Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Broadway Cavalcade

Since the theatre in Phoenix is for the most part either completely awful or regrettably forgettable, Mrs. Franklin and I look forward to our occasional New York sojourns to see something onstage that doesn't appall us--or put us to sleep.

Even in the worst of times, Broadway always has something interesting. I fondly remember, 20 some years ago, visiting the Mission Man as he was clawing his way up the Manhattan corporate ladder. The Big Apple was at that time suffering through the nadir of the Koch years. There was graffiti and garbage everywhere and the subway caught fire my first night in town. But even surrounded by the chaos of what seemed at that time to be the death knell of the city we were still able to see Peter O'Toole and Amanda Plummer in Pygmalion, a solid production of The Common Pursuit, and Shakespeare in the Park. (It was one of the comedies and all of the comedies tend to blur together for me.) Not bad for a long weekend.

This trip we crammed 5 shows into 6 nights. If I may quote the opening line of Under Milkwood, "to begin at the beginning..."

The Mother#$&*er With The Hat: this has been called the best new American play in memory, which is more indicative of the overall quality of new American plays than anything else. Chris Rock makes his Broadway debut, which is the primary reason we went to see it. He is most convincing in the parts that play to his strength as a standup comic, less so elsewhere. The rest of the cast is highly competent, but what you ultimately get is 90 minutes of dysfunctional, addicted people throwing obscenities at each other in a sometimes amusing way. Glad I saw it: Don't ever need to see it again.

Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo: Set during the Iraq war. Robin Williams plays the tiger and he's by far the best thing about the play. Another obscenity filled excursion into the dark side. Lots of blood squibs. Haven't seen that on Broadway before. Ghosts and mutilations, too. Good acting, but still...Glad I saw it: Don't ever need to see it again.

Arcadia: Tom Stoppard is my favorite living playwright and this is one of his best plays. We had seen it many years ago at the Southcoast Rep in California and had very high hopes for this Broadway revival. Too bad they didn't do a better job. (Mrs. Franklin described this production as the work of "milquetoast fucks.") (Yes, that's the way she talks...) Stoppard's work is characterized by long, complex sentences filled with ideas and humor. You have to speak clearly to get things across and loudly enough to reach the back row of the balcony. American actors who haven't been trained as well as their British counterparts sometimes have trouble with this. Throw in the English accent required by the piece and what you get is long stretches of what sounds like unintelligible mumbling. It didn't help matters that the set design featured a high rotunda over the upstage area that gobbled up much of the dialogue when the actors were directly beneath it. Oh well...Still love the play, but probably best to just read it again.

The Book Of Mormon: flat out hysterical and by far the highlight of our trip. Terribly raunchy and blasphemous to boot. Great fun all around. A hugely talented cast of no-longer-unknowns. Mrs. Franklin now insists on playing the CD every morning at breakfast. I suppose the show will offend some folks but, well...some folks are always offended about something. If you get the chance, see it. Twice. (Note: since it won the Tony, they've raised some of the ticket prices by 50%. There's no business like show business...)

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) singing and dancing up a storm. He acquits himself very well. The show is nicely staged with a solid cast and a wonderful set. The problem is what the problem has always been: not many great songs. But it was entertaining and we had two bonus celebrity sightings: Robert Morse, who originated Radcliffe's role 50 years ago (and instantly became the toast of Broadway), was a few rows in front of us to our left and Bono (who, judging from the Spiderman debacle, might have been looking for pointers on how to write a successful Broadway musical) was a few rows in front of us to our right. Morse came in early and sat signing autographs for anyone who asked. Bono rushed in just as the lights went down and rushed out again before the lights went up.

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