Oscar E Moore

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THREE TALL WOMEN – ALL ABOUT “A”

April 6th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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Like the proverbial old gray mare, A isn’t what she used to be.  She is worse.  A is wealthy and ailing.  A is 92 insisting that she is 91.  A is disgruntled and demanding.  A is incontinent, independent and irascible.  A still attempts to stand tall despite her shrinking spine.  A’s thoughts are muddled.  A’s memory is failing and yet A is what some might call a bitch.

A is holding court in her luxurious bedroom.  It is neat and clean.  The bed has beautiful linens and pillows.  The lampshades are silk.  The furniture French.  And yet A rambles on about her horses and husband and the estrangement of her homosexual son and the Jews and everything else that has made her life unbearable.  Or has it been so terrible after all?  When all is said and done and one stops what does it matter?

A is embodied by the incomparable Glenda Jackson and it is a performance not to be missed.  A is cared for by the 52 year old B (Laurie Metcalf) who is eternally at A’s beck and call.  She has seen and done it all and her frustration is just about to reach its peak.  Shuffling cards and reading a book calm her but both her eyes and ears have to be on 24/7 alert to A’s demands.  Also attending is C (Alison Pill) a 26 year old feisty lawyer sent to help with unpaid bills and such.

A is based on the adoptive, socialite mother (in name only) of Edward Albee, the author of this two act, no intermission 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning drama that at times is a deeply funny comedy in the hands of director Joe Mantello.  Be especially eager to hear A’s story about her naked husband and a piece of expensive jewelry that is priceless.

A suffers a stroke at the end of the first part when unseen theatrical magic takes place.  First by the very clever Albee and second by the very clever set designer Miriam Buether, making THREE TALL WOMEN one and the same person – each reflecting on their life at different stages.  Each reflecting back on the past.  Each beautifully dressed in shades of lavender by Ann Roth.

The adjustment to the set startles at first, but it is brilliant – enabling a mysterious figure to visit A through the looking glass.

A wonderful theatrical production with superb acting by Glenda Jackson.  Through June 24th at the Golden Theatre.  www.threetallwomenbroadway.com

Photos:  Brigette Lacombe

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ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE – Belly up to the bar guys

April 4th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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Sometimes it takes a volcanic eruption to open your eyes to love and sometimes it takes a shower of beach balls to make memorable a rather silly musical.  The musical in question is ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE where “escape” is the key word.  Escape “to” or escape “from” – that is the important question.  It depends on your love of Jimmy Buffett’s calypso/country rock/easy listening, similar sounding “song stories” and highly suggested lifestyle that beckons one to relax, let go and fly high!

There are many avid fans of this man who has created an empire based on this lifestyle.  His many fans unfortunately were not in attendance on the night I endured this inane musical.  Even though drinks can be purchased ($16.00-$20.00) to ease the pain there was a sea of empty seats, with a few attendees dressed in brightly colored parrot shirts who roared at some of the lamest jokes/puns ever uttered on the musical stage.

In this golden age of puppetry I was most disappointed not to see at least one parrot puppet on stage.  A golden opportunity missed.  There is a chorus of dead insurance salesmen who tap, a couple of dancing clouds and an underwater scuba scene but no parrots.

It seems that the creative team of Greg Garcia & Mike O’Malley (book) with music and lyrics by the aforementioned Jimmy Buffett that are alphabetically listed in the program (there are about 27 numbers which include “Cheeseburger in Paradise”  “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere”  “My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus” “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and SCREW” and the title song “Margaritaville” ) have haphazardly thrown these elements together in a blender resulting in one big alcoholic Slurpee mess.

I give full credit to the excellent cast for believing in their one dimensional characters and implausible sit-com situations as they go about singing and dancing with gusto.  They do their best to entertain and at times they pull off the nearly impossible feat of having a good time.

It is a sorry combination of Fantasy Island, Gidget, Love Boat and Beach Blanket Bingo played for real.  Perhaps taking a satirical take on the story would have made it work better but then you have to fit in all of Buffett’s songs which are real and not satirical.

The plot if one can call it that revolves around guitar strumming Tully, the buff Paul Alexander Nolan with strong vocals and an even stronger desire to bed and romance his woman of the week as partygoers arrive for a week-long vacation at this run down Caribbean outpost.  Bartender Brick (Eric Petersen) and J.D. a one eyed aging Hippie (Don Sparks) and Marley (Rema Webb) owner of the dance bar are in attendance.

