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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Art Times: Is Broadway Invulnerable?

My latest essay is up at Art Times:
The original title of this essay was “Is Broadway Committing Suicide? And Does It Matter?” But the more I thought about it, the more I came to admire Broadway’s dogged longevity. (read more)

             





Thursday, June 22, 2017

1984

The stage version of George Orwell's 1984, grippingly adapted by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, might not be the masterpiece the book is, but it's pretty damned good just the same. It's beautiful to look at, slickly performed, jarringly paced, and terrifying. It also has the ability to fuck with your head in much the same way the book does. Well, I can't speak for your head, I guess, but I can certainly attest to mine.


Much of the novel makes it into the swift stage adaptation. So too does the book's famously unfamous appendix, The Principles of Newspeak, which Orwell worded to seem as if it had been written several decades following the events described in the novel. I don't think I'm in the minority in admitting to have never before glanced at said appendix, despite having read the book twice. For the stage, Icke and Macmillan, who also direct, use the appendix as a framing device. As the play begins--some fifty years after the reign of Big Brother, and presumably long after the Party has fallen--a group of people sit, seminar-style, around a long table and discuss who Winston Smith was, what his world was like, and why newspeak never overtook oldspeak as the common vernacular.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Pacific Overtures

I am not a fan of John Doyle's, as evidenced in my review of his production of Passion, so I didn't plan to see his production of Pacific Overtures at CSC. But three things changed my mind: (1) a friend saw the show and said that the singing was excellent; (2) the stage had been reconfigured from the CSC's usual awkward layout with its problematic sight lines; and (3) inexpensive tickets became available through the Theatre Development Fund. So I decided to go, just keeping my expectations low.

And I had a wonderful time.



(By the way, if you're not familiar with Pacific Overtures, you can find out more about it here and here.)

Monday, June 12, 2017

How'd We Do? Tony Predictions 2017

Liz wins the Show Showdown “Predicting the Most Tony Wins Award of 2017,” with 15 correct (out of 24 categories). Sandra is first runner up, with 13. And Wendy brings up the rear with 12. It’s interesting to compare our results with those of last year (aka, the year of Hamilton), when we managed to predict from 16 to 20 each. As much fun—and as well-deserved—as the Hamilton wins were, it was even more fun to have such a competitive year this year. In 2017, Broadway is alive and kicking.


Musical: Dear Evan Hansen
Liz, Sandra, Wendy

Play: Oslo
Liz

Musical revival: Hello, Dolly!
Liz, Sandra, Wendy

Play revival: Jitney
Liz


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Show Showdown's Tony Picks

We're cutting it a little close on the Tony forecast this year, but can you blame us? We've all been super busy reading the news, watching hearings, and calling our representatives all the time--and to top it off, there's no slam-dunk this year, like Hamilton was last year--this year's picks were tough! Wendy, in fact, notes that whereas last year, she often blindly went with Hamilton, this year there are categories that are much tighter and harder to call, since so many nominees are deserving. This might speak to the caliber of talent on Broadway these days, but it makes for tough guessing. As you'll see below, in many cases we are all over the map.

And yet we at Show Showdown are undaunted! Here we are, ready to march into the fray, with our Tony picks for 2017. Who will win? Who the hell knows? Still, it's fun to prognosticate, and also to take our minds off what's going on just about everywhere else in the entire universe, so here goes:


Musical:
Come from Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Groundhog Day
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Dear Evan Hansen
Liz is a little preoccupied with the fact that Hansen didn't win as much as it was expected to Off Broadway. But then, on Broadway, it's almost as hot a ticket as Hamilton is.


Play:
A Doll's House, Part 2
Indecent
Oslo
Sweat

Sandra: Sweat won the Pulitzer, but Doll's House got better reviews. Oslo could also take this, but I'm leaning toward Hnath's slow-growing hit.

Liz: I'd love to see Indecent win, but that's likely not going to happen. So my hopes fall on Doll's House, though I suspect Oslo will take it.

Wendy: This is an exciting category. It's fun that they're all American and all on Broadway for the first time (though both female playwrights should have been on Broadway long ago!). And it's fabulous that they're all strong nominees. But my vote goes to Sweat.


Revival, Musical
Falsettos
Hello, Dolly!
Miss Saigon


Sandra, Liz, Wendy: An easy one! Duh. Dolly.


Revival, Play
Jitney
The Little Foxes
Present Laughter
Six Degrees of Separation

Sandra: Present Laughter.

Liz: Can it please go to Jitney? I loved everything about that production--even though when I saw it, a senile old man sitting next to me mumbled and cursed under his breath through the entire first act, so I had to move. If a mumbly dude who's only half in his right mind can't totally derail a show for me, then believe me, it's a really fucking good show that deserves prizes.

Wendy: The Little Foxes.


Book of a Musical
Come from Away (Irene Sankoff and David Hein)
Dear Evan Hansen (Steven Levenson)
Groundhog Day (Danny Rubin)
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (Dave Malloy)

Sandra, Wendy, Liz: Steven Levenson.


Score
Come from Away (Irene Sankoff and David Hein)
Dear Evan Hansen (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)
Groundhog Day (Tim Minchin)
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (Dave Malloy)

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Hansen
Liz: This for me usually has less to do with quality than with ear-worminess, and lately, I cannot get "Sincerely Me" out of my head for more than an hour at a time, and when it goes away, it's only so "So Big/So Small" can get in there for a while to take a turn tormenting me. So there you have it.


Actor, Play
Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll's House, Part 2
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Jefferson Mays, Oslo

Sandra: Kevin Kline. It's his Fish Called Wanda moment....but on Broadway!

Liz: Oh, MAN what a revelation Denis Arndt was. Truly a magnificent performance that came and went too quickly and too early in the season. Would but that a huge upset be in order for this one. If not, though, whatever, they're all fine, yay to whoever wins.

Wendy: Chris Cooper.


