Further Back in Time – Carousel

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s

CAROUSEL

Imperial Theatre

July 2nd 2018

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Sticking with the classic musicals today, I had a front row mezzanine seat for Carousel.   Quite noteworthy, this theatre was not full at all.  I’d say 80%.   Carousel has had some bad press and reviews which has clearly affected it’s ticket sales – which is a shame.

Carousel is my favorite R&H, and I couldn’t help but think during some of the big ensemble numbers what I debt I owe to Mum and her involvement in all those Lakehead Choral Group shows in the 70s and 80s.   Some of these classics were ingrained on me in those early years – I don’t remember them doing Carousel, but I do remember Brigadoon, Finian’s Rainbow, Fiddler on the Roof and Most Happy Fella.    I think Carousel stands out for it’s dark themes that come from its source material, a Hungarian play called Lilome.

Some of the mixed press likely has to do with the timing of this revival and the #MeToo movement and I’ll tread carefully but still say that’s a little unfair.  It would take a fairly superficial viewing to suggest that this current show normalizes victimhood or is an apologist for abusive behavior.   The point of the show is one of redemption and struggling with what we lose based on our behavior and our choices – this is difficult to portray without dealing with the behavior itself.

Anyway – I enjoyed this production.  Embracing non-traditional casting, Joshua Henry was an amazing Billy Bigelow, bring a slight sense of menace  to the role and enough ambiguity that led me to not always want him to be redeemed in the end.  He also has a mighty, mighty voice.

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Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow – Soliloquy

His version of the Act 1 closer, ‘Soliloquy’ is probably as good as you’re ever going to hear – a little wild eyed at times, but I put that down to playing to a large room.   His strong baritone resonated throughout the theatre.

Soliloquy – as sung by Billy Bigelow in Carousel

“I wonder what he’ll think of me
I guess he’ll call me the “old man”
I guess he’ll think I can lick
Every other feller’s father
Well, I can!
I bet that he’ll turn out to be
The spittin’ image of his dad
But he’ll have more common sense
Than his puddin-headed father ever had”

Speaking of – one of the things I appreciated about this show, and that I mis about many modern shows, was the large chorus, particularly the big male chorus numbers (Blow High, Blow Low).   They seem to be a thing of the past, and what makes many of these classics out of reach for us who teach High School where the boys don’t show up anymore.

Blow High, Blow Low as a matter of fact was a real highlight, particularly for the amazing choreography.  This was the number they highlighted at the recent Tony awards show, though slightly shortened.   A huge showstopper that reflected the high level of dance throughout the show.

You can see that performance here:  Blow High, Blow Low

The entire cast, quite frankly, were incredible.  This is a difficult show to act and sing.  Jessie Mueller was an amazing Julie Jordan (I had seen her previously on the Great Performances concert version as Carrie Pipperidge).  Lindsay Mendez won a well deserved Tony for her role as Carrie Pipperidge – bright and funny, she stole every scene she was in.   Renee Fleming was out last night so I saw understudy Rosena M. Hill Jackson who delivered the 11 o’clock number ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone” in such a way that I was’t disappointed.

Really a shame that bad press is keeping people away from this great show – the classics aren’t performed at this level very often anymore.

 

Alright – first repeat tomorrow.   Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 – marathon style.    This was kind of an accident which I will explain when I get the chance to write about it.   Part 1 is Tuesday at 2:00 and Part 2 is Tuesday at 7:30.  I’m excited to see the original cast and to compare it with the London production.

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Into the Wayback machine – Hello Dolly

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Hello, Dolly!

Book by Michael Stewart, Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman

Shubert Theatre, New York, Jul 1st 2018

My half price ticket to Hello, Dolly! was immediately behind a bulkhead wall, which means my reflection might have a bit of a lean to it.   I did have business class legroom and no one beside, me however.

This is the second year of this revival which initially starred Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce.  While I’m sure the Ms. Midler was a great Dolly, I was excited at the chance to see a true broadway legend on stage.  Peters was the real draw.  Although she’s done loads of television and movie work (The Jerk being a personal favorite), she is a quintessential broadway star,  starring in something like 6 Sondheim shows, famously Sunday in the Park with George, amongst other roles.

At 70, I suppose Dolly is the right kind of role for Peters and to a fair degree, the show was about fawning over her – with large applause breaks built in for her every entrance. But fair enough, she’s earned it.

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One of the many long applause breaks for Bernadette Peters

Peters’ voices still amazing – not a note out of place and she can belt!  The songs of course are are catchy and old fashioned – much different to her usual Sondheim material and she easily brings down the house with them.   Her comedic acting chops are still there as well as she hammed it up mightily throughout the show.   She actually broke up her co-star, Victor Garber during the restaurant scene in Act Two.  Fun to see that they are still having fun in the roles.

Victor Garber – who I only knew through TV’s Alias (Jack Bristow) – was the replacement for David Hyde Pierce.  I’m not sure if that is a good swap or not.   Garber was fine in the acting sections of the play, it isn’t a demanding part and he was very funny in some places.   His singing voice is a bit awkward, employing some strange coaching to reach the one or two notes outside the top of his range that ended up having a hoot owl quality.

