Archive for the 'Theater' Category


You Better Work

Start with a strong-woman ensemble piece like the 1980 film 9 to 5. Add music written by gay-fave country diva Dolly Parton. Throw in an orchestra, some sequins and a bit of razzle-dazzle, and you should have a recipe for a little slice of gay heaven.

9 to 5: The Musical,” which opened at New York’s Marriott Marquis Theater last night, comes pretty close.



Half-Pint Lives! Little House on the Prairie — The Musical!

Here’s something I wrote for someone else.


Les Liaisons Timides

Laura Linney, brilliant in nearly everything I’ve seen her do, is the entire reason I bought tickets to see the Roundabout Theater’s production of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangeureses. So it’s a good thing that Ben Daniels and not she was replaced by the understudy in the performance I saw.

    Laura Linney and Ben Daniels
Laura Linney and Ben Daniels don’t open their mouths without first calculating what damage they can do in this revival production of Les Liaisons Dangeureuses.

She was calculating and precise, demanding, even cold at times, but not strong-sounding enough. Her voice faltered in a few lines, which in other characters and at other times she has used to great effect, but in Merteuil, it just seemed weak.

The Valmont understudy did fine, but only fine. He seemed more of a smirking, cocky American boy than the “conspicuously charming” and ultimately dangerous European I am sure Tony-nominated Ben Daniels carried off a bit better. For Valmont to be effective, he needs to seduce not only his female prey but also the audience. He needn’t have been better-looking, necessarily — just more … irresistible.

Linney seemed to be alone out there, even with the other actors on stage. This isolation is clearly part of Merteuil’s character, as she even explains in great detail in a late scene. It felt like the was against a blank canvas at times, with little to react to, except when paired with the clownish Madame de Volanges or the mousy Cécile. I’d like to think there was better chemistry with her intended leading man.

The swordplay toward end between Valmont and Danceny was a letdown, too. Notably, these were the only two actors to appear on stage on separate occasions fully nude. (Damn my obstructed-view box seats!) So, naturally, their pairing for a sword fight was perfect! Unfortunately, their thrusts and parries seemed flaccid and uninspired. Seems to me the passions that would stir two men to draw their weapons in mortal combat should result in something looking more hot-blooded, less practiced — less poorly practiced. By contrast, they seemed sloppy, like two actors missing their marks.

The costumes were gorgeous, inspirational. And the Tony-nominated sets were lush and evocative. A series of curtains and drapery sculptures shifted from scene to scene, unfurling and tightening to match the action on the stage. By the final scene, just before Merteuil reaches her downfall, they had resolved themselves into something resembling a spider web. I feel safe saying this now, as the run is nearly at an end. However, I wish the “theater talk” dramaturge guy before the show had held his tongue and not given away this little confection of scene craft. It would have been far more effective to see it first for myself.

I so love the story, the dialogue, the humor, the moral philosophizing, and of course the Glenn Close/John Malkovich movie, that I am willing to let my petty complaints go. I won’t compare the play to the wholly excellent (with the exception of Keanu Reeves) film. It seems unfair somehow. Every actor has a different interpretation; there are some things Linney did that I actually like better than in the Close performance. I only am grateful that I have her and Malkovich, and Uma Thurman and Swoosie Kurtz and Michelle Pfeiffer at home to refer to again and again as the defining example of bad behavior and truly dangerous liaisons.


You Must Not Know ‘Bout Bea

CNN gleefully covered an onstage spill from Beyoncé recently. It reminds me of the time I saw Bea Arthur fall off a stage in Minneapolis.

She was barefoot and resplendent in a flowing white kaftan. Or something. During a story about a fistfight with Elaine Stritch or something, she moved slowly backward into a poorly lit part of the stage. And then, in an instant: a wisp of white taffeta, like smoke, and she had vanished.

A gay guy in the front row gasped. A small child began to cry somewhere. And then, from the darkness, Ms. Arthur’s voice rang out like a call from God:

“Ladies and gentlemen. I am all right.”

Exuberant applause erupted from the assembled masses, and she took to the stage once again, without so much as a limp. It was inspirational.


Desperately Seeking a Tony

A musical-loving friend of mine informed me recently that a new musical drawing from Desperately Seeking Susan, with songs written by Debbie Harry, is making its world premiere on London’s West End this fall.

A musical version of Desperately Seeking Susan seemed like a terrible idea to me at first, but the more I think about it, the more it seems the ridiculous storyline — amnesia, mistaken identity, escape from suburbia, true love vs. love at first sight, magic shows, “dangerous” jewel thieves — is PERFECT for Broadway!

I have read that the show will feature classic Blondie songs, including “Heart of Glass,” “Atomic,” “One Way or Another, and “The Tide is High,” “brilliantly” woven into the story. The show will also feature the debut of a new song by Debbie Harry, “Moment of Truth.”

