July 28, 2012

Taking It a Little Easier Than Usual

Yep, it's that time again.  We're heading into the dog days of summer when everything slows down. Including B& Me.  As seems to have become a tradition around this time each year, I'm shifting into vacation mode.  I'll continue to see a few things and to let you know what I think about them but over the next month or so I won't be posting as regularly as I usually do.  Instead I'll be kicking back, spending more time on the terrace and sampling some of my husband K's new cocktail recipes (he's recently been testing out ones for piña coladas). I hope your summer is being a great one too and that, even in these lazy days, you’ll still find some time to see a good show or two.

July 25, 2012

Memory-Making Visits to Two "Uncle Vanyas"

Actors and directors love to do classic works.  It gives them a chance to size themselves up against the myths and memories of earlier, legendary performances and productions.  And those of us who are theater junkies love to see them do it. That gives us the chance to look anew at these works that define the theatrical canon and, perhaps, to witness some history in the making. 

This explains how I ended up seeing two versions of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya within just the last four weeks.

The first was the Soho Rep production, directed by the ubiquitous Sam Gold from a new adaptation by his frequent collaborator playwright Annie Baker and starring a treasure chest of New York’s best stage actors.  It was scheduled to run for a month and close on July 15, but has proven such a must-see that it’s now been extended through Aug. 26.

The second production is the Sydney Theatre Company’s, helmed by the Hungarian director Tamás Ascher, who is considered one of the world’s reigning Chekhov interpreters, from an adaptation by the company’s co-artistic director Andrew Upton and starring Upton’s wife and co-artistic director, the Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett. Its brief run at City Center as part of this summer’s Lincoln Center Festival ends this weekend (click here to read about the evolution of their production).

The New York Times’ Ben Brantley so loved the Ascher-Upton-Blanchett version when it played at the Kennedy Center last year (it gets “under your skin like no other I have seen,” he wrote; click here to read the whole review) that despite the disappointing experience I’d had the last time I saw Uncle Vanya (click here to read that review) my theatergoing buddy Bill and I bought tickets as soon as they went on sale.

But just a few weeks later, I read that Soho Rep was planning to do the play and I couldn’t resist seeing what three of my very favorite showmakers—Gold, Baker and the inestimable Reed Birney as the disillusioned Vanya—would do with it and so Bill and I bought tickets for that one as well.

And I’m glad we took the double dip because the companies have taken radically different approaches to the play. And both are worth seeing.

Gold and Baker’s is almost aggressively contemporary and emphasizes the melancholy of this play about a group of interrelated and unhappy people whom economic circumstances have forced to share a Russian country house (click here to read about the thinking behind their version).

Baker, who is credited with the costuming, has dressed the actors in the kind of casual street clothes they might have worn in the rehearsal room. Andrew Lieberman’s set looks like thrift-shop cast-offs and Mark Barton’s lighting design leans heavily on the on-set lamps that stagehands and the actors plug in to signal the start of each act.

It’s a determinedly no-frills take on the play that reminded me of David Cromer’s revelatory modern-dress version of Our Town and the new no-set, no-props Cock: in all three cases, the viewer is forced to focus on the play because there’s not much else there but the play.

This stripped-down aesthetic extends to the seating for the Soho Vanya. The inside of the theater has been arranged so that there are no real seats. Instead, the audience sits on carpet-covered platforms that surround the playing area. It creates an intimate space in which to see the play but unless you’re in the first row there’s no where to put your legs.

Most people, except for the occasional women unlucky enough to be wearing a skirt, sat yoga style at our performance.  But, as my numbed knees will attest, it’s not the most comfortable way to see a play.

So it’s a testament to the production that I was not only riveted by it, but moved as well. Although Baker’s language is decidedly modern, the play’s themes of unrequited love and missed opportunities are timeless. And the actors she and Gold have assembled are fearless in exploring them.

Birney is unsurprisingly excellent as Vanya but the spotlight may have been stolen by Michael Shannon, who brings an edgy, idiosyncratic charm to the role of Astrov, the doctor who falls in love with Yelena, the restless wife of the much-older professor who is his patient. 

Meanwhile Merritt Wever, best known as the cheery junior nurse on TV’s “Nurse Jackie,” is wrenching as Sonya, Vanya’s self-effacing niece who is helplessly in love with the doctor and who gives the play’s famous final speech which, in this production, becomes an elegy for all those who lead lives of quiet desperation.

