Friday, June 1, 2012

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (City Center Encores!)

The 1949 musical comedy “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” based on the best-selling 1925 Anita Loos novel, is hardly ever performed nowadays. Carol Channing, who would later gain worldwide fame as Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!”, originally starred as the perennial dumb blonde Lorelei Lee of the Roaring Twenties.


Truth be told, the musical has been vastly overshadowed by its 1953 mega-successful film adaptation starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, which used a completely different script and very little of the original Jule Styne-Leo Robin score, merely the hit songs “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “A Little Girl From Little Rock” (renamed “Two Little Girls from Little Rock”) and “Bye, Bye Baby.”

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” premiered right smack in the middle of the Rodgers & Hammerstein revolution, when musical comedies were becoming increasingly integrated and character-focused. Although a 1995 Broadway revival quickly crashed and burned, if directed with the right mix of sincerity and silliness, it can still entertain, which is exactly what John Rando’s breezy concert production at City Center Encores! managed to accomplish.

After an Encores! season that began with the Stephen Sondheim gem “Merrily We Roll Along” followed by the Rodgers & Hammerstein flop “Pipe Dream,” it was a relief to just sit back and enjoy this jovial show, which is marked by Randy Skinner’s characteristically polished and showstopping choreography.
In a neat bit of casting, Megan Hilty, whose character on the television series “Smash” longs to play Marilyn Monroe in a Broadway musical based on her life, was cast as Lorelei Lee. But unlike Monroe, Hilty has a strong belting voice that can handle the show’s entire score. She played Lorelei like a giddy child who is aware of her busty sexual prowess but still believably innocent. Although she doesn’t land some of the one-liners, she was terrific in the role.
Rachel York was dynamic as Lorelei's pal Dorothy Shaw, a sexpot looking for a good time instead of a secure financial future. Anyone who saw "The Drowsy Chaperone" probably noted York’s uncanny resemblance to Beth Leavel, whose character also acted as a chaperone to a companion about to be married.
As always, the Encores! orchestra, under the baton of Rob Berman, sounded fabulous, capturing the lush sound of Don Walker’s orchestrations. While “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” might be just a bit too madcap and unintegrated to succeed as a full-scale Broadway revival, it made a perfectly enjoyable Encores! production that should not have been missed.
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” played New York City Center. 131 W. 55th St., citycenter.org.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

If It Only Even Runs a Minute

"There's no booing here. This is a house of love." Those words were spoken by Jennifer Ashley Tepper to the crowd at Joe's Pub at the latest installment of her and Kevin Michael Murphy's addictive, insightful, hilarious and deliriously entertaining "If It Only Even Runs a Minute," a salute to unappreciated musicals full of fun facts and commentary, rarely seen photos, memories from original cast members and spectacular performances. I honestly can't imagine Tepper not finding some merit in any musical. To be frank, this is a version of Town Hall's Broadway by the Year series meant for a crowd not composed of senior citizens.

The series has now been around for two years. With Tepper and Murphy always serving as onstage co-hosts in between performances, the show has been performed at the Laurie Beechman, Le Poisson Rouge and even Caroline's on Broadway. But the newly renovated Joe's Pub was definitely the best location to date. It was also announced that the next installment will take place there later this year.

It's worth noting the difference between flop musicals and so-called "under-appreciated" musicals. Although "Lady in the Dark" was a huge hit in the early 1940s, just as "Do Re Mi" was a moderate hit in the early 1960s, they made the list since, besides the obligatory City Center Encores! production, they are hardly ever revived anymore. And for that matter, the rendition of "Fireworks" by Murphy and Lucy Horton (who, like me, once went to Frenchwoods) was full of absolutely ecstatic energy.

Jeremy Jordan, Broadway hunk of the year, opened the show alongside Ashley Spencer with "Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts" from "Whistle Down the Wind." Later on, after Claybourne Elder sang "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened" from "Road Show," Elder and Jordan unexpectedly came together to perform the duet "When I Drive" from "Bonnie & Clyde."