Actress, Play
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, The Little Foxes
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll's House, Part 2

Sandra: Laurie Metcalf. She deserved a Tony, as well, for The Other Place. She'll get it this year.

Liz: I too suspect--and hope very much--that it'll go to Laurie Metcalf.

Wendy: Laura Linney.


Actor, Musical
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Sandra: Josh Groban surprised me with the depth of his performance, but Ben Platt will win.

Liz: If it doesn't go to Ben Platt, we are without a doubt living in the bizarre upside-down world I've secretly suspected we've been stuck in since the November election.

Wendy: Yup, it'll go to Platt.


Actress, Musical
Denee Benton, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Bette Midler! Another easy one! But Sandra gives a special shoutout to Denee Benton, who made her feel much the same way Audra McDonald did years ago in Carousel.


Featured Actor, Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo
Danny DeVito, The Price
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes
John Douglas Thompson, Jitney

Sandra: Nathan Lane.
Fun fact: Lane made his Broadway debut in the 1982 revival of Present Laughter!

Liz: Hell if I know with this one, but I'd love to see Thompson take it.

Wendy: Danny DeVito.


Featured Actress, Play
Johanna Day, Sweat
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll's House, Part 2
Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
Condola Rashad, A Doll's House, Part 2
Michelle Wilson, Sweat

Sandra: Cynthia Nixon, who will edge out the two Doll's House nominees

Liz and Wendy: Condola Rashad.


Featured Actor, Musical
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Sandra and Wendy: Gavin Creel.

Liz: Mike Faist.


Featured Actress, Musical
Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Jenn Colella, Come from Away
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

Sandra: I'm torn here between Jen Colella and Mary Beth Peil.

Liz: Rachel Bay Jones.

Wendy: Jenn Colella.


Scenic Design, Play
David Gallo, Jitney
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
Michael Yeargan, Oslo

Sandra and Wendy: David Gallo.

Liz: Nigel Hook. Why hasn't "Nigel" become popular in the states like "Simon" has? Just wondering.


Scenic Design, Musical
Rob Howell, Groundhog Day
David Korins, War Paint
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Sandra rightly notes that the brilliantly immersive set is an important part of what makes this musical sing.

Costume Design, Play
Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Toni-Leslie James, Jitney
David Zinn, A Doll's House, Part 2

Sandra and Liz: David Zinn

Wendy: Jane Greenwood.


Costume Design, Musical
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Catherine Zuber, War Paint

Sandra and Liz: Linda Cho. The costumes? Like butter, but not nearly as smeary.

Wendy: Catherine Zuber.

Lighting Design, Play
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Jane Cox, Jitney
Donald Holder, Oslo
Jennifer Tipton, A Doll's House, Part 2

Sandra: Jennifer Tipton.

Liz: Christopher Akerlind.

Wendy: Donald Holder.


Lighting Design, Musical
Howell Binkley, Come from Away
Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Japhy Weidman, Dear Evan Hansen

Sandra, Liz, Wendy: Bradley King.


Direction, Play
Sam Gold, A Doll's House, Part 2
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

Sandra: Sam Gold. Lots of predictions have Sher winning this one, but I hope they're wrong.

Liz: What Sandra says, but for Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

Wendy: What Sandra says, but for Rebecca Taichman.


Direction, Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come from Away
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

Sandra and Liz: No one works with space quite as brilliantly as Chavkin does. She's incredibly deserving for how deftly she fills a huge theater with a piece born in a tiny Off Off Broadway house.

Wendy: Michael Greif.


Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day
Kelly Devine, Come from Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn
Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Sandra: Andy Blankenbuehler, whose dances were the best part of Bandstand.

Liz: Maybe Pinkleton? No idea on this one.

Wendy: Peter Darling and Ellen Kane.


Orchestrations
Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812

Sandra: Larry Hochman.

Liz and Wendy: Alex Lacamoire.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Soot and Spit

JW Guido and Ensemble; Photo: Nina Wurtzel
Five years in the making, Our Voices' world premiere of Soot and Spit at the Ohio Theatre tells the story James Castle, a profoundly deaf man born in 1900, who makes a life of his art despite those seeking to discourage him -- redefining what it means to be disabled: something the production does as well.

Playwright Charles Mee (Obie winner, Big Love), who calls himself "an old crippled white guy" in the program notes, and Kim Weild (director and musical staging)--whose brother Jamie, deaf since birth, has also communicated through drawing--showcase diversity in both topic and casting with the lead role deftly played by deaf actor JW Guido (artistic director for New York Deaf Theatre) and two ensemble members (Karen Ashino Hara and Chris Lopes from "Orange Is the New Black") who have down syndrome. Bent over, curving his back like a Neanderthal, Guido shows Castle as stubborn and caustic, yet relentless in his drive to produce art.

The production offers a landscape view of Castle's life and uses bluegrass music (by John Hartford -- a self-taught fiddle player, with original compositions/orchestrations by Daniel Puccio), dancing and multimedia projections of Castle's artwork to give insight into his silent world. The malleable yet simple set by Matthew Imhoff transforms from Castle's home to his school to picnic grounds easily and becomes a film screen filled with written narration and 150 images (out of nearly 20,000) of Castle's artwork when needed.

Castle, who spent less than five years in school and never learned sign language, used soot from his fireplace and spit to create his art after his family was instructed by his old headmaster "to keep paper, pens, and inks away from him" and to "not to let him spend his time drawing" so he could learn to speak and sign. Mee intersperses local community moments, such as picnics and gunny sack races, amid Castle's childhood and adolescence, creating a palpable link to the artist's isolation in a world that exists around him. Unfortunately, the play lags at times -- especially during the second act where Castle's art comes alive around him -- when scenes become repetitive and difficult to understand. Ultimately, though, Mee educates us in a moving story about this almost forgotten artist whose perseverance inspires as much as his art does.

Produced by The Archive Residency, a collaboration between New Ohio Theatre and IRT Theater. 