Too bad Madonna isn’t penning the songs, I say. But Debbie Harry’s catalog feels more ’80s these days to me anyway. Time sort of stood still for Debbie, whereas Madonna is far away beyond the ’80s.

Apart from an original score by Thomas Newman, who went on to do write such masterpieces as the theme from Six Feet Under, Desperately Seeking Susan featured one song: “Into the Groove” — which, tragically, won’t be included in this production! I wonder about these musicals being written from movies that had one song. Young Frankenstein, the musical version of which is to hit Broadway in the fall, had “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Is that enough to work from? Who knows… Mel Brooks’ The Producers made it big. Spamalot, based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which featured “Always Look on the Bright Side,” was a runaway success.

9 to 5, another one coming up, has … well … “9 to 5” — an absolutely brilliant Oscar-nominated song — to work from. At least Dolly Parton is writing all new material.

My friend and I agree that there have been too many musicals that aren’t using new songs and music. Or even worse, musicals that shoehorn pop songs into the drama (Mamma Mia!) — or yet worse: musicals like Movin’ Out that simply string songs together with Scotch tape and distraction in order to jerk the action forward and dull the audience into an undeserved standing ovation.

Desperately Seeking Susan made Madonna’s career. That is the only reason I am interested. And Debbie Harry is enjoying a resurgence in caché with her recent involvement in Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Tour. Let’s hope this one works out.


Song Poison

With one more day left at what I am now beginning to think of as my “old job,” I find myself with a certain song from Les Miserables stuck in my head.

Of course my getting a new job doesn’t have nearly the same weight as France’s 1832 student revolution. Neither does the Broadway show that prominently features it, despite its stubborn refusal to fade from public consciousness. Nevertheless, that soundtrack is still gaily playing in an auditorium in my head somewhere, stuck in an endless loop, echoing mercilessly.

I have been song poisoned.

In a way, I’m glad, because it managed to push out of my head another song that held me hostage yesterday: “Grace Kelly,” by Mika. Since (perhaps unwisely) purchasing Life in Cartoon Motion, I’ve been hooked. Despite a rash of stupid lyrics in half of the songs, I have to acknowledge that most of the album is clever, ironic, funny, moving and of course ludicrously catchy.

However, the three-thousandth time I heard Mika screeching “I could be brown/I could be blue/I could be violet sky/I could be hurtful/I could be purple/I could be anything you like,” I kinda wanted to hit my head against something hard and blunt. Repeatedly.

OK, despite my kvetching, I have to admit to still kinda liking most of Les Mis. (At least I didn’t say Cats.) My only hope is that the next song to invade my brain doesn’t leave me worse off than this one.


A Living Legend … Lives!

All the way from the Lower East Side, where I work, to Midtown, I was singing, literally singing to myself (albeit under my breath).

Light the candles.
Get the ice out.
Roll the rug up.
It’s today…

Yeah, I’m one of those.

Though it may not be anyone’s birthday,
And though it’s far from the first of the year,
I know that this very minute
Has history in it.
We’re here!

The day in question was Wednesday, April 18, the day for which I held one ticket to a preview performance of Deuce, a new Terrence McNally play starring Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes. It was my breathless anticipation of Ms. Lansbury that inspired my internal musical monologue — “It’s Today,” from the 1966 Broadway production of Mame. I had been weak in the knees for months since receiving a postcard advertising the show. And this was the day.

Sad Face

There she was on that glossy postcard with Seldes, a stark, black-and-white close-up, both women staring out at me, me, look at me! Lansbury, imperfect and utterly beautiful in heavy eyeliner, haughty and aloof, like a modern-day Marquise de Merteuil; Seldes looking severe, sharp and slightly manic, grinning like Cesar Romero as The Joker. Who could be sure if it was meant to suggest more about the characters or the actresses? Either way, it was instantly clear to me that I had to see the show.

I was easily the youngest person at the shabby-but-cozy Music Box Theater. From the back row of the orchestra seats, I could survey every head in the audience: 70% gray; 20% bald. Sandwiched between an overdressed (and overperfumed) wife and husband in their late 50s, and a lone woman in her late 40s who spent the 15 minutes before the show reading Money Magazine, I felt conspicuous and a bit precocious.

Lansbury and Seldes are two former doubles tennis stars, Leona Mullen and Midge Barker, respectively, who have reunited, after a long time apart, to make an appearance at a championship women’s tennis match. Between volleys (cue SFX — pok! … pok! … pok! — and swiveling heads) they reminisce about their successful career together, relive some ancient rivalries, rehash the history of the Women’s Tennis Association, complain a bit about the sponsorship deals of modern athletes, and talk a great deal about lesbians.

Leona is brassy, potty-mouthed, experimental; Midge is disciplined, clean-cut, careful. This is not what the publicity photos seemed to suggest.

