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Is That All There Is?: ‘A Life’

November 1st, 2016 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

David Hyde Pierce in 'A Life' at Playwrights Horizons. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

David Hyde Pierce in ‘A Life’ at Playwrights Horizons. (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Anne Kauffman’s staging of Adam Bock’s A Life at Playwrights Horizons is far more elaborate than one might expect for such an otherwise slight play. Most noteworthy is Laura Jellinek’s set of a New York apartment that, after the plot’s big surprise, slowly rotates backward so that its high-hat-lit ceiling becomes the back wall of a new locale. (Japan’s kabuki theatre has a similar technique.)

The “life” of the title belongs to Nate Martin, a 54-year-old proofreader—gay, lonely, and depressed—played with naturalistic honesty by the always engaging, perfectly cast David Hyde Pierce. In the gently humorous, half-hour monologue that begins the play, Nate rambles on to us about things he needs to get off his chest, as if we’re an extension of a group therapy session.

Brad Heberlee & David Hyde Pierce in 'A Life.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Brad Heberlee & David Hyde Pierce in ‘A Life.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

He tells of his loss of “faith in everything I’d ever learned” until that faith was reawakened with the discovery of the “science” of astrology; using a chart, he explains it in detail, but also expresses his doubts about its validity. He informs us of his history of broken romantic relationships, his fear of love and his difficulty finding it, the need to be truthful, and his problems with intimacy. In one of the best moments (probably a Kauffman touch) he adds something to his to-do list only after turning page after page in a notebook to find an empty spot.

Nate’s chief support is his gay friend (but not lover), Curtis (nicely played by a comforting Brad Heberlee). He first appears with Nate in Central Park (effected by washing the apartment in green light), where the pair converse while ogling the muscles on the cute guys running by. Nate confesses: “I liked going to the gym. I liked wearing workout clothes. I liked saying hi to the guys at the front desk. I liked looking at Randy…. I just didn’t like the whole ‘working out’ part.”

Brad Heberlee and Lynne McCullough in 'A Life." (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Brad Heberlee and Lynne McCullough in ‘A Life.” (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Back in his apartment, Nate experiences a totally unexpected game-changer I can’t reveal, followed by an unusual scene in which, for a daringly long time, there’s no movement at all as Matt Frey’s beautiful lighting shows time passing, and Mikhail Fikset creates a detailed soundscape of what’s happening in the world outside.

Soon after, the scenery has the first of its big moments, and the focus shifts to the effect of Nate’s life on others (well-played by Marinda Anderson, Nedra McClyde, and Lynne McCollough, each in more than one role). Pierce’s role, meanwhile, now requires of him a tour de force of physical control. From this point on, A Life, for all its satirical and emotional highlights, is anticlimactic. Since there’s still so much of it before the final curtain, the 85-minute play assumes a split personality.

Bock seems to be saying that Nate’s life, so ordinary, is just like any other in its search for love and happiness; regardless of its ups and downs, there’s no controlling what fate has in store, so if you’ve got things to do, you’d better do them; if there are things to change, change them. Otherwise, you’ll be asking, along with Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”

A Life
Playwrights Horizons
416 W. 42nd Street, NYC
Through November 27

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).

 

Don’t Miss: Drama League Gala Honoring David Hyde Pierce

October 10th, 2016 Comments off
David Hyde Pierce (Photo: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

David Hyde Pierce (Photo: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

The Drama League (Executive Artistic Director, Gabriel Stelian-Shanks) has announced the roster of special guest performers for the 33rd Annual Musical Celebration of Broadway honoring Tony and Emmy Award winner David Hyde Pierce to be held on Monday, November 7, 2016 at The Plaza (768 Fifth Avenue) in New York City.

This year’s benefit gala culminates the organization’s centennial celebration that began last November.  The black-tie gala will feature dozens of stars from Hollywood and Broadway in a one-night-only musical tribute supporting The Drama League’s educational initiatives for promising young artists.

 

The lineup for the evening’s one-of-a-kind musical tribute inspired by Mr. Pierce’s career in theater, film and television, including this season’s productions of A Life (Playwrights Horizons) and Hello, Dolly! will include stars of stage and screen Tyne Daly (It Shoulda Been You), Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), Bebe Neuwirth (“Frasier”), Sierra Bogguss (School of Rock), Christopher Sieber (Mathilda), Kate Baldwin (Hello, Dolly!), Harriet Harris (It Shoulda Been You), Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike), Debra Monk (Curtains), Montego Glover (Memphis), Adam Kantor (Fiddler on the Roof), Brandon Uranowitz (An American in Paris) and more to be announced.

