VNV Thursday – A Theatrical Interlude 6/7/18

45th Street Theatres

I’ve loved theatre for most of my life. When I was in high school, I attended all the school plays, and with my humanities class was able to see William Devane in a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (he originated the role of McMurphy off-Broadway) that was done at a local theatre-in-the-round. After college, I treated myself one birthday to a production of The Elephant Man at the Blackstone in Chicago, which starred David Bowie; it was an amazing and memorable performance. Although opera has become my theatre-going choice of late, plays and musical theatre still hold a special place for me. The Tony’s are the only award show I ever watch, and since they’re airing this Sunday, June 10th (CBS, 8 EST), I thought I’d give a little preview of what to expect.  (As much as I appreciate and enjoy the technical side of theatre, I’m only going to highlight the Best Play and Best Musical categories.) And the nominees are…

Best Play
The Children:

Direct from an acclaimed run in London, the powerful Royal Court Theatre production of Lucy Kirkwood’s astonishing new play is making its American debut at MTC with the heralded original cast. In a remote cottage on the lonely British coast, a couple of retired nuclear engineers are living a very quiet life. Outside, the world is in utter chaos following a devastating series of events. When an old friend turns up at their door, they’re shocked to discover the real reason for her visit. (From the official website)

Lucy Kirkwood’s play is described as post-apocalyptic, and while most reviewers complain about the length of time it takes to get to the central moral dilemma, all laud the performances of the actors. This is a play-that-makes-you-think; as one reviewer said, “Ultimately, this is a difficult piece of theater, and the ambiguous though beautiful ending (with evocative lighting by Peter Mumford) presents so many implications it makes the head spin. Whatever the conclusion, anyone who sees the play will find it hard to stop thinking about the universal and troubling issues it raises.” (‘The Children’ review: Thought-provoking British import)

Farinelli and the King:

King Philippe V of Spain, plagued by insomnia, lies awake in his chamber. The Queen, desperate for a cure, hears of Farinelli —a castrato with a voice so divine it has the power to captivate all who hear it. Philippe is astonished when Farinelli sings, and begs him to stay. But will Farinelli, one of the greatest celebrities of his time, choose a life of solitude over fame and fortune in the opera houses of Europe? (From the Playbill synopsis)

This play gets decidedly mixed reviews from the critics. Written by playwright Claire van Kampen, not-coincidentally married to actor Mark Ryland (who plays Philippe V), the critics overall laud Ryland’s performance while wondering if the role is too closely written for his specific strengths, leaving it unavailable to other, future actors. The casting of Farinelli features two actors; the acting Farinelli played by Sam Crane, and the countertenor lestyn Davies as the singing Farinelli. As one reviewer bemoaned, “This is plenty enough to put Farinelli and the King on the highly recommended list. But the drama, I’m afraid, doesn’t match the rest of the evening. The plot is intriguingly promising, yes; but the execution is merely functional. After a while, we begin to think that the play is built around the star’s performing strengths, as opposed to the performance being built to support the play.” (Aisle Review: The King and the Castrato by Steven Suskin)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places. (From the official website)

J.K. Rowling was intimately involved with the development of this story, and the reviewers all agree that it is a wonderful continuation of the Potter series. It’s also a 2-part, 5 hour play, but not a single critic I could find felt that was unmanageable. Instead, the concensus was that this is a magical play; a technical wonder, brilliantly acted, and a worthy eighth Harry Potter story. In the words of one reviewer, “Parsed as a text, Cursed Child is a theme-park whirligig that dizzyingly checks all the boxes you’d expect to see of a show that bears the famous Potter name; parsed as a production, it’s a technical achievement that redefines the possibilities of theatre. Strong performances and touching themes make it a worthy play, but magical showstoppers, in lieu of musical numbers, transfigure it into something else entirely.” (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child conjures the impossible on Broadway: EW review by Marc Snetiker)

Junk:

It’s 1985. Robert Merkin, the resident genius of the upstart investment firm Sacker Lowell has just landed on the cover of Time Magazine. Hailed as “America’s Alchemist,” his proclamation that “debt is an asset” has propelled him to dizzying heights. Zealously promoting his belief in the near-sacred infallibility of markets, he is trying to re-shape the world.

Junk is the story of Merkin’s assault on American capitalism’s holy of holies, the “deal of the decade,” his attempt to takeover an iconic American manufacturing company and, in the process, to change all the rules. What Merkin sets in motion is nothing less than a financial civil war, pitting magnates against workers, lawyers against journalists, and ultimately, pitting every one against themselves. Set over thirty years ago, this is a play about how, while most of us weren’t watching, money became the only thing of real value. (Broadway.com synopsis)

This is another show that received tepid reviews; one is forced to wonder how these shows are nominated for Tony’s after reading so many lackluster reviews. Drawing on the exploits of Michael Milken in the 1980s, the lead character is a Wall Street junk bond trader with a “greed is good” mentality and a general disregard for anyone or anything that isn’t money. Although the playwright Ayad Akhtar attempts to avoid caricatures and stereotypes by showing a sympathetic side to each character, the reviewers overall felt he missed the mark and said nothing new. This is a typical reaction, “In the end, a loud-ringing message is that the almighty dollar corrupts all. True enough. Then again, we didn’t need “Junk” to tell us that.” (New York Daily News/Joe Dziemianowicz)

Latin History for Morons:

Inspired by the near total absence of Latinos in his son’s American history class, John Leguizamo embarks on a frenzied search to find a Latin hero for his son’s school project. From a mad recap of the Aztec empire to stories of unknown Latin patriots of the Revolutionary War and beyond, Leguizamo breaks down the 3,000 years between the Mayans and Ricky Ricardo into 90 irreverent and uncensored minutes in his trademark style. (Broadway.com synopsis)

The reviewers are all over the place on this one-man show written and acted by Leguizamo. One reviewer compares Leguizamo to a combination of Howard Zinn and Irwin Corey; another criticizes Leguizamo for emphasizing humor rather than his personal anger; and yet another says it’s “boisterous and joyful but also laced with sorrow.” I suspect this is a show that you had to see to fully appreciate, and as someone who regularly rails against the overall Whiteness of our history textbooks, I have no doubt I would have appreciated it. Sentences like this make me sure of it: “The point is that for the vast majority of us, given the blinding whiteness of most American history textbooks, there’s a big ol’ blank space in between. ‘How did we become so nonexistent?’ Leguizamo asks, pointing to that empty chalk line. ‘If you don’t see yourself represented outside of yourself, you feel invisible.'” (Vulture.com/Sarah Holdren)

Best Musical
The Band’s Visit:

In an Israeli desert town where every day feels the same, something different is suddenly in the air. Dina, the local café owner, had long resigned her desires for romance to daydreaming about exotic films and music from her youth. When a band of Egyptian musicians show up lost at her café, she and her fellow locals take them in for the night. As their lives intertwine in unexpected ways, this once sleepy town begins to wake up. From the official website

This is a critic’s favorite; when the New York Times uses the superlative “ravishing” in the headline of its review, expect something good. It started out as a little sleeper of a show, but strong reviews and word-of-mouth praise have kept it alive. An excerpt:

Frozen
Another Disney-to-Broadway show; I never saw the movie, but apparently the assumption is that most people did, because an online, short synopsis of the show is not to be found. The Disney Broadway group did state, however, that their intent was to produce a show for adults, with more exploration of the relationship between the sisters. The critics, in general, are underwhelmed though; the praise for the cast is universally strong, while the rest of the show earns somewhere between a “not bad” and a “meh.” Despite the critics, ticket sales have been brisk. An excerpt:

Mean Girls:

Cady Heron may have grown up on an African savanna, but nothing prepared her for the wild and vicious ways of her strange new home: suburban Illinois. How will this naïve newbie rise to the top of the popularity pecking order? By taking on The Plastics, a trio of lionized frenemies led by the charming but ruthless Regina George. But when Cady devises a plan to end Regina’s reign, she learns the hard way that you can’t cross a Queen Bee without getting stung.

Produced by Lorne Michaels, Stuart Thompson, Sonia Friedman, and Paramount Pictures, MEAN GIRLS gets to the hilarious heart of what it means to be a true friend, a worthy nemesis, and above all, a human being. From the official website

The book for the play is written by Tina Fey and is based on the 2004 film that she also wrote. The critics like this show; they describe it as both smart and funny, much like Tina Fey herself. Their criticisms are of the niggling sort (e.g. the second act takes awhile to find its pace as compared to the first act), but overall, this show receives positive, sometimes glowing, reviews. An excerpt:

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Stakes are higher than ever before as SpongeBob and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation of their undersea world. Chaos erupts. Lives hang in the balance. And just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises up and takes center stage. Playbill.com synopsis

When I saw this listed as a Tony nominee, my first thought was, “How low has Broadway sunk?” According to the critics, the answer might be under the sea…and a very good place to be. With a score peppered with songs written by contemporary artists (John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Lady Antebellum, Steven Tyler to name a few), a Crayola-crayon set and costumes, and a breakout star (Ethan Slater) as SpongeBob, this show won over the critics with its sense of fun and its heart. An medley from the show:

For those keeping track, there are two other categories related to plays and musicals: Best Revival of a Play and Best Revival of a Musical. In the former category, the nominees are Angels in America; Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, Edward Albee’s The Iceman Cometh, Lobby Hero, and Travesties. The musical revival nominees are My Fair Lady, Once On This Island, and Rodger and Hammerstein’s Carousel. (For the record, I’ll be rooting for My Fair Lady, because a friend of my daughter’s is in the show.)

Thanks for indulging my love of theatre today; if you’re not already a fan, I hope this encourages you to consider checking out what’s on stage in your area.

  2 comments for “VNV Thursday – A Theatrical Interlude 6/7/18

  1. bfitzinAR
    June 7, 2018 at 10:25 am

    {{{DoReMI}}} – I haven’t been involved in, or paid any attention to, theater since 1980 but I enjoyed your roundup. moar {{{HUGS}}}

    • DoReMI
      June 7, 2018 at 11:14 am

      I’ll get back to my more typical stuff soon, but since I haven’t been doing any reading lately (my usual inspiration), I decided to go with what I am currently immersed in. :D I’m probably going to miss most of the Tony’s on Sunday, since I’ll be driving back from OH. So this post is as much for me as anyone else!

      I’m very fortunate in the theatre arena. Although I mostly go to the opera these days, the college from which my daughter graduated (and now works at) has one of the premiere musical theatre degree programs in the country; definitely top 10, and maybe even top 5. As a result, I’ve attended a lot of their shows, which are on par with many of the Broadway productions I’ve seen. It’s always a treat when I see the kids I watched as 18-year olds are now on Broadway or in traveling shows. It’s also how my daughter knows so many Broadway folks; some are just passing acquaintances, while others are actual friends. She also worked at a summer camp for many years that was attended and later staffed by a family of child actors. Two of those three kids are Big Names now; the one who isn’t a Big Name does amazing political theatre and theatre education. It’s several degrees of separation for me, but it still gives me a thrill to see a familiar name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *