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04/19/2007


Woody Allen’s ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ Musical Starring Zach Braff Opens On Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Of the many musicals to roll off Broadway’s assembly line of popular film adaptations, the arrival of Bullets Over Broadway at the St James Theatre on April 10 seems like a natural, if not exactly foregone conclusion. Written by Woody Allen with a buoyant musical score of standards from the 20s and 30s, the production helmed and choreographed by Susan Stroman spares no expense and radiates the sort of seductive visual glamour you’d expect from its creators. But the combo of Allen’s idiosyncratic style with musical theatre makes for a strange marriage.

Bullets2716Like the 1994 film, which Allen co-wrote with Douglas McGrath, the musical tells the story of hapless playwright David Shayne (Zach Braff), who gets his new play produced on Broadway by notorious mobster Nick Valenti (Vincent Pastore) on the condition that Nick’s birdbrained girlfriend Olive (Heléne York) play a part in the show. The cast comes together to rehearse, including its vain star Helen Sinclair (Marin Mazzie), the cloying Eden Brent (Karen Ziemba) with her puppy in tow, and perpetually hungry Walter Purcell (Brooks Ashmanskas). Olive’s bodyguard Cheech (Nick Cordero) pipes in with unsolicited changes to the script, eventually becoming David’s ghostwriter.

Allen’s comedy assembles a cast of classic New York archetypes (neurotic writer, tough guy, dimwitted blonde, aging diva, etc.), and the film’s stellar ensemble achieves a sublime sort of campy-chic, balancing over-the-top performances (theatre people are so dramatic) with enough vulnerability to ground their characters. The story would seem to lend itself well to a musical, where over-the-top is par for the course.

Bullets2712Stroman’s production fares best in its beautifully choreographed musical numbers, from Cotton Club-style showgirl acts and a back-alley gangster tap dance to a hilarious chorus of singing hot dogs (yes, really). In dance she captures the fun, frenetic energy of the era, while scenic design by Santo Loquasto and costumes by William Ivey Long create a remarkable feast for the eyes.

Yet the show resists the same level of camp in dialogue as it embraces in song, feeling more often like a straightforward Broadway musical rather than a satire of one. On screen Allen’s heady dialogue vacillates between subtle and bombastic, moving at the clipped pace for which his movies are known. While the book scenes are elevated enough here to make for typical musical theatre, they rarely reach the nuanced level of parody inherent to the story.

Bullets2708In his Broadway debut, Braff’s likability does him credit, though his presence remains somewhat subdued (in his rendition of “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” the refrain “I’m just rollin’ along” is maybe a bit too apt). Ms. Mazzie and Ms. York both shine in song, while Broadway vets Ashmanskas and Ziemba make the most of their roles, though they’re mostly confined to repeating one-note bits (gluttony and a frisky pup, respectively).

As the tough guy with a mind for playwriting, Cordero emerges as the show’s clear highlight. Just as Cheech takes over writing David’s play with an ear for what works on stage, Cordero creates the sort of grounded character here that works so well in the movie. Cheech might have done wonders were he tasked with setting the tone for this show, too.

Recent theatre features...
Denzel Washington Opens in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ On Broadway: REVIEW
Idina Menzel Opens In ‘If/Then’ On Broadway: REVIEW
Terrence McNally’s ‘Mothers and Sons’ Starring Tyne Daly Opens On Broadway: REVIEW
New Production of ‘Les Misérables’ Opens On Broadway: REVIEW
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:paul kolnik)


Neil Patrick Harris Reveals the Python in His Pants: VIDEO

Lin-Manuel Miranda for Vanity Fair (and Annie Leibowitz) take a look at Neil Patrick Harris as he prepares for his upcoming role on Broadway as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

And the VF camera crew has a talk with playwright and originator John Cameron Mitchell as well as a few of the backstage players, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Neil Patrick Harris Reveals the Python in His Pants: VIDEO" »


Denzel Washington Opens in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ On Broadway: REVIEW

A RAISIN IN THE SUN cap1267_A_crop

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Just before the curtain rises on a beautifully acted production of A Raisin in the Sun, which opened on Broadway April 3 at the Barrymore Theatre, a recorded interview with Lorraine Hansberry pipes through the darkened house, the playwright advocating for broader audiences and greater accessibility in American theatre. The irony will be lost on no one who’s managed to snag a ticket to see the starry ensemble, led by Denzel Washington.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN 1960AcapHansberry’s 1959 drama, last on Broadway just ten years ago in a revival headlined by Sean Combs (aka P Diddy), is as much a chronicle of mid-century black experience in America as it is an uncluttered family portrait. Set on Chicago’s south side, the story looks in on the Younger family in their small, shabby apartment housing three generations under one roof. Grandfather Younger has recently passed, and a life insurance check is en route to his widow Lena (a sublime LaTanya Richardson Jackson).

