A Behanding in Spokane April 2010

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A man in search of his hand – cut off 30 years ago. A lone stranger in a skanky hotel room and two youngsters who are in over their heads and end up being held at gunpoint because they promised something they can’t deliver.

It’s a bit of a convoluted story, its surreal quality lending depth and even fright to the characters on stage. To keep the tension going there is no intermission, just sort of, when the concierge of the hotel addresses the audience in front of the extra ratty (made for the play) curtain. That is the only bit that is a little distracting. But Christopher Walken is definitely brilliant, menacing, threatening, yet somehow vulnerable as the strange one handed man trying to find his missing limb. You almost feel really sorry for him – almost – until he ties up the young couple and reveals the contents of his only piece of luggage. It’s creepy, it’s funny, it’s absolutely brilliant and Walken is absolutely fantastic in the lead.

Academy Award-winner Martin McDonagh’s A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE also stars stage and screen stars Sam Rockwell, Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan (yes, Elia is her grandfather) and plays a strict 16-week engagement only.

A little Night Music Nov. 2009 Apr. 2010

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Stephen Sondheim. Angela Lansbury. ‘Nuff said.

Amazing stuff. And then there is Catherine Zeta Jones. The most beautiful woman in the world in the dresses she is allowed to wear as the famous actress who is fluttering from engagement to engagement, from theatre to theatre, from man to man. When she finally comes back home where her one true love lives fate is set in motion. Unfortunately for Ms Zeta Jones her vocal abilities on stage are not as secure as on screen and she veered off the right path once or twice.

And furthermore unfortunately for her there is Angela Lansbury. This woman is absolutely amazing. Whenever she is on stage, everyone else fades into the background no matter how hard they try. She is truly magical – a grand lady, a grande dame whose voice is still sure and wonderfully sweet and full of emotions. Her last scene had me in tears. I was truly privileged to have seen her live on stage and the award she got presented by Stephen Sondheim himself was absolutely, wonderfully well deserved. Too bad, but totally understandable that she didn’t come out the stage door to sign.

Addendum: Too sad – Angela didn’t get the groundbreaking SIXTH Tony in her life – lucky she isn’t slowing down in any way despite her age. It was Catherine Zeta Jones who got it – not that I understand it. But that’s life!

Promises, Promises Apr. 2010

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It’s all about Sean Hayes. (Remember “Jack” from Will&Grace? Who was more funny than everybody else and playing an actor with not an ounce of talent? Who had “Just Jack” as tagline and a signature hand gesture?) Well, turns out live on stage Sean Hayes is amazingly talented as an actor. He carries the whole – rather weak – story of a guy who loves a girl who loves her boss till he leaves her. A suicide attempt ensues. And all that revolves around an apartment that gets “sublet” on an hourly basis to various men in charge.

Find the plot familiar? It has been made into a movie 1960 – aptly called The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and a very young Shirley MacLaine by Billy Wilder. And that’s also one of the bigger weaknesses of this new Broadway-adaption of the play. It is … old. It’s not only the pretty dresses (the costumes are actually very accurate and beautiful) that smell like the fifties. It’s also the music by Burt Bacharach that’s a bit dusty. I mean “I’ll never fall in love again…” – we haven’t heard that song anywhere else but in an oldies-station for very long. And the choreography – men rolling on the floor, jumping over each other – would have been brilliant – in the sixties…

That said, the play itself is funny whenever Sean Hayes is on stage – which is basically all the time. He and Kristin Chenoweth have a nice chemistry going and voices that match nicely. The audience, mostly elderly people and women’s knitting groups, lapped it up eagerly and enjoyed it immensly. I found it nice and was glad it was on in the afternoon and not in the evening.

I also waited at the stage door for the actors to appear and they did – Sean Hayes actually very professional and very much like his alter ego Jack. I felt a bit sorry for him because a lot of people wanted him to do his best Just Jack impression. And Will&Grace has been cancelled for five years now. Poor guy, people should recognize him for the stage actor he is.

So: a rather well spent afternoon, but nothing worth watching twice. Hope Sean gets a chance on a better show soon. He’d really deserve it.

Addendum: and yes, Promises got Kate Finneran  a Tony; and Sean Hayes hosted the whole thing and obviously was a hoot, ready to play in one league with Neil Patrick Harris, host of the Oscars! Wish I’d been there!

La Cage aux Folles Oct. 2009

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I saw this show 17 times. Seventeen times. No, I didn’t just like it. I adored it. And its two male leads John Barrowman, indubitably the world’s best entertainer, and Simon Burke were the absolute best cast for their parts. Barrowman, whose voice is clear and bright and a joy to listen to, made the role of Zaza/Albin his own, from the high heeled shoes to the sequined dresses and the voluptious … hair! That man cleaned up nicer than many of his female followers, which the ladies in question (me amongst them) acknowledged with only a little bit of envy.

