Harold Pinter’s Betrayal on Broadway

I’m doing this thing where I go back in time during the 2019-2020 Broadway season and write about all the shows I saw that I didn’t previously have a chance to write about. I hope you’ll indulge me! The first play I wanted to write about was Betrayal by Harold Pinter.

The only thing I knew about this play before I saw it was that it was the story of a marriage starting with the day they’re getting divorced ) and that it had been a hit in London. I was also excited to see Tom Hiddleston. I’ve always had a soft spot for Loki in the Marvel movies (I even wanted to name one of my cats after the character but that never worked out) and I was curious to see whether or not he could act onstage, too!

The three-person cast was rounded out by Daredevil himself, Charlie Cox (I’ve only watched a couple of episodes and I was not a fan, to be honest) and British actress Zawe Ashton. It’s somewhat exhausting to watch a marriage go from hitting rock bottom to being great, just because you know how it turns out.

Harold Pinter isn’t my favorite, and this definitely wasn’t my favorite play of his. Hiddleston was great though. He can definitely hold his own onstage – he was convincing every step of the way. Ashton and Cox also did a good job, but I thought Hiddleston shined the most.

Was this a total waste of 90 minutes? Not at all. It was only 90 minutes and you could definitely find worse ways to spend your Sunday afternoon than watching a Pinter play with a fine cast on Broadway.

Moulin Rouge on Broadway vs. The Real Thing in Paris

I was a huge fan of Moulin Rouge, the film, in high school. I had a friend in the theatre department who was absolutely obsessed with it so we watched it all the time. The film’s jukebox score was the first time I’d ever heard a lot of those famous songs. (What can I say, I was raised on show tunes and Spice Girls.) And Ewan McGregor? Swoon!

It’s safe to say that when I was given the opportunity to see a performance at the ACTUAL Moulin Rouge in Paris in 2008 that I was definitely going to take advantage. I think our tickets cost $50 (maybe $75?), but the tickets also came with a meal. I remember wishing to hear the songs I knew so well from the movie but the actual show is full of lesser-known music (or at least I didn’t know it, which isn’t saying much, I know). I remember the food being tasty and I marveled at the can-can dancers and topless burlesque dancers, the jugglers, and the singers. There were a lot of pasties as one would imagine.

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It was a unique experience and one that I will never forget. A magnet from the gift shop hangs on my refrigerator and I also picked up one of the programs, too, since photos were strictly banned.

Fast forward about 10 years to summer 2018 and ART in Boston was mounting a new stage production of Moulin Rouge. This was long overdue if you ask me. Still: I was excited.

For some reason, Kristen and I didn’t think to see it while we were in Boston to see Jagged Little Pill, but we knew it’d come to Broadway. The stills of the set design were breathtaking. It was the set from The Great Comet of 1812, but glitzier and much, much redder. It was stunning.

Tickets had been impossible to buy when they transferred the production to Broadway so I was stunned when Nick surprised me on Christmas with tickets to a performance in late February to celebrate our one-year anniversary. I was SO excited. (And it was a good thing he went for before I traveled to Portugal because afterward, we wouldn’t have been able to go!)

Fast forward some more to the night of February 22nd. We grabbed Thai food on 9th Avenue and then we excited hurried over to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

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The Al Hirschfeld Theatre actually felt like the perfect spot for this slightly more risque and unconventional show. The Moulin Rouge is quite close to the extremely seedy Montmartre District in Paris, so to have chosen a theatre for this production that’s west of 8th Avenue and literally next to a strip club feels insanely perfect.

As soon as you walk into the theatre you are transported into the Moulin Rouge that you know from the movie. Everything is draped in red velvet with red lights and everything is shimmering.

I was slightly disappointed to see that Karen Olivo, who plays Satine, was out that night, but I think my happiness from the knowledge that Danny Burstein and Aaron Tveit were on as Zidler and Christian, respectively, more than made up for it. We made our way to our seats in the mezzanine and then the lights went down.

The Show:

The Book: The plot is the same as the movie. There are minor changes in the second act, but the plot is the same: Satine falls in love with Christian who she believes in the Duke, and then she has to pretend she’s in love with the Duke, too, so they can get their show mounted. Easy enough, right?

