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.
Based on the buzz, cheers and applause that greeted even familiar songs in the overture, Bette Midler, could’ve performed Dolly Levi with a bag over her head and received standing ovations. Well, not quite, but you get the idea. Increasingly preconceived theater opinions seem to have reached a pinnacle. When ticket costs are substantial and the New York Times review is good, audiences are damn well going to appreciate the hell out of a show.
Long story short: In her capacity as matchmaker to wealthy Yonkers citizen, “half a millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce), widow Dolly Levi eliminates milliner Irene Molloy (Kate Baldwin) as a candidate by implicating immorality. She then fixes Irene up with Horace’s ingenuous chief clerk, Cornelius Hackl (Gavin Creel). Second clerk Barnaby Tucker (Taylor Trensch) reaps the benefits, falling in with his very first girl, Irene’s assistant Minnie Fay (Beanie Feldstein). Almost incidentally, Dolly also facilitates the marriage of disapproved suitor Ambrose Kemper (Will Burton) to young Ermengarde Vandergelder (Melanie Moore).
Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce
Horace Vandergerlder is effectively freed to be ensnared by the matchmaker herself.
I myself am a fan of Midler who can, as a rule, act, sing, and commandeer a stage with one hand tied behind her back. In Director Jerry Zak’s production, however, acting has become the kind of self conscious mugging that might be sequenced as: Get ready,I’m going to be funny, I’m being funny, Wait-did you get it, I’ll do it again.
The fourth wall has been jettisoned in favor of overt self consciousness and extensive milking of comic “bits” which the leading lady sometimes literally repeats for several minutes. The familiar eloquent wink is now broad vaudeville. Not for a moment does one attribute any sympathetic emotion to a heroine more interested in playing to the crowd than her fellow characters.
Beanie Feldstein, Taylor Trensch, Kate Baldwin, Gavin Creel
Whether from exhaustion, throat strain, or a cold tonight, Midler utilizes limited range, rarely holds a note and often misses one. Her sound is scratchy, verve diminished. Dancing seems an effort. This is not to say the talent doesn’t intermittently deliver, but…
Like most with whom I spoke, I considered David Hyde Pierce an odd choice for the role of Horace Vandergelder who’s generally big, slow, and gruff. Much to one’s surprise, the actor pulls it off. Pierce brings his own wry, deadpan perfection to the role. Manipulation of an unaccustomed mustache is ridiculously effective.
David Hyde Pierce, Bette Midler
Kate Baldwin (Irene Molloy), also typically splendid, performs the beautiful “Ribbons Down My Back” without an ounce of femininity, tenderness or hope. Only later, do we see flickers of Irene.
Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl) sings well, dances swell, and manages characterization even in this wide brushstroke interpretation. He’s attractive, thoroughly believable and a pleasure to watch.
As Minnie Fay, Beanie Feldstein uses saucer eyes and physical comic timing like a silent film actress. Taylor Trensch makes a cute, credibly naïve, Barnaby Tucker.
As in the past, Jerry Zaks has a deft hand with sight gags. When Cornelius and Barnaby hide from their boss in Irene’s shop, farce becomes a Rube Goldberg vision. (Baldwin handles this adroitly.) The young men’s occasional synchronized reactions invariably elicit a smile. Horace’s conversation with the mannequin he mistakes for Miss Money, potential bride #2, is such sheer Hyde Pierce, it may have been written for this version. Dolly’s continuing to eat dinner during the scene in court would be much funnier if she weren’t still sitting at The Harmonia Gardens Restaurant table with those arraigned watching.
Why Zaks chooses to present several solos as in-one (in front of the curtain) is a mystery. Jerked from plot line perhaps because of necessary scenery changes, we watch songs stripped of context. Dolly’s “So Long Dearie” without Horace to address is ludicrous.
Continuity Notes: Dolly enters Irene’s shop in one hat and shortly appears down the street wearing the same dress, but a boater she had on in an earlier scene. Later, she briefly leaves the courtroom (while others sing), returning to confront Horace in another dress!
Santo Loquasto does a marvelous job with detailed Costumes in mouthwatering colors. Scene-setting drawings seem to be in opposition to the bright, brash mood of the musical, however. A train that occupies most of the stage, almost full scale horses and carts, and Vandergelder’s wonderfully chock-a-block Hay and Feed Store are appealing and inventive.
