Wednesday, July 11, 2007


The dictionary defines xanadu as, "a place of great beauty, luxury and contentment." Xanadu, currently playing at the Helen Hayes and based upon the famously horrible 1980 movie musical starring Olivia Newton-John, is none of these things. It is far too garish to be beautiful, too threadbare to be luxurious, and too loud to give anyone a feeling of contentment. Still, you're bound to have a damn good time at this bright, boisterous and mercifully short confection, which seems to have overcome the odds and is quickly becoming the surprise hit of the summer. (The crowd at the stage door was already three rows deep by the time I made it out of the theatre.) While half of the piece's success is due to its off the charts kitsch factor--the legwarmers and rollerblades, the memorably cringeworthy ELO score, the tacky scenery (by David Gallo) just screaming to be chewed--one would be remiss not to credit the extremely talented and incredibly hardworking cast. It's no shock that Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman are delicious as evil muses, or that Cheyenne Jackson plays a lovable dope par excellence. The pleasant surprise here comes courtesy of Kerry Butler as the irresistable muse Clio, who comes to earth to inspire Jackson's starving artist. Her vocal features--both her rollicking belt and her send-up of Newton-John's crystalline soprano--are note perfect and her flourishes of humor are simply uproarious. Could she be Broadway's next bonafide musical comedy star? I think so.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Old Acquaintance

As far as pastiche revivals are concerned, Roundabout's current staging of John Van Druten's Old Acquaintance is nowhere near as entertaining as The Constant Wife, which the company presented perfectly two seasons ago. Both comedies are of a similar fach--headstrong dames front and center, living, loving and letting the feathers fly--but the latter, set on the cusp of the Twentieth Century, featured crackling dialogue brought to life by an extraordiarily gifted cast. The cast of the former certainly has gifts to spare (it's headed by two of New York's most valuable performers, Margaret Colin and Harriet Harris), but as far as material goes, there just isn't much there. The story, which centers around two protofeminist novelists who have engaged in a friendly rivalry since girlhood, is solid and resonates somewhat, but Van Druten's stilted, dry text leaves the players with very little to work with. (I can't imagine that most of the lines, which Colin and Harris try very hard to sell, were ever that funny, even when the play premiered in 1940.) Still, this play is, if nothing else, a piece for two formidable divas, and I'm hard pressed to think of any better ones. For two hours, these often underappreciated ladies reign supreme. That's nothing to complain about.

Monday, July 9, 2007


There really aren't signs big enough or lights bright enough to trumpet the arrival of Patti Lupone's Mama Rose. She tears through the iconic role with a kind of focused ferocity that I've never seen anyone bring to this role before. Ably supported by a terrific onstage orchestra, the reigning Grande Dame of musical theatre landed one classic number after another--a subtle but forceful "Some People," a delightfully erotic "You'll Never Get Away From Me," opposite Boyd Gaines' winning Herbie--causing near pandemonium at City Center. In addition to Lupone and Gaines, a fine supporting cast has been assembled: Leigh Ann Larkin's June is well-sung, if a bit abrasive; Tony Yazbeck's Tulsa is adorable and expertly danced; the strippers--Alison Fraser, Nancy Opel and Marilyn Caskey--are the best I've ever seen. Laura Benanti defied the odds and turned in a surprisingly youthful and glowing Louise. The dark colors of her voice made her rendition of "Little Lamb" the most appropriately mournful I've ever heard. (Her reading of the song's final line, "I wonder how old I am," accentuated with a single tear, was flawless.) I could quibble about a few aspects of Arthur Laurents' new production, but I don't think that I will. The handful of flaws here aren't important. Patti Lupone's soon-to-be-legendary performance is. See it.