Hollywood Reporter – Theater Reviews Feed

Hollywood Reporter – Theater Reviews Feed

http://ftr.fivefilters.org/makefulltextfeed.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fftr.fivefilters.org%2Fmakefulltextfeed.php%3Furl%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Ffeeds.feedburner.com%252Fthr%252Freviews%252Ftheater%26max%3D5&max=5 Hollywood Reporter – News Feed http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/thr/reviews/theater/~3/C60so09aHHE/babylon-line-review-953071 953071 at http://www.hollywoodreporter.com <div><img src=”http://cdn2.thr.com/sites/default/files/2016/12/the_babylon_line_production_still.jpg” class=”ff-og-image-inserted”/></div><h2 class=”article__deck”>Josh Radnor plays a reluctant writing teacher and Elizabeth Reaser his most gifted student in Richard Greenberg’s memory play exploring the power and mysteries of storytelling in a time of social change.</h2> <p>What a beguiling and unpredictable play Richard Greenberg has written in <em>The Babylon Line</em>, an elegiac look back on a period of evolving social attitudes, which follows the lead of its narrator — an adult-education creative-writing teacher played by Josh Radnor in a welcome return to the New York stage — in its disdain for structural rules. Even when the meandering play appears to lack focus, however, or stack up multiple endings, it weaves subtle threads, conjuring a vivid world of cause and effect while harnessing the power of fiction as a means either to escape or to comprehend real life.</p> <p>The story is set in 1967 in Levittown, Long Island, the birthplace of cookie-cutter suburbia, and while the double edge of that kind of American enclave as both safety cushion and airless trap is a familiar theme, the playwright brings a fresh perspective.</p> <p>Greenberg may be the most writerly of contemporary American dramatists; authors and storytelling have often been a key element in his work, notably 2002’s <em>The Violet Hour</em>, set in the publishing world. Here, he even cross-links via one character to <em>Our Mother’s Brief Affair</em>, produced on Broadway earlier this year. Unwieldy as it sometimes seems, <em>The Babylon Line</em> is more satisfying than either of those plays, and it’s been given a beautiful premiere production by Lincoln Center Theater, gathering a first-rate cast under the patient guidance of director Terry Kinney.</p> <p>Richard Hoover’s set instantly transports us with its finely detailed classroom, outfitted with wooden desks and a row of framed U.S. presidential portraits placing us in the Vietnam years, a period in which American innocence was fast retreating and anti-establishment questioning becoming more vocal. Sarah J. Holden’s character-defining costumes and David Weiner’s lighting, so warm and descriptive, further enhance the evocative mood.</p> <p>Radnor plays Aaron Port, who introduces the story in 2015, as his own complicated account of events from late fall-through-early winter 48 years earlier, prefacing his tale by admitting, “I may not come off well in it.” He was 38 back then, with just one promising story published in a prestigious literary journal, when he took a part-time teaching job in Levittown strictly for the money, traveling by train once a week from Greenwich Village. His direct-address interludes make it clear this is an unreliable memory play.</p> <p>Half his students are there by accident, because they couldn’t get into Contemporary Events and Politics or French Cooking. They include the formidable Frieda Cohen (Randy Graff), Queen Bee of the Sisterhood of first-generation Jews (her garden was featured in <em>Newsday</em>, no less), flanked by her coffee-klatch cohorts, Midge Braverman (Julie Halston) and Anna Cantor (Maddie Corman). Also enrolled is World War II veteran Jack Hassenpflug (Frank Wood), whose conversational skills are as lacking in nuance as his writing; and Marc Adams (Michael Oberholtzer), an odd duck who appears to be on the autism spectrum. Or possibly his brain was fried by drug use, if the gossip of Frieda and Co. is to be believed.</p> <p>The kinship of that trio with the Weird Sisters from <em>Macbeth</em> can hardly be coincidental, though Greenberg and the three hilarious actresses humanize the stereotypes so that even the overbearing Frieda is less a witch than “a conqueror,” to use her own term. “Shameless and fearless” is how she describes herself when challenged to write about what scares her. She refuses to draw on her own life for inspiration, even though her backstory, blurted out in a furious rant, indicates that beneath the meticulously managed surface, she may have more colorful material than anyone in the class. Ultimately, none of the characters is as easy to categorize as Aaron initially believes.