I think what makes "If It Runs Only Even a Minute" most surreal for me is enjoying songs from musicals that I previously panned. That happened not just with the "Bonnie & Clyde" encore, but also with Alli Mauzey's "Screw Loose" from "Cry-Baby." While I can't say that I think any more highly of Frank Wildhorn's "Dracula" now, Tom Hewitt's rendition of "Fresh Blood" was crazily fun, at the end of which he screamed "Dracula!" (Earlier in the evening, Tepper and Murphy had discussed their obsession with musicals where the cast shouts the name of the musical at the end with a big exclamation, as was the cast with bloated 1990s "Grease" revival, which was appropriately renamed "Grease!")

Jen Brown, who was in the original cast of "Bring Back Birdie" (as well as numerous other flops for that matter), spoke eloquently about his experience auditioning for the show for director-choreographer Joe Layton and performed the show's Conrad Birdie number "You Can Never Go Back."

The series is sure to become even more high profile in the coming months, and I suspect more Broadway veterans will be eager to take the stage and share their memories and revive their past performances. It's nice to know there's a lot more delirious, geeky musical theater fun in store.

Another one of my favorite quotes of the evening: "Kelli O'Hara is Spider-Man!" You had to be there.

Below is a complete set list:

Tire Tracks And Broken Hearts (Whistle Down The Wind)

Performed by Jeremy Jordan and Ashley Spencer

Complicated Man (Doonesbury)

Performed by Ana Nogueira and Dana Steingold

I Can Have It All (Doonesbury)

Performed by Rachel Lee, with Amanda Taraska, Lia Peros, Jennie

McGuinness, and Sarah Folsom

Alli Mauzey’s story about Cry-Baby

Screw Loose (Cry-Baby)

Performed by Alli Mauzey

My Ship (Lady In The Dark)

Performed by Saum Eskandani

Claybourne Elder’s story about Road Show

The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened (Road Show)

Performed by Claybourne Elder

When I Drive (Bonnie & Clyde)

Performed by Jeremy Jordan and Claybourne Elder

Fireworks (Do Re Mi)

Performed by Kevin Michael Murphy and Lucy Horton

Bernadette (The Capeman)

Performed by Jared Weiss

Tom Hewitt’s story about Dracula

Fresh Blood (Dracula)

Performed by Tom Hewitt, with Amanda Taraska, Lia Peros, Jennie

McGuinness, and Sarah Folsom

Dressing Room Shuffle (I Sing!)

Performed by George Salazar and Julia Mattison

Jeb Brown’s story about Bring Back Birdie

You Can Never Go Back (Bring Back Birdie)

Performed by Jeb Brown

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best and Worst Shows of 2011



In retrospect, 2011 was marked by some pretty extraordinary shows, including the biggest hit musical to play Broadway in 10 years, a return visit from a really hot matinee idol and a stunning revival of a Sondheim classic. Of course, it also had its fair share of disasters.

The Best:

1. The Book of Mormon – Just try to getting tickets to this thoroughly hilarious send-up of religion. In spite of the curse words, this is anupbeat, even sentimental musical that combines Rodgers & Hammerstein, powerhouse ballads and tap dancing.


2. Follies –Eric Schaeffer’s lavish revival of Sondheim’s masterful 1971 musical, about former showgirls and their husbands reuniting at their old theater on the eve of its destruction, is truly an embarrassment of riches and exceptional performances.


3. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – By turning himself into a genuine musical comedy star, Daniel Radcliffe performed a feat of magic greater than anything he ever did at Hogwarts. Look for Darren Criss to take over for him, followed by Nick Jonas.


4. Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway – Simply put, he’s the ultimate entertainer. Backed by a large orchestra and some back-up girls, Jackman paid tribute to Broadway and Hollywood musicals, Peter Allen, the Australian Aborigines and auctioned off his sweaty undershirt for big bucks.


5. Sleep No More – It’s “Macbeth,” sort of. This immense, nonlinear and sensory-based theatrical experience combines narrative elements of Shakespeare with Hitchcockian noir, modern dance, masquerade and the theatricality of a haunted house. Wear comfortable shoes.


