Changes in the Wind

Cinderella-Playbill-01-13As you’ve probably noticed I haven’t actually posted anything since the start of the new year.  Life, I’m afraid got away from me.  But I have seen a number of musicals and plays.  Nice Work If You Can Get It (Thumbs up and I’m betting it’s still fab despite the departure of Kelly O’Hara).  The Mystery of Edwin Drood (A hoot!).  Cinderella (Sadly not a complete thumbs up.  Music is still wonderful.  But too many liberties taken with the story line.  It’s Cinderella, people.  No meddling necessary.)  Peter and the Star Catcher (yawn).  Lucky Guy (Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron, need I say more?).  Into The Woods (critics hated it, I adored it).  Idina Menzel at Carnegie Hall (AMAZING).  The Heiress (also fabulous).  Pippin-Playbill-03-13 Going to see Pippin next month.  Will be fun to see it again.  It was my first Broadway play in 1977.  Loved it then, hopefully will love it now.

IMG_0806And in addition to theatre going, I’ve also had another book out.  My novella, Escape, a new entry for my Last Chance Series.  Available at Amazon at B&N . And coming in June, the next book in my A-Tac series — Avery’s Dire Distraction.    Also coming in May the re-release of my two entries in the Devil May Care series (with Julie Kenner and Kathleen O’Reilly).  And sometime this fall the re-release in  digital format of my Matchmaker Chronicles–A Match Made on Madison and Set-Up in SoHo.

The real news thought is that my days exploring Manhattan are numbered.  We’re moving to photo 2the country– Connecticut to be exact.  So stay-tuned for some changes.  A new lifestyle for me.  And a whole lot more on antique houses and gardening in Connecticut.  I’ve already started my plant journal and I can tell you, it’s amazing what’s already blooming and it’s only April!  So watch for updates here.  And I’ll talk to you again soon!

Into the Woods

We had the amazing opportunity to see Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park thanks to a wonderful friend who couldn’t go and gave us her tickets.

First off, the night couldn’t have been better—the temperature was wonderful and setting Into the Woods in a park is brilliant.  Second, the set itself was amazing.  A series of “trees” set with stairs and risers that rose all the way to a bower at the tippy top.  So there were always levels in the choreography and that added a lot to the mystical feeling of the woods.

I’ve never seen Into The Woods Before, so have nothing to compare it to.  But I loved the difference in the tones of the first and second act.  The first (by Sondheim’s own definition) was farcical. Very funny. And the second was much more sobering (melodrama according to Sondheim) but still at times quite funny.

Donna Murphy as the witch was amazing.  Her voice is so powerful and she physically embodies each character she plays. (We first saw her in Wonderful Town.)  The costumes was really powerful as well.  Especially hers.  Although there are two places where the wardrobe malfunction I read about in the Post could have happened, thankfully for us, and Donna Murphy, it didn’t.  The song Last Midnight was marvelous and Children Will Listen was so beautifully done, even the crickets (a nice touch—by nature) shut up.

Amy Adams was also good as the Baker’s wife.  Not as strong a singer, but a delightful soprano and she definitely carried her role.  The Baker (Denis O’Hare) was also good.  Although for his big number, No One is Alone, his voice couldn’t quite keep up with Cinderella (Jessie Mueller, who was absolutely marvelous.  We’d seen her in On A Clear Day).  However, the Baker’s missteps, didn’t hurt the song.  It was still so moving and powerful.

Gideon Glick who played Jack (of Beanstalk fame) was delightful, but for his big song (Giants in the Sky) he wasn’t up to the task, sadly.  And so we lost a little of the power of his triumph.  Still, he was really good otherwise and so it still worked for me.

photo of the cast from

My favorite in the entire cast (except maybe Donna Murphy) was Sarah Stiles who played Red Riding Hood.  She was hysterical.  (We also saw her in Putnam County Spelling Bee and I think in Avenue Q—although she might have been gone by the time we saw it).  She has a great voice and uses it to full capacity. And the scene with her and the wolf had me laughing out loud (which I don’t do often).  The wolf (played by Ivan Hernandez, also Cinderella’s prince) was so good—and reminiscent of a 1980’s romance hero.  Which made it all that much more funny.  The song Hello, Little Girl was wonderful.

