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Tony Danza Opens in ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Honeymoon2

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Honeymoon in Vegas, a new musical comedy that opened on Broadway January 15 at the Nederlander Theatre, feels much like an extended trip to its title city: fun, shameless and even a bit thrilling at first, but by mid-stay you may find yourself feeling restless, tinged with regret and just a little bit used.

Honeymoon1Based on the 1992 film starring Nicholas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker, the musical was written for the stage by the movie’s writer and director Andrew Bergman (also known for comedy classics Blazing Saddles and Soapdish), with a characteristically clever and lovely score by Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County and The Last Five Years).

By turns dirty and family friendly, the show tells the story of everyman Jack (Rob McClure) and his girlfriend Betsy (Brynn O’Malley), who has all her ducks in a row but no ring on her finger. Standing between them and the altar is Jack’s dead mom, Bea (Nancy Opel), who forced a deathbed promise on her son: that he’d never wed, because no one could ever love him as much as she does. Despite the curse, Jack bites the bullet and flies Betsy from Brooklyn to Sin City to get hitched. Mayhem ensues when Vegas vet and high roller Tommy (Tony Danza) eyes Betsy and hatches a plan to snatch her away (she’s a ringer for his dead wife).

Honeymoon3The musical’s ‘90s-New York brand of comedy works in its favor (off-beat yet on the nose), particularly in Brown’s playful lyrics (what rhymes better with fiancé than Jay Z and Beyoncé?). Danza naturally finds himself in his element here, and exudes the comfortable charm that became his small screen signature in shows like Taxi and Who’s the Boss. He has a smooth, mellow croon that does well with softer, Sinatra-like numbers, though he stands on shakier ground when asked to deliver more forceful tunes. McClure (Tony nominated for Chaplin: The Musical) and O’Malley pair well together and make nice work of Brown’s score and the show’s humor.

Anyone who wondered how a woman who looks like Sarah Jessica Parker could wind up torn between Nick Cage and James Caan will perhaps have less to ponder here: We are, by now, well used to male-fantasy narratives in which the schlub ends up with the knockout (plus, Danza’s not looking too shabby and McClure didn’t quite crawl from the gutter, either).

Honeymoon4But unfortunately and to its detriment, Bergman’s stage adaptation is uncomfortably (and bizarrely) heavy on both masculine neuroses and blatant misogyny. The story’s mommy issues are writ large (scaled up significantly from the movie), and its women are either dead nags (like mom), desperate to wed and procreate (Betsy), or else they’re showgirls, airheads or hookers. A tasteless number during the characters’ sojourn in Hawaii finds a hypersexualized, overtly stereotyped Polynesian whore vigorously seducing the schlub on boss’ orders.

Vegas is a town of obvious, low-hanging thrills and sensory pleasures, catered, more often than not, to male desire. Bergman and Brown’s musical has plenty of both, mixed in with moments of broad appeal. But the longer this trip goes on, the more glaring it becomes just whose honeymoon this is—and that he might be in need of a diaper change.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson Open in ‘Constellations’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Con1

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

If you’re short on reasons to love Ruth Wilson (Golden Globe winner for The Affair) or Jake Gyllenhaal (leading man of your dreams since the days of Donnie Darko), their magnetic performances in Nick Payne’s engrossing new play Constellations, which opened on Broadway last night at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Friedman Theatre, prove they’re as formidably talented as they are beautiful, onstage as onscreen. (Yes, it seems some people really can have it all.)

Con2Payne’s drama, which arrives in New York after a critically acclaimed production at London’s Royal Court Theatre and West End transfer in 2012, delivers on its cosmic title—with a love story that is, quite literally, “timeless.” Set in what the program deems “The Multiverse,” the play’s romance unfolds in a world of infinite—or at least multiple—possibilities. The theory Payne explores, which may be familiar to sci-fi fans and wide-eyed physicists alike (Wilson’s character is among the latter), allows for the existence of parallel universes and eschews the notion of linear time. (Don’t worry: The show runs a swift 70 minutes.)  

Con5In this case, that means our two stars (get it?) together on a black stage, surrounded by white orbs (a striking scenic design by Tom Scutt), performing variations on a series of scenes that combine to form a multi-dimensional love story. What if he’d been married when they first met? What if she’d been less withholding on their first date? From minor shifts in mood to more divergent twists in plot, the repeated variations create a sort of rich, imaginative portrait of love in a world of possibilities.   

Under deft direction by Michael Longhurst, Gyllenhaal and Wilson bring fierce yet effortless dedication to every moment, shifting abruptly from one scene to the next with precision and grace. The overall affect is, at first, playful and engaging—the play’s opening line, posed by Wilson’s character: “Do you know why it’s impossible to lick the tips of your elbows?” (They both eventually proceed to try.) And as details of the story gradually become clear, Payne’s play turns increasingly thought provoking and ultimately quite moving.

Con3As Marianne, Wilson (whose London stage credits include starring opposite Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire and Jude Law in Anna Christie, both at the Donmar Warehouse) balances goofy charisma with a palpable emotional depth. Gyllenhaal (who made his American stage debut Off Broadway in Payne’s If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet) brings a more understated, hapless charm to the quieter Roland.

Payne’s play, whose conceptual daring owes much to ground-laying works by Caryl Churchill (Top Girls, A Number), may leave some audiences scratching their heads. But, whether the drama’s metaphysical questions interest you or not, these celestial bodies are well worth stargazing at. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


20 Best Songs Of 2014: LISTEN

  Ryan vail grass 2013

We've had in the region of 25,000 tracks and albums submitted to Deadly Music! this year and reviewed around 500 of them (including quite a few tracks by Irish duo Ryan Vail, above) so whittling the list down to 20 songs has been no mean feat.

Reflecting the variety of music covered on the site, the list includes indie pop, indie rock, alternative, electro pop, alt folk, coldwave, rap and pop.

All songs are available on a Soundcloud playlist at the end of this page. You'll also find most of them on the Deadly Music! Towleroad Spotify playlist. 

Number 19 is NSFW!

Don't miss our weekly NEW MUSIC column.

 

20: Girl Band - "De Bom Bom"

 

19: Big Hard Excellent Fish - "And The Question Remains The Same"

 

18: Pretties For You - "We Have Our Reasons"

 

Listen to number 17 down to number 1, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "20 Best Songs Of 2014: LISTEN" »


Bradley Cooper Is ‘The Elephant Man’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Elephant

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Make no mistake: The main attraction at the Booth Theatre, where a prosaic revival of Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 drama The Elephant Man opened last night, isn’t the freak-show headliner in the title, but the A-list name emblazoned above it in twinkling lights. They will flock from near and far, empty their wallets, step right up and see: Can the Hollywood hunk believably play a deformed half-man, half-beast? And deliver the high-octane performance required to mask the mediocrity of his chosen star vehicle? The answers are—well, sort of and no, not really.

Elephant1Bradley Cooper, last seen on Broadway opposite Julia Roberts in Three Days of Rain, certainly brings an impressive physical dedication to his performance as John Merrick. The character and his story are based on the life of Joseph Merrick, a man who lived with extreme deformities in the late 19th century. Pomerance’s play follows the Elephant Man’s ascent from circus aberration to high society marvel under the protection and guidance of Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola), a gifted and ambitious doctor.

We first encounter Merrick as a haunting outburst of grunts and gasps behind a freak-show curtain, before Cooper (notably shirtless for the first few scenes) appears next to a slideshow of real photographs of Joseph Merrick. As Mr. Nivola details Merrick’s physical deformities, Cooper contorts his face and body into the warped shapes he firmly maintains through the rest of the play (the role is historically played without makeup or prosthetics).

Elephant2Thanks to these early visual aides and Cooper’s bodily discipline, it’s possible to imagine the very handsome Cooper as the extremely hideous Merrick—though, it’s much easier not to. This is partly because the actor’s looks and his celebrity are stacked against him, and partly because his performance doesn't overpower them. As his position in society improves, Merrick becomes increasingly curious, bright and charming—like a neglected child receiving his first welcome attention. But, too often Cooper voices his character much like an animated one, with a palpable detachment between his vocal delivery and Merrick’s lurid personal history and singular circumstances.

As Mrs. Kendal, the actress who befriends Merrick and introduces him to London’s upper crust, Patricia Clarkson is radiant and the production’s indisputable highlight. With a riveting and sensitively rendered performance, Ms. Clarkson takes her character from a vain, preening bird to the play’s emotional center. Her signature ease and reserved grace stand in marked contrast to Cooper’s effortful portrayal and Nivola’s bland turn as the impassioned doctor.

