By William Wolf
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Send This Review to a Friend
The absolutely divine new “American in Paris” is on a level far and above even the best of recent musicals. Heavily endowed with sublime dance, the show is model of integration of all theatrical elements into a visually thrilling whole. When the performance that I attended was over, I could have enthusiastically sat through it again.
For starters there is the smartly woven-in George and Ira Gershwin score beautifully played, music worth hearing all on its own. But this show, astutely directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, also sparkles with Bob Crowley’s set and costume design, sometimes including creative geometric concepts that are even integrated with costume color coordination. The effects are enhanced by the superb projections provided by 59 Productions to illustrate aspects of Paris, the lovely lighting design by Natasha Katz and the sound design by Jon Weston.
There are surprises throughout. One moment we are looking at a small club, and presto, it turns into a Lido-type extravaganza. The tone is set early, starting with a tinkling piano and sweeping us into Paris just after World War II when a Nazi swastika banner instantly inverts and becomes the French Tricolour momentarily dominating the stage.
Unlike other recent musicals and revivals, this show is distinguished by a huge helping of magnificent ballet. We are getting the real thing. Robert Fairchild, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet since 2009, makes his Broadway debut playing Jerry Mulligan, the American soldier who decides to stay in Paris after the war. It is the role played by Gene Kelly in the film on which Craig Lucas has based the show’s book. Fairchild, who is extremely good-looking, displays a similar dance physicality to that of the extraordinary Kelly, but enhanced by Fairchild’s expertise as a major ballet dancer.
Leanne Cope, also making her Broadway debut as Lise Dassin, the young woman with whom Jerry falls in love, has been with the Royal Ballet. To see Fairchild and Cope dance together is one of the season’s thrills. They are exquisite, whether paired or solo, and Wheeldon has come through with wonderful ideas for them to pursue. What’s more, the terrific dancers in the company provide exciting backing via Wheelson’s consistently creative choreography.
There are other standout performers. Brandon Uranowitz is excellent in an offbeat manner as Adam Hochberg, the pianist and conductor who spins the story to us from his perspective. He is also in love with Lise. So is Max von Essen as his pal Henri Baurel, a role that enables him to show his gift for comedy and his vocal prowess as well as his acting ability as a romantically frustrated suitor. Veanne Cox achieves the haughty air of his mother Madame Baurel, who is anxious to pair Henri with Lise, who feels obligated because Madame and Monsieur Baurel (Scott Willis) sheltered her during the war.
Jill Paice skillfully strikes a balance between predator and being unhappily rejected as influential socialite Milo Davenport, who pounces upon Jerry with her effort to help him succeed as a photographer in return, of course, for love.
As frequently happens with books for musicals, there are moments that are slightly heavy-going, but here they are easily tolerable as they are swamped by the totality of all that is wowing us.
The songs are well-distributed to give the cast their moments to shine. And what numbers! Just take a look at some of them: “Concerto in F,” “I Got Rhythm,” “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck,” “The Man I Love,” “Liza,” “’S Wonderful,” “Shall We Dance?” “Fidgety Feet,” “Who Cares?” “For You, For Me, For Evermore,” “But Not for Me,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “An American in Paris,” and “They Can’t take that Away From Me.”
The music plays a major role in the clever way it is used to showcase the rest. For example, the amusing number “Fidgety Feet” reflects the mood of characters at a certain point. “But Not For Me” picks up the romantic frustrations on the part of Adam and Milo.
Rob Fisher adapted the musical score and arranged and supervised the orchestrations. The musicians rise to the occasion by making us appreciate anew what Ira and George Gershwin accomplished. As they say, they don’t write music like that anymore. And “An American in Paris” makes the most of it by adding brilliant dance, personable performances and consummate staging that already have audiences cheering. At the Palace Theatre, Broadway at 47th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 17, 2015.
FINDING NEVERLAND Send This Review to a Friend
Controlling producer Harvey Weinstein has done something right in the retooling of “Finding Neverland,” which bids to become a family show hit. It may not be geared to please critics, but it offers the kind of entertainment to which parents can bring the kids, who are likely to find plenty of enjoyment. And there is nothing wrong with that.