The set was fairly simplistic electronically speaking, none of the technological pyrotechnics you so often see these days, which for the most part was charming and added to the dreamlike quality of the narrator’s story.   I did think that the beanstalk was a bit hokey. But Glenn Close’s voice as the giant was a nice touch.  And there are a few things that I’ll leave as a possible surprise…because it’ll be more fun that way.

The real star of the show though, was—as it always is with Sondheim—the music and lyrics.  Music most specifically.  It was haunting, memorable, intricate and everything we love about Sondheim.  In short, possibly my favorite of his.  Although I would probably say that about whichever I’ve just seen.  If you have the chance this month enter the lottery or head to the park in the early hours to stand in line for tickets.  Or like me—maybe your fairy Godmother will bestow them on you.  Anyway you choose, it’s well, worth it.

Delacorte Theatre, Central Park.  Tickets are free but must be obtained in advance.  Runs through August 25th.

Sister Act

So my daughter wanted to see Raven Symone in Sister Act.  She’d watched Raven on television when she was little, so it was fun for her to see her all grown up.  I was a little more hesitant.  I loved the movie with Whoopi Goldberg so was less certain that I’d like the musical.  Still, Ms. Goldberg played a big role in bringing it to Broadway, so I figured it would be a fun afternoon.

And I was right.  While it definitely doesn’t fall into my top ten (or even twenty) musicals, it was a lot of fun.  And Ms. Symone was a delightful Delores.  She had the requisite twinkle in her eye.  But even more impressive were her supporting cast members, including, Carolee Carmelo, Sarah Bolt and Marla Mindelle.

Ms. Carmelo played the mother superior and had an absolutely wonderful song in Here Within These Walls.   And Marla Mindelle brought down the house with The Life I Never Led.   And the nuns, with the assistance of Delores, finding their voices in Raise Your Voice filled the theatre with laughter and made everyone smile.

Lady In The Long Black Dress was also an enjoyable number.  Sung by a trio of thugs working for the man chasing Delores, the song is about how the trio is going to seduce their way into the convent.  And although the constant poking fun at the late seventies and early eighties got a little old, it worked nicely for this song.

The Broadway Theatre is quite large.  Much more so than most of the theatres in New York.  It definitely makes for a less intimate experience.  We also saw The Color Purple there, and I felt then, as well, like I was in an auditorium rather than a theatre.   But all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the musical, and had a lovely afternoon with my daughter.

Sister Act closes Aug 26th.

Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway.

Clybourne Park

So, Clybourne Park won best play at this year’s Tony Awards.  And I was lucky enough to have had the chance to see it.   Playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre, I’m delighted to say that I was in full support of the win. And that’s with a lot of other fabulous plays in the running.  Some of which I’ve already talked about here.

Written by Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park is a stirring dark comedy that weaves a story around the people occupying a house in both 1959 and 2009.  The biting play examines difficult subjects with both poignancy and wit. Neighborhood identification and race are key components of the play.  But it is the characters that make the sometimes difficult topics resonate.

In 1959, the house is occupied by a middle-class white couple who have recently survived the death of their son.   As they pack up their house, intending to leave their painful memories behind, their neighbors drop by with concerns about the people who have just bought the house.  Present also are the couple’s maid and her boyfriend, bringing a subtext to everything that’s said, and finally building to an expected but still heartrending climax.

The second act opens in 2009.  The neighborhood is “reemerging” and the white couple buying the house meet resistance from the neighborhood coalition who very much want to retain the flavor of the old neighborhood.  Again tension underlies laughs, as we see the situation from the reverse side.   And face the reality that although fifty years has passed not all that much has really changed.

