I thought I'd do my semiannual theater post a little early for no special reason other than I wanted to do some of the write-ups more immediately after seeing the shows. So, here goes.
(As an aside, Clive Babineaux on iZombie - his face has been driving me crazy because it's SO FAMILIAR and I just couldn't place it. I finally realized - he looks exactly like (younger) Billy Crystal. Go ahead, try to tell me I'm wrong.)
A Month in the Country: I went to see this because of Peter Dinklage, whom I've loved since he was ridiculously outraged (and hence magnificently sneery) in Living in Oblivion. And he was a great Rakitin – forlorn but still hopeful, cutting himself off every time his eagerness tried to overtake him. Taylor Schilling, unfortunately, didn't give him a lot to work with, but he was still convincing in his love for her. Schilling got better once she got to do battle (silently, poisonously) with Vera for Belyaev, but that didn't leave her a whole lot of time to bring the show to a higher level. A good showcase for Dinklage but nothing else was particularly noteworthy. 6/10
Broadway by the Year: Broadway Musicals of 1916-1940: I really enjoyed this event, which presented at least one Broadway song from each year in the title, and usually a little background too. A few of the performers were lackluster, and some tried for a very operatic solo style that did not suit the songs, but a few were outstanding. A very nice musical-history lesson that got especially interesting when influences other than the white-bread world became apparent in the music (presented chronologically). 7/10
Into the Woods: I've at least enjoyed everything I’ve seen Fiasco Theater put on, and while this didn't blow me away as their Cymbeline did, it rated very high on my scale. This is the only production of the show I've ever seen, so I can't compare it to past glories, but it was a nicely packed show that enjoyably had some loose ends and imperfectly happy endings. The two princes were hilarious, and Ben Steinfeld and Jessie Austrian (as the Baker and the Baker's Wife) were particularly strong, though Steinfeld seemed to want to play it as a drama with songs rather than as a musical. Very nicely staged as well. 8/10
Honeymoon in Vegas: This show surprised me in three ways. First, poorly, as there was a lot of racism and sexism built into the story and the racism at least could have been excised without undercutting the plot. Second, with a plot twist that I really should have seen coming but instead experienced as an intriguing surprise (though it made the end of the show a foregone conclusion, and I'd been happily thinking up ways to resolve all the subplots). Third, with Tony Danza. I went into the show expecting bucketloads of cheese, and they were there, but Danza was very effective as a smooth gangster with bottomless pockets and a mournful heart. He didn't belt out his numbers, but he sang in a surprisingly sweet and melancholy voice and even did a bit of tap-dancing. The show was entirely disposable but was effectively staged and everyone on stage seemed to be enjoying themselves. 6.5/10
Nevermore – The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe: Ugh, this was ridiculous, at least the fifteen minutes I saw. It suffered from the same problems as Scandalous, in that it elongated the least interesting material in terrible songs and compressed all the intriguing stuff into chunks of exposition hurled at the audience. Visually, it reminded me of Shakespeare's Sonnets, which was no one's idea of a good time. My stomach started protesting fifteen minutes in, so I left, and I don't want to assign a grade based on that little snippet, but I really didn't like what I saw.
