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Exit Lines Tag

exit-lines-logo1Sutton Foster, a big Broadway star, headlines a 50th anniversary revival of Bob Fosse’s famed musical Sweet Charity that’s far from a “Big Spender.” The original opened the huge Palace Theatre in 1966; this thrust-stage production, Off Broadway at a 250-seat house at the Pershing Square Signature Center, is designed for maximum intimacy. The first 3D feature, Bwana Devil, promised a lion in your lap; Sweet Charity gives you Foster in your face.

And that’s not a bad thing. The two-time Tony winner, who has been dazzling us since Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2002, is so good, so assured, that

exit-lines-logo1Taking the kids to New York this holiday season? Or want to get your city kids off our island for an action-packed hour? I have an idea for you, and it’s a “pip”–Pip’s Island, an interactive, immersive entertainment that runs for the next eight weeks.

My kids, ages 8 and 5, enjoy children’s theatre, but they were skeptical about this one. “This is a walking show?” asked my kindergarten boy. “Is there a lot of walking? My legs run out of walking sometimes.” I thought he could

exit-lines-logoToday in small personal accomplishments: I moved Plenty from my “Plays I’ve Only Seen the Movie Of” file to my “Plays I’m Glad to Have Finally Seen” file. First performed at the Public Theater in 1982, David Hare’s drama picked up four Tony nominations in its subsequent run on Broadway in early 1983, including two for stars Kate Nelligan and Edward Herrmann. I saw the disappointing 1985 film version, with Meryl Streep in one of her less successful “accent” parts, overshadowed by the release later that year of Out of Africa.

Part of my frustration with the adaptation was that there didn’t seem to be much of a movie in the material, though Hare is said to have

exit-lines-logoDraped in apocalypse, September 11 was an apt day to see a preview performance of The Birds, which opens tonight at 59E59 Theaters. Daphne du Maurier’s short story, legendarily but loosely adapted by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963, proved a foundation for tales of random terror besieging mankind, and its claw marks are everywhere in modern horror, most notably in Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its never-ending offshoots. There’s traces of it in the Tony-winning play The Humans, where ominous noises periodically unsettle an apartment. How would the material “fly” on stage?

This Birds isn’t Hitchcock. Nor is it du Maurier’s, other than the basic premise and the name of its male character. Dublin-born playwright Conor McPherson is a dab hand at things that go

exit-lines-logoSummer comes and goes so quickly–so fast, two of the shows I’m reviewing this time are closing today, and one has already gone. (I do hope it comes back.) So let’s get to it.

Suggestion for your New York Sunday: Do a double feature at the Public Theater. Assuming you got up early and waited on line to obtain your free tickets to the final Shakespeare in the Park performance of The Taming of the Shrew, head downtown from the Delacorte to Public HQ and take in the afternoon performance of The Total Bent, which is new from Stew. The multifaceted musician had a Tony-winning success with Passing Strange (2008), a dazzling production, originally at the Public, that Spike Lee filmed for HBO. I remember it with pleasure. But the followup, while not without

“The room where it happens” is New York’s Beacon Theater, where tomorrow night Hamilton, the history-drenched hip-hop phenomenon, will be anointed “king of Broadway“–but will it make history of its own at the Tony Awards? Or will The Producers, which won a dozen Tonys 15 years ago, hold onto its record?

The undisputed star of a record-breaking year for Broadway, Hamilton received 16 Tony nominations, more than any other show to date. The problem (in a Hamilton-person problem sort of way) is that

exit-lines-logoWaitress, an indie hit in 2007, has been reborn as a delightful Broadway musical, now playing at the Brooks Atkinson. The star of the show is the phenomenal Jessie Mueller, who dominated the “revisal” of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever before winning a Tony as Carole King in the jukebox musical Beautiful. This is her first opportunity to originate new material, provided by Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles, and she raises the roof with one number after another. A wonder she is.

header-home-sm5_01While Mueller more than earns her tips, she doesn’t have to carry the show. The weight is equally distributed. The guiding spirit of filmmaker Adrienne Shelly is felt throughout Waitress, which taps, deeply but gently, into a

exit-lines-logoSpring has arrived in New York, or so it’s rumored. We’re currently in the grip of February weather. So, too, is the theatre season blowing hot and cold, on Broadway and off.

