Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
“The world is so censorious, no character will escape.”
From the moment we hear “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and get a gander at Mr. Snake’s (Jacob Dresch) green pompadour wig, we know we’re not in Kansas anymore; this will not be just another good production of the familiar eighteenth century Sheridan play. Indelicate bathroom sounds emitted by Lady Sneerwell (Frances Barber) who enters in her corset and petticoat, recoils at a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and is powdered (her breast) and sprayed with cologne (beneath her skirt) by her confidante, cement the presumption that this particular interpretation of the piece is going to be a hoot. And it is.
Frances Barber, Jacob Dresch
In an era with neither The National Enquirer or Gawker, aristocrats pursued word-of-mouth gossip as entertainment as much as to promote personal agendas. Salons were ubiquitous. Amorality ruled.
Ok, in brief (deep breath) Lady Sneerwell has conscripted gossip columnist/critic Mr. Snake to further her designs on Charles Surface (Christian Demarais), a dissipated, bankrupt extravagant. Both Charles and his brother Joseph (Christian Conn) are stuck on heiress Maria (Nadine Malouf), ward of Sir Peter Teazle (Mark Linn-Baker) who partially raised the boys in their traveling uncle’s absence.
Mark Linn-Baker and Henry Stram
Sir Peter is just married to a country girl who could be his daughter. The new Lady Teazle (Helen Cespedes) was chosen for a fresh, uncomplicated nature that has turned to fashionable acquisition and matrimonial defiance. “If you wanted authority over me, you should’ve adopted me, not married me.” Unfortunately for him, her cowed husband loves the lady. Sir Peter favors Joseph over Charles and does everything he can to help the young man’s amorous suit (which Sheridan curiously doesn’t show) while Master Ranji (Ramsey Faragallah) “a family confidante from the Punjab,” (think Jeeves), does everything he can to help Master Charles.
Ramsey Faragallah, Mark Linn-Baker
Silk stocking malice is fueled by Mrs. Candour (Dana Ivey) whose life appears to revolve around being in the know, society poet, Sir Benjamin Backbite (Ryan Garbayo) also pursuing Maria, and his shifty, affected uncle, Mr. Crabtree (Derek Smith). Smith also plays moneylender Mr. Midas whose slick fedora, long coat and shades are the man’s only character distinction-a missed opportunity.
When Sir Oliver Surface (Henry Stram) unexpectedly returns from the Near East these 16 years later, he decides to test his nephews’ integrity by way of several masquerades. Then things get complicated!
Christian Demarais, Henry Stram,
Of particular note:
Dana Ivey’s motormouth Mrs. Candour, tricked out in low, hanging breasts and matronly padding, emerges an obtuse, busybody grande dame. Ivey, as always, is an artful pleasure. As Mr. Crabtree, Derek Smith looks like Antonio Bandaras in a Charles Adams cartoon or a villain out of the Batman franchise. The actor oils his way around the stage with balletic movement and delightfully treacherous aura. His glee in dispensing hearsay is palpable.
Jacob Dresch (Mr. Snake), who would make a perfect Puck (Midsummer’s Night’s Dream), is intoxicating. The actor flickers with expression worthy of the silent screen yet never crosses that line. Listening (overhearing) is tart, phrasing crackles with ulterior motive. The character’s late request to keep secret one moment of mortifying honesty is terrific.
Christian Demarais, Henry Stram, Christian Conn
Christian Demarais (Charles Surface) exemplifies the kind of attractive, unrepentant rake popularized in romance novels. Gestures and expressions are exaggeratedly broad indicating an uninhibited, young squire feeling his oats.
Mark Linn-Baker’s conservative, fussy, egocentric, rabbit-like Sir Peter is at every moment a delight. When he addresses the audience, we feel bemused but empathetic. The thespian holds attention with frisky, seemingly effortless energy.
The nimble Stram seems patrician to his bones. We see his upbringing even as Sir Oliver insecurely role-plays. With accomplished focus, the actor makes his character’s second deception seem more fluent than the first. When apoplectic, he’s restrained, when pleased, a hug bursts forth as if unaccustomed. Reasoning feels grounded, resolution fitting. A rewarding turn.
Ben Mehl, who plays the small parts of various servants, executes deadpan hesitance and piquant reaction.
