Finian's Rainbow Video Highlights
New York Theater News, Videos, Reviews and Rambling
"Chance & Chemistry: A Centennial Celebration of Frank Loesser," a lavish concert benefiting the Actors' Fund that showcased an eclectic variety of songs penned by Frank Loesser, was not formerly open for review. But for the sake of posterity, below is the full set list. As you'd probably expect, there was no mention of Broadway's most recent revival of "Guys & Dolls."
Overture – “How to Succeed…”
Opening remarks from Chita Rivera
“I’ll Know” (“Guys and Dolls”)/Somebody, Somewhere” (“Most Happy Fella”) – Liz Callaway
“Some Like It Hot” (from 1939 film “Some Like It Hot”) – ensemble
“I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” (from 1947 film “The Perils of Pauline”) – Ashley Brown
“Can’t Stop Talking” (from 1950 film “Let’s Dance”) – Audra McDonald
“I Don’t Want to Walk without You” – (from 1942 film “Sweater Girl”) – Judy Kuhn
“Once in Love with Amy” (“Where’s Charley?”) – Noah Racey
“Murder, He Says” (from 1943 film “Happy Go Lucky”) – Nia Vardalos
“Never Will I Marry” (“Greenwillow”) – Stephen Pasquale
“In Your Eyes” (from “Pleasures and Palaces”) – Laura Benanti
“The Inch Worm” (“Hans Christian Andersen”) – Phyllis Newman, John McMartin, and “Sesame Street” characters
Remarks – Maury Yeston
“A Story You Understood Me” (“Senor Discretion Himself”) – Emily Loesser & Jo Sullivan Loesser
“Two Sleepy People” (from 1938 film “Two Sleepy People”) – Art Garfunkel
“Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” (“Guys and Dolls”) – Mario Cantone and Company
“Big D” (“Most Happy Fella”) – Liz Larsen, John Bolton & Company
“Joey, Joey, Joey” (“Most Happy Fella”) – Patrick Wilson
“Rumble, Rumble, Rumble” (from 1947 film “The Perils of Pauline”) – Brynn Williams & Tom Kitt
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” – Julia Murney
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Lauren Kennedy & Alan Campbell
“The Crapshooters Dance/Luck Be a Lady” – Brian Stokes Mitchell & Company (choreography based on Donna McKechnie’s staging for the Hollywood Bowl concert)
“Standing on the Corner” (“Most Happy Fella”) – male ensemble
“Junk Men” – Debbie Gravitte
“the Boys in the Bathroom” (from 1939 film “Destry Rides Again”) – Charles Busch
“I Believe in You” (“H2$”) – Michele Lee
“Adelaide’s Lament” (“Guys and Dolls”) – Ana Gasteyer
“My Heart is So Full of You” (“Most Happy Fella”) – Audra McDonald & Marc Kudisch
“On a Slow Boat to China” (from 1949 film “Neptune’s Daughter”) – Paul McCartney
“Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” (from 1944 film “Christmas Holiday”) – Jo Sullivan Loesser
“Brotherhood of Man” (“H2$”) – John Stamos, Gerry Vichi, Ramona Keller & Company (choreography by Wayne Cliento)
Full disclosure: I acted in no less than three productions of “Bye Bye Birdie” while growing up: at camp, in middle school, and yet again in high school. I know the show by heart – word for word, song for song. At that time, I can’t say that I thought too highly of the show. Why couldn’t we do something darker, or more substantial, or by Sondheim?
It’s only now I can see what a perfectly built musical comedy it is. The way it depicts warring generations reminds me a little of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the chaos that ensues when different worlds collide. The script is genuinely funny and character-driven. And the score absolutely can’t be beat.
If you’re reading this review, chances are that you’ve already seen – or even performed in – a production of “Bye Bye Birdie” too. And I bet that you too were probably looking forward to the musical’s first Broadway revival. And it breaks my heart to confess that I think my productions, even though they were not top-quality even by amateur standards, were probably just as good if not better than the musical’s Broadway revival.
