March 28, 2009

Making the Wrong "Impressionism"

My friend Mary Anne and I were enjoying a light pre-theater dinner at Bar Centrale on Tuesday night when I heard her gasp. “That’s Jeremy Irons,” she whispered. And sure enough, Irons, the star of the brand new play Impressionism, walked past our table and out onto the street, where he stood chatting on his cell phone before ambling off. “I think his play is opening tonight,” Mary Anne said as she resumed eating her lobster quesadilla. “I doubt it,” I said smugly, sure that Irons wouldn’t be idling away his time so casually less than two hours before his official return to Broadway in 24 years.

I was wrong. Impressionism did indeed open at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre that night. Irons may have been wrong too. A little more urgency—both before his performance and during it—might have resulted in better reviews. Or maybe not. Perhaps Irons realized there was nothing he and his co-star Joan Allen, making her return to Broadway after 19 years, could do to save this disappointing romantic comedy cum art history lesson about a disillusioned photographer and a neurotic art gallery owner. Not even the great Jack O’Brien, who has worked Tony-winning magic directing such different productions as Hairspray and The Coast of Utopia, was able to salvage this one.

In fact,
Impressionism's behind-the-scenes drama is probably more entertaining than what eventually ended up on stage. Ten days after previews began, New York Post columnist Michael Riedel reported that theatergoers were leaving at intermission and the stars were writing help notes to the show’s lead producer Bill Haber. The producers (there are 23 of them) delayed the opening of the show for two weeks and collapsed the two acts into one. “That's one way of eliminating the mass exodus!,” wrote Riedel. (Click here to read his entire column.)

About half of the 100 intermissionless minutes that remain is told in flashbacks. But shortening the play seems to have shortchanged the photographer’s back story because it comes off as sketchy. We get more of the gallery owner’s but the chic outfits Catherine Zuber has designed for Allen made more of an impression on me. Marsha Mason does manage to add some bold strokes as a rich customer who patronizes the gallery. And André De Shields is crowd-pleasingly colorful as a sweet-potato-loving African tribesman in one of the memory scenes and a wise cupcake-making baker later in the play. Both of his roles were a little too stereotypical for my taste and De Shields may even agree with me (click here to read a Q&A interview he did with New York Magazine) but at least he and Mason, unlike Irons and Allen, were lively.

The show’s playwright Michael Jacobs is also making his return to Broadway with this work. His previous effort, Cheaters, ran for 33 performances in 1978. Since then, Jacobs has made a name for himself writing and producing TV sitcoms such as “My Two Dads” and “Charles in Charge.” I’m not a snob about TV and I like the fact that successful Hollywood people want to do theater. But Jacobs may have been better off with a more modest return that would have allowed him to build up his theater chops. Plus there’s an annoyingly preachy quality to his work that extends right to the notes in the Playbill. Does he really think he has to define Impressionism? And if you have to tell theatergoers how to think about a play, as his notes do, then the play probably isn’t doing its job.

There’s no denying that it’s great to see Irons and Allen in-person and they both look terrific. But most reviewers, columnists and theater-chatroom gabbers have been asking how these talented stars and their equally gifted director could have read the script and thought Impressionism would work. I imagine they all liked the idea of working on a new play (and hooray to them for that). There probably also was an appeal in doing a contemporary middle-aged love story (at least there is for me). And O’Brien, who was able to turn a philosophical work about 19th century Russian intellectuals into the theatrical tour de force that The Coast of Utopia became, may have been eager to attempt the same with a romance about the redemptive power of art. They might, however, have fared better with the latter if they’d all just met for a long discussion over dinner and a few bottles of good wine at Bar Centrale.

March 25, 2009

A Shout Out of Praise for "God of Carnage"

The French playwright Yasmina Reza’s popular plays follow a similar recipe: Take a trio or quartet of urbane but insecure people; steep them in a socially volatile situation; season liberally with piquant one-liners; add alcohol; simmer until confusions and confessions overflow.

The result is usually more soufflé than stew, but it’s yummy and, in its own way, quite satisfying. Reza’s 1994 play Art is currently the most produced contemporary play in the world, according to a recent profile of Reza in The New Yorker (click here to read it). And her latest, God of Carnage, which opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Sunday night, is not only lip-smackingly good but laugh-out-loud funny.