The Music: Wow, wow, wow! There are all of the songs that you love from the movie in this score, but also there are snippets from probably 200 other popular songs scattered throughout. There’s a reason they don’t have a song list in the Playbill. They want the audience to be surprised and it’s for the benefit of both the audience and the creative team that we are surprised! If you want to ruin the surprise, you can check out the song list here (but I would advise against it).

The Set: As previously, the set would’ve been an easy and obvious pick for Best Set had the Tony Awards not been canceled this year. It is absolutely gorgeous. If you have an extra thousand dollars, you can even sit on stage (I’m assuming that’s the price they’re being resold for on Ticketmaster!) and really be part of the action. (Yes, please!) I can’t properly describe the set, so I’ll just show you a photo:

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See? Gorgeous.

The Cast: In a time when productions are aiming to be as barebones as possible, this 30-person cast feeling HUGE. But it works. The stage has to look busy for the show to work because the stage is never bare and empty at the actual Moulin Rouge, or in the movie. Even the audience members in the mezzanine (hello!) feel like we’re all huddled together witnessing a rare event. It is a rare event because on Broadway every show is different. Hence the magic of theatre.

Ashley Loren was covering the role of Satine for Karen Olivio and she killed it! She sang the hell out of Katy Perry’s “Firework” and every other song she was given. She is literally in every seen in the show and she kept her energy high and her vocals on point throughout.

Aron Tveit was sensational at Christian. I’ve seen him in Next To Normal, Wicked, and Catch Me If You Can, all of which he was excellent in. However, as Christian, he was a sparkling diamond. His vocals were so vibrant and powerful that I wanted to scream for joy. I honestly didn’t know he could sing like that. My only criticism is that sometimes I didn’t believe that Christian and Satine were in love but I would probably blame that on him not having as much experience with Loren since she was an understudy. And I know what you’re thinking: How could that not ruin the show?! I don’t know. It just didn’t.

And last but certainly not least there was Danny Burstein as the MC of the Moulin Rouge, Harold Zidler. He had been out for a few weeks prior for medical reasons so I was elated when I found out that he’d be back just a few short weeks before we arrived to see the show. I have a long history with Mr. Burstein on Broadway. I’ve seen him in My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, The Snow Geese, Follies, Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, South Pacific, and The Drowsy Chaperone. It is an understatement when I say that he is always spectacular in whatever show he is cast and his turn as Zidler in Moulin Rouge was no different. He never broke character while on stage or interacting with the audience, and his comedic timing and vocals were stellar. I. love. Danny. Burstein. You will, too.

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Moulin Rouge is nearly three hours long but it never feels that way. It never drags and it’s pacing is damn near perfect. I am so, so grateful that I was able to see this gem of a show on Broadway before Broadway shut down for who knows how long.

Once Broadway is open again, I would encourage you to save some money and do that same. (Or you can enter the lottery here when they’ve re-opened.)

Is it like the real thing in Paris? I’d say it’s even better.

The Al Hirschfeld Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 302 West 45th Street in midtown Manhattan.

Review: The Sound Inside (Roundabout)

Two weeks I finally, finally, finally got around to seeing The Sound Inside at Studio 54.

Adam Rapp has been one of my favorite playwrights – if not my absolute favorite – since 2006 when I saw his play Red Light Winter at the Barrow Street Theatre. I’m sure I’ve talked about this all before on here in prior reviews of shows of his but I just love his writing. I can almost never pinpoint what he’s trying to say but I love how he writes and how his characters talk. I really grasped onto one of the themes of Red Light Winter (although I’d yet to ever travel to Amsterdam, and I wasn’t a prostitute, etc.) and I was a fan ever since.

Yes, if you must know, I knew who Adam Rapp was because I was a fan of his brother initially. But after Red Light Winter, I was a fan of his solely for his writing talents.

Anyways, Rapp had been quoted a few times saying that producers had approached him to mount his pieces on Broadway but he’d always refused their offers because his audience was downtown. Totally valid, and probably true given the content of some of (most of) his stuff.

