Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two Wonderful Broadway Productions

Posted by Bruce Miller
I thought I'd write two last blog posts about Hannah's and my recent trip to NYC--this one covering the first two of the five shows we saw.

I know many of you may think we're insane to tackle five productions in three days. Of course, you're right. If we were in the city longer, or more frequently, we'd be happy to spread out the good times so that each show could steep a bit before it was time for us to gulp down the next.

Unfortunately we don't have that luxury. As it is, not only do we crowd five shows into too short a stay, we also leave town with five or ten shows we're eager, but unable, to fit in.

This trip, we flew into JFK on Friday morning, took the E train into Manhattan, shouted "Martha Newell" as our feet hit Broadway, and had lunch at Europa Cafe, a nice, simple and moderately-priced chain restaurant at the corner of Broadway and 53rd. We had an early check-in at the Edison, then made it to the ticket line by 3.

On most days, the TKTS booth in Times Square has one loooong line for musicals, and a very short line for plays. We wanted to see the revival of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, so we stood in the "Play Only" line for about 3 minutes before making to the window and buying our tickets for that evening's 8 pm performance--50% off.

A View from the Bridge is considered by many to be the last (and perhaps the least) of Miller's masterworks: All My Sons (1946), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953), A View from the Bridge (1956). But I'll go see a lesser Miller masterwork any day of the week.

This production starred Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson. under Gregory Mosher's direction. Hannah and I both enjoyed the production a lot. Being a presumptuous nitpicker, I'd have to say that Liev Schreiber never quite let loose enough as Eddie Carbone, at least for my taste. The narrator, wonderfully played by Michael Christopher (playwright of The Shadow Box) says that he admired Eddie because he "let himself be completely known" (or some phrase very close to that). Eddie is a character of great Italian passion. To be honest, I thought Liev Schreiber always maintained a little bit of masculine reserve, never truly revealing that passion. But maybe that's just me.

Scarlett Johansson was understated and actually very good--not at all the starlet one might expect. In fact, the entire cast was terrific and both Hannah and I recommend the show without reservation.
On Saturday, we saw the matinee of A Little Night Music, for which we had purchased tickets in advance. Night Music is a sold out hit, and there's no chance it will be on the TKTS line anytime soon.

As I mentioned before, we both loved the production. If you want a broader take on Night Music, watch the "Word of Mouth" reviews on Broadway.com. Two of the three intelligent theatregoers loved the show as we did. The script, score and production left the third theatregoer cold.

Truth be told, the script and score are somewhat esoteric, and will not be to everyone's liking. I'm not trying to be pompous, but I'll go out on a limb and say that Night Music is a "thinking man's" musical.

If you are a reader, if you enjoy Masterpiece Theatre, if you look forward to seeing plays as well as musicals, if you enjoy language, then I think it likely that you'll love A Little Night Music.

If you would choose to see Hairspray, Nunsense, or Joseph...Dreamcoat for the third time rather than venture out to the revival of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, then Night Music may not be your cup of tea.

Regarding this production, anyone and everyone should go if for no other reason than to see Angela Lansbury in a career-defining performance. Granted, I saw and loved Lansbury as Mame, as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and as Mama Rose in her revival of Gypsy (my favorite Gypsy, by the way). Her Night Music character, Madame Armfeldt, is a former courtesan approaching the end of her days. She observes the wild romantic antics of the other characters from a distance, recalling the artfulness of past romances, regretting the wantonness of "modern" society.

"Where is style, where is skill, where is forethought," she sings. This from an extraordinary actress who has personified style, skill and forethought throughout a nearly 60 year career. Not only is her current performance close to perfection, the resonance that her mere presence on stage adds to the proceedings turns this into a history-making moment that no theatre lover should miss.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, as Desiree, actually holds her own among exalted company. Now I'm sounding pompous again. Who the heck am I to even comment on great stars like Liev Schreiber and Catherine Zeta-Jones? I'll just say this. Her star power is undeniable. Her acting, singing and movement impress. Her's is a Desiree with whom it is easy to fall in love.

Personally, I think she's a little too young and gorgeous for a character whom I believe should be a bit closer to a turning point in life when she feels that her most attractive days will soon be behind her. Personally, she'll never erase my memory of the luminous Glynis Johns. Having said that, I enjoyed and respected her performance, and felt she contributed to the overall wonder of the show.

Trevor Nunn, who I think is a brilliant director, urges at least two of the supporting characters to be a little too broad, again, in my humble opinion. To me the characters are simple, but they are directed in this production also to be a bit buffoonish. Again, that is nitpicking.

I missed the eloquence and heightened formality of the grand dinner in Act II of the original production. When Henrik purposefully shatters his glass, it has less of an impact when it happens at a picnic on the lawn.

Also I missed the full orchestra of the original, but only to any measurable extent on A Weekend in the Country, the rousing finale to Act I.

What I LOVED was the spirit of the piece, and the production's commitment to the depth of a story which can easily be treated as frivolous fluff. I found it moving, thoughtful, and filled with romance and delight. Again, Hannah and I recommend it without reservation.

Soon I'll be back to talk about Ragtime, God of Carnage and Time Stands Still.

--Bruce Miller


JKD said...

Bruce, your opinions are valued. No need to be humble :)


Bruce Miller said...

If you only knew ... I feel a staggering need to be humble. It's all in the brain chemistry, I suppose.

Zed said...

I've just stumbled upon your blog, Bruce. Well done: I'm really enjoying reading your reviews and musings. But I must say, Theater IV's 'Night Music' was the by far the best I've seen. There was a passion in that cast I have yet to see the likes of again.