Photos by Julieta Cervantes Opening: Bette Midler
Hello, Dolly! Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder Book by Michael Stewart Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman Directed by Jerry Zaks Choreographed by Warren Carlyle Sam S. Shubert Theatre 225 West 44th Street
Someone has beaten you, dear world/Someone has blinded you, dear world/And those who love you defiantly insist/That you get off that critical list…
Another uncomfortably timely offering from Musicals in Mufti, 1969’s Dear World, is a so-called fantasy about a group of corporate heads, all called “Mr. President” who, having nothing better to do with excessive undirected funds, back a Prospector (Gordon Stanley- resonant vocals) in a plan to excavate Paris for oil they believe lies beneath the city. (The original piece was written in 1943. Capitalization required here? $50,000.) Greed, as Gordon Gekko (Wall Street) later declared, is good. Pollution is not an issue. People are expendable.
Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Peter Land, Gordon Stanley, J. Bernard Calloway, Stephen Mo Hanan
Said plot is cleverly thwarted by Countess Aurelia, The Madwoman of Chaillot (Tyne Daly), whose harmless delusions, sense of justice, and innate wisdom aid, rather than hamper, dealing with the threat. Aurelia conscripts friends and neighbors: Madame Constance (Alison Fraser imbues her character with feminine fragility), Madame Gabrielle (Ann Harada, a bit chirpy but fine with her invisible dog), the local café waitress Nina (Erika Hemmingsen, engaging innocence, lovely voice), Julian, at first The Presidents’ secretary, then part of the opposition (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, earnest, winning), The Sergeant (Dewey Caddell), The Waiter (Ben Cherry), and The Sewerman (Lenny Wolpe, always a pleasure to watch, here marvelous). “Did you get my lily,” the Countess asks. “It should have floated by around 11:30.”
Ann Harada, Tyne Daly, Alison Fraser
The Presidents – “Have a Little Pity on the Rich” – are Peter Land (wry and effective), J. Bernard Calloway, and Stephen Mo Hanan. Oh, and there’s a village Mute – Kristopher Thompson-Bolden whose mime is poorly executed.
Everything revolves around gently demented Countess Aurelia who sees her “Dear World” through rose-colored glasses. The lady’s absent-minded reasoning has charm and its own iconoclastic logic. Changing a man’s name is easier than changing men. A lost feather boa turns up on the hat stand near the hall mirror, unnoticed because “I never look in the mirror on account of the old woman in the glass.” Both musical and chronicle rests on her shoulders. A secondary storyline unites Nina and Julian, the pure of heart with the defector.
Tyne Daly, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Erika Hemmingsen
Tyne Daly is dotty, tender, stubborn, and, in context, believable. She’s chosen to deliver her lines in short, nervous, blinking phrases adding to personality. Moments of deep recollection are emphatically touching. Daly’s voice is open-throated and fine.
Of course, things work out fine, at least in so far as we can see. How many shows can you call to mind where murder is benign? Arsenic and Old Lace, perhaps. Any other? Still we’re unequivocally on the side of those angels. Were current problems as easily solved, who knows what boundaries might be crossed?
Kristopher Thompson-Bolden, Erika Henningsen, Ben Cherry, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Lenny Wolpe, Tyne Daly
Director Michael Montel might have a little more fun with his characters.
Christopher McGovern (Music Director/Piano) and Louis Tucci (Bass/Accordion ) provide splendid arrangements and musicianship.
Apparently costuming themselves from their own closets, the actors look sufficiently like their characters to carry the mood. Countess Constance and Countess Gabrielle’s headwear is perfection.
Not one of Jerry Herman’s best efforts, but still rather charming in its entirety.
Photos by Ben Strothmann
Opening: Tyne Daly
The York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti presents Dear World
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Jerome Lawrence And Robert E. Lee
Based on The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux
As adapted by Maurice Valency
New Version by David Thompson
Through March 5, 2017
The York Theatre in St. Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Avenue
Next on the main stage new musical Marry Harry staring April 25, 2017
Jerry Herman’s first (1961) Broadway effort has Israeli flavor (including Hebrew) without awkwardness or polemic. Herman and book writer Don Appell were sent abroad by producer Gerard Oestreicher to immerse themselves in the pioneer state about to celebrate its 13th Anniversary (a Bar Mitzvah). They created a sympathetic sketch steeped in traditional settlement values whose moral compass is in no way exclusively Jewish. Milk and Honey is full of (appreciatively cliché) humor. Its warm, primary relationships eschew rose colored glasses.
We first meet the busload of touring American widows on the streets of Jerusalem. Mrs. Kessler (Marcy DeGonge Manfredi), Mrs. Perlman (Joy Hermalyn), Mrs. Segal (Joanne Lessner), and Mrs. Weiss- Clara (Alix Korey) “tell me everything, don’t leave out a word” have come as much to find husbands as to broaden their horizons. Mrs. Stein-Ruth (Anne Runolfsson) joined the group to break a pattern of hen parties and memories.
