My birthday festivities usually fall close to TONY Awards night. So today I can let my inner theater geek out -- is it "inner" if everyone knows about it?. I'll probably tweet the actual ceremony... but if you're into Broadway and you don't mind spoilers there's already people tweeting from the dress rehearsal including Jane Fonda, Just Jared and Broadway World's Robert Diamond . In the meantime I thought I'd catch you up on a few recent stage shows that I haven't really discussed. As per usual, many of them have movie connections. But mostly I'm here to talk about West Side Story which is up for four TONYs tonight: Best Musical Revival, Best Actress, Best Featured Actress (Karen Olivo as "Anita") and Best Lighting Design.
Anita center (she's gonna get her kicks tonii-iiii-iight. she'll have
a private little mix tonii-iii-iight) and her fellow PRs.
a private little mix tonii-iii-iight) and her fellow PRs.
West Side Story
Leonard Bernstein's masterpiece continues to shame the vast majority of musicals that came after it. Not for this show, one or two catchy numbers. Every number here is a bonafide classic. I am not one of those people whose eyes well up when moved by Art but when
Where did all the invention in musical theater composition, go? Is it just because the money and opportunity dried up? Once you get past the 1960s, rock then pop then hip hop ruled the culture. I guess any new composer with enormous gifts is less likely to consider musical theater as a career option since it's no longer a part of every day life. It's hard to believe now but there was a time when it was. West Side Story spent more than a year at #1 of the Billboard charts in the 1960s. Compare that to Wicked, by all accounts a giant modern crossover success. Its peak position on the Billboard 200 was #138... and that was considered a major accomplishment!
Oh, so what did I think of the show, you ask?
I am never 100% satisfied with WSS stage productions because it's my favorite musical of all time but I thought this was a valiant effort. I loved the new emphasis on the sexuality of the characters, the ease with which the numbers moved in and out of Spanish (an appropriate choice though a long time in coming) and I thought Maria, the TONY nominated Argentinian actress Josefina Scaglione, was superb... that voice! It was perfectly suited to Maria, all sweet, soaring crystalline soprano with undercurrents of power that sneak up on you as the songs escalate in intensity. There were hit and miss choices in the casting elsewhere (we had an understudy rather than the hunky Matt Cavenaugh as "Tony" though so I can't discuss him) but the music, pacing and choreography are so strong I couldn't not love this production. B+
Despite my general love/lust for all things West Side... Hair (reviewed here) definitely deserves the Revival TONY. It took a much much less impressive musical and made it into a damn near unmissable event.
A few other recent shows...
I've written about this over here. Fans of Neil Gaiman or the Magnetic Fields should definitely check it out. It's very different than Coraline the movie (as it should be) and that's not just because an old woman plays the lonely nine year old explorer, though that casting decision is a good example of its theatrical commitment. Coraline understands, as so few stage shows related to movies do, that the stage is not the screen. Theater is a different beast and requires more imagination and less literal mindedness to function to the fullest of its capabilities. I loved the cat, for instance, who is basically a man in a suit with lots of attitude and only minimally suggested cat movements (the yawning is quite funny). Coraline's matter of fact asides to the audience "I'm outside now" to indicate scene changes also had me smiling.
Nine to Five (The Musical)
Speaking of stage shows that don't remember to be stage shows... I'm not going to pretend like 9 to 5 isn't fun. The movie is so the show is, too. But the Show is the Movie. So why not just watch the movie again? You'll save $100. I love Dolly Parton but like so many famous artists turned Broadway composers she hasn't quite worked out the difference in mediums with her book writer. Like so many movies-to-stage productions, Nine to Five doubles up on talking and singing. You get the story beats and the famous dialogue and the emotional point of the scene and then they stop for a song about it. You don't need both in musical theater. The songs are supposed to be the story, not recaps of the Movie as Play that suddenly remembers it's now a Musical. The best number is (no surprise) something that's not in the movie at all -- the horny elderly secretary Roz (played by Kathy Fitzgerald who was not TONY nominated. sigh) gets a solo in the ladies bathroom that's quite funny, a bit crass and more than a little endearing.
New York City has a lot of experimental theater and you generally only end up at it if you know someone who knows someone connected to the production. Experimental theater can often be trying, full of barely formed ideas, weird running time decisions, inaccessible drama or unfunny humor. Brains hops over these usual pitfalls with obvious delight in its own absurdity and total commitment to its mix of theatrical dance movement and verbal repetition. The play is about a desperate scientist and the cult that springs up around her when she declares that "The human body has two brains!" It's very funny and the slowly rising dramatic undercurrents only strengthen the desperation of its comedy, rather than capsizing it. Good stuff. I'm not sure when they're performing it next, unfortunately. Here's a commercial.
Things of Dry Hours
Garret Dillahunt is quickly ascending in my personal hierarchy of actors-I'm-always-eager-to-watch. After evocative supporting work in No Country For Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and his creepy contributions to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and this fall's prestige piece The Road, I'm his. In this new play by Naomi Wallace (who wrote the movie Lawn Dogs ... worth a rental) he plays a possibly murderous factory worker Corbin Teel who hides out in the home of a black father and daughter in 30s era Alabama.
Delroy Lindo (who you just heard as "Beta" in Pixar's UP) plays the father/preacher who's hiding his "dirty red" Communist leanings from the violent authorities. Roslyn Ruff (who you just saw as Anne Hathaway's guidance counsellor in Rachel Getting Married -FB nom) is his formidable daughter, a washerwoman who may or may not be falling for the white man suddenly sleeping on her floorboards. The cast is uniformly strong and the play is pretty interesting, too. The triangular tensions are both well executed and multifaceted: the social, racial, spiritual, political, economic and sexual (Dillahunt gets naked for Ruff who in turn, mastering the art of the mixed signals, refuses him and then...?) all factor in.
Have you seen anything on stage recently? You don't have to live in NYC to see theater. Do you often picture what it be like onscreen when you do see a live show?