Thursday, January 19, 2023

Ain't No Mo'

It was sad to see Ain't No Mo' come and go so quickly, but was Broadway the right place for it?

I get the attraction of Broadway. It's the place. But was there ever a chance that Ain't No Mo' would be profitable? 

Of course, that may not have been the point. Even a brief run on Broadway puts a play into a special category, and it probably improves the likelihood of other productions all over the country. Also, the chance for a Tony Award or two is certainly attractive.

But: wouldn't Ain't No Mo' fit Off-Broadway better? Might it still be running? 

Off-Broadway has two solid advantages: intimate space and cheaper tickets. I would personally be thrilled if most theatre occurred in small venues. For example, Merrily We Roll Along felt exactly right at NYTW, just as Kimberly Akimbo fit perfectly at the Atlantic. But with their fairly large casts, plus musicians, they need Broadway-size audiences to pay the bills. But Ain't No Mo', with its small cast, would be perfect for Off-Broadway. As would many other shows!

Wendy Caster

Monday, January 02, 2023


My third viewing of the amazing Hadestown was from third row mezz on a Wednesday matinee. Although I have an aversion to Wednesday matinees going back to the 1970s, I was pleasantly surprised by a full, enthusiastic, non-texting, non-talking, non-eating audience. Are Wednesday matinee audiences better than they used to be (they used to be awful) or was this an anomaly? Either way, it was a treat.

Also, there was no sense of the performers slacking off because it was a Wednesday matinee, something I have heard rumors of for decades. They brought their A game. 

Sitting in the mezzanine for the first time (versus front orchestra and back orchestra) gave me quite a different view of the show. From that vantage point, the mechanics of the show are on display, and they are fascinating and fabulous. The timing of the revolves, and the timing of the actors on them, is balletic. The constant movement and action is carried out impeccably. 

What a weird thing it is to be an actor dealing with moving here, turning there, going on this revolve and off that revolve, moving this table or that prop, and still being authentically in the emotional moment. I've been going to the theatre since the late 1960s, and I'm still impressed over and over by the skill and talent onstage all over New York.

I also want to give a shout-out to the stage management crew, who keep things moving like clockwork show after show after show. It's an impressive feat.

And, oh yeah, Hadestown is a brilliant, kick-ass musical, hurt only by the fact that Orpheus is a complete tool. Had their positions been reversed, Eurydice would not have looked back.

Wendy Caster

Sunday, January 01, 2023


Here's the amazing thing: the musical 1776 is so solid, so excellent, that the creators of the current Roundabout production didn't manage to completely ruin it. Though they did try. 

When re-thinking a show like 1776, based on real events and people, there are two important things to keep in mind: (1) how much respect is owed to the people depicted, and (2) how much respect is owed to the original creators of the piece. 

Our so-called founding fathers were deeply flawed. One of the best moments in this production is Jefferson listening to congress read his Declaration of Independence (i.e., Declaration of Freedom!) while his slave dresses him. It's quiet, quick, and hard-hitting--and doesn't mess with the original show. It's also relatively subtle in a production in which subtlety is rare. 

Do Peter Stone (book) and Sherman Edwards deserve to have their work respected? Absolutely. The only legitimate reason to maybe mess with their show would be to make it better. This production doesn't, though at least--as said above--it doesn't completely destroy it.

The all-non-cis-male cast is fine as a concept. (There are many weak performances in the show, but that is due to bad acting and direction rather than gender.) The different sexual identities change the emphases and meaning by definition. For example, that gender is a performance is made vivid through women performing masculinity. So, okay, fine. The nontraditional casting is fine.

It's nearly everything else that's the problem. The direction (Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus) is ham-fisted and frenetic. Every moment is underlined and mimed and exaggerated and overdone. Some scenes come across as though a bunch of kids are putting on a show and making all the mistakes kids make: indicating, emoting, telegraphing. 

One example: the solo song "Mama Look Sharp" depicts the horrors of war quietly and subtlely--and breaks the audience's heart. In this production, the song is blared, and the entire cast is on stage, pulling focus. The decision to have one performer play the "Mama" of the song by rending her clothing and tearing her hair, sobbing, pulls even more focus, and makes the audience feel less rather than more. (Well, it makes the audience feel less grief, but more embarrassment.) 

Simply put, Page and Paulus did not respect the material, evincing a serious lack of judgment on their parts. If they wanted a musical with which to judge the founding fathers harshly and reframe the revolution, they should have written one. 

Wendy Caster