Henry Stram,Nadine Malouf, Christian Conn, Christian Demarais, Ramsey Faragallah
How Director Marc Vietor manages constant, screwball flourishes without descending to kitsch is a marvel. Every character takes her/himself so seriously, froth organically rises to the top. Timing is impeccable. A scene at Joseph’s house is physical vaudeville. One at Charles’s home is visually clever and theatrically rowdy-a nice change. Vietor is not just imaginative, but original.
Original Music and Sound Design by Greg Pliska is, though ‘modern,’ amusing and on target. Andrea Lauer’s Costume Design and Charles G. LaPointe’s colorful Wig and Hair Design are inspired. Authentic period depiction paired with contemporary detail contributes immeasurably to winking mood and character. Anna Louizos’ stylized Set Design is painterly, eschewing competition with the costumes. Paneled, wallpapered walls effectively hide doors, windows and even a library offering charming surprises.
Photos by Carol Rosegg. Opening: Dana Ivey, Frances Barber, Helen Cespedes
Red Bull Theater presents The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan Directed by Marc Vietor Lucille Lortel Theatre 121 Christopher Street Through May 8, 2016
Circo de la Luna is a collaboration between aerialist Amanda Topaz, flamenco dancer, Sonia Olla and flamenco singer, Ismael Fernandez; theatrical circus in tandem with indigenous, Spanish performing arts. I use the term ‘in tandem’ because the two take turns rather than mesh.
An ostensible story of “moonstruck city dweller,” mime/clown Mark Gindick, “whisked away on a magical journey to Spain, Cuba and Beyond,” the piece neither integrates its hero nor even, but for terrific geographic slides, makes us feel as if we’re on an unwitting expedition. (If you don’t read the program you may not ‘get’ the premise.) This is a missed opportunity. Gindick, an appealingly sweet, sad sack, is clearly capable of other participation. A later scenario in which he constructs and mans a lonely kissing both is completely charming.
Individual acts are skilled and entertaining.
Amanda Topaz does graceful aerial work on a hanging moon and red, double-silks (suspended from the ceiling). The popular circus turn (no pun intended) can be seen everywhere these days from Queen of the Night to Company’s XIV’s Snow White to the Big Apple Circus. Topaz dangles, revolves, flips, and holds aesthetic, sculptural positions. She winds various parts of herself in the silks ‘climbing’ high, extending her limbs, executing a split between the two silks, and somersaulting down.
Of the same ilk and also talented, aerial “astronauts” and contortionists Anna Venezelos and Olga Karmansky come down to earth with intertwined shape-shifting implying they’re both double jointed. The extremely strong and lithe women fold on, over, under, beside and across one another with nimble elegance. (Sarah Sophie Fliker is also an able aerialist.)
Angelo Iodici AKA AJ Silver, straddles the two worlds presenting an exhibition of Boleadoras – weights on the ends of interconnected cords, designed to capture animals by entangling their appendages-which are used by Argentinean ‘cowboys’ to hunt.
Dressed in appropriate Gaucho costume, emanating palpable masculine heat, Iodici employs these to create rhythms. Ropes are whirled around vertically, balls at the ends hitting a resonant platform. The addition of dancer Sonia Olla’s rhythmic footwork manifests intricate, metered cadence with which uber-drummer Gene Krupa would’ve been fascinated. The performer also briefly demonstrates his prowess with a whip to a sporting audience volunteer.
Mark Gindick, Sonia Olla
The highlight of the show is unquestionably Olla’s fabulous dancing and Ismael Fernandez’s powerful vocals (if only some of these songs were translated!) Both artists are riveting and sensual. Olla’s foot, arm, hand, and skirt work is a marvel of precision and finesse. Her eyes flash with innate, feline dare. Fernandez’s often a capella singing is immensely evocative. He challenges, seduces. (See opening photo.)
Direction by Mark Lonergan keeps the show flowing and in sync with projected visuals. Grace predominates. The company is beautifully focused.
One caveat: At two hours, the show feels forty to fifty minutes too long.