6. War Horse – The new Spielberg film is nowhere near as moving as the stage version, which depicts Joey and other horses through life-size puppets. This is tug-at-your-heart storytelling at its best.


7. The Normal Heart - Larry Kramer’s seminal AIDS drama hits you like a jackhammer. Twenty-five years since it premiered, its Broadway revival was political theater at its most passionate and urgent.

8. Once – This stage adaptation of the 2006 Irish film musical about a depressed singer-songwriter whose life is changed by an upbeat girl retains the film’s low-key style and romantic sentimentality while fleshing out its story. It will move to Broadway in the spring.


9. Other Desert Cities – As directed by Joe Mantello, an exceptional five-member cast (Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Thomas Sadoski, Rachel Griffiths and Judith Light) turns Jon Robin Baitz’ family drama into a portrait of regret and denial that is as entertaining as it is emotionally cathartic.


10. Sons of the Prophet – Stephen Karam’s truly moving new play is a heartfelt, topical and really funny look at a 29-year-old, gay, Lebanese-American male dealing with overwhelming family trauma and mysterious medical problems.


The Worst


1. Relatively Speaking – This truly dreadful triple-bill of comedy sketches by Woody Allen, Ethan Coen and Elaine May sports a pretty strange cast including Marlo Thomas and Steve Guttenberg. Stay far away.

2. Happy Hour – Three more awful one-acts by Ethan Coen staged Off-Broadway. Again, stay far away.

3. Dracula – The famous Gothic drama received a cheesy, horribly staged Off-Broadway revival. Take pity of Broadway veteran George Hearn, who played Val Helsing.

4. Zarkana – Sad but true, the Tony Awards got kicked out of Radio City Music Hall for this nonsensical Cirque du Soleil spectacle featuring a Wheel of Death and a baby with six arms inside a jar. Unfortunately, it’s coming back this summer.


5. Baby, It’s You – This jukebox musical based on the pop songs of The Shirelles was one of the least satisfying of the genre thanks to the poor construction of its book and undeveloped characters. At least it made “Mamma Mia!” look good by comparison.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

3rd Anniversary Performance of Billy Elliot


"Billy Elliot" was supposed to be the next mega-hit. Oh sure, it played to sell-out crowds for a while and received rave reviews and plenty of Tony Awards, including Best Musical over "Next to Normal." But for at least a year now, "Billy Elliot" has underperformed, at least compared to the original expectations. We can all speculate why: Was the show too English? Too profane? Was it not marketed well? Will there be no more West End transfers with never-ending runs? Or, perhaps, was it too special? This is a gritty, socially realistic, emotionally powerful musical that Broadway was all the luckier to have.

Most of the crowd attending Tuesday night must have had no clue that they were about to see the show's third anniversary performance. Before it began, director Stephen Daldry took the stage and noted that the three original boys (now adolescent teens) who played Billy Elliot - David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish - would appear at curtain call.

It's a pleasure to report that the show remains in mint condition. Tade Biesinger, one of the four boys currently alternating as Billy Elliot, gave the most well-acted performance of the role I've yet to see. After appearing inhibited and trapped, he embraced the freedom he felt in the midst of dancing more and more as the show went along - finally exploding in ecstasy in "Electricity." Emily Skinner was also great as Mrs. Wilkinson, presenting a warmer side of a character who became a surrogate mother to Billy Elliot.

The show's brilliant, gender-bending finale is a celebration of how life ought to be - of joy - of together- of how the arts can bring out the best in us. Having the three original Billy Elliots cap it off was a fantastic touch to what was already a strong performance.

You've got until January 8, 2012 to catch "Billy Elliot" before that finale is just a memory.

The after party was held at Sardi's. Got to share an elevator with Emily Skinner!

Broadway Unplugged


Carolee Carmello was a no show. So was Marc Kudisch. But this year's "Broadway Unplugged" concert - where performers must sing without the aid of electronic amplification - was offered a generous amount of Broadway talent.