 

The Drama LeagueDrama League Directors Project alumnus Shelley Butler (It Shoulda Been You) directs. The 33rd Annual Musical Celebration of Broadway Honoring David Hyde Pierce will be produced by Drama League Associate Producer Travis LeMont Ballenger.  The creative team will include Rob Urbanati (writer), Joyce Chittick(choreographer), David Evans (music director), Samantha Saltzman (associate producer/director),Melissa M. Spengler (production stage manager), Nick Kolin (lighting), Mike Tracey (sound),Whitney Locher (costume), and Gabriel Stelian-Shanks (Drama League Executive Artistic Director).

 

“Since 1916, The Drama League has been honored to celebrate the career achievements of great theatrical artists,” noted Drama League Executive Artistic Director Gabriel Stelian-Shanks. “To kick off our second century in this tradition, we could think of no one more perfect than David, who exemplifies the absolute best of what American theater can be.  What a pleasure it is to gather his friends, co-stars and colleagues for an unforgettable night celebrating his many triumphs, and his return to Broadway this season.”

 

VIP and Ballroom seats are available, with a limited number of seats open to the General Public.  For more information, please call (212) 244-9494, Ext. 101 or visit the website at www.dramaleague.org.

Review: It Shoulda Been You

April 14th, 2015 Comments off
"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

What a Deal! $14 Tickets to Broadway’s “It Shoulda Been You”

February 10th, 2015 Comments off

120248.ISBY.MiscArt_5x7.inddLove is in the air… and for Broadway fans it comes a lot cheaper than a ring from Tiffinay & Co. Producers of It Shoulda Been You have announced a special one-day-only offer for one-of-a-kind ticket prices. Visit the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 West 47th St) starting at 10 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, February 14, for the opportunity to purchase $14 tickets for the first 14 preview performances of the new musical. This special offer will end at 2:00 pm and is limited to the 114 tickets per performance.

Directed by David Hyde Pierce and featuring an original book & lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music by Barbara Anselmi, It Shoulda Been You begins previews on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (256 West 47th St) on March 17, 2015, with an opening night date set for Tuesday, April 14, 2015.

Between the hours of 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. patrons will have the ability to purchase 1 or 2 tickets at the special $14 Valentine’s Day rate while also enjoying ‘wedding-themed’ activities, including a photo booth and complimentary lattes designed by coffee artist Michael Breach.

In the hilarious and heartwarming new musical It Shoulda Been You, it’s 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.

The cast of It Shoulda Been You includes Tony Award-winner Tyne Daly, Tony Award-winner Harriet Harris, Sierra Boggess, Lisa Howard, David Burtka, Tony Award nominee Montego Glover, Chip Zien, Josh Grisetti, Adam Heller, Michael X. Martin, Anne L. Nathan, Nick Spangler, and Edward Hibbert, along with Farah Alvin, Gina Farrell, Aaron Finley, and Mitch Greenberg.

The creative team for It Shoulda Been You includes Josh Rhodes (Choreography) Anna Louizos (Set Design), William Ivey Long (Costume Design), Ken Billington (Lighting Design), and Nevin Steinberg (Sound Design), with additional lyrics by Jill Abramovitz, Carla Rose Fisher, Michael Cooper, Ernie Lijoi and Will Randall.

Last Chance: “The Landing” at The Vineyard Theatre

November 19th, 2013 Comments off
Julia Murney and David Hyde Pierce in "The Landing" at The Vineyard Theatre. (photo: Carol Rosegg)

Julia Murney and David Hyde Pierce in “The Landing” at The Vineyard Theatre. (photo: Carol Rosegg)

Extended through November 24, it’s your last chance to see a charming (albeit somewhat melancholy) new musical at The Vineyard Theatre. The Landing features book and lyrics by Greg Pierce and music by Broadway legend John Kander.

The one-act musical moves swiftly between three scenes: “Andra,” “The Brick,” and “The Landing.” With a cast of four, which includes Tony Award-winner David Hyde Pierce and Broadway belter Julia Murney, each story in it’s own way explores the theme of loss. From a young boy longing for a father figure to a stylized fantasy piece and the final scenario in which a gay father sees the cryptic vision of his own future, The Landing gently trots along, with the most tender and honest moments delivered from Pierce.

Bobbie, who’s dozens of directing credits span both Broadway and off-Broadway, seamlessly maneuvers the action, while choreographer Josh Rhodes (currently represented on Broadway with First Date and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella) makes the most out of pedestrian movement and even throws in some ballroom for Murney and Pierce, who joyously meet the challenge.

