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2017-18 PRODUCTIONS REDUX

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  • adamunc
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    John Lithgow: Stories By Heart opened at the American Airlines Theatre last night to mixed reviews. Most critics wrote it off as sentimental and/or too minor for a Broadway stage. However, some notable publications (New York Times, Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter) were charmed by the performer and the material.

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    Alex Meyer
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    Little House On The Prairie star Melissa Gilbert will star in an Off-Broadway production of the solo play My Brilliant Divorce, which will run at the New Ohio Theatre from March 15-April 8. http://www.playbill.com/article/melissa-gilbert-to-star-in-solo-piece-my-brilliant-divorce

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    adamunc
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    Caught a selection of the fall season’s shows this frigid weekend. Some thoughts:

    METEOR SHOWER (Sat. 2pm): I’m not sure I could tell you the point of this, or if it really matters. I know what I think the point was, but I wouldn’t want to defend my interpretation in court or anything. But it’s a fun, very brisk 80 minutes that director Zaks keeps moving. We have married couple Corky and Norm, who argue and then take time out to hold hands and validate each other’s feelings. They are hosting sexually aggressive couple Gerald and Laura for dinner. The scene will play for a while, then we back up to Gerald and Laura’s arrival, get a new piece of information, and the dinner party plays out in a different way. This is totally dependent on star wattage to work–you won’t be seeing it very much regionally, I don’t think. But thankfully this production does have the necessary star power in screen stars Amy Schumer and Keegan-Michael Key and theater vets Laura Benanti and Jeremy Shamos. You can definitely tell the difference in style between the two groups, but everyone’s part plays to their strengths. Schumer and Benanti have a priceless physical bit on a chaise longue customized to their particular gifts. I also particularly liked Beowulf Boritt’s scene design–other work of his I’ve seen often seemed a little underdone to me. But his use of a double turntable here to take us from an upscale but pretentious living room to a backyard patio sets just the right mood. And I’m definitely adopting Corky’s concept of pre-wine: the wine before the guests arrive that “doesn’t count”.

    FARINELLI AND THE KING (Sat. 8pm): My first time at the Belasco and my first time seeing Mark Rylance live on stage. I definitely get the hype having seen him in person now; nothing ever seems scripted–every word and gesture feels totally spontaneous. (This should be the goal of most actors, of course, but rarely is it so completely achieved.) The style is particularly suited to King Philippe V, on the verge of total madness. There’s a wonderful ungoverned quality to Rylance’s line readings that adds a sense of danger, as though he may go completely off the rails at any moment. The play itself, though, feels very presentational–the senses are engaged far more than the heart and mind. The Handel arias didn’t do that much for me (just a taste thing I guess), though the audience ate them up. The opening scene, with the king talking to a goldfish in a bowl, captures a sense of melancholy zaniness that nothing else ever matches. There’s been a lot of discussion about seating choices for this–the onstage seating looked dreadful to me, though if you’re on the lower level stage left, you may get to sit next to the star for a moment. I chose seats in the balcony, which were all $32, so I figured I’d economize here. I always sit on an aisle because I have a thing about that, and the center aisle seat on row B had two railings in the way–the handrail for row A and the rail on the ledge. Much of the show is played downstage, so I had to slouch down for long sequences to see underneath the rails. Also, the candlelit chandeliers are lowered to a point where the faces of actors upstage are blocked by them. Still, $32 is a bargain price to see an actor like Rylance. If you want to go budget, I would actually choose seats further back in the balcony.

    THE BAND’S VISIT (Sun. 3pm): Put me in the camp that thinks there’s a lot to admire here, but it’s a hard show to fall completely in love with. There are some extraordinary sequences (the roller disco in particular), but there’s a feeling that we’re all waiting for something that’s never going to come. I get that understated was the point, but that point is pretty self-limiting. Katrina Lenk is a star–boy, can she build a musical number in subtle ways, and the rest of the cast works as a solid ensemble and the smaller roles all feel very “lived-in”, if that makes sense. I also loved all the detail in Scott Pask’s set. To sum it up, I went in hoping to be enraptured, but ended up being merely impressed. [Poor me :)]

    ONCE ON THIS ISLAND (Sun 7:30pm): And I saved the best for last. This particular production does wonders for this show, which I was relatively familiar with, though I didn’t see the original. The score is fine, but certainly not a patch on the authors’ RAGTIME, which I consider a masterwork. The story itself has the basic issue of why you would tell a frightened little girl a story about car crashes, class struggles, betrayal, and death. I’m not sure that framework is really necessary; this could be presented by the Storytellers as just a straightforward fable. But anyway, all my reservations about those things were swept away by the sheer inventiveness of director Michael Arden, a phenomenal design team, and a peerless ensemble who captured theatrical lightning in a bottle. Something like a depiction of a car crash is so simple in concept, but staggering in execution and impact. The sense of community that springs from the in-the-round staging and use of the entire house is exactly what this story needs. And what a fabulous discovery Hailey Kilgore is–she had the audience eating out of her hand from her first appearance. As for seating, there’s hardly a bad seat here because the staging plays to everywhere. If you want to spend some time up close with Lea Salonga, then the first few rows of the odd 200s would be the seats to pick.

    Couple of other overall notes–is there an overall trend toward one-act shows? Three of these four had no intermission. Maybe it’s just coincidence. Also, all four shows had ensemble curtain calls–no individual bows. I wonder if this has an effect of dampening standing ovations? Only ISLAND got a full, immediate standing ovation. The other three had sporadic standers but much of the audiences remained seated. Most trips in the past, every show got a full standing O, whether it was worthy of it or not.

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    Alex Meyer
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    America’s Next Top Model and Dancing With The Stars winner Nyle DiMarco (the first ever deaf winner of both shows), has joined the producing team of Children Of A Lesser God. https://www.broadway.com/buzz/190899/actor-deaf-activist-nyle-dimarco-added-to-producing-team-for-children-of-a-lesser-god/

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    Alex Meyer
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    Train frontman Pat Monahan will make his Broadway debut in Rocktopia. https://www.broadway.com/buzz/190893/pat-monahan-frontman-of-rock-band-train-will-make-broadway-debut-in-rocktopia/

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    Jeffrey Kare
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    Emmy winner Tammy Blanchard (Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows) will be joining Denzel Washington in the upcoming revival of The Iceman Cometh
    https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Tammy-Blanchard-Joins-Denzel-Washington-in-THE-ICEMAN-COMETH-On-Broadway-20180118

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