Sunday, March 13, 2011

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert ***

After runs in Sydney, Melbourne, New Zealand, London and Toronto, the musical version of the 1994 Aussie road movie has finally made it to New York. If you liked the movie, you'll love the musical. Considering how much a plot must be simplified to make room for musical numbers, the book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott ably captures the essence of the screenplay. The cast is led by Will Swenson and Nick Adams as the two drag queens and Tony Sheldon as the aging transexual. Swenson is good, Adams is better and Sheldon is sensational, good enough to make you forget Terence Stamp's memorable performance in the film. The sets by Brian Thompson are wonderful and the costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (who won an Oscar for the film's costumes) are so unbelievably over the top that just seeing them is worth the price of admission. Technically, it's a jukebox musical, with songs from disco to country and everything in between. Director Simon Phillips sure knows how to keep things moving. The pacing is breathless -- time never drags (sorry, folks, couldn't resist). Judging from the wildly enthusiastic reaction of today's audience, Priscilla should be around for a long time.

Catch Me If You Can ***

Will the creative team who brought us Hairspray (Marc Shaiman, music and lyrics; Scott Wittman, lyrics; Jack O'Brien, director; Jerry Mitchell, choreographer; David Rockwell, sets; William Ivey Long, costumes) strike gold again at the Neil Simon with another adaptation of a popular film? Time will tell. New to the team is Terrence McNally, whose book captures the spirit of the film and is both entertaining and touching. The music and lyrics, while rarely memorable, move the story along effectively. The dance numbers are appropriately flashy. The costumes and sets are first-rate. Aaron Tveit, who looks like Matthew Morrison's kid brother, is sensational as Frank Abnagale, Jr. Norbert Leo Butz is just as good as FBI agent Carl Hanratty. Tom Wopat captures the pathos of Abnagale, Sr. and Kerry Butler as Frank Jr.'s fiancee makes the most of her big number.
While their combined efforts don't reach the heights of Hairspray, they do provide a very entertaining evening. My concern is that the lack of a bankable star might be an obstacle to the show's success. I hope not.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Spy Garbo *

Garbo was the British codename for double agent Juan Pujol Garcia, whose misinformation caused the Nazis to misdeploy their forces before the Normandy invasion. Spy Garbo is the misleading title of a play by Sheila Schwartz now at 3LD Art & Technology Center downtown. Spy Garbo not only fails to appear in the play, but is barely mentioned until the last five minutes. As I understand it, the mission of 3-Legged Dog is to offer theatrical works that make extensive use of cutting-edge multimedia techniques. This would be fine if the media served the play, but in this case the cart seems to be before the horse. The play is a meandering 82-minute conversation set in limbo during which Generalissimo Franco (Steven Rattazzi), spy Kim Philby (Chad Hoeppner) and German double agent Admiral Canaris (Wilhelm Canaris) complain about posterity's unfair treatment. All the speechifying seems little more than an excuse to demonstrate an impressive array of projections and sound effects, which often have only a tenuous connection to the play. A quick look around led me to the conclusion that the target audience is under 30.