Tuesday, March 28, 2017

'Madcap,' You Say? Oh, That Would Be An Understatement!



Cole Porter and Jimmy Durante?
What could they possibly have in common?
Porter was all savoir faire while Durante was strictly hardscrabble. Cole was Indiana, Worcester and Yale while Jimmy was the lower east side, vaudeville and the school of hard knocks.
But Porter, a consummate Broadway baby, knew talent when he saw it. And, when it came to knockin 'em dead on stage comically, nobody topped Jimmy.
Of course, even a premiere tunesmith like Porter had to defer to the Schnoz when it came to putting over a song. So, when Durante took a featured role in Porter's 1930 screwball musical The New Yorkers, Durante's songs were written by Jimmy himself and performed with his irrepressible sidekicks Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson.
And Jimmy's big number, The Hot Patata still holds up quite well, thank you. How do we know? Well, because it's just been preformed on stage  by Kevin Chamberlin in homage to Durante as part of the New York City Center Encores production of The New Yorkers featuring an all-star cast and a loving recreation of some of the wildest, most effervescent moments of musical comedy you will ever see.
How clever and carefree is The New Yorkers? Well, when two lovebirds come in out of the rain he asks: "Are you wet?" And she answers: "Wet? Wet? I'm so wet if a breeze came through, I'd ripple!"
The show is full of wiseguys, winks, gangsters, soot-em-ups, molls, pratfalls and double entendres. And any attempt to figure out the plot would elicit nothing more than a robust belly laugh.
It's all been so lovingly reimagined by Encores that you'd hardly know that whole parts of The New Yorkers went missing and that researching the production took the Encores team from UCLA on one coast to Penn State on the other and lots of places in between.
And just because it's madcap doesn't mean it wasn't (or isn't) meaningful.
In fact, Porter broke new ground in this outing with his haunting Love For Sale, sung by a lady of the night and later banned on the radio. Among the other Porter gems beautifully delivered by the Encores ensemble, we enjoyed several that we had never hard before (including Where Have You Been? and The Great Indoors) as well as Let's Fly Away, I Happen To Like New York, Go Into Your Dance, Take Me Back to Manhattan and I'm Getting Myself Ready for You. Many of these songs were later covered by the king and queen of Cafe Society, Mable Mercer and Bobby Short.
Songs inserted in this new production from other Porter musicals include Night and Day, Most Gentleman Don't Like Love, You've Got That Thing and the pre-rap, patter triumph Let's Not Talk About Love, awesomely delivered by Arnie Burton. Of course, jokes and songs about alcohol, and how far people will go to get it, such as Drinking Song and Say It With Gin, reflect the musical's origin from the Prohibition period.
And the whole thing was inspired by those great Peter Arno New Yorker drawings and the magazine itself which was just beginning to emerge in the 1930s.
Are you still interested in the plot? In a nutshell: Wealthy New York socialite Alice Wentworth has a romantic interlude with Al Spanish, a nightclub owner and bootlegger. During their time together, they escape from the police and go to the bootlegging factory, among other adventures. Jimmy Deegan and his buddies Ronald and Oscar aid in their escapades, invent a new alcoholic drink, murder Feet McGeehan (several times!) and assist with the gangland wedding of Al and Alice.
And all of this provided a tear-up-the-stage excuse for the great Encores orchestra and the cast starring Tam Mutu, Scarlett Strallen and Kevin Chamberlin (directed by John Rando) to do their thing with immense affection, high spirits and kudos all around.
If you missed this Encores outing you owe it to yourself to visit City Center Encores pronto and sign up for future productions. You won't be sorry!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

It Was An Unforgettable Time For All . . .



