News Column

Hap's Broadway reviews; A special report from the Great White Way.

June 9, 2013

YellowBrix

'MATILDA'

The last time the venerable Royal Shakespeare Company created amusical about a young girl with telekinetic powers the result wasthe fabled flop "Carrie." The classical troupe has hadsubstantially more success in London with the Olivier Award- winning"Matilda," based on Roald Dahl's dark-toned, staunchly subversivechildren's book, and there is reason to expect similar good fortunefor the show on Broadway.

The story concerns a 9-year-old bookworm whose cartoonish parentswould prefer her to watch more television instead. At school,Matilda is caught between the polar influences of mean- spiritedheadmistress Agatha Trunchbull (a high-camping Bertie Carvel inpanto drag) and nurturing Miss Honey (Lauren Ward), who has a fewback story surprises of her own.

The show is carried by its pint-sized cast, who whip through PeterDarling's kinetic choreography (with a wink to "Spring Awakening").Tim Minchin's densely packed score has clever lyrics, but thehigh-pitched tots render most of them unintelligible. Four younggirls rotate in the title role and if they come close in quality tothe performance of sublime Sophia Gennusa, then they were jointedgypped out of Tony Awards on a dubious eligibility ruling.

MATILDA, Shubert Thr., 225 W. 44th St., $32-$167. (212) 239- 6200.

'KINKY BOOTS'

The best thing about this rousing, but generally conventionalmusical adaptation of the little-seen 2005 movie is the Broadwaydebut of a veteran songwriter, pop star Cyndi Lauper. Her scoreshows an understanding of what makes a song theatrical whileremaining true to her own sound, on such catchy, quirky numbers as"The Most Beautiful Thing," "Everybody Says Yeah" and the rousingfinale, "Raise You Up."

The show sticks closely to the film's plot about a guy whoreluctantly inherits his father's failing shoe factory in northernEngland, and tries to save it by targeting the niche market of dragqueens. But if you did not know that, you would swear it wasstitched together from the outtakes of "La Cage aux Folles," "TheFull Monty" and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." That givesdirector-choreographer Jerry Mitchell lots of opportunities forin-your-face production numbers while book writer Harvey Fiersteinmakes the point that there are many kinds of men, including thosedrawn to dresses and high heels.

KINKY BOOTS, Al Hirschfeld Thr., 302 W. 45th St., $77-$142, (212)239-6200.

'PIPPIN'

Artistic director Diane Paulus of Harvard's American RepertoryTheatre has done it again, injecting new vitality into an oldchestnut, making her a shoo-in for another Best Musical RevivalTony Award after turning that trick for her two other Broadwayicons, "Hair" and "Porgy and Bess." Tricks are at the heart of herlatest cobweb-dusting, the magic-laden "Pippin," which she setsinside a circus tent with the considerable assistance of the FrenchCanadian big top troupe, Les 7 Doigts de La Main (Seven Fingers.)

The original 1972 production was something of a stunt, a brilliantact of misdirection by Bob Fosse, drawing our attention away from awan, picaresque story line in favor of his signature razzle-dazzlestaging. Choreographer Chet Walker devises dances "in the style ofBob Fosse," but Paulus gives the show a new dimension with itscircus motif.

Patina Miller is all smiles and spandex as the emcee-ish LeadingPlayer, effective enough, but without the much-missed menace of BenVereen. She leads Prince Pippin (aptly callow Matthew JamesThomas), son of Charlemagne, on his "Candide"-like journey to findhis "Corner of the Sky" (one of the many hummable gems in StephenSchwartz's score). In a strong cast that includes Terrence Mann andRachel Bay Jones, it is Andrea Martin who steals the show, turningher throwaway song ("No Time At All") into a high-flying highlightthat garners nightly standing ovations, mid-number.

PIPPIN, Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St. $58-$148. (212)239- 6200.

'I'LL EAT YOU LAST, A CHAT WITH SUE MENGERS'

Talent agent and Hollywood deal maker extraordinaire Sue Mengersmay not really be important enough to warrant an hour and a half ofour attention, but she knew and probably represented most of theroyalty of show business in the 1970s, so there is plenty of gossipto be flung in the one-woman show that playwright John Logan("Red") and director Joe Mantello ("Take Me Out") have crafted.

Besides, the play has attracted Bette Midler back to Broadway,after a long absence, in a role that fits her as snugly as theflowing caftan she wears fits her loosely. She dishes aboutMengers' clients, studio heads and other major movie figures in arambling monologue that is as wickedly entertaining as it isshapeless.

Besides researching the period and Mengers' career ups and downs,Logan has given the evening a dramatic context. Even as she spinstales of Faye Dunaway, Ali McGraw, Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds andtheir ilk, Mengers is waiting for a phone call from super- clientBarbra Streisand who will fire her, a major blow to her career andan interesting subtext to the show. But nothing really stopsMengers, let alone her star alter ego, Midler.

I'LL EAT YOU LAST, A CHAT WITH SUE MENGERS, Booth Theatre, 222 W.45th St., through Sun., June 30. $87-$152. (212) 239-6200.

'THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES'

Coming off of a quickly dismissed adaptation of "Breakfast atTiffany's," playwright Richard Greenberg bounces back admirablywith a play of substance, fueled by comic lines of character andwit. No one really speaks as articulately as the well- off Bascovs,a Jewish clan ensconced in a 14-room apartment on Central ParkWest, and Greenberg is crafty enough to call attention to theirspeech patterns as a pre-emptive strike against criticism of it.

The play is set on two different Christmases -- 1980 and 2000 -- asthe Bascovs and their New Jersey relatives gather for atraditional, if secular dinner. The audience's eyes on thisgathering is the outsider, golden boy son Scott's college friendJeff (a sensitive Jeremy Shamos). And when he falls in love withScott's mother as he helps her prepare the meal, so do we. Makingthat attraction easy for the audience is the lilting performance ofJessica Hecht, as a former child star who breathes optimism likeoxygen.

Of course there is a dark side to the story, and Greenberg keepsthickening the plot with suggestions of harbored resentments,infidelity, even blackmail. "The Assembled Parties" is the sort ofplay it is said they don't write anymore, and a pleasure toencounter. Manhattan Theatre Club's Lynne Meadow orchestrates hercast with assurance, drawing a particularly memorable supportingperformance from Judith Light as Hecht's wily, wise sister- in-law.

THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES, Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., throughJuly 7. $67-$137, (212) 239-2600.

'VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE'

Although it would be a shame to think of comic anarchistChristopher Durang as maturing, he definitely graduates to theadult table with this family comedy with just enough underlyingsubstance. I prefer Richard Greenberg's "The Assembled Parties,"but will not be surprised when Durang is called up to accept theBest Play Tony, which would be something of a career recognitionfor his decades of work off-Broadway.

He sets his play in a Bucks County country home, as Chekhovian asDurang is willing to go, the residence of a middle aged brother andsister, Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia (the deliciouslyforlorn Kristine Nielsen, a frequent Durang interpreter). Named forChekhov characters by their academic parents, they are asemotionally adrift as their namesakes, which only gets worse whensister Masha (Sigourney Weaver), a celebrated movie actress,arrives with her boy toy Spike and an intention of selling thefamily estate.

Although chock full of laugh lines, they are eclipsed by a pair ofmonologues in the second act. Sonia's phone conversation with apotential beau is enough to break your heart, while Vanya'snon- stop rant about lost values from bygone days merely pains yoursides with laughter.

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45thSt., through Sun., July 28. $62-$142. (212) 239-6200.

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