Often I wonder if kids today have it easier than I did. Is there more tolerance out there among teenagers, or are kids going to be kids, with opinions unformed and at times misled? Either way, I am glad that movies like ‘Freak Show’ exist, because this movie celebrates being different, because in life being true to yourself makes a happy life. We should always be reminded of that.
This is Trudie Styler’s directorial debut, working from a script by Patrick Clifton and Beth Ragazio, and in case one doesn’t know, Styler is the wife of pop star Sting. Alex Lawther stars as Billy Bloom, a teenager who is ‘trans-fabulous,’ and of course where does he get his fabulosity from, but from Bette Midler who plays his mother (she gives a memorable star performance here in a small but important role) Billy moves from Connecticut to a generic red state, where star cheerleaders quote Donald Trump. And on his first day, he dresses like Boy George, much to the shock of his schoolmates. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the student body, and he gets beaten up shortly. The star football player (super cute Ian Nelson) forms an unlikely friendship with him, but their friendship is tested when Billy sets out to run for Homecoming Queen, against said Trump-quoting villain.
There’s a lot going here, and it is matched visually. You are never bored with the beautiful things on screen and there are enough distractions to steer you away from realizing there isn’t much plot here. But there’s enough to make it very interesting. There are great performances all around, although a slightly chunky Abigail Breslin doesn’t quite fit the villainy homecoming queen nemesis (Surely a red state version would be suffering from anorexia) There are nice casting touches, like John McEnroe as the gritty physical education teacher, and Laverne Cox as the reporter assigned to cover the homecoming queen competition. Lawther is quite fin as Billy, although I feel so much for the friendship with the cute football player – surely he will fall in love him, and it will be unrequited, and will truly not end well for Billy, but sure those are just my projections here. Overall, I still recommend the movie – it has quite a few funny and touching moments, and as I said before, the message of inclusion and tolerance cannot be stressed enough, especially in these Trump times.
My biggest fear, before seeing the new revival of ‘Hello Dolly,’ now playing at The Shubert Theatre, is that Bette Midler would be playing Bette Midler, not Dolly Levi. Midler has a big personality that she could easily usurp the character. (Or worse, I thought she would do a Sophie Tucker Dolly) But I need not worry, because the role of Dolly Levi is in good hands. Fifty years after she last appeared on Broadway, Midler comes back swinging, and hits a home run. Her Dolly is full of brass, sass, and charm. This is a most likable Dolly, and Midler knows when to give, and when to hold back. The best things he does here is to add restraint – she doesn’t mug, she doesn’t overcook her performance. She doesn’t need to – the book and music is near perfect, and her cast shines just as bright, so she just needs to let every piece fall in its place. But make no mistake – her Dolly is unforgettable, and when (not if) she gets the Antoinette Perry next month, it will be well deserved. I would have to admit that her singing the score is more Midler than Broadway – and yes, if I have to be honest, some parts were a pitchy. If I were more of a purist, I would complain, But Midler will already have everyone at the palm of her hands minutes in, so nothing else would matter.
I guess I should mention everything else about the show. The production values are first rate : Santo Loquasto’s sets are bright and cheery, like we stepped into the She Loves Me parfumerie, and seeing Warren Carlyle’s romantic choreography made my heart flutter. Michael Stewart’s book show no creaks, and is there a more classic Jerry Herman score, with every song a veritable show tune (Talk about humming the scenery!) And the rest of the cast is near perfection, as evidenced by all their nominations. Kate Baldwin and Gavin Creel both have moments, and that’s sweet sweet cherry on top of this sundae. I know I’ll have both their solos on infinite loop as I listen to the cast recording.
Most of all, though, watching the show made me smile. Once Midler comes out with her red gown with matching head piece. I had this emotion come over me that was pure giddiness. I can’t remember the last time a scene from any show from a recent production had that effect on me. A lot of today’s musicals tackle deep issues that it was nice to see just a simple, feel-good, and most importantly, tuneful show. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but for me that’s what makes a grand night at the theatre.