Last week I had the pleasure of taking in "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" in its new uptown location. I sort of had no idea what I was going in to see; I knew it was based on a section of War and Peace, a book I will probably never pick up, but other than that I walked in unaware of much beyond the great word of mouth I'd generally heard. 

The story isn't really the important part compared to the immersive atmosphere, but it mostly centers around Natasha, a young Russian girl who finds herself smitten with another man while her fiancée is off fighting in a war. The story is told in a Russian café setting where you can order food and drinks before the show and during intermission, and the atmosphere, costumes, and music all skillfully employ that thing where one foot is grounded in 1812 and the other foot in modern day setting. 

This was one of those shows I truly enjoyed despite myself. The lyrics don't even attempt to rhyme or hit any recognizable meter, as if an untouched translation forced to fit uncomfortably in music, occasionally making much of the words hard to discern. But the music is wonderful and evocative of the time period without being cliche or pastiche!  The entire character of Pierre barely deserved to be in the title as he was almost a nonentity. But the atmosphere was fantastic and rich!  Pierre could have had more time for an arc to be developed if some minor characters were cut, as they were not as much fun as the prologue advertised they'd be. But look, your waiter brought you some pirogies!  You love pirogies!  I imagine that future "traditional" stage productions of the show may not fare quite as well as what elevates the show to worthwhile is the truly stunning production and atmosphere.  

The show might be worth seeing just for the rousing prologue alone. Aware that the Russian source material is teeming with characters who are difficult to keep track of, each one is hilariously introduced through an opening number that occasionally assures you that if you get lost, your program's relationship diagram will get you back on track. It's like an Ahrens and Flaherty opening if they had traded sentimentality for sarcasm, and it's brilliant. I wish that sort of focus had been afforded to some other parts of the show, but nonetheless it remains a wonderful evening and I recommend seeing it quickly before it closes, which I've heard rumors of.... 

 

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

After an acclaimed run, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 has transferred to the theatre district. The show "invites you to join Tolstoy's brash young lovers for an evening you'll never forget, as vodka flows and passions ignite in Dave Malloy's electropop opera, ripped from a slice of 'War and Peace'."   
Ghostlight records is releasing a two-disc cast album to preserve the original score, which merges Russian folk and classical music with indie rock, electronica and organ-influenced cadences. I am hosting a giveaway for an exclusive first recording of the cast album.  To enter, either 
Contest ends Monday, November 25th!
 

Review: Quidam

02_Hand_to_Hand_0035_PS copy.jpg
There is a joke about every Disney theme park ride in the world being the same thing over and over again, to the general tune of "you've been invited to experience a new creature/technology/magic/exotic locale, which should be a wonderful problem-free experience except for that SOMETHING HAS GONE HORRIBLY WRONG!". Having now seen four Cirque Du Somehow shows, I can attest that Cirque's formula is something more like "life is dull and drab, but nothing is dull and drab IN YOUR LSD-INFLUENCED DREAMS!". Fortunately the expert performers at Quidam are never anything short of jaw-dropping... and besides, it's not like formulaic plotlines have kept anyone off the Tower of Terror. 


 

Blue Man Group: Revisited

"Is there anything I need to know about Blue Man Group going in?"
How do you even describe Blue Man Group?  It's three guys, painted blue, who do a series of vignettes that are funny or visually engaging, and they're painted blue, and.. well...
"Heck, I don't think you even really need to know English."
In the 13 years since I've last seen them at the Astor Place Theater, lots has changed for the Blue Men.  Their downtown off-Broadway NYC success was parlayed into much larger venue'd shows in Orlando, Vegas and elsewhere, spawning a few music albums and resulting in some newer vignettes of a grander scale.  Some of these additions have recently worked their way back into the off-Broadway production, much of the new material cetering around 3 human-sized iPhones which occasionally lower from the ceiling for the Blue Men to interface with.  These new setpieces often involve clockwork-perfect timing to produce some hilarious choreography in the interaction with the technology.  In fact I would say that the added elements seemed to take up half of the running time, making a revisit absolutely worthwhile for those who haven't seen the show in a decade.
And yet, for those who never got to see some of those earlier incarnations, a partof me laments the passing of the pre-ADD version I saw back when.  The new stuff is indoubtably cool, but the simplicity of the original--three dudes painted blue, entertaining you with nothing more than paint and plumbing and drums, a handcrafted feel--is now replaced by rock concert movements and a lot of whatever you can call the non-90s word for "Multimedia".  The sketches about Captain Crunch and Twinkies still hold up, but how can they not feel quaint when compared to in-show "apps" and LED screens that suddenly come alive and begin dancing?