There is more comedy in the equally conversational adaptation that Uptown has written for the Sydney Company.  And it’s a fancier production. He and Ascher have updated the time period from Czarist Russia at the turn of the last century to the Soviet Union at midcentury. 

Ascher’s longtime collaborator Zsolt Khell has designed an elegant dacha that is just rundown enough to suggest the economic hardships that all but the highest members of the Communist Party endured during that period.  

And costume designer Györgi Szakács has underscored the class differences in this supposedly classless society by incorporating touches of peasant wear into the outfits of the characters who live in the country, while dressing the professor and Yelena, who have recently arrived from Moscow, in sleeker, more fashionable outfits.

Blanchett, long a favorite of fashion magazine editors, looks fabulous in these clothes. And, of course, she acts fabulously too. Chekhov is prized by actors because he wrote roles that allow them to show off both their dramatic and comedic talents, often within the same scene. Summoning her considerable skills, Blanchett makes Yelena simultaneously spoiled and unfulfilled, slapstick silly and achingly sad. 

She is well matched by Richard Roxburgh who plays the hapless Vanya (although I found Roxburgh to be so endearing that it was hard to understand why Yelena wouldn’t respond to him) and by Hugo Weaving, familiar to fans of “The Matrix” and “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogies, who plays an equally alluring Astrov. 

They and their colleagues have created a stylish and intelligent production.  And yet, it didn’t move me in the way that the one at Soho Rep did. Bill, on the other hand, felt exactly the opposite way.  He admired the work the Soho Rep company did but was transported by the Sydney crew, even though the acoustics in City Center made it difficult to hear everything those actors said.

That, of course, is the magic of great theater.  And it is the reason those of us who love theater grab at the chance to see great works, particularly when presented by artists of this caliber, over and over again.

July 21, 2012

"Dogfight" Aims for the Winner's Circle

It would be hard to find a show with a more impressive pedigree than the one for Dogfight, the lovely little musical that opened at Second Stage Theatre on Monday night:

•Its director is Joe Mantello, the wiz who brought Wicked to the stage. Mantello has made some missteps since then (9 to 5, November, The Odd Couple) but he’s an ambidextrous showmaker, equally adept at big audience-pleasing musicals (Wicked) and intimate character-driven pieces (Other Desert Cities) and both skills are put to good use here.

Its composer and lyricist Benj Pasek & Justin Paul may not yet be household names but the music they've produced for Dogfight shows why, still in their 20s, they’ve won just about every prize a talented young musical team can (The Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre, The Jonathan Larson Award, the ASCAP Songwriters Fellowship Award, to name a few) and are scheduled to make their Broadway debut in November with A Christmas Story: The Musical!

•Its star is Lindsay Mendez, a favorite in the theater community who has a powerhouse voice, has paid her dues off-Broadway, in the regional theaters and in the ensemble of Broadway shows like Godspell and Everyday Rapture and is finally getting her first shot at a leading role—and making the most of it.

And, although it’s another movie-to-musical transfer, Dogfight is based on the small but beloved (at least by me) film that starred River Phoenix as Eddie Birdlace, a young Marine shipping out to Vietnam in 1963, and Lili Taylor, as Rose Fenny, the homely waitress he meets when he and his buddies engage in a cruel prank in which the one who brings the least attractive girl to a party wins a jackpot. 

I remember being immensely touched by the bittersweet romance that eventually develops between the characters when I first saw the movie back in 1991 and I was moved again by this new stage version. That might be, in part, because book writer Peter Duchan sticks close to the storytelling of the movie script, including its rather abrupt ending. 

But it also reflects the fact that Pasek and Paul have written tuneful songs that capture both the bravado and longing of the characters. They may be young but, like Joseph and David Zelnick, the brothers who wrote Yank!, (and when are we going to see it again?) Pasek and Paul are old-style songwriters and it’s easy to understand why lovers of old-fashioned musicals are so excited about them.

I confess I do wish that their songs in Dogfight distinguished themselves more from one another but each is fine in its own right, developing character, moving the plot along, unafraid of metaphor.

The staging is equally stylish but Mantello seems uncomfortable with how to portray the women that the marines disingenuously pick up for their party. Attitudes about the way we discus women’s looks have changed since the ‘60s (a girl in my high school was the victim of a dogfight-style contest) or even from the early ‘90s when the movie came out. 

The production doesn’t seem to know whether it should portray the women as hideously ugly, goofily funny-looking or just plain-faced. And since the party scene is so key, that lack of clarity throws the first act off a bit. 

