End of Last / Beginning of Next

Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Book by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Kathleen Marshall
Starring Kelli O'Hara, Matthew Broderick,
Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath
Imperial Theatre on W 45th Street
Official Website

by Harold Pinter
Directed by Christopher Morahan
Starring Jonathan Pryce
Brooklyn Academy of Music

Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Thomas Kail
Paper Mill Playhouse

Reviewed by David Spencer

I have now returned from London (with the evidence of some reviews to prove it). But on this file-page I’ll concentrate on matters domestic. Things are still popping and busy enough that—as I expected before I departed—some of my new reviews, specifically those on this page—wound up being capsule jobs, just to get me (and you) caught up. (This Aisle Say edition actually features far more full-length reviews by me than I thought it would! Links to those on the home page for as long as the ish dated top-of-June-2012 is the current one.)

               So forgive the following shorthanding of some major entries.

               I don’t feel too guilty capsule-reviewing Nice Work if You Can Get It, it’s been lauded and is currently being awarded aplenty and as it deserves all that has come its way, it needs no additional particularization of its virtues from me—though I’m glad to give it a boost in case you’ve found yourself undecided or resisting it. It’s terrific indeed. Yes, yes, yes, it’s a book musical fashioned around a songbook catalog (in this case that of the Gershwins), but this one is unusually canny. The creative team—principally director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall and librettist Joe di Pietro—has decided to create a 1920s-style musical, using crazy characters and screwball plot devices, of the type found in Anything Goes (perhaps the last one of its type that had any lasting impact) and its predecessors; but to do it with 2012 savvy about structure, pacing, comedy vocabulary, and comedy timing—not to mention musicality, movement and general stagecraft. The illusion is that it’s a thing of a bygone era. The reality is that it’s as freshly contemporary in its disguised sensibility as last night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Without the sell-by date.

             A phenomenal cast, toplined by Kelli O’Hara, Matthew Broderick, Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath deliver the goods with all the star wattage of the old-time celebrities they honor and emulate (but never imitate) and the totality of the feelgood content is some serious juice.

The early Harold Pinter play The Caretaker has been given a very nearly impeccable production that the Brooklyn Academy of Music has imported from England, replete with its stars: Jonathan Pryce as Davies, the homeless man impulsively given lodging by the mild-mannered yet mysterious house owner Aston (Alan Cox), and eventually a false sense of his own privilege by Aston’s leather-jacketed brother Mick (Alex Hassell). Mr. Pryce makes a real symphony of tics, vocalizations and behaviors to create a man whose sense of survival always sits poised on a knife-edge of dementia. Mr. Cox’s calm is nicely deceptive without seeming sinister (no easy feat); and Mr. Hassell has fun toward the opposite purpose: portraying a menace whose threatening exterior is likewise a misleading front. The finely tuned direction is by Christopher Morahan.

Speaking of directors: I begin to think the yet-unsung star player of the very near future is Thomas Kail. For whatever reason, In the Heights didn’t make him a star player (though it put him on the map) as if the power brokers looked askance at the difficulty of putting across the material (my guess is, because of its streetwise ethnicity, but one could never prove it and certainly no one would ever admit to it); but he’s been quietly, steadily racking up well-delivered credits (among them the recent sports plays, Lombardi and Magic/Bird) and has just delivered another, less quiet winner, the first tri-state mainstream revival of Ahrens and Flaherty’s early signature show Once on This Island. With a powerhouse cast of mixed (but always “of color”) ethnicity, which further underscores the skin-tone class distinction between the story’s peasants and royals, a staging fit for a large house that never sacrifices the musical’s implied intimacy (not easy to pull off with this sometimes-delicate material) and reconceived orchestrations by musical director Lynne Shenkel, this is about as good a rendition of Once on this Island as one could wish.

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