But Blue Man Group has to be commended for keeping up with the times.  Perhaps I'm kidding myself to say I could enjoy myself with the "quainter" version nowadays; when the Blue Men ventured into the audience halfway through the show to stare at various audience members, I found myself restlessly impatient for for Rock Concert Movement Number Two.  So kudos to the creators for keeping up in an era where it's difficult to focus on just one thing at a
 

Macbeth on Broadway

Alan Cumming is back on Broadway doing a limited run of his tour-de-force almost-one-man Macbeth, and it is a must-see.  Set in a psychiatric ward, Cumming plays a deeply disturbed man who impersonates almost every character in the Shakespeare classic, occasionally leaving clues as to who this poor patient is, why he is recounting this story, and what has led him to become so tortured. 
Typically when I go into a Shakespearean play it takes me a few minutes for my ears to get accustomed to the diaalect, much like hearing a foreign language or accent and re-adjusting your listening habits. At first you found yourself doing a similar sort of thing in deciphering the various characters Cumming plays. That is, until you start noticing how he holds himself differently for each character, takes on different affectations, and that these subtler differences perfectly bridge the line between Cumming playing multiple characters and playing one madman who embodies each of the characters in the story.  It is nothing short of amazing, and when you join the rest of the audience for a standing ovation afterwards it is because of a truly spectacular performance, not because you liked the guy in The Good Wife.
I would recommend reacquainting yourself with the storyline and characters first if you're not too familiar with Macbeth, as this production adds a full layer on top of Shakespeare's text. Myself, I only had two small complaints with the show:

Complaint # 1. Towards the end, when Cumming is playing Lady Macbeth in the "out, out damn spot" scene, the lines where others describe Lady Macbeth's madness become the two asylum workers' commentary on the madness of Cumming's patient. I'm all for changed readings and meanings in Shakespeare's language, but since the lines were originally referring to Lady Macbeth, they instead continue to mis-comment on Cumming's male patient as a "she". If I presume that this particular patient's diagnosis includes Disassociative Personality Disorder--and that is a reading that may not be intended--it seems like this could be solved so simply by making the first instance of "she" more emphasized, almost in air quotes, as if referring to a side of the patient's personality.

Complaint # 2. Alan Cumming didn't get nominated for best actor? Wtf.

 

Les Miserables The Movie: Abridged


"Papa, Mister Hooper's camera is getting awfully close. "
"Yes Cosette, that's called a 'bad touch'."
 
Each year on the first Sunday after New Years (January 6th this year), a large number of Broadway shows close. Some limited runs, some Holiday shows, but the balance are shows that profited during the financially-lush Christmas season but not into the stark month of February.  

I'd say this year is no different, but among all the shows closing in January only 4 are actually closing on that January 6th date.  Some close on December 30th, a few (Anarchist, The Performers) didn't make it to Christmas at all, and a handful of others are closing a few weeks after that standard January 6th date.  And still you have others--Picnic, The Other Place, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof--with limited runs that have either just started previews or are about to, and won't open until January.  Perhaps I've always assumed that the time between December 31st and the first Sunday after New Years was more financially worthwhile than it really is.  And perhaps there's something keeping tourists around more through January 20th than the rest of January and February (Martin Luther King weekend?).