“Finding Neverland” takes advantage of star familiarity in the casting. It also parades kids on stage. And there is a dog. There are the music and lyrics of Gary Barlow & Eliot Kennedy and a book by James Graham. “Finding Neverland” is based on the Miramax motion picture written by David Magee and the play “The Man Who was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee. Most importantly, director Diane Paulus knows what to do with all of this, right from the start when a light dances around the curtain and theater ceiling to summon the spirit of Tinker Bell and thereby elicit the required applause. The audience is immediately put into the right mood.
J. M. Barrie, the play’s primary focus, is played by good-looking Matthew Morrison. He has fine stage experience, but is best known for television’s “Glee.” Add Kelsey Grammer, known to theater audiences for his performance in the revival of “La Cages aux Folles,” but also more widely appreciated for his work on television’s “Cheers.” He plays two roles, Captain Hook and theater producer Charles Frohman. With such casting audience recognition is a built-in starter with applause guaranteed when Morrison and Grammer make their initial entrances.
Peter Pan is spiritedly played by Melanie Moore, and at the performance I saw the four Llewelyn Davies boy brothers were amusingly acted by Aidan Gemme, Christopher Paul Richards, Sawyer Nunes and Alex Dreier. (The roles are alternated at different performances).
That brings us to the basic plot. Barrie, who can’t seem to find the right project for a new play, much to the consternation of Frohman, meets the lovely widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in a park one day. She’s the mother of four rambunctious boys, who intrigue Barrie. He enjoys playing with them and eventually will enjoy romance with their mom. Sylvia is delightfully portrayed by Laura Michelle Kelly. Barrie, who has an unhappy marriage to socialite Mary (Teal Wicks), inevitably falls for Sylvia. Meanwhile, the boys inspire Barrie to write “Peter Pan.”
The progression of relationships and the life of Barrie and those around him are captured in a succession of such musical numbers as “If the World Turned Upside Down,” “All of London is Here Tonight,” “What You Mean to Me,” “The Pirates of Kensington,” “Believe,” “The Dinner Party,” “We Own the Night,” “All That Matters,” “Sylvia’s Lullaby,” “Circus of Your Mind,” “Live By the Hooks,” “Stronger,” “We’re All Made of Stars,” “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground,” and, of course,” Neverland.”
The score may not be great, but it serves the plot well and the aims of the show, as well as gives the various performers their requisite vocal moments in the spotlight. Mia Michaels provides the necessary chorography. Scott Pask has designed attractive scenery, and Suttirat Anne Larlarb the costumes. Yes, there is flying, effects by ZFX, Inc.
Put all of this together, including the supporting cast, the ensemble, the capable orchestra, the overall look of the production, and the total result is something for everyone in a show that's very pleasant to watch even if it doesn’t set its world aflame with artistic genius. Weinstein, heading a battery of over-the-title producers, including the American Repertory Theater, where the work was honed after staging in London, has done his widely-publicized overseer job well to achieve a colorful, family-attuned musical. At the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929.
IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU Send This Review to a Friend
One can’t build a case that this is an upscale musical, but it is an example of a show that can please audiences that will settle for an array of colorful performances and generous laughs emerging from the button-pushing clichés. At the performance I attended it was clearly hitting that mark. I laughed a lot too even though I thought I should know better.
The show, with book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi, is built outrageously around a wedding between a Jewish bride, Rebecca Steinberg (Sierra Boggess), and a gentile groom, Brian Howard (David Burtka). Rebecca has an overweight sister, Jenny (Lisa Howard), looked down upon by their mother, Judy (Tyne Daly), as the second-rate daughter.
The mother of the bride and the mother of the groom detest each other, with Daly excelling as the acerbic Judy on the one hand, and heavy-drinking and very funny, sharp-tongued Harriet Harris as Georgette on the other. These actresses are definite show-stealers.
Howard’s performance should please women who don’t watch their calories. In her way she is attractive, and she can knock an audience dead with her big, rousing “Jenny’s Blues” number. Harris as Georgette gets the spotlight in her “Where Did I Go Wrong?” number, and Daly has her effective solos with “Nice” and “What They Never Tell You.”
As for the plot, all hell breaks loose in an assortment of ways, with a surprise development that turns everything into a tizzy. The musical is best when the emphasis is on broad comedy. But it also tries to say something serious about human relations and its characters, and that politically correct gambit needs trimming as the mishmash doesn’t support such serious stuff.
All is worked out in ways that satisfy everybody. The large cast includes Chip Zien, Edward Hibbert, Montego Glover, Josh Grisetti, Adam Heller Michael X. Martin, Anne L. Nathan and Nick Spangler.