The story of course is well known: Zaza, the most notorious homosexual at the Riviera, flamboyantly stars as the lead chanteuse at night club La Cage aux Folles, owned by his partner of 20 years, Georges, who has fathered a boy 25 years ago whom they both have raised. This boy now wants to marry – unfortunately the daughter of a right wing politician. When the two families meet for the first time, Zaza saves the day by playing their son’s absent mother. Until all hell breaks loose.

Now the show itself is a success even with lesser actors (as I will point out in an upcoming blog, so stop by again!) but to have two terrific actors/singers like Barrowman and Burke starring it enters a whole new dimension of brilliant.

John Barrowman is not only one of the most handsome men around, his enthusiasm a joy on any given day. But it is his acting abilities that elevate the part of Albin/Zaza far above the caricature-like performances that I’d seen before. Yes, he enjoys a bit of naughty jokes and milks them to the audience’s delight. But he also has the fine tuning down pat, the distress, the despair in his eyes when the boy he has raised as his son wants him anywhere but near the new in-laws is heartbreaking and gripping. And the way he starts the gay anthem  “I am what I am” with tears in his voice, then getting more and more agitated and enraged about the unfairness of it all, is something I’ll never ever forget. The last notes of the song shook the whole house every time and yet they seemed easy for him.

I shall never eat a croissant again in my whole life. I’m having trouble eating toast as it is. And I found a “new” actor to follow: Simon Burke. The Australian born actor and singer is a gentle soul, a great George to John’s Albin, and has a great voice. Song on the Sand is absolutely adorable when he interprets it and the chemistry between the two men is very convincing and – quite frankly – very hot.

The last scene, the both of them in regular clothes, without any make-up and kissing on the show-stairs is the perfect sexy and loving end to an emotional terrific evening at the theatre. Standing ovations were in order on each and every night I saw the show.

oh, and John Barrowman’s lips are soft, yet strong – I once was the lucky one sitting on table C seat 1, where Zaza kisses the hand of one member of the audience while singing The best of Times is Now (and how right s/he is!!!). I didn’t wash my hand for days.

All that said: John Barrowman is a brilliant actor and singer and entertainer. To see him live on stage in a play where he is basically “on” 90 per cent of the time is pure joy. I’d go again, if I could…

Do Not Go Gentle Nov. 2009

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So it has been a while since I saw “Do not go Gentle”, the poetic take on the life of Dylan Thomas, the famous Welsh wordsmith who got so famous that they “loved me to death in New York”. But I still remember how absolutely brilliant this show was in its minimalistic way: Geraint Wyn Davies (who could read the phonebook out loud and I still would fly in from anywhere in the world to hear him do it) transformed himself on a stark stage into the great Welsh Poet who is waiting in purgatory – waiting for the big guns up there to decide if he was worth to join them. “A Shakespeare, he wrote it all. I bet he’s already up there sitting next to God.”

Thomas’ poetry and his short stories make for a terrific evening. But it is Wyn Davies’ incredible voice that brings Dylan Thomas to passionate and vivid life. You laugh a little at the antics of little Dylan throwing snowballs in his neighbour’s window, but Wyn Davies gets most gripping when reciting the most famous of Thomas’ works: Do not go gentle into that good night… I had tears in my eyes every time I saw the play.

A play that was written and directed by the late Leon Pownall and Geraint Wyn Davies. Wyn Davies who was good friends with Pownall recalls the promise he gave Leon: to bring the play to Broadway. He did – the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row at 410 West 42nd Street  served as an intimate but rather icey venue – and turned it into a terrific success.

And what’s best: Geraint Wyn Davies will revive the play once again this summer at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. I already got my tickets!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Aug. 2009

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Now onto the REAL TREAT

Geraint Wyn Davies: A force of nature unleashed.

A tornado of positive energy, capturing the stage and having the audience in riotous laughs for the whole time.

And not once slipping with his funny – and sexy – accent.

I am in AWE!

First that I noticed (in Macbeth actually): the man has lost a lot of weight. He is really slim. (translate: looking even more gorgeous than ever).

Now I know why. What he does on stage is basically a three hour workout with barely breathing time.

Every line, every gesture, every expression leads to outbursts of laughter – and I don’t mean the raunchy comedy that is also part of the play and exceptionally hilarious:  His dimwitted yet unwittingly wise workman is the perfect How-to-do for this role. He brings the play back to its Shakespearean roots with all the bawdiness and slapstick-y fun but also helps bridge centuries with just a subtle glance or a wink that has the audience in stitches and is just priceless. For instance: The mask Bottom is forced to wear is made of shoes which substitute for the asses ears, and yellowed huge teeth (therefore luckily not much of a mask in terms of covering his face) but the way he carries it off has the audience in stitches.