Photos by Michael Blasé Opening: Ismael Fernandez, Sonia Olla
Rockitaerials presents Circo de la Luna Concept: Amanda Topaz Director: Mark Longergan Choreography: Sonia Olla, Pedro Ruiz, Valeria Solomonoff Excellent Musicians: Angel Ruiz, David Stillman Architectural Photography: Thierry Dehove, Mark Goodwin The Baruch Performing Arts Center 55 Lexington Avenue
Queens born Ethel Merman (1908-1984) sang publicly from the age of nine. Completing school, determined to forge a show business career, she performed nights after full time work as a stenographer. Merman was discovered in a club, offered a contract by Paramount, and made a series of short, cookie-cutter-plotted films.
Her breakout theatrical role in “Girl Crazy” put the incipient icon at the forefront of musical theater transition from operetta to jazz-based scores. The orchestra pit of George and Ira Gershwin’s show held Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Gene Krupa. One review said “She can hold a note longer than The Chase Manhattan Bank.” Merman starred in 14 Broadway successes.
We learn all this during Ted Sperling’s introduction to an evening of Merman numbers almost none of which represent the spirit of the artist. When the host informs us the company will not try to impersonate the celebrant, but rather share the joy of her singing, we assume that means not imitating her vocal style.
Instead, slowed and weighted musical arrangements with dissonant instrumental solos by otherwise good musicians and two a capella choral numbers that can’t be further from the singer’s essence, make the presentation seem longer than its almost 2 ½ hours. A sing-along with lyrics projected is assigned to a complex a song and quickly loses the audience. Direction dictates that naturally animated numbers are performed almost stock still. (Several artists’ tendencies to put their hands in pockets doesn’t help.) Hard working vocalists seem tethered.
Having said that, Sperling does deliver a sense of Merman’s trajectory, her becoming a sassy broad who could hold her own with the guys, professional idiosyncrasies, and personal challenges. We’re privy to a couple of priceless film clips, some nifty anecdotes, and there are entertaining musical exceptions.
Ted Sperling, Lindsay Mendez
Lindsay Mendez, perhaps the closest reflection of La Merman not only in lung power, but in energy, pluck, and unaffected presentation, offers such as “You’re a Builder-Upper” (Ira Gershwin/EY Yip Harburg/Harold Arlen from Life Begins at 8:40)- crisply articulated and sparkling with exemplary player-piano like accompaniment and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne from Gypsy, a musical that was turned down by Irving Berlin) wherein some octave changes are very Merman-like, but performance is ultimately her own.
Natasha Yvette Williams gives us “Eadie Was a Lady” with spot-on instincts when to sing or speak a lyric, big eyes, rolling hips, and a bit of an appealing growl. (BG De Sylva/Nacio Herb Brown/Richard A Whiting from Take A Chance!) Cole Porter’s “Blow, Gabriel Blow” (from Anything Goes), on the other hand, is curiously bereft of exuberance until 2/3 of the way in. Undoubtedly not her fault. Williams preaches with zest and aptitude looking in audience faces.
Natasha Yvette Williams
Julia Murney’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “Down in The Depths On the Ninetieth Floor” is too big and depicts misplaced sexuality. (from Red, Hot, and Blue for which contested billing was decided by printing Merman and Jimmy Durante’s names graphically crossed.) Though the vocalist has a good instrument with fine control, she overacts. “Small World,” however, accompanied only by Kevin Kuhn’s guitar, is lilting and sincere. (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne from Gypsy)
The excellent Charke Thorell sings a jazz-age tinted “Anything Goes” (Cole Porter from the musical of the same name) with some easy scat and a breezy, cutely directed “You’re the Top” (Cole Porter from Anything Goes) with Emily Skinner. His interpretation of “Do I Love You?” following Sperling’s description of tragedies in Merman’s life, is handicapped by clear instruction to appear inconsolable. Vocal is pristine. (Cole Porter from DuBarry Was a Lady)
Clarke Thorell, Emily Skinner
Emily Skinner’s “Some People” is pithy and clarion without over-reaching. (Stephen Sondheim/ Jule Styne from Gypsy) Her version of “A Lady Needs a Change” (Dorothy Fields/Arthur Schwartz from Stars in Your Eyes) is aply wry. The rarely performed “World Take Me Back” has just the right tone. (Jerry Herman, written for Merman in Hello Dolly, cut from the original Carol Channing version when Merman at first turned the show down.) Skinner makes lyrics authentic.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening “You Say the Nicest Things” is jauntily performed by Williams and Thoreau AS Merman and Jimmy Durante for whom the song was written. Both vocal and movement are charming. Thorell excels. (Dick Manning/Carroll Carroll- special material)
An experiment in which two “double duets” – “You’re Just in Love” (Irving Berlin from Call Me Madam) and “An Old Fashioned Wedding” (Berlin from Annie Get Your Gun) are sung first, separately, and then simultaneously, surprisingly works as novel discovery. Both songs are sung in counterpoint, yet have such similar construction, lyrics sync. Skinner and Williams perform the first, Mendez and Thorell, the second-this delightfully expressive.