Alix Korey, who plays Clara, a role originated by Molly Picon, is flat out terrific. Not only does the respected veteran remind us once again of vocal skill, but comic timing is impeccable, accent pitch perfect, and the actress segues to more serious moments with utter finesse. There are many reasons to enjoy this production, but Korey is a prime one. Her “Hymn to Hymie” (Clara’s deceased husband) is wonderful.
When a shepherd (Ari Axelrod in one of several roles) tries to drive his flock on a main thoroughfare (music stands tied together, each with a printed sign that says: SHEEP), American Phil Arkin (Mark Delevan) calms the crowd. Ruth asks him to translate. They connect. A retired businessman, Phil has skeptically come to visit his daughter Barbara (Jessica Fontana) and meet her new husband David, a Sabra. (A Jew born on Israeli territory.) The young people live in the Negev. “Give your daughter a European education and she brings home a farmer.”
Perry Sherman, Jessica Fontana (David and Barbara)
Phil impulsively asks Ruth to join Barbara and him touring the city. They have a wonderful day. She’s then invited to the desert. Putting aside a lifetime of reservations, she goes, seamlessly pitching in and fitting in. The middle aged couple credibly fall in love, for the first time seeing options both thought were unavailable. Unfortunately Phil still has a much estranged, eventually revealed wife.
Jacob Heimer, Abby Goldfarb (Adi & Zipporah)
Secondarily, we watch Barbara and her husband David (Peter Sherman- warm presence, good accent, fine voice) deal with her adjustment from upper middle class city life to agronomy, and malcontent farmer Adi (Jacob Heimer- good accent, solid acting and vocal) negotiate pregnancy and marriage (in that order) with girlfriend Zipporah (Abby Goldfarb- ably spirited.)
Milk and Honey is about second chances, integrity, courage, and partnerships.
Joy Hermalyn, Alix Korey, John Little (Mrs. Perlman, Clara, Mr. Horowitz)
Anne Runolfsson has a strong, mid range soprano. The actress grows into her role before our eyes, at first less than natural, but gradually troubled and infectiously moved as a compelling Ruth Stein. Opera singer Mark Delavan lends not only deep, resonant vocals, but thoughtful rendering of dialogue (which gives us time to watch the character consider) and tenderness that makes Phil Arkin always believable. The two voices blend beautifully.
Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson
Director Michael Unger does a splendid job with both lively and touching numbers. His actors have a good sense of where and when they are. Intimacy is well played. Pacing is just right. Visuals appeal. Only a parenthesis where the widows involve audience members feels uncomfortable.
Choreography by Yehuda Hyman is cute (not cloying) and appropriately ethnic.
Also featuring: John Little
This is the land of Milk and Honey/ This is the land of sun and song and /
This is the world of good and plenty /Humble and proud and young and strong
Photos by Ben Strothmann Opening: Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson, Alix Korey (Phil, Ruth, Clara)
The York Theatre Company Musicals in Mufti! Milk and Honey Book-Don Appell; Music & Lyrics- Jerry Herman Directed by Michael Unger Music Direction- Jeffrey Saver Through February 5, 2017 The York Theatre at St. Clements 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street NEXT: February 11-19: Berlin to Broadway
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, closes out its season on a sky-high note, with an exuberant La Cage aux Folles, directed and choreographed by the uber-talented Matthew Gardiner. An exceptional cast and a skilled production team more than do justice to Harvey Fierstein’s book and Jerry Herman’s music and lyrics. Chances are you will exit the theater humming the musical’s anthem, “The Best of Times.” (Truly, this is the best time you will have in musical theater this summer, so get your tickets now for this limited run through July 10.)
Lee Savage’s scenic design transforms Signature’s stage into a St. Tropez nightclub. (Jason Lyons’ lighting design alternates between bright lights and muted tones, signaling when we are actually watching the show or witnessing action backstage.) To the right and left of the stage are the wings where the drag queens who make up the nightclub’s chorus line busy themselves applying makeup, donning wigs, pulling on skin-tight garments, and sliding into stilettos. The club’s owner and MC, Georges (an excellent Brent Barrett), wearing the first of many dazzling blazers, welcomes the audience and introduces Les Cagelles singing “We Are What We Are,” setting the tone for what follows. As with all the numbers, the dancing is energetic and athletic, while the colorful, flamboyant costumes are a feast for the eyes. Also note that this production called for 45 wigs to complement those costumes. (Costume design, Frank Labovitz, wig design Anne Nesmith.) The team of male dancers has mastered the art of kicking and leaping on high heels with nary a wobble or misstep. Impressive.