But Mantello and his actors are spot-on when it comes to portraying the awkward love story that develops after Rose discovers why Eddie asked her out and he tries to make it up to her.  

Derek Klena has the difficult job of making the audience care about a guy who’s initially a jerk and he pretty much pulls it off. But Mendez is the heart of the show. She brings a courageous honesty to Rose, who knows that she is no beauty and yet still blossoms.  (Click here to read an article in which the actress describes how she does it).

Meanwhile, choreographer Christopher Gattelli contributes dance numbers throughout that entertain without overwhelming the story: there are no showstoppers here, which may disappoint those who come expecting the kind of gymnastic routines that won Gattelli a Tony for Newsies, but the moves he's created for Dogfight fit this more intimate show.

Producers don’t assemble talent like this unless they’ve aiming for the kind of little-musical-that-could success that similarly small and eccentric shows like Next to Normal, Spring Awakening and Once managed to achieve. But that outcome may be more difficult for Dogfight, which doesn’t have the rock-flavored score of the first two or the emo quality and Oscar-anointed love anthem of the latter.  

Even so, Dogfight is worth championing.  And so that's what I'm doing.

July 18, 2012

"Baby Case" Doesn't Fully Make Its Case

There’s a lot that's similar about Bonnie & Clyde, the Frank Wildhorn musical about the Depression-era gangsters that closed in December after just 36 performances, and Baby Case, the musical about the Lindbergh kidnapping that opened at the Pershing Square Signature Center on Monday as part of this year’s New York Musical Theatre Festival.  Maybe they have too much in common.

Both are based on real-life crime stories that made headlines in the '30s.  Both have listenable scores—not perfect scores but ones with songs built on catchy, and sometimes lovely, melodies that stick with you (click here to sample some from the new show). And both are old-fashioned book musicals.  Which I usually like. The problem is that both these books are so wobbly they undermine the resulting show.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: book writing must be the hardest job in show business. A good one should tell a story that makes a point, in addition to providing good set-ups for the songs. And it’s got to be even harder to do when one guy writes the book, composes the music and crafts the lyrics, which is what Michael Ogborn has done for Baby Case

My husband K and I attended Monday's performance of Baby Case and we sat near some people who were clearly friends of Ogborn’s and who, even before the show began, marveled to one another about how talented he is. Indeed, he does seem to be so. But it could have helped his show to have had someone else in the room when he was putting it together.

Baby Case tracks the Lindbergh story from Charles Lindbergh’s historic non-stop solo flight over the Atlantic in 1927 to the 1936 execution of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was convicted of kidnapping and killing the aviator’s 20-month old son. The crime remains, like those of Bonnie and Clyde, a fascinating and oft-told tale. Which poses a question for anyone who decides to tell it again: why do it?

Ogborn attempts to answer that by condemning the media circus that surrounded what was then called “the crime of the century” and by questioning whether Hauptman was really guilty.  Both are valid ideas but without having had anyone else in the room to bat them around with, Ogborn doesn’t develop either fully. 

There are plenty of scenes—and a few song and dance numbers—in which reporters and photographers hound Lindbergh and his wife Anne both before and after the kidnapping. The publisher William Randolph Hearst pops up periodically to push for more sensational coverage and the columnist Walter Winchell to demonstrate some of the worst of it. But Ogborn doesn’t seem to have anything to say about all of this besides, isn’t it a shame?

Similarly, he drops hints that Hauptmann may have been framed but he doesn’t make a clear argument for why he was or who was behind it. The real problem may be that Ogborn was not only trying to do too much but to cram too much into his show. 

Baby Case name checks almost everyone with any connection to the incident—a Lindbergh family maid who committed suicide, an eccentric school teacher who got involved in the ransom negotiations, a celebrity reporter who covered the case and even mobster Al Capone. The show extends their 15 minutes of fame far beyond their expiration date: does the truck driver who discovered the baby’s body really need a song?

Everyone in the hardworking cast plays multiple roles.  Even Will Reynolds who plays Lindbergh doubles as Hauptmann.  Having one actor play both those parts is an interesting conceit but again not enough is done with it to make a point. Is Ogborn saying that both men were victims of the media?  Or is he implying that Lindbergh may have been just as easily culpable as Hauptmann in the child’s death?  Inquiring minds want to know.

The 10 producers listed on the program have given Baby Case a quality production. Most of the cast members have Broadway credits, including Melissa van der Schyff, who was a standout as the sister-in-law Blanche in Bonnie & Clyde and does a fine job of singing one of this show’s most plaintive ballads. 

Martin T. Lopez’s set is simple but his costumes —and there are a lot of them—nicely evoke the period. Meanwhile, K marveled at how the actors could have learned all the choreography that Warren Adams devised in what must have been a short rehearsal period for this six-show run, which ends on Sunday. And Jeremy Dobrish has directed with equal vim.

Still, I’m being so nitpicky about Baby Case because it has so much potential. Unlike so many NYMF shows, it isn’t a goofy spoof and the fact that people remember and continue to debate a crime that was committed 80 years ago underscores the potency of the story. But Ogborn has been working on Baby Case for over a decade now (it won four Barrymore Awards, including Best Musical, in his native Philadelphia back in 2002) and this may be as far as he can go with it.

July 14, 2012

Late—But Avid—Homage to "Tribes"

Several small off-Broadway shows have come and gone over the past few months while I’ve been preoccupied with all the Broadway openings at the end of the season, the deserved hoopla leading up to and coming out of the Tonys, and putting together perennial posts like my Summer Reading list and July 4th greetings. Luckily, one show that’s stuck around, Tribes, is one of the best of the year. 

Tickets for Tribes are currently on sale at the Barrow Street Theatre through Sept. 2, which gives me a chance to talk a bit about the show but, more importantly, also gives those of you who haven’t already done so, the chance to see it. Which you should do.  Right away.

The young British playwright Nina Raine (this is only her second produced play) tells the very specific story of an intellectual couple—she’s an author, he’s an academic—and their three grown children but, like all the best writers, Raine also speaks to universal truths about the ways in which we define ourselves. Her play is, in other words, about how we determine to which tribes we belong.  

The plot centers around Billy, the youngest in the family, who is also the most even-keeled of the siblings and the one to whom all the others cling.  But because Billy is deaf, he is also something of an outsider among them, unable to follow all the quarrels and quips (although it poses serious questions, the play is often quite funny) of his voluble kin. 

Yet Billy is also an outsider in the deaf community because his parents refused to teach him sign language. He gets along by reading lips. But everything changes when Billy meets Sylvia, the hearing daughter of deaf parents who, now in her 20s, is losing her own ability to hear.  For while the family members want Billy to be happy because they love him, what they want even more is for him to continue making them happy.

Things don’t quite work out as we think they will and that is another thing that I like about this thought-provoking and thoroughly engaging play.  I also liked everyone in its pitch-perfect, six-member cast.

First among equals was Jeff Perry, wickedly good as the un-passively aggressive dad. The  thing I most regret about taking so long to write about the show is that Perry, a co-founder of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company (his co-founder Gary Sinise sat across from me at the performance I attended) left the show last week so that he can get back to work as a regular on the TV series “Scandal."

But the others still there are fierce too.  Especially fine is Russell Harvard, a partially deaf actor who borrows from his own experiences to enrich his portrayal of Billy (click here to read an interview with him) but elevates his performance with the force of sheer talent. It’s tough for actors with disabilities to find parts (just ask Phyllis Frelich, who has only appeared in three New York productions since her Tony-winning performance in 1980's Children of a Lesser God) but I’d love to see Harvard in other shows.

Meanwhile, Susan Pourfar has deservedly won kudos for her nuanced portrayal of Sylvia’s struggles as she moves from the tribe of the abled to that of the disabled (click here to read a Q&A with her). Mare Winningham is, of course, always terrific, which she is again here as Billy's overly protective mother.  And I might as well just go ahead and name Will Brill and Gayle Rankin because they too are excellent as Billy’s emotionally handicapped siblings.  

The production is directed by the energetic David Cromer (he even managed to turn up in the opening scene of HBO's "The Newsroom.") His wonderfully revelatory production of Our Town played at Barrow Street a couple of seasons ago and he works his magic here too.

Cromer has staged the play in the round, which lends a kind of eavesdropping intimacy to the goings on, with the action sometimes spilling right into the audience. Some of what’s being said can be missed when the characters are facing in certain directions but that seems in keeping with the frustration that Billy so often suffers. 

All of the design is similarly integrated into the action. The knowingly shabby set and costumes by Scott Pask and Tristan Raines  speak volumes about the people who live in them. When Billy learns to sign, Jeff Sugg’s elegant video projections beam the translations onto scrims around the theater.