But when it was announced that a play he wrote would be produced by Roundabout Theatre Company and be on Broadway at Studio 54, I was giddy. AND it was starring Mary Louise Parker? Things just kept getting better. Well, I finally saw it after it opened and I made sure not to read anything about the show. I wanted to go in with a fresh mind.

I sat down in my seat in the front mezzanine and waited for the lights to go down.

It began with a monologue from Mary Louise Parker, who played an accomplished 53-year-old Yale professor named Bella Baird. It was sardonic, dry, and comedic. Everything that I love about Adam Rapp’s writing. You could tell she was over her job.

After her monologue, she is soon visited by a fellow misfit student from one of her classes, Christopher Dunn (the lovely and captivating Will Hochman), who doesn’t use email and refuses to make an appointment like everyone else. He begins to share his novel with Bella and they grow closer and closer over the next 80 or so minutes. You never know where their relationship is going to go and I won’t spoil it here. Towards the end of the play, Bella enlists Christopher to help her with the ultimate task after she learns she has advanced-stage cancer (which, spoiler alert, he doesn’t).

Spoiler: A friend told me a theory she’d heard from another friend that Christopher actually doesn’t exist and a multitude of reasons why. I tweeted this theory and Rapp liked it, but he didn’t confirm or deny, so that was helpful.

I was on the edge of my seat most of the play, trying to guess what would happen, but I wasn’t really sure why. I liked both of the characters, a lot, but it’s not like I was dying for them to get together.

This isn’t for everyone, sure, but I really liked it and I’m happy that Roundabout didn’t water Rapp down for Broadway audiences. As per usual, Adam Rapp produced a masterclass in foreboding drama and I loved every second of it.

Review: The Underlying Chris (Second Stage)

I guess last week was the week to see vague plays because last Sunday evening, I celebrated the 3-day weekend by seeing The Underlying Chris with my partner. Written by Will Eno, the Pulitzer-Prize nominated playwright who also wrote The Realistic Joneses, which was on Broadway back in 2014 (and that I sadly did not see). However, I have seen his play Thom Pain twice, in two different productions, so I sort of knew what I was getting into. (But not really.)

I read in reviews of The Realistic Joneses was a series of small scenes and I think that must be a theme in Eno’s work because that was also the structure of The Underlying Chris. On Second Stage’s website, it describes the playas “a life-affirming and high-spirited look at how a person comes into their identity, and how sometimes it’s life’s tiniest moments that most profoundly change our lives. In these divided times, The Underlying Chris serves as a celebration of our differences, our individuality, and the many mysterious, difficult, and beautiful things we share simply by being alive.”

I believe this may come across in the final scene, which is a funeral for someone named Chris, but a better description of this play would’ve been: “A play about many Chris’ in many different stages throughout one’s life and each scene is connected to the previous scene in a subtle or not-so-subtle way.

An example of these unrelated scene connections is in the first scene, Chris is a newly born baby boy. The scene ends with his mother getting a call, but we never find out the nature of that call (though we do hear sirens so we’re led to believe that something’s happened). In the next scene, Chris is a young girl in a doctor’s office and she tells the doctor that her father died in a car accident when she was a baby.

This happened for scene after scene after scene culminating in the funeral of a person named Chris.

I’m sure there was a big point somewhere that I completely missed but I completely didn’t see any celebrating of our diversity here.

I thought the best performances came from Howard Overshown and Isabella Russo, though the ensemble cast, each playing multiple roles, were equally strong.

It was an entertaining night, sure! But if you want something clear and focused with an easy to spot theme, this won’t be it. But I applaud Second Stage for giving space to a play like this.

Did you see it? What did you think?

If you want to find out more about The Underlying Chris, click here!

Review: The Height of the Storm

I’m back.

After two years of only blogging about travel (check it out over here), I decided I was going to end my silence over here. I continue to pay for the domain and I also continue to see a lot of theatre, despite the fact that I don’t work in the industry anymore.

In all honesty, you’re way more likely to get an honest opinion out of me because I will never be working on one of the shows I see!