The real highlight was Patrick Page (no longer in the ugly Green Goblin suit) hamming it up as Oscar Jaffe in "The Legacy" from "On the 20th Century" and doing an imitation Noel Coward in "Mrs. Worthington." Some much appreciated rarities included Chuck Cooper doing "Stand Up and Fight" from "Carmen Jones" and Bill Daugherty portraying Ed Koch's idea of a New Yorker in "You Can Be a New Yorker Too!" from the Charles Strouse flop "Mayor." And in a most unusual touch, host Scott Siegel chanted a Hebrew prayer at the very start to bless the evening.

Here is a full songlist:

Act 1

I Have Dreamed - Max Von Essen
Maria - Alexander Gemignani
My White Night - Sarah Uriarte Berry
Mrs. Worthington - Patrick Page
Sail Away - Barbara Walsh
Italian Street Song - Nancy Anderson
You Can Be a New Yorker Too! - Bill Daugherty
Marry Me a Little - Kevin Earley
Lily's Eyes - The Secret Garden
I Am Changing - Terri White

Act 2

Stand Up and Fight - Chuck Cooper
The Legacy - Patrick Page
Steal with Style - Ron Bohmer
Lonely House - Jesus Garcia
All the Things You Are - Sarah Uriarte Berry and Ben Davis
There Are Words He Doesn't Say - Eddie Korbich
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables - Max Von Essen
Stranger in Paradise - William Michals
Anthem - Kevin Earley
You'll Never Walk Alone - Company

Monday, November 14, 2011

2011 Steinberg Playwright "Mimi" Awards


For three years in a row, I have attended the cocktail hour portion of the Steinberg Playwright "Mimi" Awards, which recognize some playwright or other. Why just the cocktail hour? Why not stick around for the awards portion and the champagne toast at the end? I usually have to hightail it to some other show I need to review.


I arrived at the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre so early that I was practically the first one there. Wearing a red short sleeve collar shirt and carrying my bike helmet, I certainly stood out. But at least 15 minutes later, the place was packed. I noticed Paul Giamatti among the crowd, who was scheduled to present portions of plays of the honorees (Melissa James Gibson and Lisa d'Amour).

I didn't try to chat with him, but I did introduce myself to Lincoln Center Theater honcho Bernard Gersten, I tried to get a scoop out of him, and learned that Lincoln Center Theater will produce the Broadway mounting of "Clybourne Park" this spring.

I then spoke with Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis. But he warned me out front that he wasn't drunk enough to spill any gossip, as he had done two months ago at a premiere. On a whim, I asked whether the Public has considered doing a Sondheim musical in the park. His deadpan response was as follows: "No, Matt. None of us have ever thought of doing a musical by Stephen Sondheim in the park. You can quote me on that!" He then shared something I never knew: in the original draft of "Sunday in the Park with George," the modern-day park was going to be Central Park around the Delacorte Theatre. I bet the Public would do that version of "Sunday."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Which theater gala are you going to on Monday?


This Monday night, November 14, offers a load of galas and special events:

1. Broadway Unplugged (Town Hall) - This is a must for all fans of Scott Siegel's Broadway by the Year series and its numerous spinoffs, such as this. One of the trademark features of Siegel's concerts is when he asks a performer or two to sing without the aid of a microphone. For this concert, everyone's gotta perform without a mic. The large cast includes Carolee Carmello, Patrick Page (who will not be flying over the audience in a green jumpsuit, thankfully) Chuck Cooper, Terri White, Nancy Anderson and others. That's where I'll be.

2. Make Believe on Broadway (Shubert Theatre) - This annual charity gala, hosted by Brooke Shields and Brad Oscar, sports some really impressive names as special guests including Mike Myers, Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman and more. Only Make Believe, the not-for-profit group being benefited, brings theater to children in hospitals and care facilities. I don't know how the show will be, but that is a mission well worth supporting.

3. The 24 Hour Plays on Broadway (American Airlines Theatre) - Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Julia Stiles, Jason Biggs, Tracy Morgan, Sarah Silverman, John Krasinski and others will perform short plays written on 24-hours notice. These events tend to be quite messy, but that's part of its appeal.

