Sunday, June 07, 2009

TONY Weekend: West Side Story, Garret Dillahunt and Nine to Five

Thanks for all the birthday wishes, yesterday!

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.

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 Romeo & Juliet Tony & Maria turned to the audience on top of that balcony fire escape and one of my favorite songs of all time "Tonight" shifted tempo into its genius explosion of hurried love "...with suns and moons all over the place" shivers shot through me. Yes, my eyes welled up from the sheer overwhelming beauty of this Art.

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.

Working 8 to 11... on stage at least

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?


Andrew said...

Still no Next to Normal? You gotta see that!


I know. I know. I've been a bad bad theater geek this year (no money)

Kim said...

I second the Next to Normal comment. They do a general rush for $25, for us po people. It is truly amazing.

MeMe said...

Jane Fonda twittering is WROOOOOOOONG!!!! I hate Twitter as it is but why do movie stars have to do it? Please retain some of the magic!!!! Please at least pretend that you're not as superficial as we are and care about how you "wish to ad lib something funny but don't dare to". It's way more fun to hear about stuff like that in an interview or something, instead of on your personal twitterthingy.

And don't even get me started on Dame Elizabeth Taylor twittering how she likes Twilight!

(Okay, I might have exaggerated but I HATE Twitter!)

Ignatius said...

And what did we think of Karen Olivo??

James Hansen said...

I'll third the Next To Normal bit. Its a sure sign that smart, fresh, and (oh my god!) NEW works not based on previous material still exist and can find an audience. I'm hoping for an upset in Best Musical in favor of NtN over Billy Elliot. NtN is the kind of show Broadway, and its real supporters, should be propping up. It worked for Avenue's hoping it happens again tonight.

Speaking of Jane Fonda, did anyone see 33 Variations? Was I the only one who thought it was uniformly terrible? The only part I liked was the set, the lighting, and Colin Hanks. Fonda was fine, but certainly nothing AMAZING like so many have said. People just got excited that she was on Broadway so they have to throw around accolades. Boo on that.

Everyone should also see THE NORMAN CONQUESTS and GOD OF CARNAGE as far as plays go. Smartly staged, bitingly funny, and superbly performed. The acting really is what makes both shows so successful.

Enjoy the Tonys, Nat (and everyone else)!


Ignatius... I'm of the opinion that "Anita" is one of those roles (like Sister Aloysius or Effie White) where the person doesn't really need to be great to get accolades. The accolades will come.

I thought she was fine but not special (Maybe I saw an off night?) Maria was by far my favorite in the cast.

Karl said...

If you missed Matt Cavenaugh in West Side Story, count yourself inadvertently lucky. His performance was the weak spot for me -- he seemed too hunky and chiseled to convince as the street kid Tony, and his singing style was idiosyncratic. He sang behind the beats and often swallowed the end of the big soaring notes on songs like "Maria" and "Something's Coming." In duets with Josefina S., he was better -- their voices blended beautifully together. But alone on stage...I kept thinking about Richard Beymer in the movie, and wanting that kind of commitment.

Unknown said...

I was enormously disappointed with the Coraline musical. I liked that it was so faithful to the novel (perhaps to a fault), and thought Jayne Houdyshell was incredible, and though Julian Fleischer as the Cat was very droll and enjoyable. But I felt that the music added very little and at some points distracted, and I felt that David Greenspan was far too wink-wink, nudge-nudge as the Other Mother. There was no menace, just a man in a fright wig and an apron milking it.


Austin i can see those points but I enjoyed it. Partially because it was so different than what i was expecting.

Wayne B. said...

The theatre season doesn't start to the fall here. This year "Strong Poison", "It's A Wonderful Life", "The Drowsy Chaperone", "Mother Courage and Her Children", "Educating Rita" and "Steel Magnolias" will be performed. Am still debating whether to shell out the dough for season ticket.

I hope the prediction that Fonda becomes a new triple Crowner comes true.

Chris Na Taraja said...

Oh my, I just caught Neil Patrick Harris singing that finale..."I'm off to hit some big tony balls!" how funny is that?

gabrieloak said...

Next to Normal, Hair and The Norman Conquests were my favorite Broadway experiences this season. But there was so much good stuff, especially plays.Mary Stuart is also amazing. I also liked Dividing the Estate, which is a much more moving play than God of Carnage. I'm seeing Joe Turner in another week.

Off Broadway there was an amazing production of The Cripple of Inishman at the Atlantic Theater.

At BAM, I loved Winter's Tale and The Cherry Orchard.

Andrew David said...

So glad Geoffrey Rush won, his speech was also by far the best.

Looking forward to seeing God of Carnage when it's staged here in a few weeks... of course it won't be with that stellar cast, but there's nothing wrong with local professional actors who can be just as amazing.

Unknown said...

I saw Guys and Dolls yesterday. It was a fine production. Nothing spectacular. But I have tix to see Hair (I also know one of the cast members) and God of Carnage (wish I knew one of the cast members).


Drew -- good point. I wish i had supported more local theater before i moved to NYC. There's talent everywhere. Not everyone who is amazingly gifted has the guts or the luck or the drive to move to the coasts and struggle to make it as a tiny fish in a huge ocean.

sam -- lol. If i keep typing love letters to Marcia Gay Harden do you think she'll ever call me?, he asked delusionally.

Andrew David said...

Yes definitely. In Perth (Aus) there's not a big industry at all so it can be a dead end, but there's certainly a huge range of professional and amateur productions to see.

Dorian said...

You do have to have some actual talent to pull off these "stock" roles that win crazy amounts of accolades. That's all that people said during Jennifer Hudson's run. "It's the role! It's the role! Not her!" It's not like some homeless woman off the street could just up and become Effie White just b/c and win an Oscar for it. Come on now.

Anyway, the show was poorly produced from start to finish, and I wonder how most left it unscathed or thought that it was one of the Tony's best. Some great winners -- loved all the play winners -- Angela Lansbury, Marcia Gay Harden, Roger Robinson, and Geoffrey Rush. Wasn't Alice Ripley's speech awesome and ridiculous at the same time? "This is a quote from JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY about ART!!!!! ART!!!!!" Craziness. Next year I want Liza to host, just because she's LIZA! And did anyone notice Bret Micheals get flattened during the opening number? That's for inflicting "Rock of Love" on us, Bret! Karma doesn't forget anything! The three Billy boys accepting lead actor was great, but the number they performed could have been better. Elton made sure to get his speech in even though he didn't win anything. LOL. Only at the Tonys I guess.

Cinesnatch said...

"Voice Lessons" with Laurie Metcalf and French Steward at the Zepher Theatre on Melrose. It was hilarious.


Dorian ... Liza hosting is a BRILLIANT idea. The show would run 6 hours over but I wouldn't care cuzzhh shee would be slurring her way through it crazzzhhhily. i love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love Liza. I really do. but she crazy.

p.s. absolutely lol about Elton John. That was so obnoxious. He was trying to be gracious i think but it just read as he was pissed he didn't win so he had to address his conquerors directly.

Adrian said...

If you can make it up to Ontario, try the Stratford Festival's West Side Story. It's supposed to be amazing.

Sam said...

I saw West Side Story on the last night of previews and adored it. It's also my favorite show of all time and I was filled with anticipation. It didn't disappoint. Josephina Scaglione was perfectly cast and Karen Olivo was a force of nature. Matt Cavanaugh was a bit weak. I would have liked to see a Tony who's a touch edgy. Cody Green was sexy as hell. The show was not perfect but I loved it.

Unknown said...
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Catherine said...

I literally just got off the plane from a long weekend in London, where I saw three productions: Waiting for Godot with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, As You Like It with the RSC at the Globe and Trevor Nunn's A Little Night Music. All so different, all had different things going for them. But I think my favourite overall was the musical. My first live Sondheim!

If I lived in London/NY, I'd think I'd be totally broke because I'd spend all my money on theatre tickets (or try to, at least). Dublin does have a fairly decent theatre scene - although it could be better, given our fabulous history of plays and playwrights - but because its small, we only have a limited selection and productions tend to stay for ages. I did see a fun Comedy of Errors in the Abbey a little while ago, and then last year was Fiona Shaw in Beckett's Happy Days which was WOW.