Hazel Kyte rounds up old and new.

Cabaret world.

My principle reason for visiting a Big Apple filled with pre-election buzz and Hallowe’en was the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s l9th annual Cabaret Convention. Taking place over four nights at the Rose Theatre, home of Jazz at Lincoln Centre, this is a superb venue with prices from $25 to $100 per evening, fantastic value for two and a half hours of the best cabaret stars strutting their stuff.
This year performers included Karen Akers, Klea Blackhurst, Ann Hampton Callaway, Jeff Harner, Sidney Myer, Nancy Anderson, Barb Jungr, with special awards going to Judy Butterfield, Tony Desare, and, my personal favourite, KT Sullivan, receiving the Mabel Mercer Award. Each night is a ‘happening’, with Donald Smith, the producer, introducing old and new stars, and giving all the information on the New York cabaret scene. Next year’s dates have already been announced as 6th to l0th October, and I am certainly booking.

Mock on, Mock off.

Broadway, like the West End Theatre scene, is suffering from a glut of revivals, and insufficient new productions. With this in mind another of my favourite New York haunts FORBIDDEN BROADWAY is closing in January, as creator and director Gerard Alessandrini says there is nothing new enough to ‘spoof’. If you have never seen this brilliant show, which has been on the Broadway scene for over twenty five years, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

It satirises all the big Broadway musicals, with pastiches of the original music, changing the format and title each season. This year FORBIDDEN BROADWAY GOES TO REHAB is playing at the 47th Street Theatre, starring Christina Bianca, James Donegan, Gina Kreiezmar, Michael West with David Caldwell on piano. Performers and productions coming under fire include Patti LuPone in Gypsy, Spring Awakening, In the Heights, Young Frankenstein, Mary Poppins, Avenue Q, and A Tale of Two Cities.

It also has wonderful pieces on Daniel Radcliffe, appearing in Equus, but better known to UK audiences as Harry Potter, and Sondheim – the man of words. The more Broadway shows you have seen, the more you appreciate the brilliant humour; this is a show that will be sorely missed on the theatre scene after January.

Revival Time.

With regard to current revivals, Robert Bolt’s A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS plays at the Roundabout Theatre, starring Frank Langella, who must gain a TONY nomination for his first class performance. This is a beautifully crafted and played piece. David Mamet’s classic Hollywood satire SPEED THE PLOW at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre runs for l hour and 20 minutes, which gives you an idea of the frenetic pace at which it is played by Jeremy Piven, Raul Esparza and Elisabeth Moss. BOY’S LIFE by Howard Korder, originally produced in l988, is now at the Second Stage Theatre.

This tells the story of three young men hitting New York in the late 80s, post-college, and mainly on the lookout for drugs and a leg-over. (I considered it America’s answer to Spring Awakening, to be called Lost Summer.). David Rabe’s STREAMERS at the Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre is set in a Virginia army barracks in l965, pre-Vietnam, and is about male bonding, or lack of it. Extremely well acted, it holds the attention with surprising twists. Also on the boards this season are ALL MY SONS and EQUUS.

ROAD SHOW has music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, being directed by John Doyle. Playing at The Public Theatre (Rush tickets available at a fantastic $20) this stars Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani as the Mizner brothers Wilson and Addison, one an architect, the other a con-man, and their journey through life, It’s based on the lives of the men who set up Florida resorts for the masses, I loved this piece, and hope it will make it’s way to London.

Desperately seeking something new I went to A TALE OF TWO CITIES (more commonly known in the ‘trade’ as ‘Son of Les Mis.’ This is at the Al Hirschfield Theatre, book music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello (although they do credit it based on the Dickens novel). It’s tuneful, with a strong story, and plenty of humour. James Barbour as Sidney Carton is the strongest thing in it, obviously with the time and place you feel that the ‘Les Mis’ formula has been faithfully followed. It is entertaining, but certainly not new.

New Plays.

KINDNESS at Playwrights Horizons is a new play written and directed by Adam Rapp. Set in the present time in a Manhattan Hotel room, it is the story of a mother dying of cancer, who has come to the Big City with her seventeen year old son to leave him with a good memory of their time shared. The teenager is resentful of his mother’s illness, and would rather be alone than accompany her to the Theatre for the blockbuster musical she has booked for them. She therefore takes her black taxi driver, feeling very daring, and the son has a meeting at the water machine with a young lady of doubtful morals, which proves much more interesting for him. A thought-provoking piece on many levels, it is extremely well acted.

IRENA’S VOW is Dan Gordan’s new play, starring the fabulous Tovah Feldshuh. The setting is an American high school, l988, Occupied Poland l939-l945, and Jerusalem l988. Feldshuh plays Irena Gut Opdyke, born in l918 into a Catholic family in Central Poland, ill-treated by the Russians, and forced to work in Russian Medical centre, then captured by the Germans and forced to work in a Munitions Plant until she became a housekeeper for an elderly SS officer, Eduard Rugemar.

In this position she befriends and saves a group of Jews. Feldshuh has a superb accent, conveys humour and pathos, and doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house at the end of the no-intermission 90 minutes. Americans often over-react, but their standing ovation and cheers for this piece were not exaggerated. It plays at Baruch Performing Arts Centre, with an extended sold-out run till the end of November. It is looking for a home on Broadway, and then hopefully a season in London

New York is full of opportunities to catch something unusual. Look out for Scott Segal’s presentations at the Town Hall. He offers ‘one night specials’ – and coming up in Broadway Unmiked – stars of current musicals will prove they have a real voice by singing sans microphones – what a joy.

2008-11-16 20:45:34

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