Review: Drop Dead Perfect

DROP-DEAD-PERFECT Everett-Quinton-left-Michael-Keyloun-standing-and-Jason-Cruz-right-in-photo-by-John-Quilty.

Well, this is fun! Drop Dead Perfect may not be the most substantial show ever to pay homage to “Ridiculous theatre”, but it is undeniably frisky and entertaining. It doesn’t hurt that it stars Everett Quinton, the greatest living actor in the Ridiculous tradition (and among the very best in any tradition, as far as I’m concerned).

In a story right out of the Alfred Hitchcock playbook, Quinton plays Idris Seabright, a wealthy, eccentric Key West grand dame with a psychotically unhealthy obsession with decorum and stillness, embodied by her love of painting still life. When Idris’s ward Vivien (Jason Edward Cook) threatens to abandon her to pursue sculpture in Greenwich Village, and handsome young Cuban relative Ricardo (Jason Cruz) turns up out of nowhere, her “still” life erupts into unhinged mayhem.

Idris is a delicious gargoyle of a role, and Quinton attacks it with high energy, maniacal precision and an almost supernatural conviction. Quinton expertly adds a sense of real danger and moments of sudden deep seriousness into the mix as well.

Director Joe Brancato has successfully led the other actors to a similarly vivid, kaleidoscopic acting style. Cook, for one, has created such a believably feminine character that other audience members I spoke with were surprised to see the name Jason in the program.

Both Jasons (Cook and Cruz) have a gift for athletic comedy, which Brancato uses to great advantage. Timothy C. Goodwin, who plays both the narrator and Idris’s lawyer Phineas, has a more wry, low key demeanor, which acts as a wonderful anchor and foil for the loons bouncing of the walls around him.

As the names Vivien and Ricardo suggest, this frothy concoction owes at least as much to I Love Lucy as to Hitchcock. Indeed there are Lucy references laced liberally (and comically) throughout the story. Drop Dead Perfect succeeds as a lighthearted tribute to Ridiculous theatre, and is in any event lots of fun. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Hamilton

Hamilton Richard Rodgers Theatre Cast Lin-Manuel MirandaAlexander Hamilton Javier Muñoz Alexander Hamilton Alternate Carleigh Bettiol Andrew Chappelle Ariana DeBose Alysha Deslorieux Daveed Diggs Marquis De Lafayette Thomas Jefferson Renee Elise Goldsberry Angelica Schuyler Jonathan Groff King George III Sydney James Harcourt Neil Haskell Sasha Hutchings Christopher Jackson George Washington Thayne Jasperson Jasmine Cephas Jones Peggy Schuyler Maria Reynolds Stephanie Klemons Emmy Raver-Lampman Morgan Marcell Leslie Odom, Jr. Aaron Burr Okieriete Onaodowan Hercules Mulligan James Madison Anthony Ramos John Laurens Phillip Hamilton Jon Rua Austin Smith Phillipa Soo Eliza Hamilton Seth Stewart Betsy Struxness Ephraim Sykes Voltaire Wade-Green Standby: Javier Muñoz (Alexander Hamilton) Production Credits: Thomas Kail (Director) Andy Blankenbuehler (Choreographer) David Korins (Scenic Design) Paul Tazewell (Costume Design) Howell Binkley (Lighting Design) Other Credits: Lyrics by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Music by: Lin-Manuel Miranda Book by Lin-Manuel Miranda

This is above all an excitingly ambitious musical, all the more exciting because it sets its sights very high and more often than not hits its mark. It’s a hip-hop-centric evocation of Alexander Hamilton, who was chief wartime staff aide to George Washington, an influential promoter of the U.S. Constitution (in his Federalist Papers), founder of the nation’s financial system, and the founder of the Federalist Party, the world’s first voter-based political party.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics (those I could make out – more on that shortly) are stunningly smart, funny and well-crafted, and as a composer he has a terrific ear for melody, as well as rhythmic and harmonic “hooks.” As contemporary as the show’s sound might be, Miranda is old-school where overall structure is concerned, which is exactly what allows him to be so experimental with the details.

Thomas Kail’s sharp-eyed direction is so seamlessly interwoven with Andy Blankenbuehler’s complex, kinetic choreography, that it is sometimes hard to know where one begins and the other ends. Generally speaking, I can say that Hamilton truly deserves the critical praise it has received, moreso than say, Matilda.

But it’s not perfect. Miranda lyrics are pretty dazzling, but due to a combination of factors – inelegant sound design moments, occasional under-enuciation on the part of the otherwise marvelous cast, and a love of speed – many of them are difficult to comprehend. Miranda’s craft is developed enough that anything truly key is heard clearly and repeated. Still, it’s a disservice to those great lyrics to let so many go unheard.

Also, while Hamilton‘s racial politics are smart, virtuous, evolved and nuanced, its sexual politics are vague and maddeningly inconsistent. They are at their best in the number “Satisfied” in which Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry) coolly and intelligently lays out the options available to a woman in late 18th Century America. However, Hamilton follows the hip-hop playbook in that for the most part masculine men rap and pretty women sing.

Worse, Hamilton’s enemies, be they George III or Thomas Jefferson, are played as effeminate sops and fops. It’s not as bad in that regard as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (which pissed me off so much I couldn’t write a review). Also, this tendency is ameliorated by the performers choosing powerful androgynous pop culture figures as their models – Jonathan Groff’s George III has the intensity and danger of Ziggy Stardust, and Daveed Diggs’s Jefferson is like a fleet-footed and sharp-tongued Prince. Still, it’s fundamentally a jackass move, Miranda, and doesn’t go unnoticed.

These problems are not enough, though, to derail this musical theatre juggernaut. Its virtues handily outweigh its flaws, so much so that I highly recommend you see it.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Filed under Broadway, musical, review, theatre

News: I’m directing Granados’s opera “Goyescas” this fall

Goyescasgraphic

This fall I will be directing Enrique Granados’s opera Goyescas with an exciting new opera company Bare Opera. The story of Goyescas is based on a series of six paintings from Francisco Goya’s early career, inspired by the young men and women of the majismo movement. These majos and majas are known for their bohemian attitude and stylish dress.

Bare Opera is an alternative opera company in New York City with a fresh, modern take on the opera experience. They believe that the bare essence of opera is the magical experience created through different art forms coming together. Bare Opera brings this collaborative spirit to the 21st century through innovative cross-arts productions.

Bare Opera cares deeply about the future of opera and believes that there’s an immense need for innovation in the art form to bring in new audiences. They strive to break the stereotypes around opera and create a casual and intimate experience in unusual spaces like art galleries and warehouses. By promoting emerging artists and unique cross-genre collaborations, Bare Opera hopes to be an active agent of change in the cultural landscape of opera and classical music, helping to create a sustainable future for the art form. More about them at their website here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: The New York Story

Colin Quinn TNYS+crate2

Colin Quinn is one of the better comics doing political satire – he communicates highly complicated ideas through the most mundane and absurdly funny examples. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his previous shows Long Story Short and Unconstitutional, which brought enormous issues wittily down to a comprehensible human scale. So I got excited when I heard about this new show about the the history of New York.

Quinn quite rightly sees the “the New York story” as being about different layers of attitude arising from each new immigrant ethnic group. He goes right for the jugular, humorously eviscerating political correctness, perhaps most deftly by observing that people talk about having a conversation about race instead of actually having that conversation.

As such, there is plenty of ethnic humor in the show, but it’s generally gentle and often actually complimentary. As, in, how do you know the building on the corner is a “Puerto Rican building”? And there are plenty of self-deprecating jabs at his own Irish Catholic background.

Quinn’s manner is engagingly off-hand – this is bigger and smarter than your usual stand-up, but it never totally leaves that sphere. He’s a sharp-eyed satirist, his take decidedly coming from a working class point of view, or at least from the point of view that’s been formed by being around working class people. The New York Story is jaunty and fun with a biting edge, a thought-provoking good time that I can easily recommend.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Alaska Thunderfuck 5000

alaska-5000

This girl is big!!! I mean for one thing, Alaska’s just very, very tall!! For another thing, her greatest gift as a performer is a knack for imaginative exaggeration. One would hope so: her full drag name is Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 from the Planet Glamtron, and that’s a lot to fill out. More than anything else, Alaska T5ftPG is a talented caricaturist.

Not to say that’s she’s amateurish or sloppy – not remotely! Caricature has room for precision, wit, intelligence and creativity, and Alaska displays all of this and more. She’s entitled her latest cabaret “The Gayest Show You’ve Ever Seen”, and though she admits that the truth of that title depends on the viewer, it certainly strives valiantly to earn it. (For the record, it’s probably not the gayest show I’ve seen – I’d have to think long and hard about what that would be).