Back in Cincinnati Tammy (Lisa Howard) is about to wed a loser – in six days – that her best friend Rachel (Alison Luff) does not think suitable and whisks her away to a Bachelorette Party in the Caribbean.  Rachel is an uptight serious scientist developing a potato powered something or other that the ash from the Island’s volcano might help.  Guess who falls in love in a single week?  Three couples are involved.  Oh and after the eruption Tully goes to Ohio and is discovered by a talent scout in the bar and has the fastest rise to stardom ever.

If all this sounds like your cup of Margaritas you probably would like this show that is running at the Marquis Theatre.  But this belly up to the bar production unfortunately goes belly up.

Directed by Christopher Ashley and choreographed by Kelly Devine.

www.escapetomargaritavillemusical.com

Photo:  Matthew Murphy

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AIDS, ANGST AND ANGELS IN AMERICA – 25th anniversary production imported from London

April 3rd, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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An almost perfect alignment of writing, casting, design and direction have resulted in a monumental eight hour, double bill theatrical marathon.  It is a fantastical achievement.

First produced on Broadway in 1993 Tony Kushner’s epic MILLENNIUM APPROACHES was soon followed by PERESTROIKA.  Last year both were presented in tandem at The National Theatre helmed by the brilliant director Marianne Elliot who also directed WAR HORSE and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT…

Both parts are being performed in repertory at the Neil Simon Theatre for a limited engagement through June 30th.  Brave souls can see both in one day with a short dinner break to give theatergoers a chance to catch their breath and refresh their brain to take in and digest part two.  It is well worth the effort.

Quibble all you want about its length but Tony Kushner has a lot on his very intelligent and clever mind and a lot to say about a lot of things.  And he is not shy about sharing his intense thoughts in his GAY FANTASIA ON NATIONAL THEMES.  Although at times it can be confusing and in need of a trim.

AIDS is no longer a death sentence as it once was.  But in 1985 when this epic begins little was known about this plague and Prior Walter (a phenomenal Andrew Garfield) a very gay and very scared drag queen has discovered a lesion on his chest indicating Kaposi’s sarcoma.  He has a lover Louis (an excellent James McArdle) who is even more scared and abandons him.

We meet the odious, vicious and self-important Republican Roy Cohn (Nathan Lane) while he is being his nastiest on the telephone.  He will eventually die of AIDS that he insists is liver cancer.

This closet queen is attempting to groom his protégé Joe Pitt (Lee Pace), a Mormon lawyer to move to Washington D.C.  But his valium addicted wife Harper (Denise Gough) does not want to go.  They have marital problems as he grapples valiantly and unsuccessfully with his homosexual urges.

You will meet Belize (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) a no nonsense, compassionate nurse who marches to his own tune and is not afraid to confront Mr. Cohn or to pilfer some of his hard to get medications for those who need it and cannot afford it.

And the versatile Susan Brown who plays a variety of characters including Ethel Rosenberg who sits beaming as Roy Cohn suffers an agonizing death.

All is not doom and gloom as Mr. Kushner has a sharp and wicked wit.  Mr. Nathan Lane is at his best when slinging the barbs that shoot out of Cohn’s mouth.  But he is Nathan Lane.  The personality and the voice and the perfect comic timing that is unmistakable.  Whereas all the other actors become their characters, living and breathing and honest and human Mr. Lane remains Mr. Lane.  In his more quiet scenes he kind of fades into the woodwork.  It is a shame as everyone else is first rate.

And the Angel.  Amanda Lawrence soars as the frightening almost prehistoric bedraggled apparition that visits Prior, announcing that he is to be the messenger.  She is held aloft by humans that help operate her wings that have seen better eons.

The direction is superb by Marianne Elliott.  Part one makes use of turntables in isolated cubicles lit by colored neon that make for a fluid cinematic transition to the many locations.  Part two opens up as do the characters.  No turntables but a group of helpers scurrying around moving set pieces that is quite eerie.   As eerie as the second part is dreamlike theatrical.  Sensational set design by Ian MacNeil.

All this has some fabulous incidental music – symphonic and portentous with appropriate lighting by Paule Constable.

What one remembers most are the many truly important themes presented that somehow inter-connect with Mr. Kushner’s intellect and humor:  Republicans, Mormons, abandonment, guilt, religion, McCarthyism and above all his humanity in dealing with AIDS.

