January 17, 2012 at 11:55 am #430747
Just got back from three days in the City and caught four shows, so I thought I’d share reactions with the other theatre geeks on here. (It had been three years since I was in NYC, so I was in withdrawal). I counted myself fortunate that each of the shows had the full lead casts in; the only understudy on was for Nessarose in Wicked. Anyway, here goes:
Saturday, 1/14/12 2pm
Other Desert Cities
**** out of ****
I waited with bated breath for this to extend and I’m so glad I was able to catch it. One of the better play experiences of my life. It’s a fascinating, perfectly-paced piece that develops one compelling layer at a time. I knew there was a story twist in it, but I was going down a totally different road in my head as to what it could be, so it got me when it came. I wasn’t alone based on the audience response, as it seemed that 700+ people simultaneously sucked in their breath. (We nearly created a vacuum.) This is a rich cast, though if I were going to quibble I did find Rachel Griffiths a little too “actorish” in a few instances, but she acquits herself nicely in the most dramatic moments. I can’t make any comparisons to Thomas Sadoski, but I found Justin Kirk very appealing as Trip and he delivered his big monologue beautifully. Judith Light looks to be having a grand time in a fun part, and as others have said, she’s compelling even during the long early second act sequence when her character is asleep. Stockard Channing is a joy (she’s long been one of my favorite actresses); she spends so much time cracking you up that when she turns around and breaks your heart in her pivotal scene, the impact is elevated. Stacy Keach is also impressive as the patriarch, playing what may be the most intriguing character in the piece. All the technical elements are in place, and John Lee Beatty’s set is a particular stand-out—with its pitch-perfect, painfully tasteful cream and beige furnishings and large curved stone wall, with glass at the top through which we can see the tops of palm trees and the suggestion of wide blue sky.
A note on the house: The refurbishment of the Booth went very well and the house looks beautiful, once you get in the almost comically narrow entrance area. The wide upstairs lobby helps make this feel less cramped than most in the mezzanine. The audience at this show was wonderfully polite as well, with nary a cellphone chirp to be heard or screen light to be seen. (I don’t know if that was due to the type of audience drawn to this or to the particularly stern anti-cellphone PA announcements.)
Saturday, 1/14/12 8pm
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
**1/2 out of ****
Ah, the perils of mucking about with an iconic piece. I should say that I am by no means an expert on P&B—I just know the songs and that’s it. But it’s pretty obvious to anyone that lots of material has been cut away, and to me the result was that it often made the characters seem arbitrary and melodramatic. Transitions that I would have liked to be better-motivated were presented as faits accomplis. I also found it awkward structurally—I have no idea the break points of the original, but in this two-act version the first-act curtain falls after everyone else leaves for a picnic while Porgy stays behind. At that point, there’s no raising of stakes and no narrative momentum. But we all know the main thing here for most theatre geeks is seeing Audra McDonald play Bess, and in that alone we get our money’s worth. But, happily, she’s not the whole story in terms of the cast. I found Norm Lewis to be a warm and winning Porgy, and he is every bit Audra’s match vocally. Their renditions of “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and “I Loves You, Porgy” are as thrilling as anything you’re likely to hear on the Main Stem at the moment. In addition, Phillip Boykin is incredibly powerful (both literally and figuratively) as Crown. I’d be very happy to see him receive a Featured Actor Tony nod. As a final note, the single set is so blandly ugly that I actively hated it.
A note on the house: The Richard Rodgers is a grease fire on top of a train wreck. Seriously, when is renovation going to come its way? Peeling, faded, and chipped paint everywhere, massive areas of threadbare carpet, and sprung seats that feel like they’ve declared war on your backside after two hours. I saw the first preview of Tarzan here nearly six years ago (we’ve all done things we regret) and remember being surprised even then that Disney would put one of its shows into such a run-down house. It’s even more dilapidated now.
Sunday, 1/15/12 3pm
*** out of ****
Guilty pleasure time. I’ve seen this show an embarrassing number of times, but I’m to the point now that I just enjoy comparing performances of the leads. There are at least a hundred things wrong with Wicked, but for me it’s one of those things that just works, even if sometimes in spite of itself. The show is currently blessed with a phenomenal Elphaba in Jackie Burns. She’s got a voice as big as all outdoors, and the entire score seems to fit very comfortably in her range, with the exception of the fact that she wimps out on the low “E” at the end of “I’m Not That Girl” and goes up an octave instead. She uses riffs sparingly but effectively and delivers an astounding “Defying Gravity” that drew everyone’s attention away from their cellphones, where they were following the Giants game. (With the exception of a woman two rows down from me, who was using hers to take 17,648 pictures during the performance.) I wasn’t as high on Chandra Lee Schwartz as G(a)linda; the best G(a)lindas I’ve seen have found ways to inject some subtleties into this over-the-top character to make her more effective. Schwartz’s soprano sounds great, though, and her diction is admirable. Randy Danson and Tom McGowan are fine as Morrible and the Wizard. Richard H. Blake appropriately plays Fiyero as the not-so-dumb jock and looks the part, and that’s all you really need in a Fiyero. (Does anyone know if they’ve added lighting effects to “Defying Gravity”? I don’t remember the light spilling all the way out to mid-orchestra before.)
A note on the house: Say what you will about the Gershwin: it’s a barn, it’s ugly, you have to go up 35 flights even to get to the orchestra, etc. All these things are true. But it also has a great rake, crystal-clear sound, and some actual legroom, so I like it.
Sunday, 1/15/12 7pm
The Book of Mormon
**** out of ****
It’s a rare and joyous occasion when something lives up to the hype. At its heart, this is an incredibly well-built show that understands completely how a musical should work. The book scenes are crisp and to-the-point while still managing to maximize the jokes. The songs all do what they should do in surprising, inventive, and tuneful ways. Scott Pask’s sets are knock-outs, with impressive layering for what felt to me like a smaller stage. The level of energy from the cast was just amazing, especially considering this was the fifth time they’d done the show in 48 hours. A special Superman emblem to Andrew Rannells, who has “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”, a very physical caffeine-high book scene, and “I Believe” basically back-to-back. I could go on and on (the unbelievably complex staging and blocking for “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”, the little details in the sets, the balance of comedy and genuine emotion, etc.) but that would just be gilding the lily. Bottom line, it’s a fantastic show.
A note on the house: This was my first time at the Eugene O’Neill, and I liked it. It’s big enough to put a full-scale musical in, but still small enough that it appeared to me it has a high percentage of good seats and that there wouldn’t be any issues with sightlines, except in the boxes (but to me, boxes should always be avoided, unless you’re one of those weird box-freak people).
A final note (okay, rant): The conglomerates have finally managed to kill having a drink in the theatre. For $15, you get a small vodka and tonic with no ice in a sippy cup. What is this madness? Better to find a nearby hotel and have a drink in its bar, where for the same price you’re very likely to get a better drink with better service and a more appealing atmosphere.January 17, 2012 at 6:36 pm #430749
Sounds great. I would love to see “Other Desert Cities” given the chance.
In September I also did a three day-four show New York theatre trip. My four shows were “The Book of Mormon” (Loved it!), “Follies”, “Anything Goes” and “Sister Act” (“Sister” being the only show I did not like).
It has been a while but maybe I can think up some reviews.
A little note. Before seeing “The Book of Mormon” I had a very odd but very NYC experience. I ate my dinner at a mixture deli/ gourmet grocery next to the theatre. That is not odd as these kind of establishments are all over NYC. This one though was also a bycicle store in the back part of it and while eating the entertainment was a little kid playing the keyboard, quite badly, with his mother sitting right next to him. I felt bad for him and wanted to move as he set uo right next to me while eating. I felt compelled to tip even though he was lousy and really had no business being the dinnertime entertainment.January 18, 2012 at 10:08 am #430750
I was not big on “Sister Act” either and am shocked it is still running and got better reviews than “Catch Me If You Can”, which I thought got unfairly shafted and deserved more notice than it received.
I don’t remember the Richard Rodgers being in disrepair but I haven’t seen a show there in ages so I probably just don’t remember well.
And pacinofan, I stayed at a little hotel right by that place you at ate (if it is on West 49th because the description you made fit perfectly) and I remember seeing that kid there back in March….he must be there all the time!January 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm #430751
I am glad to see someone else experience this odd little place. There was a part of me that thought it was just a dream that I was eating seafood bisque while some creepy little kid played the keyboards next to me and some lady was buying a bycicle bell in the back.January 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm #430752
I thought Sister Act was great and Patina was a true star.January 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm #430753
Glad you liked it.
The only thing I really liked about the experience of seeing “Sister Act” was that I got the tickets for less than half price on Travelzoo.
I wish I would have seen Daniel Radcliff in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” instead or seen something Off-Broadway.
I purposely avoided seeing “War Horse” because I will see it in Los Angeles in Spring at the Ahmanson. The production of “Follies” starring Bernadette Peters will also be playing the Ahmanson this upcoming season.