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 November 9, 2012

"Finally – October Leftovers

As I mentioned last week, Hurricane Sandy kept me from posting the Leftovers that I usually relate at the end of each month. Would that that were the worst thing to happen during the God-awful storm! Here’s hoping that you and yours survived without too much damage or inconvenience.

Let’s escape to the world of make-believe, where life can be as sweet as The Other Josh Cohen. What a lovely musical! While the score doesn’t sound like Lerner and Loewe, I did think of Mordred’s line “It’s not the earth the meek inherit; it’s the dirt.” This show implies otherwise, and for that – as well as wit, style, lovely performances, terrific direction and choreography and a fabulous female drummer -- I’m grateful.

Of course, being grateful is easier for some than for others – especially those associated with Rebecca. Remember how Neil Simon in The Sunshine Boys insisted that words with “k” sounds are inherently funny? (“‘Chicken’ is funny. ‘Pickle’ is funny. ‘Alka-Seltzer’ is funny.”) Well, there are “k” sounds in both “Rebecca” and “Sprecher” (as in Rebecca’s lead producer Ben). Considering that the two words are close enough to be rhymed, Gerard Alessandrini must be very happy.

Having an easier time of it is A Christmas Story. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Broadway’s current wunderkinds, showed three of their numbers to the press – and they, as well as director John Rando and choreographer Warren Carlyle, knew which ones to display: “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun,” in which young Ralphie decides on what he wants for Christmas; “Ralphie to the Rescue,” where he shows us that he wants a gun to protect people and not to terrorize them; and “A Major Award” in which his father becomes convinced that what he won as a prize is really much better than it is. Johnny Rabe is a sensational Ralphie. John Bolton – one of the few to be retained as the show made its way to Broadway – is teriffic, too. But keep an eye out for copper-haired ensemble member Kirsten Wyatt. Would that every chorus member on Broadway worked as hard!

“Won’t you be my neighbor?” Mr. Rogers used to ask. Easy for him to sing. Detroit, Lisa D’Amour’s play that had to extend at Playwrights Horizons, suggested that you might do better to not deal with neighbors. Sharon rues that you just can no longer cross the street and borrow a cup of sugar, but what she and her husband Kenny do to poor Ben and Mary make a strong case for isolationism.

On the other hand, Mary is the first to bring her problems to Sharon, because she badly needs solace from someone, anyone. People need to connect, but we’re all so complicated today that finding kindred spirits isn’t easy. Every time one of the four says something that one, two or three don’t understand, an awkward pause is followed by a forced laugh and forgiveness. Maybe the next exchange will be the Rosetta Stone that will make everyone understand the other.

More likely, bad neighbors will drag you down to their level, which is substantially below sea level. Given what happens in Detroit, the play could just as easily have been entitled God of Carnage –not just because of its plot, but because it’s just as good.

Upstairs these days at the Peter Sharp Theatre is The Whale. It’s about ... this whale of a guy, close to 600 pounds. And Shuler Hensley – who’s magnificent in the part – thought that Jud Fry and The Young Frankenstein monster would be the strangest roles he’d play!

How he got this way is well-explained by gifted playwright Samuel D. Hunter. What’s so sad is that he’s constantly apologizing to his visitor, daughter, ex-wife and friend (the extraordinary Cassie Beck) for what he’s allowed himself to become. Fat means you always have to say you’re sorry.

Where were you in ’62 when Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opened? Not around? Don’t fret: the new production at the Booth is superb. Amy Morton and Tracy Letts don’t get the entrance applause that was once afforded Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill, but they certainly earn sustained handclaps at show’s end. These two, living in the mythical town of New Carthage, make it seem as if New Carthage must be destroyed. Nick and Honey, their guests, soon realize that this is not the land of Nick and Honey.

Edward Albee has jacked up the language to include some f-words and one m-f-word that even he didn’t dare 50 seasons ago. And the melodies to the two songs are different, too. Originally, “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Mush” provided the melody for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”; now it’s the familiar Disney theme that we’d all expected in the first place. But alas, when Nick roars that “I’m nobody’s houseboy,” Morton and Letts are unable to replicate the melody of the ol’ 1924 hit “You’re Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” that that Hagen and Hill nailed perfectly. Guess too much time has passed for anyone connected with the production to now remember the song.

Mirabile dictum, the play is still done in three acts. No condensing to two for director extraordinaire Pam MacKinnon. Let’s hope that the two intermissions weren’t demanded by concessionaires, who figured they could do twice the business in a three-act show. After all, theatergoers who watch four people drink for hours on end might become extra-thirsty.

Love Todd Rosenthal’s book-filled set, too -- especially because he put books in the fireplace. George and Martha apparently don’t light fires there any longer, but they certainly light many a metaphorical one in the rest of the room. So now that George, Martha, Nick and Honey have played Humiliate the Host, Hump the Hostess and Get the Guests, the time has come for you to play Relish the Revival.

Not Cyrano de Bergerac’s revival, however. How do you feel about a musician noisily plucking strings while exposition is delivered? All right, many of us know the set-up for Rostand’s play, but many others don’t. So why does director Jamie Lloyd obfuscate with annoying music?

Christal Schanes, credited with “Prosthetic Nose Design,” has created a schnozzola that isn’t just long, but bifurcated. It appears to be something that a Body Modification enthusiast would dream up – but think twice before adopting. That Douglas Hodge is hard to look at isn’t the only problem; he doesn’t seem at all French, what with his Cockney accent and British Music Hall demeanor. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d suddenly come out singing “Have a banana.” In Ranjit Bolt’s too-often-anachronistic translation, anything would be possible.

So how did Hodge get such good reviews? I understood when he played the final scene, in which he’s marvelous and touching. As Rose Hovick said, “If you have a good strong finish, they’ll forgive anything.”

Last month’s brainteaser: I gave the titles of 13 Broadway musicals and asked what they had in common. The answer was that they all had songs that included the names of dances in their titles: The Wild Party (“Black Bottom”), So Long, 174th Street (“Bolero on Rye”), Bells Are Ringing (“Mu-Cha-Cha”), The Boy Friend (“Won’t You Charleston with Me?”), Wonderful Town (“Conga!”), Side by Side by Sondheim (“Can That Boy Fox-Trot”), Sweet Charity (“Rich Man’s Frug”), My Fair Lady (“Ascot Gavotte”), John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (“The Merry Minuet”), 110 in the Shade (“Poker Polka”), Legs Diamond (“Tropicabana Rhumba”), Chicago (“Cell Block Tango”) and Evita (“Waltz for Eva and Che”).

David H. Cohen was the first to get it, followed by Brigadude, Joseph Miller, AnyaToes, Ingrid Gammerman and Laura Frankos.

This month’s brainteaser: all these shows have something in common, and there’s a reason why they’re listed in this specific order. Any ideas?

Ragtime, Call Me Madam, Merrily We Roll Along, Jackpot, Marilyn, South Pacific, Wildcat, Damn Yankees, Hit the Trail, Oh, Look!, Window Shopping, Allegro, A Lonely Romeo, City of Angels, Street Scene, A Broadway Musical, Rent, Victor/Victoria, The Selling of the President, The Goodbye Girl, Camelot, Very Good Eddie, Starmites, The Young Man from Atlanta, The Book of Mormon, So Long, 174th Street, The Wiser They Are, 1776, Woman of the Year, Spite Corner, Anyone Can Whistle, Teddy & Alice, The Wife, Senator Joe, Two Little Girls in Blue, Good News, Vintage ’60, Our Nell, Hot September, Jefferson Davis, Keep off the Grass, Dearest Enemy, and No Time for Sergeants.

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia


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