June’s Leftovers and July’s Brainteaser
It was the month of the Tony Awards, of course. The flag behind ON THE TOWN’s sailors sported 48 stars, but we had plenty more in attendance at Radio City Music Hall on June 7.
It was fun to see Kristin Chenoweth mock-fellate Tommy Tune. The E.T. phone-home joke was a good (and expensive) one. Simon Stephens, author of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT said he was glad to write a play that his three kids could see because it contained no swears. Yeah, but after they saw it, could they sleep at night?
I didn’t like Alan Cumming’s constant kvelling about Josh Groban, but loved that Michael Cerveris acknowledged Corey Mitchell, the Tony-winning teacher (and gave an opinion on the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling).
Many have made dozens of suggestions of how to improve the awards, so I’ll give another: may we please have the names of the presenters put on the TV screen, too? Some of us don’t recognize Jennifer Lopez just by her face and body. On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing.
Longtime Broadway observer Jay Clark says that the Tonys would be well-advised to go to a calendar year structure. If the awards were dispensed in January, there’d be an awareness and demand for tickets during the cold winter when shows most need business. Changing right now would be jarring, but if the deadline were moved up by a month each year, by 2023 Clark’s idea could ease into place.
Last month, when I mentioned that Marc Grossberg discovered that there was indeed no “Mr. Orpheum” -- as Rose imagines there to be in GYPSY -- Susan Berlin wrote in to say she learned that from a plaque in the Hirschfeld Theatre. It states that Martin Beck – who built the playhouse in 1924 and named it for himself -- was the head of the Orpheum Circuit. (Of course, for all we know, he might have succeeded Mr. Opheum in the job.)
Best Show of the Month: GUARDS AT THE TAJ by Rajiv Joseph deals with that long-held rumor that Emperor Shah Jahan did something truly terrible to the workers who built the Taj Mahal. Put it this way: the claim that a Chinese emperor made women bind their feet so they’d resemble lotus blossoms seem humanitarian in comparison.
But the characters on whom Joseph centers are Humayun and Babur, Imperial Guards who must ensure that no one gets a premature peek at the Taj in its 16th year of construction (with five still to go). Humayun’s a by-the-book conservative who’s thrilled to have a job, while best friend Babur is far more liberal and asks many piecing questions. Why are only “masons, laborers and slaves” allow to see this building? Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if they turned around and looked?
No, but it will spoil their lives. Joseph’s play has a great deal to do with questioning authority and its ramifications. He deals with large issues -- how bad political systems can stay bad – and smaller ones, too -- how promotions allow people to forget what they had to do, however awful, to get them. It’s a lot to digest in 85 minutes, but a good deal of humor – more than you might expect -- helps.
One thing: Omar Metwally (Humayun) and Arian Moayed (Babur) both have mustaches. We can tell them apart in the first scene where they’re cheek-by-jowl and facing us. But when they move into Scene Two and are no longer in military formation, they’re hard to tell apart. Maybe this is what director Amy Morton wanted to indicate that they’re more alike than they think. Whatever the case, because she staged the play so effectively, I won’t complain too loudly.
Worst Show of the Month: DEVIL AND THE DEEP, the strangely named adaptation of TREASURE ISLAND. The press materials offer an interview with co-composer and lyricist Graham Russell. “What kind of things were you thinking when you started writing?” he was asked, to which he responded “I never think about it. I just let my mind wander and play.”
As Desiree says in NIGHT MUSIC, “Yes, that much seems clear.” Russell’s music, written with Katie McGhie, does sound right for the 18th century, but these souls seem most interested in doing one production number after another. That hurts because Sarita Lou’s choreography ranges from perfunctory to ludicrous. A mostly non-Equity cast sings terribly, too. But there is a handsome prop-parrot.
Much of the show glorifies going to sea. “The ship is our home, our safety, our lover,” says Mizzy Hands, the female version of Israel Hands whom Robert Louis Stevenson wrote. During intermission I started thinking, yes, sailing does mean you do get to visit ports of call; yes, waking up and going on deck on a brisk morning must be exhilarating. But there are so few options on what to do on a ship, aren’t there? It’s an awfully small neighborhood. You’d better like your shipmates, too, because they’re the only people you’re going to see day-in, day-out for months at a time. DEVIL AND THE DEEP actually makes one NOT want to go to sea and makes one wishes he’d missed this musical.
Producer of the Month, nay Year, nay Millennium: Eric Krebs, who’s doing something to get kids into the theater. All right, plenty of producers do, but only by pandering to teens’ baser instincts by giving them theatrical inanities and garbage. We’ll never have a good new audience by continuing to lower our standards. Let them come to quality.
So Krebs started Masterworks Theater Company, which gives kids the chance to see fine plays. First came THE GLASS MENAGERIE (I can only hope they react with the empathy I did when I saw it as a teen) and now A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in a nicely abridged 95-minute presentation.
Bet some kids related to Helena’s unpopularity as much as they do Elphaba’s. The sound of young laughter rippling through the house was music to my ears. So were Nick Cearley’s songs which, as Puck, he sang with zest.
And finally, for those of you who felt my Theatre World Awards on June 1 went on too long, frankly, we were vamping and killing time until Sydney Lucas and Emily Skeggs of FUN HOME could finish their Monday performance and get over to us. Wouldn’t you know, because of the Tonys, it was the ONLY Monday they had a performance?
The answer to Last month’s Brainteaser: the commonality of the songs named was that all involved spelling. “Biggest Blame Fool” (SEUSSICAL) spelled out “R-e-s-p-e-c-k” and “The Genius of Cleveland Street” (A CHRISTMAS STORY) did “M-a-e-W-blank-s-t.” “Free” (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED), “Lumbered” (STOP THE WORLD), “Stuck-Up” (NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN) and the title songs of CELEBRATION and OKLAHOMA! all spelled out their song titles, while “I Love a Piano” (STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!) and “The Name’s LaGuardia” (FIORELLO!) each chose one word in its title to spell.
Christopher Berg was the first to get it, followed by Brigadude, Peter Alfano, Ken Bailey, Ingrid Gammerman, Jack Lechner, Marc Castle,
Arthur Robinson, Anya Toes, Deb Poppel, Fred Abramowitz, Rob Witherwax, Bob Burger, Scott McClintock, David Mitchell, Ted Waltmire, Karen Valen, Stuart Ira Soloway, Jim Dickey, Bryan Brooks,
Ron Fassler, Laura Frankos. Joseph Miller, George Connolly, John Bacarella, Charles Faul, Paul Mendenhall, Tony Janicki, Ed Glazier,
Marc Miller, Jason Flum, Joe Marino, Mike Meaney, Jeff Vellenga and Ian Ewing.
By the way, Ewing was the first to get the previous month’s answer. Guess Matthew in the New Testament had a point when he wrote “But many who are first will be last.”
This month’s brainteaser asks you to find something of numerical interest in these Tony-winning musicals. They’ve been put in this order for a specific reason: DAMN YANKEES, REDHEAD, MY FAIR LADY and THE MUSIC MAN.
You know where to find me.
— Peter Filichia