And special recognition has to go to Daniel Kluger, whose sound design is, at just the right moments, eloquent in its depiction of what it must be like to be hard of hearing.

In short, everyone involved in this production has made this show a tribe to which anyone who loves smart theater should want to belong.      

July 11, 2012

"Harvey's Whimsy Didn't Totally Work on Me

Summertime is tourist time in New York and one of the main things people want to do when they get here is see a Broadway show.  But not just any show.  Most want to take in a big Broadway musical, which is why 19 of the 27 shows now running are song and dance shows and three of the eight straight plays—End of the Rainbow, One Man, Two Guvnors and Peter and the Starcatcher—have so much music that they can pass. Even the soon-to-closed A Streetcar Named Desire has a dance number.

Since the majority of the out-of-towners will only see one or two shows, they want to be sure that they see the right ones. And that usually means shows that are familiar to them in some way. So they queue up for the mega hits their cousins saw (Phantom, War Horse, Wicked) and boasted about when they visited the city.  Or they choose shows whose music they already know (Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages).  Or they seek out ones based on favorite movies (which may be why the critically pilloried Ghost saw its tickets sales levitate 10% during the tourist-heavy July 4th week). 

The tourists are willing to pay up to see familiar faces too.  Which probably explains why Harvey, a fey 68-year-old comedy about a man whose best friend is an imaginary 6 ft. rabbit, has been selling out at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54.  For the actor playing Harvey’s buddy Elwood P. Dowd is Jim Parsons, the Emmy-winning star of the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.”  Audiences, at least the one at the performance my theatergoing buddy Bill and I attended, seem to adore Parsons. 

Or maybe the show itself just has an appeal that escapes the rationalist in me. It’s another one of those whimsical stories that make the case that people who seem crazy are actually the most sane because they’re more in touch with what life is truly all about.

Harvey’s plot centers around an attempt by Elwood’s sister Veta to commit him to a mental institution so that his eccentric behavior, exacerbated by long, liquid afternoons at the local bar, will stop embarrassing her and her marriageable-age daughter. Hilarity is supposed to ensue when the commitment plan goes awry.

I’d seen—and been mildly amused byexcerpts from the 1950 movie with Jimmy Stewart as Elwood but I don’t think I ever watched the whole thing through and this was my first encounter with the stage version, which turned out to be too twee for me.

Yet, to my surprise, many of the critics were quite charmed by the production (click here to see a roundup of the reviews on StageGrade).  And their 1944 counterparts were just as enchanted when Harvey, directed by Antoinette Perry for whom the Tonys are named, originally opened with the vaudevillian Frank Fay playing Elwood. 

The New Yorker declared that the production and Fay's performance were “touching, eloquent and lit with a fresh, surprising humor that has nothing to do with standard comedy formulas.” Apparently unable to express fully why he so loved Harvey, the unsigned critic finally resorted to saying, “You’ll just have to take my word for it, you’ll have the time of your life.”

Audiences back then apparently agreed because the show ran for over four years. Its playwright Mary Chase even won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, beating out Tennessee Williams and The Glass Menagerie. I've tried to keep my lingering incredulity over that latter injustice from unduly affecting my response to the current revival.

So I fully acknowledged that director Scott Ellis has put together a handsome production (David Rockwell did the swanky sets and Jane Greenwood the cheeky costumes). And I'm happy that he’s cast it with dependable stage vets including Jessica Hecht as Veta (click here to read a piece about her), Charles Kimbrough as the head of the asylum, Tracee Chimo as the daughter and the always-welcomed Larry Bryggman as the lawyer who oversees Elwood’s financial affairs. 

They all seem to be having a good time. Which is fine but I do wish they’d been willing to make the supporting characters a little less lovable so that the distinction between the world in which they live and the one in which Elwood does was sharper edged. 

But no matter. As I said, the summertime audiences are turning out for Parsons.  And he gives a nicely calibrated performance (click here to read about how he put it together) that is totally pleasing to them and even somewhat appeasing to a jaded New York theatergoer like me.

July 7, 2012

"The Best Man" is Still a Winning Ticket

In keeping with this week’s red-white-and-blue theme, I’m going to recommend The Best Man (or Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, as it is officially billed) which is turning into a staple of election years—or at least of the most contentious ones. 

