Monday, October 11, 2010

Jack's Completely Unsolicited Theatre Reviews: Double Trouble

This Columbus Day weekend I decided to take some of my hard-earned bonus and spend it on some Broadway shows. Through a fluke the theme of the weekend was "doubles" with shows called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Promises, Promises, as well as a return trip to see A Little Night Music, now with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Setting the tone for what's about to ensue, the house at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre on 45th looks like they let Lady Gaga rampage through the National Portrait Gallery's Presidential wing with as many Christmas lights as she could ever want. Combining the rock concert format of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with the creative anachronism of Spring Awakening, not since Assassins has presidential history been presented in such a darkly comic, yet poignant manner. It would be easy to say that Bloody Bloody… was simply poking fun at the current state of American Conservatism, but that's only if one ignores the subtext. Sure there's mavericks, teabags, a witchcraft dig, and shades of Bush v. Gore a plenty, but then there's the tale of the problem with populism on either side of the aisle: what do you do once you're elected and the populace can't help you anymore? Sure, the populace is great for getting elected but once elected they turn fickle: you're moving to fast/not fast enough, you're doing too much/not doing enough, etc. And then there's Maude... I mean Congress and the Courts. Damn those checks and balances! Now you're playing to the People's Representatives and not the People themselves. All of this is packed into one and three-quarter hours of rollicking fun that's a cross between an emo rock concert (complete with cutting scenes) and a 5th grade history assembly ;-) There is nary a weak link in the cast from Benjamin Walker as Andrew "Sexypants" Jackson, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as Twinkie-eating Vice President Van Buren, right on down to a ferret-fondling Secretary of State Clay and the poor actress who has to spend the entire emptying of the house lying on the stage.

Promises, Promises

First the good: I'm glad I got to see the original cast in its entirety. Sean Hayes was brilliant, especially in the physical comedy bits (him and Mr. Sheldrake's chair was priceless). Kristin Chenowith was quite good but then that's to be expected, and thankfully, I got to see Tony Award winner Katie Finneran's final performance before she left on maternity leave. Hilarious! Now for the not-so good: While there was some amazing dancing, see above, I was underwhelmed by the Turkey Lurkey number. And then there's Maude... I mean, the insertion of "I Say a Little Prayer" into the score. It just didn't make sense: She's singing it to a "you" while in a scene that has her chatting with a gaggle of her female coworkers? I get what they were trying to do, but I think it could have been done better.

A Little Night Music

THEN: On the whole I enjoyed this production in spite of my dislike of certain directorial choices (the overture came across as funereal, the use of the lieder singers as servants, accents were all over the place, etc.). Angela Lansbury was, of course, excellent (even if she did flub her penultimate line). Catherine Zeta-Jones did a credible job with the singing (admittedly not a taxing singing role) and sparkled in her scenes with her mother and daughter. Leigh Ann Larkin did a stellar rendition of Miller's Son putting Madonna to shame with her bench gyrations.

NOW: Bernadette was a far better choice for the role managing the comedy and the singing. Her performance of "Send in the Clowns" was amazing, light years better than CZJ. That being said, while I recall disliking Anne in the first viewing, I wanted to kill her this viewing. Her vowels were all over the place as was her accent (why was she sounding Scottish in a play based in Sweden). For an example of the vowel issue, take the lyric "I'm not domineering" which came out like "Um Gnat Doh-meh-nairing." Every time she opened her mouth I really wanted to "get my hat and my knife." Jessica Grové was in for Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra. Upon re-reading my first review, I'm sensing that the sarcasm might have been lost on the Madonna reference. I was not pleased at that choice, and was glad they (or she) toned it down. And then there's Maude... I mean, Elaine Stritch. I can't tell whether Elaine was hamming it up or forgetting her lines or both. She too went up on her penultimate line such that I'm beginning to wonder what's so hard about "The smile for the fools was particularly broad tonight." That being said whereas Angela and past Madame Armfeldts have played the role with gravitas, Elaine played it in a more earthy manner befitting someone who slept her way to the top.

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