Gale force entertainment is on view at Studio 54, where a sensational revival of She Loves Me is brightening the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season. The original 1963 production was somewhat lost in a shuffle of shows that included Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly!, but the Roundabout revived it in high style in 1993, and now it’s back to delight a new generation. The source material, Hungarian playwright Miklos Lazlo’s Parfumerie, is well-traveled, having inspired the classic film The Shop Around the Corner (1940), the 1949 musical In the Good Old Summertime, and the modernized hit You’ve Got Mail (1998). An outstanding cast led by my No. 1 Broadway crush object, Laura

exit-lines-logo“The death of the American dream” is something we hear a lot about, particularly this election cycle, as the GOP presidential candidates attempt to out-doom one another with each utterance. But the definitive autopsy was written during the Carter administration, when Sam Shepard’s Buried Child premiered at San Francisco’s Magic Theater in 1978. A sensation there and in New York a few months later, the play won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. I caught up with it in 1996, when, via Chicago’s Steppenwolf, it made its Broadway debut, in a production I have yet to shake.

Part of it was the acting–under Gary Sinise’s direction, James Gammon and Lois Smith gave indelible, Tony-nominated performances as woebegone parental figures, adrift in their

exit-lines-logoAs the song goes, “Everything old is new again.” Let’s see how three Broadway revivals honor–and shake up–some classic shows.



Noises Off

Original Broadway Production: 1983

Revived: 2001

What I’ve Seen: Both, plus the 1992 film version

What’s New? Nothing–nor should there be. Michael Frayn’s Tony-nominated farce is airtight and bulletproof, the perfect armament against winter’s chill. It’s pretty much the only “old” play that I can recall

exit-lines-logoRace, November–plays so poor you would think that David Mamet hated theatre and was taking out some some of revenge on Broadway. The Anarchist, part of a double bill with a revival of Glengarry Glen Ross in 2012, was a germ of an idea frustratingly undeveloped. Reviews were brutal for his latest, China Doll, which opened in early December, and closes Sunday after a limited run. Critics, charitable toward his run of flops, had out their shivs this time. When you walk past a Broadway theatre whose exterior isn’t plastered with rave notices, you know the occupant has been left for dead inside.

But never underestimate an audience’s

exit-lines-logoI had planned to write about Lazarus, David Bowie’s “music theater” concoction, last month, when I saw it Off Broadway. Then I decided to combine it with a review of the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, also directed by theatrical wunderkind Ivo van Hove. Then there were numerous movies to review. Christmas, New Year’s, and travel.  Lazarus‘ all but sold-out run ends Jan. 20, I mused. It can wait.

Then Bowie died.

I was stunned. First by sadness–then

exit-lines-logoSchool of Rock should have been a slam dunk as a jukebox musical. Richard Linklater’s 2003 comedy, a big hit for Jack Black, has hits from The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, and The Doors, so in theory all that needed to be done was to obtain the rights, assemble a reasonable facsimile of the cast, and get ready to rock.

From what I gather that was the original plan, but something happened on the way to the Winter Garden: It became a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who sold out the same venue

exit-lines-logoBack in the early 90s, when I lived in Hong Kong, Prince Charles and Lady Diana paid a royal visit. If they were visiting some other part of the vanishing British empire, or a Western city like New York, this would have been front-page news, but for the local Chinese, already looking toward the 1997 handover to China, it was a shrug. I lived on an offshore island, and ferried in and out from Hong Kong Island from the famed Star Ferry Terminal. Cue “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”–and it was a many-splendored thing indeed the evening they arrived. I was about to take my ferry back when they alighted from the royal yacht; their security detail was small, and other than a phalanx of reporters the crowd was sparse. I stood all of twenty feet

