Monday, November 29, 2010

Jesus Christ Superman By Beverly Creasey

GODSPELL debuted in 1971, following the phenomenal success of HAIR in 1968, becoming yet another anti-establishment (i.e. preaching love not war during the Viet Nam conflict), hippie-dippy (albeit soft) rock musical. But the award winning retelling of the last seven days of Christ had stiff competition from a British import which already boasted a best selling album by 1971. Where GODSPELL was sweet and ingenuous, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR was raucous, campy and immediately stole GODSPELL’s thunder.

The Turtle Lane Playhouse debuted with GODSPELL in 1980 – so it’s only fitting that the revival mark their thirty year anniversary, arriving December 9th.Stephen Schwartz’s catchy songs (Day By Day crossed over to the pop charts) lend an earnest glow to John-Michael Tebelak’s re-working of the gospel according to Matthew. Luckily TLP has a fresh-faced newcomer named Chad Moores to portray Jesus. He radiates goodness and light all over the place in Act I, in his cheerful yellow britches and superman T. (Act II reveals a testier Jesus, not entirely thrilled, understandably, with what’s coming.) NOTE: The role of Jesus is double cast and I only saw Moores. (Choreographer Jason Hair-Wynn is the alternate.)

More problematic than the material being so “nice” compared to SUPERSTAR – was TLP’s misbehaving sound system. At my performance, it alternated from not enough volume on some numbers to way too much, crackling at top volume and distorting the voices. (Maybe the devil was at work, considering all the attention to Christ!) But since Moores was so convincing as Jesus, I shall take his lesson about charity to heart and concentrate on the pluses in the TLP production.

All for the Best is aptly named, as it’s the best number in the show, with its cheeky vaudeville patina…with Light of the World a buoyant close to Act I. Kudos to director Lisa Rafferty for the lovely ASL in All Good Gifts and the touching tableau in By My Side…to Erin Beaber for her rousing Day By Day…and to costumer Richard Itczak for the authentic sixties garb. (Running through December 30th.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Goody Goody For Us By Beverly Creasey

Everyone knows GUYS AND DOLLS but maybe you don’t know that Frank Loesser won an Oscar, a slew of Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize (which he spoofed, calling it “the putzlitzer”). He had an acerbic wit (naming his first wife the “evil of two Loessers”) but could give himself over to a sentimental song just as easily.

This weekend American Classics celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Loesser’s birth with a chipper cabaret concert called LUCK BE A LADY (performed by GOODY GOODY, i.e., three American Classics regulars and pianist Robert Humphreville).

Humphreville finessed Loesser’s lyrical melodies (and a few by collaborators like Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael) while Valerie Anastasio, Mary Ann Lanier and Heather Peterson inhabited his delicious lyrics---with Lanier ripping Loesser’s sassy, bluesy Junk Man (“I’m gonna fix your wagon…do you black and blue [so the junk man] can pick up what’s left of you”) – with Anastasio proving she’s the consummate comedienne in Loesser’s (other) Runyanesque send-up, Murder, He Says. Then they gave us a medley of GUYS AND DOLLS with Peterson getting the most famous case of sniffles in all of showbiz, the hilarious Adelaide’s Lament.

If you haven’t experienced an American Classics performance, you’re missing the joy. Treat yourself to their next event in March, Alexander’s Ragtime Band at 100!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Adventure Of A Lifetime By Beverly Creasey

In case you haven’t heard, something extraordinary is happening at the Lyric Stage…twice! You can attend Part I of Charles Dickens’ NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, then come back another night (or do them both in one day) for Part II. The experience is nothing short of thrilling.

The shimmering adaptation has been engineered by David Edgar, shortening his first version for the Royal Shakespeare Company (presented on PBS with Roger Rees and David Threlfall). If you missed the first, miraculous incarnation – and even if you saw it – I’m happy to report that the Lyric’s version is just as delightful and uplifting.

Dickens’ idealistic tale of triumph over adversity has all the hallmarks you expect from his work. Drawing from his own family’s stay in debtor’s prison when he was twelve, Dickens chronicles the social evils of the time: the cruelty visited on children by knowing adults, the vulnerability of women and the infirm and the growing ranks of the impoverished.

Dickens threw his lot in with the Romantics who approached realism with a fanciful eye. The characters of Dickens’ creative imagination may seem at first glance to be melodramatic, especially the villains – but soon you’re aware of the emptiness in their hearts, too. The alchemy involved is quite remarkable: These broadly drawn inhabitants of Dickens’ London seem utterly real, despite Dickens’ romantic embellishment. In director Spiro Veloudos’ pitch perfect production at Lyric, twenty four actors portray one hundred and fifty roles and you marvel at each and every portrayal.

THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY begins, of course, with Jack Cutmore-Scott as the bravest of young men thrown to the wolves by circumstance (that would be the stock market crash, in case you’re looking for resonance to our time). Cutmore-Scott plays Nickleby with a righteous swagger. He’s kind, he’s good, but he’s no patsy. Jason Powers portrays the unfortunate Smike with an inner glow which fairly ignites under Nickleby’s protection. You cannot watch their friendship and not have your faith in man renewed.

Will Lyman gives a charismatic (and slightly wry) performance as Nickleby’s uncle and arch enemy. Wonderfully evil, too, is Nigel Gore as the nasty boarding school master and later, as a lascivious gentleman bent on deflowering Nickleby’s sweet sister (Elizabeth A. Rimar who blossoms as her independence and confidence grows). Maureen Keiller gets lots of giggles as her gregarious, chattering twit of a mother. Larry Coen is hilarious as the boarding school master’s potty son and later, as master of the revels. Sasha Castroverde is impressive in every role, from the conniving daughter of the schoolmaster to the gracious beauty who captivates our hero.

The Lyric stage overflows with rich performances; from Peter A. Carey’s compassionate, heaven sent clerk to Eric Hamel’s deliciously pompous wannabe actor, from John Davin’s greedy, grasping bachelor to Daniel Berger-Jones larger-than-life great hearted Scot, from Alycia Sacco’s clever en pointe “Phenomenon” to Leigh Barrett’s generous landlady. I wish I could name all the talented actors who enliven Dickens’ visionary adventure. I wish I could entice you to attend by revealing director Veloudos’ inspired comic touches…Better you enjoy them firsthand.

It’s not often a piece of theater can hold you in its thrall long after you’ve seen it. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY does just that. I can re-imagine every scene in my mind’s eye and be thrilled all over again exactly as I am with every year’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL. How many authors’ works can do that?