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 June 28, 2013

June’s Leftovers and July’s Brainteaser

It’s officially summertime, and the living is easy – unless you have kids home from school. Send them to Broadway Triple Threat 2013, the marvelous workshop for young performers. It’s a six-day musical theater summer intensive in New York (July 15-20) and Philadelphia (August 5-10). “We sing, dance, act and sweat,” says artistic director and Broadway vet Catherine Cox. She and David Evans will be there, as well as Billy Porter. Jerry Mitchell and Laura Osnes, each of whom had a very good season, will teach your kids to have one, too. Visit

June, of course, is the month of the Tonys, and Tuesday morning after the broadcast, I sauntered by the Shubert to see how Matilda would handle its Best Musical loss. Would there be a sign saying “Winner! Four Tony Awards!”?

Nope. Nothing about the Tonys. Matilda’s policy may now be “the less, said the better.”

But, oh, was there a sign that proclaimed “Winner! 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical!” swinging under the Hirschfeld marquee. As a Best Musical of a dozen years ago proclaimed, “When you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

One of those half-dozen Tonys went to Jerry Mitchell, who said in his acceptance speech that his cast would walk through walls for him. Quick! Sign up one of the Kinky Boots men as the lead in a revival of Amour.

While Neil LaBute’s last play was called reasons to be pretty – all in lowercase letters -- the new one seems to be REASONS TO BE HAPPY – all in capitals. No, it doesn’t trump the earlier play, but there’s reason to cheer a work that LaBute could have called This Is Our Youth if Kenneth Lonergan hadn’t first used the title.

That’s LaBute’s skill: showing us how lower-middle-class twentysomethings deal with love and friendship. He shows that most of the time they fail miserably, but every now and then they come out with a line that shows depth of feeling, perception and intelligence.

Case in point: Greg tells his now-ex-girlfriend Stephanie that when they were together, he didn’t believe that his feelings for her had to be established time and time again because “it was obvious.” Stephanie replies: “‘Obvious’ doesn’t suck when it comes to love.” This gives another meaning to the acronym PDA: private declarations of affection. She’s right; they should be given early and often.

But Stephanie isn’t above criticizing Greg’s new girlfriend Carly’s looks. One reason is that Stephanie wants him back and will try anything to make that happen. After she decimates Carly’s appearance, she shrugs and tries to slough it off with “Life is fuckin’ nuts” – as if the world is responsible for her damnations and not she.

Lorelei Lee taught us that “A kiss on the hand is quite continental,” but LaBute reminds us that a kiss on the forehead is not a girl’s best friend. The way he stages this and everything else defuses the long-held belief that playwrights shouldn’t direct their own works. I assume he also chose the noisy acidic rock played between scenes; that’s smart, too, for this is the music that has shaped his characters: brutal and insensitive. What else could they turn out to be?

The audience at the Lortel had the Wait-and-See Syndrome: they didn’t applaud after each scene in Act One -- but then they did applaud after each scene in Act Two. That’s much better than the other way around. REASONS TO BE HAPPY is going to get similar reactions from many crowds.

LaBute’s show has a cast of four; The Banana Monologues has but one performer – John R. Brennan -- telling a similar story (although he did it with two other playwrights: Jason C. Cooper and Mary Cimino). The four characters are Gus, who was doing fine with Alexis (well, kinda fine) until Darby came along. And who’s the fourth character? Gus’ penis, who has a lot to say. Now you understand that the title is a riff on The Vagina Monologues. The difference: the twentysomething audience roared far more lustily than they did at the Eve Ensler’s hit.

Meanwhile, at the Delacorte in Central Park, esteemed director Dan Sullivan apparently thinks that there’s an Ephesus, NY, because he’s set The Comedy of Errors in New York State. Thus, the Syracuse from which the boys come isn’t the one that Shakespeare had in mind, but the city in Onondaga County.

The director’s masterstroke is having Hamish Linklater and Jesse Tyler Ferguson respectively play both Antipholi and Dromios. Having the actors do double duty results in situations exponentially four times as funny. Lucky for Linklater and Ferguson that the temperatures haven’t been too high yet this summer, or else one of them would have dropped dead by now.

Wait, you’re asking: with only two actors in the leads, how does Sullivan get around having both sets of twins on stage at play’s end? Rather deftly, in fact.