92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents Everything’s Coming Up Ethel-The Ethel Merman Songbook Ted Sperling- Artistic Director/Stage Director/Writer/Host Jeffrey Klitz-Music Director/Piano Lainie Sakakura-Associate Director/Choreographer Theresa L. Kaufman Concert Hall 92 Y at 92nd and Lexington Avenue NEXT UP:I Have Confidence-Rodgers After Hammerstein– May 21-23
Already broadly celebrated in Paris and London, Florian Zeller’s 2012 “tragic Farce” (the playwright’s term) places us squarely in a mind suffering from advanced dementia. That’s an oxymoron. One cannot be squarely inside anything whose parameters are frighteningly mercurial. Intimates are unfamiliar, geography morphs beneath one’s feet, time shifts back and forth, oblivious and cruel. Yet we are there, wherever there is, almost as surely as Zeller’s protagonist, André, The Father (Frank Langella).
An elegant, upper middle class Frenchman who was probably never likeable, André fights the onset of this disease with a long unassailable ego and every ounce of his considerable strength and intelligence. It’s as if Prospero (The Tempest) took on the typhoon called forth by his errant brain. We watch as self-sacrificing daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe) futilely tries to get him at-home help who can withstand his anger, confusion, and indignant denial.
The play is a succession of scenes divided by blackouts with painful, flashing, proscenium lights – brain synapses? At first, we’re in André’s tasteful, bourgeois apartment shortly after his latest caregiver has fled in tears. He tells Anne that, among other failings, the woman stole his watch – André’s compass and an ongoing concern throughout. When it’s found in a cupboard behind the microwave where he stashes valuables, her obstinate father declares the only reason it wasn’t purloined is that he hid it. Why is Anne so unsympathetic, he demands, why is she not like the younger daughter he prefers?!
Brian Avers, Frank Langella
Every time the lights go off and on, time and place alter unsequentially. In the first vignette, Anne, who is divorced from Antoine (Charles Borland), says she’s moving to London to be with her lover, Pierre (Brian Avers) and must find a solution to her father’s inability to care for himself. In the next, André is living with Anne and a resentful Pierre to whom she seems to be married; then Antoine appears as her spouse. Both men seem to be current, both are not at first recognized. One of them repeatedly slaps the 80 year-old which is viscerally shocking. André regresses to a whimpering child.
One moment Anne appears to be a completely different woman, a blonde (Kathleen McNenny). In the next, she is ‘herself.’ A newly hired aide, Laura (Hannah Cabell), looks just like André’s absent daughter, who, spoiler alert, turns out to be long dead. The actor who plays Antoine shows up as a doctor; the blonde as his nurse.
Kathryn Erbe, Frank Langella
André is convinced Anne wants his apartment and will put him in a home. In his shaken mind, faces become interchangeable. Unmoored, he remembers only the last scene from which he tries to regain his bearings. We ricochet in time like a character out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. The only consecutive aspect of the piece is increased incapacity, every incremental change palpably experienced. Charm turns to cruelty, paranoia, panic.
Frank Langella, Hannah Cabell
Keep your eyes on Scott Pask’s excellent Set. Each time the lights come up, things have changed. Artwork, photographs, books, and furniture disappear and return. To say this compounds the disorienting narrative is to minimize its effect. Between Mr. Langella’s inhabitation of this larger than life personality, Donald Holder’s disturbing Lighting Design, Fitz Patton’s evocative Music and Sound, and the map-less script, you may want to pack Dramamine.
Florian Zeller and translator Christopher Hampton have crafted an immensely affecting, immersive play in which we find ourselves sharing, rather than observing the protagonist’s experience.
