth Rudetsky/James Wesley and Beachbody.Com with majority of the proceeds go directly to You Gotta Believe, New York’s only nonprofit specifically focused on finding permanent families for youth in foster care for kids ages 10 and older. A portion of proceeds will also be donated to the Council on Adoptable Children (COAC).

The evening will star include musical performances and special appearances by Tina Fey, Tituss Burgess, Kristin Chenoweth, Rachel Crow, Antwone Fisher, Sutton Foster, Darren Criss, Megan Hilty, Janice Huff, Jane Krakowski, Alec Mapa, Andrea McArdle, Patina Miller, Caroline Rhea, Tony Shellman, Charlene Tilton and many more. Seth Rudetsky will serve as Music Director.

Tina Fey (Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com)

Tina Fey (Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com)

Every year, nearly 25,000 kids age out of foster care in the U.S., left on their own to make it into adulthood without the safety net of a forever family to provide the security and comfort most of us take for granted. As many as 50 percent of kids who age out of foster care without a family are likely to experience homelessness.

In New York City, there are about 1,300 kids waiting to be adopted right now. There are an additional 700+ kids on the verge of aging out alone—many of whom were deemed ‘unadoptable’ by the system long ago. As each day goes by, they are one day closer to being pushed out onto their own without a family safety net unless an adoption takes place. This event brings awareness and will raise much-needed funds for this important cause.

Voices for the Voiceless: Stars for Foster Kids
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street, NYC
Monday, June 29

 

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz

Will ‘Bombshell’ Go Legit?

Katharine McPhee in 'Bombshell' (Photo: Jay Brady/The Actors Fund via The Broadway Blog.)

Katharine McPhee in ‘Bombshell’ (Photo: Jay Brady/The Actors Fund via The Broadway Blog.)

Is Broadway ready for Marilyn Monroe? Following the well-received Actors Fund benefit that featured the music of Bombshell from the NBC television series Smash, Universal Stage Productions has begun development on Bombshell as a musical for the stage.

The announcement was made by Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, and Jimmy Horowitz, President of Universal Pictures, who run Universal Stage Productions together.

In the wake of the June 8 benefit concert, the New Yorker proclaimed Bombshell “the best Broadway musical that doesn’t exist,” and the New York Post said, “Technically there was never a Marilyn Monroe musical, but after a production like this, maybe there should be.”

“There is a still a lot of love for Smash and a rabid fan base out there, and we’re thrilled to be able to keep the dream alive as we work towards bringing Bombshell to theater audiences,” said Greenblatt. “Smash was ambitious because every episode was a complicated musical for television and we also built the foundation of the musical-within-the-musical about Marilyn’s endlessly fascinating and tumultuous life. Over the course of two seasons an entire Bombshell score was written to service Smash storylines, and now that show will have a chance to stand on its own.”

“We are so thrilled that Smash isn’t over and that Bombshell gets to live on,” said Craig Zadan, who, along with partner Neil Meron, will serve as the lead producers of Bombshell.“The Emmy-nominated songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, including the iconic ‘Let Me Be Your Star,’ are every bit the caliber of their Tony- and Grammy-winning Broadway work. The Actors Fund benefit reinforced how alive this material is on stage and how much the audience wants to see the Marilyn Monroe musical in its entirety.”

Added Meron: “As life imitates art, Joshua Bergasse, our brilliant Emmy-winning choreographer from Smash, actually made his Broadway debut this season as a choreographer and was nominated for a Tony Award. Now he will get the chance to reimagine his exhilarating Bombshell dances for the theater.”

Steven Spielberg had long wanted to develop a series about the making of a Broadway musical and Smash was that idea come to life. He was the executive producer of the series and will be involved in the new stage production of Bombshell. A book writer will be announced shortly.

Shaiman and Wittman, also executive producers of the series, will continue on Bombshell with Shaiman serving as composer and co-lyricist and Wittman as co-lyricist. Their Broadway successes include Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can (based on the film directed by Spielberg) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is currently running in London’s West End and will arrive on Broadway in the future. 

“Whether watching the Smash cast at the benefit at the Minskoff Theatre or hearing teenagers across the world on YouTube, it’s been thrilling for us to hear our songs so embraced and performed so phenomenally,” said Shaiman and Wittman. “We can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Meron and Zadan, who functioned as executive producers of the series and also produced the Actors Fund Bombshell concert, have been involved in a string of hit film and television musicals, including movie adaptations of Hairspray and the Oscar-winning Chicago, as well as NBC’s live events The Sound of Music, Peter Pan and the upcoming production of The Wiz. They have also produced successful Broadway revivals of Promises, Promises and How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

Joshua Bergasse will serve as choreographer for Bombshell. His work on Smash earned him an Emmy and this past season he was Tony-nominated for the Broadway revival of Bernstein and Comden & Green’s On the Town. He was also the choreographer of the recent Broadway revival of Gigi, starring Vanessa Hudgens.