The cast was marvelous, especially Jeremy Shamos and Annie Parisse.   In particular in the first act, when Ms. Parisse’s character is deaf, the added layer of subtext is particularly well-done.  Christina Kirk and Frank Wood were also excellent.  Mr. Wood in particular plays physical comedy very well.  Rounding out the cast were Crystal A. Dickinson, Damon Gupton and Brendon Griffin.   Mr. Gupton was superb in both acts.  And he gave his character both emotional depth and believability.   The scene where Ms. Dickinson and Mr. Gupton carried the trunk was marvelous on so many different levels.

It isn’t easy to write about difficult subject matter.  And it’s even harder to make what can be uncomfortable at the same time funny.  And Mr. Norris is successful in both making us laugh and making us think.  Bravo!

Clybourne Park, Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street.  (212) 239-6200

The Lyons

We recently had the opportunity to see The Lyons at the Cort theatre.   Nicky Silver’s dark comedy centers around the Lyons, a New York family in crisis.   Linda Lavin (of Alice fame) plays the matriarch, Rita Lyon.  I wanted to see the show particularly because I had heard she was so good.  And she didn’t disappoint.   Both she and actor Dick Latessa, playing her husband were hysterical.  The secondary characters, the couple’s daughter and son, played by Kate Jennings Grant and Michael Esper respectively, were less interesting to watch, although I suspect this was due more to the uneven nature of the play than the actors themselves.

While I found the first act delightful, in a deliciously dark comedic sort of way, the second

act seemed to have come from an entirely different play.  There was a sadistic twist that left me feeling uncomfortable and truly didn’t seem to fit in the play at all.   But by the end, when Ms. Lavin was back on stage, we had circled back to the biting humor that set the first act apart.   And despite the uneven nature of the piece, I have to say that I still enjoyed it.  Although mostly because of that first act and Ms. Lavin’s Rita.

The Lyons.  Cort Theatre.  138 W 48th St.  New York

Seminar (Redux)

As you already know, I saw Seminar with my daughter when Alan Rickman was in the play.  And it was fabulous.   But, as you probably also know, my husband did not make the performance and so he still very much wanted to see it.   To that end when Rickman left and Jeff Goldblum—who I also love—joined the cast, it seemed like the perfect way for me to see it again, this time with my husband and mother in tow.

I’m not big on revisiting something I like.  Especially if there have been major cast changes.  And in this case not only was Alan Rickman gone, but also the actors playing Kate and Martin, both of whom I thought were excellent—particularly Lily Rabe as Kate.  In the new version, the role of Martin had been taken over by Justin Long (yes, Mac guy) and Kate was played by understudy Christina Pumariega.   I’ll also admit that I always hate seeing that little slip of paper in the Playbill saying that a major cast member won’t be performing.

But in this case—all my worries were for naught.  Jeff Goldblum was wonderful.  A completely different interpretation of the role from Rickman’s.  And I have to say I thought a better one.  Definitely funnier.  And wonderfully off-beat.  Somehow this Leonard made more sense in the context of the story.  Rickman played him as tortured and somewhat cruel. Enigmatic which was by no means a mistake.  He was excellent in the role.  But Goldblum’s slightly jaded, definitely off kilter Leonard was more vulnerable somehow, and I actually could see him taking the journey revealed to become the man he was more so than I did with Rickman’s version.

And Justin Long was absolutely wonderful.  While I thought Hamish Linklater was strong in the role, Long was so much better.  There were more layers to the performance.  And his physicality playing against Goldblum was superb.  Maybe it was just the two of them together.  But I was totally impressed.  (As I have been in his movie appearances, particularly the last Die Hard.)  He also walked a tightrope between repression and vulnerability.  And he almost perfectly captured the obtuse reactions of a man missing the woman standing right in front of him—until it was too late.