Frank Langella is simply brilliant. Whatever affectation you may have attributed to the actor during the mid portion of his long career, has, these last years, been jettisoned for newfound authenticity. The portrayal is wrenching; mercurial adjustments in an effort to appear more grounded completely credible. Rather than indulging in an appeal for sympathy, Langella plays André with callous rancor, a man whose formidable pride and then actual self is violently stripped away by an unseen hand.
As Anne, Kathryn Erbe is believably strong, exhausted, frustrated and devoted.
Director Doug Hughes has done a masterful job. The result- powerful, nuanced, clarity of acting in an environment of utter obscurity.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Frank Langella, Kathryn Erbe
Manhattan Theatre Club presents The Father by Florian Zeller Translated by Christopher Hampton Directed by Doug Hughes Samuel J. Friedman Theater 261 West 47th Street
Vincent Van Gogh (van GOKH, not as actor James Briggs pronounces, Van GO) 1853-1890. is considered one of our most important Impressionist painters. His emotional approach to subject matter, color, movement, and thickly applied texture had far reaching influence on modern art. During a lifetime of struggle, however, despite best efforts by his devoted brother, Theo, a gallery owner, he sold only one painting, Red Vineyard for 400 francs. Apparently Vincent had many excuses which denied his brother permission to exhibit work. He appeared to want things to be privately sold, not having to face an opinionated public.
Theo Van Gogh was the sole, consistent, psychological and financial support in his brother’s short life. This script is based on 500 letters that passed between them. Its premise is that Theo, having been overwhelmed at his brother’s funeral, had been unable to speak and needs to tell (us) his story; to defend Vincent’s importance to history, and to testify that his brother was not, in fact, as many believed, mad.
Because of extreme behavior in his life, including cutting off an ear and committing suicide, there are endless theories about Vincent Van Gogh’s mental balance. Some conjecture he had vision problems which evoked expressionistic images. We do know he was diagnosed with epilepsy later in life and dealt with horrific seizures. Other theories include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, syphilis, and poisoning from swallowed paints. Theo suggests the artist had hallucinations.
Narrative addresses Vincent’s failed, largely self-sacrificial attempt to become a preacher like his father and grandfather, his ill-fated attempts at romantic relationships, and the revelation of his true calling. Theo claims Paul Gauguin, whom Vincent looked up to with feelings bordering on worship, was a damaging influence.
There are letters from the coal-mining district of Borinage, Belgium where he did missionary work, Paris, Arles, the clinic in Saint-Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent moved to be near sympathetic psychiatrist, Dr. Gachet, who had experience treating painters. Earlier, less fraught time in The Hague and London are omitted. Excerpts are read aloud. We also ostensibly hear Vincent’s voice, which is, unfortunately for the production, the same as Theo’s.
Hit or miss projections accompany monologue. We linger long on that which is shown. While too many slides would be distracting, there are better examples of many depicted periods in the artist’s life. Nor should original work be flopped- ever. For those who are unfamiliar, however, this illuminates.
The linchpin to the production is, of course, its performance. Alas, James Briggs is at no point believable. His Theo embodies neither the dignity nor conservatism reflected in correspondence. We don’t believe the letters move him, see little sign of frustration but a rise in volume, and have no sense of real- time recollection. Briggs is all surface.
Director, Dr. Brant Pope paced the piece and efficiently moves his actor around the stage. What should be stirring is merely informative and because we’re rarely engaged, feels long.
James Brigg’s Scenic Design is minimal, but effective. Barbara Pope’s Costume choice is spot on.
Performance Photos by Russ Roland Opening: James Briggs
Theo Van Gogh, Vincent Van Gogh James Briggs Starry Night James Biggs
Starry Night Theater Company presents Vincent by Leonard Nimoy Based on the play Van Gogh by Phillip Stephens Featuring James Briggs Directed by Dr. Brant Pope Theatre at St. Clement’s 423 W 46th Street Through June 5, 2016
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were introduced as Columbia University students in 1919. Their first published collaboration, “Any Old Place with You,” contained such immortal lines as I’m gonna corner ya in California. Broadway’s The Garrick Gaieties a mere six years later, yielded the hit song “Manhattan,” which propelled these young men to a joint career that produced 500 songs and 28 stage musicals before Hart’s untimely death in 1943.
