Friday, January 29, 2010

Venus In Fur Is Alright Tonight

There are certain bragging rights that come with seeing an actor before he/she hits it big. Those who see relative newcomer Nina Arianda in Venus In Fur will be witnessing her breakout role, and I expect we'll be seeing much more of her in the future.

At the Classic Stage Company through February 21, Venus In Fur is a sexy, entertaining show that runs a fast-paced 90 minutes with no intermission. It takes place during an audition with only the actress Vanda (Arianda) and writer/director Thomas (Wes Bentley) in the room. She missed her appointed time and he is about to leave, but he decides to let her read, with him acting opposite. Thomas's play is based on the 1870 novella by Leopold Sacher-Masoch. The power dynamic constantly shifts throughout the course of the evening, between Vanda and Thomas and the characters they are playing.

David Ives has written snappy, funny dialogue and smartly shifts between the scenes in the play and the "play." Unfortunately, Venus In Fur struggles towards its unsatisfying conclusion as Vanda starts to reveal her true self. This has to do with the writing, not Arianda's dynamic performance. She excels at everything that is required of her, making her switch from a comic ditz to a calculating seductress believable. She completely overshadows Bentley, who stumbles over his lines and seems less assured of himself, but then again she does have the meatier role. Fortunately, the co-stars do have chemistry, or the play would not work.

Director Walter Bobbie has a long partnership with Ives, and his understanding of the material is evident. The production is also aided by John Lee Beatty's (who I think has designed most of the shows I've seen recently) sterile set and Peter Kaczorowki's appropriate fluorescent lighting.

Note: I was given complimentary tickets to see the show in exchange for writing a review.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Revisiting Phantom

I saw The Phantom of The Opera way back in August, 2001 and I'm not ashamed to call myself a fan. I know that theater snobs look down on Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I love a good spectacle and I really enjoy the score for all its melodrama. Plus, at the heart of Phantom is a compelling story which has everything--romance, suspense, humor. I hadn't been back since because there are always new shows to see and I tend to forget about the long-running musicals, but my sister was visiting me and there aren't that many new shows in the middle of January, so we decided it was time to see how Phantom was holding up.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't sold out on a Monday night in the middle of January, but it was still pretty full, especially in the rear mezzanine. Also not surprisingly, most of the audience seemed to be tourists. I really loved listening to the excitement of the people around me, many of who had never seen a Broadway show before (though I could have done without so many camera flashes going off). Now that I go all the time, I miss when seeing a show was a treat that meant getting dressed up and that sense of wonder that came with sitting in a big Broadway theater.

The show begins at an auction and there are sheets covering many of the set pieces. The reveal of the chandelier and its rise to the ceiling during the first chords of "The Phantom of the Opera" was as thrilling a moment of theater as I remembered it to be. However, the fall of the chandelier at the end of act 1 was noticeably less impressive than I remembered. I couldn't help but think of this SNL skit. The cast was fine in Act 1, they were hitting the right notes, but it didn't grab me as it did the first time. George Lee Andrews (who has been in the show since it started) as Moinsieur Andre and David Cryer as Monsieur Firmin, the comic relief, were by far the highlights and the only ones who really seemed in the moment, rather than going through the motions.

I'm not sure what happened at intermission, but everyone seemed to pick up their game in act two. Susan Owen, who plays Christine a few nights a week, delivered a beautiful "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again." Jon Cudia as Phantom, Ryan Silverman as Raoul, and Owen came alive during "The Point of No Return," so the emotional impact of the ending was not lost. Phantom doesn't have shows on Sundays, so maybe they were just having a slow start getting back into the work week. All in all, I'm glad I gave the show another look, and now my memory is refreshed so I am ready for Love Never Dies.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Why I'm So Excited for American Idiot

It was recently announced that American Idiot will indeed be opening on Broadway this spring season. I haven't been this excited about a new musical in a very long time. Even though reviews of the Berkeley production were mixed, there are a few reasons I'm looking forward to this. I already like the Green Day album and the cast version of "21 Guns". The cast hasn't been announced yet, but I'm guessing it will be similar to the Berkeley cast, which featured many promising young actors like John Gallagher, Jr. (already a Tony winner) and Rebecca Naomi Jones. Sure, the music is preexisting, but it's still a new musical based on an original concept.

Looking briefly at the other new musicals that have opened or will open this season, I enjoyed Memphis, but mostly because of the performances. I thought the music was generic and the book fell apart in places. I also enjoyed Fela!, but found it flawed as I wrote about here. Million Dollar Quartet doesn't excite me that much, I'm not sure why, I guess I'd rather listen to the actual artists (Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley). The Addams Family has a good cast, but it reportedly had troubles in out of town tryouts. I don't know what's going on with Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark, but I don't expect it to open any time soon. I am looking forward to Sondheim on Sondheim, which seems more like a revue than a new musical, and Come Fly Away, which is a dance driven rather than story based. So, I'm going to go ahead and pin most of my hopes on American Idiot.