June’s Leftovers and July’s Brainteaser
It was the month in which Mark Rylance didn’t give an asinine acceptance speech. Meanwhile, JERSEY BOYS had to start advertising “Live! On Stage!” while that show at the Majestic finally got up its north side marquee that had been down for so long. However, it only says PHANTOM, which makes me wonder if anyone attending will assume he’s seeing the Yeston-Kopit version.
I thought of 1776 while watching RUGANTINO at City Center. Would this 1962 Italian musical break the record set by Peter Stone: a 30-minute scene without a song? No, not quite, but, my, were there arid stretches of low comedy between the lovely songs that I’ve cherished since I got the original Roman cast album way back when.
The vinyl-only disc suggests a genuine musical play instead of a rather silly musical comedy with a firm choreographic merry-villagers foot in operetta. But the predominantly Italian audience adored it, even giving spontaneous entrance applause to star (and director) Enrico Brignano, who, to be frank, is too portly and dull to play the chick-magnet that Rugantino is supposed to be.
More surprising, the theatergoers burst into more spontaneous applause when they heard the opening bars of “Roma Nun Fa La Stupida Stasera.” As I mentioned in my RUGANTINO article a few weeks ago, I was surprised in 1985 when I was in Rome and heard this played by a pianist in a restaurant. But when you’ve got a standard, you’ve got a standard.
What a shame for John Shivers and David Patridge that the Tonys dropped the sound design categories. Their work on HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME is extraordinary – not too loud, as many have feared, and certainly not too soft. As the line goes in GOLDILOCKS (the fairy tale, not the musical), “It was j-u-s-s-s-t right.”
HOLLER tells the brutal truth about certain members of the urban African-American community: how even as five-year-olds, blacks are often judged as suspicious when they simply walk into a store. Such a start can make a kid awfully sour, angry and old before his time.
Thus, there’s a good deal of fury in Todd Kriedler’s book and the songs taken from Tupac Amaru Shakur’s catalogue. (And people say Chekhov is depressing.) Finally, if you add up all the 20th century productions of OEDIPUS REX in every theater in this country, you’ll still find more “mother-fuckers” in this show.
When WITHIN THE LAW closed in December, 1913, only two plays had ever run longer on Broadway. Yes, 541 performances was an extraordinarily long run in those days. (The more things change, the more they stay the same; in the last 30 years, of the 369 new non-musical plays that opened on Broadway, only 14 managed to run longer.)
One can see why this play was a hit – and why it’s a hit for the Metropolitan Playhouse right now in Michael Hardart’s excellent production. We’re told that Mary Turner has been toiling for five years in a store owned by Mr. Gilder (the fine John D. McNally). Stolen merchandise was found in her locker, and Gilder prosecuted. Mary has steadfastly insisted that she was innocent and that the stolen goods were planted. This morning, Mary was found guilty and Gilder told the judge to give her three years to make an example out of her.
This exposition comes before we meet her. First, however, shopgirl Helen Morris bursts in, frantically asking what’s happened to Mary. How clever of playwright Bayard Veiller: the woman is so nervous that we know that she’s the thief.
Mary comes in, and thanks to a galvanizing performance by Elisabeth Preston, makes us believe she’s innocent when confronting Gilder. But she does take time to make the point that people DO steal when employers don’t pay them enough. It is, sad to say, a still-timely message in these days when the minimum wage is still heavily debated.
Act Two takes place four years later. Mary didn’t waste her time in the pen, but learned every legal loophole that could make her successful. She wants revenge, but only if she can accomplish it legally. However, making it legal with the smitten Richard Gilder (yup, the store owner’s son) makes the plan that much easier.
Alas, Act Three goes in a less interesting direction and the play might well have been better if it had quit after the second act. But to see the big sensation of the 1912-13 season in a splendid production is a night very well-spent.
Mary Turner is so smart that she deserves to be first lady of the land. In fact, she later was – for that’s the name George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind chose for their heroine in OF THEE I SING. Given that the new interactive event SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE is said to take place in 1933, the lounge singer would have been well-advised to sing a Gershwin tune from that show and not “Summertime.” PORGY AND BESS wasn’t heard until 1935.
The audience-participation show made me realize why TONY ‘N’ TINA’S WEDDING has been the world’s biggest interactive hit. It’s a celebration where most everyone is in a good mood and is nice to every guest. Even when Tina’s old beau shows up there’s not much of a conflict; little time passes before we return to celebrating.
Instead, SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE involves bootleggers and mobsters who lurk about looking angry. One racketeer makes a racket by banging his fist against those metal pull-down gates that stores use when they’re closed and threatens a woman (and a plant) whom he told not to return.
I, a long-time interactive theater veteran, decided he needed a little wising up. When he started talking while a singer was warbling, I snarled loudly “Hey, you, shut up! There’s a lady singing!”
What was he going to do? Beat me up? Kill me? That’s the flaw in this show: these animals can only be paper tigers. This actor stayed away from me for the rest of the performance. Every time I hatefully glared at him, he quickly avoided eye contact. As I was leaving, I looked at him disgustedly and muttered, “Ya big pussy.” He pretended that he didn’t hear me. But he did.
However – on one of the speakeasy’s bookshelves, you’ll find a copy of STAY AWAY, JOE, the novel on which the 1958 musical WHOOP-UP was based. Pick it up, sit down and read; it’ll be more interesting than anything that goes on in SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE.
