Theater Diary – Spring 2013

This is a “catch-up” post for my theatergoing this spring, covering ten shows attended between March and May.

First I’ll comment briefly on the two City Center Encores productions that I haven’t yet mentioned on this blog.  They are Rodgers & Hart’s “On Your Toes” and Strouse and Adams’ “It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman.”  I found both of the productions up to the high standards of Encores, definitely meeting the series’ goal of providing a fresh outing for deserving older shows that are unlikely to get a full-blown Broadway revival.   In both cases, it is easy to understand why there haven’t been recent full-scale Broadway productions.  Neither has a strong enough book to warrant it, although I think a bit more of “On Your Toes” in this respect.  Certainly Rodgers’ music for that show is stronger than Strouse’s music for “Superman,” and doing “Superman” as a musical show was always a strange idea, anyway.  But getting to hear the music live for both shows was worth while, and they provide a fine showcase for many young performers.  With “On Your Toes” we had the bonus of some really fantastic young dancers – Joaquin de Luz and Irina Dvorovenko – playing soloists of the Russian ballet company, and the interesting contrast between them and the more traditional Broadway musical theater types.  In both cases, I searched out cast recordings of the shows and have enjoyed listening to them again, but would really love to have cast recordings from these Encores productions, since the young leads were excellent in both.

Kinky Boots – I was lucky to see this early in the run, as my theater-going companion suggested that we order tickets long before the first previews began.  Cyndi Lauper’s music is not the type I usually enjoy listening to, but it worked very well in the context of this show, and won her a Tony the other day.  Harvey Fierstein’s book is entertaining and, at times, moving, and the entire production is very well-conceived and was brilliantly executed when I attended.  Billy Porter’s star-turn as Lola certainly deserved the Oscar that he won, but i was no less taken by Stark Sands excellent work as Charlie Price.  The entire ensemble for this production was really superb.  Kudos to director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell for a magnificent achievement.  Deserved Tony for best musical.

The Nance – I’ll go to see just about anything with Nathan Lane, but I had some problems with this show.  Not with Lane’s performance, of course, or with the star-making turn of Jonny Orsini as his younger boyfriend, but I thought the first act was weak, bogged down with exposition.  I thought the second act was stronger, although then the show seemed to just peter out at the end.  It does present an interesting and disturbing slice of pre-WWII gay life in New York, and author Douglas Carter Beane has done his homework well.  It is certainly worth seeing, but be prepared for it to take a rather serious turn and to exit the theater feeling a bit unnerved.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Closed since I saw it, so I’m not going to say very much, other than that I thought it was a failed effort to turn Capote’s work into a stage play.  Richard Greenberg has so many things going (I’ll be seeing “The Assembled Parties” tonight) that there are bound to be a few misses among the hits.  It just didn’t hold together very well, and I didn’t believe Emilia Clarke’s character at all. Cory Michael Smith came off a bit better, but still I was struck by the pointless nature of the proceedings.

Nikolai and the Others – I loved this to pieces!  But then, as a classical music lover, I would naturally be intrigued by the depiction of Igor Stravinsky in creative collaboration with George Ballanchine in creating his Orpheus ballet.  John Glover as Stravinsky was odd casting from a physical point of view – the composer was very short, and Glover is very tall – but in every other respect seemed to accord with the biographies I’ve read in capturing the essential character of the man.  Michael Cerveris as Ballanchine was extraordinary.  Dale Place as Serge Koussevitsky, conductor of the Boston Symphony, also seemed to capture the reputed character of the man.  The remainder of the characters were somewhat familiar to me from passing mentions in books I’ve read, but not so vivid in my memory to comment on their depictions.  The author played fast and loose with some of the history in order to fulfill his goal of depicting a country-home encounter of this particular set of characters – Sergey Sudeikin was already dead at the time when this story is taking place, as the author confesses in a note in the program, but he wanted the celebration of Sudeikin’s birthday as the excuse to bring this particular group, including Nicky Nabokov and his friend Chip Bohlen, together in the company of Stravinsky, Ballanchine, and the wives and ex-wives and lovers attendant to them.  Two dancers in the cast work with Ballanchine on the choreography – Michael Rosen and Natalia Alonso – and they were eminently watchable!  I think those with a historic bent will find this fun; others may just find it confusing.

MacBeth – The current MacBeth on B’way for a limited run is a National Theatre of Scotland production of a truncated version of Shakespeare’s play sort of enacted solo by Alan Cumming.  The program book gives a plot summary of Shakespeare’s MacBeth, but it is not actually enacted on the stage.  Instead, we get Cumming and two staff members of what seems to be some kind of prison or residential health care institution.  Cumming’s status is never made explicitly clear.  Is he an inmate, a prisoner, a victim in a hospital?  At any rate, he’s the only one with dialogue, with rare exeption, and he’s alone on stage most of the time, acting out bits and pieces of the Shakespeare dialogue.  Some of it is effective, some of it seems just strange, and at times it feels more like an Alan Cumming ego trip than a real play.  At the end, I found it entertaining much of the time, although my theater-going companion thought it was just awful. 

Ann – Holland Tayler channels Texas Governor Ann Richards for one of the most entertaining and amusing one-person shows that I’ve ever seen.  I read today that the run is being truncated because they have not been drawing enough of an audience, and that’s a real shame because lots of people should see this show.  I guess people thinking about whether to go consider prospectively that it is basically one woman talking at them for a few hours, and they can’t help but feel that it will be a drag, but it isn’t.   Tayler, who researched and wrote the entire thing, is inventively directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein and manages to keep things very interesting throughout.  At the end I felt that this was time well-spent.

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike – I didn’t think that Christopher Durang’s play was quite as marvelous as some others have suggested.  My anticipation was that this was supposed to be uproariously amusing.  I didn’t find it so.  Was it supposed to be farce?  Some of the over-the-top stuff suggested it was intended to be.  I thought many of the parts were underwritten in spots.  Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce, Kristine Nielsen, Shalita Grant, Liesel Allen Yeager and Billy Magnussen are all fine actors — and Magnussen’s skin scenes were fun to see — but there was so much silliness on stage without being intensely humorous that I lost patience at times. 

Three Kinds of Exile – Atlantic Theater Company presents three short plays by John Guare, with Guare making his own stage debut in the second of the trio.  Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood, but I thought the evening devolved to decreasing interest as it went along.  The opening bit, a monologue delivered by Martin Moran, relating a bit of a shaggy dog story, held my attention the best.  Then there is a dialogue that seemed hautingly familiar, with Guare and Omar Sangare relating the story of a Polish film star who married a NY Times reporter and then saw her career sidetracked when the reporter was expelled from Poland and they moved back to NY, she got divorced, and ultimately failed to re-establish a career here (although she stayed, having obtained US citizenship).  I didn’t find Guare particularly effective as an actor — his volume and enunciation were underwhelming – but Omar Sangare was superb.  The final piece called for a full ensemble and I found it to be a bit of an incomprehensible mess, with David Pittu as the central character, Witold Gombrowicz.  I never really figured out what this third piece was supposed to be about.  I guess when one subscribes to a season by a company specializing in new works, things will be hit or miss.  (I recently blogged about another Atlantic Theater production that I found superb….)  

So, that brings me up-to-date on the theater….  More later when I’ve seen The Assembled Parties tonight.

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