Tuesday, March 30, 2010

All About Dame Edna

I'd been working on my review of All About Me when it was announced that the show would close 3 months early, on April 4. I thought about whether or not it made sense to finish my review, which I don't think will encourage anyone to see the show unless they are huge Dame Edna and Michael Feinstein fans, in which case, they've probably seen it already. Still, I feel that if the producers invite me to see a show, I owe it to them to finish my review.

In the 90-minute show, written by Christopher Durang, Barry Humphries, and Michael Feinstein, Feinstein and Dame Edna booked the same theater. They spend the first half arguing about whose show it is and the second coming together to create a show of things they like (koalas, medleys, etc.). Feinstein is in fine voice, but he can't compete with a dame. I love stories about the great American songbook, but not necessarily on a Broadway stage, and his anecdotes about himself are less interesting. While his jokes fall flat, Dame Edna gets a laugh with everything she does. The best moments are when she is alone onstage or improvising with the audience--when Feinstein joins her, the arguments feel awkward and forced.

It's a shame this show went directly to Broadway. It might have worked in Feinstein's. I saw Feinstein and David Hyde Pierce there in December, and Feinstein seemed much more at ease in that venue. It's always unfortunate when a show closes early, but they both deserved better. On the bright side, they probably won't lose fans over this and maybe they learned a little something for the next time.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Monday, March 29, 2010

Musical Theater With A Twist

Here's a fun game to play with your musical theater nerd friends: Imagine your favorite shows set in different time periods or locations. For example, what if Fiddler on the Roof took place in a Cuban cigar lounge as opposed to a shtetl in Russia? This is the premise behind What If?, part of the Mind The Art Anthology at La MaMa.

What If?, which will play one more performance on April 2 at 10 p.m., is conceived and musically directed by Christian De Gre. The show is presented as a concert with De Gre explaining the concept before each song, performed by an alternating cast of 14, backed by an 8-piece band. I'd have loved to see some of these ideas fleshed out in longer scenes, but in its current state, it is a highly entertaining evening. Some of the numbers were set to a different genre of music, such as a heavy metal "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." Some featured a new staging concept, such as Jason Robert Brown's "Stars and the Moon" sung by three couples. Others were mash-ups, the best of these being a hip-hop "Modern Major General" backed by snippets from songs about men being men ("C'est Moi," etc.). The highlight of the evening was the grand finale--"In The Heights" sung in the style of Boublil and Schonberg, who wrote Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. De Gre explained that they were going to take everything that made In The Heights revolutionary and take it away. On the one hand, its amusing to hear these songs in unexpected ways, but the larger implications give you something to think about after the show.

Update: Check out Kat's blog for an in-depth analysis of one of the songs.

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

Monday, March 08, 2010

Not That Glee

Those going to Glee Club hoping to see high school students singing "Don't Stop Believing" should be warned that the play has nothing to do with the TV show. The glee club of Romeo, Vermont is made up of middle-aged men who meet once a week to escape their dreary lives. The play, written by Matthew Freeman and directed by Kyle Ancowitz, runs through April 3 at The Access Theater Gallery.

Ben (Stephen Speights) is the perfectionist leader whose typical words of encouragement include, "Sing pig fuckers. Sing or die." His frustration is somewhat understandable, as he's dealing with the likes of Greg (Carter Jackson), who swears he is dying of cancer even though he has been in remission for 15 years, Mark (Robert Buckwalter), whose cell phone keeps going off as he is in the middle of a divorce, and Paul (Steven Burns), who only opens his mouth to say things like, "Singing this shit is the only thing I do besides fuck around with knives. Don't make that the only thing I do. Don't make me have to explain what happened to a judge." On this particular night, Hank (Tom Staggs) announces that he has given up drinking. The problem--Hank sings better when he's drunk and he's the best singer in the group.

It's a flimsy plot that can barely stretch to the hour-long running time. There are plenty of choice lines delivered skillfully by the cast (especially Burns, almost unrecognizable as Steve from Blue's Clues), but the dialogue becomes far too repetitive as the insults and arguments go around in circles.

The club only practices one song, "The World Will Make You Smile" (written by Speights for the show), which I defy anyone not to hum on the way out. The lyrics are clever--"And even if it's only just an orb absorbing up the lonely, bitter, broke, and homely, pushed into a pile, wait a little while, and the world will make you smile!"--and I would have liked more songs like this, but the repetitiveness does illustrate the futility of the lives of these men. Glee Club will make you smile, even while reminding you that the laughter comes at a price.

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

Monday, March 01, 2010

When Religion and Musical Theater Meet

Little did I know when I went to a Megillah (the Book of Esther) reading on Saturday night (Purim) at B'nai Jeshurun, that I would be treated to the best service ever. The evening included Hebrew prayers set to songs from The Sound of Music ("The Lonely Goatherd," "A Few Of My Favorite Things," and "Do-Re-Mi") and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ("Jacob and Sons" and "Go, Go, Go Joseph"). I hadn't witnessed this before, but I love the idea of using musical theater or even popular music in a service. Not that it would work for every occasion--Purim is a fun and joyous holiday--but I think it is worthwhile to hear prayers in a new way. I'm used to reciting the prayers from memory, and this forced me to pay attention so that I wouldn't be singing the actual words of the song. Have any of you experienced crossover between musical theater and religion?