No casting has been announced and no one from the cast of Smash is involved in the stage musical at this point.

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Categories: The Buzz

Review: Kristina Wong’s ‘The Wong Street Journal’

Kristina Wong (photo: Amy Tierney via The Broadway Blog.)

Kristina Wong (photo: Amy Tierney via The Broadway Blog.)

by Jim Gladstone

After a year of sporadic workshops, The Wong Street Journal—a solo work by the enormously talented agitprop performer Kristina Wong—had its official world premiere in a fleeting five day run last week at San Francisco’s eclectic Z Space. The show—extremely entertaining and well worth seeing as it tours nationally—still feels like a work in progress.

Zipping about her hand-sewn set—a felt rendering of the New York Stock Exchange—Wong, perhaps most widely recognized from her television panel appearances with W. Kamau Bell and Larry Wilmore, offers laugh-out-loud cultural insights about a wide range of complex topics. Among them: White privilege, social media, Americans’ charitable support of poor countries, the global impact of hip hop, and the common goal of artists and activists to have a lasting impact on the world around them. There are hordes of heady ideas buzzing around in Wong’s script, but they never quite fly in formation.

In a recent interview, Wong mentioned that she’s been trying to broaden her audience by billing herself as a comedian rather than a performance artist. In light of The Wong Street Journal, that seems like a smart move for another reason: Almost every anecdote and apercu in Journal could be effectively presented as a segment of a stand-up act, with their loose, poetic relationships making for witty segues and a cumulative power.

But in presenting Journal as a one-woman play, Wong strains too hard to connect the dots with a dramatic/thematic throughline. The beads are stronger than the string. The stock market set design doesn’t cohere with Wong’s amazing true stories about recording a rap album in Uganda. Her brilliantly funny riff on the self-centeredness of social media doesn’t dovetail with Wong’s vivid impersonations of other people.

Yes, the string could be strengthened; but yanking it altogether and allowing audience members to roll the beads around in their minds might be the more effective alteration of Journal as it stands today.

Learn about upcoming performances of The Wong Street Journal and Kristina Wong’s other works at www.kristinawong.com.

Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.

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Review: Doctor Faustus

by Samuel L. Leiter

faustus_800x315

Last autumn, New York theatergoers had the rare opportunity to witness Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine; now, another of that infrequently revived Elizabethan playwright’s dramas of grandiose aspiration, Doctor Faustus, is available on a local stage. I had some reservations about Tamburlaine, but, when compared to this uninspired, ploddingly paced, dully designed, and weakly acted production directed by Andrei Belgrader for the Classic Stage Company, it seems, as someone once said in another context, “Hyperion to a satyr.”

Belgrader’s staging uses his and David Bridel’s shredded adaptation in which Marlowe’s language is modernized, scenes are radically rewritten, iceberg-sized chunks are deleted, characters are excised or conflated, and, among other liberties, Faustus’s servant Wagner (Walker Jones) becomes a winkingly self-conscious chorus.

Chris Noth in 'Doctor Faustus' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Chris Noth in ‘Doctor Faustus’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Chris Noth (Sex and the City) struggles unsuccessfully to embody the eponymous scholar, a Marlovian superman so hungry for power and world domination he finds philosophy, medicine, law, or theology insufficient for his goals; disregarding the Good Angel (Carmen M. Herlihy) he abides by the Evil one (Geoffrey Owens) and finds his answer in magic. Faustus ignores all warnings and, by signing a deed in blood, sells his soul to Lucifer (Jeffrey Binder) to maintain his power for 24 years. During that time the prince of darkness’s servant, Mephistopheles (Zach Grenier, The Good Wife), will be his helpmeet so that he may “live in all voluptuousness” and “be emperor of the world.” Finally, realizing that his reach has exceeded his grasp, Faustus fails to save his blasted soul.

The play is filled with opportunities for fanciful theatrics, including magic tricks (which reportedly made Orson Welles’s 1937 production memorable) and comedy, but the CSC production, despite occasional flourishes such as masks and puppets, is so flatfooted and pedestrian, its effects so cheesy, its comedy so forced, and its acting so shallow, that you need the fortitude of Jove to keep your eyes from spinning out of their sockets. Marlowe’s original contains a great deal of clownish tomfoolery, but Belgrader places so much emphasis on it that the title might as well be Doctor Faustus: The Farce. For a small example of how painfully unfunny it is, consider that Marlowe’s foolish Ralph has been renamed Dick (Ken Cheeseman) apparently so that sophomoric jokes can be made at his name’s expense.

