Monday, February 12, 2007

Broadway overdose!

WHEW! We saw five shows in three days. We toured the Met. We had drinks with old friends. We spent a fortune on cabs. We stayed in a rockin’ Westin just off Times Square. We stood in line and got even more rockin’ tickets to everything we wanted to see. We’ve been up since 2:30 Chicago time. We’re tired.

But here’s my bleary-eyed take on everything we saw this weekend:

Company. Until Friday, I’d seen every Sondheim show except Company, Assassins and Whistle Down the Wind. (HA! I MAKE APPALLING MUSICAL-THEATER JOKE!) Once I discovered Sondheim, I promised myself I’d never listen to the score of any of his shows until I’d seen it first so I could have pure first-timer enjoyment in the theater. But I’d cheated with Company, whose score is so full of perfection I’d memorized it completely without quite understanding the context of each song. And now that I’ve seen it I’m in love all over again. I was a little worried about John Doyle’s the-cast-is-also-the-orchestra staging, but I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with the musicianship of the actors and their collective sound—except for the saxophone riffs that totally screwed up the meter of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.” But the show is lovely and Raúl Esparza is kind of sexy and I’d see this show over and over without ever getting tired of it.

Follies. This show was the whole point of our trip. There were only six performances in this City Center Encores! production, and the boyfriend got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday and waited in line for four hours to get us tickets while I slept blithely in our fabulous hotel room. But he got us some pretty sweet seats on the main floor—just a few rows behind Phyllis Newman and Cynthia Nixon, thankyouverymuch. The production was as stunning as we’d hoped, from Victoria Clark’s definitive Sally to Donna Murphy’s divinely wounded Phyllis to the delicious comic timing of JoAnne Worley, Mimi Hines and Christine Baranski. (And it really pains me to say this, but Ms. Baranski—who will probably never speak to me again—had neither the world-weary gravitas nor the Teflon pipes required to play Carlotta. And she looked at her feet when she tapped. But I would still totally switch for her.) Afterward, we stayed for two talkbacks: the one where the New Yorkers pushed and shoved and jostled and whined and insulted and fought over available seats, and the one where many of the actors and Stephen Sondheim himself came out on the stage and offered juicy tidbits about the making of Follies from the late 1960s to the present. And it was better than eating cookie-dough ice cream while watching Nick Lachey in a Speedo kicking the shit out of Dick Cheney. Loveland!

Grey Gardens. For the uninitiated, this quirky little show is a musical retelling of a disturbing 1970s documentary about Jackie Kennedy’s delusional cousin and aunt living in squalor in their once-fabulous 28-room East Hampton mansion. I never liked the movie because it made its point—these women were crazy and that is sad—in a few quick scenes … and then it dragged on for more and more scenes that really accomplished nothing further. So now it’s a musical—and it has a lot of excited buzz behind it. So we went. And we were disappointed. It’s hard to make a plot-y musical out of a plotless documentary, and though this version tries really hard—the entire first act is backstory and the second act weaves a weak narrative out of scenes from the movie—it’s ultimately pretty dull. Especially the forgettable score. We predict that once Christine Ebersole—who carries the show by sheer force of personality—leaves, the whole thing will collapse. And that is sad. On the other hand, the show features Matt Cavenaugh, who is so unbelievably handsome you hardly notice how unbelievably talented he is. So who really cares about a threadbare plot?

The Drowsy Chaperone. It’s a silly little musical that makes fun of silly little musicals! It’s dippy and pointless and stupid and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable! See it! See it! See it! (But try to see it when Sutton Foster is in it; she was out when we saw the show, and though her understudy was wonderful, she wasn’t Sutton Foster. And Georgia Engel has made an entire career playing the same character. But it works for her. And now she gets to do it in a silly dress.)

Spring Awakening. It’s Hair meets Rent meets The Scarlet Letter. It’s every Very Special Episode of Blossom rolled into one Lifetime Movie of the Week. And it’s told by microphone-wielding schoolchildren in 19th century rural Germany. The audiences are eating it up—no doubt for the extraordinary talents of its cast and Duncan Sheik’s indie-rock score. But it was not written to appeal to Midwestern gay men pushing 40. And while a friend of mine is one of the producers and one of the guys in the cast has really nice legs, that’s not enough. We didn’t hate it; you may love it. But we’d rather spend our time with Sondheim and silly little musicals about silly little musicals.

But the boyfriend and I sailed effortlessly through our first vacation together, and we’re planning thousands more. Maybe in your town—as long as you have show tunes.

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