Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road

When Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford's musical I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road opened at the Public in 1978, the theater critics who reviewed it were hostile. (The enormously ironic exception was the typically cranky John Simon,who wrote one of the show's most effusive, supportive reviews.) Walter Kerr started his review of the show by complaining about how stupid and pointless that whole pesky women's lib thing struck him, and then focused in on how unattractive he thought Gretchen Cryer, who originated the lead character, Heather, was, and how sloppy he thought her outfit looked. A number of other critics (most, but not all of them, male) were somewhat less nasty, but nonetheless used their reviews as springboards for criticism of the second wave with astounding regularity. Cryer and Ford assumed that, with such negative reception, their producer, Joe Papp, would close the show. This was especially the case since Papp had gone on record about the fact that he wasn't an enormous fan of the show, at least at first--it just wasn't angry enough for him. But when he saw the reviews, he got angry. Convinced that there was an audience for Getting My Act Together, he not only refused to listen to the critics, but he also pumped more money than he'd intended into advertising and marketing the show. This was a very smart move, by a very smart dude who was perhaps not fully liberated, but was certainly working on it harder than Walter Kerr was.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nobody Loves You

Rory O'Malley, Bryan Fenkhart,
Autumn Hurlbert, Lauren Molina,
Roe Hartrampf, Heath Calvert
If you are looking for an entertaining piece of fluff, the musical Nobody Loves You at the Second Stage might be for you. The story of a philosophy major who goes on a reality show to get his girlfriend back, Nobody Loves You mixes a spoonful of social satire with a gallon of predictable love story and comes up with an amiable 90 minutes. Written by Itamar Moses (book and lyrics) and Gaby Alter (music and lyrics), Nobody Loves You has some funny moments and some witty lyrics, but the rest of the lyrics are generic and the music is bland. The cast is game and energetic; Rory O'Malley and the chronically underutilized Leslie Kritzer are particularly good. Overall, the show shrinks on you the further away you get from it, but I did have a good time while it was actually in progress.

(second row center; subscription ticket)

I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road

Last night, I visited an old friend who I hadn't seen in decades. The friend was I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, and the reunion was lovely.
Renée Elise Goldsberry

I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road takes place in the late 1970s during the rehearsal of Heather Jones' new show. Famous as a soap opera actress, she has decided that honest self-expression is more important than image, and has written a completely honest show. Her manager, friend, and ex-fling Joe does not support and cannot begin to understand this decision. And he is downright horrified by her take on male-female relationships.

I was an usher on the original production, and I have no idea how many times I saw the show. I know I saw it starring Gretchen Cryer (who also wrote the book and lyrics), Nancy Ford (who wrote the music), Betty Buckley, and Virginia Vestoff in the lead role as Heather. I saw the first preview, the opening night, and the final performance. And I loved it. It's hard to explain what it felt like in 1978 to see and hear a contemporary woman's point of view on stage. It was thrilling. And in a musical too! It felt kinda miraculous.

The Past Is Still Ahead

How did I respond to The Past Is Still Ahead, written and directed by Sophia Romma, at the Midtown International Theatre Festival? Let me count the ways: I thought it was brave, moving, intense, smart, overdone, kinda laughable, and kinda wonderful. Mostly, I admired it. I admired the work and love that went into it. I admired the sheer commitment of it.

Alice Bahlke
Photo: Jonathan Slaff
But let's back up a bit. The Past Is Still Ahead gives us Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, exiled in Siberia after a life of terrible loss, much of it at the hands of the Soviets (One daughter starved to death; the other was arrested; her husband was arrested and executed.)

Now on the verge of suicide, Tsvetaeva is examining her life, loves, and work. In a way, she is justifying herself to us, the audience, explaining her treatment of her children, her mistrust of her mother, her affairs, her life, her devotion to her writing above all else. She tells us stories, she corresponds with Rainer Maria Rilke, she argues with her mother, she is visited by an apparition billed as "Mariana's muse and spiritual alter-ego" (but who comes across as death), she is interrogated by the NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB).

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cirque du Soleil - Quidam in Brooklyn

Do you suppose the performers in the Cirque du Soleil are actually human? For much of Quidam, I was convinced that they are stunning aliens visiting us from some magical realm where gravity can be bent, strength is magnified, life happens at double-speed or in slow motion, and the air is made of oxygen and grace.

