May’s Leftovers and June’s Brainteaser
On my recent Virgin Atlantic flight to London, I perused the in-flight entertainment, and what did I find? A film version of J.B. Priestley’s 1945 play AN INSPECTOR CALLS, revived to great acclaim on Broadway in 1994. Cineastes may assume this is the 1954 film version, although vintage films are seldom screened on planes. No – this is a 2015 CHINESE film that takes Priestley’s thought-provoking drama and turns it – no kidding -- into a rip-roaring farce. And it’s a lot of fun.
In London, I purchased the new West End cast album of GYPSY with Imelda Staunton. See if you agree that the woman who sings “Some People” sounds completely different from the one who sings “Small World” immediately following – which, when you think of it, is a good thing.
“Oh, I’ve been playing that album constantly,” said my buddy Marc Grossberg. “And I noticed something I never had before. When Rose sings ‘There I was, in Mr. Orpheum’s office’ I suddenly thought, ‘Wait! WAS there a Mr. Orpheum?’ And I checked and found out there wasn’t.”
This had never occurred to me, either. How about you? I’ll bet Sondheim knew, and purposely had Rose say that to establish how naïve she was about show business.
No sooner had I returned than I was off to Cape May (New Jersey) Stage to see my pal Georgette Timoney perform RED HOT PATRIOT: THE KICK-ASS WIT OF MOLLY IVINS. At first I assumed I had to be seeing an understudy, because I couldn’t find the Georgette I knew anywhere on stage. But there was no slip of paper in the program – and no slip up on stage in the Jersey native’s Southern accent.
Ivins (1944-2007) was a down-to-earth-and-digging-below political journalist. (“If the truth be told – and that’d be a novelty ...”) She told it like it was for some Texas newspapers “as an anti-war liberal in cowboy country” and got the attention of The Gray Old Lady. She was eventually fired for being – well, Molly Ivins.
Timoney shows Ivins’ love of newspapers just the way she says “morgue” – as if she’s just finished letting a Godiva chocolate melt in her mouth. She has a fiery no-nonsense demeanor when declaring about the bigoted “Once you realize they’re lying about race, everything else follows.” About her multitude excoriations of the more dim-witted of the Bush presidents, she does Ivins proud when she gleefully says “God gave me all this material for free!” When Timoney says “My mother was kind of ambivalent about me,” she manages to convey the years that Ivins thought about the possibility before she reluctantly had to come to this conclusion.
Maybe Lou Grant hated Mary Richards’ spunk, but even he would have taken to Molly Ivins, Timoney’s performance and Marlena Lustik’s direction – spunky all!
Back home, I headed to Theatre for a New Audience’s the Polonsky Shakespeare Center. David Barbour, whom I succeeded as Drama Desk president – and who knows my penchant for musical theater – saw me and said “This isn’t the musical, you know!”
No, it was Shakespeare’s original THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA – well, in a manner of speaking. Whenever the estimable (and incorrectly named) Fiasco Theater takes on a project, it’s certainly to offer a new take on the material – which is why I never miss one of the troupe’s productions.
Although Shakespeare does make the good point that each of us will find the most romantic happiness with the one who bids the highest, the play itself isn’t good – a point the 1971-72 Tony-winning musical made early and often. Fiasco, like Guare and MacDermot, pooh-poohs TWO GENTS’ deficiencies and just has fun with it.
The Bard wrote it for a cast of fifteen, not including servants and musicians, but Fiasco gets by with six. What’s most astonishing is that five of them rehearsed TWO GENTS by day while doing INTO THE WOODS at night at the Laura Pels. The newcomer was Zachary Fine who did have fewer lines to learn, for one of his roles was Crab, who isn’t a crab at all, but a dog. (Well, “crab” spelled backwards almost comes out “bark.”)
Fine, perhaps mirroring what may well happen in a dog’s actual mind (who really knows?), has Crab seem to understand what’s going on now and then but not always. Fine lives up to his surname and then some. To quote a song from a musical that lost the Tony to TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, “I’m so glad I came.”
Neil Labute’s THE WAY WE GET BY is terribly dishonest – my telling you why would reveal too much – but I smiled when Beth (the excellent Amanda Seyfried) complained to Doug (the equally fine Thomas Sadoski) about her roommate’s policy of labeling her possessions so there would be no mistaking who bought what. “I wonder,” says Beth, “if anyone else ever labeled in the history of roommates.”
Beth needs to see Martin McDonagh’s 1999 black comedy THE LONESOME WEST, in which Valene has a black “V” on each and every possession, and taunts his roommate-brother with “It’s mine! Not yours! Mine!” How this all plays out is hilarious. But then again, aren’t all of McDonagh’s plays?
TUESDAYS AT TESCO’S is no TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. At 59E59, this one-person show (okay, there’s also a pianist who plays an occasional riff) has Simon Callow wearing a long blonde wig that sometimes covers his robin’s blue earrings, below which is a quite full bra covered by a red blouse that’s tucked into a beige skirt that’s high above blue pumps.