Raconteur/ Vocalist Harvey Granat takes particular pleasure in this show of iconic, often romantic material that must be a pleasure to sing. His special guest is Hart’s nephew, Larry Hart, whose father Teddy was a musical theater actor and whose mother Dorothy wrote Thou Swell, Thou Witty–The Life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart. Mr. Hart flew from Washington, D.C. for today’s event “to support The American Songbook.” Symbiotic pianist David Lahm, Granat’s Sancho Panza, again accompanies on piano.
Encouraging his audience to sing along, our host opens with a sentimental “Manhattan.” The savvy crowd joins in on this and other songs without a lyric sheet in sight. Two from A Connecticut Yankee, for which Hart secured a free (?!) six month option from the Twain estate, follow: the jaunty “Thou Swell” and a long-lined, plaintive “My Heart Stood Still,” during which I observe music course through Granat as his shoulders rise with octaves.
The latter song Hart concurs, was inspired by a wild Paris taxi ride, after which one of the shaken passengers commented, “I think my heart stood still.” Rodgers and Hart looked at one another in recognition. Shortly thereafter, the composer brought a composition to his partner saying, “I’ve got the music.” “To what?” Hart replied, having completely forgotten. (Music came first with these two.)
Spring is Here was both an unsuccessful show that nonetheless generated Rodgers favorite song “With a Song in My Heart,” and the title of a later number written for a different musical. Granat’s tender reverie and Lahm’s delicate piano do it justice. Also badly reviewed, Higher and Higher, with young Vera Ellen and June Allyson in the chorus, was the source of “It Never Entered My Mind,” a wistful lament in our host’s capable hands. If you ever meet Harvey Granat, ask him to tell you the story of the show’s trained seal.
We hear a waltzy “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and the exquisite “My Romance.” “I love this one,” an audience member inadvertently comments aloud. “Then, I’ll do it for you,” the vocalist warmly responds. It drifts down like feathers. Both of these feature in Billy Rose’s Jumbo which filled 5,000 Hippodrome seats in 1935.
From Babes in Arms, Granat sings “I Wish I Was in Love Again” and “My Funny Valentine.” Midday at the 92nd Street Y and women are quietly swooning. Are you aware that the lead character’s name was Valentine?! Also from that musical, “Where or When,” was the first song written about déjà vu. Rodgers’ autobiography notes that psychiatrists wrote to say they used the number in therapy.
General reaction to the idea of Pal Joey, whose eloquent book was by John O’Hara, was that no one would come to see a show about a heel. “How can you draw sweet water from a foul well?” (New York Times critic, Brooks Atkinson) The show’s star, Gene Kelly, inadvertently paved the way for heels like those created by Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II as well as those in Guys and Dolls.
When Atkinson reviewed the revival, he gave it a rave, not the least because of Elaine Stritch’s ersatz striptease “Zip.” The room sings “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” with Granat feeding us the lyrics. “Come on now, big ending!” We comply.
“Your uncle was the most confessional of theater lyricists. He could wax beautifully poetic about love, yet it escaped him,” Granat remarks turning to Larry Hart. Lorenz Hart, his genial nephew tells us, was deeply insecure about his height and convinced he was ugly. The more depressed he became, the more he drank.
When several women turned down his proposals of marriage, Hart assumed it was because of his appearance, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. He was loved, we’re told, but none of the women could deal with his alcoholism. When the lyricist died at age 48, we lost decades of great songs to come.
This afternoon ends with a medley including such as “Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You,” There’s a Small Hotel,” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” Granat’s respect for and awareness of lyrics, his easy style, and that mellow voice captivate. We’ll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy…
Harvey Granat: The Music of Rodgers & Hart Harvey Granat, Vocals and Stories David Lahm-Piano Special Guest- Larry Hart (nephew of Lorenz Hart) The 92Street Y 92nd Street at Lexington Avenue April 7, 2016 NEXT: Thursday May 5: The Music of Harold Arlen with Special Guest Rex Reed
For its 90th revival, Musicals Tonight! chose 1953’s WonderfulTown, originally starring Edie Adams and Rosalind Russell. The Tony Award winning show was based on its librettists (Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov) 1940 play, My Sister Eileen, which, in turn, derived from Ruth McKenney’s New Yorker stories and book.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen
This lively production features the talents of Director Evan Pappas, whose keen eye for character turns and aesthetic arrangements even when his cast just poses, serve to entertain and enhance, and Choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo, whose work is buoyant. It also features an unusual cavalcade of good actors having fun with smaller roles.
