Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hamlet Just Got All Sexypants

A couple of years ago, I wrote about this HarperTeen print of Wuthering Heights, packaged to look like a Twilight book. The other day I was killing some time at Borders, when this cover caught my eye. Look at how cool Hamlet looks with his tousled hair and tight pants. Even the font and colors of the title look like they are appealing to a younger audience, and the book was prominently displayed in the teen section (a different floor than the plays). At first I thought it was some updated version, but it's the original Shakespeare text.

Hamlet has that brooding damaged appeal and he was recently played on Broadway by Jude Law, so I can see where they're going with this cover. Plus, it isn't as patronizing as the Wuthering Heights cover, which assumes that teens will only read it if it has a connection to Twilight. I'm left wondering if repackaging classic literature does get young adults excited to read (and I have no evidence that it does or doesn't), which can only be a good thing, but I do wish publishers would give teens more credit.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Little Something When You're Feeling Blue

The Gallery Players in Brooklyn once again presents a Broadway musical on a small scale without losing the integrity of the piece. The Drowsy Chaperone, with music and lyrics by Greg Morrison and Lisa Lambert and book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, opened on Broadway in 2006, but if you missed it then, you can see this production (now with a Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark joke!), directed by Hans Friedrichs, through February 20.

Man-in-Chair (Craig Treubert) invites the audience to listen with him to his favorite show, The Drowsy Chaperone, a (fictional) musical from the '20s. As we listen, the characters take over his living room while he provides running commentary. Star Janet Van De Graaf (Whitney Branan) is about to marry Robert Martin (Eric Weaver), but her producer (Robert Anthony Jones) is trying to stop the wedding so that she won't have to give up show business. The show contains jokes that were stale in 1928, but the humor comes from Man-in-Chairs knowing asides. The play-within-a-play aspect involved more elaborate set pieces on Broadway, such as staircases appearing in the living room, but Jared Rutherford theater-memorabilia filled apartment uses a few doors just as effectively.

It's not really fair to the cast that the memories of the Broadway originals are still so fresh. Branan is appropriately deadpan and a fine dancer, but her "Show Off," a highly-acrobatic number about how she wants to leave show business while performing for reporters, isn't the show-stopper it was with Sutton Foster. Standouts in the cast are the endearing Treubert, Weaver as the dashing and vacant leading man, and Edward Juvier, hilarious as the over-the-top Latin lover Adolpho.

Man-in-Chair loves The Drowsy Chaperone because it accomplishes what musical theater is supposed to do, pick you up when you're down and transport you. By these standards, this production succeeds.
Photo credit: Bella Muccari

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Wii Plays at Ars Nova

Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man just got its third extension at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I, but you can also catch his short play Alien Monster Bowling League as part of The Wii Plays at Ars Nova.

As you may have deduced, each of the 12 plays takes its title from a Wii game. The plays were written by the 2010 members of Ars Nova's writer's collective, Play Group. Playwrights are chosen through an open submission process and membership lasts two years. The 2010 collective reads like a who's who of hot up-and-coming playwrights: Chad Beckim, Jenny Connell, Kara Lee Corthron, Kristoffer Diaz, Tasha Gordon-Solmon, Amy Herzog, Samuel D. Hunter, Matthew Lopez, Molly Smith Metzler, Gregory Moss, Janine Nabers, and Joe Tracz. Every year, members select a theme for their final project. The previous themes were The Wikipedia Plays, Playlist, and Missed Connections NYC.

A wide range of games are represented here, from Wii Tennis to Bob The Builder: Festival of Fun, and the way the plays relate to their titles is sometimes more obvious than others. The band Super Mirage provides pre-show entertainment and a soundtrack to the plays. Six actors (Jenni Barber, Andrew Garman, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Christopher Jackson, Zach Shaffer, and Robbie Collier Sublett) make up the casts. The plays run through February 12 and all tickets are $15.