Running time: 80 minutes. Through June 17 at New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher St. in NYC). Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Special ASL interpreted performances for Soot and Spit are on June 8 at 7:30pm & June 10 at 2 pm, with an autism-friendly performance on June 17 at 2 pm.
  
For more information, visit http://NewOhioTheatre.org

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Animal

[spoilers throughout]

Watching Clare Lizzimore’s play Animal is an odd experience. You never quite know what’s going on, because Rachel, the main character, is unraveling, and partially because parts may or may not be real, or symbolic, or hallucinations. Unfortunately, the show—at least at the early preview I saw—doesn’t inspire the audience to spend much energy figuring things out.


(I don’t usually present my opinions as “the audience’s.” However, a lot of people fell asleep during the show. In the first row, an older man kept conking out, and his wife kept waking him up. Sometimes she’d have to nudge him a few times to get him to regain consciousness, and then he'd fall back to sleep anyway. She only gave up when she too fell asleep. It can’t have been fun for the actors.)

So, back to Rachel. She’s tired of taking care of her husband’s mom and actually commits elder abuse. She flirts with a crook who breaks into her home. She refuses to cooperate with her therapist.

Then it turns out that she isn’t really her husband’s mom's caretaker; instead, she has an infant child. The crook who breaks into her home is a hallucination with amazing abs. The therapist is real, but, in order to maintain the play's mystery, Lizzimore has him fail to mention that Rachel has post-partum psychosis until the big reveal at the end. The play would be way more interesting if we knew the diagnosis sooner. As it is, the play varies from boring to vaguely annoying. Only the scenes with the therapist work. (And there’s no way that anyone is letting this woman take care of a kid!)

Rebecca Hall is onstage throughout, talking and talking. It’s an impressive performance, but it’s also a lot of work for little return. Greg Keller as the therapist does a fine job. And the young Fina Strazza, as one of the more interesting hallucinations, gives a poised, subtle performance. The other actors are hard to judge as their roles are odd, at best.

The design is minimal, the lighting is fine, the costumes are appropriate. It’s difficult to judge the direction as it’s difficult to care.

Wendy Caster
(third row, tdf ticket)

Friday, June 02, 2017

In Memory of David Bell

Earlier this year we lost David Bell, respected playwright and Show Showdown cofounder, way too young (he was in his early 40s). If you'd like to read reviews of his play, The Play About the Naked Guy, click here, here, and here. To read a New York Times article on the founding of Show Showdown, featuring David, click here.


Aaron Riccio, an early Show Showdown contributor, has this to say:
David Bell was one of the humblest, most sincere people I ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I didn't even know him nearly as well as others, despite working with him on Show Showdown back in 2006. Back in the earliest days of this blog, we all had different motivations for covering theater, but David's--probably because he was also working as a playwright--came out of a loving and genuine place. He loved theater, and if you were abetting in that, he probably loved you a little, too. My relationship with David was largely professional--or whatever the word is for three guys racing to see the most theater in a calendar year--but it was always a joy to run into him at a performance, to get to hear his unique take on a show. And that, ultimately, is why I'll most miss David: he was a unique voice, taken far too soon.
Rest in peace, David Bell.

Say Something Bunny!


On her website, Alison S.M. Kobayashi describes herself as an identity contortionist. This is, as it turns out, a pretty accurate description for the highly interdisciplinary work she does, which lies somewhere between curating and performance art, with a little anthropology, visual art, filmmaking, and playwrighting tossed in at various points for good measure.

As an interdisciplinarian myself, I not only relate to never quite fitting into any number of different camps, but I also was particularly taken by Kobayashi's Say Something Bunny! Especially since that piece, which she has created and in which she performs, is one I have my own weird interdisciplinary relationship to.


The connection Kobayashi and I share is to one David Newburge, whom I interviewed in the mid-aughts when I was working on Hard Times, my book about 1970s nudie musicals. We met in his lawn-green Greenwich Village apartment, where he had many birds and and a grand piano. We talked a lot about his 1971 show Stag Movie, and when I asked him what he'd been doing since, he broke out some of the porn films he'd worked behind the scenes on, and some of the erotic stories he'd written for various publications. It was one of the more memorable, strange interviews I've ever conducted. We said our goodbyes, and some months later, I learned that he'd died.

Alison contacted me sometime after Hard Times was published. Someone had given her a wire recorder purchased at what was presumably Newburge's estate sale. In it were various recordings Newburge had made of his family when he was in his late teens and early 20s, and Kobayashi was in the process of creating a show around them. I shared what materials I had about him, and forgot all about the exchange until learning that her show was up and running in New York, after a successful stint in Toronto. How could I miss it?

I'm so glad to have seen the finished product. Say Something Bunny, performed in a cozy and inviting Chelsea gallery, is not only visually appealing, but it's also gentle, smart, and warm. It simultaneously paints a vivid portrait of a family and brilliantly reflects the artist's obsession with--even love for--said family, which she has partly and painstakingly documented, and partly invented. Every family, I think, should be so brilliantly and lovingly reincarnated.

Styled like a table reading and drawing from a script made largely of transcripts from the wire recordings, Say Something Bunny is less about Newburge himself than it is about the people on the tapes he made (an assortment of family, neighbors, and friends), the time and places in which they lived (the 1950s through the 1970s; various points in New York City's outer boroughs), and the artist's own interpretations of their lives, relationships, and fates. It is an impressive, extraordinarily well-researched and executed piece, that manages as well to be deeply touching and quite funny.

I fully admit that my initial curiousity about the piece was based largely on its relationship to my own work. It's not often, after all, that a short section in your obscure academic book about obscure 1970s musical theater helps inform someone's curatorial performance-art piece--or that said book actually makes a cameo appearance in said curatorial performance-art piece! But Say Something Bunny is an amazing accomplishment all on its own. Experience it if you can through July. While you're there, say hello to David and his extended family for me. I've never met the lot of them, but I'm quite sure they'd like to know that they're being richly, respectfully rendered by a fellow traveler--especially one who is so very good at what she does.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Lou

Mieko Gavia as Lou Salome. Photo credit: Jody Christopherson.


