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.
Steve Martin’s plays – Picasso at the Lapin Agile and, with Edie Brickell, the musical Bright Star – don’t deep dive into character or message. (Bright Star appeared to try.) His work will never be compared to Neil Simon who has natural facility for making comedy and pathos go hand in hand. Martin’s original screenplays fare better on this front- remember Roxanne?
Meteor Shower is a diverting piece about the vulnerability of marriage. The clever, timely, gimlet-eyed satire evokes broad smiles and moderate laughs. Its author embraces ba-dump-dump vaudeville humor as much as social comment. Being analytical, he underpins the plot with a psychological device of which we’re mercifully unaware till nearly the end.
It’s August 1993 in Ojai, California. The Perseid Meteor Shower is about to blaze across the sky like cannon fire. Corky (Amy Schumer, audience applause) in a perky Debbie Reynolds ponytail and her sweet husband Norm (Jeremy Shamos) are preparing to entertain sexpot Laura (Laura Benanti) and grandstanding husband Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key- audience applause) for the first time. Only Norm has briefly met the pair.
When amiable chat veers to conceivably hurt feelings, Corky and Norm break action to hold hands, look into each other’s eyes and intone psychobabble learned in therapy. “I really appreciate your attitude on this…I respect what you’re saying…” Everything is upfront with these two. The methodology works for them.
Laura and Gerald, on the other hand, are not what they seem. We glean early on that the couple’s recreation is upending their hosts’ marriage – sexually and sentimentally, apparently for sheer entertainment. They withhold basic information, insult with incisive abandon, and set out to seduce Corky and Norm.
Like many plays in current vogue, this one juggles chronology. Scenes are played out of order, so we often observe what happened and then what preceded. An alternative ending may or may not be true. Parts seem more important than the whole.
Honesty is as virulent as falsehood. Martin works in cannibalism, kleptomania, hard drug use, ignominious near-death, very funny seduction, vulgarity, and a couple of memorable, loosey goosey solo dances. Don’t even ask me about the eggplants. (I don’t have a clue.) You’ll have a good time but may be hungry again after an hour.
Amy Schumer plays a character with which she’s highly familiar, breaking out of the generic, through no fault of her own, only in the second part. Her timing is impeccable.
Laura Benanti effectively showcases both more unabashed allure and wacky physicality that we’ve seen from the actress.
Keegan-Michael Key aptly sucks the air out of the room with over the top cockiness that will keep your brows in constant parachute position. His determined focus just barely keeps Gerald from becoming a sitcom character, but he’s funny.
Jeremy Shamos is darling. The actor inhabits everyman innocence as skillfully as he navigates deadpan, heat-seeking-missile attack. At one point he breaks up another cast member with audacious silliness. A pleasure to watch.
Director Jerry Zaks creates infectious fun with this one. Recent commissions haven’t offered nearly this kind of opportunity for off the wall visuals and spot-on timing. Bravo.
Natasha Katz’s Lighting Design conjures marvelous meteors and explosions.
Costumes by Ann Roth are wonderfully specific to character.
Beowulf Boritt’s modrin Set Design moves fluidly between living room and patio.
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Keegan-Michael Key, Jeremy Stamos, Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti
Meteor Showerby Steve Martin
Directed by Jerry Zaks
222 West 45th Street Through January 21, 2018
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
Author/Actor Chazz Palmintiri first shared his personal story with the public in a highly lauded 1989 one man show. Robert De Niro subsequently made his directorial debut with a film starring Palminteri and himself. With that success came a revival of the solo presentation on Broadway. And now a musical. I have to say, I regret missing the piece in its original form. “It’s my story, the one that shattered the world that I knew” would then have hit home.
“…a warm summer night on Belmont Avenue, you’d hear Italian men romancing their women…Marie, get the fuck in the car!” (She gives him the finger.) Lines like these, which I presume come from the original source, are thoroughly appealing. Nicknames of both street kids and local goons are wonderfully explained. (As the latter are introduced, each faces front and sideways while flashes go off resembling the taking of mug shots.) There are conversations and come-backs that land with winning specifics. The book holds solid.
Bobby Conte Thornton and Hudson Loverro
After a cliché musical opening (done less obviously by In the Heights), a doo-wop group sets the scene. The show might have had great time with this genre, rhythm and blues, and period pop. Instead most numbers emerge an amalgam of pop and generic Broadway. I’m afraid the talented Alan Menken has been too long with Disney to put much pith into the score which sounds homogenized. Glenn Slater’s lyrics fare somewhat better, though I never figured out to what undisclosed “talent” the protagonist was supposed to stay true. (A reoccurring theme.) There are at least five reprises.
Rory Max Kaplan, Keith White, Dominic Nolfi, Joe Barbara, Hudson Loverro, Cary Tedder
Still, much about the musical is entertaining. Its story, which reminds one of a 1950s black and white film, is narrated by grown up Calogero (Bobby Conte Thornton for whom mustering sympathy is nigh impossible) until he steps into his teenage shoes. At nine years-old, the boy (Hudson Loverro with apt braggadocio), instinctively covers for street boss Sonny (Nick Cordero) and becomes his pet. Minutes in a church confessional and “my soul was clean.”
With status, he acquires neighborhood deference, freebees, and entry into the periphery of mob life. Throwing dice for his inadvertent mentor (in a scene out of Guys and Dolls) seems like great fun, especially when he earns an appreciable tip. Errands are run – nothing dangerous. Sonny is genuinely fond of the boy. At no point does he consider taking him into the business. They call me C and “I Like It,” Calogero sings proudly in one of the cool songs. (Ain’t It The Truth?” is another.)
Hudson Loverro and Richard H. Blake; Bobby Conte Thornton and Nick Cordero
Despite being warned off by bus driver father Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake) and earnest mom Rosina (Luicia Giannetta), C trails Sonny like a puppy, watching and learning. “The working man’s a sucker, kid, remember that,” the boss says. “They don’t love him, they fear him,” Lorenzo points out when his son observes Sonny’s popularity. Our hero is at the center of a tug of war and might go either way.
Things are brought to a head when C falls for a black girl named Jane (Ariana Debose). Shades of West Side Story. All their friends are against a relationship. The two factions first lurch at the edge of bigoted violence, then literally explode. If it weren’t for Sonny…
The tale has a big heart and aspects to recommend, but it could have been so much better.
Bobby Conte Thornton (center) Nick Cordero (right) and The Company
Nick Cordero’s Sonny is flat out the best thing on the stage. The artist inhabits posture, gesture, accent and attitude making his character whole and human. He sings well losing none of this.
To my mind, Directors Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks both miss opportunity to show character definition and allow the leading man to get away with being bland. Stage flow, pacing, and use of levels are excellent.
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo enlivens proceedings. There’s a splendid, original number employing claps and slaps. Beowulf Boritt’s Set contains terrific, multi-story fire escapes against backgrounds that look like amateur summer stock. William Ivy Long’s Costumes work for the men, but are universally unflattering on the women. Fight Coordination by Robert Westley is as fake as it comes.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Bobby Conte Thornton (center). Bradley Gibson & Ariana DeBose (left), Lucia Giannetto & Richard H. Blake (right)
A Bronx Tale Book by Chazz Palminteri Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater Based on the book by Chaz Palminteri Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks Longacre Theatre 220 West 48th Street