Friday, December 30, 2011

Broadway on 45th Street

Enjoyed the chance to catch up on some Broadway shows I'd been wanting to see--two plays, two musicals. No, I didn't make it to The Book of Mormon, perhaps because my friend who has enough connections to get tickets, mentioned he had been offered two for $360 each. But two good plays--Other Desert Cities and Seminar--made the trip worthwhile.  While I remain a believer in the concept of musicals--having seen as my first the original production of West Side Story--the two I saw were both worth seeing but not top drawer--Follies and Bonnie and Clyde.

Other Desert Cities opened last season in a limited run at the Beaumont, Lincoln Center, to raves that precipitated its transfer to Broadway--Booth Theater, this fall. It's by Jon Robin Baitz, who's written a number of plays produced in New York and whose work I've been wanting to see. Bang-up star cast features Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach, Judith Light, and Rachel Griffiths. They are all superb.  Channing has chosen to focus on the stage as opposed to making many movies, and her experience now shows--she holds the stage when on.  No one has ever faulted Keach's work--it's a bit of a shock to see his white hair but here's one of America's classical actors, in that he's done Shakespeare on stage and many movies as well, working as well as ever.  Griffiths is Australian and has done lots of tv, such as Six Feet Under, and is up to the demands of her part, which ignites the play. 

Baitz's play is a mix of great laugh lines and moving drama. It's a generational conflict, of course, but more than that, as the characters don't stay put into any stock slots. It also presents some political issues but not at the expense of either the play's own integrity or the quality of the drama. This is not at all a political play of the Waiting for Lefty variety--where the cast leads the audience out of the house shouting "Strike!" Not even close--which I'll limit myself to praising if only for the sake of the play's merits.

Seminar is in part a vehicle for the talented Alan Rickman, who is perhaps best known for portraying the most interesting character in the Harry Potter series--Snape, as to whose side he's on we are not sure until the climax. Here he's playing a bit of a set part--the veteran writer and critic teaching four neophytes how to write successfully.  Of course he's brutal in reviewing their work--sort of a combo of the late H.R. Trevor-Roper and Simon Cowell. But the students play tricks on him too and he's fair enough to recognize really good work when he sees it. Rickman's character also has a past which returns to bite him, but he shows more than one side of his character, a tribute to him and the playwright, Theresa Rebeck. 

Last weekend's Times had a piece about the play and the character played by Lily Rabe who has some feminist leanings in the play. The play is better for the lack of stridency in her character who again is multi-faceted. The article made a big deal about what I found to be only slightly more than a throwaway line. The play on the whole is good and raises good issues as to both character and writing.

I've never been much of a Sondheim fan. Yes, I saw Sweeney Todd years ago but missed most of the others. I wanted to see Follies because it seemed to be about a group of women and the men who are with them who all have to face dealing with the world post-life as a chorus girl on the greatest of Broadway stages. I left with mixed feelings--as always with Sondheim, you don't walk out humming any tunes. The characters do assume three-dimensional shapes, however, and the whole show leaves you with more than just wistfulness. There's even some fun in the sort of vaudeville final section.

Bonnie and Clyde was slammed by the Times's critic (after I had gambled on buying tix early) and will be closing this weekend.  Frank Wildhorn, the composer, apparently has had bad luck with the critics--I'd love to know how he continues to get financing--but the show is nicely done. It's just lacking some oomph--probably it is more accurate to the real life story than Arthur Penn's truly classic movie but Penn understood that the story of the two bank robbers' romance wasn't enough as stated to carry the plot. And my only complaint with the male lead was that he seemed very short--images of Warren Beatty in the movie of course kept flashing before me.

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