Elephant3Pomerance’s play, which also concerns itself with the clash between Christianity and modern science, is grounded in British colonial ideologies (i.e. the beastly Other must be saved! Cured! Civilized!). Though an integral context for Merrick’s true story, the imperial entitlement on which the plot hangs is the real elephant in the room. Director Scott Ellis’ production, while efficient and finely dressed (with beautiful costumes by Clint Ramos), hangs its hat on its star rather than offering a fresh take on stodgy material. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


Hugh Jackman Goes Fishing for Love in ‘The River’ on Broadway: REVIEW

River

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Watching a fisherman means a lot of waiting around for something to happen. If that fisherman happened to be a strapping, Tony Award-winning movie star like Hugh Jackman, you may be very pleased to do just that. Sitting perched around director Ian Rickson’s intimate production of The River, a poetic but uneventful new play by Jez Butterworth (2011's acclaimed Jerusalem) that opened at Circle in the Square last night, feels a lot like looking at the surface of a stream, knowing the best bits are underneath, just out of reach.

River1To be fair, events do actually take place in The River, but mostly offstage, outside the confines of this remote, rustic cabin (from the actors’ mix of Australian, Irish and British accents, where exactly is unclear), or at another time the audience doesn’t see. The Man, as Jackman’s character is called in the program, has made a habit of bringing his lovers here to share with them his ultimate true love: fly fishing.

Over the course of the drama’s 90 minutes, we witness two such women (played by Cush Jumbo and Laura Donnelly) making this pilgrimage (at different times, of course), their scenes interspersed though their storylines follow the same path. How many women there have been, when they came or which came first remain open questions. We do know that the same tends to happen with each (a moonless, nocturnal trip to the water, fumbling first declarations of love) and that his conversations with them are substantively the same (history repeating, uncannily and with subtly sinister undertones).

River3There is, naturally, much passionate talk about fishing, much of it made to sound very compelling, thanks to a vivid and sensitive performance by Mr. Jackman. If your mind paints pretty pictures, Butterworth’s language has no shortage of superfluous color and detail. The Man’s passion, though, so clearly coursing through his aquatic oratories, is curiously (and conspicuously) absent in his relationships with both women.

Much like the play’s fishing, intimate moments between its characters don’t happen on stage; rather, they are referred to and described in the past tense (“Yesterday in this room after we made love”). Onstage, the pairs hardly touch. (He's an island!) Were their desire electric, this could well be hotter than any show of physical affection, but it isn’t. This can hardly be blamed on the production’s comely actors; both Ms. Jumbo and Ms. Donnelly are fine performers.

If the simplest of the play’s many conceits is (spoiler alert!) the women are the fish—migrating past as the man tries to connect with them—watching as they slip through his fingers is actually less exciting than the rush he describes of hooking and then losing hold of a wild trout. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: richard termine)


Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, Cynthia Nixon Open in ‘The Real Thing’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Real thing1

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Equal parts cerebral and sexy, Tom Stoppard’s 1982 play about love, deception and the limits of fiction gets a chic, starry revival from Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines theatre, where it opened on Broadway last night. With ace performances from the cast, director Sam Gold’s production anchors the lofty intellectual tangents of Stoppard’s writing in grounded, emotional drama.

Real thingThe opening scene shows a wife, Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon) returning home from a business trip to her drunk, jealous husband, Max (Josh Hamilton). She’s gone from London to Switzerland without her passport, Max discovers, leading him to conclude she’s cheating. The following scene reveals the first is from a play in which Charlotte and Max are performing—Charlotte is married to the playwright Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Max and his wife Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), also an actress, are close friends of the couple.

When Henry and Annie are left alone, we learn they’re having an affair and by the play’s more engrossing second act, the two have left their spouses and married each other. Much of the play is concerned with the nature of romantic love, the fallacy of monogamy and the challenges of writing. Henry is widely accepted as a stand-in for Stoppard as they share many parallels, including Stoppard’s relationship with a married woman, the actress who played Annie in the play’s original production.

Real thing3Making a bold (and impressively verbose) Broadway debut, McGregor does fine work making clear sense of Stoppard’s dense, heady dialogue, and the mischievous charm for which he’s known on-screen perfectly suits gallantly vain Henry. Ms. Gyllenhaal likewise makes a radiant Broadway debut as Annie, her easy sex appeal and unwavering poise a formidable match for her indomitable lover. Nixon, a stage vet who originated the role of Debbie (Charlotte and Henry’s daughter) in the play’s first Broadway production, gives an assured performance as sharp, unflappable Charlotte.

Some 30 years on, Stoppard’s play could easily be set in the present, but the design team’s nod to early 80s London style gives the production its seductive angles and textures, including a dynamic set by David Zinn, enviable costumes by Kaye Voyce and lighting by Mark Barton. 

Music is also central to the play, and Gold brings it to the fore with company sing-alongs during transitions between scenes. The device feels gimmicky in a play already chock-full of myriad ideas, but it's one Henry would probably love. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


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