Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bullet for Hitler *

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
Memo to Woody Harrelson: Don't give up your day job. While I admire this fine actor for trying his hand at playwriting and directing, I could find little to admire at New World Stages where his play is now in previews. The story, such as it is, was inspired by events in Houston in 1983, when Harrelson and writing partner Frankie Hyman worked on an interracial construction crew. Their boss is a crusty German emigrant whose prize possession, a luger that allegedly jammed when it was aimed at Hitler, is stolen. The characters are as broadly drawn as cartoons. The slapstick physical comedy scenes are fitfully amusing, but the long stretches in between are not even up to sitcom standards. Projections of 1983 events and cultural icons between scenes are far more interesting than anything happening onstage. This vanity production would never have made it this far without Harrelson's name attached. At 2 hours 20 minutes, it is about 2 hours too long.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Common Pursuit **

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
I would be curious to know why director Moises Kaufman, known for his superb work on landmark plays like Gross Indecency, The Laramie Project and I Am My Own Wife, was drawn to one of Simon Gray's lesser plays. In any case, he has no magic tricks up his sleeve for this Roundabout production at the Laura Pels. The oft-told tale of idealistic youth, in this case six students at Cambridge setting out to publish a literary magazine, gradually losing their ideals to compromise and betrayal is not told particularly well. While I have nothing against talky plays as long as the dialog is interesting, little of it sparkles here. The competent American cast (Kristen Bush, Kieran Campion, Josh Cooke, Jacob Fishel, Tim McGeever and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) manage their Oxbridge accents fairly well but the effort shows, particularly early on. The characters are not portrayed with sufficient vividness for the audience to care very much what happens to them. Perhaps that is why at least 10% of the audience did not return after intermission. By the time the play finally springs to life halfway through the second act, it is too little too late. Derek McLane's set is quite attractive and Clint Ramos' costumes are evocative. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes including intermission.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bring It On, The Musical **

(Please click on the title to see the full review.)
After last year's unsuccessful move uptown by Lysistrata Jones [reviewed 12/3/11], the last thing I expected to see on a Broadway stage this summer was another cheerleader musical. And yet here is Bring It On, "inspired by" the immensely popular five-movie series of the same name, now in previews at the St. James Theatre. Its impressive creative roster includes composers Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), librettist Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) and director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehhler (In the Heights). While the hard-working cast of 35 is performing high-flying cheerleading stunts and lively dance numbers, it is great fun. The book is only fitfully entertaining and doesn't really spring fully to life until the captain of the lily-white Truman High cheerleading squad is forced to transfer to the inner-city Jackson High. The characters are little more than stereotypes -- the dumb blonde, the chubby but spunky girl, the teen-aged Eve Harrington, the tough-tender girl, the comic rapper, the sensitive boy, and even the black drag queen. The music is often engaging, but the lyrics were not always intelligible. The show would benefit from some judicious trimming: 2 hours, 25 minutes (including intermission) is too long to sustain its momentum. The simple set by David Korins makes heavy use of video projections (excellent ones by Jeff Sugg) on four large moving panels. Andrea Lauer's costumes are delightful. Lighting designer Jason Lyons is guilty of the cardinal sin of shining bright lights in the eyes of the audience not once but twice. Judging from the reaction on the night I attended, the show is critic-proof. Wild cheering began even before the show started. The audience stayed on their feet even after the standing ovation to watch projected photos of the cast in rehearsal. The crowd was slighter older than at Newsies and even more enthusiastic. If you are looking for uncomplicated summer entertainment, you could do far worse than to catch this limited run.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Triassic Parq, The Musical *

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After suffering through "Silence: The Musical" [reviewed 2/27/12], I should have learned my lesson and avoided all musical spoofs of hit movies. Nevertheless, when the opportunity arose to see this send-up of "Jurassic Park" at minimal cost, curiosity got the better of me and I headed to the SoHo Playhouse. While not without redeeming features, especially an appealing and talented cast, the muddled book caused my interest to evaporate long before the 90 minutes were over. It's the kind of downtown show that might be a lot more amusing after a few drinks. Wade McCollum, Lindsay Nicole Chambers and Shelley Thomas are stand-outs in a strong cast. Brandon Espinoza, as Mime-a-saurus, steals every scene he is in. Marshall Pailet's music is lively, but the book by Pailet, Bruce Norbitz and Stephen Wargo, is lame. Caite Hevner's set an Dina Perez's costumes are amusingly clever.  Pailet also directed.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Closer Than Ever ****

(Please click on the title to see the entire review.)
Hurry to the York Theatre by July 14th if you want to catch one of the most enjoyable musicals in town. This revival of the 1989 revue by Maltby and Shire, featuring 24 songs tied loosely together by themes related to the pains and pleasures of adulthood, is splendidly performed by a very talented quartet (Jenn Colella, George Dvorsky, Christiane Noll and Sal Viviano). Each song is a tale in miniature that engages both mind and heart. The set by James Morgan is simple but effective. The choreography by Kurt Stamm is refreshingly clever. The piano and bass accompaniment is perfect. The direction, also by Maltby, is fluid. How sad that the revue has become an endangered species and that songs like this rarely reach the New York stage these days. I hope that we haven't heard the last of Maltby and Shire. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dogfight ***

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The latest entry in the seemingly endless parade of movie to musical adaptations is this production now in previews at Second Stage. The source is a 1991 movie starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor that did not do well at the box office. This dogfight has nothing to do with aerial combat; it is the name of a cruel game played by a group of marines in San Francisco on the night before they ship out for Vietnam in 1963. They pool their money to throw a party at which the guy bringing the ugliest date wins the game and the cash. Their dates are obviously not in on the joke. Eddie Birdlace (Derek Klena) meets Rose (Lindsay Mendez), a waitress in a coffee shop, and invites her to the party. As they say, complications arise. The ensemble cast of 11 is uniformly strong; Josh Segarra as Boland, the lead Marine, and Annaleigh Ashford as Marcie, the prostitute, are standouts. The music and lyrics, jointly credited to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are mostly quite good and well-integrated into the book. The first act is tightly knit and satisfying. Alas, Peter Duchan's book loses momentum after intermission and never fully recovers. David Zinn's set design and costumes are admirable. What Christopher Gattelli, this year's "go-to" choreographer, offers is more stylized movement than dancing, but it is nonetheless effective. Joe Mantello's direction, except for the doldrums midway through act two, holds everything together well. I hope they work out the second act problems, because the show has much to offer. Among the many things that it gets right is showing the gap between Vietnam veterans' expectations for their welcome home and the one they actually received. Running time: 2 hours including intermission. Note: Most of the audience was under 35, a refreshing change from the usual.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Most Happy Fella ****

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Perhaps I should have called this an opera review, because this fine production is actually at Dicapo Opera Theatre. Whether it's a musical or an opera may be open to argument, but there's no arguing over whether Frank Loesser's masterpiece is a milestone of American music. This was my first time at Dicapo, and I was both surprised and delighted at the lavishness and high quality of their work. I wasn't expecting a chorus of 20 or an orchestra of 32. Their theater in the community center of St. Jean Baptiste Church is attractive and has excellent acoustics and sight lines. The cast was almost universally strong. Although Michael Corvino's slight build is untraditional for Tony, his voice is anything but slight. Molly Mustonen makes a lovely Rosabella, but needs a bit more volume. Lauren Hoffmeier's Cleo, on the contrary, needs to turn it down a bit. Peter Kendall Clark looks and sings a fine Joey. Brance Cornelius is both funny and affecting as Herman. The three chefs' rendition of "Abbondanza" stopped the show. The choral numbers are exemplary. Francine Harman's choreography shines in a very lively "Big D." John Farrell's sets are simple but functional. Julie Wyma's costumes are excellent. The orchestra, seated at the back of the stage, plays well under the baton of Pacien Mazzagatti. Michael Capasso's direction keeps things moving. All things considered, this production is a winner. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes including intermission. Note: It closes July 8, so hurry if you want to see it.