Once you get a look at the beefy actor thus dressed, you may have to sleep with a night light for the next six months.
Callow is Pauline, born Paul, a transsexual whose aging and widowed father is ailing and cannot go shopping alone. Thus, Pauline accompanies him each Tuesday to one of the 2,500 supermarket-slash-department stores that Tesco’s has in Europe and Asia.
Pauline’s dad is humiliated at having a lost a son but gained a daughter. He literally tries to distance himself from his offspring when they walk to the store and doesn’t make an introduction when he runs into someone he knows. Pauline is incensed at this, and fully expects Dad to understand.
Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande, in adapting Emmanuel Darley’s French play, do make a strong case for transsexual dignity. And yet
given that Callow is fast approaching sixty-six, we can assume Pauline’s father is an octogenarian – and of an era when transsexualism was virtually unknown. Pauline’s assuming that such a father could switch gears on his son’s sex switch may be too much to expect. Frankly, the show would have been more compelling if the play had been written from the father’s point-of-view.
Brian Stokes Mitchell was honored at the New Dramatists Luncheon on May 14, and after his wife Allyson Tucker Mitchell, Stephanie D’Abruzzo and Joe Benincasa paid deserved tribute, Stokes, as he prefers to be called, took to the podium and talked about a package he once received in the mail when he was standing backstage at RAGTIME.
“It was from a guy in Florida and the letter that went on forever and it seemed to be going nowhere. But then in the final paragraph, he said, ‘RAGTIME showed me that I was a racist and I didn’t even know it.’”
Stokes went on to say that the real champs were Terrence McNally and Lynn Ahrens who wrote the words for the show, but he mentioned many other creators, too. He pointed out that theater can eliminate intolerance, homophobia, sexism and cruelty.
Fine – but to me the power of the story was that Stokes was reading a letter that he said was going nowhere but stayed with it through the final paragraph. This is SO typical of this great man. Many a star wouldn’t have deigned to open the package, or would have delayed opening it or would have stopped midway when the letter seemed to be rambling. Leave it to Stokes to give it his full attention. How nice that his patience and perseverance resulted in something that moved him – and all those in attendance at the New Dramatists luncheon.
Sixty-even events in May, sixty-two in June: 54 Below continues to be an unqualified success. Melba Moore was just there doing a dynamic “Don’t Rain on My Parade” that she made in no uncertain terms her own. (I asked her if in 1970 she thought she’d lost the Tony Award to Melissa Hart because presenter Jack Cassidy opened the envelope and announced the winner as “Melissa Moore” instead of Melba. “I was in the wings, and didn’t even hear what he’d said until they were pushing me out: ‘Go out there!’”).
Linda Lavin, who appears there on June 4 and 5, looks absolutely marvelous. “I’ve lost five pounds,” she told me. “That should be the name of the act – but I’m calling it STARTING OVER because that’s what I always like to do.” We reminisced about 1966, when she did THE MAD SHOW and followed it with SUPERMAN, which prompted then-Times critic Stanley Kauffmann to say that he wished Lavin could be in every musical. “Oh, I remember that and still have the clipping, yellow with age. But I remember the bad reviews, too.” I said I couldn’t remember a bad Linda Lavin review, to which she replied. “I was in a show called FOURTH STREET NORTH and a critic said ‘There’s no such place and there should be no such show.’” Yeah, but he didn’t criticize Lavin, did he?
June 24 brings Lauren Worsham to the nightspot. She’s singing a few songs by her husband Kyle Jarrow, and the one I heard is hellishly clever. “We just celebrated our fourth anniversary,” she says, “so he was around when GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE decided it wasn’t going with me. A good friend of mine got it – and turned it down.” And what did the friend say after the show turned out to be the season’s surprise smash? “‘Congratulations,’ actually.” There’s no people like show people; they smile when they are low.
The answer to last month’s brainteaser -- which asked what
FOUR things THE APPLE TREE, BELLS ARE RINGING, DREAMGIRLS, FOLLIES, LITTLE ME, ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, PACIFIC OVERTURES, RAGTIME, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and WEST SIDE STORY have in common -- is that: 1) All were nominated for Best Musical in the seasons in which they opened; 2) All lost; 3) All were later nominated for Best Musical Revival and 4) All lost again.
Ian Ewing was the first to get it, followed by Fred Abramowitz, Donald Tesione, Brigadude, AnyaToes and Ingrid Gammerman.
This month’s Brainteaser: What do these songs have in common?
“Biggest Blame Fool” (SEUSSICAL), “Free” (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM), “The Genius of Cleveland Street” (A CHRISTMAS STORY), “I Love a Piano” (STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!), “Lumbered” (STOP THE WORLD -- I WANT TO GET OFF), “The Name’s LaGuardia” (FIORELLO!), “Stuck-Up” (NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN) and the title songs to CELEBRATION, WILDCAT and OKLAHOMA!
— Peter Filichia