Andrew Garfield’s sensitive yet fierce performance will be talked about and will be remembered forever.  From his Norma Desmond’s shock at seeing his new diseased ridden self to his slow and painful decline from the disease to his fright and bewilderment of the Angel he gives us courage to go on.  Whatever cards we are dealt.

Totally intriguing and vastly entertaining.

www.angelsbroadway.com

Photos:  Brinkhoff & Mogenburg

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FROZEN – Disney on Ice or Finding Elsa

April 2nd, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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Call me a Mouseketeer.  Call me a kid.  Call me a boob.  Whatever.  I am a fan of Disney’s new musical FROZEN on Broadway at the St. James Theatre.  In the great old tradition of Tinkerbell, Snow White and Cinderella the creators of FROZEN have melted all the snow and ice of our previous four Nor’easters and come up with a wonderfully entertaining musical based on the animated film of the same name which if you haven’t heard made an amazing 1.2 billion dollars in 2013 and had that hit song LET IT GO that you could only escape if you were buried under an igloo in Siberia.

Starring not one Princess but two.  Sisters as in “there were never such devoted sisters” – thank you Irving Berlin!  Ice cold Elsa (Caissie Levy) the elder with magical powers literally at her fingertips and Anna (Patti Murin) the more animated (no pun intended) of the two.  Elsa sings that well-worn ditty by Mrs. And Mr. Lopez.  Anna steals the show and our hearts and perhaps some awards at seasons end.

What a surprise then to fall madly in love with a reindeer.  An amazing bigger than life puppet operated by Andrew Pirozzi who without uttering a single word or singing a single note charms and beguiles with his movements and puppy dog eyes.  His name is Sven.  Buddy to Kristoff (Jelani Alladin) a mountain guide who aides Anna in finding Elsa after Elsa has unleashed her magical powers after a tiff with Anna at her Coronation and frozen all of Arendelle and its surrounding hinterlands.

We first meet Elsa (Brooklyn Nelson) and Anna (Mattea Conforti) as young girls romping around their castle bedroom building a snowman who later reappears as Olaf (Greg Hildreth) speaking and singing and operating the puppet attached to his feet.  He has a great number “In Summer” with a clever pop up mini set by Christopher Oram who has done a bang up job with all the settings and costumes that bring back the vintage Disney look that brings back wonderful vintage Disney memories.

There are six musical numbers in a montage of the opening scene that sets up the characters and situation.  It is at the Coronation of Elsa (the King and Queen have been lost at sea) where Anna meets the dashing and deceptive Hans of the Southern Isles (a terrific John Riddle) falls in love at first sight and is swept off her feet in a waltz.  They seem destined to be together after “Love is an Open Door” until Elsa refuses their marriage and uses her magical powers to put a freeze on things.  This does sound silly but just go see the show and enjoy it.

It is briskly directed by Michael Grandage.  Beautifully lit by that wizard of lighting Natasha Katz and has some fun choreography by Rob Ashford.  For instance the opening of Act II at the Trading Post where Oaken (Kevin Del Aguila) enters from the audience and proceeds to do a wild and zany number with the chorus in flesh colored body stockings as they burst forth from a Sauna and cavort to that well known standard to be “Hygge” – you may want to get back to the main story – the Trading Post is a brief stopover for Anna and Kristoff and my true love Sven – it does soon enough after you stop laughing and cheering.

There is also an almost show stopping quick change of costume for Elsa that is truly magical.  But the show belongs to Patti Murin as Anna.  She is charming and oafish and athletic and has a powerhouse voice.  Matched only by Caissie Levy’s brilliant rendition of “Let It Go” that seems as if we had never heard that tune before.  Quite an accomplishment.

I almost forgot there is one other standout.  With a strong voice and even stronger body who dances up his own storm.  Timothy Hughes as Pabbie – King of the Woodland Creatures or whatever they are.

Will the icy cold spell be broken by Anna finding true love and be reunited with Elsa?  That’s a rhetorical question folks.  FROZEN is a delightful show that pleases the eyes and ears and is for Mouseketeers of all ages.  I had a wonderful time with the wonderful world of Disney.

To quote Mr. Irving Berlin once again “Lord help the Mister who comes between me and my sister and Lord help the Sister who comes between me and my man.”