Though occasionally entertaining, it suffers from weak direction and the catastrophic miscasting of John Stamos, Gina Gershon and Bill Irwin. Robert Longbottom's staging is marked by quick movement, bright colors and a suave, geometric set design.
The show itself, which premiered in 1960, remains virtually unchanged, except for the deletion of the "Shriners' Ballet" and the addition of the 1963 film version's title song as a cheery finale. In a nod to "High School Musical," the kids of Sweet Apple, Ohio are cast with genuinely young teenagers, all of who display infectious energy.
Unlike Ann-Margret's campy sexpot performance in the film version, 14-year-old Allie Trimm is naturally sincere and sweet as Kim MacAfee. As teen idol Conrad Birdie, Gerard Nolan Funk is more Zac Efron than Elvis Presley, lacking the dangerous sex appeal required for the role. Oddly, Funk looks almost the same physically as Matt Doyle, who is pretty charming as Kim’s boyfriend Hugo.
John Stamos, playing the overgrown mamma's boy Albert Peterson, has a pleasant singing voice. But he works so hard to act like a cutesy nerd in the style of Jerry Lewis that his performance quickly grows irritating. He is far more at ease as a romantic heartthrob in ballads like "Baby, Talk to Me" and "Rosie."
Gina Gershon brings real sex appeal to the role of Rose, Albert's long-suffering secretary and love interest. But her failed attempts to sing and dance are pathetic and painful to endure. She even appears self-conscious and embarrassed of her inabilities. (I was particularly troubled by a New York Times feature article from last weekend where Charles Strouse claimed that Stephanie J. Block, who played Rose in the Roundabout's preliminary workshop version of the revival, didn't have what it takes to play Rose. Well, at least the very least, she would have been able to sing and dance the role. I'd rather have an adequate leading lady than a miscast C-list movie actress any day.)
Bill Irwin, though a brilliant clown, is so physically over-the-top as Mr. MacAfee that he is out-of-synch with everyone else. Instead of singing, he makes weird noises, depending on Dee Hoty, who plays his wife, to bail him out. On the other hand, Jayne Houdyshell is a comedic delight as Albert's passive-aggressive mother.
The 16-person orchestra, performing a slightly revised version of Jonathan Tunick's original orchestrations, sounds reasonably strong, if occasionally tinny. Most problematic is the complete lack of violins in its string section. But seeing as the orchestra for the Roundabout's revival of "The Pajama Game" was roughly half this size, I was pretty satisfied. And I was truly glad that the show's gorgeous overture was not cut. When I heard that the film's title song would be added, I feared that it would be used to open the show and replace the overture.
With wonderful songs like "Put on a Happy Face" and “Lot of Livin’ to Do," on top of a brilliant script, "Bye Bye Birdie" deserved much better than this inadequate revival. You leave the theater feeling unsatisfied and angry at the Roundabout Theatre Company for messing up yet another classic musical.
Footnote: Wednesday night’s final preview performance of “Bye Bye Birdie” took an unexpected 15-minute pause when its set broke down, according to several theatergoers who were in attendance. The pause occurred in the middle of act one, about a minute before John Stamos was to sing “Put On a Happy Face” to six sad teens. “Girls, I’ll be out to cheer you up as soon as we fix this mess,” he told them.
While technicians worked to solve the problem, Stamos entertained the audience with improvised comedy. He invited his former “Full House” co-star Bob Saget, who happened to be in the audience, to join him. Saget, who spoke into a body microphone on Stamos’ forehead, remarked, “I’m really glad your crotch is not miked.”
Comedian Don Rickles, also in the audience, asked, “Are they gonna fix it or is this going to be a weekend?” Gina Gershon also pitched in, showing off a poster of John Stamos in his younger years and performing a family-friendly tribute to her film “Showgirls.” When Gershon asked Stamos about “Full House,” he described it as “kind of like ‘Brokeback Mountain’ but a sitcom.”
