Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review of "CATS"

They’re back!  Those feline denizens of the junkyard have once again invaded the Broadway stage in a revival of the musical CATS.  The production has a number of very positive attributes.  The sets by John Napier, who conceived the design in the show’s initial incarnation, are playful and imaginative.  The costumes, also by Napier, are colorful, whimsical and mischievous.  Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is spirited, covering all styles of dance.  The score, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and T.S. Eliot, is tuneful even if it is a tad redundant.  However, no matter how you characterize the show it is still a musical about…cats.  Singing and dancing cats.  Truthfully, I don’t know how it ran on Broadway for 18 years.

The musical is based on T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The meager plot centers around the once-a-year Jellicle Ball where all the tabbys gather to await Old Deuteronomy cat choose which of them will ascend to cat heaven to be reborn into a new life.  Before the gripping finale the audience is introduced to many of the pawed creatures in both song and dance.  They cavort onstage and in the orchestra section of the Neil Simon Theatre.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is set to Eliot's verse.  Together, they produce songs, which are simple, melodious and pleasing but, as I found with the original production, hard to understand.  Eliot may be renowned as a poet, but his work doesn’t make him a satisfying lyricist.   There is the well-known and celebrated song, “Memory,” from the show, written by Lord Webber and Director Trevor Nunn.  The famed number is sung with an emotional and powerful voice by British pop star Leona Lewis, in her guise as the aged cat Grizabella.

Director Trevor Nunn, who also helmed the original 1982 production, has the cast energized as they bound up and down and across the stage.  His performers are a well-synchronized and indefatigable group of actors.  Every movement is fully coordinated without a paw, I mean foot, out of place.  While the theatricality is there, the musical does lack a dramatic and emotional focus. 

CATS, now and forever?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Review of "Oslo"

I am a political theater junkie.  I have been transfixed by such shows as Frost/Nixon, Brian Cranston as President Lyndon Johnson in All the Way and even last season’s Charles III.  Now I can add the new Off-Broadway drama (transferring to Broadway in Spring 2017) Oslo to my list.  The play is based on the real-life, secret negotiations facilitated by a Norwegian diplomat and her sociologist husband that led to the Oslo Accords, a document that laid out the groundwork for a peace process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).    

There is a lot of talk in this crackling, three hour, two intermission production.  But the material and its presentation by playwright J.T. Rogers is so enthralling and intriguing that you don’t notice the time.  Rogers gives us the requisite tense, shouting match negotiation sessions, but they are only one component of the complexities between these two hostile, mistrusting opponents seeking to overcome their adversarial relationship to forge peace and understanding.  There are no simple black and white answers.  Prejudices and biases you may bring to the show will probably be turned upside down, which only adds to the riveting and thoughtful nature of the play.
Michael Aronov, Jefferson Mays and Anthony Azizi of Oslo
There are many characters in Oslo.  The primary players are Mona Jund (Jennifer Erhle), the Norwegian diplomat who was instrumental in initiating the talks.  While a more behind-the-scenes person and a buffer between her government and the other involved parties she, nonetheless, is persistent in her beliefs.  Erhle is superb in her portrayal of the resolute envoy.  She is unflinching and forceful in her performance.  Her husband Terje Rod-Larsen (Jefferson Mays) is a novice, but unshakeable negotiator who gently, yet vigorously continues to push the peace agenda forward.  Mays is convincing in his resolve and skillfully straddles the fine line between the hubris and self-effacement of his character.  Actor Anthony Azizi, as the leader of the two-member PLO team, Ahmed Qurie, gives a layered performance.  He is stoic, suspicious, sometimes boisterous, but determined for the peace process to succeed.  Michael Aronov, as Uri Savir, head of the Israeli group, is a perfect counterpoint to his Palestinian adversary.  Aronov embodies his role with fortitude and passion.  He is fun loving; a man full of life.  However, when he switches on his negotiating persona he is no-nonsense, uncompromising and unapologetic for his words and views.
Members of the cast of Oslo
Director Barlett Sher, most recently known for his large-scale Broadway musical revivals, takes a wordy, complex script and presents it in an intelligent and understandable manner.  He smartly concentrates on the personalities behind the negotiations as a way to flesh out the story.  The emotions, temperament, and individual idiosyncrasies of the characters become the driving force of the play as opposed to the negotiation sessions themselves.  He slides the large ensemble of performers in and off the stage with deftness and precision.  He takes the minimal, circular set by Michael Yeargan to focus the attention on the performers and, in the small confines of the Mitzi Newhouse theater, gives us a birds eye view of the proceedings.  We are like flies on the wall witnessing history in the making. 

Oslo, a captivating historical drama through August 28th at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, moving to its larger venue, the Vivian Beaumont, in March 2017.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Collectible Showcase in Hartford

I have a Playbill collection that spans the 45 years I have attended Off-Broadway and Broadway productions.  There are a few shows I am missing so I was intrigued by the Papermania Plus Collectibles Expo at the XL Center in downtown Hartford, CT.  The event, considered the largest of its kind in the Northeast, has such items as movie star posters, concert posters, post cards, photography, rare books, stamps, sheet music, political items, and much more.  I was hoping one of the dozens of dealers might have the booklets I was searching for.  Sadly, I couldn’t find what I was seeking, but that didn’t prevent me from spending quality time poking around the antique ephemera and other collectibles.  I was surprised, for example, by the number of vendors that were selling hundreds of old postcards on every topic imaginable.  I discovered that theater paraphernalia didn’t seem too popular, but items related to films and movie stars were in plentiful supply.   It was also fun to peruse ancient maps and 1960’s concert advertisements.

One of the hallmarks of the event is the free appraisal by various vendors including Gary Sohmers of the television program, Antique Roadshow.  Have you ever watched the PBS show wondering what that possible household treasure might be worth?  On Sunday August 21st, from 11:00 am – 2:00pm, you can get that chance.  I did ask one dealer about my 1971 National Lampoon collection and was given a quick tutorial on what one can expect from selling collectibles verses what they might go for on the retail market.  Even though some issues I own go for $10.00-$20.00 on ebay there are only “worth” $3.00-$5.00 to a dealer.  So, my plans for an early retirement will be put on hold.

Papermania Plus continues on Sunday, August 21, from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm at the XL Center in Downtown Hartford.  Admission is $8.00 per person.  Senior citizens and college students with ID cards will be admitted for half price.   For more information, go to http://papermaniaplus.com/