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Victor Garber in Alias – as Jack Bristow

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Victor Garber on stage in Hello, Dolly!   Having a great time.

The real revelation for me, though, was Gavin Creel as Cornelius.   I hadn’t heard of him before but apparently he was the first Elder Price in the West End Book of Mormon.    He was amazing – a real show stealer with a great sense of comic timing and an amazing voice.  He also has the best two songs in the show (“Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “It only Takes a Moment”).   Impressive.

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Gavin Creel in the centre

Design

There’s no other word really but traditional.   This was a classic Broadway musical meant to evoke another era – there was nothing provocative or groundbreaking about the design.   As a matter of fact, I found the backdrops and scrim projections quite cheesy at the beginning, but when combined with the costumes and overall feel of the show, I let it go.

The costumes are the real deal here – pastels and plaids and brightly lit.   I can’t imagine how big the wardrobe is, but there are a lot of costume changes, each one into to something more dazzling than before.   They don’t make ’em like that anymore!.image1

This really was a fun show – full of joy.  Hard to leave un-entertained.   Tonight, I stay in the wayback machine with the revival of Carousel.

Out there
There’s a world outside of Yonkers
Way out there beyond this hick town, Barnaby
There’s a slick town, Barnaby
Out there
Full of shine and full of sparkle
Close your eyes and see it glisten, Barnaby
Listen, Barnaby

 

Angels in America – What a way to start

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Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Part One: Millennium Approaches

Part Two: Perestroika

By Tony Kushner

Neil Simon Theatre, New York City, June 30th 2018

Let me admit my bias at the start and reveal that I think the two plays that make up Angels (Millennium Approaches and Perestroika) are almost definitely the best American plays of the last half century, possibly more.  To get the chance to see them both performed by this cast, in this clever production and in a marathon session on the same day for my first ever show on Broadway was a real privilege for me.

The Marathon

What do I mean by the marathon?  Well, ,as I mentioned, this isn’t one play – but two.   Originally, they premiered two years apart.   After the debut of Perestroika, they were often performed in repertoire (see Millennium one night, see Perestroika the next night).   This production works a little like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the you can choose to see the two plays on consecutive nights or in one day in a matinee and evening performance.

The difference here is that the Potter plays have a running time of 2 and a half hours each.   Each of these plays is slightly under 4 hours.    Millennium Approaches began at 1 p.m. and let out just before 5 for a dinner break.   Then you are back in your seat for Perestroika at 7 p.m. and finishing up at 11.   There’s a marathon for you.   It was actually great fun and I recommend it.

The Show

As mentioned – I love this play.   It’s one of the few plays that reads really well even if you can’t see a performance.     The funny thing is – it shouldn’t work.  I mean two 4 hour plays about the Reagan era AIDS crisis with surrealist hallucinations and lengthy tangential dialogues about politics and religion?  It’s a hard sell.  Stick with me though and have a read if you can.   I read the play again several months ago and I continue to find spectacular  moments of wisdom and power and amazing turns of phrase that deliver a real gut punch.

PRIOR:  We have reached a verdict, Your Honor.  This man’s heart is deficient.  He loves, but his love is worth nothing.

I’m restraining myself here – because I could get lost in favorite lines – maybe I’ll add more later.  But this a the very definition of a GREAT work of art.

Seeing it performed only served to strengthen my thoughts on the writing and added something that I was aware of but not totally.  This play, despite the subject, is very funny.

Very funny.

Performances

There’s a danger, I suppose in going to see plays with big names in the major roles.  I am just as much a sucker for this as anyone else I suppose.   Some bloggers and forum posters I read seem to call this, somewhat cynically, stunt casting.  Get a big name in there and you’ll sell a lot of tickets to a mediocre show that wouldn’t do as well otherwise.   The danger is of course, is that you will feel disappointed, more than usual, ,when you get an understudy.

This wasn’t stunt casting – just incredible choices – and we had the full cast yesterday.   The arguably lead role of Prior Walter was performed by Andrew Garfield – an actor to whom I’m basically indifferent – take that back, I think I once said he had a pretty punchable face.

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Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter

I didn’t love him at first and I had my concerns of a straight actor in the role.  He came off a little fey and fabulous at first, literally limp wristed like when Jack Tripper had to pretend to be gay on Three’s Company.   However, when the screws started to turn and the tension increased, he really came alive and won me over in a big, big way.   He took a maudlin role and upped it full of humanity and humor took us all on an amazing 8 hour journey.

The suddenly once again timely role of closeted lawyer Roy Cohn went to Nathan Lane.

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Nathan Lane as Roy Cohn

Foul mouthed, racist, and Machiavellian – Cohn is a liar and a manipulator who cares only about his power – his clout.   A fictional version of a real life person – is it any wonder that Cohn, unrepentant hero of the McCarthy hearings was mentor to a certain sitting President?  I don’t think so.

Nathan Lane chewed this part up without ever going over the top (even the he was over the top almost all the time.).  I have a new appreciation for the F bomb after hearing him use it so effectively.   Lane made Cohn positively terrifying – a monster, who defined his own path through life and took what he wanted, with no regrets or second glances.  Moxie.  Clout.

