Tag: Musical theater

‘Man of La Mancha’: Half a loaf

‘Man of La Mancha’: Half a loaf

(Top: Philip Hernandez (Cervantes/Don Quixote) and the cast of Man of La Mancha)

The famous 1966 musical “Man of La Mancha” opened on September 25 at the Westport Country Playhouse, and continues through October 14. The musical with book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion won the 1966 Tony for  best musical, as well as best score, best leading actor and best scenic design, beating out Sweet Charity, Mame, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, and Superman.

The Westport Playhouse production, directed by Mark Lamos, with music direction by Andrew David Sotomayor and scenic design by Wilson Chin, attempts to duplicate that success on a pared down scale, and with limited success.

Briefly, the show tells the story of the Spanish playwright and poet Cervantes being imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition (this never happened) and being put “on trial” by the other prisoners. Cervantes tells the prisoners the tale of Alonso Quijano , a madman who fancies  himself to be the knight Don Quixote, using costumes from a trunk he had brought with him to costume himself and the other prisoners to tell the story.

In this production Phillip Hernandez is a commanding presence as Cervantes and Don Quixote, with a great baritone voice to match: singing 9 of the show’s songs. In fact he dominates the stage completely, unlike any of the other actors.

4_WCP_ManofLaMancha_GAdisa_TManna_byCRosegg_217Tony Manna, in the comic role of Sancho, got off to a bad start in his first song, the second verse of “I am I, Don Quixote,” coming in excruciatingly flat. And staying flat for the entire song. He redeemed himself, however, in “I Really Like Him,” showing off his excellent tenor voice. It would have been better if he had separated the words in the comic lines “You can barbecue my nose, Make a giblet of my toes.”

(Above: Gisela Adisa (Aldonza) and Tony Manna (Sancho Panza))

Gisela Adisa plays Aldonza (whom Quixote calls Dulcinea) is a commanding presence as well, acting well. But her singing made her sound like she was in some other show, since as soon as she left her chest voice, her voice turned into a nasal pop style that just didn’t fit the songs or the show. Her singing in “What Does He Want With Me” might have been better if she had held the notes out instead of cutting them all short, and in her second act “Aldonza,” she basically shouted what would have been better as a smoother ballad.

For some odd reason, the directors had the cast pronounce Dulcinea as DOOL-cinea rather than DULL-cinea. We assume there was a reason for that, but we don’t know what it was.

Particular praise goes to Carlos Encinias as the Padre, who also had a lovely tenor voice, and showed it well in the beautiful ballad, “To Each his Dulcinea.” Unfortunately, the music director added some tinkling keyboard accompaniment to this song that not only isn’t in the score, it isn’t even in the instrumentation.

You might ask if there were any basses singing in the company. Well, other than baritone Quixote, the only real bass role is the Innkeeper, played by tenor Michael Mendea, who sang part of his song “Hail Knight of the Woeful Countenance” up an octave. He did sing, well, however.

The entire cast is made up of 14 performers. Don Quixote, Aldonza and Sancho just play one role, but the remaining 11 take on a number of small roles, including being the chorus, identified in the script as Muleteers. This doesn’t work out too well, as the choral numbers sound weak and off-hand for the most part. The Broadway cast had 6 Muleteers as well as having separate actors for each role.

The set by Wilson Chin is suitably dark and depressing looking and has the expected staircase that lowers from above when prisoners arrive or leave and the guards come to harass the prisoners.

However, unlike the recommendation in the script, the orchestra and conductor are not on stage behind the actors. Instead the orchestra is split and placed in the second row of each side balcony, making the front row balcony seats less desirable. More to the point, the orchestra would overwhelm the cast, and the singers all wear body mikes, something I have never before seen at the Playhouse.

I was surprised how hollow the orchestra sounded at the beginning fanfare, and that they skipped the whole overture. But the reason soon became apparent: the orchestra was only 7 players: trumpet, trombone, French horn, reeds, guitar, string bass and percussion.  The score calls for more than twice those forces: Flute/Piccolo, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon/Clarinet, 2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 trombones, 2 timpani, 2 percussion players, 2 Spanish guitars and a string bass.