exit-lines-logoThrillers are virtually extinct on Broadway–and the ones that limped onstage in the late 90s made a strong case for their disappearance. Stephen Sondheim’s fast-folding Getting Away with Murder, a miscast Matthew Broderick in Night Must Fall, and a famous fiasco of Wait Until Dark, with Quentin Tarantino, thespian, threw dirt on the casket as the genre was lowered into the ground. But I have fond memories of Deathtrap (1978-1982), which I saw with Robert Reed (and everyone saw with the late, great Marian Seldes, who in a record-earning feat never missed any of its 1,793 performances), and I’d like to see a new one succeed.

I’ll have to wait. Deathtrap, and another success in the genre, Sleuth, became movies, the latter twice. Familiarity with their twists and turns makes them difficult to revive. If you’ve never read Stephen King’s 1987 Misery, or seen Rob Reiner’s 1990 film version, then Misery might be the Broadway thriller for you. That can’t be that many “dirty birds”

exit-lines-logo“So soon?” I thought, when I read that Spring Awakening was returning to Broadway. Then again the Tony-winning musical has never really left me: its cast album, a Grammy winner, is my go-to theatre listening, with tunes like “The Bitch of Living,” “Mama Who Bore Me,” “The Guilty Ones,” and, of course, the irresistible “Totally Fucked” personal standards. (The last one runs through my head at least once a day, usually when I’m running late and I’ve just missed a subway.) The production, too, has stuck with me, not least for its cast of shooting stars–Jonathan Groff (Looking), Lea Michele (Glee), and Tony winner John Gallagher, Jr. (The Newsroom) played the leads, suffering the torments of adolescence in an adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 19th century play, then bursting into Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s exuberant  21st century songs.

Terrific. But the show, which opened in 2006, only closed six years ago, a blip in revival time. That’s not unheard of–The Color Purple, which closed in early 2008 after a run that began in late 2005, is also coming back this season. That, however, promises to be a more familiar reworking, stripping away the cumbersome production of the original to concentrate on the songs, the book, and the performances. What we have here, however, is an

exit-lines-logo“You can’t see everything,” I lament, as plays and musicals I might be seeing slip away from me. But I have seen a few things.

I heard from the great Patti LuPone a few days before I saw her in her latest play, Shows for Days, which closes next weekend at Lincoln Center. You probably did, too, as she declared war on cellphones and other distractions in the theatre, a campaign that made headlines. (Joining her was Hamilton co-star Jonathan Groff, who called Madonna a “bitch” for texting throughout a preview of the show. It’s not just the hoi polloi who behave badly…though I don’t think even Madonna would be quite so stupid

exit-lines-logoIt’s that time of the year again here in New York–Shakespeare in the Park time, so get on line early in Central Park, pack a picnic lunch after you’ve obtained your tickets (you can get good sandwiches at the Delacorte before the show), and prepare to enjoy The Tempest, the first free offering of the summer. Like most Delacorte productions, it’s a mixed bag, but at these prices, who’s to complain? And I saw it on a beautiful, star-kissed night, so I admit my critical defenses were lowered.

My only other stage Tempest was five years ago, with Stephen Dillane playing Prospero in a dry run for his role as Stannis on Game of Thrones, betwixt by magic and daughter issues. Here we have Delacorte veteran Sam Waterston in the part, and it’s not an ideal fit. He’s a sturdy actor, a conscientious performer, but not a

exit-lines-logoI meant to file a couple of preview/prognostication pieces before Sunday’s night’s big, big show. But…twas not to be, as a man of the theatre once said.

