AISLE SAY New York

ALL ABOUT ME

Starring Dame Edna and Michael Feinstein
Written by the stars and Christopher Durang
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Henry Miller Theatre
Closed

and

COME FLY AWAY

Conceived, Choreographed and Directed
by Twyla Tharp
Marquis Theatre
www.comeflyaway.com

Reviewed by David Spencer

This first review was written while All About Me was still open. Despite the time-lag of this edition of Aisle Say relative to some of a the freatured reviews, there was no way to be more timely. ABM bounced very quickly…

I’m sometimes not sure what I’m doing as a drama critic sent to review an evening such as All About Me, which is essentially a Vegas act, pairing New York song stylist Michael Feinstein and Australian comic Barry Humphries in the drag role by which he is more famously known, Dame Edna, who is famous simply for being famous. Oh, it has a script by Christopher Durang and direction by Casey (The Drowsy Chaperone) Nicholaw, but it’s still a club trifle all the way, with the same goofy banter, flimsy excuse for song and powerhouse onstage band (musical direction by the uncompromising maestro Rob Bowman). Feinstein and Dame Edna are very much what they are, and if you think an evening of them together is amusing, you’ll be amused. If you don’t, you won’t. If you think it’s a daring experiment that might pay unexpected dividends, you’re naēve. All About Me depends so much upon one’s affection and affinity for well-established entertainers that any judgment is moot. I’ll say it’s rendered with about as much polish as might attend this kind of endeavor, the audience seemed to dig it, and I was not wholly indifferent to it. Otherwise, whether or not you attend truly has to be…all about you…

 

*************

 

I suppose a critic might have a somewhat similar reaction to an offering such as Come Fly Away, Twyla Tharp's second attempt to recreate the lightning strike she had with Movin' Out, her "dansical" based on the Billy Joel song catalog. And while placing Frank Sinatra songs in the context of a nightclub seems a reasonable enough homage to the obvious—it makes far more sense than her last, the silly and soporific The Times They Are A-Changin', which placed Bob Dylan songs within a traveling circus—the frisson of inspiration that makes such an event be compelling and seem necessary is only mildly present.

 

The mild news—For one thing, Sinatra was an interpreter of other people's songs, not himself a songwriter, so any thematic underpinning drawn from the catalog has to be superimposed. (An overall interpretation on top of individual interpretations, if you will.) For another: let's face it, an evening of Sinatra songs is a pretty lame idea without Sinatra himself to sing them. But ah, technology! It's a new world, Golde. The show's sound designers have dug into the source recordings and stripped out the vocals, while the show's musical staff have researched, recreated and/or adapted the original big band and orchestral arrangements for the live onstage musicians. Thus, recorded Sinatra can sing to an admittedly smokin’ live band…or more accurately, a live band can play to recorded Sinatra, since it's the pulse and flow of the original vocals that have to be followed. So you gotta consider, as a potential patron, how thrilling you'll find it to pay top dollar partially to hear SOME of Sinatra's signature tracks recreated once, when for likely less money, you can forever own the entire digitally remastered collection on CDs, MP3s and message filled chemicals injected into your bloodstream to take root in the microscopic audio center built by nanobots just behind your inner ears (wait, it's coming). The good news: The songs are so well-crafted and well-sung (by Sinatra and—live too—by Hilary Gardner or Rosena M. Hill, depending on your performance, occasionally in cleverly arranged duet with a source Sinatra track) that things don't get dull. It's all fun to listen to.

 

The better news—None of which is to say that the dancing doesn't have its charms as well, rooted though they may be in familiar character tropes: the young, innocent couple (Laura Mead, Charlie Neshbya-Hodges), the "player" couple (Matthew Stockwell Dibble, Holley Farmer), the "wildcat Negress" (Karine Plantadit)—think Eartha Kitt, but taller—the club owner (Keith Roberts)—all of whom dance out their (lightly overlapping) stories and pathologies, a choreographed collage of light romantic comedy. Nor is there any faulting of Ms. Twarp's gifts for composition, imagery and  impressive routining: no question you're in the hands of a master. And indeed, if the skill of such a thing sounds like your idea of a fine theatrical night out, you're likely to have one. But if it all sounds to you like Dancin' to the Recyclies, it's unlikely you'll find enough there for a crazy coo-coo time…


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