The 39 Steps: I had seen this play five years ago and found it hilarious; the actor playing Hannay was about 6'3", built like a brick shithouse, and completely game for all sorts of slapstick and shenanigans, and the other three actors were very good too. I took my friend A to see this – we'd both seen the version recently aired on PBS that starred Rupert Penry-Jones – and found that it makes for a very different show when the actor playing Hannay (Robert Petkoff, whom I’d seen in All the Way) was not drop-dead gorgeous, as so much of the plot relies on his attractiveness. Still, there's a lot packed in, the four actors were completely game and seemed to have a great time with the silliness of it all, and the energy of the show was high. 7/10
Rhinoceros: I'd last seen a terrible version of Miss Julie in this theater, which is very small and prone to making audible everything happening backstage, and this was a marked improvement, for the most part. A few of the actors were terrible, but a few were very good. I would not have minded if some judicious cuts were made to the opening scenes, but while things got a bit shouty, overall it was a decent production. I left at intermission due to a headache and a very long day, but I liked what I saw. 5.75/10
Ghosts: Lesley Manville was great. She almost made me buy the moment that Helene blames herself for her late husband's excesses, and while that soured the impression the show made, it only made me admire her work even more. Helene and Regina (Charlene McKenna) sparked convincingly against each other, but Oswald was less of a character and more of a catalyst or prize, and Will Keen took his time in making Pastor Manders truly convincing. This production seemed to suggest that Helene made a decision about whether to give her son morphine rather than leaving it open-ended, and I quite liked that. 7.25/10
On the 20th Century: Okay, this one was ridiculously fun. I switched my ticket to make sure I could see both Peter Gallagher (as Oscar Jaffee) and Kristin Chenoweth (as Mildred Plotka/Lily Garland), and they were worth it. As was Andy Karl, who'd impressed me as Rocky, as Lily's dumb-as-a-box-of-hair boy-toy, and Michael McGrath and Mark Linn-Baker as the unbeatable comic duo backing Oscar's every play. (Mary Louise Wilson as Letitia Primrose was fine but nothing special.) Gallagher's Oscar was a raving madman one moment, sweetly earnest the next, and he played his realization that he's truly in love with Lily just perfectly. But the show belongs to Chenoweth, who was vulgar, sweet, tempestuous, and tender while also being howlingly funny and dizzyingly talented (her big numbers were AMAZING, particularly "Babbette"). I liked the four singing-and-dancing porters, but actually felt that the show could have done more with its setting. But this was a big fizzy kick the way Anything Goes was, and I’d like to see it again. 8.5/10
Airline Highway: An upbeat show with a relentlessly sad heart. I went to see this because of the cast – Julie White and K. Todd Freeman, and I thought I recognized Caroline Neff as well, though it seems this is her Broadway debut – and they were very good and those three especially were fantastic. The show itself is about people who aren't often seen on a Broadway stage – people that have no dignity but still live with hope, people everyone else is happy to overlook – and the show often had them fighting each other even when they needed desperately to bond together. I've never seen a show stage so many conversations concurrently, which upped the realism, and if it weren't for two scenes, I’d say this was one of the strongest shows I've seen. But those missteps (Miss Ruby's deathbed speech and Zoe's report) were big, and that knocks my grade down. 8.5/10
Kids in the Hall: I love them, and I was not about to miss the chance to see them live (I hemmed and hawed the last time they were in town and missed them entirely). Oh, it was great. They opened with all the Kids in wedding dresses, explaining their various reasons for dressing so. They did one line each of the odee-oten-doten-day song and "Daves I Know" before doing a full version of "Running Faggot". There was a brief Buddy Cole monologue, some salty ham, a visit from the country doctor, friends who are super-comfortable with each other, a guy with a good attitude towards menstruation, Gavin trying to score a doughnut from an STD clinic, Dave and Kevin fighting over an imaginary girlfriend, a fantastic new sketch called Superdrunk (with Mark's hilarious refrain, "Oh, a ruse!"), and the show ended with Mr. Tyzik, the Head Crusher, crushing first the heads of the Kids themselves and then the heads of various audience members. I would have liked to see Francesca Fiore and Bruno Puntz Jones, the "Nobody Likes Us" guys, Sir Simon Milligan and Manservant Hecubus (though I understand Dave Foley did not want to wear tights ever again), those cops, Maudre and Jocelyn (just to see Dave Foley turn into Isabella Rossellini for myself), the Sizzler sisters, the anal-probing aliens, the girl-drink drunk, and Cathy and Kathy, but the show was great and I have no real complaints. 8/10
What I Did Last Summer: Wow, this was disappointingly amateurish. Looking over his credits, I don’t know if I've ever seen or read anything by A. R. Gurney, but this was not the way to get me hooked. Every character except the mother was in desperate need of a good beatdown, and even Kristine Nielsen, who'd been so strong in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and The Killer, was terrible in a role as underwritten as the rest (she reminded me strongly of the Wise Woman in Blackadder's Bells episode [skip to 15:40 if you want to ignore some amazing comedy and get right to the WW] in her attempts to make her idiocy oracular). The show also tried to be amusingly meta and arch and pull off the narrative trick S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders managed, and it all just fell flat. 2/10