</p> <p>The playwright evokes other theatrical influences in the remaining role, Joan Dellamond, a bruised, enigmatic woman who’s part cracked Tennessee Williams doll and part fierce Ibsen-esque prisoner, chafing against her domestic confinement in a loveless marriage. Played by Elizabeth Reaser with a cool blend of ethereal sensuality, naked hunger and the lightest breath of a Southern accent, Joan is the spark that ignites the class. At times, she echoes another Shakespeare creation, Lady Macbeth, in the way she goads the ambivalent Aaron into being a more engaged teacher, while prompting reactions that range from intrigue through admiration to indignation in her classmates.</p> <p>Joan initially appears terrified of what she’ll unleash by translating her thoughts into writing, but her stories, once they start flowing, are riveting in their emotional candor. Even the affectless Jack starts anticipating them with oh-boy enthusiasm, while Frieda is so appalled by one piece that she flees the classroom, for reasons revealed much later in the play.</p> <p>Read aloud in class, the vignettes often come to life before our eyes, most enchantingly when Midge shares an episode from soon after she moved to Levittown, and her husband’s illness at the time led to her mowing her own lawn to meet the strictly enforced neighborhood regulations. That mastery of a chore believed to be men’s work — according to the codified social rules of the era — yielded the discovery of a calming pastime, to which she has returned often “in the warm weather months.”</p> <p>Jack writes about his nightmarish memories of the Battle of Overloon, Anna about her family’s European vacation (“Venice was a study in contrasts”) and the reticent Marc eventually coughs up a chiseled nugget from his long-in-the-works magnum opus, surprising them all. In each of them, Joan’s writing uncorks a new boldness, even if that just means allowing Midge and Anna to air a dissenting opinion when Frieda makes withering judgments about the mysterious outsider.</p> <p>But the more Joan reveals of her own unhappiness, her disappointing marriage, her borderline mental instability and her desire for something to make her feel alive, the more Aaron remains frozen in passivity. When she learns that the teacher hails from not too far along the Babylon railway line from Levittown, she is forced to reassess him, just as he reassesses himself for years afterwards. Was he spineless or principled? The playwright leaves that to us to decide.</p> <p>Both Radnor and Reaser play characters that remain to some degree opaque, withholding as much as they expose of themselves, whether in Aaron’s detached demeanor — he’s the polar opposite of the stock inspirational teacher character, and he knows it — or Joan’s more darkly elusive manner. But the actors draw us in with equal skill.</p> <p>While Greenberg could be criticized for being too discursive, that ends up being part of the play’s charm, as stories and revelations about each character shed a different light on them, suggesting the small ways in which the writing class has changed them, or will as they go forward. Only Frieda remains defiantly unchanged, and somehow more pitiable for it in Graff’s biting performance. Kinney and his superb cast are attuned to the silent undercurrents of Greenberg’s writing as much as the sly flourishes of wit and cruelty and the elegant streams of prose-like dialogue, making <em>The Babylon Line</em> an idiosyncratic pleasure.</p> <p><em>Venue: Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, New York<br/>Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Reaser, Randy Graff, Maddie Corman, Julie Halston, Frank Wood, Michael Oberholtzer<br/>Director: Terry Kinney<br/>Playwright: Richard Greenberg<br/>Set designer: Richard Hoover<br/>Costume designer: Sarah J. Holden<br/>Lighting designer: David Weiner<br/>Sound designers: Rob Milburn, Michael Bodeen<br/>Projection designer: Darrel Maloney<br/>Presented by Lincoln Center Theater</em></p> <p><strong><a href=”https://blockads.fivefilters.org”>Let’s block ads!</a></strong> <a href=”https://github.com/fivefilters/block-ads/wiki/There-are-no-acceptable-ads”>(Why?)</a></p> Tue, 06 Dec 2016 02:00:00 +0000 ‘The Babylon Line': Theater Review Josh Radnor plays a reluctant writing teacher and Elizabeth Reaser his most gifted student in Richard Greenberg’s memory play exploring the power and mysteries of storytelling in a time of social change. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/babylon-line-review-953071 http://cdn2.thr.com/sites/default/files/2016/12/the_babylon_line_production_still.jpg article en text/html http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/babylon-line-review-953071 Culture USA THR Online Elizabeth Reaser Josh Radnor Terry Kinney Off Broadway Theater http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/thr/reviews/theater/~3/on36tT39-mQ/merrily-we-roll-along-theater-952935 952935 at http://www.hollywoodreporter.com <div><img src=”http://cdn1.thr.com/sites/default/files/2016/12/merrily_we_roll_along_production_still.jpg” class=”ff-og-image-inserted”/></div><h2 class=”article__deck”>Wayne Brady stars in this revival of the troubled Stephen Sondheim-Harold Prince collaboration, a showbiz musical that has long bedeviled audiences and experts alike.</h2> <p>Judging by their track record at the time <em>—</em> which included <em>Company</em>, <em>Follies</em>, <em>A Little Night Music</em> and <em>Sweeney Todd</em> — composer Stephen Sondheim and producer-director Harold Prince couldn’t lose. So anticipation was high when their next collaboration, <em>Merrily We Roll Along</em>, opened at Broadway’s Alvin Theater in fall 1981. But the story of three best friends who hit it big in show business, told backward from jaundiced mid-life to starry-eyed youth, left audiences bored and confused. Not helping was a cast aged 16 to 25 playing characters in mid-life. Panned by critics, the show closed after only 16 performances, but went on to gain an appreciative following through its cast recording and subsequent retooled productions.</p> <p>The good news is the new Los Angeles revival, directed by Michael Arden (<em>Spring Awakening</em>), is in no way confusing and employs age-appropriate actors. The bad news is some of the problems that have plagued the show since the beginning still remain.</p> <p>Based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, <em>Merrily We Roll Along</em> premiered 35 years ago with a cast of unknowns at the time, including Jason Alexander and actor-turned-director Lonny Price, whose new documentary, <em>Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened</em>, chronicles the making of the play and the legacy for its original cast. In the end, Sondheim and Prince never worked together again.</p> <p>In a strange irony, the same fate befalls two of the show’s three principals, Kringas, played by Wayne Brady, and his songwriting partner, Franklin Shepard, played by Aaron Lazar (<em>The Light in the Piazza</em>). When we first meet them in 1976, they’re not on speaking terms. In fact, Kringas is absent, stewing in New York while Shepard and friends are toasting the success of his new movie at his Bel-Air home. Over-celebrating with him is the third leg of the trio, Mary Flynn (Donna Vivino). She has always had a thing for Shepard, now on his second wife, Gussie (Saycon Sengbloh), a Broadway diva who’s angry with him on account of his girlfriend.</p> <p>Flashing back two years to 1974, we see the origins of the split between Shepard and Kringas in the playful “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” sung by Kringas during a talk show in which he laments his partner’s pursuit of commercial projects rather than the artistic material that formed the basis of their collaboration. By the time we rewind to 1968, we get a refrain of the central trio’s “Old Friends,” a charming song heard earlier. But without the proper groundwork, their bond feels inauthentic no matter how much they sing about it, and their estrangement carries little emotional heft.</p> <p>The problem has less to do with this production than with George Furth’s book. Shepard stands at the center of the trio, brilliant, so we’re told, but also selfish, petty and undisciplined. With so little background on him, the audience is forced to accept him at unflattering, superficial face value. With the book’s backward structure, the foundational work for the story and characters is meant to reveal itself in portions. But backward or forward, there’s just not enough there for the audience to care.</p> <p>We’re told Shepard is consumed with dealmaking and money, but he appears only mildly engaged in the business side of things and even less so in the creative. In fact, most of his energy seems dedicated to women who are not his wife, like when he sings “Growing Up” with Gussie. Lazar demonstrates a strong, trained voice, but Sengbloh (seen on Broadway in <em>Hair</em>, <em>Motown</em> and <em>Fela!</em>) is the staggering powerhouse here and in later songs like “Act Two Opening.” Likewise, Whitney Bashor as Shepard’s first wife, Beth, belts out “Not a Day Goes By” with a resonant pathos befitting her cruelly treated character.</p> <p>Even crueler is the least developed leg of the trio, Mary, a writer consumed by her lifelong affection for Shepard, which she drowns in liquor. Vivino owns the spotlight in her solo, “Like It Was,” but beyond that and a few zingers she is given practically nothing to do except provide an occasional update on her writing career.