The evening moves speedily, partly because Sullivan’s shaved the play to 90 minutes – about the length of three syndicated sitcoms shown one after the other, or one sitcom-reunion special. The comparison isn’t a bad one; the comedy does play like low-level TV fare. (Give the Bard a break; he was just starting out when he wrote it.)

Actually, because Sullivan has set it in the ‘40s and has jitterbuggers coming on between scenes, the evening better resembles an old TV variety show where sketches and songs shared each program. Of course, you’d never see a nun on those shows, and here you get Becky Ann Baker playing one quite in period. (Translation: she has a wooden ruler in her hand and she’s not afraid to use it.)

Still, I prefer a Comedy of Errors set in its original era, which allows everyone to wear togas. What are the odds that both Dromios would wear identical brown suits, gray vests and red bow ties? What are the chances that both Antipholi would wear identical gray suits and black hats? Nicky Silver took a lot of heat for his 2002 adaptation of The Boys from Syracuse -- a musical version of The Comedy of Errors – but at least he had the Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse start out by going to a men’s clothing shop where they took a salesman’s advice: “Oh, this is what everyone’s wearing.”

Speaking of Shakespeare, this weekend the industrious and accomplished Seeing Place Theater will wrap up its successful run of not only Hamlet but also Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with 12 actors playing the same roles in each. Brandon Walker is sensational in both, although he has much more to do in the former because he plays the title role. I’ve seen Hamlet 14 times (starting with Richard Burton in 1964) and I heard new interpretations of famous lines time and time again.

In the latter play, Philip Lakin plays Rosencrantz and Robert King portrays Guildenstern – or is it the other way around? I can’t be sure, because the guys themselves don’t seem to be certain of whom they are. However, at play’s end when Lakin (I guess) says “We’re still young, fit; we’ve got years; we’ve done no wrong,” I found myself nodding in agreement. Terrific actors both.

As if Walker didn’t have enough to do, he co-directed both plays with Erin Cronican, who also plays Ophelia. Give the kids a chance if you’re around West 54th Street this weekend.

Of course, this isn’t the first time these two plays have been done in rep. A word to the next theater company interested in doing Hamlet:
Why not pair it with Michael Stewart’s Those That Play the Clowns, his take on Hamlet from the point-of-view of the players who happen to arrive at Elsinore? All right, it only ran four performances in 1966, but I’ll bet it has some worth.

Onto my buddy Rick Thompson, who told me that he got some recent cast albums and didn’t much like the lyrics. He couldn’t bear the half-rhymes: the “m’s” hooked with “n’s,” singulars “matched” with plurals, all of which are embellished with wrong accents on syllables. And yet, Thompson noted, each CD booklet proudly details each and every lyric as if it were precious. That led us both to wonder: when did printing all the lyrics inside cast albums begin? My guess is Godspell, whose inner record sleeve boasted all of them. Let me know if I’m right.

That’s not this month’s brainteaser; this is. What do the following songs from Broadway musicals all have in common? “7½ Cents” (The Pajama Game), “You Did It” (My Fair Lady), “Once in a Lifetime” (Stop the World – I Want to Get Off), “Melisande” (110 in the Shade), “Mama, a Rainbow” (Minnie’s Boys), “Movies Were Movies” (Mack & Mabel), “We’re in the Money” (42nd Street), “Muddy Water” (Big River), “I Got Rhythm” (Crazy for You), “I Want to Know” (Big), “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Ibid.) and “Show People” (Curtains).

You know where to find me.

As for last month’s brainteaser: I said that 10 musicals had something in common, and asked you to find what it was. The answer was that they all had songs that didn’t have specific titles, but were songs simply named after the characters who sang them: Billy Elliot (“Grandma’s Song”), A Class Act (“Bobby’s Song”), Falsettos (“Trina’s Song”), Jesus Christ Superstar (“King Herod’s Song”), Mame (“Gooch’s Song), Nine (“Guido’s Song”), Snoopy!!! (“Snoopy’s Song”), Take Me Along (“Wint’s Song”), The Tap Dance Kid (“William’s Song”) and Titanic (“Barrett’s Song”).

Jack Lechner was the first to get it, followed by Ira Rappaport, Brigadude, Rebecca Turtledove and AnyaToes. Congrats to all!

         — Peter Filichia

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