David Hyde Pierce as director keeps the complications flowing with plenty of movement and people popping in and out of hotel rooms. There is a place in the theater for a show like this when the performances are good and the laughs are there for a lot of people who can have a good time even though those seeking more sophisticated entertainment would want to give it a pass. At the Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 19, 2015.
GIGI Send This Review to a Friend
If you don’t quarrel with the sanitizing of “Gigi” in the revival of the Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics)-Frederick Loewe (music) show, you may find the result satisfyingly entertaining as a result of the enjoyable performances and staging under the direction of Eric Schaeffer.
Still, I mischievously thought what fun it would be to play from the audience a recording of Maurice Chevalier in the film version singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” as a counterpoint to the number as sung here, instead of by the old French roué, by two women characters, Gigi’s grandmother Mamia (Victoria Clark), who is raising her, and her Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty). Any hint of politically incorrect ogling of youngsters is banished from this adaptation by Heidi Thomas based on the novel by Colette.
What emerges is a relatively wholesome coming-of-age story in 1900s Paris attuned to the title performance by Vanessa Hudgens, who has a following as a result of her playing Gabriella Montez in the Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” and its follow-up films. Basically, Gigi, now 18 instead of 15, is being groomed to get over her girlish behavior and become a svelte young woman who can become the courtesan of a rich man. In other world, prostitute herself for money and comfort.
However, Gigi is not one who wants to be sold to the highest bidder, a man who can go on with unfaithful Parisian ways. She wants real love and a real marriage. The book deals with the rich but bored Gaston, played by Corey Cott, who watches Gigi grow up and realizes that he has fallen for her. Gigi is in love with him too, but wants the relationship on her terms.
All of this is shown within the production’s attractive staging. Derek Mclane has designed a creative, basic iron-looking set that suggests the base of the Eiffel Tower (we see a replica of the tower in the background), with scene shifts abetted by Natasha Katz’s smart lighting design changes. Costume designer Catherine Zuber has created gorgeous period dresses that dazzle, and even good looking beach wear. Joshua Bergasse has provided snatches of amusingly ditzy choreography.
What drives the show in addition to all of these visual accoutrements are the performances and the score, not the Lerner-Loewe best, but good enough to provide showcase numbers within which the cast can excel. Hudgens does a likeable but not especially profound job morphing from her sprightly teens to a glamorous young woman. She successfully puts over her numbers “The Parisians” and “I Never Want to Go Home Again,” and teams well with Cott’s Gaston singing “In This Wide, Wide World.” Gaston solos effectively with the title song “Gigi.”
There are other pleasures. Howard McGillin is personable and in good voice in the role of Gaston’s uncle, roué Honoré Lachaille, and there is a lovely rekindling of old-affair-vibes in the number “I Remember It Well” with the ever-remarkable Victoria Clark as Mamita, and they impress again with “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.” Hoty is outstanding as the haughty, conniving Aunt Alicia. The score includes the bubbly “The Night They Invented Champagne.”
On its own effervescent terms, “Gigi” enables one to overlook the cleansed but sordid maneuvers than lie at the heart of attempting to turn an innocent young girl into a courtesan, and enjoy Gigi’s rebellion, the triumph of love and the attractiveness of an entertaining, well-staged, old-school musical. At the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 15, 2015.
WOLF HALL, PARTS ONE & TWO Send This Review to a Friend
Having seen and reviewed the two parts of “Wolf Hall” in London (See Special Reports), I was especially eager to see the Royal Shakespeare Company production on a Broadway stage. The repeat viewing convinces me that, apart from Shakespeare’s works, this is the greatest political drama delving into English history that I have seen staged. It is an enthralling, lacerating look at the machinations involved, with rich character portrayals and entertaining, revealing dialogue.
It all stems from Hilary Mantel’s phenomenally successful book “Wolf Hall,” expertly adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton. (Ms. Mantel was in the audience for the back to back performances I attended at the Winter Garden, and she cheerfully received those eager to meet her. When I spoke with her she stressed how pleased she was with the choice of theater in which the work was being presented and the decision to extend the stage.)
Part One is titled “Wolf Hall,” Part Two is aptly called “Bring Up the Bodies.” The genius in the drama is approaching the story of Henry VIII’s quest for a son from the perspective of lawyer Thomas Cromwell, who rose from being a commoner to becoming the close advisor to King Henry. Clever and devious, Cromwell uses his position to manipulate the situation, self-servingly, but also in the service of the king’s desires. The aim is to find ways for Henry to get rid of wives who do not bear a son, while at the same time eliminating those whom Cromwell detests for various reasons.