I know little to nothing about tennis. I took lessons once, at age 15. I can serve a ball, but that’s about it. (Incidentally, I was the youngest person in that situation, too.) No matter. Half the reason (if not the whole reason) you go to see a show like this, with someone so huge in it, is precisely because she is so huge. The lights go down. The curtain goes up. The audience erupts into immediate applause. And the actresses, lit softly, slightly from behind, stand there stoic, patient, completely immobile, as if they’re not expecting the uproar, oh would you just stop clapping and let us get on with this, fortheloveofMike!

And you feel the swell of a Moment — something Important. You are a part of … a Happening. History. The play itself is not so important. All I can think is: I … am in the same room … as Angela Lansbury.

A voice comes over the speakers: “Quiet in the audience, please.” A tennis joke, I later learned. Professional players will ask for silence in the audience before attempting a serve, prompting a severe voice at the loudspeakers. Unfortunately, it felt forced and absurd and insincere to me. Ha ha, we know you know nothing about the show and you’re just clapping for these grandes dames of the stage! A built-in joke drawing too much attention to the actresses and taking us outside of the play. But it got a chuckle from the folks.

It’s just the two of them — with the exception of occasional, contrasting cut-aways to the two obnoxious tennis announcers, and a brief visit from a fan with an autograph book — sitting there. Someone suggested it’s like My Dinner with Andre, without the dinner.

The sound was not so good. Lansbury seemed to stumble on a few lines, but she recovered gracefully each time. The show was still in its first week of previews, so I forgave the little slips. Truth be told, I had probably set myself up to be more critical of her than necessary. I was there to see her, after all, and was watching her more closely than anyone else. It’s like when I see friends perform, or when I read something a friend has written: I am instantly critical, and all I see are errors. I take the high baseline of their talent for granted — of course, it’s good! — and all I feel I can constructively offer is advice. (Though I am aware they, like all of us, want praise, too.)

Ultimately, the two friends let down their guard by and by, for maybe the first time in their lives, leading up to the revelation of a climactic truth.

I confess: I’m guessing here. But I know there was some sort of revelation, because I woke up just as the echo of the clincher was fading away and a long, quiet moment overtook the audience. A woman whispered to her companion. People shifted in their seats. And I lifted my chin up off of my chest and cursed myself for falling asleep.


As an intense wave of body heat coursed through me and I began to perspire a little, I could feel in the air that I’d just missed something essential. The one moment revealing McNally’s purpose had just passed. I totally blew it.

Embarrassed and angry at myself, I could not let go of the moment all night. I re-enacted it discreetly on the subway ride back, letting my head droop slightly, over and over — this is what I did, this is what I did — as if to prove to myself that … well, you don’t have to be nodding off to look like this. Like … a total retard. I punished myself by trying to remember the last thing I heard before shutting down and the first thing I heard upon waking.

I’m pretty sure it had something to do with a health-related revelation made by one of the characters half-way through the play, something you’d expect from a play about people in their mid-70s, but I won’t know now until I read the damn thing. For all I know, Midge revealed she’s a lesbian, or Leona revealed that she keeps her dead husband in the freezer in the basement. I find I have to read and see a play performed at least once, to really understand it, anyway. The actor’s interpretation reveals part, while the bare words on the page reveal something else. Maybe it’s a lack of imagination, a problem with attention span, my apparent narcolepsy.

What did not escape my notice, however, was the sad central theme of the play. These two women are watching the match, talking, laughing, arguing, remembering. Living. Dying.

They can watch the world move on without them. They’ve made a mark, paved the way, and their public appearance at the tournament proves they are remembered well. But even as they are revered by the autograph collector and the color commentators, they are also dismissed as passé. They are no longer necessary to the next generation, except in the past tense. They are the old guard, and they must pass on the torch as their own flames burn low and blue and ever dimmer.

It’s clear to me why the audience demographic was so specific. I felt like I was listening in on a conversation at the adult table at Thanksgiving. It’s not so easy to separate the actors from the characters, after all. As a young person, to me this thematic notion of mortality is sad. But these women (the actresses and the characters), in contrast, have so much reason to celebrate. I can’t bear to think that they will not be here one day, because we love and admire them. But maybe, the closer they get to the finish line, it just feels more like an impending vacation and a well-earned rest.

While they are still here, however …

It’s a time for making merry,
And so I’m for making hay.
Tune the grand up,
Call the cops out,
Strike the band up,
Pull the stops out,
It’s today!


Threepenny Opera

We recently saw the Roundabout Theater’s revival of Threepenny Opera, starring Alan Cumming, Cyndi Lauper, Ana Gasteyer and Nellie MacKay, while it was in previews. I didn’t love it but I enjoyed it. We ended up with great seats because I had screwed up and bought tickets for a Wednesday show and not the Friday show we were at. So, they gaveus best available, which was halfway back on main level, not up in the balcony, two rows in front of the back wall. Sometimes being an idiot pays off.

