Friday, March 11, 2022

Anyone Can Whistle: MasterVoices

The MasterVoices' concert of Anyone Can Whistle was a lovely and poignant reminder that although we have lost Stephen Sondheim, we will always have his work. And, oh!, that work!

Elizabeth Stanley
Photo: Nina Westervelt

Anyone Can Whistle is, to say the least, a problematic musical, bloated here, thin there, sometimes smart but too often cutesy. But the score includes gems: in particular, "There Won't Be Trumpets," "Anyone Can Whistle," and "With So Little to Be Sure Of." And, like all of Sondheim's work, Anyone Can Whistle rewards multiple hearings and viewings. I have known the original cast recording by heart since the late 1970s, yet I was surprised and delighted over and over again by Sondheim's brilliance, humor, and heart.

The cast of the MasterVoices concert was uneven. Elizabeth Stanley was magnetic, brilliant, moving, thrilling, superb, and fabulous. On the other hand, Vanessa Williams was little better than mediocre; frequently, she seemed uncomfortable with the music, and she lacks the presence necessary to give dimension to the Mayoress. She just wasn't interesting. Santino Fontana is always likeable, and he has a lovely voice, but his performance was bland. While Stanley prepared for and gave a full performance, Williams and Fontana seemed less prepared, and they sang songs rather than playing characters.

One of the highlights of the evening was Joanna Gleason's entrance (she narrated the show). Over 2,800 people greeted her as an old friend, roaring and clapping as she beamed with pleasure. And of course she was wonderful as the narrator. 

Ted Sperling, Vanessa Williams
Photo: Nina Westervelt

Ted Sperling did a nice job as director and an excellent job as conductor. The orchestra sounded terrific. The MasterVoices chorus was entertaining but underused. Weirdly enough, the sound was erratic. Carnegie Hall is famous for its acoustics, and during intermission my friend told me of sitting in the last row of the highest balcony years ago and hearing every unmiked word. I guess the miking was a problem, because the sound was sometimes murky, and occasionally crackly, with much dialogue completely lost.

Before the concert started, Sperling spoke a few words of introduction. He showed us his vocal score, given to him by Victoria Clark in 1984. It was a mistake to put Victoria Clark in our minds, because it was so easy to imagine how amazing she would have been as the Mayoress. 

But the evening's two stars made it a concert well worth seeing: Stephen Sondheim and Elizabeth Stanley. They made astonishingly beautiful music together.

Wendy Caster

Monday, March 07, 2022

JANE ANGER or The Lamentable Comedie of JANE ANGER, that Cunning Woman, and also of Willy Shakefpeare and his Peasant Companion, Francis, Yes and Also of Anne Hathaway (also a Woman) Who Tried Very Hard.

As I watched the annoyingly written, directed, acted, and titled JANE ANGER,or The Lamentable Comedie JANE ANGER, that Cunning Woman, and also of Willy Shakefpeare and his Peasant Companion, Francis, Yes and Also of Anne Hathaway (also a Woman) Who Tried Very Hard, I pondered why so many of the people around me were laughing so hard and so long.

Amelia Workman, Talene Monahon
Photo: Valerie Terranova

I came up with a few theories:

  • They had never seen first-rate camp, so were easily pleased.
  • They had never seen a farce before, so were easily pleased.
However, the conversations I overheard before the show suggested an experienced audience, so I considered other theories:

  • The audience simply enjoyed the cheap, predictable anachronistic humor.
  • They were just in the mood to laugh.
    • My friend, who didn't find the show as annoying as I did, but also didn't like it, had another theory, perhaps the best one:

      • They were friends of the cast, writer, director, and/or crew.
      In all fairness, I can be a bit on the crabby side when it comes to humor, though shows that have reduced me to hysterics include Noises Off, A Little Night Music, The Real Inspector Hound, Musical of Musicals, many generations of Forbidden Broadway, and most recently, Red Bull's fabulous production of The Alchemist. Perhaps the show just was not my cup of tea. And, like I said, many people had a great time.

      The plot, such as it is, focuses on William Shakespeare (Michael Urie, working hard) during the great plague. He is stuck inside a small apartment with a creepy member of his theatre troupe whom he happily mistreats and insults, much to the amusement of the audience. A "cunning woman" by the name of Jane Anger (Amelia Workman, also working hard) appears, having climbed up a drain pipe to avoid the barricaded door to the building. Jane is a woman with many pasts who is trying to get her writing published. Shakespeare cannot comprehend a woman writing, but Jane tries to get him to support her work, as the name "Shakespeare" would of course open many doors. Then Anne Hathaway appears, also via the drainpipe. She is angry at Shakespeare due to his long neglect of her and the family; he didn't even go home when their son Hamnet died.

      Author Talene Monahon has some interesting things to say about originality, feminism, and creativity, and under the noise she seems to be aiming for meaning. I wish that she had been more choosy with her jokes, replacing the many subpar specimens with more substance. (Monahon provided the best performance of the evening, with her silly yet human Anne Hathaway.)

      I sometimes envy reviewers and critics who consider their own opinions to be the correct opinions. It might be fun to have that level of confidence, but it would be pointless (and pompous). Everyone's feelings about the arts, and particularly about theatre, are affected by our personalities, our frames of reference, our moods, the people sitting next to us, and our dinners. What we love Saturday we might hate Monday, and vice versa.

      So I'll end on this. I believe very strongly that JANE ANGER or The Lamentable Comedie of JANE ANGER, that Cunning Woman, and also of Willy Shakefpeare and his Peasant Companion, Francis, Yes and Also of Anne Hathaway (also a Woman) Who Tried Very Hard was bad. But I might be wrong.

      Wendy Caster