4. The Acting Company's Annual Masquerade Gala (Capitale) - No clue to what extent this will be a masquerade, or if costumes are involved, but the event will include appearances by the cast of "Godspell" (that's enough to keep me away from it), Brian Stokes Mitchell and David Hyde Pierce.

5. 2011 Steinberg Playwright "Mimi" Awards (Vivian Beaumont Theatre) - Playwrights Lisa D'Amour and Melissa James Gibson will be honored.

6. Celebrity Charades 2011: Down and Derby (Highline Ballroom) - Celebs such as Michelle Trachtenberg, Evan Rachel Wood and Daphne Rubin-Vega will compete in games of charades.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

End of the Year Guide: Best and Worst Shows and Moments



Best Shows of 2010

1. The Scottsboro Boys – It is difficult to imagine a more daring,
disturbing or dangerous Broadway musical than this true story about
nine young black males falsely accused of raping two white women
framed as a minstrel show. What a shame that it flopped so quickly,
but a campaign is already underway to bring it back.

2. The Merchant of Venice – This production, which premiered last
summer in Central Park and transferred to Broadway, is a master class
in Shakespeare. As played by Al Pacino, Shylock comes off not as a
villain or victim, but a wildly theatrical figure reacting to
oppression and betrayal. He is joined by a pitch-perfect supporting
cast including the incandescent Lily Rabe.

3. A View from the Bridge – Starring Liev Schreiber and an absolutely
radiant Scarlett Johansson, Gregory Mosher’s revival of Arthur
Miller’s Greek tragedy set in 1950s Brooklyn was straightforward,
focused and uniformly well-acted. It drove forward with such intensity
that you wished it wouldn’t even pause for an intermission.

4. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – This relentlessly silly, chaotic
musical about the first unofficial Tea Party candidate in American
history gained a strong following during its Off-Broadway run but will
shutter quickly on Broadway. But even if it confuses and frustrates
just as many people as it turns on, it remains a unique triumph.

5. Angels in America – Staging Tony Kushner’s mammoth drama about New
Yorkers affected by the AIDS crisis during the mid-1980s in the tiny
confines of the Signature Theatre must not have been easy, but
director Michael Grief and his excellent cast pulled it off
splendidly. It remains the most daring and influential play of the
past two decades.

6. Time Stands Still – Donald Margulies’ four-character drama about a
strained romantic relationship, which premiered earlier this year and
then returned to Broadway, is thought-provoking and full of great
insight. Laura Linney and Brian d’Arcy James give stunning
performances alongside Eric Bogosian and Christina Ricci, who replaced
Alicia Silverstone.

7. Clybourne Park - Bruce Norris' play, loosely inspired by "A Raisin
in the Sun," was a devastatingly good dark comedy examining the social
trends of "white flight" from newly mixed-race neighborhoods during
the late 1950s and the current gentrification of those same
neighborhoods.

8. Gatz - This unabridged, line-by-line reading of F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” performed by 13 actors over the course
of eight and a half hours with intermissions and a dinner break
sounded avant-garde but was actually theater at its simplest and
purest level. This inventive production fully immersed us into the
world of Jay Gatsby.

9. The Pee-Wee Herman Show - “Fun” is literally the secret word over
and the audience screams every time it’s repeated. But that doesn’t
even begin to describe the silliness, excitement, visual extravagance
and absolute anarchy packed into this 90-minute comedy show, where
Paul Reubens makes his strangely triumphant return to his trademark
character.

10. Million Dollar Quartet - What exactly is it that makes this show
so damn enjoyable and invigorating? Is it the pure simplicity and
rapid-fire energy of four rock 'n' roll legends performing their
signature tunes for 100 blissful minutes? Is it the charisma and
talent of the actors who portray these legendary figures? In any case,
it's one hell of a winner.

Worst Shows of 2010

1. Banana Shpeel - Having received ghastly reviews and massive
walkouts during its Chicago tryout, Cirque du Soleil's
slapstick-vaudeville spectacle was delayed no less than three times
before finally opening. It might not be the worst show of all time,
but it was extremely painful to sit through two and a half hours of
annoying clowns and tired tricks.