It started like this…

“The Tony Awards are upon us…and where plays are concerned look for the Union Jack to fly high over Broadway tomorrow night. I fully expect to see a British invasion at Radio City Music Hall tomorrow night, with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which critics and audiences have embraced since fall, feeling the love in multiple categories, including Best Play for playwright Simon Stephens and Best Actor for the deeply affecting Alex Sharp, too. The technical categories should go its

exit-lines-logoWhen you’ve seen a show, and afterwards you obsess about punching its playwright and star in the mouth–well, something has gone wrong. Or, maybe, that’s what its playwright and star wants you to obsess about. He pretty much says as much right here. All I can say is, Jesse Eisenberg, thank you and fuck you for ruining my weekend with The Spoils, now torturing audiences at the ass end of 42nd Street. In a very pleasant space, I might add, but trust me, your comfort ends with your chair.

The funny thing is, a few days earlier I had seen Eisenberg in a good movie, The End of the Tour, where he plays a journalist road-tripping with Jason Segel, as author David Foster Wallace. It’s a good movie, in part, because the 31-year-old Eisenberg, who often plays jerks, is playing a level-headed adult, envious and prying, perhaps, but professional. Looking at his resume, I should amend my comment to say that he

exit-lines-logoBroadway’s top ticket is Larry David’s Fish in the Dark, which has set a record for advance sales. (Pretty, pretty good!) Off Broadway, it’s…Alexander Hamilton? Founding father, Federalist Papers, Treasury Secretary, Aaron Burr...that Alexander Hamilton? Yes–but not your great-great-great-etc. grandmother’s Alexander Hamilton, though she’d certainly recognize, and grow to appreciate, the resemblance.

Based on Ron Chernow’s acclaimed biography, Hamilton is the unlikely brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Tony winner for his score for In the Heights. Or, rather, unlikely-seeming. Seizing on Hamilton’s

exit-lines-logoWhere does one of the world’s sexiest men go to transform himself into one of the more celebrated grotesques in history? Why, Broadway, of course–where Bradley Cooper, following in the footprints of David Bowie and Billy Crudup, is covering himself in burlap rags and contorting his handsome features as The Elephant Man, in a revival of Bernard Pomerance’a play, which was first performed in its current home, the Booth, in 1979. Cooper (who, largely unknown, stole Three Days of Rain from Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd and put himself on the map in its 2006 staging) says The Elephant Man inspired him to become an actor–not the play, but David Lynch’s unrelated 1980 film.

This is significant, as the play has a different emphasis. Cooper’s best moments come toward the beginning, when his pitifully deformed John Merrick, rescued from the degradation of sideshow life in Victorian London, is examined by his benefactor, Dr. Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola, as compellingly silky smooth here as he was in last season’s revival of The Winslow Boy). As slides of the actual Merrick are shown, Cooper, all but

In an era dominated by superheroes and other non-human factors, stars don’t mean much at the movies these days–if they did, would the likes of Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and Robert De Niro be turning up in slenderly budgeted VOD obscurities. But they mean a lot on Broadway, where I saw, with my own eyes, Hugh Jackman auction off a sweat-stained T-shirt he had just worn in The River. The first–and only–bid was for $10,000, topping the previous night’s $7,500. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS soon made $500,000 off those shirts and whatever else Jackman, the entertainer’s entertainer, was giving away during the fall’s donations drive.

My wife, who hadn’t seen her favorite on Broadway since his Tony-winning turn in The Boy from Oz (2003), regretted that she didn’t have $10,100 to give away. Then again, she had no reason to complain, as Circle in the Square is an intimate space, and we were no more

“You know what the biggest problem with that show is?” said my friend after we had exited The Last Ship, Sting’s first foray into musical theatre. “Its biggest problem is that its main character is an asshole.”

The “asshole problem” is indeed an issue with The Last Ship, a vessel with numerous leaks. But we’ll get to those in a moment. What does hold water is Sting’s score, which is partly drawn from his semi-autobiographical album The Soul Cages (1991); spirited performances of that disc’s “Island of Souls” and “All This Time” open the show, and “When We Dance,” from his Fields of Gold compilation (1994), provides a

Exit-Lines-LogoBefore diving into the 2014 part of the 2014-2015 Broadway theatre season, let’s look at some of the shows running Off Broadway. In the land beyond the Great White Way, it’s war.