There is an absolutely brilliant performance by Ben Miles as Cromwell. It is an example of mesmerizing acting that captures the character vividly with color and nuance. Nathaniel Parker matches Miles with brilliance in depicting King Henry as a ruler consumed with the need to have a male heir. He is also aware of the need to wield power, yet at times besieged by doubts, which masterly Cromwell is expert at alleviating by cynically conjuring up explanations.
The play, taking place from 1527 to 1535, has the sweep of history, captured with intensity by Jeremy Herrin’s direction. The simple, cold and steely-looking set that Christopher Oram has designed sets the tone, and Oram’s costumes reflect the times effectively.
The wit in the dialogue is constantly engaging. In addition, to the performances by Miles and Parker, a host of other portrayals give the play body and help illustrate the complexities and the passions that swirl through the life-and-death intrigue. Mantel doesn’t pussy-foot around, but nails the characteristics of those at the center of the drama with candor.
Take the sharply depicted Anne Boleyn, enacted tenaciously by Lydia Leonard and shown to eagerly seek to be queen. Accusations abound as to her sexual activity before becoming Henry’s second wife, and her taking lovers afterward. Leonard brings her to life on stage with vigor.
We also get convincing portraits of Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, by Lucy Briers, and of Jane Seymour, awaiting her opportunity, by Leah Brotherhead. Paul Jesson is poignant as Cardinal Wolsey, who is taken down in the political machinations, much to Cromwell’s displeasure and sadness. The angle on Thomas More, played by John Ramm, is intriguing. Unlike the lofty, purely heroic character he is in the play “A Man for All Seasons,” here he is still shown to be doggedly principled in refusing to sign a document that would endorse the king as head of the church and pave the way for his marrying Anne Boleyn, but also as a person whom Cromwell accuses of having been responsible for burning heretics.
The cast is a huge one, with lesser characters also leaving their mark by key contributions to the whole. In the second part, “Bring Up the Bodies,” there is a harrowing scene after executions are carried out in which those carting the bodies have a problem in matching heads to the corpses. Ever knowledgeable, Cromwell provides information that will help.
Importing the production to New York affords an unusual opportunity for getting better acquainted with this period in English history. The dynamic work, acting and staging avoid the danger of being pedantic, instead offering a spellbinding theatrical experience. Here’s to the producers who have had the wisdom to bring it here intact from London. At the Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 13, 2015.
HAMLET (CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY) Send This Review to a Friend
Head-shaven Peter Sarsgaard works hard as Hamlet in this Classic Stage Company modern dress Shakespeare production, and although sometimes he manages to make an impression with the energy of his performance, one is hard-pressed to find much depth in the portrayal. Also, he doesn’t come across as a Hamlet one cares much about, as the personality he projects doesn’t make him sufficiently likable.
As for the production itself, adapted to the confines of the company’s limited stage featuring a fancy dinner-party table setting, it is a disappointment in view of the fine work the Classic Stage Company generally does. Likewise with the respect to director Austin Pendleton, who has some excellent staging to his credit, but here is far from his best. Pendleton indulges in some odd choices that induce bewilderment rather than appreciation. For example, when Ophelia (Lisa Joyce) is dead, at the gravesite scene she is still present hovering ghost-like. What’s to be gained from this affectation?
The killing of Polonius (Stephen Spinella) is almost comical. He emerges stabbed but unexpressive from behind the drapes and walks slowly across the stage in stunned fashion, never falling, and eventually exits as if nothing had happened to him. So Long, Polonius. No need to scoop up the body.
Apart from the flamboyant outbursts by Hamlet, this is a rather low-energy staging. At the end, Horatio’s “Good night sweet prince” speech, spoken by Austin Jones, is barely audible.
The cast struggles hard to bring everything into focus, but this is an unfortunate misfire. No need to belabor it further. Better results next time. At the Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed April 16, 2015.
HAND TO GOD Send This Review to a Friend
The most explicit and funniest sex scenes on Broadway at the moment are, believe it or not, between two hand puppets. They engage in an assortment of positions and specific acts, front and back, that can keep an audience roaring with laughter as their manipulators, Stephen Boyer as Jason and Sarah Stiles as Jessica, look at each other stone-faced. All this takes place in Robert Askin’s wickedly and profanely amusing “Hand to God.”
