A good show is a good show. Colored Lights, directed by Eric Michael Gillett, was originally performed at The Algonquin’s Oak Room in 2007. It’s cohesive, well written, and personal to performer KT Sullivan who dives into multiple genres like a happy salmon knowing where she’s going. Intermittent parlando is effective, anecdotes charming.
Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones’ “Try To Remember” provides soft intro into recollections of the artist’s years as an actor. “In the theater, a season can be a lifetime and a lifetime can be a season,” she quotes acerbic critic Addison DeWitt from All About Eve. A 1986 Cleveland production of The Boys From Syracuse during which Larry (Lorenz) Hart straggled in to supply late lyrics on a bar napkin, gave Sullivan the opportunity to sing “Falling in Love With Love” (written with Richard Rodgers) for director George Abbott. Here she performs it perhaps more wisely, looking back, as if bemused. We sway.
“I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock” (Jule Styne/Leo Robin- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes- in which she played Lorelei ) showcases the vocalist’s familiar, wide-eyed innocent persona flirting masterfully with audience. The next number alternates caustic reviews out of Diana Rigg’s collection ‘No Turn Unstoned’ with verses from the eclectic “Well, of All the Rotten Shows” (Irving Berlin –Face the Music). A perfect sequence. Jon Weber contributes vaudeville piano.
Three sincere, deftly understated ballads culminate in “And I Was Beautiful” (Jerry Herman- Dear World.) Sullivan is so credible she almost blushes. Wistfully telling us she would’ve liked to have been cast in the Angela Lansbury role, she quips, “I don’t play girls anymore. I find it- cleansing.”
“Autumn in New York” (Vernon Duke – Thumbs Up) arrives a wolf in sheeps’ clothing. Sullivan starts by melodically relishing each conjured image. Suddenly the number erupts full-fledged, complex jazz as Weber’s finger-flying instrumental. I find this and the vocalist’s attempt to resume above it, jarring.
Musically difficult theatrical turns include “Barbara Song” (Kurt Weil/Bertold Brecht- The Three Penny Opera) which appears to be a wink-wink parody and the more successful, quite moving “Dividing Day” (Adam Guettel- The Light in the Piazza.) While I don’t believe the emulated character in Stephen Sondheim’s “Who’s That Woman?”(Follies), a sharp, poignant “One Halloween” and soaring, take-me-or-leave-me “But Alive” are splendidly presented (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams-Applause).
Dick Gallagher’s adroit arrangement of “Another Op’nin, Another Show” (Cole Porter-Kiss Me Kate) and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (Irving Berlin-Annie Get Your Gun) is prefaced by Sullivan’s signature Mae West turn. Phrases are vividly savored in this slower mounting. When the second tune erupts like a brakeless train, it’s come from somewhere.
With reference to husband Steve Downey and a brood of grandchildren, Sullivan declares her life rich, “and yet…” leads us into four bars of “Much More” (Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones- The Fantastiks), which in turn, opens sluice gates to “Colored Lights” (John Kander/Fred Ebb-The Rink). The beautiful title song is given its due with evocative phrasing and lush accompaniment. Weber almost folds onto the piano keys.
New to this iteration of Colored Lights is a mash-up of 29 songs from 1929. A cavalcade of clever connections pepper the stop/start medley with not a stitch dropped. Impressive. Sullivan and Weber have reached a point where they finish each other’s sentences.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
KT Sullivan: Colored Lights
Directed by Eric Michael Gillett
Musical Direction/Piano- Jon Weber
The Laurie Beechman Theater
407 West 42nd Street
Additional Shows: August 16, September 13, October 15, 2017
Anton Chekhov’s The Present, written when he was 18, didn’t see the light until twenty years after his death. Uncut, this first dramatic effort might’ve run five hours. The youthfully excessive play has also been respectively adapted by Michael Frayn and David Hare. Andrew Upton’s version sets the scenario not in the late 1800s but rather the 1990s when political reactions seem out of whack. Costume, idiom, and hard rock music (the Clash) orient us. The piece still needs editing, but its core is whizz-bang theater and acting is a treat.
On Anna’s (Cate Blanchett) 40th birthday, the attractive widow gathers friends and family at a country dacha (house) to which she hasn’t been in the decade since her much older husband, the General, died. While the deceased is called “an awful fucking tyrant,” Anna was very much in love.