I know nothing about Berthold Brecht or previous performances of the show. And all I knew about it beforehand was that “Mac the Knife” came from it and the Bea Arthur was in a 1950s staging of the show. I saw her sing Pirate Jenny in her one-woman show a few years ago. So, I figured it would be pretty dark and baudy; low-brow. But it was far darker and baudier than I expected. And I didn’t get all the preachy moralizing about the criminal class at the end, but whatever… I don’t need to.

The cast was great; a good mix of voices and styles. It was less like watching a show than like watching a bunch of people getting together to put on a show. A review I read recently was highly critical of the production, but the writer found the individual performances praiseworthy, like the actors were all gathered to create for something great and then let down.

But we were there primarily to see Cyndi Lauper — much as we once went to a Cher concert only because she did a set between the forgettable opening act and Cher’s overambitious but entertaining headline performance. (More entertaining were the Cher drag queens in attendance.) She had blue hair. She walked out into the arena audience. It was bliss.

In Threepenny Opera, my girl Cyndi has an A+ voice. I mean, really top form. Total control. Her spine-tingling pipes start out the show from dead, dark silence with the opening song, “Mac the Knife.” I was so happy for her.

I’d have to give her stage acting something closer to a B+. Her lines were fine. She seemed mostly natural, but her timing was clearly off. I wasn’t disappointed, per se. Even though she’s only in three of four scenes. And I think they gave one of the songs she is supposed to sing to Nellie MacKay. Plus, it was in previews, and I’m sure she picked up a few things here and there to improve the part.

Cyndi’s moxie is in her singing voice. She expresses herself through a song. Her voice makes the mood of the lyric. This is why she’s good in a video. As amateurish as it may seem by more current standards, Time After Time can still make me cry. When she’s on that train doing that weird sign language with her hands, saying goodbye to her boyfriend, it’s wrenching. Why is she leaving? Who knows. Who cares? She’s leaving, and thats always the worst thing, right? Simple. Expressive. Real enough. And that RCA dog statue? Genius. Same with Madonna, incidentally, though Madonna has markedly less vocal talent than Cyndi Lauper. I think her best acting was in Evita, which is a two-hour music video.


A Quarter Pounder and four Chicken McNuggets

It’s not every day a ticket to a major award-winning Broadway show — with the original cast — falls into your lap. It’s never happened to me. My husband bought tickets to see Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun for my birthday a few years ago. By the time our show date came around, Peters had left the cast and been replaced with none other than Cheryl Ladd. It was a fine show, but I feel compelled to point out that anything Bernadette Peters can do, Cheryl Ladd cannot do better.

Last week a friend of mine, who will remain unidentified, bought a front-row seat to Spamalot from a colleague for $30, a considerable bargain for an off-Broadway show, let alone a ticket worth … what was it? … $240 or something? She had a scheduling conflict, apparently, the poor thing. So, hooray for my friend.

The social conventions of tourism being what they are, it’s reasonable to expect that much of the audience of any given show will be wearing t-shirts and blue jeans. There’s a certain casualness about a night out on the town these days. That’s fine. It’s Spamalot, not the La Traviata. But there are certain things I would not recommend doing in the front row at a major Broadway production.

For example: Eating a Quarter Pounder and a four-piece Chicken McNugget during the show!

However, this is precisely what my friend did. He didn’t have time to eat before the show, and apparently, he didn’t want to wait until intermission to eat a cold hamburger.

After being roundly admonished for this, he tried to defend himself.

No one knew! he said.

He described to us how he ripped the burger up into pieces in its package inside his backpack and only extracted one bite-sized morsel at a time. I give him credit for discretion, but the fact remains: He was chowing down on fast food in the front row in plain view of hundreds of people and the actors on stage.

Besides that, didn’t someone smell it? Someone in the front row must have been wondering where the scent of grilled beef and fried chicken was coming from in the first act.

I mean, even Spam is mostly pork, so it couldn’t have been a special effect for the show!

But no one smelled it! he said.

I’m not so sure. McDonald’s has a distinctive odor. It’ll stink up a subway car. I can tell from down the hall if someone has a McDonald’s take-out at lunch time.

He told us that David Hyde Pierce looked at him during the performance. I don’t doubt it. Maybe he was amused by my friend — or maybe he was just hungry. (“Are you finished with that?”)

I can just imagine him on a talk show or in a magazine interview talking in his clipped, erudite way about memorable moments from the run of the show.

“… Yes, and believe it or not, there was a guy one night in the front row who had brought McDonald’s to the show. And he actually ate it during the show …

Not a bad deal for my friend. Cheap and easy notoriety for less than $5.

the untallied hours