Anyway! Last week I saw Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of The Height of the Storm, currently playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street. I wanted to see it because Jonathan Pryce is fantastic – the original Engineer in Miss Saigon! And this was a transfer from London and usually, the critics over there are on top of their shit.

It was also the best length a show could possibly be: Ninety minutes, no intermission.

It’s weird how all people who consider themselves “theatre people” LOVE this expression and its meaning. Like, we are the people who LOVE theatre and spend a vast majority of our time sitting in a tiny cramped seat but we also lose our shit over a show that is short and has no intermission.

Is it because of our ever-diminishing attention spans? Quite possibly.

As I was saying, there’s no way that this could be bad, right? But I also had no idea what it was about because I didn’t bother to read a synopsis. Was it about a literal storm? Or was it a metaphor for something else? This is the synopsis on MTC’s website: “For 50 years the lives of André and Madeleine have been filled with the everyday pleasures and unfathomable mysteries of an enduring marriage, until suddenly their life together begins to unravel, and this loving relationship is faced with the inevitability of change.

Well, I’m glad I didn’t bother to read that before I saw the play either because that wouldn’t have helped me at all.

To be quite frank: I have never been so confused during a play (this includes at off-off-Broadway shows and the Fringe Festival) as I was during The Height of the Storm. My friend, with whom I was at the theatre, looked at each other multiple times, mouthing, “What is going on?”

It was like a not-scary version of the movie The Others but you never actually found out what was going on.

At times it was implied that Pryce’s character had passed away.

At times it was implied that Atkin’s character had passed away.

At times they were on stage together, and they were both alive with their children.

I tried to look for subtle shifts in the lighting or slight costume changes that could signify when someone was physically present in a scene, as opposed to a ghost on the sidelines. But I couldn’t spot anything to give any clues.

When I Googled reviews of the play, I read that it was about dementia and aging. Okay, that makes sense. Sort of, I guess. I don’t know.

BUT on a more positive note: everyone onstage gave fantastic performances. Jonathan Pryce was amazing. Eileen Atkins was extremely moving. Lucy Cohu, Amanda Drew, James Hillier (who you’d recognize from The Crown), and Lisa O’Hare as their children and one of their child’s spouses also gave nuanced performances.

Unsurprisingly, I’m going to say this play is not for everyone. It is probably only for dedicated theatre-goers and even then, please do your research before you go so you have some idea of what’s going on.

If I missed a huge plot point somewhere, please let me know below in the comments. I’m more than happy to admit I’m wrong when it comes to my interpretations of theatre, or to even be told what this show was truly about.

Review: My Terms of Surrender

Michael Moore’s My Terms of Surrender, his one-man piece on Broadway, closes today and I waited until the last minute to see it but I’m damn glad I did. I’m a fan of Michael Moore’s documentaries, although some truth’s may be hard to believe at times, he’s coming from a good place. They are slanted, yes, but all documentaries are. Documentaries are made subjectively, not objectively. Anyways, I felt it was my patriotic duty to see this show at least once.

I have to give Moore props for standing onstage for two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes, without an intermission. I expected this to be 90-minutes-no-intermission so I was stunned when I left the theatre and it was 10:15pm. Anyways the audience was pumped and the house was buzzing. I even spent $15 on a sippy cup of wine and wore my RESIST tank top. I was excited.

My Terms of Surrender is half-memoir and half-how-to-activism. I knew absolutely nothing about Moore’s life, like the fact that his speech about Abraham Lincoln and the hypocrisy of the Elks Club got the ball rolling on Capitol Hill to change the loop hole in the 1964 Civil Rights Act so that private clubs couldn’t keep discriminating. He was 17 at the time. Or the fact that he hated being slapped with a paddle by his principal so when he was 18, he figured out how to run for president of his school’s board and won (and 11 months later he had the principal and VP fired !!!!).

He realized when he was 17 that someone who was seemingly without power wasn’t necessarily powerless. He realized that somebody small, like him, could get shit done and it only took a little. Not doing anything big.

