Friday, February 5, 2010


Nothing in my experience with James Snyder, which goes back to him playing Harold Hill in his high school production of MUSIC MAN, prepared me for the voice that came out of him in FANNY at City Center Encores! Certainly nothing in the short lived Broadway production of CRY BABY told us that James should be singing the Harold Rome score of FANNY. However, there he was on that City Center stage, with the first song out, soaring vocally with a kind of thrill in his voice that one gets from Brent Barrett (I once went to see Brent Barrett in GRAND HOTEL four times in one week for that thrill). His father is played by the legendary George Hearn and the Fanny of the title is played by a glorious newcomer, Elena Shadow, who sings with a lovely soprano. The other leading character, Panisse, is played with superb comic subtlety by Fred Applegate. Supported by a generous collection of supporting players, including Priscilla Lopez, FANNY is a rich romantic story with an absolutely gorgeous score. As always, a major featured player in an Encores show is Rob Berman’s orchestra, which is big and lush. It is a wonder that FANNY is not produced more often, for it is no more challenging than any Rodgers and Hammerstein show and those are over done. FANNY is a treat––a serious dramatic love story with a French seaside setting and beautiful music. Marc Bruni directed a clean, no nonsense production adorned with Lorin Latarro’s folksy choreography. John Lee Beatty gave this concert production a set that would be welcomed by any regional civic light opera company, while Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes did just enough to define character and finish out a unified look for the production.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Pride

Hugh Dancy stars in THE PRIDE

Off Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, MCC produced a gay play made successful by London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2008. Now directed by Joe Mantello with a stellar cast headed by Hugh Dancy, Andrea Riseborough and Ben Whishaw, with additional roles played by Adam James, this first play by Alexi Kaye Campbell doesn’t offer the audience anything new, but it allows for the cast to give beautiful performances. The material is well written and rich, but what it covers––mainly a then and now comparison of what it means to be gay––has all been done before. There is absolutely nothing new about this new play. Every single issue has been covered long ago, and many times over since the days of BOYS IN THE BAND or TORCH SONG TRILOGY. What is different this time around is that movie stars are at the helm and a broader audience will attend and hear the message with fresh ears. The topics of sad homosexual repression, or the deconstruction of contemporary stereotypes and a kind of demand for social acceptance once and for all may still be mind expanding the way Campbell has handled it. The audience that needs to hear the message might actually visit the Lucille Lortel on the lure of a Hollywood leading man, but they will get a lot more. They may not know the wonderful Ben Whishaw, unless they happened to catch the remake of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED or the dozen or so other UK films in which he has appeared. He is a recently celebrated Hamlet as well. Here he is fantastic, lucking out with the most colorful material and the most deeply drawn two characters to play. He is barely off stage, where as the more famous Hugh Dancy seems strangely absent from the play by comparison. However, when Dancy is on, he is stunning. He has the less flashy roles, but perhaps the more difficult ones, for he has the less entertaining and dare I say, more straight-laced characters, but Dancy makes his people compelling. Riseborough’s two characters are individually distinctive and she is both a delight and a picture of sadness, yet always mustering the strength to go on. Adam James gets the funniest bits with a magazine editor and a call-boy in Nazi drag, but then handles a serious doctor character’s ludicrous sequence with complete believability. The production is an acting triumph, even if it is topically antiquated, though the message of equality still needs to be said. We’ve come a log way with gay rights, but the work isn’t over. Thanks to the high level of production, THE PRIDE, can only help the cause.