Paul Anthony Stewart and Frankie Seratch in "The Landing." (photo: Carol Rosegg)

Paul Anthony Stewart and Frankie Seratch in “The Landing.” (photo: Carol Rosegg)

Where The Landing slightly falters is with Kander’s score, which feels more like an exercise than a fully realized piece. It lacks the defining sound of recent works such as The Scottsboro Boys and A Family Affair. It is neither hummable or haunting, yet his astute craftsmanship manages to keep The Landing afloat.

Critics responded somewhat warmly to the show, which has been extended through November 24. And while it may not be earth-shattering theater, catching the likes of such high caliber talent in an intimate setting is not to be missed.

Here’s what the critics had to say…

“Mr. Kander’s music for “The Landing,” which opened on Wednesday night in an elegantly slender production directed by Walter Bobbie, is on a smaller scale. Often it has the chiming simplicity of children’s songs. But linked and woven into the book and lyrics by the young playwright Greg Pierce (in Mr. Kander’s first full collaboration with a new partner since Mr. Ebb’s death in 2004), these innocent melodies shade into sorrow and sourness, a bit like those tinkling music-box motifs so beloved by makers of horror movies.” The New York Times

“Throughout all three [stories], Kander’s music mixes his street-smart show-biz signature with yearning romantic ballads and, here’s the surprise, snatches of rhythmic colors that suggest Sondheim. Pierce’s characters all have detailed, original specificity beneath their everyday lives. Kander recently described his new collaborator as “a present someone gave me.” It appears the gift, in this small package, was also given to us.” Newsday

“Directed with a nimble hand and a full heart by Walter Bobbie, and featuring the talents of David Hyde Pierce (Greg’s uncle) and some lesser-known but similarly facile performers, TheLanding consists of three vignettes exploring love and loss, discovery and disenchantment. The parts are uneven, but the whole is haunting, startlingly original and deeply moving.” USA Today

The Landing
The Vineyard Theatre
108 Est 15th Street
Through November 24

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more at roodeloo.com.

Review Round-Up: Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”

March 16th, 2013 Comments off

L-R: Billy Magnussen, Kristine Nielsen, Sigourney Weaver, Genevieve Angelson, and David Hyde Pierce in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike". (photo: Carol Rosegg)

Christopher Durang is at it again. The author of such absurdist hits (and acting school favorites) as The Marriage of Bette and Boo and Beyond Therapy is taking a jab at Chekhov — the master of theatrical realism. But instead of a Russian summer estate, Durang plops his characters in the middle of Bucks County, Pennsylvania for a riotous tour de force. The cast includes Tony and Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver and Tony and Emmy Award winner David Hyde Pierce.

Here’s what the critics had to say after opening night…

“In Durang Land, of course, heartache is generally fodder for belly laughs. There are enough sprinkled throughout his latest play to keep the temperature in the theater from cooling for long, although this romp through an Americanized version of Russian anomie is more a series of loosely connected set pieces than a cogently put-together play. (With little more than a postage-stamp of plot to embroider, Mr. Durang has his characters dress up as Disney cartoons and wander off to a costume party.)” The New York Times

“Restraint has never really been Durang’s thing. (After all, this is the man who turned the war on terror into a comedy called Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them.) Whatever he borrows from long-dead Russian playwrights, Vanya and Sonia… is entirely, indisputably, oh-no-he-didn’t classic Durang.” Entertainment Weekly

“The performances, first-rate from the start, have all gotten richer and sharper, and the ensemble playing is beautifully timed and textured. Sigourney Weaver’s narcissistic Masha is better integrated, every emotion radiating with childlike intensity as she thrashes about attempting to control events. Kristine Nielsen’s loopy Sonia—her Maggie Smith impersonation is priceless—is an ideal foil, full of vinegar and gall yet also touchingly vulnerable, especially during a hopeful phone call with a prospective suitor. As Vanya, David Hyde Pierce lies in wait for most of the night, landing his laughs with an eyebrow lift or a muttered quip, until he explodes into all-stops-out hilarity with a meltdown about the drawbacks of modernity.” Backstage

Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street
www.vanyasoniamashaspike.com 

 

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”

November 13th, 2012 Comments off

Kristine Nielsen, David Hyde Pierce & Sigourney Weaver in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike". Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE

Absurdist extraordinaire Christopher Durang (Beyond Therapy) tosses Chekhov (the playwright not the Star Trek character) into a blender, transplants it to Bucks County and feeds it to ace scenery chewers Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen.

“…a loving rejection of pretty much everything Chekhov stands for in the popular imagination.” New York Times

“…Weaver’s game but strained performance throws Nicholas Martin’s production off-balance.” New York Post

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is brainy and witty and clever and cute.” Variety

“While its surfaces might seem slight or even frivolous, this is a work by a mature playwright taking stock and illuminating countless universal truths for those of us who have hit contemplative middle age.” Hollywood Reporter

Read more…