Archive for the 'theatre' Category

Christopher Walken Gets a Hand on Broadway

You’ve never seen such a hilarious absurdist comedy on Broadway as “A Behanding in Spokane.”

Yes, it’s a terrible title. On the other hand, it’s a terrific 90 minutes of stage work by four gifted actors: Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Anthony Mackie, and Zoe Kazan.

Martin McDonagh‘s very odd and very funny play is directed by John Crowley within an inch of its life. I was in Los Angeles during Oscar week when “Behanding” opened, and now I’m the sorrier for it. When I finally caught up with this foursome last night, the theater was alive with electricity.

Of course, “Behanding” is so outrageous and off the wall that it’s not for anyone. Walken plays a sort of momma’s boy thug who is one-handed thanks to a childhood accident. Stationed in a seedy hotel room, he lets word out locally that he’s willing to pay for his missing hand. Mackie and Kazan show up to claim the reward, with mixed results. Rockwell is the hotel’s receptionist.

It isn’t easy to steal a show from Walken, but Rockwell does it. This is thanks to a non sequitir stand up comedy routine McDonagh has written for his character. It’s really a show stopper, a breathless break from the jagged puzzle pieces of the main story. Mark Sam Rockwell down for awards attention.

And Chris Walken? He chews the scenery and spits it out. This is a good thing. Even when he’s over the top, he’s incredibly captivating. Even when he’s telling the tale of his stump, holding the other characters hostage. He has a long bit of a speech on a telephone to his unseen mother in which you’d swear the woman was right in the room. Lovely.

Mackie comes from “The Hurt Locker,” “Half Nelson” and many theater productions. He and Kazan are written as a team, and they are extremely effective. Mackie is the almost-breakthrough star of this decade. He plays outrage with delight and delicacy. And his gift for physical comedy is unexpected after so many dramatic roles.

Broadway is gearing up fast now for its busiest season. Tonight comes the Frank Sinatra musical dance piece by Twyla Tharp called “Come Fly with Me.” There are a dozen shows opening from now through April 30th. The most anticipated include “Red,” an original play about artist Mark Rothko; and a revival of August Wilson’s “Fences,” with Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Mykelti Williamson. Kenny Leon‘s directing that one, and he came backstage last night to congratulate Anthony Mackie on his fine performance.Maybe he knows: Mackie and company will give his group a run for their money come Tony time.

Jane Fonda Channels Famous Dad in ‘Grapes’ Opera

Two time Oscar winner Jane Fonda got a chance to do something unusual and wonderful last night. She channeled the spirit of her Oscar winner dad, Henry Fonda.

“I could really feel his presence,” Jane said after her triumphal performance narrating the opera version of “The Grapes of Wrath,” at Carnegie Hall. The one time only show was presented with over 100 members of the Collegiate Chorale, a full orchestra, and several well known singers including Christine Ebersole, Nathan Gunn, Victoria Clark, and Stephen Pasquale.

Of course, Jane’s dad famously portrayed the main character, Tom Joad, in John Ford’s classic film from 1940. As Tom Joad, Henry Fonda gives maybe the most famous speech in motion picture history.

“They asked me to read the speech,” Jane said after taking several bows last night. “But I couldn’t do it. I just kept welling up.” Instead, the characters of Tom Joad and his mother sing a song called “I’ll Be There” that evokes the speech without its exact language.

The opera is full of other terrific songs including one sung by Victoria Clark called “No Innocence” that’s a show stopper. Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s work deserves a wider airing than one night only at Carnegie Hall. Luckily, several representatives of various opera companies were seen in the audience, as well as bold faced names such as record producer Richard Perry (Jane’s beau), Catherine Keener, David Hyde Pierce, Patricia Bosworth, and Carl Bernstein.

Whether “Grapes” gets another performance soon is unknown, but Fonda will return to the stage next winter when she brings her Tony nominated “33 Variations” to the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

She’ll miss working with Ebersole, though. “It’s like she has light shining from within,” said Jane of the “Grey Gardens” star.

Addams Family Pre-Bway Opening A Smash

The Broadway musical version of “The Addams Family” is a smash.

Last week, in previews, “The Addams Family”  had the second highest gross with $1,192,213–finishing just behind “Wicked” at #1 and just ahead of “The Lion King.” It hasn’t even opened, but the musical is doing business equal to those shows as well as  “Jersey Boys” and “Billy Elliot.”

Some theatre wags are thinking, Hurry, take in as much as you can. Because once the show opens on April 8th, all may change.

Indeed, “The Addams Family” has been plagued by problems. The pair of original directors was replaced by Jerry Zaks, even though the duo’s names are still in Playbill. Zaks remains a ghost-director.

Numbers have been cut, added, reworked, and moved around to try and help stars Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth make sense of their roles as Gomez and Morticia Adams.

Many theatergoers are wondering what exactly is up with Lane, who’s playing Gomez with a terrible and unnecessary Spanish accent. Lane, they say, has trouble lighting a fire with steamy Neuwirth. Remember: Gomez and Morticia always had a sexy relationship.

Neuwirth, on the other hand, is hot. And a new number added for her toward the end, a with a tango dance, finally shows off her dancer’s legs. Previously she spent the show dressed head to toe in Morticia’s trademark black shroud.

Broadway is rooting for “The Addams Family” for one good reason. If it’s a dud upon arrival, then “Memphis” becomes the default Best Musical of 2010. Yikes! This has been a great year for plays but a bad one for original musicals. All the talk has been about revivals like “A Little Night Music.”

Insiders who’ve seen “The Addams Family” tell me it needs to be more like the TV show or the movie, and less about death. “There’s a lot of talk about death,” said one ticket holder. “Too much.” The good news is that the role of Grandmama, played by Jackie Hoffman, may get softened some more. No one who’s seen the show has liked poor Grandmama’s coarse bathroom humor.

Fans of the show will be surprised, I am told, to see little Wednesday Addams grown up old enough to be in a kind of “Birdcage” scenario with the son of a “normal” couple played by Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello. The latter pair are, at the same time, sort of like Brad and Janet from “Rocky Horror.”

On the plus side: there’s lots of praise for the set. But they still need to add, apparently, Lurch’s pull cord in the living room. And these immortal words: “You rang?”