The Height of the Storm – November 12, 2019

The perception of reality is in the eye of the beholder – the truths one holds and remembers to be true has a profound effect on a person’s interactions with those around them and their surroundings. The Height of the Storm is a complex play in which test these boundaries with a shifting puzzle to solve written by French playwright Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton. The play is a transfer from the West End for a limited run from now through November 24, 2019, playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Tickets were obtained the usual way (via the TDF table at the BC/EFA Flea Market) and I was intrigued by the premise of the play, and its stellar cast, all of whom transferred from the West End.

The 90-minute play revolves around Andre and Anne, a long married couple and their interactions with their two adult daughters, Madeline and Elise, with the daughters doing their best to help their parents cope with widowhood in an empty house, though it’s not always clear as to which parent has passed and which parent is still among the living. Shocking revelations are uncovered, shattering the carefully crafted beliefs within this family – or do they? The shifting perspectives and passage of time leaves the state of the family in a grey area of mystery, though by the play’s end, it’s (somewhat) clear as to who is among the living and who is not.

 

The scenic design is of one set – a kitchen with the other rooms in slight forced perspective, exuding a sense of claustrophobia in which the characters interact with one another; the lighting design accentuate the shifting perspective, with shadow and light as vital clues to the puzzle. The cast is stellar, led by Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins as Andre and Anne, both of whom gave haunting performances full of rage, grief and a touch of madness.

The stage door was sparse, most likely due to the fact that that evening was unusually cold and windy for mid-November, though the few that waited in the cold were greeting by the two leads and had the opportunity to chat with them before they were ushered into the respective cars. Without giving away the twist (?) The Height of the Storm is a mind bogging tale which has the audience wondering what is real and what imagined and provides more questions than answers, leading (forcing?) the audience to pay close attention to what is going on in an attempt to make sense of it all. It’s ultimately haunting and all too real all at the same time, playing with the perception of reality and time.

Unstoppable: Thoughts on Tootsie – November 8, 2019

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Gender equality has always been an important issue in all aspects of society – from equal rights to equal pay, with women striving to have their voices heard and abilities (and achievements) acknowledged, both in the real world and the fictional world of film, television and theatre. Tootsie is among the many in the latter category, based on the 80’s film of the same name, currently playing at the Marquis theatre. I remember the film being a great comedy at the time, though some of its humor has not aged well in this “Me Too” Era, and I was curious to see how the musical adaptation would handle the transition from film to stage. Tickets were acquired the usual way for this time of year (thanks to the TDF ticket raffle table at the BC/EFA Flea Market).

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The plot of the show revolves around Michael Dorsey, an actor with a reputation of being difficult, despite his actual talent – his dedication to his craft has led him to be unemployable. He hatches a scheme to audition as a woman (though the impetus to this decision isn’t clearly stated), and as Dorothy Michaels, he lands a supporting role in a new Broadway musical. Complications arise when he falls for the leading lady and also finds himself (herself?) the object of a male co-star’s affection, coupled with a condescending director and a clingy ex-girlfriend.

The musical adaptation is different from the film in many ways, as the musical within a musical was not the job Michael (as Dorothy) gets – in the film it’s a soap opera – but many of the film’s elements are present, with the dated references / subplots more suitable for the present social climate. The show as a whole is an homage to a traditional musical comedy, with a fantastic score by David Yazbek. The overall scenic design has hints of the 80s in this look and set design. The cast is great, with Santino Fontana doing an amazing job toggling between his two personas, with his vocal inflections and overall mannerisms in a Tony Award worthy performance. Other standouts were Sarah Stiles as Sandy, Michael’s ex-girlfriend, whose comic timing was impeccable, and also understudy Brittany Coleman as Julie, the co-star he falls for, whose vulnerability shone through without it looking like weakness.

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The stage door was not too crowded (as it was an unusually chilly evening for November) but some of the cast came out to sign playbills/posters and pose for photos. I had my doubts about Tootsie when it was first announced as a musical, as it seems to me that in the last decade or so, almost every well-known film from the 80s and 90s were being adapted to the stage, which made me anxious about the state of “new” musicals. Granted, I’m aware that it’s a business and that the familiar brings in a potential built-in fan base, but it made me wonder about the state of original musicals. The show was enjoyable, a throwback to the classic American musical, with a message about gender equality that is mostly harmless and fun.