Pretty, innocent, man-magnet Eileen (Savannah Frazier) and her smart, cynical, older sister Ruth (Elizabeth Broadhurst) have come to New York City from small town Ohio in search of fame and fortune, or at least lives where everyone doesn’t know everyone else’s business. Eileen dreams of becoming an actress, Ruth of earning her way as writer.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Javid J. Weins as Wreck, Jillian Gottlieb as Helen
The girls make a beeline for Greenwich Village where everyone knows artists live cheaply. Exhausted, they’re ambushed by a landlord named Appopolous (Perry Lambert, with deft accent and comic timing) who knows rubes when he sees them. He talks them into a tiny basement apartment with a window on the street. Within minutes, an explosion rocks the room- subway construction is going on beneath, but only, they’re assured, from 6am to midnight. (Sound effects are terrific.) Why, oh why, oh why, oh –why did I ever leave Ohio?…they sing.
When a stranger strolls in assuming the apartment is still inhabited by a prostitute, their neighbor, “Wreck” aka Ed Loomis (David J. Wiens) comes to the rescue. An ex-college football hero, the young man is sweet and simple. His girl, Helen (Jillian Gottlieb) timidly hides their relationship from her judgmental mother, Mrs. Wade (Leslie Alexander), at one point going so far as to board Wreck in the girls’ kitchen overnight.
Wonderful casting pairs the substantial Weins and tiny Gottlieb to best advantage. Moving her aside by absently lifting and repositioning her is directorial candy. Weins handles “Pass the Football” with dumb, wistful skill. Gottlieb manifests a perfect mouse-voice and kind of apt, fluttery presence.
James Donegan as Bob; Paul Binotto as Speedy and Perry Lambert as Appopolous
While Eileen strikes out at multiple auditions, she attracts both wholesome Walgreen’s manager, Frank (Ian Lowe) who gives her free lunches and heat-seeking, sleazeball newspaper reporter Chick (Leland Burnett), who promises to tell his editor about Ruth. Both are inadvertently invited to dinner the same night. Lowe is credibly low key and likeable in a role that might otherwise disappear. Burnett is oily from dialogue to body language, adding interest to his character.
Meanwhile, Ruth is summarily rejected until she encounters Bob (James Donegan), an editor on The Mad Hatter magazine (aka The New Yorker) who, recognizing his younger self, reads her dreadful stories. (Enactment of these is alas, a weaker segment.) Bob comes looking for the discouraged Ruth and is also invited to potluck by Eileen. In the well paced “Conversation Piece,” table chat is stilted, ulterior motives clash.
James Donegan is not only an attractive actor with a warm, appealing voice, but sympathetic in a role which is sometimes a placeholder. His reading of Ruth’s stories aloud has just the right restrained, but incredulous tone. I’d be interested in seeing this thespian in a straight play.
James Donegan as Bob, Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Leland Burnett as Chick, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Ian Lowe as Frank
Ruth inadvertently gets herself involved with a bunch of South American sailors who love the “Conga.” (Choreography is fun, though opportunity was missed in not snaking down the otherwise well employed theater aisle.) When Eileen tries to help, she gets arrested and ends up captivating the police department who serenade her with “My Darlin’ Eileen.” Joshua Downs portrays the station captain with genial charm, Irish lilt, and a pleasing vocal.
Eileen also lands on the front page of a newspaper which secures her employment as an entertainer by Club Vortex owner, Speedy Valente (Paul Binotto, an amusing, come-to-life cartoon.) “Ballet at The Village Vortex” offers infectious choreography. Needless to say, everyone is paired up and employed by the end.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth
It’s the journey that counts. Take it. The musical itself is a romp and there are so many unexpectedly nifty moments, I found myself smiling almost throughout the whole piece.
I imagine Eileen a bit more naïve than depicted, but Savannah Frazier has a simply lovely voice and settling in, enchants more than just the men on stage. Asking the police to fetch and carry for her, Frazier morphs into the girl who blithely takes this for granted.