2. Lear – Young Jean Lee's painfully bad adaptation of “King Lear”
eliminated all major characters, including Lear himself, except for
his three daughters and the two sons of Gloucester. At one point, it
turned into a bizarre episode of “Sesame Street.” Seriously.

3. Abraham Lincoln’s Big, Gay Dance Party – In spite of what might
have been a noble intent to discuss Lincoln’s ambiguous sexuality,
there was simply no redeeming value whatever to this slow and poorly
acted three-part soap opera. Well, besides the cool title.

4. The Addams Family – In spite of a lavish set of twisting and
turning staircases, elaborate pieces of puppetry (including a giant
squid and venus flytrap) and the help of Nathan Lane and Bebe
Neuwirth, this misconceived musical comedy is slow, sappy, stupid,
self-conscious and simply not funny. It’s da-da-da-dumb (snap, snap).

5. Elling – This a delicate parable about male outcasts might have
been well served in an intimate Off-Broadway theater. Instead, it was
poorly chosen as a star vehicle for Brendon Fraser, who made a
horrifically bad Broadway debut. It closed in a week.

Best theater moments of 2010

1. Numerous theater celebs amassing at the Philharmonic for Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday concert, which was later broadcast on PBS.

2. An angry female loudly screaming that the audience was being treated like “guinea pigs” during a pause at the four-hour first preview performance on November 28.

3. Megan Mullally quitting the Broadway production of "Lips Together Teeth Apart" while in rehearsals.

4. "Next to Normal" winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

5. John Earl Jones awkwardly explaining to Vanessa Redgrave that he has to go to “make water” in “Driving Miss Daisy”

Top shows in 2011 to look forward to:

1. Catch Me if You Can – The folk responsible for “Hairspray” are
behind this musical adaptation of the 2002 Stephen Spielberg-Leonardo
DiCaprio film.

2. Anything Goes – This revival of Cole Porter’s classic musical
comedy sports a strong cast including Sutton Foster and Joel Grey.

3. The Book of Mormon – “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey
Parker will hit Broadway with their satirical take on religion.

4. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo – Robin Williams will play a tiger
that prowls the streets of Baghdad and interacts with Americans and
Iraqis.

5. Priscilla Queen of the Desert- Tony Sheldon, Will Swenson and Nick
Adams will play three pals who sing hit songs in drag.

Top 5 Moments to Look Forward to in 2011:

1. Finally reading the reviews of “Spider-Man," assuming that it finally opens

2. Learning whether or not Daniel Radcliffe can sing in "How to
Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"

3. Harvey Fierstein taking over the role of Albin in "La Cage aux Folles"

4. Brian Bedford saying the famous “handbag” line as Lady Bracknell in
"The Importance of Being Earnest"

5. Billie Joe Armstrong returning to the cast of "American Idiot" as St. Jimmy

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Wish to Go to the Festival: My Brief Encounters at NYMF

If you blinked, you missed the latest installment of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, which since its founding has given birth to musicals such as “Next to Normal” (then under its original gaudier title “Feelin’ Electric”), “Altar Boyz” and “[title of show].” Scheduling has always been an issue for the festival, which has traditionally been presented in September around the High Holidays and right after the Fringe Festival. True, marathon theatergoers may be exhausted following Fringe, but no Broadway or even major Off-Broadway shows had yet to open.

This year, NYMF moved to late September through mid-October, making it compete against an onslaught of Broadway and Off-Broadway openings. For me, as a reviewer, finding time to catch even a handful of NYMF shows became a challenge – and a pain. Further, due to the fact that NYMF will only give a single ticket (as opposed to the customary pair of tickets) to any reviewer, I had little incentive to catch any more NYMF shows than I absolutely needed to. I saw shows that my friends were in, and the only show at NYMF this year that otherwise piqued my interest. Perhaps I am being too harsh on NYMF. I probably am. Regardless of when and how the shows are performed and how many tickets I receive, it remains an incredible asset for musical theater writers and those who love attending new musicals that can’t get produced elsewhere.