As so often in today’s budget-conscious Off Broadway classical revivals, everyone except the two leads plays multiple roles or participates in ensemble scenes. But if you’re going to go that route, you’d better be sure your cast is versatile enough to make more of their character changes than simply offering broad cartoons with exaggerated voices. What’s worse is that the leads here, Noth and Grenier, both respected actors, are out of their depths.

Zach Grenier in 'Doctor Faustus' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Zach Grenier in ‘Doctor Faustus’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Grenier’s relatively short stature is underlined by an ugly, ruff-collared, nearly floor-length, brown medieval gown (the unimpressive costumes are by Rita Ryack and Martin Schnellinger) that looks nothing like the friar’s robes Marlowe calls for; he looks and acts about as evil as a Devil Dog. In one of many missteps, Belgrader allows Mephistopheles to play with audience members during part of the Seven Deadly Sins sequence, either at their seats or by actually drawing them onto the stage; one turns out to be a plant from the company itself. Such clichéd fourth wall-breaking shtick is neither clever nor amusing enough to warrant its inclusion. At the performance I saw, an embarrassed woman pulled from her first-row seat never returned for Act II, nor did the people sitting next to her (others defected as well). Audiences pay to be audiences, not actors.

As Doctor Faustus, Chris Noth looks authoritative but lacks the vocal, interpretive, and visceral potency required for this classical role. Belgrader’s staging doesn’t help, especially when he has Faustus face upstage to deliver his famous “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships” speech about Helen of Troy (Marina Lazzarato, who does the scene nude).

Doctor Faustus is a hell of a difficult play; perhaps only a pact with the devil could make it work.

Doctor Faustus
Classic Stage Company
136 East 13th Street, NYC
Through July 12

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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Categories: The Buzz

Theater Buff: Broadway Bares Edition

Broadway-Bares-2015-artWe’re offering you a special edition of Theater Buff this month, as Broadway Bares celebrates its 25th spectacular edition of raising funds and awareness for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This year’s unrivaled evening of sexy striptease is titled Broadway Bares: Top Bottoms of Burlesque, a show inspired by the golden age of Broadway.

The show will welcome back to the director’s chair Jerry Mitchell, Bares‘ two-time Tony Award-winning creator and executive producer. The 2015 edition will fill New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Sunday, June 21. Limited tickets are still available for the midnight performance.

In a lavish and thrilling extravaganza, Broadway Bares: Top Bottoms of Burlesque will feature a cast of colorful characters for every desire and fantasy. Broadway’s iconic personalities —from devilish divas to charismatic casting directors, luscious lyricists to studly stagehands—will combine the naughtiness of burlesque with the razzle-dazzle of Broadway. This always sold-out annual event combines the naughtiness of burlesque and the razzle-dazzle of Broadway.

Broadway Bares 2014 (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway Bares 2014 (photo: Jenny Anderson via The Broadway Blog.)

Prices for Broadway Bares range from $50-1000. VIP tickets include open bar and special viewing areas. Also available is the exclusive “Stripper Spectacular” package, which includes a reserved table seat at either show, admission to a private cocktail party with Mitchell and more. Or join the exclusive “Jerry Mitchell’s Producers’ Circle” for unprecedented access all weekend long. You must be at least 21 years old to attend Broadway Bares.

Broadway Bares 2013 (photo: Tomas Vrzala via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway Bares 2013 (photo: Tomas Vrzala via The Broadway Blog.)

“A lot of things can happen in 25 years, but who would’ve thought that seven guys dancing on a bar could grow into an annual event that has raised so much to help people living with HIV and AIDS,” Mitchell said. “Broadway Bares has done that. And this year we’re going full out, maybe even with a top hat and our version of tails, ’cause if, baby, you’re a bottom, you’re the top.”

Broadway Bares 2012 (photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway Bares 2012 (photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia via The Broadway Blog.)

Mitchell, who directed and choreographed the Tony-winning Best Musical Kinky Boots and is directing the upcoming Broadway musical On Your Feet, created Broadway Bares in 1992. It is produced by and benefits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Broadway Bares: Top Bottoms of Burlesque will be co-directed by Nick Kenkel, who also directed Broadway Bares: United Strips of America in 2013 and last year’s Broadway Bares: Rock Hard!, which raised a staggering $1,386,105. The first Broadway Bares featured seven dancers stripping on a bar and raised $8,000. To date, the 24 editions of Broadway Bares have raised more than $12.6 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Broadway Bares 2011 (photo: Peter James Zielinski via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway Bares 2011 (photo: Peter James Zielinski via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway Bares 2010 (Photo: Ryan Moeller via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway Bares 2010 (Photo: Ryan Moeller via The Broadway Blog.)

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Categories: Show Folk, The Buzz