Friday, November 30, 2012

The Ho-Hum Broadway Season Continues

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
There is one reason to see Theresa Rebeck's Dead Accounts and that is Norbert Leo Butz. But his manic energy has been on display in better plays than this one.

Butz plays Jack, who has just returned home to Cincinnati from New York City to his parents' house. His sister Lorna (Katie Holmes) still lives at home to help her ailing offstage father and her mother (Jayne Houdyshell). Jack is thrilled to be back in the land of Graeter's Ice Cream and Skyline Coneys, but Lorna senses that something is wrong. When we find out what it is, it isn't much of a surprise.

Rebeck seems to be trying to say a lot, but really she doesn't anything, or at least not anything new. People in New York are corrupt? There's nature in the midwest, food is cheaper, and the people are nicer? Yawn. She also hasn't written characters so much as situations, but Butz gives Jack more depth than is on the page. In the dialogue, it's impossible to tell why he ever married his wife Jenny (Judy Greer), but in his scenes with her, you believe his love for her. He and Holmes also have a sweet chemistry, but she hasn't improved much since her Broadway debut in All My Sons. She seems a little more relaxed here and bless her heart she is trying, but she still seems to think that all theater acting is is screaming. Josh Hamilton as Jack's childhood friend Phil, Houdyshell, and Greer are all wasted here as their characters are only there for Jack to have people to play off of.

The play moves quickly and is entertaining to watch (when Butz is on the stage anyway), but Broadway audiences deserve better, or at the very least some Graeter's to snack on during intermission.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer is Singing Loud for All to Hear

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
One of my favorite things about December is that it means it´s time for my annual viewing of the movie Elf. I love that movie. A ridiculous amount. So, for me, no other version would ever be able to compare. The musical Elf debuted two years ago on Broadway and it´s back at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre for the holiday season. The good news is that the production, directed and choreographed by the reliable Casey Nicholaw, has improved since then, mostly due to the stronger cast, though I´d still rather watch the movie.

If you haven´t seen the film (you should probably stop reading and watch it right now), Buddy the Elf (Jordan Gelber) was raised Santa´s elves in the North Pole. When he finds out he´s human, he goes to New York to find his father Walter Hobbs (Mark Jacoby). Will Ferrell plays the sweetly naive Buddy in the movie and his are tough shoes to fill. It´s to Gelber´s credit that he doesn´t imitate Ferrell, but makes the lines his own, many recycled from the movie, in the book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin.

A Christmas Story is also on Broadway this season and as I have no love for the source material, I was able to enjoy it much more, but both provide laughs, heart, child actors who aren´t annoying (Mitchell Sink in Elf and Johnny Rabe in A Christmas Story), and a way to get into the holiday spirit.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Where's the Scandal?

Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
The most Scandalous thing about Scandalous is how dull it is. Aimee Semple McPherson had an interesting life, but you only get glimpses of it here.

The talented Carolee Carmello plays evangelist preacher Aimee Semple McPherson from a teenager through her rise to fame in Hollywood in the 1920s until the end of her life. This makes it difficult to follow the story as it's often hard to tell how old she is supposed to be. Kathie Lee Gifford's book goes through the story of her life chronologically without much dramatic tension. As nice as it is to see Carmello in a leading role, being on stage for almost all of the shows nearly three hour running time seems to already be taking its toll (the last two previews were canceled so she could go on vocal rest), which isn't fair to her. The rest of the actors (including George Hearn) are wasted with how little they are given to do with the possible exception of Roz Ryan, who gives us some brief and very welcome comic relief as Aimee's friend and former madam Emma Jo Schaeffer.

Kathie Lee Gifford's lyrics are very simplistic and the music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman is not bad, but it's very generic. Lorin Latarro's choreography is paint-by-numbers. The show is having a tough enough time--the canceled performances, the low grosses and attendance--without dumping on it some more. The kind thing to do might just be to call it a day and this one and let everyone move on.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Now I'm a Fandrew

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
I've already seen The Performers twice before it officially opened tonight at the Longacre Theatre. For me, this Broadway season has been pretty dull so far, and the shows I've been recommending have been off-Broadway: The Whale, The Other Josh Cohen, and Falling. But finally The Performers came along to spice up the Broadway season. It's not the most brilliant or daring play ever, but it's funny and delightful and it has Cheyenne Jackson not wearing much. Pretty much the perfect show after the rough few weeks New York has had.

The Performers is the Broadway debut of playwright David West Read, reuniting with his director of the more serious Dream of the Burning Boy, Evan Cabnet.

The play takes place on the night of the Adult Film Awards in Las Vegas. Lee (Daniel Breaker) is interviewing his former high school classmate who now goes by Mandrew Rod-dick (Cheyenne Jackson) for the New York Post. Lee is in town with his fiancée Sara (Alicia Silverstone), a schoolteacher and Fanilow.

The show has some raunchiness, but overall it's pretty tame as these are some really lovable porn stars. But I enjoyed the sweet love stories, even if they take the play in predictable directions. Read's script still surprises with some of the more random lines, which I don't want to spoil here. Ari Graynor as Mandrew's wife Peeps (short for Pussy Boots) gets the best lines and her delivery is always perfect. Jackson gets a chance to show off his flawless body in the first scene (special thanks to Jessica W. Shay for the costumes she puts him in) and to do what he does so well, play a dumb guy with a heart of gold. Breaker and Silverstone are stuck in the straight man/straight woman roles, but they do get some laughs, as does Jenni Barber as the dimwitted Sundown. Henry Winkler's role as the aging performer Chuck Wood is somewhat unnecessary, but it was nice to see him so game to make a lot of cock jokes.