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SCOTTISH PLAY SCOTT Catch 'em while you can
by Scott C. Morgan

This article shared 5210 times since Wed Sep 22, 2010
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There's a funny thing about deadlines. It's amazing how motivated you get the faster they approach ( or pass ) .

It was the Sept. 12 closing date of director David Cromer's Chicago-to-off-Broadway transfer of Thornton Wilder's Our Town that spurred me to take a last-minute trip to New York during the last weekend in August. I had unforgivably missed seeing Cromer's revelatory Our Town during its two sold-out runs in Chicago, and I'm glad to say that the travel expenses to see it in New York were more than worth it.

And being a theater fanatic, I couldn't pass up seeing two other buzz-worthy shows during my trip: the star-studded Broadway musical revivals of Promises, Promises with Sean Hayes ( Will and Grace ) and Kristen Chenoweth ( Glee, Wicked ) and A Little Night Music with Bernadette Peters ( Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George ) and Elaine Stritch ( Company, 30 Rock ) .

I was able to purchase half-price tickets to both shows at the shiny new Times Square TKTS booth, which finally accepts credit cards. True, I didn't get the best seats ( last row of the orchestra for Promises, Promises; far-far left mezzanine for A Little Night Music ) , but discount-seekers can't be choosers.

Of the two, Promises, Promises has generated the most publicity—not because it's the first Broadway revival of the 1968 Neil Simon/Burt Bacharach/Hal David adaptation of Billy Wilder's 1960 Academy Award-winning film The Apartment. It's mostly thanks to the ugly media spat that blew up when former Newsweek columnist Ramin Setoodah criticized Hayes' leading-man performance in an opinion piece claiming that gay actors struggle with believably playing straight characters.

After finally seeing Hayes in Promises, Promises myself, I think Setoodah's main problem ( like so many fans of long-running TV series ) was his own inability to see beyond Hayes' Will and Grace casting as the high-strung gay character Jack McFarland. Though Hayes finally did come out prior to the opening of Promises, Promises, that knowledge didn't cloud my impression of his well-acquitting turn as Chuck Baxter, the Consolidated Life employee who works his way up the corporate ladder by loaning out his apartment to married executives for furtive flings.

For his Broadway debut, Hayes was teamed with Tony Award-winning star Kristen Chenoweth, whom I must agree with the majority of reviewers who say she was miscast in the role of cafeteria worker Fran Kublelik. Though Chenoweth wonderfully sang and acted the role ( of what little there was of it, since the producers interpolated the Bacharach song "I Say a Little Prayer" to give Chenoweth more to do ) , she nonetheless exuded so much strength and confidence that you didn't buy her character's suicide attempt ( even though Tony Goldwyn proved himself yet again playing a sleazeball as Fran's initial love interest, the married executive J.D. Sheldrake ) .

It seems clear that Promises, Promises was revived in part to ride the 1960s cool coattails inspired by the AMC TV series Mad Men ( director/choreographer Rob Ashford and design team pushed back the musicals setting to the early 1960s ) . While a pleasant production, Promises, Promises truly comes to life when Katie Finneran arrives in the second act as the growling and drunken bar floozy Marge MacDougall.

Finneran rightly won a Tony Award for her performance that made you wish the rest of the show was as fun as her two scene-stealing appearances. Finneran is set to leave the production on Oct. 10 ( she's pregnant ) and is to be replaced by Saturday Night Live alumna Molly Shannon. But you better hurry to catch this hit revival, since Promises, Promises has posted a Jan. 2 closing notice.

There currently is not a closing notice for the first Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's 1973 musical A Little Night Music ( based upon Ingmar Bergman's 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night ) . But with the recent news that Peters is set to star as Sally in a future Kennedy Center production of Sondheim's 1971 musical, Follies, it's a sign that this once-in-a-lifetime Broadway casting occasion is one that won't last.

When legendary Sondheim leading ladies Peters and Stritch were announced to respectively take over the roles of Desiree and Madame Armfeldt from Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in A Little Night Music this past summer, the queer opera blog posted a headline that joked, "History of Gay Culture to Peak in July."

I had previously seen Trevor Nunn's production of Night Music in London after it had transferred from the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre to the Garrick Theatre in the West End. So I already knew what I was in for in terms of the reduced off-stage orchestra and the simple sliding panel set that I had been dismissively telling people was no better than what you'd see in a college theater production.

Yet this time around, I found Nunn's intimate production to be much more fulfilling with extra details I had previously forgotten ( like the lovely scenic projections that appear in the mirrored panels ) .

Peters is utter perfection as Desiree, the glamorous early 20th-century Swedish actress whose muddle-filled life suddenly finds hope for stability when she meets up again with a former lover, the lawyer Fredrik Egerman ( a still-very sturdy Alexander Hanson ) . But since Fredrik has remarried a much-younger woman, Desiree tries to put in place a plan to win him over.

Peters' wistful and hurt rendition of the hit song "Send in the Clowns" was extremely touching and genuine ( and a lot better than Zeta-Jones' hoarse and lurching performance of it on the Tony Awards broadcast ) . Peters alone would make this Night Music revival worth seeing, but you also get the added bonus of Elaine Stritch playing her character's mother: the grand former courtesan Madame Armfeldt.

Now many online commentators have taken Stritch to task for not being elegant enough for the role. ( They've also gossiped about her forgetting lines. ) But for an 85-year-old theater pro, Stritch was believable for me as a seen-it-all woman of wealth whose reflections on lost loves seared through with the pain of one questions her ambitions favoring wealth and acquisition instead of true love in the course of her long life. Stritch also nailed the comedy of Wheeler's book brilliantly.

So while some musical-theater fans prefer just to wait for Broadway shows to tour to their hometowns, it's more than likely that these stars won't be traveling with these vehicles any time soon. These "Only in New York" theater moments are fleeting, so my advice is not to delay—lest you regret years later for missing these productions.

This article shared 5210 times since Wed Sep 22, 2010
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