Category Archives: Off-Broadway

“The Glorious Ones”

Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, New York • 19 October 2007 • 8pm [preview]
Book & Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens. Music: Stephen Flaherty. Based on the novel by Francine Prose.

Direction & Choreography by Graciela Daniele. With Marc Kudisch (Flaminio Scala), Natalie Venetia Belcon (Columbina), Jeremy Webb (Francesco Andreini), Erin Davie (Isabelle Andreini), Julyana Soelistyo (Armanda Ragusa), David Patrick Kelly (Pantalone), John Kassir (Dottore).

There’s always something exciting about a Flaherty & Ahrens musical, because these two authors have a knowledge and understanding of the history of musicals that inform their work. That doesn’t mean they try to copy the musicals of the past; it means they know the territory they’re trying to expand.The Glorious Ones tells the touching story of a Commedia dell’Arte troupe in Italy at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. While not completely conventional in form, it remains largely linear. I think it spends too much time introducing the various characters instead of finding a way for them to introduce themselves indirectly in the course of the play.

Graciela Daniele’s staging is a treat: it displays energy, inventiveness and a true sense of theatricality. The setting, of course, is the wooden stage of a travelling troupe. (I kept thinking it looked like the setting for a Schmidt & Jones musical.) The cast, led by the remarkable Marc Kudisch, give a tremendous performance.

The score is delightful but strongly reminiscent of earlier Flaherty & Ahrens musicals, especially Ragtime. There’s even a song that rhymes “silhouette” and “pirouette,” two words that stand prominently in the lyrics of Ragtime.

The Glorious Ones might not be perfect, but it’s an enjoyable and literate effort and an ode to the theatre and to comedy. It won’t open for another couple of weeks, so it’s likely to be even better then.

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“The Fantasticks”

The Jerry Orbach Theater, New York • 18 July 2007 • 2pm
Book & Lyrics by Tom Jones. Music by Harvey Schmidt.

Directed by Tom Jones. With Stuart Marland (El Gallo), Anthony Fedorov (Matt), Whitney Bashor (Luisa), John Deyle (The Boy’s Father), Martin Vidnovic (The Girl’s Father), Tom Jones (The Old Actor [as Thomas Bruce]), Robert R. Oliver (Mortimer), Nick Spangler (The Mute).

This show is still as fresh and charming as when I first saw it at the Sullivan Street Playhouse during my first-ever trip to New York in 1997, five years before the original 42 year long run ended. It has the right mixture of comedic flair from the older characters and of innocence and grace from the two young actors, who are delightful. And of course the score is non-stop bliss from the first to the last note.

While seeing the show, I was trying to figure what it must have been for the theatregoers of 1960 to see something so conceptual and probably so different from anything they had ever seen. Nobody can quite tell when the concept musical was born (Lady in the Dark? Company?), but The Fantasticks certainly belongs in that list somewhere.

“Seussical”

Lucille Lortel Theatre, New York • 17 July 2007 • 10:30am
Music by Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Book by Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty. Based on the works of Dr. Seuss.

Produced by Theatreworks USA. Directed & choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. With Shorey Walker (The Cat in the Hat), Michael Wartella (JoJo), Brian Michael Hoffman (Horton the Elephant), Karen Weinberg (Gertrude McFuzz), Kelly Felthous (Mayzie La Bird), Ebony Marshall-Oliver (Sour Kangaroo/Young Kangaroo)…

When I originally saw Seussical on Broadway in 2001, part of the fun came from being in the middle of an audience of kids who responded heartily to what happened on stage. Strangely enough, the audience at the Lortel, consisting almost entirely of groups of kids from various summer camps, failed to show the same level of enthusiasm to this version labelled “for Young Audiences,” which lasts about 75 minutes. (In the mezzanine, where I sat, it was obvious the kids who filled the three rows in front of me were utterly bored.)

And yet the show is very professionally done, with an outstanding contribution from director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who really keeps things going in a fluid and energetic manner. But maybe the smaller format of this production puts more emphasis on the show’s faults. Sometimes the big dollars of a Broadway production come in handy when the material is not 100% perfect. There is no time for the audience to really identify or empathise with the characters on stage. Beside, the actress who plays The Cat in the Hat really looks and acts too much like a school teacher, which creates a serious lack of magic exactly where it should come from.

“Adrift in Macao”

Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters, New York • 11 February 2007 • 3pm

Book and lyrics by Christopher Durang. Music by Peter Melnick. Musical Director: Fred Lassen. Directed by Sheryl Kaller. With Alan Campbell, Rachel de Benedet, Orville Mendoza, Michele Ragusa, Jonathan Rayson, Will Swenson, Elisa van Duyne.

A zany, silly but utterly enjoyable musical, Adrift in Macao lovingly recreates the atmosphere of “film noir” movies and its stereotypical characters. One of the first jokes of the show relies on one character’s name being Rick Shaw, and that pretty much illustrates the overall tone of the book and lyrics. Add to that Peter Melnick’s delightful score, and what you get is a highly likeable comedy that feels a lot like a guilty pleasure.