On my way to the Mint Theater Company, I passed by Second Stage, whose posters trumpeted a 35th anniversary season. I remembered when it was ensconced in its modest space above the fondly-remembered Promenade. Now it has a handsome playhouse with oh-so-comfy seats.
The Mint deserves as much, and I’m sure will get it, for here is one of the city’s most reliable companies that gives great productions to plays we’ve barely or never known. Producing artistic director Jonathan Bank really went out on a limb with DONOGOO, Jules Romains’ 1930 Parisian hit. Many in Bank’s position who saw a script that requires THIRTEEN actors would stop right there. Bank instead read the play and said “Let’s do it.”
Did Murray Schisgal know about DONOGOO when he wrote his 1964 smash LUV? It too starts with a man about to throw himself off a bridge when an old friend comes along and stops him. Although LUV veers into a completely different direction, DONOGOO contains the same absurdist humor that made Schisgal wealthy: Lamendin (James Riordan) explains that he chose this moment to jump because the water is a comfortable 55 degrees.
This isn’t “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” but “The Professor’s New Country.” Le Trouhadec (the superb George Morfogen) once wrote about an imaginary land, but the quickly revived Lamendin spurs everyone to believe there’s a fortune waiting there in Donogoo-Tonka (the play’s original name, in fact) in South America. And if you say it, they will come.
I loved the travel poster for Donogoo that showed a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end that would trump anything that Og could find.
There’s that old joke about coming out of a show and whistling the scenery? Well, you’ll be whistling in admiration at the projections that Roger Hanna and Price Johnston have whipped up and how well they work with Hanna’s set. You’ll also see the best vomit scene since GOD OF CARNAGE and witness out-of-control rumors and equally out-of-control humor.
No, I’m not angry with PAT KIRKWOOD IS ANGRY in her cabaret show at 59E59. Jessica Walker is very good in telling the tale of the West End star who’s best remembered for spending a long evening with Prince Philip while Queen Elizabeth II was in her eighth month of pregnancy.
But how could Walker miss the irony that Kirkwood had been in a 1941 London musical called LADY BEHAVE or that in the 1949 musical ROUNDABOUT she sang a song called “Making Hay?”
Instead, Walker centers on Kirkwood’s childhood, mother, marriages and divorces. Look, when you buy a theatrical biography, don’t you immediately go to the index to find the shows that the subject of the bio did? Aren’t you far less interested in a star’s upbringing and personal life?
Given that most Americans don’t know who Kirkwood was, they can’t be expected to care about her difficult off-stage life. Walker has a winning personally and sings very well. Here’s advice from a smart song that Martin Charnin wrote for Nancy Wilson: “Don’t Talk. Just Sing.”
Yes, Walker does mention Kirkwood’s film musicals and sings the title song from Noel (ME AND MY GIRL) Gay’s SAVE A LITTLE SUNSHINE. She touches upon her London musicals, too, such as BLACK VELVET, the first show to open after the war forced theaters to close in 1939.
And if you thought that “Sail Away” was written for the 1961 musical of that title, Walker lets you know that Noel Coward recycled it from his 1950 Kirkwood-starrer ACE OF CLUBS.
But there’s nothing about Kirkwood also playing the title role in CHRYSANTHEMUM (you read that right; the woman’s name was Chrysanthemum) and that doing an excerpt on TV backfired. Sets fell down and the star was unnerved into a bad performance. At least one can’t say that about Jessica Walker. She plants her legs as squarely as Hilary Knight’s logo for the Lansbury GYPSY and sings with as much abandon.
Terrific production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Delacorte.
In the “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” department, there’s Claudio (a delicious Jack Cutmore-Scott), who isn’t above tricking Benedick (the impressive Hamish Linklater) into loving Beatrice (the stunning Lily Rabe). And yet, he’ll soon be the butt of a ruse perpetrated by Don John and won’t like it one bit. Pedro Pascal is the best Don John I’ve seen. If this guy were alive today, he’d be starting computer viruses. Finally, I want to see a gender-bending COMEDY OF ERRORS in which Lily Rabe and Victoria Clark play either Dromios or Antipholi; they look that much alike.
Last month’s brainteaser: What do these songs have in common? “Ever After”(INTO THE WOODS), “I’m Way Ahead” (SEESAW), “Jimmy” (THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE), “The Labyrinth Underground” (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), “The Letter” (MAME), “Repent” (ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY), “See What It Gets You” (ANYONE CAN WHISTLE) and “She’s No Longer a Gypsy” (APPLAUSE).
All of them include at least a little of the show’s title song that had been heard earlier in the musical. Arthur Robinson was the first to get it, followed by Jack Lechner, David Kanter, Joe Miller, Brigadude, Ted Zoldan, Kevin Dawson, Jay Aubrey Jones, Andrew Milner, Ian Ewing and Robby Sandler.
This month’s brainteaser: What do the following Broadway attractions have in common? ACCOMPLICE, BILOXI BLUES, BROOKLYN, the 2005 revival of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, JERSEY BOYS, A LOSS OF ROSES, the 1983 revival of MAME, THE NEWS, ONE NIGHT STAND, THE PEE WEE HERMAN SHOW, THE PIANO LESSON, SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK, VINTAGE ’60, THE VISIT and the 2003 revival of WONDERFUL TOWN.
You know where to find me.
— Peter Filichia