On THE CRUCIBLE

 

Be patient. It takes a while to tell this story.*

I have directed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible twice, and I’ve recently been eager to direct it again. You don’t always get what you want, but a guy can dream. Still I count myself fortunate to be among the probably tens of thousands of teachers and directors around the world who have taken on this play.

In the late 1960’s, I was a young English teacher in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, new to “the drama club” when I put my first production together. It wasn’t great, but it was memorable for two reasons: In the middle of the play, the rear wall of the courtroom completely collapsed, prompting Judge Hathorne to bang his gavel and declare “The court will adjourn while we take a brief recess for courtroom repairs.” The curtain was quickly shut, and the play resumed in less than three minutes.  Fast thinking. You gotta love it.

Later, after the curtain call, and all but one of the cast had gone downstairs to dress, I found the young man who had played the conscience-torn Rev. John Hale kneeling alone on the stage. Not the sensitive, crying type at all, he asked me “What have we done?” as the tears rolled down his face. The question was existential, coming deeply from within his own heart, only in part generated by the injustice of the Salem hangings, and that of the McCarthy communist witch hunt that inspired Mr. Miller. I sat with him for a while, alone on the floor at center stage, talking of the ongoing enigma of human morality and intolerance.

We were interrupted by a girl yelling “Come out here: Gary fainted as he was getting into his car.” Gary was Deputy Governor Danforth, as close as the play gets to a villain. Sure enough, there he was, collapsed on the ground, hyperventilating and dehydrated. After a few minutes of breathing into a paper bag and some water, he said he was fine. Still, I wanted him to get checked out in the emergency room. At his insistence, his girl friend drove him there, and I followed. They kept him isolated in the hospital overnight for observation.

When they finally let me in to visit the next morning, he was just fine, as evidenced by his enthusiasm for the bath he was about to receive from a beautiful young nurse before his discharge. Apart from that, all he wanted to talk about was how his character could have been so blind to obvious truth: “I just don’t get it. He thought he was doing the right thing!  They all did!”

By that night, both boys had recovered fully and were back on stage, but students don’t often have reactions to high school theatre experience quite so intense. They sure scared the #@(% out of me. More importantly, they convinced me that drama experience as a tool in secondary education can far exceed sitting at a desk.
I settled in for a long career as a theater educator.

A few years later, some other teachers, good friends and myself opened up The Peacham School, an alternative school enrolling some 50 students in grades 7-12, in which drama was a key component of our curriculum. Naturally, The Crucible was an early choice to fit into an interdisciplinary history/literature/ethics project, about half of whom would be in the play. This time I designed a touring set which would not fall down. Among the cast was a 16-year-old “juvenile thief” who’d been deemed a hopeless case. The local police had delivered him to us, with the proviso that if we agreed to take him, he could either enroll, or go to a detention facility. So under the threat of incarceration, the lad eventually embraced the role of  the Rev. John Hale.

And now, jumping to the present, we come to the crux of this whole discussion.  You’ve gathered by now that I am no doubt a lifelong Miller fan, and I’ve seen most of his plays more than once.  I was particularly eager to see last season’s View from the Bridge, directed by the hot new director, Ivo van Hove, fondly labeled the “Belgian invasion” on the American stage.  Sadly, I was unable to get to New York when it was playing. But there was no way I was going to miss van Hove’s The Crucible.

IMG_0256Since the day it was written, The Crucible’s themes of self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and our smug human willingness to grab onto convenient beliefs have never failed to be “of our own times.” (…although perhaps the current American electoral process is an especially good time to be reminded of what we are.) But van Hove did not yield to the temptation of “updating” his material, creating instead a study of universal human behavior. His people all believe themselves in the right. Even the usual “villainess” Abigail Williams (Saoirse Ronan, Academy Award winner for the wonderful film, Brooklyn) appears to have reason for her aberrations: suggested sexual abuse and the resulting tinge of madness.  We “get” her, as we do everyone else in the play.

The costumes are a kind of  timeless nondescript mixture of modern and medieval.   It’s a big wide-open relatively empty stage, on which anything can happen and does, sometimes realistic, sometimes spiritual, sometimes shocking.

SPOILER ALERTS: At least two of those occasions will take your breath away.   The first pulls us entirely away from conventional narrative story-telling.  Suddenly, we seem to be injected into Abigail’s head, as she is elevated from the stage by a giant illuminated cross.