</p> <p>Arden’s directing is polished when it comes to blocking scenes on Dane Laffrey’s backstage set, which is lined with vanity mirrors right and left, and topped with a low-hanging lighting grid. Eamon Foley’s limited choreography helps energize some of the more tedious passages, but director and cast seem to struggle with the notoriously problematic material.</p> <p>The backward structure employed by Kaufman and Hart turned a musical paradigm on its head — bright-eyed kids come to the big city, face impossible odds in showbiz and persevere to find fame and fortune. Here, the premise is the same, only they wind up miserable, which didn’t work in 1981. And while the faithful insist there’s a great show in there somewhere, pointing up the undeniable merits of the score, even with the current production, <em>Merrily We Roll Along</em> remains a conundrum waiting to be cracked.</p> <p><em>Venue: Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills<br/>Cast: Whitney Bashor, Wayne Brady, Aaron Lazar, Saycon Sengbloh, Amir Talai, Donna Vivino, Eric B. Anthony, Sandy Bainum, Melody Butiu, Doran Butler, Max Chucker, Sarah Daniels, Kevin Patrick Doherty, Laura Dickinson, Rachael Ferrera, Jennifer Foster, Travis Leland, Lyle Colby Mackston, Brent Schindele, Maximus Brandon Verso<br/>Director: Michael Arden<br/>Music &amp; lyrics: Stephen Sondheim<br/>Book: George Furth<br/>Set &amp; costume designer: Dane Laffrey<br/>Lighting designer: Travis Hagenbuch<br/>Sound designer: Dean Moses Schreier<br/>Musical director: Adam Wachter<br/>Choreographer: Eamon Foley<br/>Presented by: The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in association with Lauren B. Leichtman, Arthur Levine Family Foundation, Montage Beverly Hills</em></p> <p><strong><a href=”https://blockads.fivefilters.org”>Let’s block ads!</a></strong> <a href=”https://github.com/fivefilters/block-ads/wiki/There-are-no-acceptable-ads”>(Why?)</a></p> Mon, 05 Dec 2016 21:59:09 +0000 ‘Merrily We Roll Along': Theater Review Wayne Brady stars in this revival of the troubled Stephen Sondheim-Harold Prince collaboration, a showbiz musical that has long bedeviled audiences and experts alike. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/merrily-we-roll-along-theater-952935 http://cdn1.thr.com/sites/default/files/2016/12/merrily_we_roll_along_production_still.jpg article en text/html http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/merrily-we-roll-along-theater-952935 Culture USA THR Online Stephen Sondheim Wayne Brady Theater http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/thr/reviews/theater/~3/peKxPi3KZT0/bodyguard-952717 952717 at http://www.hollywoodreporter.com <div><img src=”http://cdn5.thr.com/sites/default/files/2016/11/the_bodyguard_production_still.jpg” class=”ff-og-image-inserted”/></div><h2 class=”article__deck”>R&amp;B star Deborah Cox headlines this musical adaptation of the hit 1992 Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston film, featuring 16 songs originally recorded by the late singer.</h2> <p>An already thin plot becomes even thinner in the new musical adaptation of the hit 1992 film <em>The Bodyguard</em>, which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. Shoehorning no less than 16 songs recorded by Houston into its by-the-numbers recreation of the film’s thriller/love story plot, the show actually still manages to run shorter than its inspiration. Fans of the movie, and of the late pop diva, will no doubt respond warmly to this production, receiving its North American premiere at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse prior to a national tour. But anyone unfamiliar with the source material will come away wondering what all the fuss was about.</p> <p>For this 2012 musical originally seen in London’s West End (where it’s currently playing in a revival), R&amp;B star Deborah Cox assumes the beefed-up role of superstar singer-songwriter Rachel Marron, played onscreen by Houston. When Rachel is threatened by a stalker who sends ominous letters and then sneaks into her dressing room and steals a dress, her worried manager (Charles Gray) hires ace security expert Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) as her personal bodyguard. Frank has little interest in protecting a coddled celebrity — “It’s where all the bullshit is,” he points out — but agrees to take the job when he finds out that Rachel has a 10-year-old son.