Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson @ Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Move over traditional musical, indie rock is here to stay on Broadway. What RENT did for the village, Spring Awakening did for raging hormones, and Next to Normal did for a reversed Oedipus complex; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson takes the typical history lesson by the collar, and gives a big F.U. to political correctness, stuffy explanations, and pompous “just-the-facts” attitude. It is set ablaze with a powerful score, an electrifying cast, and a production that captures the ferocity and complexity that was our seventh president – Andrew Jackson.

Even with an unusually quiet audience for such a powerhouse of a musical, the energy of the entire company – band included – creamed the scene with power and passion with not just the book, but the sheer subject matter. Touchy subjects – such as mass genocide and the infamous Trail of Tears – were approached with pristine wit and tenderness, creating an unsettling and yet spot on discourse within the audience members. The cast and crew nailed the feel good and thoughtful musical with a balance of ease that made it appear effortless.

Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman have created, what one audience member jokingly remarked, “The No-fear-Shakespeare for the history books, but done right!” Their work was refreshing among the other dime a dozen revivals and movie-made-musicals that seem to be creeping into the Big White Way. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is the little patch of underground utopia that restores faith for the modern musical.

Benjamin Walker is a riot as Jackson, with his keen sense to capture the unruliness and internal struggle of a brilliantly mad man, he does not fall short of kicking ass and taking numbers as well as making you weep. On a scale of one to ten, he blazed through at a constant fifty, light up the stage with his voice, timing, and clarity of his role. Also, Maria Elena Ramirez’s role as Rachael (Jackson’s wife), was stunning. In her most poignant number “The Great Compromise,” the little woman gives her character a sharp turn from the comedy into tragedy with such grace and precision, giving further definition to her character. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’s stellar cast is rounded out by the brilliant ensemble. Each member does a great job of portraying many different characters and even picking up an instrument or two to play with the band!

With the Bernard B. Jacob Theatre looking more like the interior of a bar – with the décor landing somewhere between an old fashioned tavern and an AC/DC concert – the generation gap of both era and genre made for a phenomenal combination. As stunning as the costumes were, continuing to stick to a westernized feel of today’s multi-layered look, there were several unnecessary costume changes among the chorus members; which did nothing to enhance the plot or scene, but more so to inflate the ego of the fashion gods. The lighting aspect was a stunning visual orgasm, as color changing neon tubes protruded from the stage, rippling on and off between numbers for the hard rock effect; while hundreds upon thousands of strings of lights glowed overhead – and over every space available for that matter – to create that old time feel of Southern comforts for the more somber numbers. Justin Townsend, lighting designer for this production, better take one hell of a bow for pulling off one magnanimous spectacle.

With the tired, but true saying, “history always repeats itself,” the message in this production is clear, keeping its audience members interested in more ways than one. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a must see, if not for the reasons above, then for at least a really crazy guy, in some really tight jeans.

Review By: James Russo & Sarah Hogan-DePaul


Saturday, December 4, 2010

La Bete @ Music Box Theatre

What do a classical actor, an idiot “savant,” and a princess all have in common? Well, they all star in David Hirson’s hilarious play La Bête which gives us a behind the curtain look at an acting troupe in France in the year 1654. With rhythmic dialogue, a hilarious cast, and stunning technical elements, La Bête is one play that should not be missed!

La Bête tells the story of a weakening royal acting troupe in France led by master playwright and performer Elomire (played by David Hyde Pierce). Elomire, completely unaware of the troupe’s recent down fall, is about to be thrown for a loop when The Princess (played by Joanna Lumley) orders Valere (played by Mark Rylance), a street performer, to join Elomire’s troupe. The chaos flies as a true battle of the brain ensues, as the professional and the clown go head to head.