With a book by Jennifer Lee and music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

www.frozenthemusical.com

Photos:  Deen Van Meer

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AMY AND THE ORPHANS – at some performances ANDY AND THE ORPHANS

March 8th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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What would you do?  You are happily married with two children (a boy and a girl) and have just given birth to a third – a girl who the doctor has, unfortunately, told you is a “Mongolian idiot” who “will never learn to read, write or possibly even sit up on her own.”  A direct quote from playwright Lindsey Ferrentino’s notes from the Playbill where her insightful, brave, and quite funny play AMY AND THE ORPHANS is playing at the Laura Pels Theatre – a wonderful Roundabout production through April 22nd.  I advise you to see it.

It is based on the true life events of Lindsey’s aunt Amy who was born with Down syndrome and her disconnected siblings here represented by Maggie (a profoundly funny Debra Monk) and Jacob her 61 year old brother (Mark Blum in true sibling rivalry form in trying to out funny his sister).  They have arrived in Queens from Chicago and Los Angeles to see Amy, their hardly ever visited sister who has been relegated to hospitals and state supported institutions after being abandoned by her parents on the advice of her doctors that it would be for the best.   Was it?

They have been reunited on this Thanksgiving holiday weekend because their father has died and they have to break the news to Amy who is now protected and guided by a no nonsense Italian caretaker Kathy (an extremely funny, honest and wise Vanessa Aspillaga) who is pregnant and does not hold back with her views on anything including Thanksgiving stuffing.

Down syndrome is a born with genetic disorder with no cure.  It can effect growth, speech and the ability to lead a fulfilling life.  Just don’t tell that to our Amy portrayed by Jamie Brewer who has Down Syndrome.  She gives us insight as to what someone who has the affliction can accomplish.  She is an inspiration to one and all.  To her it is not an affliction, it is just a part of her being.

We first meet Sarah (Diane Davis) and Bobby (Josh McDermitt) as they attend a symposium to help them get through some troubling times.  Married with two children Sarah has given birth to another girl with a troubling future and they have some major decisions to make.  They are excellent and we will meet them again throughout the play and as you might have already guessed they are the parents of Amy.  And it is Bobby’s death that reunites the three siblings.

Amy has a job in a movie theater.  She loves movies and watches them on her tablet.  Her boyfriend is Nick Nolte and she is fond of movie quotes and the color red.  She prefers friends over family.  She is sharp and independent which surprises Maggie and Jacob who treat her like a child.

It is on the way to dad’s memorial in a car driven by Kathy (at her insistence) out on Long Island that we get to known this foursome a lot better and the history behind Amy and her ordeal in a horrible state institution on Staten Island, Willowbrook also known as “the snake pit.”

Rachel Hauck is responsible for the simple and functional set that allows the various locations to quickly appear without the aid of visible cumbersome stagehands in this ninety minute packed with information and darkly funny dialogue with a punch that is clear as a bell and no intermission.  Bravo to one and all, especially to Scott Ellis its director.

The playwright has requested that the part of Amy be portrayed by a person with DS.  Nicely done here by Jamie Brewer.  Her final inspiring monologue of famous quotes from famous movies is a knockout.

In addition, Lindsey Ferrentino has adapted her play to enable Edward Barbanell to partake as ANDY at some performances.  An equal opportunity playwright.  Very nicely done.

 

www.roundabouttheatre.org

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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HANGMEN – A minor McDonagh off Broadway

February 20th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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You might want to see this Royal Court Theatre production of HANGMEN more than once at the Atlantic Theater Company on West 20th Street.  And not because it is written by Martin McDonagh.  And not because of all the excellent hype surrounding it.

You might want to revisit HANGMEN to try to understand more clearly what exactly is going on with the various characters involved.  Mr. McDonagh isn’t known for his clarity.  He is best remembered for his dark sense of humor, violence and sometimes implausible plot twists.

First and foremost you may comprehend better the many words of the actors with their extremely heavy accents the second time around.  Volume is not the problem.  The accents are.  Particularly those of Alice (Sally Rogers) and daughter Shirley (Gaby French).  One or two phrases understood here and there make it almost impossible to follow the bumpy McDonagh road of which “hangman” is better:  Harry (Mark Addy) reputed to be the second best or his archrival Albert Pierrepoint “numero uno” (Maxwell Caulfield) with all its underlying complications.

But I am getting ahead of myself and I’ll attempt to keep this brief.

