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Home > To See or Not To See > TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Jerusalem & Memphis

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Jerusalem & Memphis

June 1st, 2011

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up on what’s new on stage with a review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. For June, let’s take a tour of two very different “cities” gracing the Great White Way:

Photo by Joan Marcus.

JERUSALEM

A larger-than-life, drug-dealing Pied Piper faces eviction, partying teenagers and the disappearance of a mythic Britain in Jez Butterworth’s comedic drama, anchored by an unimprovable Mark Rylance.

“…a seismic performance that threatens to level the old Music Box Theater…” New York Times

Jerusalem can be thought-provoking, but it’s also an exercise in nostalgia — an elegy for a country that’s lost its soul.” New York Post

“Jez Butterworth’s half-rejectionist, half-heraldic drinking song of a play…” New York Magazine

Jerusalem succeeds, above all else, as a vehicle for the talents of Mark Rylance, who invests Johnny with a blazing, barreling intensity and a sort of sordid charisma.” USA Today

Mizer’s Two Cents: Yes, Mark Rylance is a force of nature. Yes, the play is three hours long and may prove tough for those expecting a night of jazz hands and sparkle (though it does have big laughs and a momentum that I found engrossing for much of the play). Yes, it’s deeply British but the characters and situations are universal and the language has a heightened spin that is lovely to hear. So just say “yes” to it. The opening minute alone is a brilliant piece of writing and directing, telling us almost everything we need to know about the worlds of the show (and getting a huge laugh) by raising and lowering the curtain on two contrasting visions of the set. And the final act of the play, featuring a heartbreakingly lovely monologue by Aimee-Ffion Edward (pictured above), is transcendent in the truest sense of the word; it reaches for something beyond words, something elemental that only art can touch.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

MEMPHIS

The 2010 Best Musical continues to rock Broadway with the story of an interracial couple and the music that brings them together in 1950’s Memphis.

“slick but formulaic entertainment…despite the vigorous efforts of a talented, hard-charging cast.” New York Times

“…catchy songs, heaping spoonfuls of inspirational moments and tear-jerking schmaltz, and committed performers at the top of their game.” New York Post

“…they do give an empty K-tel collage of a show an honest soul. And, in Kimball, Memphis has given us a brand-new Broadway rock star.” New York Magazine

“The show is entertaining but synthetic, its telepic plotting restitching familiar threads from Hairspray and Dreamgirls…”  Variety

Mizer’s Two Cents:  I missed this show during its initial buzz and Tony win, so I was curious to catch up with it now, especially given that the original stars of the show are still on board. It certainly doesn’t seem to have any of the symptoms of long-run disease (lethargy, sore throat, phoning-it-in); the ensemble barrels into every number with verve and rafter-shaking commitment. For all that the reviews found generic in the writing (and I will say that the songs feel more like delivery devices for impressive notes and vibrant dancing than dramatic moments designed to reveal character), I couldn’t help but notice spiky details that seem to suggest darker, more idiosyncratic drafts peaking through what’s on stage: Kimball’s itchy then charming performance, second act decisions by both leads that are interestingly off-putting and an unexpected adherence to the realities of the situation in the ending. That being said, the audience ate it up like a plate of barbecue ribs. If you want an infectiously-performed night of Broadway music theater that’s heavy on R&B and early Rock influences and light on innovation, you’ll enjoy it, too.

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