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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Not Throwing Away The Shot (Stage Thoughts: Shooting Star, Hudson Theater)

Screenshot-277-e1558969206901I could go all ‘critic’ on ‘Shooting Star,’ the ‘revealing new musical’ playing at the Hudson Theater in Los Angeles. Written by Florian Klein (known in the gay adult industry as hans Berlin,’ the show is, to be frank, on the bland side, and that is maddening because the gay porn industry is supposed to be scintillating and sexy in and of itself. And since this is a musical, I would have to say that the songs (by Thomas Zaufke with lyrics by Erik Ransom) should really be better. Looking at this on the surface level, it really is a bore.

But thank God the direction by Michael Bello lifts everything up. And the cast, led by Taubert Nadalini (as Taylor Trent) is top notch so the show makes for an enjoyable evening.  Nadalini’s voice soars, even as he sings some pretty insipid lyrics. You don’t care, because he has charm to spare, and has sizzling chemistry with Nathan Mohebi, who plays Jesse Apollo. Bello’s directorial touch is mostly light, probably because he know there’s not much meat to the story (your typical farm boy to porn star tale) that there’s no sense extracting juice from something bone-dry. You will recognize a lot of talent on stage (My fave was Carson Robinette, who plays JR Andrews, ‘America’s Most Famous Bottom’) so everything else will be forgiven. Plus, they all look legitimate-stage ready, so really, what’s the harm? Check pretensions at the door, and I bet you will have an orgasm watching this.

Isn’t It Funny? (Movie/Stage Thoughts: Funny Girl, The Orpheum Theater, Manchester)

onesheetI have never seen a production of ‘Funny Girl.’  I saw a concert version a couple of years back with different Fannys, but I don’t think that counts. Of course, I have seen the film, but I haven’t in the last decade. I had heard accolades of the London production which originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory directed by Michael Mayer, and I know it moved to great success on West End. I had wanted to see that, but when I was at London last year, it had already left to tour.

So when I found out that the production was filmed and to be presented at cinemas nationwide, I knew I wanted to see it. Of course, ‘Funny Girl’ is the kind of show wherein you have to have someone in the title role who is not only triple threat, but has to be vulnerable, and funny. And by God, do we have that and more in Sheridan Smith. I was astounded by how good she is. Streisand will always be the gold standard in which you measure anyone doing this role, but for a brief second there, I forgot her. Her ghost still mostly haunts, but when Smith is on stage, it seems like it is only hers. In a way she is almost the anti-Streisand, her singing more in the vein of  “an actress who sings,” eschewing the usual ‘stand and belt’ style that most actresses would use for this role. And her physical look fits the character better – a lot less self-aware, and it makes the ‘ugly duckling falls in love with the prince’  story line more believable and even more heartbreaking.  The dependent/victim role has never looked more appealing in Sheridan Smith’s hands.

Harvey Fierstein, in his rewriting of the book, has made the show feel a lot more like a book musical. Funny Girl, as it stood, felt more like a concert (I heard David Merrick wanted to cut all scenes without Fanny in them. ) but in this version, the story flows better, making the songs mean more. ‘People,’ here is more casual, not an aria but more akin to Carousel’s bench scene, essaying that exact moment Fanny realizes how it feels to finally fall for someone. For me, it is the best song and scene of the show, sort of like that moment you realize that she is doomed and destined for a real heartbreak as you tell yourself, ‘this will end in tears.’  Mayer’s direction is spare, and he gives his actors a lot of room to breathe.  Darius Campbell as Nick Arnstein feels less one -note, beneath his dashing gambler persona, you can sense an insecurity, at times even a longing – he is given a point of view like never before – they made ‘Who Are You Now’ a duet to give him a voice, for example.  Styne’s score is really a mixed bag – but the highs are up there. At this point, the familiar songs can be overly familiar, t it’s always good to see and hear them in their natural habitat, which is musical theater.  Also, the show’s creaks are more evident, too: without a great star performance, there’s not much there in the show – it’s really Gypsy-lite.

The film was shot well, with enough closeups so we can feel the characters more. I certainly feel fortunate to have seen this production, as it made me realizes how much I needed to see Smith’s performance, and well, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.