</p> <p>Rachel, however, has little use for her stoic, macho protector, who cramps her style with his endless restrictions on her movements. That is, until he rescues her from danger while she’s performing in a crowded nightclub. Naturally, director Thea Sharrock (<em>Equus</em>) has the lead performers recreate the iconic image of the bodyguard cradling his charge in his arms. Rachel warms up enough to ask Frank out on a date — “Only if you want to,” she says coyly — and soon they’re romantically involved.</p> <p>Adapting Lawrence Kasdan’s script, Alexander Dinelaris, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of <em>Birdman</em>, heavily plays up the plot’s thriller aspects. At times, the show feels more like a horror film, with the heavily muscled Stalker (Jorge Paniagua) frequently seen up to no good in Duncan McLean’s expansive video projections. A newly added subplot, involving Rachel’s sister and songwriting partner Nicki (Jasmin Richardson) vying for Frank’s romantic attentions, does little to enhance the narratively threadbare proceedings.</p> <p>But that will hardly matter to those who want to hear the procession of Houston hits, including ‘How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “Run to You,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and a certain smash single written by Dolly Parton. Amusingly, the first rendition of the iconic “I Will Always Love You” is performed by Frank at a karaoke bar (one of the few scenes in the show with any emotional resonance), in which he demonstrates his utter inability to sing a note. Naturally, it also figures in the stirring finale, with Cox’s formidable pipes doing it full justice.</p> <p>Cox, whose previous theatrical credits include leading roles on Broadway in <em>Aida</em> and a 2013 revival of <em>Jekyll &amp; H</em>yde, admirably handles the daunting challenge of filling her predecessor’s considerable shoes. Mills, whose extensive film and television credits include a regular role on the old Chuck Norris series <em>Walker, Texas Ranger</em>, is suitably rugged and charismatic as the taciturn Frank, and the gorgeous-voiced Richardson is excellent as the sister with whom Rachel has a sibling rivalry.</p> <p>Sharrock’s busy staging features extensive use of distracting video projections, including a cheesy montage of romantic moments between Frank and Rachel that merely shows us things we’ve already seen live. The action sequences are neither convincing nor thrilling, and the frequent use of sudden loud noises to drum up suspense mainly smacks of desperation.</p> <p>The songs are both woven into the storyline and performed in concert-style production numbers, with Karen Bruce’s energetic choreography replicating the style of elaborate pop concerts. Tim Hatley’s glossy sets and costumes, the latter showcasing the physical attributes of the often skimpily dressed background dancers, feel equally authentic in their artificiality.</p> <p>Like so many screen-to-stage adaptations, <em>The Bodyguard</em> has lost something in translation. But that didn’t seem to bother the audience at the Paper Mill, which rousingly responded to the inevitable mega-mix encore. That features the entire ensemble exuberantly reprising “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” providing the opportunity for even the ramrod-postured Mills to show off some slinky dance moves.</p> <p><em>Venue: Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, New Jersey<br/>Cast: Deborah Cox, Judson Mills, Douglas Baldeo, Alex Corrado, Charles Gray, Jonathan Hadley, Kevelin B. Jones III, Jorge Paniagua, Jasmin Richardson<br/>Book: Alexander Dinelaris, based on the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan<br/>Director: Thea Sharrock<br/>Set &amp; costume designer: Tim Hatley<br/>Lighting designer: Mark Henderson<br/>Sound designer: Richard Brooker<br/>Video designer: Duncan McLean<br/>Production musical supervisor &amp; vocal arrangements: Mike Dixon<br/>Orchestrations &amp; additional music: Chris Egan<br/>Choreographer: Karen Bruce<br/>Presented by Paper Mill Playhouse in association with Michael Harrison, David Ian, Nederlander Presentations Inc.</em></p> <p><strong><a href=”https://blockads.fivefilters.org”>Let’s block ads!</a></strong> <a href=”https://github.com/fivefilters/block-ads/wiki/There-are-no-acceptable-ads”>(Why?)</a></p> Mon, 05 Dec 2016 18:28:00 +0000 ‘The Bodyguard': Theater Review R&B star Deborah Cox headlines this musical adaptation of the hit 1992 Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston film, featuring 16 songs originally recorded by the late singer. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/bodyguard-952717 http://cdn5.thr.com/sites/default/files/2016/11/the_bodyguard_production_still.jpg article en text/html http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/bodyguard-952717 Culture USA THR Online Kevin Costner Whitney Houston Theater

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