Something Rotten: That's more like it! A romp of a show. I kept giggling at all of the inspired lunacy on the stage, and I have to confess that seeing Christian Borle playing sex-god Shakespeare was a highlight of my theater-going career. There were so many rapid-fire allusions to plays and musicals and music (a motif from Prince's "Kiss" showed up a few times in Shakespeare's big solo, "Will Power"), all of them on point. Just as Shakespeare in Love worked best if you knew the plays it alluded to, so too does this show trade on the audience's knowledge of other theater experiences. Bea was great, as was Thomas Nostradamus, and the latter's mishearing of the title of the greatest play ever was the source of much hilarity. Really, this was so much fun I'd go again. 8.5/10
'Tis Pity She's a Whore: Extraordinary. Beautifully cast, acted, designed, costumed, and staged. I knew vaguely what the play was about, but had never read or seen it, and I got swept up in this production. I liked all of the actors in their roles, but none of it would have worked had Matthew Amendt and Amelia Pedlow (who'd been wonderful in The Heir Apparent) as the siblings-turned-lovers Giovanni and Annabella not been so compelling. The first scene is Giovanni, just back from university, discussing his love for his sister with the Friar (his childhood teacher), and Amendt came off as a bit of a wiener in the Hugh Dancy vein. But the next scene was him confessing his love to Annabella, voice breaking and his eyes near tears, and their chemistry was seriously electric. I felt like a voyeur, watching something intensely private that I had no business seeing, and that they were so deliriously happy in the first flush of love, rolling around naked in bed, was both delightful and dismaying (that my friend A and I were in the front row, and therefore about three feet from the action only intensified my feelings). Very interesting stuff, and this production was clear in its condemnation of not the incestuous lovers but the ways in which their transgression gets read, because no one is innocent. I want to read this play and see it again to figure out how we got from that beginning to that ending, and I want it to be this phenomenal cast that plays it for me. 9.25/10
Molière's Don Juan: Not nearly as good as the Pearl has mustered before – this was not nearly as funny as it should have been, was poorly paced, and oddly cast (Don Juan should be gorgeous or at least charismatic, right?). The show dragged, with interminable iterations of DJ loving and leaving various ladies, and the plot was really creaky with coincidences. The language was fine (a new, determinedly casual translation) but wasn't memorable. I left at intermission (I'd had a really long week) and met some ladies on the subway home who said they'd ducked out of An American in Paris because it, too, was not nearly as entertaining as it should have been. 4/10
Fun Home: A stunner of a show. I wanted to see it because the composer, Jeanine Tesori, did such a beautiful job with Violet, and also because it's been getting nothing but rave reviews. It's based on Alison Bechdel's autobiography, and tells the story of her queer father committing suicide after she, three months into her college career, comes out to her parents. It's a downer with moments of real laughter. The two younger Alisons (Sydney Lucas as Young Al and Emily Skeggs – a dead ringer for baby Sissy Spacek – as Medium Al) were especially convincing, Roberta Colindrez as Al's first girlfriend was fantastic, and the little brothers (Oscar Williams as Christian and especially Zell Steele Morrow as John) were adorable and believable as Al's siblings. Judy Kuhn was devastating as Al's mother, and Michael Cerveris as Al's father was enraging and sympathetic and intensely complicated. I thought this was an amazing show, beautifully and effectively staged in the round despite the weird lozenge shape of the stage at Circle in the Square, but I don't know that I'd see it again and have all of those emotions dredged up again – just listening to the score might be safer. 9/10
The Visit: I booked this to see Chita Rivera, whom I'd last seen in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and she was excellent. (Roger Rees, who plays the male lead, Anton, was out and I saw an understudy.) This is an extremely odd show, or, rather, a fairly conventional musical with an extremely odd plot. An elderly woman (Claire Zachanassian, played by Rivera), now fabulously wealthy, returns to the small town where she grew up, which has fallen into dire straits. The townspeople want her to spend some of her wealth on the town, and she agrees, if they'll consent to murder her former lover, who still lives in the town with his wife and two grown children. Rivera was fantastic, and did a lot with the material, but it played out rather unsatisfyingly - given some of the revelations, it was hard to see how certain characters could even share the same stage, let alone speak warmly/lovingly to each other. I liked but tired of the Young Anton/Young Claire device, and wished that spinning the coffin had not been the ONLY stage direction given, because that thing spun like a damn top in basically every scene. 5/10
More soon – I have tickets booked for The Audience, Skylight, and Little Shop of Horrors with Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal! What else should I see?
And how are you all doing?
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/451265.html.