Thursday, April 1, 2010

Theatre Droppings: From the Piazza to Skid Row

As usual, I am still reeling a bit from the closing of my recent show, but I bet I'll address that later. Here's one thing the demise of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime has done: though it's been months since I have had the time (or the inclination) to see what other theatres in town have been up to, I now have the time (and inclination) to do just that.

Arena Stage has been floating around town for the past several years while their home campus gets an Extreme Makeover. I caught their holiday offering of The Fantasticks at the Lincoln Theatre, and quite a while ago, I was mesmerized by Next to Normal, on its way to Broadway. That latter musical was staged in a converted movie house in Crystal City, which is where I saw Arena's current offering, The Light in the Piazza. This is surely a chamber musical staging (I have a feeling that the original production at Lincoln Center was bigger), and is compromised a bit by the flat, static set, consisting of a couple of archways, a stairway, some movable columns, and a Gothic set piece which is immovable and inhibiting. Thematically, the show depends on the dramatic beauty of Florence (and Rome, too), none of which we can visualize with the hulking backdrop Arena's designer has provided. The Crystal City space is not ideal for the show, but I think an open, airy stage and some visually interesting lighting effects would have been a better conduit for this very romantic story.

I was curious about The Light in the Piazza, as a New York friend saw the original production and proclaimed it "boring." Based on Arena's offering, I would disagree. The cast is very good, headed by a bunch of New York actors (no surprise there) who are all top-notch.

The local talent which comprised the ensemble was not used to their best ability, in my humble opinion, but of course, I am prejudiced toward local talent. In particular, Tom Simpson (with whom I worked in Man of La Mancha at Wayside last year) and Michael Sazonov (whom I admired greatly in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at Round House last season, and whose name, sadly, is misspelled in the cast list) were greatly underused.

And I freely admit to being an uneducated listener when it comes to music. The score by Adam Guettel, Richard Rodgers's grandson, has some pretty lush moments, and the small orchestra (perched atop the battlement walls, or so it seems), provides great accompaniment. I am not a fan of recitative, which occasionally rears its operatic head in the show, but the stand-alone ballads are gorgeous, delivered by great voices. The eleven o'clock number, "Love to Me," sung by Nicholas Rodriguez's young Italian, is a showstopper.

I also popped out to Ford's Theatre to see their current show, Little Shop of Horrors. I have a hunch this particular title was chosen more for its commercial value than for its position as an American classic. But the show is always fun, and this production showcases some terrific local talent, including my grad school buddy Elliot Dash. He voices the plant, Audrey Two, but in a very nice staging twist, he is placed above the stage, where he sits in a spooky green light. The show, in cast you forgot, concerns an invasion from outer space, so why not assume that the blood sucking plant at the center of the action is the leader of the aliens?

I saw a noon matinee of this show, which is a tricky time for singers who are required to belt scores such as that of Little Shop. The trio of ladies who provide backup and critique throughout the show are all rooftop raisers, I'm sure I've seen all three individually take the ceiling off various theatres.

The gal playing the leading role, Jenna Coker-Jones, is a dynamo. She is entrusted with the only two ballads in the piece, and she delivers them with such style that they are the musical highlights. (And the guy sitting in my chair, ie: me, NEVER thinks ballads are the highlights of musical productions.)

This is a swell production of Little Shop of Horrors; I hope it makes buttloads of money for Ford's.