England. 1963.  Hanging is the order of the day.  Hennessy (Gilles Geary) is about to hanged not hung for a crime he most probably did not commit by Harry (Pierrepoint was off or indisposed that day) and his prissy assistant Syd (Reece Shearsmith).  He isn’t going to die without a fight.  Told to relax and get it over with – “you could have been dead by now,” we are off and running.  Violence and gallows humor.

Fast forward two years.  The grimy, drab and water stained cellblock is (through the magic of stagecraft and set designer Anna Fleischle) replaced by a pub now owned and operated by said Harry and his raunchy wife Alice with fifteen year old daughter (whose self-esteem is lower than the incoming tide) in tow.  The set which offers yet another surprise location is the hero of this production.

Bar flies are in attendance.  As in CHEERS!  My favorite is Arthur (John Horton).  As do they all, he drinks his pints but has trouble hearing.  Even he has trouble understanding the accents.  Words and phrases and jokes must be repeated to great effect.

HANGMEN as touted is not hysterically funny.  Arthur is.  I kept wondering what it is exactly they are all drinking as I tried valiantly to follow the goings-on.  Not a good sign.

Into this mix marches Michael Caine – a complete stranger.  Rather Johnny Flynn as Mooney.  Immediately bringing to mind a young Mr. Caine in his prime.  Mooney is menacing and moody.  And according to his own evaluation “not creepy.”  He is looking to rent a room.  And shake things up.  Alice (the wife) is looking to have a little fun.  When next we see her she is all dolled up and ready to rock with this young newcomer.  But he sets as his target shy Shirley and he persuades her to meet him for a date.

Shirley disappears. But not before a reporter interviews Harry – as capital punishment has been abandoned and he is now out of a job.  The published newspaper interview puts him back in the spotlight.

Somehow (my favorite word when there is no obvious explanation) Mooney and prissy Syd hook up.  That’s all I’m allowed to divulge.  Even if I could I wouldn’t be able to as the rest becomes rather murky.  There is however another hard to digest hanging.

This unsatisfying melodrama replete with ominous thunder and lightning is directed by Matthew Dunster.  There is a running “cock” joke, a few red herrings and many unanswered questions.

The limited Off Broadway running through March 7th is SOLD OUT.  However, it will be opening on Broadway in the near future.  Hopefully these notes will aid in your understanding.  Hang in there!

I was quite disappointed.  At the Linda Gross Theater 336 West 20 Street.  2 hours 15 minutes – one intermission.

www.atlantictheater.org

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Photos:  Ahron R. Foster

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PARTY FACE – Group Therapy Dublin Style Starring Hayley Mills Off-B’way

February 18th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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Five Irish women.  Family and frenemies and one germ-a-phobic manic-depressive obsessive compulsive acquaintance.  Girl talk ensues.  Men in and out of their lives.  Chatty.  Gossipy.  Bitchy.  With an assortment of accents/brogues.  Nibbling and imbibing.  Loosening up.  Group therapy Dublin style.

At a party to celebrate Mollie Mae’s new kitchen – not her most recent bout with having a nervous breakdown because her unseen husband has flown the coup we, one by one, meet the assembled group.  After a while you will consider the fleeing husband lucky.  How Alan lasted 16 years is a wonder.

Wine glasses and multiple bottles of wine on view on the lovely set designed by Jeff Ridenour as we meet a subdued and glum looking Mollie (Gina Costigan) prepping for her guests wearing a wrist bandage and a frown.

You’ll find out why eventually and her reason for being so glum as she awaits the arrival of Carmel her sophisticated well preserved albeit annoying take charge judgmental mum (Hayley Mills looking lovely in pale pink silk Capri pants and white blouse) and her sarcastic sister Maeve (Brenda Meaney looking very butch) and her always positive but annoying neighbor Chloe (Allison Jean White looking like a spaced out socialite) whom I have nick-named Ms. Magenta.  Costume by Lara De Bruijn.

It is only near the end of Act I that Mollie Mae’s hospital mate Bernie (Klea Blackhurst) looking very much like Josephine the Plumber; bringing along her own yogurt and roll of plastic wrap arrives – just in time – to fix a leaky sink that explodes.  Don’t ask.

This group of women deserve each other.  We don’t.  After two acts of this ridiculous chit chat I would suggest avoiding them.  As has the aforementioned unseen Alan leaving behind an unseen topiary of a large penis and balls.

The characters as written by playwright Isobel Mahon are quite superficial.  We aren’t drawn in.  We don’t care.  The actors do their best.  But they can only do so much with what is not supplied by Ms. Mahon.