I usually tend to keep my feelings to myself when I’m watching a play but God of Carnage touched some atavistic spot in me and there were several times when I literally threw my head back and howled as I watched James Gandolfini,
Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden and Jeff Daniels cavort as two couples who meet to discuss a playground brawl between their 11 year-old sons that resulted in one kid’s knocking out two teeth of the other. The parents’ meeting starts out civilly and, after some imbibing, ends a lot less so—although not in exactly the way I had predicted.

My laughter might have annoyed the people sitting around me except that all of them, including my friend Ellie, were too busy laughing themselves.
Part of what amuses so many of us about Reza’s plays is the way she jabs right into the bloated main artery of upper middle-class anxieties. God of Carnage takes on helicopter parenthood, do-gooder smugness, unethical corporations, and, of course, compromised marriages.

Most regular theatergoers know people like the characters in her plays and even share some of their preoccupations. What provides at least part of our pleasure is knowing that no matter how ridiculous our foibles may be, they’re no where near as ludicrous as those of the people on stage. Or so we’d like to believe.

Adding to God of Carnage’s merriment are the contributions of Reza’s frequent collaborators the director Matthew Warchus, the reigning master of farce, and the playwright Christopher Hampton, who has translated several of Reza’s works into English from the French in which she writes them. The original production of the play was set in Paris, but Hampton changed the locale to London when the show played there last year (it just won the Olivier for the Best New Comedy of the past London season) and he has now smartly relocated the action to the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. (Click here to read an interview he gave the Wall Street Journal about the changes he made.)

Designer Mark Thompson has also worked on Reza’s previous Broadway productions and this time out, he has created a near perfect set that works both literally (a self-consciously aspirational family would live in a place just like this one) and metaphorically (the red carpet and stone wall evoke the exact primal feelings they should; when one of the characters says "I'm a fucking Neanderthal," he means it).

But it’s the actors who make this show a real treat, instead of just a nice trifle. Davis adds a delightfully zany spin to the straight-laced WASPs she usually plays. Daniels is so good that he’s hilarious even when he’s not saying a word. I had worried that Gandolfini, who spent so much of the last decade playing Tony Soprano on TV, wouldn’t be able to hold his own with such heavyweight stage pros. I’m happy to report that I needn’t have worried. He’s totally comfortable on stage and totally terrific. Harden has the juciest role and she squeezes every drop from it. Once again, I wish they gave Tonys for Best Ensemble.

Ellie apparently felt the same way because she was the first to jump out of her seat when the quartet came out for their curtain call. And her good mood continued as we walked over to 46th Street for a drink at Bar Centrale. The NY Post columnist Michael Riedel came in and sat next to us and Ellie started chatting with him. No; she doesn’t know him but that’s the kind of mood she was in. He asked what we’d seen. “The God of Savage,” I answered, not realizing what I’d said until I saw the puzzled expression on his face. We quickly sorted it out. But I wasn’t too far wrong. There’s a reason that jungle music plays at the beginning and end of the show.

March 21, 2009

"West Side Story" Gets a Special Retelling

My mother didn’t have the money to take my sister and me to see West Side Story when it opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1957. But she knew it was something special. So when the movie came out in 1961, she took us to see it at Radio City Music Hall. And to mark the occasion, she bought me a souvenir book that I read and reread until the pages fell out. So from the very first moment I learned that Arthur Laurents, the show’s original book writer, was planning not only to direct a new revival but to give it a grittier makeover, I knew I had to see it.

Maybe it’s my enduring fondness for this mid-century retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story or my ever-deepening appreciation for the genius of Jerome Robbins, who conceived and directed the original show, but I’m really glad I went. Even if this production isn't everything I'd hoped it would be, there is truly no other show like West Side Story. It was a pioneer in the merging of high and low culture that we now so take for granted. Leonard Bernstein’s score nimbly juxtaposes Stravinsky-like sounds alongside pop ballads. Robbins’ dances are as at home in a ballet repertory (they’re regularly performed by the New York City Ballet) as they are on the Broadway stage.

From the second that the 29-member orchestra plays the first jarring notes of the “Prologue” and the rival Sharks and Jets gang members begin to jostle one another on stage, it’s obvious, as my mother surmised all those years ago, that what follows is going to be something different and remarkable. And although this revival isn’t as thrilling as it must have been when the show was brand new and no one had seen anything like it before, there are moments of sublime pleasure, like when the lovers sing the duet “One Hand, One Heart.” “I totally believe them,” a twentysomething woman sitting behind me told her friend as she wiped tears from her eyes. Me too.