The comedy turns out to be macabre as well, but even in its bloody climax we are primed to laugh. The super cast is always in the right acting mode, and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel makes the most of every situation. “Hand to God” was originally presented by the Ensemble Studio Theatre, later was produced at the MCC Theater and has now made its way to Broadway.
The play has an unusual setting, a Texas religious school for puppetry. Symbols of God are plastered on the wall and a puppet booth is decorated with a cross. The chief genius in the presentation is Boyer, who manipulates the profane puppet Tyrone. Boyer’s work is a marvel.
Also giving a wonderful performance is Geneva Carr as Margery, the teacher who is harassed to the point of madness trying to cope with all that occurs in the classroom and her own libido buried since the death of her husband. Challenging her are two men, one the tall, hot-in the pants student Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer, very funny), who wants to seduce her, and the other, a droll Marc Kudisch as Father Greg, who tries hard to charm Margery with his sweet talk, but is frustrated by her rejection.
The puppet Tyrone becomes the star as he turns into the Devil and overwhelms his psychologically disturbed operator Jason. There is an hilarious scene in which Father Greg, Bible in hand, attempts to perform an exorcism on Tyrone by mentally overpowering him face to face. He is no match forTyrone.
All sorts of madness take place in the various plot contortions, most of it outrageous and uproarious, including an assault on Margery by the irrepressible Timothy, and the flabbergasted look on Father Greg when he intrudes.
Audiences will gasp at Jason’s gruesome attempt to get rid of Tyrone and what happens when Margery tries to rescue Jason. But laughs are also guaranteed amid the cringing. This a comedy made in—I was about to say heaven—but with Tyrone made in hell would be more appropriate. At the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 10, 2015.
SKYLIGHT Send This Review to a Friend
Having seen and enjoyed a revival of David Hare’s “Skylight” in London (see Special Reports for the review) , I was eager to see it in the current transfer to Broadway with the same cast. As often happens with a fascinating play, one can notice more about it in repeat viewings. That is certainly the case in this dynamic repeat staging by Stephen Daldry.
The situation involves Kyra Hollis, superbly played by Carey Mulligan, and her one-time lover, wealthy restaurant owner Tom Sergeant, portrayed with his customary brilliance by Bill Nighy. Also key is Tom’s son, Edward, appealingly played by Matthew Beard. The three performers were terrific in London and every bit as terrific here.
The drama unfolds in one long night. First Edward barges in on Kyra, who is politely sympathetic. He complains about his father and their cold relationship, and it is clear that he desperately needs someone in whom to confide. There is some sharp conversation, and after he leaves, his father arrives, desperately attempting to pick up the relationship with Kyra after a long separation.
Their love affair ended abruptly after Tom’s wife learned about it, and we hear from Tom that she has died of cancer. Tom and Kyra make clear that there is still a bond between them even as they argue vehemently. If there is a flaw in the play it is that Tom is so selfish and insufferable that one might wonder what attracted her to him in the first place. He talks about how difficult it was for him with his wife slowly dying without as much concern for what she went through. He has no patience with Kyra’s life choices and the modest flat in which she lives.
This is where Hare makes his political mark. In the play, which concentrates realistically on the personal relationship in all their vividness, the characters reflect the conflicting values in England in the early 1990’s, the period in which the drama is set. Tom’s outlook is coldly materialistic. Kyra’s is idealistic, reflected in her love of her job teaching children and trying to make a difference in their lives. She is sensitive to how other people live, and although there are no great financial opportunities, Kyra gets emotional satisfaction from her work and wants to continue on the path she has chosen. Hare has given her a powerful speech in which she sets forth her feelings about life, and Mulligan rises to the occasion affectingly.
For part of the night the old flame is rekindled and one sees the underlying passion that exists. But we know it cannot last as the two are so far apart in their attitudes, and Tom is incapable of any change. There is rage in Kyra that would never allow her to abandon her current desires and become Tom’s appendage.
One bright spot is the relationship that develops between Edward and Kyra. He is a likable young man, and when he appears again toward the end of the play, he has found a way to express his warmth toward Kyra, who is receptive, and one senses a positive aspect that may enable Edward to find the validation he has not found at home.