The two percussion players play traps (snare and bass drum), floor tom-tom, suspended cymbal, triangle, large floor tom-tom, another suspended cymbal, finger cymbals, tambourine, castanets, temple blocks, xylophone and bells.  I heard very few of these in this performance.

So, we had less than half an orchestra, and I would ask: “Did we really see ‘Man of La Mancha’ at all, or was it just a thin facsimile? Without all 6 brass players, the chords were never filled in. The full orchestra would have been only 16 players and would have easily fit in their pit or behind the set as recommended. And this is professional theater, with a top ticket price of $75.

The show that we saw had the usual Westport Playhouse professionalism and most of the audience enjoyed it. But it could have been so much better!

(Photos by Carole Rosegg for the Westport Country Playhouse.)

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Hypocrites Theater: Pirates of Penzance

Hypocrites Theater: Pirates of Penzance

Sean Graney’s wild and unconventional take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance has come to NYU’s Skirball Center in the Village for an engagement that ends December 10.  The Hypocrites specialize in “mounting bold productions and redefining the role of the audience.”

In this case, the entire production and the audience are on the Skirball’s stage, both in three tiered rows of chairs on three sides, and sitting directly on the playing area. The actors will ask you to move if they need that spot. They call this “promenade seating,” and all the audience promenades around the set at the beginning.

When you arrive, you will find the entire cast on stage playing various stringed instruments and improvising a series of country-folk numbers while they throw beach balls to the audience. This is not surprising, since they are all dressed in Hawaiian beach attire.  And, in this production the cast is also the entire orchestra, made up of guitars, mandolins, banjos, a violin, an accordion, a squeezebox, a flute a clarinet and, in the second act, a washboard and a musical saw.  The arrangements are by the musical director, Andra Velis Simon.

Despite all this lovely chaos, this IS a production of Pirates. Most of the lines are intact (although there are some clever ad libs.) And they play and sing just about all the music except for “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.”

After the cast explains that you can get up and move around at any time, and go to the on-stage Tiki bar whenever you want, they launch into “Pour, oh pour the pirate sherry,” just as any other production would, except for the stringed accompaniment.

Most of the voices are excellent, and while the 3 Daughters are a bit shrill some of the time, this is clearly part of the fun: they clearly all can sing very well.

Most surprising is the Christine Stulik plays both Ruth, the comic mezzo, and Mabel, the ingénue coloratura soprano, since they are almost never on stage at the same time anyway. At the very end she appears in a red dress we have not seen before, and Freddy (Frederick to you) asks if she is Ruth or Mabel. She says she has no idea.

And as Ruth, Stulik delivers a rousing klezmer version of her first number, “When Frederick was a little lad,” with Freddy playing clarinet to help accompany her.

The Daughters (of the Major General) are relatively young actresses that we first see tossing beach balls with the rest of the cast, but when we see them as the daughters a bit later, they are all dressed in rubber bathing caps with little rubber flowers, and flouncy skirts.

The tenor lead, Shawn Pfautsch plays Frederick, or “Freddy” as he is mostly called, and has a lovely voice as well as great humorous athleticism. His duets with Mabel are just as good as in any other Pirates and probably a bit funnier. Matt Kahler, as the Major-General, has great poise, sense of comedy and terrific diction.

While this really is a production of Pirates, the Hypocrites carry it off with a cast of 10, playing Freddy, Ruth, Mabel, the Pirate King, the Major General and 3 Pirates and Daughters, as well as all the needed policemen. Don’t miss this delightful production!