More than 100 black and white copies of photos and letters, adhered on black stock, suspend from the rafters and hang on the walls at The Second Theater @ Paradise Factory showing a snapshot version of the life of psychoanalyst and author Lou Andreas-Salomé. Theatre 4the People,  a company founded in 2010 by director Isaac Byrne to support the creation of new theatrical work,  presents the world premiere of Lou, a biographical play by first-time playwright Haley Rice as part of its 2017 season's mission to feature drama by women about famous females. The intent is admirable, though Marisa Kaugers' scenic design offers a more insightful look into the pioneering Lou than the play.


Salomé provides a good topic for immersion -- a student of psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud, she became one of the first female psychoanalysts and wrote prolifically on philosophy and other topics. She also is linked romantically to doctor/philosopher/author Paul Rée, philosopher/author/composer Friedrich Nietzsche and poet Rene Maria Rilke, whom she dubbed Rainer, since she felt the German variation of the name seemed more masculine. Salomé, while not as well known as her contemporaries, has been the subject of novels, plays, films and even a 1981 opera by Giuseppe Sinopoli.

The hanging portraits of Salomé show a beguiling, bright-eyed woman -- someone worth learning more about, yet Rice's play offers a harsh portrayal of a complex individual that emphasizes her strident, stubborn, selfish nature without showing the softer side that made her appealing to some of the most brilliant men of the time period. In the opening scene, a nameless character says, "I once saw her walk in a room and every head turned like someone had cast a spell." Yet the audience never sees this magnetic allure and that absence hurts our understanding of Lou. 


That depiction isn't diluted by the all-female cast, especially Mieko Gavia as the lead character.  While Gavia gives Lou a regal air with her rim-rod straight posture and blazing eyes, she focuses more on capturing the argumentative Lou who could intimidate and aggravate with her combative perspective of the world rather than showing us a multi-layered person. Under director Kate Moore Heaney, Gavia makes Lou seem more unrelenting than driven, more petulant than persistent. 


Lou's relationships often feel passionless. Whether she's sparring with Nietzsche (Jenny Leona) or bedding Rilke (Erika Phoebus, T4TP's artistic director), there is a diffident sameness to scenes that should contain fire (Rilke and Lou's intense love letters still exist if you want a real glimpse into the relationship). Occasionally, the mood lifts: her interactions with husband of convenience -- married for 43 years, the couple never consummated their relationship -- Friedrich Andreas (a subtlety funny Olivia Jampol )adds much-needed levity.


Rice (T4TP's 2017 playwright in residence) often relies on tricks to tell Lou's story -- like starting off with four narrators to introduce her, creating a seamless cadence with word repetition: one person saying, "Spelled out a word in Russian then made its translation into a literary pun with /ease," and the next following with, "Ease she had with silence, like comfort between old friends." Lou, as a historical figure, should be compelling enough without a tag-team chorus. Some scenes are too noisy, filled with piped-in prerecorded chatter or juxtaposed with other characters, interrupting a moment between Lou and another by reading a letter they sent her. Even when the drama contains potent moments such as Rilke asking Lou, after their first night together, "One picks one's lovers to begin to heal, or to continue the hurt. Which am I?" rather than answering like a future psychoanalyst, Lou offers a simple rom-com answer: "I know what it's like to have everything inside you, and for no one to see it. You and I, we are made from the same stuff. I did not choose you. We chose each other."


Ultimately, while Rice's play paints a historical time period worth visiting and she succeeds at showing the uncommon freedom Lou enjoyed for a women living at the turn of the century, she fails to provide insight into her character. And that's a shame, because Rice makes Lou intriguing enough that you want to see more.




Lou information:
Second Theater @ Paradise Factory
(64 East 4th St. between 2nd Ave. and Bowery)
May 19, 2017 - June 3, 2017 with performances Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm
and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets ($25): lousalome.brownpapertickets.com

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Lucky One

In A.A. Milne's The Lucky One, currently playing at The Mint, we hear it again and again: "Poor old Bob." "Poor old Bob." "Poor old Bob."

Bob's problem is simple: for years he has been withering away in the shadow of his younger brother, the golden boy Gerald. Bob is stuck in a finance job that he hates and doesn't understand; Gerald is at the beginning of a great career with the foreign office. Bob is not a jock; Gerald is the star player on the local cricket team. Bob is lonely; Gerald is engaged to the amazing Pamela. To many of their friends and relatives, Gerald can do no wrong and Bob can do no right. Even worse, they expect Bob to accept his second-class status cheerfully. And even worse than that, Bob and Gerald's parents are so partial to Gerald that they are totally blind to Bob's good points; whether they even really love him is in doubt.

Paton Ashbrook, Ari Brand
Photo: Richard Termine
It is easy to see how this situation developed. Going back to their childhoods, Gerald's successes were nourished, and they grew. Bob's insecurities and weaknesses were nourished, and they also grew. And, honestly, Bob is kinda whiny and annoying. (I kept thinking of the wonderful line in the movie Broadcast News when Albert Brooks says, "Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?")

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Spring Roundup, Part II: Anastasia and A Doll's House Part 2

Anastasia
Time was when a middle-of-the-road, slightly overstuffed show like Anastasia would have sent me into paroxysms of self-righteous outrage, but I'm older, wiser, wearier, and maybe a titch less self-righteous these days. Plus, there's so much other stuff--more urgent, meaningful, relevant stuff--to get outraged about lately. Anyway, despite its vanilla predictability and its failed attempt to successfully emulate the very slickest of Disney's slick confections, I just couldn't muster the energy to get mad at--or even mildly irked by--Anastasia.