Laurents’ changes, or at least those that have survived from an early tryout at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., are mainly cosmetic. The most noticeable are that some of the dialogue and two of the songs (“I Feel Pretty” and “A Boy Like That”) are now in Spanish ("Siento Hermosa” and “Un Hombe Asi”). The translations have been smartly done by In the Height’s Lin-Manuel Miranda but I miss Stephen Sondheim’s old lyrics. And my husband K says the Spanish-speaking segments caused him to tune out because he knew he wouldn’t understand what was being said.

Still the core of this classic show remains the same—the gorgeous music, the incredible dancing. Joey McKneely has faithfully recreated the original Robbins’ choreography (click here to read a piece McKneely wrote about doing that) and West Side Story wouldn’t be West Side Story without those iconic dances.

Laurents, now 91(click here to read an incisive New York magazine profile of him), attempts some other efforts to make the show more relevant to contemporary audiences. It’s nice to see Latino actors in Latino parts but chorus boys performing jetes look like chorus boys performing jetes, regardless of their ethnicity. And the ones Laurents has cast as gang members this time around look even less menacing than those who created the roles a half century ago. The sex is now more obvious and the ending less hopeful but only by small degrees.

Even the performances track along the same lines. Tony, who has to be convincing as both a street tough and a guy tender enough to fall in love at first sight, is always a difficult role. Even the talented Larry Kert, who originated the part, was criticized for not being macho enough and Matt Cavenaugh has the same problems in this production. Just as Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno and Debbie Allen before her, Karen Olivo brings crowd-pleasing fieriness to the role of the best friend Anita. But Josefina Scaglione, a 21 year-old Argentinean, adds a new feistiness to the innocence that usually defines Tony’s beloved Maria and she has a luminous voice (click here to read an interview with her).

After the show, as K and I walked over to get a light supper at Bar Centrale, the Broadway hangout of the moment, I thought about what made West Side Story so extraordinary for me when I was a kid. Unlike musicals like Oklahoma and The Music Man, which centered around idyllic small towns where everyone knew everyone else and they all more or less got along, West Side Story was a musical filled with city folk, the kind of rough-edged people I knew. It expressed all their yearnings and it made me feel that somewhere, someone felt we were special too.

March 18, 2009

Why "The Good Negro" Isn't Good Enough

The word “negro” sounds almost archaic at a time when the nation is still basking in the pride of having elected its first African-American president. But, alas, that’s not the thing that struck me as most dated about The Good Negro, the Civil Rights drama that re-opened at The Public Theater on Monday, following a brief run there last year.

The play is a lightly fictionalized version of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Perhaps because the King heirs are infamously litigious about how their father’s legacy is used, The Good Negro changes King’s name to James Lawrence, his wife Coretta is called Corinne, his deputy Ralph Abernathy has become Henry Evans.

The main plot centers around their effort to find just the right victim of segregation to become the focus of their protests in the city. Their prime candidate is a mother who was beaten and thrown in jail for allowing her 4 year-old daughter to use a whites-only bathroom instead of making the child pee in a dirty alley way.

Playwright Tracey Scott Wilson recently told the Newark Star-Ledger that she wrote the play to offer a more realistic view of the Civil Rights struggle and its leaders (click here to read the article). She speculated in another interview with the New York Times that some people would be offended that she was pulling these idols off their pedestals (click here to read it).

But I wasn’t offended. I was just bored. Although mine is a minority opinion and most of the critics love this show (click here to see the Critic-O-Meter summary of their raves). I think my reaction might have been different if I’d seen The Good Negro 20 years ago. But over the past two decades I’ve seen the amazing PBS documentary about the Civil Rights movement “Eyes on the Prize” (I’m still praying for them to release an affordable DVD version) and I’ve read the award-winning warts-and-all biographies and histories about King by Taylor Branch, David Garrow and David Halberstam, so the play’s revelations—King and his lieutenants squabbled among themselves, the FBI bugged his home and hotel rooms, King had extra-marital affairs—aren’t really, well, revelatory.

My husband K has reminded me that a play doesn’t have to be an exposé but we both agree that it should have something fresh to say about the situation it presents on stage. And for my money, neither Wilson nor her director Liesl Tommy bring any new insights to the King story. The characters are flatly drawn and given clichés to say. I never felt the passionate commitment that would cause men like King and Abernathy to put aside their personal quarrels and fears for the greater cause of the liberation of their people or the extraordinary charisma that would inspire those people to throw off years of submission to rise up and follow them.