The “actors” in the “play in the play” – of which Bottom is a part of – are in their undies for half of the time, but it’s the interaction with the “wall” that is the part that had me in tears of laughter. (I’m still glad I saw this 5 times, as quite frankly I doubt I’ve been able to catch everything the first time – a girl has to breathe too, you know!)

For anyone not familiar with the play: The Artisans are in reality workmen who play at Theseus’ wedding in Athens.

Bottom is a weaver (which is why his name is aptly chosen: it stands for the bottoms of the woven baskets he makes). The play they try to perform – with “amazingly little talent” – is Pyramus & Thisbe, a tragedy. the lovers, P. and Th., are separated and can only talk through a rip in a wall. (They elope, Thisbe is presumed dead, Pyramus kills himself, Th. is alive and kills herself over the body of P. – Romeo and Juliet, actually, but as a comedy; and probably not the right play for a wedding, but who cares!)

So they need a wall.

So one of the artisans holds a wooden construct with a bit of mortar in his hands and in front of his face which is lurking through a “window”. When Pyramus now looks for the rip in the wall – children, we’re all of age, I don’t even have to say where that damn rip is.

Now Bottom’s face when he realizes WHERE exactly he has to bend down to talk to Thisbe (who’s another man, btw.) – that’s just priceless.

Every couple of minutes there’s applause, then there’s the jig (I learned that in Shakespearean time a play always ended with a jig (a dance) or an epilogue. So Bottom dances a jig with Thisbe (and his belt dances with him and slips and slips a bit more…snort) and the play in the play ends.

There’s a little epilogue with Puck (Tom Rooney, he’s also VERY brilliant, tho’ definitely outplayed (is that a word?) by GWD)

And then all of a sudden, while the audience starts a last round of applause, music sets in and all the players are on stage to do a brilliantly choreographed dance in lieu of a curtain call. (so we’re all of a sudden back in Shakespeare’s time where a comedy ends in a jig!! – well, a dance to rock music, but you know what I mean)

And once again it’s GWD who’s so full of energy and power and sheer zest of life and everyone is clapping a faster and faster rhythm to which the whole company dances and then it’s .. over. sob.

He’s absolutely brilliant.

If you’re just able to see one show in a year, heck, a decade, run to see this one. it’s just amazing. They’ll talk about it in years to come.

Why the reviews didn’t do it justice, I don’t know. Obviously some of the journalists there were blind and deaf and dumb.

Audiences in five performances giving standing ovations like mad can’t be wrong.

I did catch Geraint Wyn Davies after this performance at the stage door and he was his usual charming and lovely self. At a later performance he did sign a photo for me – which I am very grateful for. My signed pictures of his performances are a wonderful reminder of the plays I saw and the trips I made. I am also very grateful that even after long performances (sometimes two a day!!) Mr. Wyn Davies is still taking his time, being charming, open and friendly to all his fans. I’m always awed by his charisma both on and off stage. I’m aware that the way he treats his fans is very rare and therefore very much appreciated by me (and all of his fans, I assume).

Julius Caesar Aug. 2009

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It’s brilliant.
Really brilliant.
Run, don’t walk to see it.
Truly fantastic.
And till now I’m only talking about GWD!! 😉
Play and actors were just marvelous – it is set in a sort of alternate universe, with the costumes a mix of Roman togas and slinky designer jackets for the senators, cheap uniforms for Brutus (Ben Carlson) and hightech uniforms that seem to be out of the future for Oktavian. Really well done.
Geraint Wyn Davies is just fantastic in it. He is masking his frustration at the people’s reaction to his refusal to take a crown with short, clipped movements that give away his underlying emotion. He is a loving husband to his wife who is scared by her premonition-dreams. And he doesn’t go down without a fight when the assassinators finally attack him.
The fight scene is brilliantly choreographed and has the audience jumping in their seats every time.
That said: don’t sit in the first row and do not wear white.
Why, do you ask? Welllllll, I got drenched in Caesar’s blood (it is actually soap and color and washes out) – as the killers bathe their arms in Caesar’s blood, they squirt “blood” out of a plastic bag, I assume. That way, the red stuff squirts and you wouldn’t believe how far a squirt of this artificial red stuff can actually reach… LOL
The house manager was cringing (poor guy, I’d only contacted him because I wanted to know what to do with my pants and jacket…LOL), but he even inquired when I came back another night for a different play! LOL My brilliant hostess at my B&B  just put the garments in luke warm water and that was that.