… And then there is “the dog” — a gorgeous, very large, wolf-like German shepherd. Emerging alone from the wings onto a completely empty stage, he looks like he might have escaped his trainer and was crossing to the other side. But half-way there, he stops, sensing the audience. He comes slowly down center and stops, and sits. For what seemed like a full two minutes, (but probably wasn’t), he quite literally “scanned” the audience, his eyes sweeping from left to right over and over, in condemnation, as if to ask, “Who are you people? Do you truly believe you are not beastly, that you are not a part of my world, that you were put here to hold dominion over us?   You fool!  You are merely one of us, and not very good at it at that.”   Then he stands, and walks off, looking over his shoulder again at the last minute, as if to … pity us? … One of the simplest, most electric moments I have ever experienced in an audience.   That dog has a mighty impressive trainer! Did I imagine his thoughts? Of course… Maybe. But he convinced me!

No doubt about it. This was/is an ingenious production with bold choices! Not all of van Hove’s choices are to everyone’s liking. Fellow directors are particularly notorious for claiming better approaches.   But that’s not the point, is it? And this? This is theatrical manna from heaven.

But here is the clincher: Remember that lad I spoke of who played Hale at the Peacham School — the “hopeless” case juvenile delinquent? Well just for fun I shot him an e-mail to tell him I was going to see The Crucible in New York. I promised to let him know how the professional Hale (Ben Whishaw) fared compared to his own performance some 40 years earlier. Now 57, a seasoned trial lawyer in Oklahoma City, the man got on an airplane and came to New York to see the play with me. After the matinee, we spent the evening reminiscing about the old days and challenges. He elicited tweets from other former Peacham students and cast members, and he vowed to come back to New York with his wife and daughter to expose them to the play that had changed his life. The next day, he flew back to Oklahoma in time for a heavy trial.

How magical can The Crucible get?

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Lanie Robertson’s LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL

I’ve saved the absolute best of what I took in on my recent five-day New York Theatre binge, for last.  I had in fact planned the whole trip around this performance, and was most grateful the run had been extended.  An old friend and college roommate joined me for the evening, and we both came away feeling it was one of the highlights of our theatre-going careers.

IMG_1883Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill was staged at the Circle in the Square, in a deep horseshoe configuration. The small stage was at the open end of the horseshoe, where we were lucky enough to be seated about twelve feet from Audra McDonald’s microphone. We were able to watch her entire performance in intimate profile, just as if we’d been crammed into that tiny Philadelphia bar to hear one of Billie Holiday’s final performances.

You might well ask how can one performer be so very talented as to garner six “Best Performer” Tony Awards (a record) since 1994, when she won for playing Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel at the age of 24.  … Especially when the competition with both talented veterans and newcomers has been so fierce … And especially since the more she won, the more the judges must have been thinking, “She’s had enough awards. Let’s give it to someone else this time.”  The answer is, they couldn’t.  Audra McDonald is simply that good in this role, just as she has been in her other numerous and varied performances in concert and on stage, screen, and TV.

And from the time “Lady Day” entered at the top of the horseshoe at the Circle in the Square, clearly “under the influence,” we knew that.  As she stumbled her way down to the stage, alternately spewing both love and rage at the audience, we were already under her spell.  Her pianist, Jimmy Powers, wonderfully played by Shelton Becton while leading a dynamic jazz trio, sat practically on top of us.  He bore all the wild mood swings, tirades, and gratitude she vented on him with admirable patience and skill, and he more than once rescued us all from the doldrums of the blues.

Lady Day herself, Billie Holiday

Lady Day herself, Billie Holiday

Although Holiday is widely considered one of the greatest jazz voices of all time, I had been only vaguely familiar with her career. I recently picked up a CD of her best known songs, and have grown to love them. What a remarkable performer she was: Wracked by alcohol, drugs, racial discrimination and life’s hard knocks, she toughed it all out, persisting against long odds, and never once yielding to self-pity or victimhood. Only months after her appearance at Emerson’s in 1959, she would die in New York of cirrhosis and heart failure.

McDonald, whose voice is if anything even richer than Holiday’s surviving recordings, brilliantly covered fifteen of her familiar songs, including What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Crazy He Calls Me, God Bless the Child, ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness, and especially, Strange Fruit.  I have never heard or witnessed a more moving rendition of the latter song than hers.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees …

I think I must have been an idealistic college boy when I was first deeply moved by Josh White’s rendition of this song.  But the masses first heard it introduced back in 1939, from Billie Holiday.  It would later be associated with the Civil Rights protests of the 1960’s, and was further popularized by Nina Simone in 1965.