Bobby Smith as Albin
The star of the show is Albin, aka “Zaza,” the most famous drag queen on the riviera. Bobby Smith (is there anything this actor can’t do?) is phenomenal in the role. His Zaza persona is the perfect diva, showing a fondness for elegant gowns and expensive jewels, relying on a devoted and zany servant, Jacob (an amazing DJ Petrosino), and relishing all the attention from fans. Yet as Albin, he’s vulnerable and insecure, often needing to be coaxed onto the stage. Smith handles both sides of his character oftentimes with a grand stroke, and other times with such subtlety – the shift of an eyebrow, the flip of a hand – that he’s mesmerizing.
Brent Barrett and Bobby Smith
Georges and Albin have been a couple for 20 years and together raised a son, Jean-Michel (Paul Scanlon), the result of a one-night encounter between Georges and the long-gone Sybil. Jean-Michel arrives to tell Georges that he is engaged to Anne Lindon (Jessica Lauren Ball) whose father is head of the Tradition, Family, and Morality Party, a group that has been working to close down the drag clubs. Anne’s parents are arriving to meet their daughter’s future in-laws. Fearful that Edouard Dindon (Mitchell Hebert) and his wife, Marie (Sherri L. Edelen), won’t approve the marriage, Jean-Michel lies about his family situation, describing Georges as a retired diplomat. Jean-Michel pleads with Georges to invite Sybil in place of Albin. Georges finally works up the courage to share with Albin Jean-Michel’s news and wishes. Rather than the angry outburst Georges expects from his longtime partner, Albin instead remains silent, a far more devastating reaction. Going on stage, Albin asks Les Cagelles to leave and alone sings the heartfelt, “I Am What I Am.” Smith makes Albin’s grief so palatable, we feel his pain. It’s an emotional end to the first act.
Albin, however, is willing to put aside his hurt feelings to help Jean-Michel. He agrees to dress like a man and attend the dinner as Uncle Al. Smith displays his enormous talents for physical comedy with his tentative attempts to walk like a man. Truly hilarious is the moment when he uncomfortably assumes the “man spread,” his legs placed wide apart. Jean-Michel, however, is unimpressed with Georges’ plan and unleashes a barrage, criticizing Albin’s lifestyle. Georges reacts angrily, reminding Jean-Michel with “Look Over There,” that Albin has been a good “mother.”
Albin (Bobby Smith, center) at Chez Jacqueline
When Sybil sends a telegram saying she can’t attend the dinner, Albin once again hopes to help, putting on a conservative dress, shoes, and jewelry, and appearing as Jean-Michel’s mother. Not only does Albin charm the Dindons, he manages to get a table for dinner at the popular Chez Jacqueline run by his friend (Nora Y. Payton). When Jacqueline asks Albin to perform he sings “The Best of Times,” impressing Anne’s parents until he finishes the song by tearing off his wig. Anne refuses to break off the engagement, while Jean-Michel apologizes, not to the Dindons, but to Albin. Georges and Albin agree to help the Dindons escape the paparazzi by dressing them in drag and taking them through the club.
While Smith is the standout, the rest of the cast is terrific. Barrett, whose Broadway credits include playing Billy Flynn in Chicago and Frank Butler opposite Reba McEntire in Anne Get Your Gun, also is familiar to D.C. audiences. His stage presence is perfect for the self-assured Georges and his tenor delights, particularly in “Song on the Sand,” and “Look Over There.”
DJ Petrofina and Paul Scanlon
Petrosino displays his versatility and comic timing as Albin’s servant, Jacob. Is it possible he last dazzled us in a much different role? As the macho Chino in Signature’s West Side Story? We are in awe.
Nora Y. Payton
It’s a tribute to the considerable talents of Payton, Edelen, and Hebert that even with less time on stage they have a major impact. As the club’s stage manager, Francis, Michael Bunce provides several comic moments. Kudos to Les Cagelles: Sam Brackley, Darius R. Delk, Ethan Kasnett, Jay Westin, Isiah W. Young, and Phil Young.
Conductor Darius Smith, who also plays keyboard, directs an orchestra that sounds larger than it is and adds considerably to the enjoyment of this musical. Members are: Kelsey Mire and Ed Waters (reeds), Chris Walker (trumpet), Scott Ninmer (trombone), Bill Hones (bass) and Paul Keeling (drums).
La Cage aux Folles was on Broadway in 1983, decades ago when gay marriage was a future hope and gay couples were fighting to become parents, stressing that family could take many forms, as long as children had adults who loved and nurtured them. La Cage brings home that message once again.