What saved the evening for me (although not for my buddy Bill or for K, who sat restless on either side of me) were the actors. All 11 were terrific but the standouts were J. Bernard Calloway, who captured the alternating empathy and envy of the Abernathy-stand-in, and Francois Battiste as a working-class father of the child, wary of the movement leaders who he knows consider him not good quite as good as they are. I wish the play had centered around one of them.

Or better yet, I wish it had centered around Bayard Rustin, the behind-the-scenes strategist whose communist sympathies and open homosexuality made him the odd-man out among the movement leaders but whose brilliant organizational skills made him too valuable for them to cut loose. In The Good Negro, he is represented by the character called Bill Rutherford, whom the play goes out of its way to identify as a married heterosexual with children. What sets Rutherford apart from the others is that he is married to a white woman, has lived in Europe and is more middle class than the others. The whitewashing of Rustin’s sexual orientation and the reliance on the old shibboleth that middle-class black people aren’t as “authentic” as other black people is emblematic of why The Good Negro wasn’t good enough for me.

March 14, 2009

"33 Variations" Hits the Right Notes for Me

One of the problems with casting a really big-name star in a play is the risk that so much attention will be focused on the star—how does she look? can she hold her own with the other actors? should we clap when she enters? and what was that thing that they were saying about her in the gossip column the other day?—that the audience will never settle down and surrender itself to the story unfolding on stage.

So you can imagine the challenge when the star is Jane Fonda, the iconic figure who has been stirring up all sorts of questions and emotions for nearly five decades and who, at the age of 71, has returned to the stage for the first time in 46 years as the lead in 33 Variations, the new drama that opened this past week at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

Moisés Kaufman, who wrote and directed the play, knows what he’s up against and he deals with it he
ad on. Right at the beginning of the play, Fonda simply walks onstage and stands there for a moment, allowing the audience time to applaud, to gawk (she looks damn good), and to forget about the one or two Vietnam vets across the street from the theater futilely protesting the trip she made to Hanoi 40 years ago.

I’m a Fonda fan from way back (I loved her first movie, “Tall Story;” 1971’s “Klute” is one of my all-time favorites; I can still hear her voice in my ear from the hours I spent going for the burn as I exercised to her workout tapes and I consider her 2005 memoir “My Life So Far” a classic of the genre) so when Fonda spoke her first lines somewhat softly at the performance I attended, I started to worry that maybe she wouldn’t be able to hold her own. But, of course, there was no reason to fret. Fonda is one of our finest actors and she delivers an elegant performance—her diction is crisp, her physicality detailed, her intelligence sharp.

She plays Kat
herine Brandt, a tough-minded but ailing musicologist who is trying to figure out why Beethoven spent so much time towards the end of his life writing 33 variations of a brief and inconsequential waltz composed by his publisher as a kind of marketing gimmick. The story shifts back and forth between the present (Brandt’s race against time to solve the mystery and the sorting out of her troubled relationship with the daughter who doesn’t quite live up to her standards) and the past (Beethoven’s race against time to compose as he is going deaf and his dealings with his publisher and amanuensis, neither of whom quite approaches his standards). At times, the actors in the separate stories appear on stage simultaneously and even say the same lines, underscoring the fact that they are playing variations on a theme.

Sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t. The storylines for previous Kaufman plays were structured around his interviews with people as with The Laramie Project about the ho
mophobia-inspired murder of 21 year-old Matthew Shepard or from documents and memoirs of eyewitness as with Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. But this one is largely drawn from his own imagination and that kind of writing doesn’t seems to be his strong suit.

Luckily, Kaufman has himself as director and he is a marvelous stager. Even when the story verges on the predictable, his theatrical stagecraft held my attention. He gets great support from Derek McLane’s smart and supple set and David Lander’s mood-enhancing lighting. And having the excellent pianist Diane Walsh play excerpts from the actual variations is a particularly wonderful touch.

Kaufman is a great caster too. Fonda radiates star power but 33 Variations isn't simply a star turn but an ensemble piece realized by several excellent performances. Zach Grenier is a little hammy as Beethoven but that is just what this role calls for and his up-to-but-not
-over-the-top shenanigans provide welcomed comic relief. Samantha Mathis is moving as the daughter, desperate to please a demanding mother. And Colin Hanks makes a lovely Broadway debut as the male nurse who falls for the daughter and is the modern-day fantasy of the guy we all want: totally supportive and absolutely unconditional with his love.

