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New York City - Theatre

Wendy R. Williams'
Theatre Column

Greetings Theater Lovers,

This month I saw three theatrical performances: the amazing Noche Flamenca; the misguided Elvis People; and a stunning preview performance of Xanadu.

Noche Flamenca

First Noche Flamenca is an evening of stunning flamenco dancing that takes place on a bare stage populated only by onstage musicians and dancers. The dancing is very beautiful, performed by dancers with jaded wordly attitudes. They seemingly dance in competition with each other, but it is a competition that appears to have gone on for ages. The mood is very sexy and sensual. The viewer is quickly transported to some magical village in Spain where dancers enter the village square and dance for their own enjoyment on a weekend night. It is similar to the mood set by Susan Stroman's Contact by the "girl in the yellow dress."

The artistic director of Noche Flamenca is Martin Santangelo. The show stars: Soledad Barrio (Dancer); Alejandro Granados (Dancer); Alfonso Losa Lopez (Dancer); Vanesa Coloma (Dancer); Elena Martin (Dancer); Manuel Gago (Singer); Jose Anillo Salazar (Singer); Miguel Perez (Guitarist); and Jose Valle Fajardo, "Chuscales" (Guitarist).

Noche Flamenca plays at the Theater 80 (80 St. Mark's Place) from June 6, 2007 until July 29, 2007, Tickets are $55 at ovationtix.com. For more information, lot onto nocheflamenca.com.

Elvis People
Photo Credit Carol Rosegg

Then it was on to Elvis People at the scrumptious New York Stages at 340 West 50th Street. The show's tag line is "9 out of 10 of us are Elvis People: Could you be one?"

Well this show was the proverbial dog that just won't hunt. The play opened on June 21st and closed quickly thereafter on June 23rd. I am always fascinated when "bad plays happen to good people." You walk out of some plays (The Drowning Crow?) saying, "How could they have not seen this coming."

Playwright Doug Grissom undertook what must have appeared to be an interesting and fun goal - telling the story of the many people who LOVE Elvis Presley. And Grissom and director Henry Wishcamper got some of it right. When we entered the auditorium, we saw the stage with its stunning minimalistic set (by Cameron Anderson). There was a wall of white vinyl records on the back of the stage and racks of campy Elvis suits and 1950's sherbet colored shirt dresses hanging from racks on the side stage walls. And the program was filled with a song list of Elvis songs.

But the play itself was comprised of monologues and small scenes that never fully engaged the audience of what appeared to be (at my preview audience) a large group of Elvis fans. The script had a flat "paint by numbers feel." It seemed like the playwright had come up with the idea to do an "Elvis" play and then made an outline of possible people who were affected by Elvis Presley and then he wrote the play with never any true gut inspiration. And I never truly felt that any of the actors (with the exception of the actor who played the Vietnam vet) truly got inside their characters. I just did not believe them.

And there were other oddities. There was one skit about some grave robbers who decide to steal Elvis' body, but there was no announcement or skit about the huge uproar that occurred when Elvis died. We were just to assume that we had passed that milestone becuase this new skit was about grave robbers so of course, there had to be a corpse. And for some reason, the director chose to show slides on the white vinyl-looking wall at the back of the stage, but these slides were of seemingly random fifties' families and they had no discernible relation to the show.

And there was the scale and setting problem. New World Stages is a beautiful Off Broadway house. The lobbies are huge caverns filled with pop art and the theaters themselves (with their "cigarette girls" selling candy) have a minimalistic campy mood that matched the set design for Elvis People. This show had a set and a theater that demanded a much larger play; the monologues and skits that we were served were simply overwhelmed by the size of the setting.

And Elvis himself was bigger than life and there is a huge world of camp out there to be mined. There is the food (fried peanut butter sandwiches anyone?), the glitter and glam clothes (spandex with spangles!); the women (I had a friend who had herself delivered to Elvis' home in a crate), the mansion (filled with Montgomery Ward furniture); and of course the music. Elvis was the Brad Pitt of the fifties and sixties and in his later years he was the ultimate drag queen. And Elvis deserves a play that is as big as he was. After all, he was "The King."

No one in the creative team for Elvis People needs to be blamed for the failure of the play, except for the possible blame for losing what must have been close to $100,000 (someone must want their money back) by opening big on Off Broadway instead of some small theater in the hinterlands. Plays are like recipes, you have to make them before you can see what you have. And I am sure that this play turned out to be not at at all what the creative team thought they "had." Their souffle simply failed to rise.

Elvis People starred: Jordan Gelber, Jenny Maguire, David McCann, Nick Newell, Nell Page and Ed Sala. Theresa Squire designed some fun period costumes.

Kerry Butler in Xanadu

Then I saw a preview show of Xanadu at the Helen Hayes Theater at 240 West 44th Street. Now this play opens on July 10, 2007 so I CAN'T tell you anything about it because I review plays and I know the rules (NO REVIEWS UNTIL AFTER OPENING NIGHT). But as soon as I got home I called all my musical loving friends and told them to drop everything and buy NOW before it opens and the reviews are out and they may not be able to get tickets. And if you want to know more, check back on July 10th, and I will tell you why. \

Update on July 13, 2007: See Frank J. Avella's Review

Tickets to Xanadu are Tickets $51.25-$111.25 at www.telecharge.com. For more information. http://xanaduonbroadway.com/index2.html


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