Bob Crowley’s set design is as it was in London, with a backdrop of flats across the street indicating the nature of the neighborhood. When dawn approaches we see lights going on in various windows, indicating that people are awakening to start another day in whatever their lives will bring them. It is a deft touch to parallel what awaits Kyra.
A few things struck me in the new viewing. One was how much Edward mirrors his father’s way of speaking, down to the same kind of gestures he uses. This time around I appreciated Beard’s performance even more, as well as his character’s importance in the play.
I also further appreciated the nuances in Mulligan’s performance. There is a moment in the play when she sits silently and one can see her feelings expressed in her face and in her eyes that tell us more about the hurt she is feeling than speech might.
On this occasion, even as I sill appreciated the force and individuality in Nighy’s performance, I began to wonder whether there could be a different slant on the character that would have made Tom more sympathetic rather than so thoroughly insufferable. But, I concluded, the play would have been somewhat flabby without the power it unleashes.
In this fresh viewing I paid more attention to the stage business that Nighy cleverly uses to show restlessness, like pulling a chair out from a table and kicking it back, which he does repeatedly. If anything, his performance has become broader in the run of performances. I also paid closer attention to the excellent lighting effects, designed by Natasha Katz.
Most of all, I was impressed anew by the cleverness of Hare’s writing, and the extraordinary performances by the trio of Mulligan, Nighy and Beard. With Mulligan, hitherto known primarily for her film achievements, it becomes even clearer what a wonderful actress she is on stage. At the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 9, 2015.
CLINTON THE MUSICAL Send This Review to a Friend
Hillary Rodham Clinton has announced as a candidate for president. Well, not in the press as of April 10, but in the new show “Clinton the Musical” she has her eyes on the presidency even while Bill is in the oval office. And by the end of the show, there is no doubt about her running, and with fierce determination.
Kerry Butler as Hillary anchors the show with her performing strength and provides a good share of what fun there is in this broad political satire. There isn’t a lot of wit in the writing (book by Paul Hodge and Michael Hodge), but there is quite a bit of enjoyment from the visual humor, and some of the songs (music and lyrics by Paul Hodge) are good vehicles for flamboyant performances.
The book has a gimmick—two Bill Clintons, Duke Lafoon and Tom Galantich, one playing the loose and irresponsible Billy, the other the more sedate WJ Clinton. It’s a nifty idea, but as the show goes along the split begins to become labored.
What would such a musical be without Monica Lewinsky? Veronica J. Kuehn is very funny in the role and in “Monica’s Song” gets a chance to cavort about the stage joyfully and boastfully singing the lyrics “I’m f-----g the f-----g president.”
Judy Gold is a standout as the conniving Linda Tripp. Think the dress, the stain and the DNA. She also is very funny as Eleanor Roosevelt, descending from a picture on the wall among the various presidents depicted as part of the scenic design by Beowulf Boritt.
Much of the humor is derived from broad caricatures. John Treacy Egan plays a flabby, gluttonous Newt Gingrich getting constant ridicule. Kevin Zak as investigator Kenneth Starr turns up looking gay in leather.
Perhaps the wittiest segment involves Bill and Hillary planning a state of the union address, but stymied because every political cliché they want to use bears what can be interpreted as references to Bill’s escapade with Lewinsky.
The show is built for easy laughs as familiar events and characters are recalled, and on the night I attended much of the audience was lapping it up. In retrospect, the whole idea of impeaching Clinton seems totally absurd on its face without the need for satire. What does come through in a contemporary way is all the emphasis on Hillary, from her fuming at Bill’s philandering to her ultimate goal of the Oval Office. In “Clinton the Musical” her campaign has long since begun. At New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 10, 2015.
THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1941-1965 Send This Review to a Friend
Covering 25 years of Broadway musicals in one production is a challenge, especially as Scott Siegel, creator/writer/host of the Broadway by the Year series pointed out, there was such a profound evolvement of Broadway shows during that era. A variety of assembled artists did justice to the concept at the performance (March 30, 2015) presented by The Town Hall in the 15th anniversary year of the series. They entertainingly made it possible to get a sense of what was happening on Broadway during the period reprised.
Consider some of the important musicals that were staged between 1941 and 1965, including “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Can-Can,” “The Pajama Game,” “My Fair Lady” “West Side Story,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Oliver!,” “Hello, Dolly!” and many more.