Strange Fruit has weighed heavily on our hearts and consciences  for generations.  I was once told it had been penned by Langston Hughes, which seemed to make sense at the time.  But ironically, Holiday was given it by a white schoolteacher from the Bronx named Abel Meeropol, who had been haunted by Lawrence Beitler‘s graphic photograph of an infamous 1930 lynching.  Incidentally, Meeropol and his wife were the same couple who much later would adopt their sons Robert and Michael, after the boys’ birth parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were executed as Russian spies in 1953.

When “Lady Day” decided to sing Strange Fruit, the song reached millions of people.  In 1999, Time Magazine dubbed it the “Song of the Century.”  And when Audra McDonald sang it in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, her cheeks soaked with tears, it deeply and agonizingly moved everyone of us in the audience.  In an interview, McDonald pointed out that Holiday could never sing a song to which she was not emotionally attached, and it was clear to all of us that these two great voices had merged into a single great spirit.

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A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER, Book & Lyrics by Robert L Freeman, Music & Lyrics by Steven Lutvak

IMG_1893The scuttlebutt on this one started back in 2012, when it premiered at the Hartford Stage, followed by a run at the Old Globe in San Diego.  It was widely touted as the musical comedy that would match Book of Mormon for sheer belly laughter.  And preview audiences agreed that lead actor Jefferson Mays, who had won a best actor Tony in 2004 for I Am my Own Wife, was outdoing himself for this one.  Sure enough, the show did win the 2014 Best Musical and three other Tony’s.  Mays was again nominated and lost only to wunderkind Neil Patrick Harris’s Hedwig.

Be that as it may, just as soon as Gentlemen’s Guide… opened in New York last November, friends-in-the-know were reporting back that it was a not-to-be-missed gem.  And they were right.  It was also a fast cure for the serious doldrums I had fallen into having seen The Maids the same afternoon.

There’s not a whole lot to the story itself.  Young ne’er-do-well Monty Navarro, delightfully played by fellow Tony nominee Bryce Pinkham, learns he is the heir to the estate of Lord d’Isquith, should he survive the eight heirs who come before him.  All eight are quickly dispatched in clever and hilarious ways until he succeeds in becoming Lord d’Isquith himself, or does he?   The hook is that Jefferson Mays brilliantly plays all eight d’Isquith victims, young and old, male and female, which often requires impressive, lightning-fast costume changes.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, think back to (or look up) the classic old British Ealing Studios comedies of the 1950’s, led by Kind Hearts and Coronets, starring the masterful Alec Guinness.  Both that film and Gentlemen’s Guide… were based on an old novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal.  Both the film and the musical exhibit a very wry and literate kind of satire, hilarious and horrifying at the same time, but not horrifying enough to be “sick” humor.  It’s primarily based on old-fashioned melodrama, with its sight-gags, dead-pan takes, and outrageously choreographed speedy movements.  Seriously, don’t spend any time looking for depth or relevance here.  It’s all about energy and fun.  Still, Mays has captured that same sense of silly sarcasm at which Guinness excelled, making contemporary fun of racists, prigs, class war, religion, and politics, but set in post-Victorian England in 1909.  His extraordinarily pliable face and near-perfect sense of comic timing make him irresistible.

I confess to waiting for Jefferson Mays to come back from an undoubtedly well-deserved vacation before getting a ticket to Gentlemen’s Guide … I’m sure his stand-in was brilliant while he was gone, but with Mays’ and Pinkham’s help I laughed louder and longer for this show that I have for any other in a long time.  Well actually, the laughter in Book of Mormon was as loud and long, if a bit guiltier (See 8/2/11 Post).

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Jean Genet’s THE MAIDS

Cate Blanchett is an Australian stage and film actress with two Academy Awards (most recently for her appearance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine), three Screen Actors Guild Awards, three Golden Globe Awards and three BAFTA Awards.  Isabelle Huppert is a veteran star of French cinema (Three of my favorites: Amour, Entre Nous, The Piano Teacher, and check out her new one: Abuse of Weakness).  And together they are The Maids, Jean Genet’s disturbing 1947 drama currently at City Center as part of this year’s Lincoln Center Festival.   It is this year’s offering from the Sydney Theatre Company, the same team which over the past few years has brought us Hedda Gabler, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Uncle Vanya.  Miss Blanchett has served frequently as both actor and director with the company.  Her husband, Andrew Upton, is its current Artistic Director, a playwright, and in part responsible for this adaptation of The Maids.

