Posts Tagged ‘Broadway


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.



Another Triumphant Return for Little Edie Beale

Some legends just never die, do they?

HBO’s production of Grey Gardens, premiering on April 18, should be pretty amazing. It’s not a movie version of the 1975 documentary, whose action necessarily concentrated on the declining years of the Beale women, making only brief photographic reference to their less-troubled past. Nor is it, notably, a remake of the recent Broadway musical, which re-enacted elements of their erstwhile lives of leisure. Rather, it seems to be a combination of both stories.

It’s such a bizarre and compelling story, and this trailer suggests the new film seems up to the task of telling it completely.

Jessica Lange’s makeup looks amazing, and Drew Barrymore sounds brilliant. Imagine the bill for the dialect coach! I almost want her to burst into song with “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.”


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.


Something Fishy Going On

The Little Mermaid
In a Philadelphia Inquirer article about Broadway’s The Little Mermaid, the reviewer gushes:

I saw the show with my own Ariel, who’s 16, shares the mermaid’s name …. I was delighted she wanted to see it with me — not least because of what The Little Mermaid says about women, under the sea or above it.

You have to hand it to Disney, purveyor of the dependent Cinderella, now championing girls who seek to take charge: Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle, and Ariel. “Bright young women, sick of swimmin’, ready to stand,” is how Ariel sings it, and how I hope my Ariel will sing it, too.

Pardon me? Which mermaid is he talking about?

The Ariel I remember abandons her family and friends to chase a pipe dream in a different ecosystem. She may be portrayed as a young woman who refuses to settle for less — whatever “less” is (presumably safety and a home and wealth and her pick of the merman litter!) — but in fact, she stops at nothing to become what she is not. After she rescues the prince from drowning and he sees her face and falls in love with her, she does not insist that he love her for who she is. She wins in the end by transforming herself into something more like other people, to fit in, to abandon herself to appeal to someone else’s sensibilities. Maybe the prince would love her as a mermaid. Will she ever know? Does she ever come clean? No: She is a fraud.

She may trade her voice for those legs, but she gets it back in the end — and she gets to keep the legs, too! What has she sacrificed? Not much. She has nothing of the integrity of the original Hans Christian Andersen mermaid, who at least pays a price for her alteration.

For her, getting her legs feels like a sword cutting through her. With every step she takes, it feels like she’s walking on sharp knives. The sea witch takes her voice by literally cutting out her tongue! Before she does her magic, the witch even warns the mermaid about all that will happen. She tells the girl she is a fool for going through with it, but the mermaid ignores her.

Despite all the suffering, Andersen’s mermaid loses everything. The prince marries another girl, and the mermaid dies and is transformed into sea foam! It is terribly sad. In her losing, Andersen’s mermaid becomes a kind of martyr. The story plays like a morality tale. She is portrayed as a mere foolish girl, and she is punished in the end for reaching too far. (How dare she have self determination!) But the lessons from Disney’s red-haired Ariel aren’t exactly any better.

Andersen’s mermaid doesn’t simply want the love of a human prince. In the old story, though merfolk can live to be 300, they do not have immortal souls as humans do. It is the prospect of eternal afterlife with her prince, even if her earthly existence is cut down to a human scale, that truly motivates her.

Say what you want about coercive religious subtexts or whatever, this is at least a higher-minded reason to crawl ashore than to find out what a snarfblatt is or how a dinglehopper works.

The quotation above was used in a full-page, full-color ad in this Sunday’s New York Times, where I first saw it.

Without doubt The Little Mermaid is a fun movie. In fact, I love it. And I’m sure the Broadway show is equally delightful. But it’s bizarre and backwards that parents should put such stock in Ariel as someone for their daughters to mimic. What exactly are these fairy tale movies teaching kids about life? Don’t love who you are. Success is only possible if you make irreversible changes to yourself to be more like other people. Being different is wrong, and it must be corrected at any cost.

“You have to hand it to Disney”? As if Ariel is some great improvement on the typical Disney princess? All you have to hand Disney is your money.

Ariel is more free-spirited than Cinderella, true. Bookish Belle improves on the theme by being unafraid of what makes her different from others around her. Belle is actually a far better example: She is compassionate toward the beast and finds something dear in him. And to her credit, she falls in love with him before he turns back into the hottie prince. Jasmine is even more fiery and independent, to the point of being shrewish. But in the end, their happiness all depends on marrying the right guy.


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.


United for Equality; Separated by Police Escort.