Chris Ryan, Richard Roxburgh, Susan Prior, Marshall Napier, Martin Jacobs-on bench, Cate Blanchett, taking photo Toby Schmitz
Today, she’s palpably unsettled – inattentive to a chess game, flitting from chair to chair, smoking (why saddle many in the cast with this?), setting up expectation long before anything happens. Though the air smells of storm, one doesn’t expect the literally explosive, eye-popping Act II that makes Margo Channing’s outburst from All About Eve seem like mere tantrum.
Gathered are: naïve 38 year-old stepson Sergei (Chris Ryan) and his new wife, idealistic doctor Sophia (Jacqueline McKenzie), childhood friend Nikolai (Toby Schmitz) and his much younger manbait girlfriend Maria (Anna Bamford), their ex-tutor, self denigrating womanizer Mikhail (Richard Roxburgh), his long suffering, yet loving wife Sasha (Susan Prior), and Nikolai and Sasha’s amiably drunk father, Ivan (Marshall Napier), neighbor and friend of the General.
Two rich, businessmen suitors – Yegor (David Downer) with pompous son Dimitri (Brandon McClelland) and Alexi (Martin Jacobs) plus his punk DJ son Kirill (Eamon Farren) – are also present. Anna, we’re told much later, is playing the men off against one another in an attempt to rescue herself from abject poverty with a second marriage. (This is not apparent.) Oh, and a security man named Osip (Andrew Buchanan) who’s a convenient device.
Toby Schmitz, Richard Roxburgh, Chris Ryan
Most of our players are suffering from Chekhov’s signature, existential distress. All are poorly paired. “Everybody says they’re in love, but who can really lay claim to it. Marriage after I fell in love, is one long renovation.” (Mikhail) Many yearn to be with someone else at the table. Some have been. Others make that happen during a night of clandestine, inebriated bed hopping. Advice is asked of the wrong people. Marriages and relationships are both wrenched apart abandoned with a shrug. One and one-half new liaisons are formed. There’s a detonator, a gun, and fireworks.
Jacqueline McKenzie, Chris Ryan
Except for the surplus of Acts I and III, both of which could be successfully cut, Andrew Upton’s literate interpretation is intriguing and often crackling. Contemporary humor is ably injected. Characters are illuminated.
In her Broadway debut, Cate Blanchett is a joy to watch, though the dragging first act could make anyone appear aimless. Distracted or seething, she’s possessed by Anna’s at first repressed turmoil. The actress is never less than present. Without the need to telegraph, we see things flicker across her face and inform gestures. Blanchett’s rip roaring Valkyrie turn is one of the most memorable I’ve seen.
A well matched Richard Roxburgh inhabits Mikhail as restless husband, lusty predator and agonized swain. Magnetic appeal to women is easily credible. Combustive passion seems as organic as irresponsibility and self flagellation. The character is layered, yet cut from whole cloth. A virtuoso performance.
Cate Blanchett, Richard Boxburgh
The rest of the company is excellent. Standouts are Chris Ryan (Sergei) in a physically nerve-wracked portrayal, Eamon Farren’s sublimely cocky Kirill, and Marshall Napier’s rummy Ivan.
Most of Director John Crowley’s work is appealingly naturalistic. To move that many people around with believability and variation is a sizeable task. The show stopping party scene’s a bacchanalian marvel. Small moments, like Anna’s sitting with her feet in Sergei’s lap, pumping them to elicit a foot rub; her handling of guns; both Ivan and Mikhail’s realistic drunk scenes; Sasha’s forgiveness speech, … captivate.
There are also omissions. Anna doesn’t even acknowledge the gift of a gold bracelet from a suitor she’s trying to win, for example. And a blatantly fake fight between Mikhail and Osip which draws orange blood. (Thomas Schall, US Fight Director)
Alice Babidge’s Costumes are mostly right on, though Anna’s dress is patently unflattering. The designer’s Sets are a bit too minimal, 20th century for my taste. Stefan Gregory (Sound Design) and Nick Schlieper (Lighting Design) skillfully add unexpected dimension.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Richard Roxburgh, Chris Ryan, Jacqueline McKenzie, Anna Bamford, Toby Schmitz, Marshall Napier, Eamon Farren, Brandon McClelland, Martin Jacobs, Cate Blanchett
The Sydney Theatre Production of
After Anton Chekhov’s Platonov
By Andrew Upton
Directed by John Crowley
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street