As I found my seat, I realized just why a Lincoln Center Festival event was being presented on the main stage at City Center: clearly to maximize audience numbers for its limited run. Understandable, as the giant 2,257-seat auditorium was completely sold out. However, the production design made extensive use of a large overhead screen, and side glass walls featuring spy video cameras and more as an important part of its impact. Cameras projected intrusive facial and bodily close-ups and specifics of the chaos in the room up onto the screen. Those who could see them responded heartily. But I would estimate that some 300+ people in the balcony sat in muted ignorance with “obstructed views” not advertised as such, left out of the “jokes” and a significant part of the production’s impact. theater

I was one of them. So let this be my reminder TO NEVER SIT IN THE BALCONY AT CITY CENTER! … at any price, and especially for an intimate, quality presentation. This was a three-character play, not an extravaganza. They should know better, despite the box office pay-off! (That’s not going to happen.)

So there I was, mad as hell and missing a lot. And anyone who knows Genet’s work knows that this is not a fun play. It was based on a sensational Parisian murder case where two sisters, maids, viciously killed their employer, for no apparent reason. Taking off from there, Genet, who held that the whole social order was only an illusion, imagines an elaborate game of role-playing that brings into question what’s real and what’s mere appearance, play-acting. The maids are despicable human beings playing degrading games.   Genet himself was a thief and prostitute, a repeat offender who had to be rescued from life in prison by Sartre and Cocteau, two of my college-years stars when I was introduced to existentialism. Of course The Maids became hugely popular with the existentialists and communist revolutionaries of the late 40’s and 50’s.   Genet’s work is meant to shock, to degrade, to confuse, to offend, to alter the social structure, to change the rules of theatre. No, not fun at all. But very, very impressive.

All that being said, this was clearly a rich and masterful production of Genet’s work, and well worth getting to New York to see before it closes (tomorrow). It was one of the few purposeful, valid uses of screen projection on stage I’ve ever seen (what little I could see of it). I can guess that the camera work must have covered the reality of close-up decaying flowers and faces under the make-up, adding dimension to the “existential” disparity. Do I have that right? The rich, wide, attractive Parisian drawing room-like set in white, accented by the clothing and flowers to be scattered all over the place, evoked the decadence and the sham of the upper classes. Most of all the high-energy commitment of the two stars was spectacular, as was that of Elizabeth Debicki, making her American stage debut as their “Mistress.”

It was a privilege to have been with them to share in this adaptation of Genet’s writing, and to benefit from some prodigious levels of acting talent. But it did leave me badly wanting to see something funny, or to have a bath. … on top of being really mad at the Lincoln Center Festival for offering me the illusion of the pie and distributing the reality of the crumb.

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Scott Organ’s PHOENIX

It’s getting harder to find Monday night performances in New York, these days.  And since a lot of people look for the opportunity, when most shows are dark, it’s also hard to find a good seat in whatever’s open.  But early in my New York planning, I came across Phoenix, a new play by Virginia/Brooklyn playwright, Scott Organ.

IMG_1880        Among others, it’s a Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production, where a friend is Production Manager, and it’s staged at the Cherry Lane Theatre, an old favorite venue.  It had apparently managed to catch the eye of the right people, including Julia Stiles and James Wirt, who are appearing in it.  And I heard the film of the play is already in preproduction. So putting it all together, it sounded promising.

        [BUZZER!] … NOT! Turns out the movie project is an entirely separate enterprise with completely different personnel and actors.  I don’t know whether Mr. Organ is doing the screenplay, but hopefully he’ll have more to say, or rather, more happening, by that time, than he did in his stage play: Once again: a two-character play (relatively cheap to produce in today’s economy).  The woman is pregnant after a one-night stand, but wants nothing to do with the man or a baby.  She confronts the man, who inexplicably wants to accompany her from New York to Phoenix, where she plans on an abortion.  He does show up there despite her discouragement.  There’s lots of clippy chatter, or should I say endless banter, between them, until finally, everything ends up back where it started.  I do have to admit that some of the banter was very clever and funny. It just didn’t seem to lead us anywhere.