As directed by Amanda Bearse in TV sit-com mode (all we need is a laugh track) they become caricatures and tend toward the farcical which fights against any attempt at naturalism in the script.

To wit:  Act II opens with a conga line to “Turn The Beat Around” – there is a pillow fight, someone throws up, and Hayley Mills conks out on the sofa after some weird “find yourself” meditation lesson offered by the ever floating Chloe.  It’s not in the least bit amusing.

Through April 8th at City Center Stage II

Photos:  Jeremy Daniel

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John Lithgow: STORIES BY HEART – Ham and wry

January 17th, 2018 by Oscar E Moore
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There’s some good news and some rather dreary news to report about this Lithgow family “show and tell” Roundabout production that has taken roughly ten years to get to the American Airlines Theatre via its bumpy albeit successful off and on road tour cross country.  A One Act version appeared at Lincoln Center Theater in 2008.

John Lithgow:  STORIES BY HEART has all the appearance of a bus and truck tour.  Minimal set.  Minimal props.  One actor.

And what actor could resist being that “one” actor?  Center stage.  In the spotlight.  “Me” – John Lithgow –the epicenter of my own universe for almost two hours with one intermission.

All eyes and in this particular case all ears focus on Mr. Lithgow as he fondly recalls his dad Arthur – also an actor and director and reader of short bedtime stories to John and his siblings as they moved around the Midwest settling in Ohio where dear old daddy ran a Shakespeare Festival.  He sounds like quite the character!

They were a warm tightly knit family and I wish more emphasis had been put on them in Mr. Lithgow’s introductions as the two stories that make up the crux of the evening are not as interesting as his mini family memoir.

The two ancient and hard to follow stories performed (not merely read) from a family relic – TELLERS OF TALES – which appears on stage with Mr. Lithgow along with the spirit of his dad are THE HAIRCUT by Ring Lardner and P. G. Wodehouse’s UNCLE FRED FLITS BY.

It is only the acting/performance of Mr. Lithgow that barely keeps the production above water.  There is no denying that he is a consummate actor.  A great mimic.  And mime.  With great comic timing.  A man of many faces and accents.  Charming.  Engaging.  But that is not enough as he becomes the characters in the above mentioned lost tales.  At least they lost me.

The audience reacts with much laughter in Act II – not by the narrative but by what Lithgow does with the characters – including a parrot.  One watches the watch to see how much longer this will go on.

Lighting designer Kenneth Posner helps in this respect.  As the stories wind down so do the lights.

So there is a light at the end of the tunnel to alert you back to where you have zoned out from by focusing on the sound effects as he shaves and snips and gossips in the first monologue and goes all out with the farcical goings on in the second.

As he mentions, “One man’s rose is another man’s garlic.”  You’ll have to decide for yourself if interested.

Mr. Lithgow, ham that he is, is wonderful – along with his wry take on the proceedings.  But the production and choice of tales just doesn’t cut the mustard.  Directed by Daniel Sullivan.

At The American Airlines Theatre.  A Roundabout Theatre Company production.  Through March 4th.

www.roundabouttheatre.org

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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FARINELLI AND THE KING – the music cure: a disappointing experiment

December 23rd, 2017 by Oscar E Moore
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For those of you who can’t get enough of Handel sung beautifully by the renowned countertenor Iestyn Davies as the “singing” Farinelli (a renowned 18th century castrato) hie thee over to the Belasco Theatre (till March 25th) to hear this wondrous voice that calmed the nerves of one King Philippe V of Spain in what is now called bipolar disorder.

In fact, in this production there are indeed two Farinellis.  The “singer” and the “actor.”  The King may have suffered from mood swings but Farinelli suffered from having a split personality.   It’s a bit confusing.  But beautiful to look at and listen to.

Famous beyond his wildest dreams he only desired to escape his voice and be a regular “man.”  The actor Farinelli is portrayed by an equally wondrous Sam Crane.  They look alike.  They act alike.  Somewhat like conjoined twins Daisy and Violet in SIDE SHOW.

Bedecked in beautiful brocade period costumes by UK Costume Coordinator Lorraine Ebdon-Price and bathed in the golden glow of candles and amber lighting design by Paul Russell and set in a sumptuous surrounding of a period theater within the lovely Belasco theatre – this play with music unfurls and/or implodes – as some audience members seated on either side of the stage crane their necks to see what all the fuss is about.