Ben Platt is deep in pseudo-science as well as Tony awards

benplattBroadway actor Ben Platt sings the title role in Dear Evan Hansen, a spectacularly successful show nominated for 9 Tony awards, included one for Platt as Best Actor. Platt was profiled in last Sunday;s New York Times “He sobs 8 times a week,” in a article discussing the stress the character puts on Platt, who sings six songs, including a gut-wrenching second act number that he sings while crying. If you sing at all, you have to admire Platt’s dedication and talent, because this is really hard to do. Neil Patrick Harris is quoted as saying that he couldn’t do it, “I’d sound like a goat.”

But the Times article while praises Platt’s enormous talent, is way too accepting of some of the alternative medicine crap his coaches are putting him through.

First off, the article describes 4 circles on his back from “cupping,” a weird Gwyneth-level fad where small flasks are heated and applied to the skin, causing suction as they cool. This is supposed to impart relaxation or something. Speaking of relaxation, there´s this site that teaches very good subconscious mind training techniques, that will basically calm your mind down, give them a try. Continuing on the topic. We have previously discussed cupping when Olympic swimmers were trying it last summer. But as we noted, there is simply no evidence that cupping has any effect at all. Articles by Brian Dunning and Orac  (David Gorski) confirm that this is superstitious nonsense. All it does is leave ugly circular bruises. Some web sites suggest the cupping can help “detox” your body, but as we have noted before, there is no such thing as “detox.” Your liver takes care of this by itself.

Platt is also on a gluten free diet, which is only sensible if your have celiac disease. For anyone else, it is just a fad, as there is no clear evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. He also is on a dairy-free diet, perhaps to keep his weight down, but in fact studies have shown that full fat dairy is linked to a reduced rate of obesity.

Platt also takes oregano supplements, despite the fact that there are no studies showing any benefit. He also takes a zinc supplement, which is only useful in developing countries. In the US, there is no evidence that it helps with the common cold.

Finally, his voice coach used peppermint oil to treat his voice when he had an infection, but there is no evidence that it provides any relief for any malady at all.

Plat is undeniably one of Broadway’s finest young actors who certainly deserves his Tony, but it is a shame that his “handlers” are forcing these quack regimes on him. It is also a shame that the New York Times doesn’t question this quackery in their articles.

And remember:

Alternative medicine is made up of things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work. If something works, it is called medicine.

benplatthansen

Camelot at Westport Playhouse: a chamber version

Lusty Month of May
“Lusty Month of May,” Guenevere and Knights. Patrick Andrews, Michael De Souza, Britney Coleman, Mike Evariste, and Jon-Michael Reese. Photo by Carole Rosegg

Camelot opened Saturday night at the Westport Country Playhouse, in a new pared-down “reimagined”version with a cast of only 8 (plus young Tom) and an orchestra of the same size. While Camelot has a reputation of being overly long and swampy, this “chamber” version runs a fairly brisk 2:15 with one intermission.

The newly adapted book by David Lee features the 4 main characters: Guenevere (Britney Coleman),  Arthur (Robert Sean Leonard), Lancelot (Stephen Mark Lucas)and Mordred (Patrick Andrews), and 4 men who are remarkable singers and dancers: Michael de Souza, Mike Evariste, Brian Owen, and Jon-Michael Reese. Young Tom of Warwick is played by Sana Sarr.

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Britney Coleman and Robert Sean Leonard

Britney Coleman as Guenevere is simply spectacular and steals every scene with her gorgeous bell-like voice and smoothly glamorous acting. She alone makes it worth your while to see this interesting adaptation.

As Arthur, Robert Sean Leonard, is an excellent actor who gives you Arthur’s early immaturity and his later commanding persona with great skill and magnetism. Unfortunately, he is not a singer and talks his way through most of the music, often coming in late, to its detriment. He does sing in ”What Do the Simple Folk Do?” showing that he can sing a little.

Patrick Andrews as Mordred is everything you want in an evil, snarky, oily villain who also happens to be Arthur’s illegitimate son. He sings, he dances, and his two numbers with the 4 men: “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and “Fie on Goodness” show off his excellent dancing and Connor Gallagher’s imaginative choreography.

