Tuesday, April 19, 2011
A Cole Day in Hell
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
I work in the theater. No, I no longer perform; but I am an enthusiastic audience member who believes that once the curtain goes up, I have a job. I don't sit back and wait to get caught up in a show. I throw myself at it. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will also pick myself up and remove myself at the first black out if I decide the job's not up to much. As a passionate audience member, my responses tend toward the extreme. I am bitter, resentful, and venomous when I hate something and am an effusive, cheering, unpaid-spokesperson when I love something. Occasionally, I am merely whelmed.
I went into The Stephen Sondheim Theater with a dubious heart and a ten dollar ticket for Anything Goes. I also went in with a history, starring alongside a first-class Reno Sweeney in community theater and witnessing the pint-sized genius of Elaine Paige from the third balcony in the West End. Upon hearing the announcement of Sutton Foster's casting, I was more perplexed than when splitting the check after an all-you-can-drink brunch. To me, she was a Hope at most and a Bonnie/Irma at best.
A reconfigured opening, establishing her dating relationship with Billy, gave me hope. . .that lasted until the first belt. As feared, she just wasn't up to the role. Her singing was sweet not Sweeney, her vibrato was under control, and her dancing (what little there was in what is traditionally a tap show) was accurate, although the choreography transported me back to community theater--more arms than toes and heels. Her delivery, requiring zing and star quality, was more US Postal Service than Fed Ex. The jokes showed up, just not always on time. And when she wasn't speaking or singing, her attention span jumped ship.
The show, as written, is fun. I came to have fun. It was, instead, functional. It was super-undersized--fewer actors than a hillbilly has teeth (I grew up in hillbilly country, I know). Billy was beige, Hope was off-white, Irma was egg shell. All well and good for a Sherwin Williams paint chip strip, less dazzling in a Broadway show. The three lead women had nearly identical voices, nearly identical ranges--I was wearing a more impressive belt. John McMartin, Jessica Walter, and Adam Godley shone like eco-friendly bulbs--sustained brilliance, dialed back so as not to outshine the leads. The only person who stood out was Joel Grey, but mostly because he was doing a completely different show, with a comedic tempo that worked better for his performance than the production.
The greatest disappointment of the night was the dancing. It's a dance show. More specifically, it is a tap show. In short supply, the tapping felt more perfunctory than integrated or inspired. Rarely thrilling. And that sums up the show--rarely thrilling.
For a person who doesn't know the show or has never seen a beloved production, Roundabout could easily satisfy. I attended with two first-timers who were perfectly entertained. I love the show too much and worked too hard (all through the night's performance as a matter-of-fact) to love this production. It was not De-Lovely. De-Likely at best.