Vidal’s unflinching look at the behind-the-scenes maneuvering between two main rivals for their party’s presidential nomination originally debuted right smack in the middle of the primary season for the 1960 campaign that eventually pitted Kennedy against Nixon.  It came back in the fall of 2000, when Bush and Gore were going at it. And now, as we head into the smackdown between Obama and Romney, we’ve got the nicely done revival that’s playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

The grandson of a senator and a relative through marriage of Jackie Kennedy (both their mothers were, at different times, married to the financier Hugh Auchincloss and they shared step-siblings) Vidal has long been a keen wit with pointed ideas about how the political game is played. 

The way we choose a president has changed since the ‘60s but that doesn’t make his show any less engaging and it hasn’t stopped critics and audiences from drawing parallels to the current presidential derby.

The standard bearers in The Best Man are William Russell, a Brahmin with a smug over regard for his principles; Joe Cantwell, an up-and-comer whose surname betrays his willingness to do whatever it takes to get the nomination; and Arthur Hockstader, a former president who’s both a down-to-earth populist and a wily pragmatist.  

The plot pivots around secrets in each candidate’s past that could scuttle his chances for the presidency and the question of whether either will use the dirt to sully the other.

Part of the fun is imagining which real-life politicians match those onstage. Depending on your politics at the time of the original production, you might have seen the characters as the Republicans Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower or the Democrats Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman. 

Today, folks are citing both Obama and Romney as the overly-diffident Russell, Rick Santorum and Romney as Cantwell and, naturally, Bill Clinton as Hockstader.

But what’s really made the current production such a hit (and one of the few non-musicals scheduled to play through the summer season) is that so many of its actors are familiar faces. The opening night cast included  John Larroquette, Candice Bergen and Eric McCormack, all well known from popular TV shows, as well as those masters-of-all-media James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury. 

If you want to see these stars, you should stop reading this and run to the theater right now because, starting next week, several replacements are scheduled to move in. But I don’t think that will affect the show’s playability or popularity since the newbies will include the
famous in their own right Cybill Shepherd, John Stamos, Kristin Davis and Elizabeth Ashley. 

Larroquette is staying on as Russell. He may lack the patrician air 
of his predecessors—Henry Fonda in the 1964 movie, Spalding Gray in the 2000 production
and Melvyn Douglas, who originated the role in 1960 and whose wife Helen was famously smeared by Nixon during his first run for the Senate)—but Larroquette still manages to make Russell believable as a man who might make a good leader if he can only figure out how to stomach the jostling it takes to get to the front of the pack.

And Larroquette’s co-stars were even better at the performance my friend Priscilla and I saw. McCormack who usually plays a nice guy seemed to have great fun as the slick Cantwell (click here to read a Q&A with the actor). And Bergen and Kerry Butler were equally convincing as the candidates’ shrewd and supportive wives. All are now leaving but Stamos, Shepherd and Davis seem like good fill-in choices.

Meanwhile, Lansbury and Jones were so adept at stealing every scene they were in that the non-traditional casting of a black man as a mid-century U.S. president, from the South no less, barely seemed odd at all and Jones’ performance, more supple than I’ve seen him be in a long while, won him a Tony nomination. 

The ever-delightful Lansbury is handing her role as the chairman of the party’s women’s division over to Ashley who played the part in 2000 and was the best thing in that production. But Jones is sticking around through September when the show’s run is scheduled to end.

My personal favorites in the 20-member cast were Jefferson Mays who plays a sad sack who professes to have the lowdown on Cantwell’s past (click here to listen to an interview with him) and Michael McKean as Russell’s exasperated campaign manager (click here to read a piece about him). 

Mays is staying with the production too.  McKean, alas, was struck by a car in May and although he’s recovering has been replaced by the veteran actor Mark Blum.

Director Michael Wilson and his design team have added lots of clever touches—video projections that suggest the media’s growing role in politics, turning the entire theater into a conventional hall, complete with bunting and campaign signs—and I’m willing to bet that even if you think you’re tired of politics, you’ll have a good time at The Best Man

At the very least, it will be more enjoyable than the upcoming fall election, in which it's far from certain that the best man will win.

July 4, 2012

The Best Way to Celebrate Independence Day

No post today. Instead I’m kicking back and will be celebrating the birth of our country with my annual viewing of the pretty good movie version of the really great Tony-winning musical 1776. And I urge you to give it a try too (click here to take a peek at its famous opening number, "Sit Down, John") cause it’s hard to think of a happier way for a patriotic theater lover to have a Happy 4th of July.