Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Best is Yet to Come: The Music of Cy Coleman

At the 59 East 59th Street Theaters, presented by the Rubicon Theatre Company, a new revue of Cy Coleman songs brings back a taste of a bygone era of showroom and supper club entertainments. Directed by David Zippel with choreography by Lorin Latarro, the production is the kind that today might be more suited to Casino entertainment than Off Broadway, but Cy Coleman was a Broadway tune smith and so it is appropriate that we should have him back for a short time, if not on Broadway, then very close by. Billy Stritch has created the music arrangements and leads a wonderful eight piece band. He sings a little himself, but the majority of the singing is handled by a stellar ensemble featuring David Burnham, Sally Mayes, Howard McGillin, Lillias White and Rachel York. If Mr. Burnham’s name escapes the memory, he has appeared as Fiyero in Wicked, in the original cast of Light in the Piazza, as well as several national tours. He is the youngster among well known veterans and holds his own singing “I’ve Got Your Number” and “Witchcraft.” Lillias White stops the show with “The Oldest Profession,” which she introduced on Broadway in The Life. Rachel York gives a sultry “Come Summer” the torch treatment sitting upon the baby grand piano and later tears up the stage belting out “Hey Look Me Over.” Howard McGillian, who for the past so many years has been masked as “The Phantom” is looking like an older Cary Grant now, but still sings with that same golden tenor we remember from his Anything Goes and Edwin Drood days. His voice was particularly charming with “I’ll Give the World.” This nightclub entertainment would sit better if it were actually playing one of those elegant rooms of yesteryear, but it is a nice 85 minutes for those who long to hear Cy Coleman sung live by the kind of performers that equal the quality of the compositions. Now through July 3rd.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lucky Guy

A sparkling new musical comedy, rich with camp, color and plenty of bedazzle by the name of LUCKY GUY, has opened at the Little Shubert. The production is not only directed by, but book, lyrics and music have been written by Willard Beckham. Along with A.C. Ciulla’s spirited choreography, Mr. Beckham has perfectly filled out the Off Broadway stage with a little musical that plays like big Broadway. There is drag performer Varla Jean Merman as a country western star and Leslie Jordan as a show biz used car salesman to gay up an otherwise heterosexual story, handsome Kyle Dean Massey to put over the leading man’s portion of the score, and the ample support of Jenn Colella, Jim Newman and Savanah Wise, but William Ivey Long’s costume design is the real star of the show. The show that boasts such a thing is a vapid show indeed, but fluffy as LUCKY GUY may be, it is thoroughly entertaining, filled with comic surprises and a peppy score.

For what it’s worth, the story centers around Billy Ray Jackson (Dean) who has won a song writing contest advertised on a matchbook, moved to scenic designer, Rob Bissinger’s beautifully ballooned Nashville, to make a hit record with a start up record company. Big Al Wright (Jordan), is promoting his used car lot with a televised show at the Grand Old Opry, featuring the country western star Jeannie Jeannine (Merman). Jeannine hasn’t had a hit record in years and could use a great new song, so the two conspire to steal Billy Ray’s “Lucky Guy” to do the trick. Along the way, Billy Ray falls for the record label’s secretary, Wanda Clark (Wise) even as he is being seduced by Jeannine. Needless to say, the wrongs are righted and everything is tied up in a hasty bow in the last few minutes. The story is flatly insignificant, but it is good enough to support the fun and plenty of William Ivey Long’s inventive costumes.

A great deal of the fun comes from a quartet called The Buckaroos––a group of talented singing and dancing chorus boys (Callan Bergmann, Xavier Cano, Wes Hart, Joshua Woodie) who show up as cowboys, Hawaiian dancers and tap dancing native Americans. As singing hopeful Chicky Lay, Jenn Colella is comic gold, delivering her material like a country western Lucille Ball. As her husband to be, Jim Newman is delightful as a warmhearted record producer on the rise. This second couple might have been used far more, for their talents are immense, but they are lost in the story after the first few scenes. Past incarnations of this show have had an actual female cast as Miss Jeannie Jeannine, but it is difficult to imagine the role being as wonderful without Varla Jean Merman (AKA Jeffrey Roberson) filling the very large pumps, wigs and gowns.

This type of entertainment is the kind of camp-fest that appeals only to certain tastes and will not win over the theater goer who demands a little substance in their musicals, but after a few drinks at dinner, with a group of fun friends out for a diverting evening of mindless musical madness, LUCKY ME is throwing a pretty good party.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Addams Family

It took me a year to get to THE ADDAMS FAMILY and I can’t say the wait was worth it. What is astonishing is that this was a musical that was flat out panned and yet, it is still running a year later. I am convinced that it’s the title. America has had a love affair with these characters ever since Charles Addams first brought them to life in the New Yorker. The cult classic TV series insured their place in pop culture––in reruns it was one of my favorite shows next to THE MUNSTERS. In the 1990s we got the big screen version and a brilliant sequel, ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES with a screenplay by Paul Rudnick. Perhaps Paul Rudnick should have been brought on board to do the book instead of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, for he proved that a story could be told that harnessed all the one frame jokes that are typical of the original cartoons. What we get on Broadway is a second rate LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, but instead of the unconventional family being gay, they are the Addams family. Instead of the other family being conservative politicians, they are simply “normal.” The boy and the girl wanting to get married in this scenario are Wednesday Addams (Rachel Potter making her Broadway debut) and the normal boy she met in the park, Lucas (Jesse Swenson from SPRING AWAKENING). Wednesday tries to make the family create a “normal” dinner party for her boyfriend’s family. Of course it all goes wrong, but everyone learns (all too quickly) to accept each other’s differences.

There are many half funny lines, a few really good ones, but mostly the book is trite. Puppet master, Basil Twist, creates most of the magic with Cousin It, an octopus and effects surrounding Uncle Fester flying to the moon. The overall design is a delight thanks to Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, but it is a wonder that this creative team also directed the production. Not that the staging is poor, but it is generally the case that the directors and choreographer (Sergio Trujillo) are as instrumental in the creation of the final material of a musical as the book writers and Andrew Lippa the composer would be. The authors are not the only ones too blame for this bland and pointless entertainment.

Now as Gomez, Roger Rees makes a fine head of the haunted household and he seems to be having a grand time. Bebe Neuwirth continues on as Morticia and she looks magnificent, dances well, though she hasn’t been challenged, and she has begun to sing with a vibrato that sounds like a Model T Ford starting up. Rachel Potter sings Mr. Lippa’s songs with pleasing power, while Adam Riegler as Pugsley sings with such unpleasant swallowed tones that it is a wonder he was cast. There are many boys on Broadway right now that could have made Mr. Lippa’s music sound much better. Brad Oscar is perfect as Uncle Fester, giving it a strong dose of Jackie Coogan, which is just as well. Heidi Blickenstaff shines as Alice Beineke with the best voice in the show, while Adam Grupper is merely sufficient as Mal Beineke, though this has as much to do with the shallowness of the role. It is difficult for any actor, no matter how good they usually are, to make Broadway magic out of mediocre material and that is the best you can say for THE ADDAMS FAMILY––mediocre.

On the other hand, in secondary licensing, the show will sell well. The high school market will eat this up. They’ll take a look at it based on the title alone and it just may be the show to entice reticent boys to join the drama clubs of America. The large group of teenagers sitting behind me seemed to love the production, while the “adults” sitting around me barely cracked a chuckle. Obviously there is an audience for this show as is, but it is just too bad that such a good idea turned out to be so disappointing.