Lily Rabe, the first Kate was absolutely pitch perfect.  I’ve enjoyed her in several Broadway performances and think she’s definitely an actress to watch.  Christina Pumariega, as an understudy (replacing Zoe Lister-Jones), was someone you wanted to cheer for.  I mean, who doesn’t love the underdog.  And she didn’t disappoint.  While her performance didn’t have the complexity of Lily Rabe’s, it was spot on perfect with comedic timing.  And if you’d missed the little white slip of paper, you’d never have known she was the understudy.

All in all, I actually enjoyed this performance more than the first. Both Jerry O’Connell and Hettienne Park were still playing the same roles from the original cast.  And as is often the case, they had settled into their roles nicely.  Hettienne still hitting the perfect notes for her character Izzy and O’Connell seeming more relaxed and natural in the role.  I appreciated his character much more this time. Whether it was his acting or the shift in the tone due to Goldblum’s interpretation, I can’t say.  But I highly recommend it.

Theresa Rebeck, who brought us SMASH for NBC, has written a poignant, funny story about writers and their fears both real and imagined.  It’s worth an evening at the theatre.  In my case—twice.

Seminar, Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street

Porgy and Bess

When I was a little girl, my parents listened to records on the stereo.  And a lot of those records were soundtracks.  So I grew up knowing the words and music to a lot of musicals I hadn’t actually seen.   One of the greatest joys about moving to New York has been, not only being able to see so many Broadway plays and musicals, but also to have the opportunity to see revivals of some of the musicals I fell in love with simply through the score.

One of those musicals is Porgy and Bess and recently I had the opportunity to go to the Richard Rogers Theatre and see the new revival with Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis.  If you read the papers you’re already familiar with the brouhaha that surrounded the premiere of the revival complete with words from Stephen Sondheim.   A lot of them not so good.

BUT, I’m here to tell you that I found the musical thoroughly entrancing.  I’d already fallen in love with Audra McDonald.  I hadn’t had the opportunity to see her on Broadway although she’s been in several productions since I’ve lived here, but I’ve heard her sing on various shows, and adored her character on Private Practice.  So I’ll admit it was a toss-up between seeing her and hearing the Gershwin’s music that drew me to the production.

And neither of them disappointed.  McDonald was sublime.  As many of the reviews have said, she is the soul of the show.   Her physicality, especially during the rape scene on the island is spell-binding.  We can actually feel Bess’s  dejection, hope, despair, and finally acceptance as she moves through the story.   Bess is one of the most finely wrought characters I’ve seen in musical theatre in a long time.  And here, in McDonald’s capable hands, she was beautifully portrayed.

But in my mind, the show belonged to Norm Lewis.  If McDonald is the soul, he is the heart.  His Porgy embodied what it is to find something in the middle of nothing and to realize the importance of the find. Not only in the fact that he comes to love Bess, but that in the aftermath of everything that happens, he has actually become a stronger man.  One who is now willing to fight for more than what he’s come to believe is his place in life.   And although the show ends on a note not exactly true to the original (as I understand) I thought it was lovely.  And Lewis’s portrayal was emotionally wrenching and uplifting all at the same time.   And like McDonald, his physicality was amazing.

David Alan Grier who I’ve watched on television for years, was great fun to watch on stage as well.  And his singing voice was excellent.  Ain’t Necessarily So, one of my favorite song was the high point of his performance.

Summertime, sung first by Nikki Renee Daniels and then in the second act by McDonald, was beautifully done both times.  And worth the ticket price just to hear both women sing the song.   And to hear it in the context of the story made it even more moving.   In addition to Daniels, the rest of the supporting cast was excellent. Particularly,  Natasha Yvette Williams as Mariah and Joshua Henry as Jake.

The set was simple but evoked a time and place and was well used as we moved from the town square to Porgy’s house, to the island and back again.  The storm was beautifully done with sound and lighting and the loss of both Jake and Clara was keenly felt through the choreography as well as the music.

All in all it was a magical night at the theatre and a chance to see and hear a great American classic, sung by an amazing cast led by McDonald and Lewis.

Porgy and Bess, Richard Rogers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street  (212) 221-1211