Monday, February 4, 2013

Theatre Droppings: Princess Puffer Takes A Powder

I popped up to the New York Branch of my life last week, as I had not been there in almost a month.  My current Neil Simon gig in Annapolis has kept me too busy to take care of Big Apple Business.  But last week, I had more than a few days off, and took the opportunity to return to Manhattan Plaza.  There was success and failure there.
I'm crying too. My Les Miz screener never showed.
My mailbox was pretty full, but not at all overflowing, as one might expect from being unattended for so many weeks.  In particular, I was looking forward to receiving my SAG Award screeners, since SAG thinks I live in New York full time. 
I dislike Les Miz, but nevertheless was looking forward to
seeing it, with the luxury of a fast-forward button.

I received Argo (which I had seen in the theatres) and Silver Linings Playbook, but did not receive the third film which my union was sending: Les Miserables.  I have a hunch that the inefficient postal employee who spends so many hours sorting the mail for the 800 apts in my building made a mistake, and delivered my DVD to someone else.  And that someone else decided to keep it.  FAIL.

Though I am thoroughly incompetent to do so, I once again assembled a piece of furniture. 
I've used this tall director's chair to enjoy
my NY view for over a year. It's now
been replaced by a leather model.

Since taking possession of my apt on Halloween, 2011, I have enjoyed sitting in my huge picture window, gazing out the 29th floor.  I have a new stool with which to indulge my prying eyes;  I ordered a leather barstool from Costco, and uncommonly, put it together in about half an hour.  It is quite comfy and is a welcome addition to my limited decor.  SUCCESS.
This new stool will afford me countless hours of Jimmy Stewart-type Rear Window viewing.

My old friend Caitlin O'Connell is appearing on Broadway, in The HeiressHer limited run has been well-attended, due to the presence in her cast of Jessica Chastain (garnering lots of awards right now for her work in Zero Dark Thirty) and Dan Stevens, who is the swoony romantic lead in TV's current Brit hit, Downton Abbey
My buddy Caitlin, far left, shares the stage
with a Downton dude and an Oscar nom.
Tix are hard to come by.

I tried to see the show Wednesday, schlepping up to the theatre's box office as soon as it opened.  The line for tickets was hanging out the door, so I gave up.  FAIL.

But I had a big success with my next attempt to see something on the boards.  I remembered that I had an online coupon for a discounted ticket to the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  I snagged a seat for only 40 bucks, which is a steal for any show on Broadway, let alone a musical.  SUCCESS.
I was thrilled that Jesse Mueller was in the cast, as I saw
her Broadway debut only a year ago in the eviscerated revamp
of On A Clear Day... I wrote about that here. SUCCESS.

The show is one about which I have been curious for years, though I have never seen a production nor heard any of the music.  But knowing it takes place in a British Music Hall was enough for me to finally hunt down a production to take a look.
The biggest celebrity in this revival is not one of the leading characters, though she is billed as such.  The role of Princess Puffer, madam of a den of iniquity, is solidly supporting, but as Broadway legend Chita Rivera is playing the role, it's been given the star treatment, with the final curtain call and such. 
I saw Rivera decades ago in the first
Chicago, and hoped to see her again.
She was a no show for her matinee.

I was surprised, considering Chita's work ethic, that she was absent on the Wednesday matinee, so I saw a perfectly acceptable understudy.  I'm never disappointed with an understudy's performance, so I settled in to enjoy the show.
I acted as The Chairman (the MC) in a Christmas show taking place in a British Music Hall, so The Mystery of Edwin Drood's framing device of a British Music Hall held interest for me.
Edwin Drood contains two aspects of shows which I generally dislike, because they are often mishandled.  First, the audience is "warmed up" by the actors, before the play itself begins. 
Ensemble member Eric Sciotto was our "warm-up guy,"
and he was terrific. I later discovered he is one of
Broadway's leading dancers, and has worn the Gypsy Robe
several times, reserved for the most experienced of
Broadway's chorus members.

Since this is a fairly large Broadway theatre, with a balcony and such, this process takes all the ensemble members, who each take a section of the house and work the crowd.  I was surprised that I enjoyed this;  the actors were genuinely excited about the show and were able to translate that to the onlookers.  SUCCESS.

That second aspect of certain shows which I dislike also concerns forced audience participation.  One of the things which sets Edwin Drood apart from other musicals is the fact that the audience is polled to determine the ending.  I know how very smoothly such a thing can go, as I spent some time in the granddaddy of all audience participation shows, Shear Madness.  But I also know how such things can go terribly awry (there's a story of one of the great Dorothy Loudon's many flops, during which she was forced to auction off a chicken during the show).  Once again, this revival confounded my expectations, as the voting process was handled with great humor.
The voting process is handled with aplomb, humor, and swiftness. SUCCESS.
This production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is scheduled to close in about a month, before the Tony nominations are announced.  It will surely receive a few.  I was fully charmed by the production, and returned to the DC Branch pleased that I had spent several of my NY hours enjoying the Music Hall at Studio 54.

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