Suzan-Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3) has closed at the Public, but is a cinch for regional productions–and there are six more installments to come, as the playwright of the Pulitzer-winning Topdog/Underdog (2001) resets Homer’s Odyssey to the Confederate South, where a guilt-wracked slave named Hero (Sterling K. Brown, excellent) decides to go to war against Union forces with his master (“I am grateful every day that God made me white”). In the second part, Hero debates with a Union soldier who has been taken captive; in the third, Hero makes his way back to Texas, where wife Penny has some

Here in New York we’re in the middle of what’s called the “Off” season–that is, the Off Broadway season, full of festivals and other theatrical diversions now that Tony season is well over. Broadway still offers a show or two, but it’s a foolhardy proposition as ticket buyers clamor for the established hits and the newly minted award winners. Case in point: The show that opened the 2014-2015 Broadway season, Holler If Ya Hear Me, was the first show to close after a few lackluster weeks at the Palace, a barn of a venue that was pointlessly reconfigured to bring us closer to a dreary jukebox musical, based on Tupac Shakur songs, that wasn’t going to woo the bread-and-butter tourist audiences keeping the old faithfuls alive. (It was essentially the evil twin of the saccharine, successful In the Heights.) Musicals that didn’t measure up from last season, like Rocky and Bullets Over Broadway, are on their last legs in the dog days. too. (While the wretched If/Then, substantially worse than any of them, keeps chugging along, thanks to the sheer drawing power of Idina Menzel, part of that rare breed, the theatre star.)

Off Broadway, the stalwart Cherry Jones ends a run this weekend at Manhattan Theatre Club in When We Were Young and Unafraid, by Sarah Treem, most noted for the HBO shows In Treatment and How to Make it in America. Propelled by narrative twists and turns the play, set in a safe haven for abused women off coastal Seattle in the pre-Roe vs. Wade era, could fit snugly on the channel. Agnes (Jones, projecting a stolid warmth) challenges one of her boarders, Mary Anne (a finely frazzled Zoe Kazan, returned to her OB roots), when the refugee, on the run from her soldier husband following

Exit Lines LogoAll things must come to an end, and today my neighbor, Michael Shannon, departs Theatre for a New Audience, where’s he spent the last six weeks in a mesmerizing return of Eugene Ionesco’s The Killer to the New York stage. I say “return,” rather than “revival,” as the play, first performed in Paris in 1959, hasn’t been seen here since 1960, so it’s not exactly Cabaret or Les Miz or some chestnut refurbished every few years. It’s a challenging piece of absurdism, running a bit over three hours across three acts, and I applaud TFNA and Shannon, an admirer of playwright Eugene Ionesco, for shaking the tree and finding a place for it here in Brooklyn at the company’s handsome black box space.

I also say “neighbor” loosely, as Shannon lives in Red Hook, a neighborhood away from mine. As it happens our kids (yes, General Zod, the Boardwalk Empire flagellant, and “weirdo” Oscar nominee for Revolutionary Road has two children and what I infer to be a pleasant domestic life) have attended the same preschool, and I have seen him out and about, most memorably this past spring when I observed him

Exit Lines LogoNeil Patrick Harris won’t be hosting the Tony Awards on CBS this Sunday night, leaving that task to its other perma-emcee, Hugh Jackman. In all likelihood he’ll instead be onstage winning a Tony Award, for the sensational revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Rightly so–besides tearing the roof off the Belasco eight shows a week, he’s won a sheaf of Emmys for hosting the telecast, so leaving merit aside he’s kind of owed.

Harris is a lock in a year that saw Broadway boxoffice reach a new peak, buoyed in part by star-driven shows that arrived at season’s end. I have to admit they gave good value. Bryan Cranston continues to work