Naturally, AFTER I had bought my discount ticket, the play officially opened, and the reviews came out, pretty much warning me to stay away.  Since I don’t always listen to the critics, I didn’t stay away.  And I pretty much agree that I could just as well have missed it.  The two actors were agreeable enough, and Julia Stiles has a nice competent, good-looking persona that makes you listen, admire and respect.  But the production seemed oh so slow and self-important. This was not one of my crap-shoots that paid off.

What really captured my interest, though, that I had never seen before in a professional New York context, was the response of the director, Jennifer DeLia, on whom the critics seemed to heap most of their scorn.  This was her first off-Broadway directing gig, and she did not take kindly to the criticism. Hitting back at them point by point under the show description on www.broadwaybox.com, she explained her views on art and presumed to help readers understand the true depths of a play that remains misunderstood by ignorant New York critics. She sums it all up with the following statement:

       “We have thought through every decision made in this not-so-conventional piece and those of us involved couldn’t be more proud of our embracing the existential quest these two characters are on—as Bruce learns some of the biggest news of his life on this journey—and as Sue opens up to a man for her first time after seeing how honest and humble he is. I love that art is subjective and “cheers” to those who are uncomfortable while watching our play. And an even bigger “cheers” to the majority of our audiences who are quite sophisticated, have imagination, and appreciate the exploration of the many layers to Sue’s and Bruce’s psyches and, as well, to the production.”

Huh?

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3 Plays at THE NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL FRINGE FESTIVAL

I was delighted to find that I would be in New York for its International Fringe Festival this year. This is its 18th Year, and I had never been before. The timing allowed me to expand my week’s viewings by three more plays, albeit untried and untested, to be selected from two hundred productions in eighteen obscure venues scattered over the Lower East Side of Manhattan.   That’s a lot, but nowhere near the size or scope of the Edinburgh Fringe currently underway in Scotland, the largest arts festival in the world. By contrast, if you didn’t know, you’d never even realize this one was here.

I was eager to catch Phil Horst’s Well Adjusted, first presented a few years back at Four County Players, in Barboursville, VA. I’d seen and enjoyed it then, and it has been remounted for the Festival with the mostly same cast, and with Marty Moore returning as director.   But each production is apparently given five performance dates and times, and unfortunately, our schedules didn’t match. Hopefully, audiences will be both ample and wildly enthusiastic enough to launch Phil on a much-deserved writing career. Check the schedule for two remaining performances: www.welladjustedplay.wix.com/fringe2014

IMG_1869I selected my three plays based on my schedule and the professional appearance of their publicity cards, which is to say pretty much at random. Coyote Katie’s Return, by and with Alison Crane, advertises itself with a colorful publicity card. Other than to say the story involved a missing Southwestern girl turned feral who had been raised by coyotes, and the attempt to make a commercial spectacle of her, I’ll stop right there. But the publicity card was fantastic!

 IMG_1877        The 8th Fold makes reference to the ritualized folding of the American flag at a military funeral. Unofficially, the eighth fold is “a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.”  But that’s not exactly what the play is about.

It’s a musical by Gianni Onori and Ava Eldred, about four boys whose fathers have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and how they must deal with their own sadness and anger and move on with their own lives. It’s a British entrant to the Festival, but the producers have found four American extremely well trained vocal talents to bring it to life here.  I found the songs to be beautiful, if a bit monotonous after a while.  And there’s no denying the play’s sincerity, or the talents of the singers and the small orchestra that accompanied them. The play itself lacks levity, frequently strays from its message and loses focus just as its adolescent characters are prone to doing. One of them in particular, busy fixing everybody else’s problems, is way too cock-sure of himself to be believable.   The script has a ways to go, but it does showcase some fine singing talent; at least it’s about something, and it is very, VERY sincere!

IMG_1866        My third selection was Bohemian Valentine, by and with Mateo Moreno: A girl who dies; as a result a depressed, disconsolate boy who wants to commit suicide; and then a second girl, who also wants to end her life, but ends up on the edge of the roof, saving the day. There you have it. Pretty good acting.

