Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Theatre Droppings, Autumnal Edition, Part I

With those Mice and Men finally put to rest, I am feeling the urge to check out what everyone else is up to around DC.

While performing the Steinbeck, I was able to take a few busman's holidays and catch a couple of local shows. The first was one of my favorite Sondheim musicals, "Merrily We Roll Along" at Signature Theatre. "Merrily" has always been a problematic piece, since it's told in reverse chronological order. So, we meet the leading characters when they are middle aged, jaded, cynical, and drunk. Hard to care about people like that. But the score may be Sondheim's most accessible, and most heartwrenching. After its well-documented failure on Broadway, the authors tinkered with the thing for decades (I saw one of the first remounts in La Jolla, CA way back when, with Heather Macrae in one of the leads...it wasn't much of an improvement, but it did alert producers that they were better off casting actors who could carry the "mature years"). They have apparently finally settled on a finished script, which received an excellent production at the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Festival a while back. Raul Esparza and Michael Hayden were stellar as Charley and Frank.

The Signature production had glowing assets in its unusual set and in Will Gartshore and Tracey Olivera playing Frank and Mary. I also enjoyed the actress playing second wife Gussie, whose name I cannot recall but was apparently a replacement for the original performer who had left the show. I did not get much chance to see the performance of the woman playing Frank's first wife, other than her bitter rendition of "Not a Day Goes By" on the courthouse steps. I hoped she was able to lose the crummy and distracting wig for Act II, as she "youthened" into the ingenue who first captured Frank's heart, but I don't know, as I left at intermission.

The Sig made one large miscalculation in the gent playing Charley, who seemed to be playing at the role instead of relaxing into it. As Charley carries a lot of the heart, and the hurt, of the piece, his quirks, which did not seem organic, made it difficult to relate to him.

I was sorry to miss the terrific section of Act II in which the gang begins their careers, including one of Sondheim's sharpest numbers, "Bobby and Jackie and Jack," about the Kennedys. And I will always think of that final sequence on the rooftop, as the very young Frank, Charley, and Mary announce that it is "Our Time" while Sputnik zooms overhead.

At KenCen, I wept at that moment of youthful optimism. I hope the Signature production was able to create the same.

I also caught another musical, this one in Baltimore, the aptly titled "Menopause the Musical." No one could be surprised at what this one is about, it's all there in the title. The production was a strong one, and the show could be enjoyed by all, though it is clearly aimed at women approaching "that certain age." Parody lyrics are placed upon existing songs of the sixties, and they are all a hoot. The show has been a huge success all over the country, so I suppose I don't know what I'm talking about when I say that the writers have shortchanged their show by creating characters meant to be archetypes (they carry names such as "Earth Mother" and "Iowa Housewife"). But the highlights of the show, at least for me, are the few times that the characters reveal something specific about their lives, talking about their children or their spouses or their mothers. These instances feel like the only real moments in the piece, but they are few and far between. The terrific cast includes my buddy Barbara Pinolini, veteran belter Monica Lijewski, and hilarious Jen Timberlake, and they do a bang up job. I, and the other three men in the audience, enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and the large contingent of women in the house went wild.
Coming up next, more Autumnal Droppings: a kid's show, a spooky tale, a Shakespeare, a Marlowe, and a BOOM...

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