Her son Walter Lee (Mr. Washington) has his mind set on using the cash to buy and run a liquor store. His sister Beneatha (Anika Noni Rose) could use some of the money to follow her dream of going to medical school. And Walter’s wife Ruth (Sophie Okonedo) shares Lena’s wish to move the family to a larger house where Ruth and Walter’s son Travis (Bryce Clyde Jenkins) can have a room of his own.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN cap1052_A_cropThe play’s relatively straightforward plot functions as a vehicle for Hansberry’s revelatory account of pre-Civil Rights black experience in all its particulars. Some of her talking points feel more seamlessly integrated than others, but the uniformly stellar cast draws us into their story from its first moments. Like every family, this Younger clan has its own practiced rhythms and ways of relating, and together the company creates a captivating alchemy it’s hard to look away from.

A master of the wordless glance, Ms. Jackson’s Lena balances quiet wisdom with a glorious and equally commanding bluntness. Ms. Rose is wonderful as the young, ambitious Beneatha, the vulnerability beneath her character’s idealism always coursing close to the surface. Rounding out remarkable performances by the show’s leading women, Okonedo (Oscar nominated for Hotel Rwanda) dams up a precarious swell of feeling behind Ruth’s firm exterior.

Washington, a Tony winner for his performance in August Wilson’s Fences, has a star-powered stage presence that translates into palpable command of audience sympathy. His Walter Lee carries an easy charm that makes it difficult to resent his follies for long, so he’s likable even at his most despicable. Though he doesn’t tread a difficult path to redemption, Washington’s interpretation is no less believable and moving for it.  

Director Kenny Leon, who also helmed the 2004 revival, maintains focus on drawing out fine performances from the talented company and forging an engaging, accessible family dynamic. If the drama feels more peppered with casual humor even at its most serious, moments of levity keep the pacing brisk and make the play that much more enjoyable to watch.

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Idina Menzel Opens In ‘If/Then’ On Broadway: REVIEW
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New Musical 'Rocky' Opens On Broadway: REVIEW
Bryan Cranston Goes ‘All the Way’ On Broadway As Lyndon B. Johnson: REVIEW

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:brigitte lacombe)


First Look At Harvey Fierstein's New Play 'Casa Valentina': VIDEO

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Gravelly-voiced Broadway super-gay Harvey Fierstein is revisiting drag for the first time since La Cage aux Folles with his new show Casa Valentinawherein straight men vacation to the Catskills to dress up and act like women. From the press release:

Nestled in the land of dirty dancing and borscht belt comedy sat an inconspicuous bungalow colony that catered to a very special clientele: heterosexual men whose favorite pastime was dressing and acting as women. It was paradise for these men — white-collar professionals with families — to spend their weekends discreetly and safely inhabiting their chosen female alter egos. But when they got the opportunity to share their secret lives with the world, these 'self-made women' had to decide whether the freedom they would gain by emerging from hiding was worth the risk of personal ruin.

You can see the first look of Casa Valentina AFTER THE JUMP...

Casa Valentina

Continue reading "First Look At Harvey Fierstein's New Play 'Casa Valentina': VIDEO" »


Idina Menzel Opens In ‘If/Then’ On Broadway: REVIEW

Idina Menzel in If Then photo by Joan Marcus 0299r

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

After a nearly ten-year absence, Idina Menzel returns to Broadway in If/Then, an original yet hackneyed musical from Next to Normal writing team Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) that opened March 30 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. While fans of the Wicked star’s sonorous belt may be delighted to learn that Ms. Menzel does double duty—playing two versions of the story’s heroine as her life fatefully unfolds down divergent paths—its generic rom com stakes rarely justify her volume.

Idina Menzel and IF THEN Cast Photo By Joan MarcusIt’s not exactly source material, but those familiar with Peter Howitt’s 1998 film Sliding Doors may be hip to the concept here. A single event (i.e. whether Gwyneth Paltrow makes the train) dramatically affects the path her life takes from there, so we follow her through a pair of ‘if/then’ scenarios. In Elizabeth’s case, it’s her decision whether to hang out with one friend or another on what, as one of them describes in the musical’s opening line, “feels like a fateful day.”

From her first number “What If?,” it’s clear Elizabeth is feeling particularly indecisive lately. She’s just returned to New York City after over a decade living in Phoenix, where her soured marriage to a grad school sweetheart has caused her to question her judgment. She’s already made fast friends with her free-spirited neighbor Kate (LaChanze, a clear highlight) and reconnected with her old Vassar chum Lucas (Anthony Rapp).