Audiences for all three show ranged from 15-50 people. I gather that to find something really polished and powerful at the Fringe Festival is a distinct rarity. I was there shortly after the festival opened, so there was little word-of-mouth to go on. I understand after the first few days it gets much clearer what not to miss and what could possibly be by-passed, but by then the best may be sold out. Word travels fast; the venues are small and choices have to be made. Besides, however you look at it, all of these dedicated playwrights, along with their directors, casts and crews, worked very hard to make it all happen. And you can rest assured, at whatever level they are writing and performing this time, they will get better.

The New York International Fringe Festival runs through Aug. 24 at various theaters; .

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THE FANTASTICKS, Book & Lyrics by Tom Jones, Music by Harvey Schmidt

It’s not always easy to find theatre on a Sunday night. But this is New York, after all, and there’s ALWAYS theatre.   It was a beautiful night, and I had toyed with seeing John Lithgow’s King Lear up at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, about which I had heard raves.  But I’d missed out on the ticket lottery, seen a lot of good Lears of late, and didn’t feel much like spending time standing in a line.

So I settled for an oldie: The Fantasticks.  “You did what?  You gave up John Lithgow for The Fantasticks?  Are you Crazy?” commented my good wife.  I plead guilty.  It was not one of the saner choices in my theatre-going experience.

After 54 years and over well over 20,000 New York performances, surely there is nothing about this show that has not already been said.  It is the longest running musical in history.  It continues to be produced all over the country and the world, Music Theatre International’s most popular item.  I have friends who have never seen it, but it begins to feel like they’re in a distinct minority.

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I myself had never seen it in New York, and I had been very slow in coming to it as a “favorite.”  Back in the 60’s, my wife and I made an attempt to see it in a Boston theatre set in a tiled hotel lobby.  Not being fans of slapstick comedy for its own sake, we thought the first act was so bad, so hopelessly overacted, so puerile in its content,  so irrelevant to the world, that we left during the intermission.  Of course, we missed the whole point.  For years I wondered what all the fuss was about.  Why should The Fantasticks, of all plays, become the most popular, longest running musical in the world?  … And I have to admit:  I still have no clue!

But then in the mid-70’s, I directed a school production and toured Vermont with it.  I came to love the music, as well as the simplicity and the honesty of the story, with its clashing imagery of idealism and cynicism.  With age I grew more in tune with its very basic exploration of what we expect from life and what the world ends up handing us.   So finally, it was time to go see a professional production … both acts!

The current The Fantasticks is staged at the corner of 50th and Broadway in the 3rd floor hole-in-the-wall Jerry Orbach Theatre, so named for the late Law and Order star and the very first El Gallo when the play debuted in 1960.

It was pretty much as I remembered it, and pretty well done.  There is one major change in the script, brought about by the demands of political correctness, and officially sanctioned by Jones and Schmidt.  The “Rape Ballet” was no more, having been replaced by words like “raid” and “abduction.” The classical use of the word “rape” was intended to be much closer to the original sense of bridal kidnapping, or a raid. But no more. In this day and age of commonly talked about sexual abuse, “rape” is not deemed a word to play with for laughs. I confess to missing the “Rape Ballet,” and while I fully understand the need to replace it, I find it very sad that, even on a New York stage, even surrounded by plays full of hilarious obscenities, we apparently live in times where it had to go.

IMG_1855It seems like “everybody and his brother” (actors, that is) come around to playing in The Fantasticks sooner or later, and I’m sure casts are continually rotating according to actor availability.   The list includes many future Hollywood and Broadway stars.   Not surprisingly, everyone in this cast had marvelous voices, and a fair modicum of acting talent.  On the other hand, energy, level of commitment and ability to relate to the material varied widely.  For instance, shining over them all was Samantha Bruce as the Girl, Luisa, who was not only in rare voice, but captured every nuance of character and timing.   By contrast, the young actor playing “The Boy,” despite being in fine voice and bringing some impressive credentials to the role, appeared somewhat disconnected from the whole process.  In general, though, it was a fun evening of fine voices and not a little personal nostalgia.

One niggling thought to clear up:  One of the Broadway discount ticket sites inexcusably lists the lyricist Tom Jones as Tom Jones, the Welsh pop singer of the ’70’s (“Delilah,”  “It’s Not Unusual”).  Decidedly, NOT SO!  Our own Tom Jones was born in Texas, and since college has successfully teamed up with his friend Harvey Schmidt for such Broadway hits as I Do, I Do110 in the Shade, and of course, the longest running musical in the world.

 

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