Joan Marcus
Sure, the musical doesn't quite nail the landing. But it zips along amiably enough, features sturdy and committed performances from its large and uniformly buff cast, has lots of fluid scene changes, and boasts some genuinely beautiful costumes. It's not really all that funny or deep, but it does a lot of what big splashy, classic Broadway musicals do well. Anastasia strikes me as a perfectly good show to see if you're coming in from (or hosting people from) out of town, have never seen a Broadway show before, have long wondered what all the fuss is about, and want to dip your toe in without thinking too hard or taking out a second mortgage on your house for top Hamilton tickets. It's shiny and pretty and consistently engaging, and the audience really seemed to have a great time watching it.

Count my daughter among the thrilled crowds. For some reason that I think relates to dim memories of one of the many films this musical was inspired by, she really wanted to see Anastasia when we found ourselves hanging out during spring break with nothing much to do. She wanted to see it so much, in fact, that she agreed to have lunch and attend the show with no one in tow but her boring, lame mom, which is a rare event these days (she's 14). Anastasia might not have been my cup of tea (she drinks a lot of tea, by the way; I much prefer coffee), but my starry-eyed, dreamily romantic girlie loved every goopy, attractive minute of it. She's even thinking she'd like to see it again.

Maybe that, in the end, is why I just couldn't muster much but fond if slightly bemused appreciation for Anastasia. Watching my daughter watch it--from front-row seats that allowed us both to watch the stage and the pit simultaneously!--was well worth the (reduced) price of admission. In sum: See it, if you have the time and the desire--ideally, with your favorite moony, uncomplicatedly romantic teen.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spring roundup, Part I: Sweeney Todd and Come from Away


Spring in these parts means fluctuating temperatures, the hectic and drawn-out end of the semester, more theater than I know what to do with, and very little time. What is a theater-loving, overworked, end-of-semester-slaphappy blogger like me to do at a time like this? Why, report on the shows I've seen over the past month more briefly than I usually do, for fear of never writing about them at all! To follow are two writeups; stay tuned for a few more, as soon as I can find some down-time.

Sweeney Todd (Barrow Street)
Joan Marcus
Ah, Sweeney, you brilliant little vacation in hell, you manifestation of the notion that to be human is to suffer miserably or be bugshit crazy or both, you homage to all that is corrupt and morbid and vile. You're so relentlessly nihilistic, and yet your themes are so relevant, your characters so complex and amusing, your score so brilliantly deep and warm. You never cease to thrill, amaze, challenge, and scare the bejesus out of me, and for that, I salute you with all the sneering, pitch-black cynicism I can muster.

The production at the teeny, tiny Barrow Street Theater, which has been repurposed as a rundown pie shop, is great fun, which is not at all a weird thing to say about this musical. Audience members sit at long restaurant-style benches, along tables atop which you can, if you have the stomach, enjoy meat (or chicken or vegetarian) pies and mash before curtain. I didn't partake, but I hear the pies are good. And even if they aren't made of human flesh, the face of Sondheim comes stamped on them--so you can pretend, I guess?

Like all fads, immersive theater can get old pretty fast, and in truth, it irritates me in many cases. But this production fits well into the small, shadowy, cramped quarters it occupies. Performers often plop down at tables next to spectators, weave their way through the narrow aisles, or confront unsuspecting audience members directly and abruptly, which I genuinely hope has not caused any heart attacks (or complaints by sourpusses), because it's done to hilariously terrifying effect. The cast is dedicated, the three musicians adept, the production beloved by my husband and teenage daughter. I loved it too, though I admit I missed the traditional three-tiered set, with the barber chair and slide stacked atop the shop and then the basement, which the space was just too small to accommodate. Still, the use of harsh red light. and sometimes near-total darkness, make it clear that this is a musical in which people die violently and man literally makes mincemeat of man.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

The Glass Menagerie

Hi, Show Showdown visitors!

My take on the highly unconventional and mildly controversial Sam Gold production of The Glass Menagerie is currently featured on Broken and Woken, the blog affiliated with Extreme Kids & Crew. Extreme Kids is a nonprofit organization that provides play spaces and support for special-needs children and their people.

You can see the review here: http://brokenandwoken.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-glass-menagerie.html

If you like what you see, please consider poking around the Extreme Kids & Crew website, which you can link to here: http://www.extremekidsandcrew.org

Thank you,
Liz

Friday, March 31, 2017

Hello Dolly

Bette Midler and Dolly Levi would seem to be as perfect a match as, oh, Glenn Close and Norma Desmond or Angela Lansbury and Mame. But, rather than giving us Dolly Levi, Bette has chosen to give us . . . Bette. Yes, she's funny and charming and lovely, but Dolly Levi is missing. Still, Bette does the star thing as no one else can, and the audience adores her. And she rocks the red "Hello, Dolly" dress and feathers. (Also, I saw a preview, and perhaps her performance will deepen.)

Bette Midler and Fabulous Dancers
Photo: Julieta Cervantes

I would have thought that not loving Midler would have meant not loving Hello Dolly, but I had a great time. Dolly is an old-time Broadway Musical, and this production beautifully captures its size, sweetness, and silliness. The book, by Michael Stewart, does what it needs to do, with some great silly jokes. The score by Jerry Herman is uneven, but the highlights are indeed highlights. It's also a pleasure to look at. The sets and backdrops are colorful, attractive, and full of detail. I could spend hours in Horace Vandergelder's and Irene Molloy's shops just enjoying the craft and artistry of the designs. The costumes are yummy eye candy, and there are a lot of them. Both the scenery and costumes are designed by the great Santo Loquasto, who has been delighting theatre and movie audiences for decades.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sunset Boulevard

I won the lottery for Sunset Boulevard last Sunday matinee. The tickets were $55 each. I was thrilled when the box office woman handed me C2 and C4 in the orchestra. While they're arguably "partial view" seats--one corner of the stage simply cannot be seen--they're first row, which I love.

Cast of Sunset Boulevard raising money
for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

I'm beginning my review with this information because the seats and the price I paid both greatly increased my enjoyment of Sunset Boulevard. I haven't yet spent $299 or more for a theatre ticket--and I don't know that I ever will--but paying such a large amount of money has to influence a person's response to a show, whether for good or ill.