I confess I was rooting for Hanks. I once had lunch with him a few years ago when he was starring in the pilot of a TV show a friend wrote. One of the characters in the show—Hanks' nemesis, I’m sorry to say—was based on me and so we met to give him a sense of what a real-life pain I might be. ABC passed on the show but I’m glad to see that Hanks is still working and moving further out of the large shadow cast by his father Tom.

But, of course, most theatergoers will buy tickets to see Fonda. They won’t be disappointed. And don’t despair, if you can’t make it during the show’s limited run, which is scheduled to end on May 24. The tireless Fonda is blogging daily about the experience of being back on Broadway (click here to read what she has to say) and her jottings, no surprise, are just as entertaining as the show.

March 11, 2009

Who Are the Most Powerful Women in Theater?

I had planned for this entry to be about Jane Fonda’s triumphant return to Broadway in 33 Variations, the new play by Moisés Kaufman, but then I came across Harper’s Bazaar UK’s list of the 20 Most Powerful Women in the Theater in London (click here to see the full list) and I knew Jane, a feminist to the bone, wouldn’t mind if I put off writing about her show until my Saturday post so that I could talk about the list now (but if you’re dying to know, I’m going to say good things about her and the show).

Judi Dench made the Harper’s Bazaar list. So did Helen Mirren, who as I’ve noted in one of my tweets (click here to see everything I’ve written on Twitter) will star in a new production of Phèdre at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. in September. And so did Gillian Anderson, who is best known on this side of the pond for her work in the TV series “The X-Files” but has won honorary Brit status for her work there including a Donmar Warehouse production of A Doll's House scheduled to open this spring.

Of course the fun thing about lists is that they usually tell us more about the people who compiled them than the folks who end up on them. And that’s probably true for this one too. I can’t even pretend to be knowledgeable about London theater but I bet if there were a gender-neutral list of its 20 most powerful people, I’d recognize a helluva lot more male names on the list. In fact, I’m sure there would be a helluva lot more male names on that list than female ones. Cause the sad bottom line is that guys are still in charge.

All of this set me to thinking about who would make the cut for a list of the 20 most powerful women in New York theater. So I made up my own list. And here, in alphabetical order, it is:

Victoria Bailey, executive director of the Theatre Development Fund, the folks who are best known for running the TKTS booth but who also do other good stuff like introducing NYC public school kids to theater

Whoopi Goldberg, who uses her spot on TV’s “The View” to give Broadway shows national exposure

Susan Haskins, the executive producer of "TheaterTalk," which offers the best conversation about theater

Donna Karger, the host of NY1’s "OnStage," which provides the most complete coverage of the New York theater scene

Nina Lannan, the leading general manager who makes sure that shows like Billy Elliot and the upcoming 9 to 5 run smoothly, while also finding time to serve as chair of the Broadway League

Elizabeth McCann, who for over 40 years has produced such daring shows as Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia and Stew’s Passing Strange

Lynne Meadow, the longtime artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club, the perennial incubator for new plays like Proof, Doubt and now Ruined

Rosie O’Donnell, the tireless promoter of Broadway and the founder of Rosie's Broadway Kids, which teaches NYC school kids how to put on a show

Laura Pels, the angel whose generosity has made a difference at the Roundabout and the Public Theater

Mary Rodgers, the guiding light at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which holds the rights to all the R&H musicals but also represents
other biggies like Jerome Kern, Stephen Schwartz, and Andrew Lloyd Webber

Carole Rothman, the artistic Director at Second Stage, which promotes emerging playwrights and is about to take over the Helen Hayes Theater

Judy Samelson, the editor of Playbill, which keeps more theatergoers in the know about Broadway than any other publication

Sherrie Rene Scott, the co-founder of Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight Records, which provide an outlet for original cast recordings and albums by Broadway stars like Sutton Foster and Kelli O’Hara

Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the Broadway League, the trade organization that represents producers, presenters and theater owners across the country

Meryl Streep, because she’s Meryl Streep and can not only turn any show she does into a must-see but is also the mother of two up-and-coming young actresses who are setting the standard for their generation.

Susan Stroman, the Tony-winning director and choreographer behind shows like The Producers, Contact and Happiness, the new musical currently in previews at Lincoln Center

Julie Taymor, the innovative director who brought her downtown sensibility to The Lion King and who has now persuaded investors to give her $40 million to mount the upcoming Spider-Man musical

Paula Vogel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who has become a mentor to a new generation of writers like Gina Gionfriddo

Linda Winer, the longtime Newsday theater critic, who was the only female voice among the major critics until Elisabeth Vincentelli joined the New York Post this year.