Anyhow, I limited myself to the following: Anthony Rapp’s one-man bio musical “Without You”; Nighttime Traffic,” an original three-person musical penned by my friend Alex Wyse; “The Great Unknown,” a country musical that two of my friends had small roles in; and the latest edition of “If It Only Even Runs a Minute,” which my friend Jen Tepper created.

Of course I had to see “Without You.” When I was 14 years old, seeing “Rent” for the first time with a replacement cast, Anthony Rapp had already moved on but I could still hear his voice in my head from having listened to the original cast album so many countless times. It wasn’t for almost another decade that I finally saw him in the role upon his return to the show alongside Adam Pascal. Simply put, it was great to see Rapp relive his audition for “Rent,” describing the show’s development, promoting the show alongside Jonathan Larson to operagoers and the tragic circumstances surrounding Jonathan’s untimely death. But Rapp’s attempt to wed the “Rent” story to his mother’s illness from cancer and his own sexual awakening was less captivating. And his own original songs were not so great, especially when tied together with those from “Rent.”

Alex Wyse deserves major credit for having penned the music, lyrics AND book for “Nighttime Traffic,” which depicts a gay couple in their early 20s in a hospital room as one prepares to undergo surgery following a heart attack. The nurse, played by Liz Larsen, offers a pill that will slow down time and allow them to longer enjoy each other’s company. The show’s seamless, economical, emotional and intimate atmosphere demonstrates how Wyse is truly someone who knows and loves musical theater. I have no doubt that he has a big future ahead as a writer. That being said, “Nighttime Traffic” did not feel quite finished to me. I thought its pattern of dramatic development stymied towards the end and ran out of places to go. Perhaps that was a result of only having three actors and a single set on a small stage.

“The Great Unknown,” a folk/country musical about a one-armed Civil War veteran leading a group of men down the Colorado River to the Grand Canyon, might make more sense if it had the necessary amount of scenery to turn it into an adventure spectacular. Otherwise, it played out quite awkwardly on a bare stage. As directed by Don Stephenson, its most interest element occurred when chorus girls personified the river rapids.

Finally, I was able to catch the latest edition of “If It Only Even Runs a Minute,” which I’ve continually enjoyed in its previous mountings at nightclub spaces. At NYMF, it had two back-to-back concerts (editions four and five) on a single night, each offering completely different bills. The big attraction of the late show was a reunion of the long-lost musical “Truckload,” which closed after six previews at the Lyceum Theatre in 1975. Composer Louis St. Louis spoke of his memories of the show, director Patricia Birch was in attendance, and Marty Thomas belted out the title song. Perhaps the series should consider changing its title to “If It Only Even Runs Six Previews.” If your show ran even that long, Jen Tepper and Kevin Michael Murphy will rescue your show from the shadows and bring it back to life for one brief shining moment.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mrs. Warren's Profession

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 drama that reexamines the pros and cons of prostitution, contains no violence or obscenities. Yet when it was first performed in New York in 1905, the police considered it so incendiary that they shut down the production and arrested the cast and crew.

While its shock value has worn off over the past hundred years, the play remains an exquisite exploration of moral hypocrisy and economic disparity in Victorian society.

It revolves around the tense relationship between Vivie, an educated young woman, and her mother Kitty, who rose out of poverty by running a prostitution ring.

In spite of the fact that Vivie has benefited from Kitty’s money, she refuses to condone her mother’s line of business and decides to leave her behind forever, forgo several marriage opportunities and ultimately work as a low-paid clerk.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s production, which reunites the “Doubt” team of director Doug Hughes and actress Cherry Jones, is a traditionally straightforward but uninspired and stale staging.

Jones, awkwardly sporting a working-class cockney accent, tries to bring a rough edge to the steely title character. However, it is an unfocused and excessive performance that undermines the credibility of the character.

British actress Sally Hawkins convincingly portrays Vivie as nonsexual and down to business, but becomes too over-the-top and whiny in the play’s final confrontation scene.

The rest of the cast is wildly uneven their acting styles. Edward Hibbert, in a small role, retains his humorous bent but is too restrained to make much of a difference.

If you go – “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” plays at the American Airlines Theater through Nov. 21.
227 W. 42nd St., 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org.