INDECENT by Paula Vogel is a near miss for me. It has a couple of grand theatrical moments that take your breath away and some marvelous acting, plus I always love hearing Yiddish incorporated into dialogue; it reminds me of my Grandma.
Unfortunately, the conceit of having an Acting Company perform the play and the Actors play multiple characters in the play, often misfires. The personalities are too subtly defined and since many Actors are playing multiple characters who are performing the same role in the play-within-the-play, it causes everything to take on a dull drone. I’m not saying that I didn’t know who was talking or why, but that the characters were not precisely drawn enough for me to care. It’s a real shame, there is much of worth here, including a thrilling finale.
Josh Groban as Pierre with the cast of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, photo by Chad Batka.
NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 has a lot in common with HAMILTON. Based on large books, both are sung-through (meaning there is no spoken dialogue), both use a mixture of musical styles including anachronistic modern genres, both have duels, both are created by a single person writing book, music & lyrics and both represent a new wave in American Musical Theater. Having rich base material to draw on helps both shows create intricately detailed plots, deeply drawn characters and insightful storytelling.
For those of you who didn’t make it through Leo Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE in school, have no fear. This is a raucous, fascinating musical based on a few chapters of WAR AND PEACE and there is no chance of you falling asleep. Composer/Lyricist/Bookwriter Dave Malloy has gone out of his way to make everything clear with an Opening Number that introduces the characters. I was not a Josh Groban fan going in, but he is perfectly cast as the introspective, corpulent Pierre and his singing and acting shine through on his journey of awakening.
The Set looks like a multi-layered wedding cake in the style of The Russian Tea Room, with audience on all tiers. There is a runway stretching through the theater, where the chorus comes out to feebly draw us into the performance. The lighting is innovative, if sometimes blinding. The tuneful music has moments of divinity and there is some of the best choral work this side of THE COLOR PURPLE. However, I would not recommend this show to anyone who only favors old-fashioned Musicals. This is Art. Sublime, delicious Art.
Oh the pleasures of a well written play performed by a talented cast under the direction of a Pro! THE FRONT PAGE has a delightfully zany revival on Broadway with an all-star cast that is an enchantment from start to finish. How do you convince stars like John Slattery, Nathan Lane, John Goodman, Holland Taylor, Jefferson Mays, Dylan Baker, Sherie Rene Scott and Robert Morse to share the stage? Start with a gem of a script by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. The personalities are so beautifully drawn that one character, who never even appears on stage, gets a laugh when it is mentioned that he was shot. Each performer gets their moment to shine and it’s a large 26 person cast! The plot is so carefully laid out that when the trigger is finally released, a Rube Goldberg set of incidents ensue and the laughs barely let up until curtain.
John Slattery, of MAD MEN, at first glance is a little “grey” to be the newly engaged Hildy Johnson, but his age actually adds to his desperate need to escape the Newspaper Business before it’s too late. Nathan Lane is giving a quintessentially “Lanian” performance; we feel his blowhard persona even before he is physically present. And my gosh, to get to see Robert Morse on stage is entrancing, even in a minor but pivotal role. Jack O’Brien has given us a captivating look back at a time when people cared about the written word, in the news and on stage.