I enjoyed Sunset for $55. At $299, it would have pissed me off.

Granted, Glenn Close's performance is extraordinary. Perhaps even priceless.

But worth $299? Not to me. (When I try to imagine what I might pay $299 for, I come up with things like Judy Garland in Gypsy. Ain't gonna happen.)

The show just isn't that good. Most of the sections that focus on Norma, Joe (Michael Xavier), Max (Fred Johanson), and Betty (Siobhan Dillon) are strong, particularly as played by this excellent cast. But the parties and other filler scenes are tedious. Many of the songs are indistinguishable from each other and dozens of other Lloyd Webber creations. The choreography is lame. The scenery is limited and uninteresting. (However, the large orchestra is fabulous.)

If you can win the ticket lottery, I recommend Sunset Boulevard. If you're someone for whom $299 isn't a lot of money, go ahead, give it a try; Glenn Close is really something. But if that's a lot of money to you, as it is to me, and you're not Glenn Close's biggest fan, stay home.

Wendy Caster
(lottery tix, $55, first row extreme side)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened

Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, Lonnie Price's documentary on the making of Merrily We Roll Along, is jammed with treasures, such as footage of auditions, rehearsals, and performances from the original production and then-and-now interviews with members of the original cast. What a disappointment, then, that it's not a particularly good movie.



It might have hit me differently if I knew less about Merrily. But I know a lot about it, and I was annoyed by what the documentary left out. For example, at one point the movie refers to the successful productions after the original disaster. But no one mentions that it was extensively rewritten. I was also annoyed that so many cast members were barely mentioned or not mentioned at all. Surely it's worth a few seconds to acknowledge the presence of Liz Calloway and Giancarlo Esposito? It certainly would have been a better use of the movie’s precious minutes than the cliché shots of spooling film and of Manhattan that Price uses instead.

Monday, March 20, 2017

946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips

Kneehigh's stage adaptation of the 2006 children's novel The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo is so bubbly, energetic, and wacky that a few times during the performance, I was surprised by how suddenly I found myself choking up.



Told largely from the perspective of the feisty, funny, endearingly odd 12-year-old Lily (and, at the beginning and the end, her equally engaging elderly self), Adolphus Tips revolves around a search for the lost cat of the title. But since the setting is coastal England during World War II, and since the cat very quickly becomes a symbol for so many other kinds of absence--that of fathers and sons, of safe spaces, of food and supplies, of peace, and of a general sense of well-being--the production is ultimately a lot weightier than it can sometimes seem. Never heavy-handed or overwrought, Adolphus manages to tell a gentle, genuinely moving tale without cutting back on the clowning, drag, broad humor, folksy music, and energetic dance.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie

The Sam Gold-helmed version of The Glass Menagerie isn't for everyone (as you can see by reviews  here   and  here  ), but this stripped-down version of Tennessee Williams' 1945 memory play shouldn't be entirely discounted.

The bare bones set with its black exposed walls gives a bit of a shadowbox feel that belies the open space and surrounds the actors with an ever-present shroud of darkness. A rack piled with props, like dishes, sits close to a metal kitchen table and orange chairs. A neon sign blares "Paradise Open" in green and red. Though stark and jarring at first, the look mimics memory -- etching out the most enduring details with the rest fading into background. It somewhat echos the look of Fun Home, which Gold won the 2015 Tony for Direction of a Musical, where a bed, a desk, a piano also isolate moments of the narrator's recollection rather than sweeping scenery.

The Glass Menagerie's casting is unusual. First, Joe Mantello, with his grey-infused mop, is a few years past his early 20s, Tom's age as the play opens. With the 2013 revival, where Zachary Quinto received rave reviews (the New York Times called his performance "career-defining") still fresh, seeing a middle-aged Tom initially feels disconcerting. Still, the older Tom's viewpoint takes the audience into Tom's current perspective -- we feel his angst more deeply as we look at the man he's become rather than the remembrance of the boy he was.

Then there's Madison Ferris making her Broadway debut as Laura, the first wheelchair user to perform a major role on the Great White Way. Williams' own description of Laura states, "A childhood illness left her crippled, one leg slightly shorter than the other, and held in a brace. . ." So amplifying the character's disability alters the play tremendously. As the play begins, this intensification provides distraction. Watching Ferris manipulate her body, inching it in an elaborate effort as she moves from chair to floor and back, takes the audience from Tom's world into Laura's. I missed lines as I watched her arduous maneuvers.This casting choice reinterprets Williams' vision and, to me, gives Laura a strength I haven't seen in any other version. Yes, Laura is still fiercely reclusive and awkward, but not fragile. The fortitude she displays in her day-to-day physical challenges gives Laura depth as a character. Her fascinations -- her crystal creatures and old-fashioned music -- become a way to find beauty in a difficult world rather than mere hiding places. Her condition forces the characters to interact with her physically as they help her move: their motions become awkward, too, as in the first scene where Sally Field carries Laura's folded chair up the stairs. At times, this makes the production clunky, but it also weaves an acutely tangible love into their actions.

The truth is Williams' stage directions don't always work. The first time I saw The Glass Menagerie on Broadway in 1994, with Julie Harris as the genteel Southern belle and Calista Flockhart as Laura, Kevin Kilner as the Gentleman Caller and Zeljiko Ivanek as Tom, director Frank Galati chose to use Williams'  original stage directions calling for "slides bearing images or titles" and periodically projected words such as "The sky falls" on the stage, interrupting the magic of the unfolding scene.

But reinventing a classic does have its pitfalls and the current version's deviations do lessen the impact of Tom's journey. The stark set doesn't include a fire escape and Tom's musings where he dreams of another life get lost in the dark apartment. The production puts everyone in more contemporary clothing even though their dialogue is obviously from another time. That's disconcerting, too. At one point, Sally Field twirls out in a cotton-candy froth of a dress, aping girlishly in front of the Gentleman Caller (a charming Finn Wittrock) and she looks nearly clownish in a caricature of someone clutching to her youth.