Idina Menzel and James Snyder in If Then photo by Joan Marcus  40rWhen she accompanies her new pal to a concert in Brooklyn, she goes by Kate’s preferred nickname of ‘Liz,’ meets her leading man Josh (a charming James Snyder), misses an important call, and quickly dons a new pair of black-framed glasses to differentiate herself. When she decides to attend a housing activists’ event with Lucas, she goes by ‘Beth,’ takes the important call from another former grad-school flame (who offers her a primo job with the city), and predictably falls into ill-advised romantic encounters with both.

Elizabeth’s vocation as an urban planner is just one of the plot’s overdetermined elements, which include Lucas being bisexual (and in pursuit of a different sex in each plot), and a dual incidence of the typical surprise in any story about a woman (hint: it happened to Gwyneth’s character too).

LaChanze and Anthony Rapp in IF THEN photo by Joan Marcus 801Director Michael Grief (Rent, Next to Normal) brings his usual geometry to bear on Mark Wendland’s spick-and-span set, which more readily resembles an expressively lit yoga studio than the streets of New York City (a giant suspended mirror with obvious symbolic significance also seems an attempt to add visual interest).

For all its questioning of fate, actions and reactions, If/Then neatly fills in the blanks implied by its title: If a woman wants to have a successful, fulfilling career, then she’ll be hapless in love and generally rather joyless. The opposite is also true: If she compromises her career goals, she can more readily dedicate herself to her family and friends. Fortunately, it need not be a conscious decision—fate (or the men in her life) can make the choice for her just as well.  

Recent theatre features...
Terrence McNally’s ‘Mothers and Sons’ Starring Tyne Daly Opens On Broadway: REVIEW
New Production of ‘Les Misérables’ Opens On Broadway: REVIEW
New Musical 'Rocky' Opens On Broadway: REVIEW
Bryan Cranston Goes ‘All the Way’ On Broadway As Lyndon B. Johnson: REVIEW
Possessed Puppet Satire 'Hand to God' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW

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


Utah Theatre Director Zaps Homophobic Patron Upset Over Gay Kiss in Play: VIDEO

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Chris Lino — the managing director of The Pioneer Theater Company on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah — recently staged a production of the comedic thriller Deathtrap during which (SPOILER ALERT) one character kisses another of the same gender on the cheek for all of three to four seconds.

The kiss was enough to send one audience member into full-blown histrionics, and she sent Lino the following letter:

Chris [Lino, Managing Director],

I trusted you! I have been a season ticket holder for 10 years and in the past have appreciated the quality of the acting and set design. I love the theatre and have taken my children to the theatre in hopes that they too will love it and continue to support the ARTS.

Pioneer_theatre_companyI am normally calm, mild-mannered, and don’t get upset, but last night, at the close of the first act of Deathtrap, I was infuriated with the explicit, homosexual display on stage because I had brought my teenage son to see the seemingly innocuous play. I based my decision to take my teenage son upon the content advisory you provided. In the past, I have appreciated the content advisories, and I have relied upon them to make attendance decisions. I realize that, unfortunately, you feel you must appeal to an insignificant minority of patrons by offering “edgy” material. I regret that you feel that way. I have wasted many tickets the last two years by choosing NOT to attend plays that were offensive and vulgar.

Because I relied on the content advisory, I am infuriated this evening. I felt compelled to walk out immediately, but had been taught etiquette as a child (my seat is [REDACTED]). It took all of my self control as I fumed in my seat for the long minute before intermission. Why was brazen homosexual content not included in the advisory?

As I left at intermission, I talked to your employees in the ticket booth asking for upper management, but you were not available. When I inquired as to why that content was left out of the advisory I was told that it would “ruin the plot.” Ruin the plot?! You ruined my evening, ruined my trust in you, and you ruined the trust my son has in me to find worthwhile entertainment for him. I feel sick about tonight.

I am appalled that you could not have simply stated: homosexual content. I have NEVER been so disgusted and infuriated! I was livid. I know your ticket sales clerk and manager are not responsible, and they handled the situation well. I had read and reread the content advisory to make sure it would be suitable to have my teenage son attend. I anticipated that he would appreciate the suspense, intrigue, plot twists, and mystery. The decision on the theatre’s part not to divulge repulsive content was irresponsible and negligent! You have that responsibility to your patrons.

Please refund my money for this last evening’s performance as well as Sweet Charity as we will not be using our tickets. Thank you in advance. My real desire is that you could erase the images in my son’s mind and in mine. Please send my refund to: [REDACTED]

I hope my feedback will prompt you to include ALL potentially offensive content in the advisory in the future!

Read Lino’s excellent response and a report for SLC FOX13, AFTER THE JUMP…

Continue reading "Utah Theatre Director Zaps Homophobic Patron Upset Over Gay Kiss in Play: VIDEO" »


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