I don’t get too worked up about the prospect of meeting famous people. I don’t hound them for autographs. I don’t wait in crowds behind theaters and arenas hoping to catch a glimpse or snap a photo. For heaven’s sake, I felt nothing but guilt over trying to get a snapshot of Cyndi Lauper recently, and when the images didn’t turn out, I thought: “Serves me right.”

Let them be famous and worlds apart from me. Let them be extraordinary, in my mind, to a degree only I can know. And let them live their real lives without me. They are the performers. I am the audience. Let us not break this sacred boundary.

So it is a particular irony that my first interaction with Broadway phenom Idina Menzel was not only a complete fiction, but also an unfortunate and unpleasant experience involving the NYPD that I hope never to repeat again in my life.

I have never seen Wicked, but I own the soundtrack. I saw the movie version of Rent. Didn’t care for it. A lot of people whining about the consequences of the bad decisions they’ve made, I think. But I guess I admire Ms. Menzel, and enjoy her work. A fan? Eh… not really. She was the headline performer at last night’s annual NYC Gay Pride pier dance, where I was a volunteer. And truth be told, I was more looking forward to the fireworks than her techno remix of “Defying Gravity,” but after seeing her sound check earlier in the day, I could admit to having a mild curiosity to see her performance.

Once again, my rugby teammates and I were bartending for the slick, gyrating masses of manflesh that make up the pier dance. On my way to the volunteer port-a-johns toward the end of the night, I ran into a crowd behind the main stage area, just a few tents down from ours. I tried to skirt around the edge of the crowd near the fence, and someone from behind me grabbed my arm just above the elbow and yanked me violently backward. I assumed it was just someone telling me that I couldn’t go past that point for some reason, so I shook off the hand and stepped backward, with my hands out, trying to see what was going on. “Whoa! OK. No trouble. I can wait.”

“What do you want to do with him?” I heard someone say.

I had my volunteer shirt on, and my credentials on me. Whatever was happening, I assumed I could just wait it out. At least they knew I belonged there.

But suddenly I was aware that I was being surrounded.

“He’s out of here,” said someone else.

Two police officers snapped to attention and guided me away by the arms. They marched me past my team’s tent. A few of them saw me being led away, but the cops wouldn’t let me stop to tell anyone what was happening. They were not rough, but they were direct and very clear about me moving along. I still had no idea what had just happened. And I still had to piss like a racehorse. So I asked them to explain.

“The head of security saw you,” said one of them.

“Saw me?” I said. “I don’t even know what it is that I’ve done. Can you at least explain to me what’s happening?”

“He saw you go right for the talent,” said the other one.

There had been volunteers and security folk and cops all around — as there had been all over the pier all night long — and there was no one turning people away or stopping anyone from passing. A slip in security allowed me unwittingly too close for comfort, and now it looked like someone was overcompensating for his error by making a spectacle of kicking me out. Maybe the security folks were starstruck, themselves.

“OK,” I said. “I’m not going to try arguing. Clearly I’m out of here no matter what. But I have to tell you, I was just walking to the bathroom. I swear I didn’t even know she was there. I didn’t even see her. I don’t understand how this is even happening.”

One of the officers, perhaps beginning to believe me, explained to me that it didn’t matter if I had done something wrong or not. The head of security wanted me out of there, so they were obligated to take me out of there. End of story.

“You’re seriously telling me that I need to be escorted out of here like this?” I said. “I need to completely leave the pier?”

Yes. I did.

They walked me to the front gate. They allowed me to get my bag from the volunteer bag check. They made a guard cut off my wristband and said that I was not to be admitted back in. The whole thing was very humiliating and confusing. So I walked off down 14th street, ripped off my bar crew badge, stripped off my volunteer t-shirt and dropped it into a trash can.

I won’t speak ill of Heritage of Pride as a whole. I know they’re very careful and serious about safety. And they do a phenomenal job of organizing and coordinating the volunteers. But clearly some of the volunteers can be a little overzealous. I felt a lot better after speaking the next day to the volunteer coordinator, a very nice man, who asked me a lot of good questions and made sure he got the story straight before he apologizing and saying it shouldn’t have happened. He was surprised that there was no first warning. My first indication that I was in the wrong place was being yanked out my skin.

I never even laid eyes on Ms. Menzel, let alone a hand. I didn’t even get a chance to see who this security guy was. And perhaps the worst part of it is I still had to pee. Badly. So I high-tailed it to a bar nearby and answered nature’s subtle call. I couldn’t make out Ms. Menzel’s voice from across the West Side Highway, but the fireworks were not half bad. Then I met my boyfriend and got roaring drunk.


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 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