La Bête is brought to life on stage by a cast of ten brilliant performers. All work well with together, playing of each other’s spot on comedic timing and high energy. The star and ultimate scene stealer of the show is Mark Rylance (of Broadway’s Boeing–Boeing) and the idiot “savant” street performer. There are not enough words to describe Rylance’s brilliantly hilarious extraordinary performance. An actor’s worst fear, nine times out of ten, is having to memorize long monologues. To call the close to twenty minute uninterrupted monologue that Rylance delivers towards the beginning of the play “long” would be the understatement of the year. For most actors, the task of delivering this epic speech eight nights a week for months would be close to impossible; however, Rylance does it with ease and style. He had the entire audience on his side throughout the entire delivery and never had them bored once. There is no doubt that a Tony nomination will be coming his way this year. It was just an all around brilliant and comedic acting gem. Rylance is the main reason for people to run to the Music Box Theatre and go see La Bête. Working alongside Rylance are two other big stars. David Hyde Pierce (of television’s Frasier and Broadway’s Curtains) delivers a wobbly performance as the high class troupe leader that absolutely despises the presence of Valere. While Pierce has some great moments on stage, his overall performance fell slightly flat. When interacting with others on stage Pierce would come to life and deliver some great one liners and moments of thought; however, during the wonderful monologue delivered by Rylance, Pierce often appeared to lose focus and presence on the stage. This caused the audience to not want to support his character as much towards the end of the play, which is a slight flaw. The other big star is Joanna Lumley (of television’s Sapphire & Steel and Absolutely Fabulous) who plays the theatre loving and spoiled Princess. Lumley gave a ravishing and hilarious performance. She was able to beautifully show both sides of typical royalty, the elegant and the childish. Lumley was even given a toy doll, dressed like herself, to use every time that she began to act childish. This was a really nice touch that brought her character to a higher level which, in return, made the audience fall in love with her. La Bête also has a wonderful supporting cast headed by Stephen Ouimette (of film’s Heater and television’s Slings and Arrows) and Greta Lee (of Broadway’s … Spelling Bee). Ouimette played humped back actor Bejart, and was a marvel to watch on stage. His high energy and focus made the audience want to watch him even when he was not speaking. Lee played Dorine, the housemaid who will only say words that rhyme with the word “do.” Being forced to reduce to pantomime to communicate, Lee did a beautiful job with her physical movements and was hilarious to watch. La Bête’s cast was all around brilliant.

La Bête featured some brilliant work behind the scenes with a brilliant book, a stunning set, great lighting, a wonderful score, lavishing costumes, and simple – yet effective – special effects. The script for La Bête, written by David Hirson, was absolutely wonderful. Not written in standard English, La Bête has beautiful poetry and rhyme too it; however, it does have its moments where it breaks this theme and does something off the wall. These mini moments fit in well with the rest of the script and were and interesting touch to a beautifully written show. With scenic and costume design by Mark Thompson, La Bête really popped off of the pages of the script. The set was simple but beautiful. The floor to ceiling book cases (that opened at the top and close of the show to add a special kick to the show) were stunning to look at and really helped set the tone of the play; all around stunning. The costumes were elegant and really helped show the different personalities of the characters by having the joyful characters (The Princess and Valere) in bright colors while the rest of the cast was in simple black and white. This touch was enhanced even further with the stunning lighting design done by Hugh Vanstone. He chose to keep those same joyful characters and have them followed with consistent bright light. This creative touch really added that special something to the show. Working alongside the set, lighting, and costumes were really simple, yet effective, special effects. The highlight of this came during The Princess’s entrance when what appeared to be a storm of gold glitter attacked the stage. This simple touch really set introduced the character perfectly and was a great addition to the show. La Bête was really aided by the work of Claire Van Kampen whose original score really brought France to life. Used throughout the play at different pivotal times, the score was used perfectly to really help advance the story. La Bête’s technical crew did a wonderful job of bringing 1600s France to life.

La Bête is a must see show that is great for not only adults but college students as well. With tons of crude jokes and slapstick comedy, everyone is sure to love La Bête. Make sure to get to the Music Box Theatre on Broadway before La Bête ends its limited run on January 9, 2010. Run – do not walk – to go see La Bête!

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti