We’re Still Here (Stage/Web Thoughts: Take Me To The World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, BroadwayCom)

maxresdefaultThe neon lights of Broadway may be dimmed right now, show queens like me? We’re still here. I was waiting with anticipation for ‘A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration’  on Sunday night, and the tech problems that they were initially having just whet my appetite for it more – it was a shame that it was up against the LGBT fundraiser concert as I would like to have checked that out as well. I was watching it very briefly while waiting for this concert, but as soon as this worked out it skinks, I abandoned it. This was a truly emotional evening, and all in all, I don’t know if there was a performance I would have taken out. But first, let me start with the ones I connected with the most – Donna Murphy’s ‘Send In the Clowns’  took my breath away – she knew how to mine those lyrics without an ounce of overselling. And ‘Someone In a Tree’ is already hard to pull off on stage, and here with the four square Zoom blocks, I was surprised to see it done just as effectively. There’s a certain poignancy to Mandy Patinkin’s ‘Lesson no 8’ out in the fields, and Jake Gylenhaal and Annalyn Ashford’s ‘Move On’ wrecked me to copious tears. But that’s just the top. I know everyone and their mothers are creaming over the “Ladies Who Lunch” with Audra, Meryl and Christine (first names only, please) and of course I loved that too, and it was especially poignant to see Aaron Tveit do ‘Marry Me A Little’ knowing he had the COVID 19 virus. I asked myself – were there any performances that I thought were ‘weaker,’ and in this context, a weak one in this lineup would still be miles better than anything else, and I just had to say NPH’s smugness turns me off, putting his performance of ‘The Witches Rap’ there, and my irrational dislike of Randy Rainbow mars that performance for me as well. But all in all, I am in awe of this line up, of this celebration on these times.

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I’m A Sucker For Laura (Music Thoughts: Sucker, Laura Benanti)

71v5NAwgVjL._SS500_Well what do you know? It’s after Easter and we get a nice Easter treat! The best singers really can sing *anything*  Audra McDonald can sing opera to show tunes to pop songs effortlessly, and of course, Laura Benanti, too. As a benefit for Food Cares. It’s a great rendition, and while I do like the original Jonas Brothers version, I think I like this more – it gives out a different softer side of the song which will make you feel that being a ‘sucker’ for someone isn’t bad at all – we are all suckers for love at least once in our lives, right? and check out the wonderful video she released:

Ann-y Valentine (Stage Thoughts: Let’s Fall In Love!, Ann Hampton Callaway at The Moss Theater, Santa Monica, California)

1517This is the year of ‘different,’ I guess. I usually sit Valentine’s Day out, but this year, I was lucky to have to go to a Valentine’s Day concert of one of my favorite artists, Ann Hampton Callaway.  She just happened to be performing near me, so it was very convenient for me to go.  And of course, it was a wonderful time. This show is titled ‘Let’s Fall In Love,’ and it naturally is an evening of love songs. Accompanied by Mitch Foreman (on piano) and Kevin Axt (on base) she serenaded the audience with works of love the whole night. You felt love in the air with every nuance in the lyric, with the heft of her finely-aged alto. She had beautiful renderings of ‘All the Things You Are,’ and ‘Let’s Fall In Love,’ but of course, I gravitated towards the Ann-dards – the joy in ‘Finding Beuty’ is palpable, and I never cease to have a dry eye whenever I hear ‘I Dreamed Of You.’ Other stand out numbers include a tender ‘How Do You Keep The Music Playing,’ and of course, most appropriately, ‘My Funny Valentine.’ You would think you have heard the song a million times by now, but there it was that night sounding as fresh as ever.  Hearts Day this year has never been better.

 

Kristen’s Kountdown (Stage Thoughts: Kristen Chenoweth at Disney Hall, New Year’s Eve 2019)

kristin-NYEI usually just stay in on New Year’s Eve (I always say it’s Amateur night) but this year I wanted to do something different, and there was Kristen Chenoweth at Disney Hall in DTLA. I thought it would probable be the same as her November Broadway show called ‘For The Girls,’ culled from her new album of the same. Since I missed the Broadway run, I thought this would be just as good.

I was wrong. It really isn’t the same exact show (based on the New York reviews I read) but it’s close. This show is basically a set, which makes sense now since she does an early and a late show – we were at the late show which ends with a countdown to midnight. There are some great elements here – she opens with Peggy Lee’s ‘W O M A N’ with her two fantastic back up singers, Crystal Monee Hall and Marissa Rosen. Indeed, most of the repertoire comes from the new album, and I kind of loved a lot of it, from her wistful ‘The Way We Were,’ ably accompanied by her longtime Musical Director, Mary Mitchell-Campbell. And while there were good versions of ‘You Don’t Own Me,’ and ‘Yesterday Once More,’ the arrangements of those songs did not veer too much from the original versions. The acapella non-amplified version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ was pretty welcome, at least it wasn’t a retread of Whitney Houston’s bombastic version. All in all, it kept me wanting more, though. I wish she had gone through some of her, um, popular songs like, um, ‘Popular.’  But it was still a great way to ring in the New Year.

When You’re Going Through Hell (Film Thoughts: Kathy Griffin: A Hell Of A Story)

MV5BYTVkOTE4NjYtYWU0YS00ODIxLWEwMzQtZjAwZTBjMmJmNDZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ0NzE0MQ@@._V1_Closing out 2019 by writing about Kathy Griffin’s ‘concert film,’ titled ‘A Hell Of A Story.’ I thought it would be fitting considering the times we are in. I remember a couple of New Year’s Eves with her, watching her on CNN with Anderson Cooper. I thought they were effective ‘counter programming’ with the slick but bland shows of the major networks – her show felt like she was just ‘winging out,’ though I am pretty sure she wasn’t.

‘A Hell Of A Story’ starts out with a short ‘documentary’ of what happened after her infamous viral photo that changed her life and career. I thought that part was very interesting, and I wish it had been longer. The film is really a concert film of her (now) stand up act wherein she basically discusses the fall out after her incident. She talks about being on FBI’s watch list, then the Interpol list. She talks about being detained at airports all over the world, she names who supported her, and friends she felt betrayed by her. It’s a lot, but never too much. And Griffin being Griffin, she never holds back. It’s very funny to me, and a tad sad as well, because it shows woman exercising her First Amendment rights, and being penalized for it. She is unapologetic about it all now and whether you agree with her or not, you have to admire her for having balls to say so. In a lot of ways, this is a very important film, because as she says in the film, “what happens to her can happen to anyone.”

Her Son (Television/Stage Thoughts: American Son, Netflix)

MV5BMDk1Y2UyMTgtNGQyYi00OGViLWFlODUtMDY3ZmYwYmQ4MWVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_I am really liking this ‘Broadway on Netflix’ trend, and want to support it.  Kenny Leon directed ‘American Son’ on Broadway at he has now also directed the Netflix adaptation of the production of Christopher Demos Brown’s work. All in all, I think this is a pretty good effort, but I also had problems with it. I still recommend seeing it, as I thought the play itself has some things to say, even if at times it feels like the messages are bludgeoned. Kerry Washington is the main draw here, as she plays Kendra, who son has gone missing. She goes to the police station  to find out what is going on, the only information she has is that her son has been detained by the police. Washington plays her role without fear, and damned if her character doesn’t come across as likable. TO be honest, I had some trouble with sympathizing with her character. Kendra acts with so much entitlement at times that it clashes with the idea that she understands the ‘black’ experience.There is fine support with the rest of the cast but it’s Washington front and center here. The play feels very claustrophobic and Leon films it that way – you get the sense of panic and urgency waiting for the ‘inevitable’ here. At times, it really did feel that the action was closing in, and perhaps that was the director’s intent. All in all, I thought it succeeded in what it wanted to do, and hope we get more similar fare from Netflix.

Come What May (Stage Thoughts: Moulin Rouge)

moulin-rouge-poster‘Moulin Rouge,’ now playing at The Al Hirschfeld Theater, was my birthday gift to myself. The ticket price was steep, but I know my self-worth and I more than deserve it. I knew the show wasn’t going to be deep, more fun that’s trashy and easy to digest. I confess remembering that I liked the film version, but honestly, don’t remember too much from it besides the fact that it starred Nicole Kidman.

Boy was I surprised. This was excruciating and difficult for me to enjoy. The book, by John Logan was paper-thin, akin to the Italian operas that inspired it. But I could have easily forgiven that if the music was palatable. but hell, this is a musical, and this show seems to have hastily compiled every disposable pop hit they could find from the past couple of decades. I have heard enough of these songs while riding in Ubers and picking produce at the supermarket, so forgive me if I don’t want to hear them on Broadway forcibly shoehorned into scenes. Songs are mixed and mashed for no reason – just when one grooves into a song, it’s cut mercilessly for another one. I despise pointless mashups.

The cast is competent enough, but I thought Karen Olivo was seriously miscast. Her Sabine is a force, for sure (with a grand sparkling entrance) but you never believed for a second that her character will waste any time for a twinky songwriter from Ohio. Yes, Aaron Tveit as Christian looks good on stage and sings effortlessly, but his Christian seems more scared of Sabine than in love with her – they have the chemistry of two dim bulbs. Poor Danny Burstein tries so hard to bring humanity to the role of emcee/engineer Harold Zidler, but you can only color cardboard various shades of brown.

The show reminds me of something you would see in a Vegas lounge show, or a cruise ship. That’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world, but this is the-a-teh. And I know that the show is polarizing, as I see the young lady next to me sobbing at the tragic ending (oops, I hope I didn’t spoil it for you) If I have to say one good thing about it, then sure I would probably commend its set design (pictures can be taken before the show, perfect for your Instagram feed!) but the heart set looks like it was stolen from Follies’ ‘Loveland,; so… Happy Birthday to me!

Under Her Skin (Stage Thoughts: Skintight, The Gil Cates Theater)

1562720863_info_image_SkintightThere’s a very very funny thing happening at The Gil Cates Theater at The Geffen Playhouse in Wetwood, and the Ms. Elsa from Frozen herself Idina Menzel is in the middle of it.  In Joshua Harmon’s ‘Skintight,’ she is front and center and she is both hilarious and touching as Jodi. Jodi is a woman of a certain middle age, and her husband has just divorced her, trading her in for a younger model. She runs away from California to New York, partly to escape from her current situation, and partly to help celebrate her father’s 70th birthday. Her father, Elliot (played by Harry Groener) is sort of a Calvin Klein figure, a fashion mogul once married to a woman but with a string of boy toys to his name. He is now settling down with Try, twenty years old, and the same exact age as Benjamin, his grandson by Jodi. They all converge on his tony NYC apartment, and….well, hilarity (and other things) ensue. Menzel is terrific here, with all her luminescent star power, equipped with razor sharp comedic timing and stage presence (you can’t stop looking at her) and she is  a diva in the greatest sense here, surrounded by gay men as he battles sassy zingers with them left and right. Harmon’s first play, ‘Significant Others’ is modern gay life specific, and I think ‘Skintight’ is as well, as the play comments on youth and life with a very gay sensibility – if that’s not enough intellectually, we get Trey, the boy toy played by Will Brittain wearing just a jock in a huge chunk of the first act (and it’s a glorious sight) I had a lot of fun watching ‘Skintight,’ some of it shallow, but fun is fun however one takes it!

Which Witch (Stage Thoughts: Witch, The Audrey Skirball Theater)

12There’s a witch at the Audrey Skirball Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, and she is played by Maura Tierney (of TV’s ‘E.R.’)  in ‘Witch,’ which is Jen Silverman’s retelling of the play ‘The Witch of Edmonton’ by Rowley, Dekker, and Ford. The play – revised with today’s ‘speak’ – begins with her lamentation that she is not really a witch, but the villagers have anointed her as one. So of course the Devil (Evan Jonigkeit) tries to recruit her to sell her soul to him, but she is proving to be a tough sell. An easier target is Cuddy Banks, who is a ballet dancer son of a King looking for an heir, so he is threatened by another young man seemingly favoured by his father. The inventive stage design is pieced in two, and the goings on at the palace is sprightly and interesting, while down below the witch and the devil develop a relationship. I thought Tierney was kind of bland, but maybe it’s a directional thing. All in all, it’s wicked in a good way, and the small production gives a bigger memory.

Young Man Of Life (Stage Thoughts: Sea Wall/A Life, the Hudson Theater)

swThere is a viral video going around of Alan Rickman saying that basically says doing a monologue is not acting, it just shows that you can memorize. He further adds that ‘real acting’ is being in the moment, listening and reacting to other actors.  I don’t know if I will agree with that, as I have just finished watching ‘Seawall/A Life,’ playing at The Hudson Theater on Broadway. It stars Jake Gylenhaal and Tom Sturridge each doing a monologue. I thought both were very well-written, and presented fully formed characters that I felt I knew after the evening.

The first act has Sturridge playing a young British photographer. Written by Simon Stephens (he wrote The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time )  Sturridge takes us from something light and funny to a darker place, and he does it effortlessly. The director, Carrie Cracknells gives this part a light touch, and when the second sad part comes, you ease into it almost unknowingly, and then you find yourself in the wallows.  Of the two monologues, it is the one that shines better.

Jake Gylenhaal’s second act piece, ‘A Life,’ has less depth, but is showier. It also benefits from Gylenhaal’s star power – boy can this guy command the stage, as he has that undeniable charisma that will make you want to look at him, and look at him more. His piece centers on a young man experiencing the circle of life, experiencing the loss of his father as well as the birth of his child. Gylenhaal gives his all, and there is that much-talked about part where he goes into the audience and makes personal connection with them. Even if you are far from that row, you will feel he touched you too.

All in all, this is the kind of theater that will feel more like an experience, as these two actors present two variations of the young males at similar points in their lives. It’s not too deep, and certainly not shallow.

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