In general, Field's Amanda seems too young and soft, more beguiling than strident, and it changes her interactions with Laura and Tom. She simmers with anger -- her disappointment in life festering in her restless hands and arms. But the character never turns hawkish and the relentless commentary that drives Tom away and Laura inward sounds more annoying than invective.

There's also that pointless rain -- a sudden downpour that leaves puddles on stage. So much so, that the actors are forced to step over them. Yet, another distraction. Ultimately, Gold plays with transformation in this production too much, forgetting what story he is telling until The Glass Menagerie loses some of its potency.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Dear World

By the time you read this, the York Theatre Company production of Dear World will be over. Part of the York's Musicals in Mufti series (their version--in many ways better--of Encores!), this production was a total delight. Tyne Daly took the lead role of Countess Aurelia, and she was nothing short of magical. I've read complaints here and there about the limitations of her singing, but superb, funny, subtle, heart-breaking acting transcends perfectly hit notes. (Isn't this why people are paying $299 to see Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard?) And, yes, Daly was superb, funny, subtle, and heart-breaking.

Tyne Daly
Photo: Ben Strothmann

The show itself was much better than I expected. It has a mediocre reputation, but as a mood piece, it's quite good. And the plot is depressingly timely--a bunch of rapacious businessmen want to blow up Paris to get to the oil underneath. They have more money than they could ever spend; their actions would kill hundreds of people and destroy the lives of thousands more; they don't care. They just want more money and more money and more money. In the terms of Dear World, greed is a disease. In the terms of our present, as corporations blithely destroy the wilderness and people's water to squeeze out every penny of profit they can, yes, greed is a disease.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

All the Fine Boys

From public/political discussions and debates, you might think that sexual boundaries between adults and minors--and sexuality itself--are clear, defined, and unambiguous. They're not, as vividly depicted in Erica Schmidt excellent and disturbing (and surprisingly funny) new play, All the Fine Boys.


Wolff, Fuhrman
Photo: Monique Carboni
Emily and Jenny are 14-year-olds in South Carolina in the 1980s. Emily is a relative newcomer; Jenny grew up here. They watch horror films together. Their conversation focuses on middle-school gossip, along with life, adulthood, and sex, about which they know little but would like to know more. Emily's home gets covered in toilet paper every weekend; the perpetrators and their reasons are unknown. She feels overwhelmed by her new boobs. She is smart. Jenny seems a bit lost. She lies for no reason. She says, "You know sometimes I lie down in my driveway and I let the fire ants bite my arm." (Emily changes the subject pretty quickly.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Wakey, Wakey

The man in the pajama bottoms, slippers and suit jacket is terribly confused but always polite to the crowd he is somehow suddenly responsible for entertaining. He has snacks and juice stashed in side pouches in his wheelchair, and a large stack of note-cards to fall back on when his memory fails or he loses his train of thought, which is often. He occasionally gets up gingerly to trudge across the stage, which is dotted with moving boxes and piles of unsorted clothing. He sometimes wears the strange grimace of a patient with advanced Parkinson's disease, but otherwise makes no mention of what ails him. He is amicable, calm, attentive, and funny. He is very soon about to die.



Wakey, Wakey, Will Eno's meditation on life and the end of it, is gently, beautifully performed by a cast of two (Michael Emerson is the man in the wheelchair, ambiguously named Guy, and January Lavoy is Lisa, his nurse). The show is brief, at an hour and change, which I suppose fits the concept: life is ephemeral and no matter what, the end always comes too soon. And its short finale, which I won't give away here, is flashy, fleeting, sweet, and (literally) generous.

While in no way a chore, the show itself nevertheless feels a bit half-baked. Wakey, Wakey is given over almost entirely to the celebration of the millions of tiny, seemingly insignificant moments that together make up a long and full life. Certainly, all the little things--standing with dozens of others on a subway platform awaiting a train, the feeling of becoming vaguely irritated by a fire alarm's dying battery, taking pleasure in watching in a funny animal clip on YouTube--matter a great deal in a life, especially as one is so actively contemplating the utter absence of any of it. But Wakey, Wakey never manages to quite transcend such moments; as lovingly as they are described, they just don't build into a play. As a quiet reverie about the final moments in a quiet life, Wakey, Wakey gets the message across, elicits a chuckle or two, and occasionally brushes at the heartstrings. But it never quite blooms into something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Evening at the Talk House

Perhaps it wasn't fair to see Wallace Shawn's mildly compelling dystopian play Evening at the Talk House so soon after seeing Caryl Churchill's wildly compelling dystopian play Escaped Alone, but that's the way it happened and I can't change it now.

Broderick, Shawn
Photo: Monique Carboni
Shawn's characters are theater people at a once-popular club called the Talk House; they are celebrating the 10th anniversary of a play they worked on together, written by Robert (Matthew Broderick), who is now in TV. An unexpected addition is to the party is Dick (Wallace Shawn, showing considerably more vigor than the rest of the cast), a down-and-out actor who knows that his career was badly affected by Robert's dislike of his work. There are also two servers, both of whom the theater people know. And, of course, plenty of liquor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Escaped Alone

Caryl Churchill's brilliant, bizarre, puzzling, horrifying, and strangely sweet Escaped Alone packs the punch of a major dystopia into its lean 55 minutes. It also allows us to meet, enjoy, and maybe understand four 70-something women sitting and chatting in a cozy, distinctly non-dystopian, backyard.