9_wcp_camelot_bcoleman_smlukas_bycrosegg_426
Britney Coleman and Stephen Mark Lukas

Stephen Mark Lukas is a dazzling Lancelot, tall, ridiculously handsome and suitably arrogant, with a lovely, rich baritone voice. His “If Ever I Would Leave You” is quite lovely and satisfying, although he was really working on those low notes.

This is really a chamber version of Camelot, cut down in size and length, and emphasizing the four main characters over any real ensemble work: there is no women’s chorus. The only female voice belongs to the fabulous Ms Coleman. The story is a little simplified, but almost all the great songs are there and Ms Coleman sings in eight of them.

What do we lose in this version? We lose Nimue and the lovely “Follow Me,” as well as Merlin, King Pellinore and Morgan Le Fay. And with the serviceable 8-player orchestra we miss Robert Russell Bennett’s and Phillip J Lang’s lush orchestrations. And of course, we miss the Overture and the opening Camelot March.

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The Revelers

 

While Camelot was always about spectacle, we don’t find that here. There is an opening dance, accompanied mostly by drumming that has the entire cast in colorful capes and grotesque masks that is quite stunning, but we have no idea what it was there for, except, perhaps to replace that opening march. The sets are fairly simple. Much of the action is played against floor to ceiling wooden panels, with a few pieces, like Arthur and Guenevere’s bed wheeled in. The wooden panels open to reveal a distant castle painted on a drop behind a scrim. From time to time banners are lowered and a huge circle, rather like a roulette wheel is lowered. I finally realized that this represented the Round Table.

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Robert Sean Leonard and Sana Sarr

The script called for Young Tom of Warwick to appear at the end of the show to tell Arthur he wants to become a Knight of the Round Table, after many of the original knights were defeated in the final battle. The director or adaptors have expanded that role. Tom appears in the opening number, barefoot and in pajamas playing with models of knights on horses. And he appears again during the jousting tournament, with his toys representing the actual jousting.

This adaptation does nothing to clarify the climactic, but baffling song “Guenevere,” where apparently an entire battle between Lancelot’s and Mordred’s forces seems to have taken place offstage. Arthur explains it afterwards. But the quiet ending with Arthur and Young Tom is as effective as ever.

If you go expecting to dread the original Camelot’s length and bloatedness, you will be pleasantly surprised at this compact version. If you are looking for spectacle, that is really only there by proxy. But the singing actors and orchestra put on a thoroughly professional and entertaining version of the story of Camelot.

The show runs through November 7, with performances on Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 2 and 8pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday ant 3 and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are available on the theater’s website or by callng 203-227-4177.

 

‘Forbidden Broadway’ opens at New Canaan Town Players

tpncforbiddenThe New Canaan Town Players closed their excellent season with Gerard Allesandrini’s “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits,” a compilation of some of the best spoofs from Allesandrini’s long-running “Forbidden Broadway”  satiric review (it opened in 1982).

The show, directed by Sheri Dean, with musical direction by Ben McCormack (who also accompanies) features six talented actor-singers playing dozens of roles, including Liza Minelli, Chita Rviera, Carol Channing, a devastating song about Mandy Patinkin, Cameron MacIntosh, Barbra Streisand and Harvey Fierstein.

They also manage to spoof (mostly gently) Chicago, Annie, Wicked, endless Les Miz songs, Phantom, Mamma Mia, Spamalot, Cats (of course), Fiddler, Rent and Hairspray. The well-deserved barbs the show throws at A Chorus Line are far from gentle.

It wouldn’t be fair to give away the jokes in this satiric review, but the talented cast: Stephen DiRocco, Emily Hull, Terry LeBel, Lauren Linn, Kellen Schult and Valerie Torphy use all the talents and a huge number of gorgeous costumes created by Debbie Runestad to amuse us all evening. In fact, some of the costume changes are lightning fast, and entertaining themselves.

To see the rest of the review, watch for it on the OnstageBlog