Deadlines on a new show and a pending trip to London relevant to the show have me doing something I try not to do too often in these cyber-pages, which is resort to capsule reviews—especially capsule reviews of mainstream fare. But—and this is more info than you may need or even want to know—the days when I could count on blasting out a full-length review at speed are long gone; for whatever reason—gradually altered disposition, redistribution of energy, even (though I hate to say it) simply getting older—even average-length reviews require getting lost in a concentration that has no connection to the passage of time. And that makes April the hardest month of all, because everything opening late in the season is jamming the calendar for critics and nominators (as I write this, the coming week has me attending five Broadway openings in four consecutive days). So if this is more capsule-y than even my occasional round-ups, I beg your indulgence of my non-indulgence; but I fear it’s the only way I’ll keep relatively current.
Happily, a few of the items below are transfers about which my initial feelings haven’t changed much…so those will be characterized by any newly relevant observations leading to original-review links. And here we go…
One Man, Two Guvnors is pretty much every bit the laff-fest it’s cracked up to be (pun intended). And if you’re among those who saw the screening of its initial West End engagement very much earlier this season (as part of the National Theatre Live series that plays in select movie theatres), you’ll be quite surprised to clock the proportion of how much of the interplay with the audience is “scripted ad libbing” as opposed to how much is genuinely improvised. Somewhat like a magician’s secrets, though, that proportion is best not revealed to the uninitiated—why spoil the illusion? (It does seem, however, as if the prepared bits weren’t manufactured so much as culled from early performances; as if the surprises of several give night’s improv s were so delightful that star, directors and writer huddled and said, “Well happenstance was sure our friend there; let’s not lose that,” and have been recreating such moments ever since.) The star, by the way, is James Corden (Doctor Who fans will recognize him as having played guest star companion “Craig Owens” to Matt Smith in the episodes The Lodger and Closing Time), the writer Richard Bean (after Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters), the director is Nicholas Hytner and the physical comedy director (very smart of Mr. Hytner to engage a specialist) is Cal McCrystal. And all of the very funny and gifted principals from the original London cast (which continues in the West End with new players) are on hand too.
The play Magic/Bird about the professional rivalry and personal friendship between basketball players Earvin “Magic” Johnson (Kevin Daniels) and Larry Bird (Tug Coker) seems to have been dismissed in most venues—to the point where some people I know in the business are barely even aware of its existence—but I have to tell you, I kinda liked it. I have no particular interest in sports, but the script, by Eric Simonson, author of last season’s Lombardi, is a polished, entertaining affair, in the manner of a TV movie that has been reconceived to function theatrically (think Brian’s Song or Bang the Drum Slowly, but without the death watch—though Magic’s newsworthy contraction of the HIV virus is not ignored). It has been directed with low-key but appropriate flash by Thomas (In the Heights) Kail and the cast is simply terrific. The leads do a better-than-fine job of evoking their real-life counterparts—balancing Magic’s exuberance with Bird’s deadpan-dryness—and the multiply cast supporting players include, surprisingly, grand not-so-old pros like Peter Scolari and Diedre O’Connell…as well as grand younger pros Francois Battiste and Robert Manning Jr.
I wish I had been as blown away by Tribes at the Barrow Street Playhouse as everyone else seems to be, at least in the press. A British family drama by Nina Raines about communication, miscommunication and finding where you belong or think you do (tacitly, your “tribe”), I found it “only” a perfectly respectable play, performed by an able cast (featuring Mare Winningham as the matriarch—yes, she’s matured enough for that now, tempus do fugit) with some interesting and typically inventive direction from David Cromer. But I never quite got to the liftoff point with it. I left it satisfied to have seen a worthwhile evening and very worthy work; but not the “sleeper” text grandly realized that I’d anticipated. Appreciation of anything is of course in the eye of the beholder, but this one in particular may depend upon its personal resonance for its effectiveness.
On the other hand, Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, a far less ambitious and more modest affair, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, about the reunion between a free-spirited young adult male and his grandmother—the young man having bicycled cross-country to see her, unannounced, after a long estrangement from his immediate family—struck me as quirky and funny and a little bit moving precisely because it set up and maintained its eccentricities in ab unaffected, naturalistic manner. In the best sense, Daniel Aukin’s direction is barely visible at all. At the center of its small, charming cast is Mary Louise Wilson, one of those performers with the control, presence and savvy to get an enormous laugh out of (seemingly) nothing. The old pros like that are rare and getting rarer. Purchase your tickets and treasure the memory…
Now. Here. This. which just ended its run at the Vineyard purported to be a musical, but in fact it was a rambling multi-autobiographical revue by the same quartet who delivered that other, somewhat less rambling musical theatre indulgence [title of show]. As performers, all four were as sharp as they were before, which is generally very. As a piece of material, it defies coherent or meaningful criticism because any attempt at deconstructive analysis is folly from the point of view of a prospective audience member. If you liked [title of show], and I mean really liked it, Now. Here. This. was a way to revisit old friends who had, in their collective mode, made their mark as downtown celebrities; clearly that was the case on the Saturday night I attended, in which the audience reaction was affectionately out of proportion to the actual level of the material. If you didn’t like [title of show], perhaps if you were even just neutral toward it, the charm of Now. Here. This. was limited. At best. But you know what? That’s fine. The cult of downtown celebrity has been dormant for some decades and there’s nothing wrong with a little sense-of-camaraderie throwback. It’s the acid reflux of being outside the circle you have to watch out for…
Peter and the Starcatcher struck me almost exactly the same way as it did last season at the New York Theatre Workshop (it’s the same production featuring the same cast), with the difference that by a hair’s breadth I think it works better in a Broadway house. Perhaps I mean even better. Anyway, here’s the link to my original review and you’ll know what I mean…
Newsies also works better on Broadway than it worked at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey (where it also worked pretty spectacularly)…and they’ve fixed a few things I’d flagged as fix-worthy, so nobody was resting on their laurels. Which is admirable as there were many laurels to rest on. My original review is here:
My original review of Clybourne Park was short enough to reproduce here, sans link, and with minor tweaking for context. And this is/was it:
There’s all kinds of lasting theatrical resonance popping in Clybourne Park at Playwrights Horizons. Playwright Bruce Norris takes as his inspiration a reference from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, about an African-American family of the 1950s, preparing to move into a white neighborhood. Norris postulates what may be happening in the house the Youngers are moving to, before they get there; why the white family is moving out and the neighbors’ concerns over the “changing neighborhood.” But that’s only Act One. Norris sets Act Two fifty years later, in our new millennium; a white couple, seeking to renovate the house they’ve newly acquired, must petition the neighborhood zoning board, in which key decision makers are a black couple. Irony much? It makes for comedy-drama in the best sense, biting social satire one moment, moving domestic storytelling the next. A near-perfect multi-tasking ensemble (Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie [Law & Order] Parisse, Jeremy Shamos and Frank [Side Man] Wood) working under Pam MacKinnon’s subtle, savvy direction, brings it on home—pun intentional—with the stamp of the classic the play may well deserve to be.
Finally, The Lyons. It opened off-Broadway at the Vineyard earlier this season, I just checked my original notice and, by gosh, nothing to add. Short version: very funny, you’ll probably laugh a lot. Long version: go here.
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