TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “And God Created Great Whales”, “Carrie” & “William Shatner”
Within the last seven days, I saw Moby Dick sing, a Prom Queen blow up a gym and Captain Kirk take a bow on Broadway. If that isn’t the strangest week of theater I’ve ever experienced, then I’ve clearly repressed the memories of a weirder seven day span to protect my delicate psyche.
In honor of the decidedly odd (though certainly worthwhile in some cases) trio of works, let’s jump to some quick mini-reviews and thoughts:
Shatner’s World – We Just Live In It: The bombastic, Emmy-winning star of Star Trek and Boston Legal takes to the stage for a one-man show about his life and career. If you’re expecting a well-constructed play featuring carefully enacted remembrances, well–really? No, William Shatner is content to step into the spotlight and entertainingly ramble through stories like a dinner party guest who has had an extra cocktail or two. Funny thing is, once you’ve accepted the ramshackle nature of the evening, it’s quite amusing. I’m not a Trekkie and yet darned if I didn’t find Shatner charming, self-depricating and the best kind of ham–well-seasoned and never canned. He wanders and improvs and sings and tells hoary jokes with an impish glee that is infectious. In fact, his childhood love of vaudeville comics turns out to be a “rosebud” key to understanding his bigger than life, irrepressible persona. In the end after he has ever so glancingly touched on more serious matters of life and death, he imparts a world view that is both simple, illuminating and touching. Why does Shatner have a show on Broadway? Because he said “yes,” because he has always said “why the hell not!” And, for that, it’s hard not to love the guy.
And God Created Great Whales: Toss together Moby Dick, the film Memento and a healthy dose of contemporary opera and you’ll have some sense of the challenging, though affecting, theater/music piece by Rinde Eckert, which returns to the Culture Project a decade after its critically-acclaimed premiere. In the course of the intermissionless show, a composer, slowly succumbing to memory loss, attempts to finish an opera based on the Melville classic with the help of tape recorded messages to himself and an imaginary muse (Nora Cole). No, this is not Guys and Dolls; the music is demanding for anyone not comfortable with contemporary art song, the pace requires patience and some elements of the performance have a distancing artifice. What it does have going for it is an emotionally resonant take on human frailty and Eckert’s bravura performance as the composer, bumbling and exuberant, childlike and deeply felt. When his shockingly nimble singing voice rises to declaim a preacher’s sermon or recedes to the whispered squeak of a terrified boy aboard the whaling ship, we can hear intimations of the sweep of one man’s life–and the journey to sea that awaits us all.
Carrie: She’s back. The infamous musical based on Stephen King’s blockbuster novel about a telekinetic teenager and her bloody Prom night gets a thorough reworking under the direction of Stafford Arima (Altar Boyz) at MCC Theater. Respectfully, I can’t say much because the show is still in previews and undergoing changes. In fact, the night I attended, my sources tipped me off that big revisions were being slipped in (or in the case of everyone’s favorite line about a girl showing off her “dirty pillows,” pulled out). The creative team has time to do further work so until the show freezes I will simply say that this production is clearly aiming to ground the musical in reality, rather than the camp, greek tragedy of the Broadway original. Already unequivocally good: Marin Mazzie slips into the role of Carrie’s religious zealot of a mother with a enveloping sense of conflicted hysteria…and she sings the heck out of the best songs in the show. On the other hand, if I might be so bold as to throw up one red flag for the team, Carrie herself (though well played by Molly Ranson) is not always the center of the show as she should be. In particular (and perhaps because of their focus on the “reality” of the situation), her discovery of, feelings about and use of her supernatural powers are not in this draft given the weight they need to prepare us for the horrors at the end of the show. It’s such a good story that I can’t wait to see where this show ends up.