Fran Weissler, the producer who, with her husband Barry, has become such a distinctive player in the industry that she's inspired characters in other people's shows

OK. Don’t just sit there grumbling, let the rest of us know what I got wrong, who should never have gotten on the list and who you can’t believe I left off.

March 7, 2009

Turning on the Ghost Light

A ghost light in a theater is a sign that everyone has left the building. A ghost light here is a sign that there will be no post today. But I’ll be back, as usual, on Wednesday. In the meantime, go out and treat yourself to a show.

March 4, 2009

It's No Dice for This "Guys and Dolls"

You can still smell the fresh paint when you walk into the Nederlander Theatre. It got a spiffy facelift when Rent closed after playing there for 12 years. There are even fancy new Mitsubishi hand dryers in the ladies restroom that do a terrific job. I wish I could say the theater’s other new occupant, the revival of Guys and Dolls that opened on Sunday, works as well.

My husband K flat out refused to see this new version of the Frank Loesser musical based on the Damon Runyon stories about the small time hustlers and good-time gals who once populated Times Square. K, a pit musician, had played in the acclaimed 1992 revival that starred Nathan Lane, Faith Prince and Peter Gallagher and he was sure it was too soon for a new production to match that one.

My sister Joanne tends to be more open minded. Besides, Guys and Dolls is one of her all-time favorite musicals. So much so that she even loves the slightly embarrassing movie version with Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. So after grabbing a quick dinner at Schnipper's Quality Kitchen, the upscale fast food restaurant that just opened on the corner of 41st and Eighth, she and I walked down the block to the Nederlander.

About 15 minutes into the show, right after Oliver Platt, playing Nathan Detroit, the fast-talking scoundrel who runs "
the oldest, established, permanent floating, Crap game in New York," has his first exchange with the hapless cop Lt. Brannigan, Joanne turned to me with a look of dismay. “This isn’t working,” she whispered. The man sitting behind us was less euphemistic. “This is horrible,” he hissed to his companion.

Nobody likes to see a show fail. At least I don’t. But there’s not much good I can say about this Guys and Dolls. The original 1950 production played for 1,200 performances and some people consider it the epitome of Broadway musical comedy. It has been revived on Broadway four times before this.

There had been talk that the 2005 British production, directed by Michael Grandage, choreographed by Rob Ashford, starring Ewan McGregor as the beguiling big-time gambler Sky Masterson and Jane Krakowski as Nathan Detroit’s long-suffering fiancée Miss Adelaide, and reportedly grittier than any of its predecessors, might transfer to Broadway as well. When it didn’t, the Jersey Boys team of director Des McAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo put in their bid for it.

That seemed fine. Then they named the cast. Platt, an actor I admire but one who has no musical experience, was tapped to play Nathan Detroit. The character is usually the show’s comic center but Platt seems almost embarrassed to be onstage at all.

Lauren Graham, who made her name as the mom in the cult TV series “The Gilmore Girls” does better with Miss Adelaide. She belts out her songs and looks great in the form-clinging dresses and thongs costume designer Paul Tazewell has designed for her to wear but her performance doesn’t capture the distinctive mix of quirkiness, poignancy and pizzazz that makes the character so lovable. “Not ditzy enough,” sighed Joanne.

Craig Bierko as Sky and Kate Jennings Grant as Sarah Brown, the Salvation Army sister he woos on a bet, do fine with Loesser classics like “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” but lack sufficient sizzle.

The creative team doesn’t fare much better. Trujillo’s dances struck me as generic. The one thing most critics like about the show is Robert Brill’s glitzy set but the space seemed cramped to me and I couldn’t figure out why he built a trench in front of the stage that the actors kept running into and out of for no apparent reason. Similarly, Dustin O’Neill’s projections make the most extensive and cinematic use of the new technology I’ve seen on Broadway since The Woman in White but it’s so busy, swooping here and swooping there, that it made me queasy.

There are a few bright spots. Loesser's score is still unbeatable. Tituss Burgess as the Nathan Detroit sidekick named Nicely-Nicely and the always reliable Mary Testa as a Salvation Army honcho bring down the house with the show’s always reliable showstopper, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” But it’s the 19th song out of 23 and it comes too late to save the show. For, in the end there are no true winners in this game. Except for K, who, when I got home, told me he'd had a very nice evening staying in.