It’s a fascinating subject that is skimmed over in Cliff Notes style by novice playwright Claire Van Kampen – a composer and historical music scholar.  Unfortunately the play is NOT the thing here.   It is its renowned star Mark Rylance.

Who happens to be Claire Van Kampen’s husband portraying King Philippe V in all his wacky glory: tics, pauses, asides, tantrums and underlying charm and wit that Mr. Rylance is famous for and could act the part in his sleep.  In fact, he spends much of this time in a nightshirt abed.

It is a golden missed opportunity that leaves so many questions unanswered that I urge anyone who is thinking of attending FARINELLI AND THE KING (which would not be high on my to-do list) to first read the very informative insert by David Cote enclosed in the Playbill program.

The King’s doctor (Huss Garbiya) sees no cure and along with Chief Minister Don Sebastian De La Cuadra (Edward Peel) they are determined to get him off the throne as they see him as unfit to rule.

When all else fails his devoted second wife Isabella Farnese (a calm and more than adequate Melody Grove) travels to London, hears Farinelli’s voice and somehow persuades him to leave his career to tend to the King believing this celestial voice will help soothe the King.  He does.  Why?

Most of Act II is in the countryside where all three commune with nature, experiment with the cure and kibitz with the audience after all the flickering candles have been replaced anew during intermission.  There is a sublime scene between Isabella and the two Farinellis.

Director John Dove has seen fit to include some silly sight gags and an Act I finale worthy of Cirque du Soleil.

The King remarks that Farinelli’s singing “makes it possible to live in this world” – and so it is with visiting this Globe production imported from London.  The power of music to heal is undisputed but it can also lull you to sleep.

At certain performances the singing Farinelli is portrayed by James Hall.

www.farinelliandthekingbroadway.com

Photos:  Joan Marcus

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METEOR SHOWER – A Steve Martin conundrum hits Broadway

December 16th, 2017 by Oscar E Moore
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Twenty minutes into this 80 minute puzzling and slight but bloated idea penned by Steve Martin, there I sat – fourth row on the aisle – at the Booth Theatre – wondering what was happening as other members of the audience giggled and guffawed at the nonsense happening on stage.

Had I entered some twilight zone where Beethoven’s Fifth blared and stars raced across the backdrop of the sleekly designed Ojai home (inside and out) by Beowulf Boritt of real life stars Corky (Amy Schumer perky and pony-tailed) and Norm (Jeremy Shamos – master of the quadruple take)  as they eagerly await their star guests for the evening Gerald (an over-the-top Keegan-Michael Key) and Laura (Laura Benanti – looking very First Lady Trump); wondering who sent the bouquet of three large eggplants without a card that sits alongside the stuffed celery sticks?

Celery sticks aren’t the only things stuffed in this production.  Jerry Zaks, King of “do anything for a laugh” and I mean “anything” attempts to even outdo himself.  Some things work, most things don’t.

I have a good sense of humor.  But it isn’t Steve Martins.  A comic who made a name for himself on SNL doing outrageous skits, employing sight gags and sexual innuendos that sometimes fell flat but that the audience adored.  So if you like all that stuff “Meteor Shower” is for you.

It’s a cliché-ridden sex fantasy farce about a married couple who have obvious problems and have been to joint therapy.  Corky has been a cannibal and Norm is Normal or as Normal as one can be in La La Land.

The other couple could be their subconscious selves or just two annoying newly made friends that cause sparks and unusual couplings before the evening is finished.  Gerald is a bombastic know-it-all braggart and Laura is a beauty with a razor sharp tongue and stare.

College frat humor at best.  The audience really started to perk up with the announcement that one of the men has “an enormous dick” – which can be a huge advantage or disadvantage depending on how one uses it.

How to get through a marriage circa 1993 Hollywood style.  Fight, therapy, make believe, do drugs, drink, fight, make-up, threesomes, switch mates or just try to write about it in a self-help way.

It’s all a surreal pseudo-intellectual gimmick portrayed in short quick and repetitive scenes of the arrival of the guests that wears thin very quickly.

Without the name of Steve Martin on the script and the four popular stars signed on I do not believe that the long list of producers would have given it a second thought.

Best line – “Just rub it around the rim.”   Enough said.

Limited engagement through January 21.

www.meteoronbroadway.com

Photo:  Matthew Murphy

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