Chosen examples from the entourage of productions yielded great entertainment, and I had my favorites. Members of the Broadway by the Year Chorus (Jacob Carll, Kristin Dausch, Emma Gannon-Salomon, Trevor James, Meredith Lesley, Hannah Solow and Amy Wheeler) started things off singing a song that resonated with America’s entering World War II, “We Did It Before (And We Can Do It Again)” from “Banjo Eyes” (1941), a show that had nothing to do with the war.
What followed was a mix of seasoned performers and talented, relative newcomers. Broadway star Beth Leavel showed how to sing the hell out of a song, taking the stage to deliver a sizzling “Blues in the Night” from “Priorities of 1942.” It was a powerful a rendition that thoroughly captivated me and made me have to wonder after she had finished why I was so enthusiastic. After all, I’m part of the male species the lyrics were castigating as two-faced and who inevitably give women the blues. Leavel could even impress the enemy.
You had to enjoy John Bolton when he did his uproarious ode to “Oklahoma!”(1943) by singing with boundless enthusiasm the title song in an assortment of languages, even in Japanese. In an entirely different mood, Julia Murney applied tenderness to the lovely “Right as the Rain” from “Bloomer Girl” (1944). Murney helped provide another highlight when she teamed with strong-voiced Ben Davis to tear into “There Once Was a Man” from “The Pajama Game” (1954).
Also in an outstanding duet, Ryan Silverman and Alexandra Silber brought beauty to “Tonight” from “West Side Story” (1957), although their effort at a barely audible interlude of acting could have been skipped. Silber is quite the talent, as she again demonstrated, this time solo, with an exhilarating “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” (1956).
Lari White, long a favorite of mine, thrilled with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel” (1945), with backup by the Broadway by the Year Chorus. Liz Callaway showed why she is held in such high regard with “Look to the Rainbow” from “Finian’s Rainbow” (1947). Luba Mason was strong with “Come Rain or Come Shine” from “St Louis Woman” (1946), and newcomer Molly Pope, singing without a mike, demonstrated zestful originality as she cavorted about the stage with a fired-up version of “Too Darn Hot” from “Kiss Me, Kate” (1948).
Ever-glamorous KT Sullivan turned up in an elaborate outfit with one of her trademark hats to match and morphed into the demure but grasping vixen singing “I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1949). Jeff Harnar scored well with his tongue-twisting “They Couldn’t Compare to You” from “Out of This World” (1950) and Karen Oberlin reminded me again of why I always enjoy her singing with “Here’s to Your Illusions” from “Flahooley” (1951). The funniest moments of the night were provided by Steve Rosen striking a comically arrogant, seductive attitude singing the hilarious “Don Jose (of Far Rockaway)” from “Wish You Were Here”(1952). Noah Racey provided a perfect first act climax with his self-choreographed number, “It’s All Right With Me” from “Can-Can” (1953), which he charmingly sang, in addition to providing a superb example of his tap dancing agility.
Other audience pleasers included the excellent Ben Davis singing “All of You” from “Silk Stockings” (1955); Kelli Rabke’s “I Enjoy Being a Girl” from “Flower Drum Song” (1958); Jenna Dallacco doing “Small World” from “Gypsy” (1959); Ian Knauer performing the often-recorded “Make Someone Happy," a durable number from “Do Re Mi” (1960); Graham Bailey reminding us of the British import “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off” (1962) with an impassioned “What Kind of Fool Am I?” and Jeremy Morse hamming it up with the required ego and mugging before a make-believe mirror for “I Believe in You” from “How to Succeed in Business…” ( 1961).
There was more—Jeff McCarthy impressing with “Once Upon a Time” from “All American,” billed as a bonus number by Scott Siegel, Jenny Lee Stern dynamically recalling “As Long As He Needs Me” from “Oliver!” (1963), and Ryan Silverman effectively closing with “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from “On a Clear Day …”
But, ah, for the next to closing number. Veteran performer Lee Roy Reams, who can represent show business along with the best of them, paid tribute to the unforgettable “Hello, Dolly!” (1964) with a terrific, rousing medley from that show that added special sparkle to the evening. I mused that it was a long way from when as a young writer about theater I did a home-town story about a new talent named Lee Roy Reams.
Scott Siegel, in addition to his usual duties, directed the production. The sheer variety of the musical numbers representing so many different styles served to impress once again how skillful at the piano and as musical director and arranger Ross Patterson is. His Little Big Band included the expertise of Tom Hubbard on bass and Jamie Elban on drums. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed March 31, 2015.