I can't help but think that this incident sounds more fun than the actual production.
Henry Miller's Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St., 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org. Through Jan. 10.
As Annie Baker's amusing play begins, five people are lying motionless on their backs on a hardwood floor in silence under dim lights. In between long periods of silence, they take turns counting to ten. Next, they walk aimlessly walk around the room at different speeds. They even play a version of tag where each is supposed to "explode" when tagged.
If you have ever taken an introductory acting class, you will no doubt recognize such improvisational theater games. When the youngest member of the class asks the teacher when they will finally do some "real acting," she replies that these games do constitute acting. They are learning to be "physically aware," but it's still acting.
"Circle Mirror Transformation," named after the theater game where actors create variations of gestures and sounds, observes how an adult drama class at a local community center in Vermont affects four students and their teacher. Relationships rise and fall as these games tug at their personal lives and encourage them to reveal secrets. It's rather like an unorthodox force of group therapy.
In addition to highlighting the awkward, repetitive, seemingly pointless nature of most theater games, the play works well as a sincere character study taking place in a quirky context. While theater insiders will surely indentify with its contents, outsiders might find it all absolutely bizarre.
Sam Gold's production is marked by strong performances displaying eccentricity and shared feelings of frustration and loneliness, but without feeling overplayed. One standout is Deidre O'Connell, as a 55-year-old acting teacher who attempts to be enthusiastic in spite of apathy, misunderstanding and betrayal from her students.
You might say that the play feels Chekhovian in its naturalistic mix of comedy and sadness with naturalistic language and pauses. It leaves you thinking about how harmless little games can indirectly wreck havoc on your psychological well-being. Perhaps being an actor is more dangerous than imagined.
Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., 212-279-4200, playwrightshorizons.org. Through Nov. 1.
I don’t know exactly why, but I had made a point of never listening to the cast album of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” before attending John Simpkins’ most accomplished production of the Kander & Ebb musical on Monday night at the Steinhardt School for Education at NYU. Perhaps I was waiting for the opportunity to actually see it, fearing that the cast album might not make much sense out of context of the plot.
Waiting for Mr. Simpkins’ annual production – always of a serious post-Sondheim musical such as "Urinetown," "Floyd Collins," "Parade" or "Violet," has become one of favorite rites of the theater season. Two years ago, his "Floyd Collins" was stunning, and starred Jay Armstrong Johnson, who is now a swing in “Hair” who has gone on for Claude.
“Kiss of the Spider Woman” was no exception, featuring a large orchestra, a vocally exceptional cast, and superior production values. Jordan Stanley, a junior in the school’s program in vocal performance, was exceptional as the gay prisoner Molina, highlighting the character’s fragility and longing. Roy Richardson, a second year masters candidate in vocal performance, was far more subdued dramatically, but vocally outstanding as Valentin, a political prisoner who becomes Molina’s unexpected roommate. Lauren Calhoun, a senior in vocal performance, in spite of her youth, was sexy and imposing as the cinema goddess Aurora.
I can’t help but wonder what will be Simpkins’ next show next year. Just guessing, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's something along the lines of “The Wild Party” (either version is fine), “The Light in the Piazza,” “The Full Monty," "Bat Boy," or “Sunday in the Park with George.” But then again, maybe I’ll be surprised, just as I was with “Spider Woman.” Up next, Steinhardt will be doing several small-scale productions of “Hotel for Criminals,” “First Odd Prime” and “Quilters.” No word yet on its mainstage spring musicals.
Steinhardt should be commended for being the only theater program at NYU that tries to be involved with the New York theater community at large. The Tisch drama program makes absolutely no effort to advertise its productions to the public at large. Even when I attended NYU as an undergrad student, I felt as if Tisch wanted to deliberately exclude non-drama students from attending its shows.