He talked about the beginning of the Iraq War when he was one of the only ones speaking out against it and he was ostracized for it. He said that when (not if) Trump declares war on North Korea, we have to speak up and speak out against it, and until we see North Koreans marching through the arch at Washington Square Park, there’s no reason to go to war with North Korea. “I can’t do this alone again,” he pleaded. I got you, dude. As a 17 year old I was against the Iraq War, and I’ll be against a North Korean war, too.

He also talked about the poison water in Flint, ridiculous TSA standards, and how we ended up with Trump. His post-show to-do list in the Playbill includes: 1) Make the Daily Call (go to 5calls.org); 2) Make the Monthly Visit (to your local reps office), 3) Show up at townhalls (duh); 4) Help Flip Congress in 2018 (oh yes, we must – we need 24 seats in the house); 5) The electoral college music go (another duh); 6) Join, join, join (the ACLU, BLM, Greenpeace, etc.); 7) Help form blue regions of resistance (help keep your blue state blue!); 8) YOU must run for office (what office should I run for??); 9) You must become the media (use our social media for good); 10) Join the army of comedy (#mockhimup) because he is thin skinned AF.

This closes in a few hours and I’m tempted to go see it again just to get inspired, but if you have the means and the time, GET THEE TO THE BELASCO THEATRE! The entire balcony is $29.

Winning in 2018 and 2020 is not an option. Let’s do this.

 

 

Review: War Paint

I began my Labor Day Weekend with a performance of the musical War Paint on Friday evening. I had minimal expectations because, honestly, I hadn’t heard much buzz about it at all. I knew Patti (Lupone) and Christine (Ebersole) would be fabulous, so that’s really all the convincing I needed to go see it, and I knew it was about some rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden but not much else. Douglas Sills was out that night and Chris Hoch stepped in for him. I wasn’t there to see Sills, so I couldn’t care less.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the story the most (Doug Wright did a great job with the book). Helena Rubenstein is my new hero, although she was portrayed a bit more punk rock in the script than in real life (for example: she had kids in real life which were never mentioned). We began in the 1930’s when Rubenstein moved back to New York City and Elizabeth Arden finds out from her associates and: drama. Arden’s salon is the ultimate destination for feminine pampering (and everything is “Arden pink”) and Rubenstein sells herself as beauty + science. It was because of the questionable ingredients they both used in the “age-defying” products that the FDA decided all ingredients must be printed on the bottle (thank you!).

Helena Rubenstein was, at one point, one of the richest women on earth and attempted to make an all-cash offer on a penthouse triplex on Park Avenue. When she was denied board approval because she was Jewish, she instead bought the entire building and lived in the triplex for 35 years until she died (per Wikipedia).

Elizabeth Arden’s first marriage falls apart in part because she won’t give her husband any credit for the sales work he’s doing. She says, “The moment I give you [her husband] credit is the moment I lose all of mine.” So true.

These two women detested each other and only met once.  They died within months of one another, too.

The music was fine – as in I don’t remember hating it. The dancing was also fine. But really, everyone was there to see LuPone and Ebersole and they were AMAZING. They are worth any price of admission (within reason, unless you’re Rubenstein-esque levels of rich then by all means, buy premium tickets). You should put “seeing two powerhouse women portray two powerhouse women onstage” on your bucket list right now because OH MAN.

War Paint is your standard length – two acts, two and a half hours long, but I never felt like it dragged. It was too much of a pleasure watching those two badasses onstage to check my watch.

And finally, I’ll leave you with a photo of Rubenstein’s childhood home in Krakow that I took last year while I was in Poland. (It’s the little green house.)

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Animals & Hurricane Harvey

When I started hearing about Hurricane Harvey on the news earlier this week, my mind immediately went to, “The animal shelters!” Humans are smart enough (usually) and able enough to get out of the way of hurricanes. But what about the animals in shelters?

I did a bit of Googling for animal shelters in Corpus Christi but I didn’t find much. Luckily, North Brooklyn Cats posted a video about all the work that Austin Pets Alive! is doing in Austin. They’re taking in animals that are living in places that are in the path of the hurricane as well as reaching out to the community in Austin to find fosters for their animals so they can take in even more animals. You can donate through the link above. The minimum donation is $10 and who doesn’t have a spare $10? Every little bit helps.

