Three Broadway Plays and "Stiffelio" at the Met
The economic downturn is impacting Broadway. Last October, things on Broadway were still robust. Now, most Broadway shows have good crowds but discount tickets are readily available and restaurants around Broadway that recently required reservations now take walk-ins. And several Broadway shows closed while I was in town.
"Fuddy Meers" - Nearly Naked Theatre
Where to start with David Lindsay-Abaire’s far fetched but telling “Fuddy Meers”? Let’s start with the title. It comes from the carnival fun house and the mirrors that distort reality. That’s exactly what the play is about. Claire, the central character, has a weird form of amnesia that makes her mind blank each morning when she wakes up. She remembers nothing about her life. Her husband, Richard, has prepared a book that reminds her of significant things and people.
After he leaves, Phillip arrives claiming to be her brother but is he? In our lives what is real and what is fiction? During “Fuddy Meers” we veer every which way because almost every person Claire encounters has another identity as they hide things from her and each other. Phillip takes Claire to her mother, Gertie. Gertie’s a stroke victim so she struggles to communicate. In her gibberish, she warns Claire that Phillip is not whom he seems.
"Shipwrecked!" - Actors Theatre
Actors Theatre’s “Shipwrecked! The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (As Told by Himself)” has quite a title and the show is a marvelously creative fanciful adventure that is fascinating to watch and is wonderfully entertaining. It’s the first show, other than its annual “A Christmas Carol,” that Actors Theatre has mounted that will prove a richly dazzling entertainment for young audiences as well as adults. Actors Theatre’s usual cutting edge off-Broadway style plays usually don’t work for the kids. The company mounts this brilliant Donald Margulies play in a riotous production crafted eloquently by director Matthew Wiener and played with comic gusto by three inventive actors.
"The Unsinkable Molly Brown" - Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
Molly Brown was an illiterate hellion but she knew she didn’t want to be poor all her life. On her way to Denver, she ran into Leadville Johnny Brown, a lucky miner, who filled her pockets with money. But it took Europe to really tame her but her rough upbringing made her a Titanic survivor. She’s the spunky central character of Meredith Willson’s raucous “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” now at Mesa’s Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre.
Unfortunately, Lisa LeCuyer’s one-dimensional Molly never lets audiences see the remarkable character she became. LeCuyer is always the backwoods waif; she never evolves into the haughty grande dame Molly became. LeCuyer never lets her Molly change, grow, or develop. She also tries to be the dynamic central focus of this musical but she hasn’t the snappy personality to cut it. Without the right Molly, the show’s many cracks and crevices show glaringly.
"Glorious" - Phoenix Theatre
Fabled off-key singer Florence Foster Jenkins prompted two theatrical tributes. “Souvenir,” was a 2007 Arizona Theatre Company production starring Broadway star Judy Kaye. Now, Phoenix Theatre’s “Glorious” tries to expand the focus on Jenkins to include a few close consorts. We marvel at Jenkins’ terrible crooning as the “Queen of the Sliding Scale” and, like her audiences, we laugh at how awful she sounds. But just how interesting is Jenkins and how long can one listen to painful singing before getting bored? The answer is not long.
In “Glorious” the two hour Jenkins treatment drags on forever. The other characters don’t add much since these blindly loyal people never get Jenkins to realize how awful she sounds, that her awkward dance attempts are klutzy, or that her outlandish costumes further stress the joke. This talent-less woman and the importance of her music grows tedious.
"August: Osage County" - ASU Gammage
Playwright Tracy Letts’ brilliant “August: Osage County” dissects with lots of humor the wildly dysfunctional Westons, a rural Oklahoma family. In 2008, Broadway bestowed it the best play Tony and it won a Pulitzer Prize for drama. The show finally reached the Valley this week at ASU Gammage in a touring production that, while good, lacks the grand radiance of the original Broadway staging.
The problem is the cast. “August’s” original ensemble worked with it from its birth at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. They became the Weston’s, handling the play’s maudlin parts as effectively as the sharp comedy Letts uses to examine this family. The touring cast never convinces us they are these people. This fact is especially true in the first act where we meet the characters and get ready for the ribald hostilities that spin out later. By the second act, the cast begins to gel as they more convincingly play off one another with a family’s ease and familiarity.
"Ain't Misbehavin'" - Arizona Theatre Company
Fats Waller isn’t a well known song writer, but his many tunes from the late 1920s through the early ‘40s are amazingly familiar. Song hits like “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint is Jumpin’,” “Your Feet’s Too Big,” and the title tune have been combined cleverly with several less popular songs to create the entertaining musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Arizona Theatre Company’s smashingly spry and energized production looks sharp, has been brilliantly staged, and is lustily performed by a talented ensemble of gifted singer/dancers who turn Waller’s tunes into a spirited entertainment.
"The Nutcracker" - Ballet Arizona
Ib Andersen’s ethereally beautiful, stunningly danced, and strikingly staged annual Ballet Arizona “The Nutcracker” remains the perfect holiday confection. The scope, size, and lushness, makes this one of America’s best “Nutcracker’s.” When you add the marvelous Phoenix Symphony Orchestra playing the lovely Tchaikovsky score, the result is a production to treasure.
"A Christmas Carol" - Actors Theatre and "Miracle on 34th Street" - Theater Works
"A Christmas Carol"
There’s nothing better to get you in the holiday spirit than Actors Theatre’s feisty, splashy, and lavish “A Christmas Carol.” Now in its 18th season, it is filled with seasonal magic and winning original and traditional tunes, in a clever musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ tale of bah-humbugging Ebenezer Scrooge. He starts as a grouchy curmudgeon who hates Christmas but, after his enlightening Christmas Eve dream, he awakes to embrace the holiday. He helps his poor but happy assistant, Bob Cratchit, and his family including physically challenged Tiny Tim.
"Miracle on 34th Street"
In an effort to see different holiday shows, I saw Theater Works “Miracle on 34th Street.” This stage version of the novel about Kris Kringle, an elderly man who thinks he’s Santa Claus, was created by Andrea Roberton. Her dreadful adaptation and meandering staging doom this holiday classic. Roberton doesn’t understand that you can’t include all of the novel’s endless detail. At almost three deadly slow hours, this version includes many unnecessary scenes.
"Litte House on the Prairie" - ASU Gammage
I wanted to like “Little House on the Prairie,” the new musical at ASU Gammage this week. Based on the popular autobiographical books and the television show, I was hoping for a warm, loving look at Laura Ingalls’ exploits as she discovers life with her close knit family as they settle in the Dakota Territory during the 1880s.
The familiar story runs quickly through the family’s settling, the initial challenges of the barren area, and Laura’s struggle to find her place with her two sisters and her loving but strict parents who want what is best for their girls.
But the ponderous and drab musical never ingratiates you to this family. Rachel Sheinkin’s book dwells unnecessarily on details that would best be breezed over and it focuses on the negatives of settling this area rather than on the positives. Rachel Portman’s pleasant but undistinguished songs and Donna Di Novelli’s uninspired lyrics add nothing new and the mediocre tunes slow the musical to a deadly crawl.
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