I admit haven't been paying much attention to Broadway this season.  On a whole I'm quite less interested in the new autumn stuff than usual, and you can sort of see the general theatre-going audience feel that way as well:

  • The Anarchist
  • Annie
  • The Book of Mormon
  • Bring It On (Dec 30)
  • Chaplin (Jan 6)
  • Chicago
  • A Christmas Story (Dec 30)
  • Dead Accounts (Feb 24)
  • Elf (Jan 6)
  • Evita
  • Glengarry Glen Ross (Jan 20)
  • Golden Boy (Jan 20)
  • Grace (Jan 6)
  • The Heiress (Feb 10)
  • Jersey Boys
  • Lion King
  • Mamma Mia
  • Mary Poppins
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Newsies
  • Nice Work If You Can Get It
  • Once
  • The Other Place (Feb 2)
  • The Performers
  • Peter and the Starcatcher (Jan 20)
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Rock of Ages
  • Scandalous (Dec 9)
  • Spider-Man
  • War Horse (Jan 6)
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Feb 24)
  • Wicked
In past years I've "half" crossed out shows that seemed like they still had a chance to announce a closing.  But looking at the past week's percentages and grosses for non-crossed-out shows, the lowest-scoring are Mamma Mia, Chicago, Evita, Mary Poppins, Phantom and Spider-Man, all in the 60-something percent capacity range.  Really, the only one of those I might guess has a shot of closing this winter is Evita, which loses Ricky Martin, Elena Roger and Michael Cerveris on January 26th, with no replacements announced as of yet.

Usually it's nice to see that those strikeouts are just making room for more new exciting stuff, but aside from wanting to Matilda solely based on Kevin Daly's high praise, I think I'm going to tune out of this upcoming Spring as much as I tuned out on the past autumn.
 

Review: ELF on Broadway

I am in the wrong audience for Elf.  I think the movie on which it is based is Just Okay.  I stopped enjoying Will Ferrell movies at some point after Anchorman, unless you count the Producers movie musical, in which case Ferrell was about the only thing I found worthwhile.  And when it comes to Christmas music, I'm less likely to get in the festive mood and more likely to rant about how all the recordings are Baby Boomer-era.  So perhaps it is fully chalked up to low expectations, but I actually kind of enjoyed the musical version of Elf. 

Elf The Musical takes it's cue from the original film at nearly every moment: it's still a story about a supposed orphan (Avenue Q's Jordan Gelber) who is brought up at the North Pole among elves before taking a trip to Manhattan to unite with the Father he never knew he had, all the while falling in love with a girl (Leslie Krtizer) who simply needs to find her Christmas spirit!  The plot is a near-copy of the movie, save for the obvious changes you'd expect with the constraints of the stage.  Which means, like many film-to-musical adaptations, characters will undoubtedly break out in song to belabor a minor point that was three lines long in the film. 

But bookwriters Thomas Meehan (Producers, Hairspray, Annie) and Bob Martin (Drowsy Chaperone) seem to understand the way these bland adaptations are expected to transpire and have decided to just go with the flow, all the while peppering the script with as many jokes as possible (many of which are pretty damn funny).  Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin's songs are serviceable and while they definitely have a Christmas feel, they are not quite as witty as the book that surrounds it.  In fact the need to "get a song in" often stops the show dead; an example is one song where Gelber's Buddy teaches Jovie the importance of singing, which not only feels like the most generic showtune ever but also happens so early that she has no character advances or epiphanies for the other half of the musical. 

The cast ranges from wasted (talented ladies Kritzer and Beth Leavel as Gelber's mother) to hysterical-but-a-bit-one-note (Gelber) to an unbridled joy (Wayne Knight, playing Santa Claus as a sometimes-narrator).  David Rockwell's yuletide set evokes the North Pole, the Empire State Building, Central Park, and a how-did-they-do-that-onstage ice rink that I can only presume was a very smooth telfon-y plastic that can be "skated" on.  I haven't seen Grinch, White Christmas or A Christmas Story's musical adaptations so I can't speak much about comparison, but if your family chooses Elf as the Christmas musical they see this season then by all means go, let go of your expectations, and have a great time.



RECENT BLOG ENTRIES

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
Last week I had the pleasure of taking in "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" in its new…
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
After an acclaimed run, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 has transferred to the theatre district. The show…
Review: Quidam
There is a joke about every Disney theme park ride in the world being the same thing over and…
Blue Man Group: Revisited
"Is there anything I need to know about Blue Man Group going in?"How do you even describe Blue Man Group?…

ITBA

RECENT COMMENTS

BROADWAY ABRIDGED LIVE! (THE CD)


Volume 1: Even More Musicals comedy album available for sale on iTunes/Amazon.