Then while putzing around on Twitter after finding APA, I found the Austin Humane Society, another no-kill shelter in Austin. They are also taking in animals and they’re in need of supplies so I picked something off their Amazon Wishlist and you should, too (if you can).

So, if you can afford it, I’d definitely recommend supporting these two organizations. I hope the animal (and human!) death toll is as low as possible during Hurricane Harvey. Be safe if you’re in it’s path!

Review: Marvin’s Room @ Roundabout

My friend Matt and I went to see Roundabout’s revival of Marvin’s Room, by Scott McPherson, staring Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor, at the American Airlines Theatre last weekend. Matt told me it was about death. Yippee. We’d seen Garofalo onstage once before, years ago when she was in The New Group’s “The Russian Transport” (also an uplifting piece) so we had optimistic expectations.

Lili Taylor is Bessie, a woman taking care of her bed-ridden father with her elderly aunt Ruth, living in Florida, and her life, as you can imagine, is difficult, and it only gets worse when she’s diagnosed with leukemia. After she’s in remission, her sister Lee (Garofalo) comes to visit with her two children, Hank and Charlie (played by Jack DiFalco and Luca Padovan, respectively). Hank also happens to be on leave from his stay at a “looney bin” (their words) after burning his family’s house down.

To say Marvin’s Room is depressing is an understatement of epic proportions. Bessie and Lee try to revive their sisterly relationship and Bessie connects better with Hank than his mother ever could have. Garofalo is very good – she gets the job done. And although I’ve enjoyed Lili Taylor onscreen in the past, the stage is not her sweet spot. DiFalco and Padvocan, the sons, were probably the highlight for me, as well as Celia Weston (Bessie’s aunt Ruth).

I’m not sad I saw this, but you should definitely know how depressing it is before you head into the theatre. Just so that your expectations are tempered enough.

Drama School 101: Read the Fucking Play

I never made it to Shakespeare in the Park last year. I don’t know why but the entire season just flew by before I could decide whether or not to go line up one morning. And truth be told, their current (well, it’s closing tonight) production of Julius Caesar almost did, too. Julius Caesar isn’t one of my favorites and I didn’t think there was anyone in it of note. THEN the media on the right started kicking and screaming like the little snowflakes that they are and I was like, “OKAY, I’VE GOTTA SEE THIS.” I tried playing the lottery via TodayTix all week and finally had last night free and decided to take a little sign down to the Public and try to get a ticket.

When I asked where the stand-by line was, they said there wasn’t any because the show was sold out. So silly. There are always extra tickets. Anyways, there were already protesters there (protesting IN favor) when I arrive at 5:15pm and it only grew while I waited with my little sign (almost getting ticketed, multiple times, because apparently you’re not allowed to “solicit” in Central Park. Sorry, dudes, I just wanted a ticket, not soliciting for sex).  I read Imogen Lloyd-Webber’s, “The Intelligent Conversationalist” while I waited and watched the cops arrive as the counter protests (pro-Trump, anti-production) arrived – two old, white senior citizens – and the barricades went up. There was a blonde girl protesting in support of the production screaming her head off. I wanted to tell her to STFU because she was our side look bad because she looked like a lunatic, but I decided not to.

Around 7:10pm, a woman around my age was walking by when she saw my sign and said, “Oh, I think I might have an extra ticket. I don’t think my friend is coming, hold on.” And after she went to the box office, another guy came up to me and said he might have an extra one, as well. The woman came back first, and I gave my sign to another guy who was waiting around for a ticket (who I think was given the ticket that the second person who approached me had. Yay, teamwork). I grabbed a chicken wrap and a beer from the concession stand, watched some more of the protest, and then took my seat.

The audience was allowed onstage, to sign banners, and it was all pretty awesome. Then at 8:10, Oskar Eustis’ voice came on the PA system and told us about who was sponsoring the show, and added that despite his statement in the program, there was one line that was changed and we’d all know what it was when it came. AHHHH.

Continue reading “Drama School 101: Read the Fucking Play”