As befits a caricaturist who goes for size, Alaska goes for suitably exaggerated (not to mention way gay) targets: Cher, Bette Davis and Liberace, among others. Alaska has a pretty good voice, but she’s well aware that she’s not what you would call a song stylist. Indeed, her pianist Handsome Jeremy – actually more like girlishly pretty Jeremy – introduces her using the phrase “song-like stylings”, which is pretty spot-on.

Plus, the show was snappy and short! That never happens in drag cabaret! I’m almost tempted to say she should flesh it out a bit and make it longer, but that seems like tempting the fates – and there was at least one song that went on too long. Very gay, a lot of fun, and definitely recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Ginger Minj

Ginger+Minj_Rupauls+Drag+Race-5550_final

The Minj is quite the little singer! Well, maybe not little…Ginger has genuine article musical theatre training and chops, and has made the intelligent move of structuring her cabaret act Crossdresser for Christ: The Musical, A Drag Queen Confessional around a songlist made up exclusively of showtunes. She made the equally smart choice of going for variety within that songbook, using tunes from shows as disparate as Oklahoma and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The act is in the very traditional mold of “this is my life” autobiographical cabarets. It tracks Ginger’s life from a childhood in Southern Baptist Lake County, Florida to adventures in New York to his discovery of drag’s power in an unpromising Orlando Fringe Festival show. There is biting humor throughout – the Minj comments that the Orlando Fringe is an unjuried festival “so you know most of the shows are shit!” – and she cleverly builds the singing from the folksy and simple (“I’m Just A Girl Who Cain’t Say No”) to the complex and bravura (Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark”, a favorite of divas from Betty Buckley to Patti LuPone).

It’s not a perfect show, for sure. Parts of it were polished to a high sheen, other parts seemed under- or un-rehearsed. There were precious few backstage stories from Drag Race, which is a big part of what we want to hear, isn’t it? Her dress was not truly ugly, but definitely not “glamour toad” fabulous either. And her wig, though suitably big, was brown for goodness sake! These are quibbles, though – Ginger is a real show biz pro, and had the audience in the palm of her hand for the great majority of the evening. Recommeded.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Cast CD Review Roundup

golden apple

The Golden Apple (First Full Length Recording)

When The Golden Apple premiered in 1954, its blend of American folklore and Greek myth, popular entertainment and high art, and musical comedy and operatic drama was revolutionary. After some initial success, however, The Golden Apple all but slipped into obscurity. In November 2014, the Lyric Stage of Irving, Texas, mounted a fully-staged revival of the musical, featuring an orchestra of 38 and a 43-member cast. PS Classics has released a live recording of this production, making commercially available all 135 minutes of this through-composed musical for the first time ever. While it has some problems one would expect from a live recording of a regional production – moments that don’t quite land, some bum notes and straining voices – overall it is a lush, majestic account of composer Jerome Moross’s ravishing score, a lost masterpiece really. Highly recommended.

To purchase, click here.

Fun Home CD

Fun Home (A New Broadway Musical)

Richly emotional yet rigorously unsentimental. Lyricist Lisa Kron’s astringent wit and surging music by Jeanine Tesori make for a score that, while sometimes dark, is never depressing. The way Tesori’s music pushes urgently and sincerely at Kron’s mordantly funny lyrics produces a truly exciting tension, not to mention Tesori’s best musical theatre writing to date. Three women actors play Alison at various stages of her life and their performances are the beating heart of this CD: Beth Malone as the introspective and retrospective adult Alison, Emily Skeggs as the girl-crazy college age Alison, and Sydney Lucas as the young tomboy Alison. Michael Cerveris is pitch perfect as the closeted Bruce, especially in the climactic “Edges of the World”, capturing both the love of beauty and the ultimately destructive perfectionism of this very complex man.

To purchase, click here.

on-the-twentieth-century-new-broadway-cast-double-cd

On the Twentieth Century (New Broadway Cast Recording)

Hearing Kristen Chenoweth at the top of her form and perfectly cast is the whole reason to get this cast recording. The show’s creators, composer Cy Coleman and wordsmiths Betty Comden and Adolph Green, were all masters of musical theatre, but On the Twentieth Century finally works best as a star vehicle. And, thank goodness, Chenoweth is one hell of a star! She is truly incandescent here, her frisky musical comedy chops ideally matched to Comden and Green’s smartalecky wit. There’s also an adorable quartet of train porters – who even get a showstopping number of their own, the Act II opener “Life’s a Train”, which is definitely a highlight of this recording. The whole score is never less than a giddy good time.

To purchase, click here.

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Filed under Broadway, CD, musical, Opera, review, theatre