Friday, May 29, 2009

Not So Perfect Union

Catching Epic Theatre Ensemble's new Supreme Court romance/political drama A More Perfect Union with about 100 New York high school students certainly made for a memorable evening. Despite their youth they were well ahead of some of the play's plot twists. But with a new Supreme Court nominee this week, it at least seems timely.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hurts to Be Kind

Critics weren't terribly philanthropic to the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of The Philanthropist, a play by Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Atonement) produced when he was still a 23-year-old Oxford grad student. For comparison, I was a receptionist at a sperm bank in the Empire State Building when I was 23.)

Regardless of what you think of the play, which riffs on Moliere's The Misanthrope, or the current production, I'm sure you'll enjoy my interview with Hampton for Front & Center. The playwright-screenwriter-translator-adaptor-etc. made news earlier this week with the announcement that he would write the English-language adaptation of a German-language musical version of Daphne du Maurier's suspenseful novel Rebecca.

That book was one of my favorite reading assignments freshman year of high school. I was already enraptured with musical theater at the time and contemplated turning Rebecca into a a musical I wanted to call Our Beloved Manderley. Plans for the musical have long since been abandoned, so if Mr. Hampton is considering a title change for his adaptation he's more than welcome to mine.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wet and Wild

After the success of its five-year-old Brits Off Broadway festival, 59E59 is keepin' it local and inaugurating the Americas Off Broadway festival. I quite enjoyed the first offering, The Dishwashers, and will try to have more appreciation for clean forks and plates when I go out to eat.

Much of the appeal comes from its wacky yet understated sense of humor, something Canadians seem to do terribly well. Did you know that many of my favorite TV shows are Canadian? I'm talking about The Kids in the Hall, Twitch City and the one that's currently in my DVD player, Slings and Arrows, a series every theater lover, whether you hate Hamlet or not, has to see.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dreams and Dreamcoats

Curse you, Andrew Lloyd Webber and BBC America, for getting me absolutely hooked on a two-year-old British reality TV show — the outcome of which I already know — to cast a West End musical that I can't even see. I'm talking about Any Dream Will Do, the series that plopped 12 wannabe musical theater performers in front of a British TV audience and asked viewers to vote on which one they wanted to see play the lead in A West End revival of the Lloyd Webber–Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

After a rather chaotic first episode, which took viewers through the audition process and involved a lot more crying than singing, I've become swept up in the contestants' stories and struggles as they perform a song each week to impress a panel of judges that includes a surprisingly bitchy John Barrowman and producer Bill Kenwright, even though episodes are a whopping 90 minutes.

I'm not sure why I like this series so much more than Grease: You're the One That I Want, the American reality show that cast the leads for a Broadway revival of the popular musical that nearly every high school (mine included) does at some point. Perhaps the it's delicious ceremonial stripping of the colored coat from the contestant who's eliminated each week as he sings "Close Every Door," one of the show's ballads. Maybe it's the chance to see Andrew Lloyd Webber as a smart, caring man of the theater, not the caricature he's usually depicted as. Or it could just be that the wannabe Josephs are just more appealing than the Grease contestants, if not more talented.

It's probably also because it's the Lloyd Webber musical I'm most fond of, having seen the original Broadway production in 1982 or '83, when Allen Fawcett, who played Kelly McGrath on my favorite soap opera, The Edge of Night, was playing Joseph.

The show stuck with me. I sang along to the cast album, memorized the lyrics and longed to have a voice like Laurie Beechman so that I could one day play the Narrator (and soon learned that, despite the musical's message, it doesn't always pay to be a dreamer). I used a lyric from the show in my high school yearbook, and still love the song "Any Dream Will Do," though as an adult I've come to realize that the lyrics makes absolutely no sense. And I know some of my more puritanical musical theater friends must cringe when they hear some of the songs' false rhymes. ("All these things you saw in your pajamas,/ are a long-range forecast for your farmers" is one.)

But I will be tuning in for the final two installments, because beyond having the pleasure of watching young hopefuls aspire to musical theater stardom (something that is worth celebrating in and of itself), I'm enjoying being reminded of the sheer joy I felt when I first fell in love with musical theater.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Soul of Souleymane

With the Drama Desk Awards this Sunday and the Tonys following two weeks later, it's easy to forget that theater, at least Off-Broadway, is a year-round business, and a serious one at that. Although warmer weather traditionally heralds the arrival of lighter theatrical fare, the New Group's new production, Ian Bruce's Groundswell, is a heady drama concerning the struggles of three men trying to find their place in post-apartheid South Africa. My interview with one of the cast members, newcomer Souleymane Sy Savane, is in the current Time Out New York.