“You want to be nice or you want to be effective?! You want to make the law, or be subject to it? Choose!”

He spends most of the second play in a hospital bed, dying of ‘liver cancer’ while disbarment hearings are going on.  His only company is his ‘gay negro night nurse’ Belize – an amazing Nathan Stewart-Jarret who reluctantly finds some sort of humanity in Cohn, and the hallucinated presence of Ethel Rosenberg, whose execution came at the unethical urging of Cohn during her trial.

I’ve never seen a performance like it.

A quick word on Denise Gough who played Harper Pitt.  This is my favorite role in the play – so darkly funny and sad.  Harper, the valium popping undersexed wife of closeted Mormon husband Joe Pitt escapes into her own hallucinations (that oddly meet up with Priors throughout the play) and offers her unique, if somewhat dark, insights on life.  I love her final speech – the false ending of the play – delivered from an airline seat in the outer rim, above the ozone layer she’s been getting about during the play.

HARPER:  Souls were rising, ,from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning.  And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, ,and the souls were the three-atom oxygen molecules, ,of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired.

      Nothing’s lost forever.  In this world, there is a kind of painful progress.  Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.

Design

I’m being quite dorky on this trip and paying close attention to design and stagecraft – taking notes in my little Moleskine when I can.   There is some brilliant staging in these plays in terms of scenery, lighting and movement.   Oddly, the design between the two plays changes quite dramatically while also being closely related.

Generally, and particularly in Part One – the stage is divided into three playing areas each with it’s own turntable that rotates is corner pieces.   This is a great solution for the episodic, cinematic type structure of Part One as well as the execution of the split scenes. The small set pieces use neon tubes to create slightly otherworldly outlines adding the coldness of the overall look

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Harper and Joe on one of the turnstiles

The same colors were used in Part Two, but things really opened up.   Plenty of traps, trucks and a split level stage were employed to create a ladder to ‘heaven’ and the hospital set in certain key scenes.

I can’t find any images of the stage lift to share with you, but it was impressive, almost like a giant shoebox diorama on the apron of the stage.

Finally, Part Two employed the movement techniques of Steven Hoggett.   You’re going to hear a lot more about him on Tuesday.    One of the founders and choreographers of Frantic Assembly, his movement work is turning up all over the place (including Harry Potter) in plays such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.   It all begins with the Angel.

At the end of Part One – the Angel finally appears.  Earlier productions have tumbling ceiling blocks and a suspended angel descending from the proscenium.   As Prior exclaims, “God Almighty.  Very Steven Spielberg.”  In this production, the Angel is miraculously lifted, flown and propelled by a group of ‘shadows’ – like human puppeteers, who operate her wings and work together in carefully rehearsed movement to create ab amazing bit of stage magic.

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Beth Malone as the Angel – with her shadows.   “Greetings Prophet; The Great Work Begins:  The Messenger has arrived.”

These shadows are employed throughout Part Two – not merely carrying the Angel, though the physical confrontation between the Angel and Prior is genius – but also as lurking threats, hiding in the shadows, barely visible – sneaking on set pieces and trucks and removing props but all the while adding a feeling of menace to the scene.   Clever.

So – I loved it.   Try and read Angels if you haven’t before.   Try and see it.  Start with the HBO version.  Look for a live performance.    I do believe that this performance was broadcast on NT Live when it ran in London so various, somewhat illegal copies are sure to be found in the shady corners of the internet.

 

Prior:  The world only spins forward. We will be citizens.  The time has come.  Bye now.  You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.  And I bless you: More Life.   The Great Work Begins.

Thanks for tuning in – Musicals start today – – – Hello Dolly!  Talk about a change of pace.

An epic week begins with an epic fail

For those bored enough to continue – I am in New York City.  Inexplicably, this is my first time here.  It was an easy trip from Toronto — in fact, the taxi from LaGuardia to my hotel took longer than the flight.

That taxi time was spent closely monitoring Stubhub and the three remaining tickets for tonight’s Springsteen on Broadway.   At what point would these sellers get nervous and drop their prices?  5 o’clock? 6 o’clock? 7 o’clock?     These tickets are impossible to get through ordinary means.  I had a good feeling I would win the ticket lottery, ,but I didn’t.

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The show I didn’t get to see:  Springsteen on Broadway

A good prospect popped up – a great seat dropping in price.   $599.     Could I spend that much?  No.   I was looking for something maybe in a desperate 300 range.   Then it disappeared.  Someone bought it.  Not me.

None of the other two tickets got low enough for me to bite.  C’est la vie, Bruce,  C’est la vie.

Tomorrow – theatre week begins in earnest with the Angels in America marathon at the Neil Simon theater.   I’m full of anticipation for this.  I think Angels is easily the greatest work of drama in the last 30 years – the title of this blog comes from the end of the first play, Millennium Approaches.  I believe it also comes from Jung – Rick Butler can help me verify that.

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Saturday’s show – Angels in America Part 1 (Millennium Approaches) and II (Perestroika)

Full details tomorrow night.

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