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson
Photo: Richard Termine

Part of the play is easily comprehended. Mrs. Jarrett (Linda Bassett) peeks into a backyard through a slightly open door in the fence and ends up spending the afternoon (or perhaps multiple afternoons) with Sally (Deborah Findlay), who suffers from an extreme fear of cats; Lena (Kika Markham), depressed almost into paralysis; and Vi (June Watson), who spent six years behind bars for killing her husband, perhaps accidentally, perhaps in self-defense, perhaps neither. Their conversation is presented as unfinished sentences and half-expressed thoughts that somehow paint fully dimensional portraits. It's verbal pointillism. Each woman also gets a monologue, unheard by the others, in which she expresses some of her deepest emotions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Love For Sale: The History of Sex in Musicals

Hey, have you wanted nothing other than to listen to me, director John Rando, and producer Jack Viertel talk about sex and musicals in a very nice performance space in lower Manhattan? Well, hell, now's your chance, for the low low price of $20!

Click here for the link to buy tickets.



Join us, won't you? The discussion happens on Monday, February 27 at 7.

Rando and Viertel are knowledgable, funny, and smart. I'm sure I'll think of something to say, too.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Art Times: What Is Good Acting?

My latest essay is up at Art Times:
Good acting is a matter of opinion. A performance that you perceive as brilliantly emotional, I might perceive as overacting. A performance that strikes me as subtle might strike you as dull. Many factors affect our opinions, including performers’ talents, looks, and charisma—and whether they resemble someone we used to date.       
Click here to read more. 

Colleen Dewhurst in A Moon for the Misbegotten

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood

The Sherwood Forest in the Flux Theatre Ensemble's delightful production of Adam Szymkowicz's Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood has its full complement of merry men--except most of them aren't actually men. They dress as men and pass as men, because that's the way things are done, but their sexual identities and orientations are considerably more complicated than back in Errol Flynn's day (or, at least, more complicated than people admitted back in Errol Flynn's day). You might think it would be difficult to find love when you don't even know each others' genders--and when you're busy robbing from the rich to give to the poor--but in fact it may be easier. In this Sherwood Forest, sexual ambiguity leads people to fall in love with each other's hearts and souls instead of the bodies they are packaged in.

Illustration: Kristy Caldwell

Love is the underpinning of Marian, but fighting for what's right is its substance. I don't know when Szymkowicz started writing the play, but the timing of this production is perfect. Amidst the madcap goings-on, wonderful duels, and grin-producing theatricality, there is always the serious business at hand: ridding the world of a self-centered, foolish, squeamish, idiot of a king whose life work is robbing from the poor to give to himself.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Yours Unfaithfully

So much depends on where you begin a play. Do you start when character A is behaving well? Or when character B is? Do you start at the foundation of their relationship or in media res? In Yours Faithfully, written in 1933 but currently getting its world premiere at the invaluable Mint Theater Company, playwright Miles Malleson starts a little too in media res for my taste.

Max von Essen; Elisabeth Gray
(photo: Richard Termine)

[spoilers follow] 

Anne and Stephen have been together for eight years. Many of their friends consider them an amazing couple. In fact, their compatibility has been rated at 80%, when most couples are rated at 20%. But there is trouble in the 80% paradise, or at least a sense of unease. Stephen has lost his joie de vivre and succumbed to writer's block. Anne is happily busy with the school she runs and their children (never seen), and she suspects that Stephen needs a new muse/lover. She chooses their friend Diana, who is just coming out of mourning her husband. Stephen and Diana eagerly accept Anne's generosity, and soon Stephen is happy and writing again--and perhaps more in love with Anne than ever, due to his new freedom. Just one problem: no matter how much Anne tells herself that jealousy is beneath her, she cannot help what she feels: terribly, terribly, terribly jealous.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jitney

Due to some health issues, it has been two and a half months since I've seen a play--what a gift that the first one back was August Wilson's superb Jitney, beautifully directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.


The story is simple, and painfully timely, even though it takes place in 1977: developers are taking over the neighborhood and ruining people's lives along the way. In Jitney, the location is a storefront car service in Pittsburgh. The people are, mostly, the cab drivers, each with his own story, needs, faults, and foibles. While simple descriptions of the characters (the drunk, the numbers runner, the young mother disappointed in her man) might sound like cliches or types, in Wilson's hands they are fully dimensional and heartbreakingly real. They are also great company.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen is an intimate, well-crafted, well-performed musical, the kind that tidily trashes the generalized dismissal of musical theater as an emotionally overwrought genre filled with forced cheeriness and an abundance of glitz. Performed by a small cast on a sleek, deceptively simple set of sliding panels designed to look like the glossy, liquid screens of laptops, tablets and cellphones, Dear Evan Hansen is, on one level, about the way teenagers relate to their peers and to adults (or don't) in the technological age. But it goes deeper to examine contemporary cultural phenomena, like technology's role in what is sometimes referred to as "inspiration porn" and the ways that the very existence of the Internet can magnify the sorts of awkward, unpleasant social shit adolescents struggle with and always have, even when it couldn't be magnified and instantly replicated across the world with the click of a button.

The musical is moving, layered, and very impressively performed. There's been a lot of buzz, which began when the show premiered off-Broadway at Second Stage last spring, about just how brilliant Ben Platt is in the title role, and it's entirely warranted. Only a handful of years older than Evan, a high-school senior, is supposed to be, Platt clearly remembers well the emotional roller-coaster of adolescence. His Evan is all coiled anxiety, crippling self-consciousness and monstrous self-doubt, and the character is as frustrating and as heartbreaking as your average teen can be. Evan's single mom, an equally memorable Rachel Bay Jones, works long hours, takes classes at night, and thus tends to worry about and dote on her son from a harried distance. It's a testament to the writing and the performances that their relationship, ultimately the heart of the musical, never feels hollow or strained.

Neither, really, does the slightly tidy ending, which is a little cleaner than it surely would have been had the proceedings depicted in Dear Evan Hansen taken place in real life instead of over the course of a two-hour musical. Still, and while it never tortures its characters, Dear Evan Hansen makes it clear that none of them make it through a tough, morally questionable stretch without consequences: some close relationships are ruined; others grow much stronger. Still, the show implies, everyone involved will move on, heal, eventually be all right. This is not a bad message to impart; I took it as a gift.

And for the record, my daughter, the friends I saw the show with, and I can't wait for the cast recording to be released later this winter.