TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: How to Succeed and Bengal Tiger
April’s review round-up continues with two Broadway shows that shine a light on the relationship between stars and their fans.
Danielle Radcliffe aka Harry Potter hits the Great White Way as a singing/dancing corporate climber in this 50th Anniversary musical revival directed by Rob Ashford.
“That makes Mr. Radcliffe the only reason to see the show, and contrary to what the title suggests, this young actor really, really tries.” New York Times
“Welcome to the wonderful world of musicals, Daniel. We hope you’ll stick with it.” New York Post
“… a fairly exhilarating demonstration of how a well-run musical, like a well-run company, adapts itself to the peculiar talents of its personnel…” New York Magazine
“…director-choreographer Rob Ashford and lead producers Broadway Across America and Craig Zadan/Neil Meron take a clear step forward with this bright and irresistible revival…” Variety
Mizer’s Two Cents: If you like your musicals straight up, no twist, then you’ll enjoy this brisk and freshly scrubbed production of what can be an unexpectedly biting corporate satire. (Did 1960’s theater party ladies get their panties in a twist over a hero that is rewarded for lying and cheating?) I was drawn to the more dangerous aspects flirting around the edges of the production. Utility performer and soap star Michael Park is wonderfully two-faced in the supporting role of Bert Bratt. And what can I say about Tammy Blanchard as bombshell Hedy La Rue? With an open-mouthed, sideways grin and a teetering stance, she gives a fearlessly funny performance that suggests a woman who has the brain power to handle only one thing at a time: walking, talking or thinking. Sly and willing to sacrifice the hard sell on a joke for the sake of committing to her character, Blanchard is endearingly, gloriously odd in a Broadway world that often prizes the safe choice. As for Radcliffe, we’ll get to that after…
Oscar-winner Robin Williams headlines a new American play about an interconnected group of soldiers, Iraqis and ghosts ricocheting around war-torn Baghdad.
“…smart, savagely funny and visionary new work of American theater.” New York Times
“Like the show in general, [Williams’ performance] doesn’t deliver on its promise.” New York Post
“You get hungry, you get stupid, you get shot and die. This is the world according to the title Tiger in Rajiv Joseph’s impressive, affecting, occasionally affected mini-opera of magical pathos…” New York Magazine
“[The playwright has] yet to find the rich emotional vein that will allow him to combine his obvious skill with insight and heart.” Huffington Post
Mizer’s Two Cents: It’s always great to see a serious (and funny) new American play make the jump to a Broadway stage. The work grapples admirably with big questions, catching fire in the second act when the characters bounce off each other in a limbo that is both spectral and terrifically theatrical, when the play moves beyond the specificity of Iraq and into something that is more expansive and yet more personal. The cast, including one big honking star, is unpretentious and involved. Take a leap and see it if you’re interested in keeping tabs on new talent and adventurous writing. As for that big star…
Both How to Succeed and Bengal Tiger heavily promote their movie star leading men and seeing the shows is a fascinating study in the power of that kind of fame. Robin Williams is measured, thoughtful and funny as the titular tiger but the people in the row in front of me were howling at his every move, as if grafting their memories of his comedic film work onto this very different performance. Williams admirably doesn’t reach for these reactions but my attention to the play slipped out of focus in moments because of what the audience wants from him. Similarly, we watch the intensely game Radcliffe as we would a nephew in a high school play. We already love him, are rooting for him, but are slightly frightened that he will likely disappoint—and what will we say to little Danny at Friendly’s after the show. It’s like there’s a strange though not unpleasant group hug happening. Radcliffe proves to be a fine performer, particularly when he lets loose dancing, but our affection for him perhaps imbues the character he plays with too much goodwill and not enough cynicism to match the wickedly pointed book and lyrics. Stars can become less projectors transmitting a character to us and more like mirrors reflecting our expectations; they must be carefully employed to get the play to appear in just the right light. (Yikes, who let the stuffy English major part of me out of its dusty cage? Quick, toss it some Jane Austen and it will crawl back inside.)
A final note: While I will be honest about my reactions, I am not doing reviews in a traditional sense. Let’s face it, I work with (or hope to work with) many of the people in the shows I write about and I’m not about to slash and burn my way through professional relationships. Plus, karma’s a bitch. My goal is to celebrate what is great, highlight what someone else might not notice and try to point you toward shows that would suit you (if you liked A, you’ll enjoy B). Something may not be my cup of tea but right for someone else and I will attempt to make those recommendations clear. I will also bring up questions like the discussion above and try to start a conversation instead of making a pronouncement. When I truly hate a show or find that I cannot think of anyone who would enjoy it, then I won’t mention it here. If you want to read scathing, negative reviews, there are more than enough out there.