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The Imbible – A Spirited History of Drinking – November 2, 2019

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The invention of alcohol (in all its forms) has been an important component throughout human history, as I learned in The Imbible – A Spirited History of Drinking, and its evolution from a necessary beverage for everyone (including children) to a social drink for adults (and a rite of passage for teenagers/new adults). I first learned about this show through the YouTube series “Broadway Bartender” and was fascinated by the idea of a musical about the history of drinking. The tickets were acquired through the TDF Pik-a-TKS table at the BC/EFA Flea Market and was excited and curious about the concept of the show.

The Imbible plays off-Broadway in “the Green Room” at the New World Stages and includes three complementary drinks – the drinks served at the performance I attended were a Shandy (IPA beer mixed with ginger ale), a Whisky Sour and a Gin and Tonic. The show blended history, science and (presumably public domain) songs sung a cappella by bartender/narrator Chris O’Neill, accompanied by backwaiters Emily Ott, Matthew Boyd and Nicole Pietrangelo. The show was equally entertaining and educational and had a Reduced Shakespeare Company vibe to it – the cast of four also bantered with one another, clothed in various ad-hoc historical costumes with equally ad-hoc props, and invited and reacted to audience participation, not to mention taking a large topic (the history of drinking) and distilling it (pun intended) into a roughly two-hour show.

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Considering the subject material, The Imbible is for theatergoers of legal drinking age (which is 21+ in the US, though it’s curious that the show did not explicitly touch upon that criteria), and is a great crash course in learning about the relationship and impact of alcohol on humanity and its scientific evolution from a chemical solution to mixed drinks.

Did I mention that there are three complementary (full sized) drinks?

I’ll drink to that.

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A Show About Death: Musings on Beetlejuice – October 31, 2019

Halloween is a holiday that celebrates the macabre, with children (and adults) of all ages out and about in costumes in search of candy and to cause all sorts of mischief. Beetlejuice is the ideal musical (based on the film of the same name) that encapsulates the core aspects surrounding that holiday, and is also the most logical musical to see on Halloween night. Over the years an inadvertent tradition arose of going to see a Broadway show (usually a musical) on Halloween night – it’s always fun to see theatergoers in costumes in the audience and the atmosphere is oftentimes more animated than usual. This is my second time seeing Beetlejuice currently playing at the Winter Garden Theatre (I had seen it early in its preview period) but writing about its Halloween performance seemed appropriate. The fun started before show, as Alex Brightman came out to hand theatergoers candy, and chatted with those who arrived early (the lesson here is to arrive at the theatre a bit earlier than show time – you never know who you might see…)

The musical is largely based on the film, which revolves around the titular character causing overall mischief for the recently deceased Adam and Barbara Maitland and the Deetz family, who move into the Maitland home. The musical mostly follows the film’s plot with some additional exposition for Lydia, still mourning her dead mother. The stage adaptation takes advantage of poking at the fourth wall, setting up the context that it’s “a show about death” and has a balance of approaching the subject of death and the aftermath (both for the living and the recently deceased) with humor and pathos.

The overall scenic design is astounding to the point that the entire theatre is immersed in misty, spooky lights adding to the ambiance of the show, with the set design showing the Maitland house as almost an oversized model (perhaps a nod to an aspect of the film wherein Adam has a scale model of the town in which he lives). The score is fantastic, a collection of songs that have an 80s vibe, with subtle nods to the film score (by Danny Elfman) and also includes the iconic songs “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jump in the Line” which also featured in the film. The cast is astounding, especially Alex Brightman as the titular “ghost with the most” (who in my opinion should have won the Tony) playing the role with such elastic glee that you’d almost think he was an animated character; another standout was understudy Presley Ryan as Lydia Deetz, who expertly balanced the emotions of an angst-ridden teenager and a lost child who just wants to be seen and to be able to openly mourn the loss of her mother.

 

As it was Halloween night, the stage door was a (lovely) swarm of costumed theatergoers so I skipped that circus and just enjoyed the rest of the evening, seeing theatergoers and passersby in costume. Also, there was a special edition of the playbill just for the month of October. All in all, Beetlejuice is a fun musical with a great cast, memorable music and stays true to the essence of that iconic film.