Here's our review from The Bandstand's 2015 debut at Paper Mill Playhouse: 

Musicals about (or set in the period of) World War II?
Well, we suppose the most notable was South Pacific. The now landmark musical debuted in 1949 and vividly depicted the struggles and culture clash faced by those who fought the good fight against the Japanese in the Pacific theater.
South Pacific sort of defined the war musical, if there is such a thing. Because, honestly -- how can you really make a musical about war?
One approach is to incorporate the music of the war era. And certainly, WWII gave us plenty of great music -- music that uplifted our spirits, tugged at our heartstrings, reaffirmed and strengthened our patriotism and helped us to remain optimistic during some very dark days. That's the approach that was taken by Over Here, the Andrews Sisters musical that premiered in 1974 and helped launch the careers of John Travolta, Treat Williams, Ann Reinking and Marilu Henner. Over Here concerned the plight of those who faced the war from the homefront and worked hard to find ways to support the troops.
And then there's the recently-revived On The Town, the Comden and Green musical that tells the story of three American sailors unleashed for their 24-hour shore leave in the Big Apple where they find adventure, love, and frequent occasions to break into catch songs such as "New York, New York." It's like three WWII stories in one, all covered in the course of a single day.
Each of these musicals had their own "hook" -- their own raison d'etre: East vs. West and intolerance; the war years at home and the pathos of an ever-so-brief reprieve from the war.
But what about the real cost of WWII -- the real injuries, trauma, upheaval and nightmarish struggles faced by returning military? What about the aftermath of the war and it's impact on the lives of those who came home and on those that they returned home to? What about that?
The new musical The Bandstand, running now through November 8 at the storied Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn [NJ] asks that question and attempts to tell that story through the plight of six just-back-from-the-front WWII vets and a Gold Star widow. With dashes of irony, relived memories and even humor, we see that these vets have real problems. One is hyperactive, another is probably an alcoholic, still another is hooked on pain killers and yet another is obsessive-compulsive. But somehow they manage to come together via their love of music to form a successful band with the gal (Julia) as the lead balladeer and sometimes songwriter, collaborating with the group leader, a guy named Donny from Cleveland.
At the heart of this new outing are the show's very appealing and rapidly-rising Broadway stars, Corey Cott and Laura Osnes. Osnes gained Tony nominations for her work in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and Bonnie and Clyde while Cott won plaudits for his recent star turn in Gigi and his stint in the long-running Newsies. When Cott and Osnes are combined with the irrepressible Tony award winner Beth Leavel (as Julia's mother) and a fine ensemble cast, we have all the makings of memorable musical magic. Osnes shines in several numbers including Love Will Come and Find Me Again and Welcome Home while Cott burnishes his leading man credentials in Donny Novitski, Right This Way and Give Me A Reason. As for Leavel she's superbly on-point with two incisive numbers, Men Never Like To Talk and Everything Happens. She's a Broadway veteran who knows how to enrich every scene she's in.
In fact, Cott, Osnes and Leveal are the best reasons for seeing this show as all three stars contribute 1000 percent plus to the effort.
And the story (with a strong second-act) is helped by some unexpected twists and turns and a surprise ending that refuses to trivialize or patronize. It helps that the show is held together by a real, plausible narrative even when it may seem to lack a bit of snap.
With music by Richard Oberacker and book and lyrics by Oberacker and Robert Taylor, The Bandstand is a daring attempt at dramatizing and musicalizing the aftermath of a big, messy deadly war without becoming dark or worse yet, moribund. The Paper Mill deserves mucho credit for mounting this show which, for the most part succeeds.
And, after all in the post-Vietnam, post-gulf war era with what we know about PTSD and other maladies of war, shouldn't we be aware enough, mature enough and concerned enough to welcome the examination of such a topic which (save for a film like The Best Years of Our Lives) hasn't really been illuminated?

Miss The Circus? Now, You Don't Have To!





The producers of the world’s biggest magic show, The Illusionists, have teamed up with the award winning puppeteers from War Horse to present a thrilling turn of the century circus spectacular. Discover this brand new stage show, CIRCUS 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus, as it sets to captivate audiences of all ages this spring! Tickets on sale bit.ly/1903TMSG