Yves Décoste, Valentyna Sidenko
Of course, they probably are actually human, and yet they turn the Barclays Center into a place where, yes, gravity can be bent, strength is magnified, life happens at double-speed or in slow motion, and the air is made of oxygen and grace.

Consider Cory Sylvester on the German Wheel, which is a sort of free-moving hamster wheel. Sometimes he's stretched inside with his torso as the axle and his limbs as the spokes. Other times he's curled up along the edge, or even standing inside, hands free, as the wheel spins round and round. He controls the wheel's every move, and it must require perfectly coordinated, often subtle use of every single muscle he has. Yet he does it with ease, seemingly, and it's exhilarating fun to watch.

Or consider "Skipping Ropes." Skipping rope, right? We've all skipped rope. But not like that. Whether it's individuals skipping at the speed of light or dozens of people weaving in and out in the most amazing square dance you could(n't) imagine, the act is a complete delight.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Shameless self-promotion time: A review of "Hard Times"


There will be more theater reviews from me in the coming weeks (whether you want them or not!). In the meantime, I wanted to share the fact that the American Music Review newsletter, which comes out of the truly wonderful H. Wiley Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music (ISAM to those of us in the biz...and by "biz" I mean scholars devoted to the study of some aspect of American music), has reviewed Hard Times and given it a review that has really made my Monday.
The link to the whole issue is here.
And the link to the review is here.

It is a lovely newsletter--please be sure to check out the entire institute, if you're interested. And if you have yet to get yourself a copy of Hard Times, give it a try, won't you? Apparently, it's "superbly written" and "expertly researched"! I am so, so relieved to hear this!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pina (movie review)

The website for the movie Pina says, "Pina Bausch [was] a legendary dancer and choreographer. Her unique creations transformed the language of dance and offer a visual experience like no other."

This is a rare case where the hype is insufficient. Bausch's choreography offers an emotional, visceral experience like no other. Even in a 2D DVD, she, her work, and her dancers burst into space, challenging, caressing, frightening, thrilling, heartbreaking, wry, strong, graceful, and truly, deeply amazing. Her brilliant and brave performers seemingly risk their lives and occasionally their sanity for her, and in the movie's brief interviews, they speak of her with awe and grief (sadly, she died suddenly just before the movie began filming).

Pina is a breathtaking, electrifying work of art.

But don't take my word for it . . .

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Potted Potter

Please welcome guest blogger Emma-Caster Dudzick.

As an avid Harry Potter fan, Potted Potter sounded to me like an impossible feat: presenting all seven J.K. Rowling books in only 70 minutes. However, I was very excited to see how they’d do it.

Once it started, I was a bit disappointed. The show was more about the two men involved, the writers, Dan and Jeff. They riffed off each other and played their jobs as funny and straight man, respectively. Though they did this well, I felt a little cheated. For a show promising a summation of the great stories of Harry Potter it didn’t actually contain much Potter.

However, once I realized the true nature of the show, and what the format would actually be, I began to enjoy myself immensely, as Dan and Jeff are actually quite talented performers, and their ability to stay quick and fun is very impressive. And watching the reactions they got from the audience was an added bonus: everyone LOVED it.

Perhaps a re-branding of the show would prevent further disappointments from other Harry fanatics like me, but other than that, this is a great show for kids, and not a bad one for adults.

(free ticket; rear orchestra)

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Buyer & Cellar

I guess that Barbra Streisand is a legitimate target of satirists and imitators. It's not as though she simply does her acting and directing and retires to her quiet life. She has put herself out there in many ways, the most relevant to Jonathan Tolins' charming but slightly icky Buyer & Cellar being her coffee table book, My Passion For Design, a tribute to Streisand's home decorating skills, written and photographed by, yes, Streisand herself. One of the topics of the book is the basement "street of stores" that Streisand built to contain many of her very-many belongings, and the topic of Buyer & Cellar is the fictional actor Alex who gets a job running her real-yet-unreal shops.

Tolin uses this setup to present a lonely, funny, self-centered, manipulative, slightly nuts Streisand and to depict her growing-but-ill-fated friendship with Alex (played, as are all the characters, by the talented, funny, likeable Michael Urie). And as I look at the previous sentence, I realize why I had a clearly different experience of the show than the happily hysterical audience. The show is about Alex's friendship with Streisand, not Streisand's friendship with Alex, but I identified, at least a bit, with Streisand. Even as Urie played her with a slightly Norma Desmond twist to his shoulders, I saw and felt things from her point of view.