Elizabeth Broadhurst (Ruth) does a yeoman-like job, but never quite gets Ruth’s caustic fatalism. Helpless moments with the sailors are effective as are earnest speeches about her writing and concern for her sister.
Also featuring: Brekken Baker, Abby Hart, Allyson Tolbert, Piera Calabro
Photos by Michael Portantiere
Opening: Eric Shorey (also an engaging tour guide at the show’s top), Neville Braithwaite, Ryan Rhue, Dallas Padoven, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Isaac Matthews
Musicals Tonight! presents
Libretto- Joseph Fields/Jerome Chodorov
Lyrics- Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Directed by Evan Pappas
Choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo
Music Director/Vocal Arranger-James Stenborg
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42 Street
Through April 17, 2016 Come back in October for next season’s first production Funny Face by George and Ira Gershwin
Nightfall. An enormous socket pivots around to real Pierrot who is in charge of the heavens – a curtain of stars. Cranking a wooden ship’s wheel, he makes the moon rise. A giant plug and thick, red cord is dragged across the stage with difficulty and inserted, lighting the firmament. This is executed in slow, silent film like motion. Blackout.
One dislodged star (lighted globe) falls to the ground. Goodhearted Pretzel finds it. Our hero is an anthropomorphized worm, albeit one with a head, cheery Charlie McCarthyish face, shoulders, and arms. He wears a sweater, cap, and basket backpack, slithering on the knee area in undulating, two or three section movements.
Pretzel reaches out in wonder. Ouch! It’s hot! He blows on the star until he can touch it. Did you fall? he gestures. There are no words in this piece, only sounds assimilating them and intermittent music. (In complete silence, the kids’ attention tends to wander.)
When tossing the star up and climbing a ladder to place it between its neighbors prove fruitless, Pretzel embarks on an odyssey. Along the way, he helps old lady, Daisy Bygone, with her groceries, encounters kewpie-like, motormouth baby, Maggie Mischief, and a benign giant (this puppet looks eight to ten feet long), who raises his shirt to reveal a dancing spider. The baby usurps this stage-in-the-stomach with a caterwauling performance. When Maggie giggles, the audience giggles, when she has a tantrum, audience kids parrot her nonsense words.
Maggie, the Giant, the Spider
Learning Pretzel’s predicament, the spider weaves a web strand to the sky. Our hero finds himself on a tightrope with a uni-cyclist, almost falls, gets rescued by Cedric the Centaur and is suddenly underwater. He comes upon sleeping creatures and occupies an empty bed. We observe a seahorse family picnic, accordion fish play catch with the escaped star, an enormous mermaid sympathize, and a character with a doll’s head and tentacles (the Bubble Charmer) toss it back and forth between “arms.”
Eventually Pretzel hooks the star on a fishing line, then we’re suddenly in the old lady’s apartment. Getting it back where it belongs is now her challenge. She succeeds.
Pretzel finds Beds
The puppets are beautifully imagined and skillfully handled. Nuanced gestures help us believe we see facial expression. Staging area is an enclosed 15 feet by 25 feet. Puppet scale varies hugely: Pretzel, is about 14 inches, the baby perhaps eight inches, the giant and mermaid around ten feet. Intermittent music is atmospheric.
Even dreamscapes need some loose cohesion, however. We never see how Pretzel gets underwater; he’s just there. The seahorse segment has nothing to do with the lost star. Daisy’s reappearance makes no sense without a bridge to the star-bearer. Necessary connections are absent. I would put some of my objection down to being a grownup, but I hear too many kids question things as we exit. Though lovely to look at, there’s much confusion, not with the piece’s reality, but in its sequential narrative.
Pretzel and Cedric
The always illuminating New Victory program includes conversation with the puppeteers, but no listing of character names identifying who and what (not always clear) we’re watching. I got these from press materials. The Star Keeper has played worldwide since 1997.
Photos by Leon Gniwesch Opening: Mrs. Bygone and Pretzel
Théâtre de l’Œil’s The Star Keeper Jean Cummings, Stephane Heine, Myriame LaRose, Graham Soul The New Victory Theater 209 West 42nd Street Theater Calendar