The original Broadway play opened in 1965, starred
Lauren Bacall, Barry Nelson and Brenda Vaccaro
and ran for three years. I can only imagine how
good those three must have been.
The only reason to revive the play would be to
place some modern spin on it, extract some of
the hidden comedic possibilities and/or hire actors
who are able to put their own stamp on these already
twice richly-stamped roles. There’s a good
reason this play is rarely revived in New York.
The basic sex-farce plot was racy back then, but
so tame by modern standards. A womanizing, bachelor
dentist falls for a much younger, kooky girl and
in order to avoid the trappings of marriage tells
her that he is already married with three children.
Complicating the story is the fact that his efficient,
age-appropriate nurse carries a torch for him
and is convinced to play the part of his wife.
Daryl Roth Productions and Stonemill Productions
are presenting the play at the Westside Theater
Upstairs, starring Maxwell Caulfield, Lois Robbins
and newcomer Jenni Barber. The results are terribly
Directed by Michael Bush, this production is less
of a reinvention and more of an attempt at homage.
Bush’s direction is sloppy and uninspired
and most of the cast either attempt impersonations
(Barber has the Goldie Hawn hairdo but lacks her
sweet spirit) or simply awkwardly stumble through
their roles (Caulfield is strangely good and bad
depending on the scene and seems to be doing all
he can to not be Matthau). Only soap vet Lois
Robbins exonerates herself nicely and gives up
a character that is refreshingly multi-faceted
and makes us almost forget how good Bergman was
in the film.
The supporting cast performs well in mostly broad
stereotypical turns. The most miscast is Jeremy
Bobb who, despite being quite good as Toni’s
neighbor Igor, simply looks too old for the part.
The terrifically timeless songs featured during
set changes include: “What the World Needs
Now;” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’;”
“I’m a Believer;” “I Know
a Place,” Satisfaction;” “Respect;”
“Red Rubber Ball;” “Born Free;”
and “I Got You Babe.” These classic
songs transport us back to the decade that changed
our country forever in a way the play never does.
Tickets $75.00 | 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250
Westside Theatre | 407
W 43 ST
Queen of the Desert
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 2:00pm & 7:30pm
Opened March 20, 2011
by Frank J. Avella
As the orchestra
begins to play the Overture--a classic blend of
camp classics that span three decades--for Priscilla
Queen of the Desert, a mirror ball drops to alert
the audience that they're in for a fun time--whether
they like it or not! A nerve-shattering Mamma
Mia!/Rock of Ages feeling shot through
my body. Both those shows insisted I have a good
time and I loathed and detested both for their
pandering qualities and sheer stupidity.
Would this latest
entry into the ridiculously fast-growing screen-to-stage
musical adaptation onslaught be another mess that
excites audiences simply because they can sing
along to songs they know? What happened to karaoke
bars? Would this be another 9 to 5, where
the film is painfully and unsuccessfully recreated
on stage with no caring about medium differentiation?
I shook as the
lights came up and three drag queens/divas (they
are actually female--Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia
McCleskey and Ashley Spencer) dropped from the
sky and, in mid-air, began singing "It's
Raining Men." Was I in some post-death gay
Yet something odd
began to happen as the characters were introduced
and the scenes, revered songs and spectacularly
campy costumes zoomed by, the party atmosphere
gave way to an absolutely absorbing and engaging
show that wasn't just randomly choosing songs
that simply stopped the show dead so audience
members could relive something nostalgic. Each
song was cleverly commenting on the inner workings
of the characters and, in some cases, moving the
plot along. This was not a traditional jukebox
musical nor was it another lazy and ill-conceived
movie adaptation; it actually had something to
say. Sure it was saying it in the most gaudy and
loud of ways--but that was actually faithful to
its source material and part of the fun.
The original film,
The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert,
depicted the lunatic journey of three Australian
drag queens (one is a transsexual) from Sydney
to a more backwards area of the country (think
Kansas as a US equivalent). Written and directed
by Stephan Elliott and starring Terrence Stamp,
Hugo Weaving and a scene-stealing Guy Pearce,
the movie won an Oscar for Best Costume Design
and became somewhat of an instant classic.
The stage version
was conceived in Australian and boasts the costumes
of Oscar winners Tim Chapel and Lizzy Gardiner--going
even more overboard in crazy. The plot borrows
from the film, but mercifully doesn't try and
recreate it scene for scene--it does, however,
retain--while reconceiving--the most potent moments.
Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott give us a smart
book that is both hilarious and
poignant, while Simon Phillips direction keeps
things moving. I was particularly struck by the
audience reaction to the defacing of the bus as
well as how well a bashing scene was handled.
Some numbers do border on overkill (costume and
staging-wise) but the sheer exuberance with which
they are performed allows for forgiveness. The
choreography did feel stale, but the company dances
with ebullient glee.
to have the drag queens sometimes lip-synch to
the live singing of the "Divas," is
absolutely inspiring. And the rethinking of songs
like "Material Girl" --as a hot strip
number--as well as "MacArthur Park"--which
capitalizes on a signature line from the film--are
a treat to behold.
But the real treat
comes from watching the trio of talented actors
embody these roles with such gusto and, in one
La Cage Aux
Folles-alum Nick Adams is a hoot as Felicia,
the newbie, delivering nasty one-liners like a
true smart-ass. His "Sempre Libre" moment
kills it. I just wish his role had been fleshed
Will Swenson (so
good as Berger in Hair) balances the
pride Tick feels when he performs with the shame
he's afraid his son will feel when he realizes
who and what his father is. And while this plot
twist may feel a bit dated to some, one must realize
that there are many places in the world--hell,
in this country—where folks are still very
unaccepting of homosexuality. Swenson is fascinating
to watch as he finds himself and his boy without
giving up what he is.
The show, however,
belongs to Australian sensation Tony Sheldon.
Besides his brilliant line deliveries, his full
embodiment of Bernadette (reminiscent of Douglas
Hodge's La Cage performance insomuch
as it's unique and elegant) is truly remarkable
and grounds the show in a reality it might not
normally find. It's a bold and rich portrayal.
Sheldon never once overcamps Bernadette up, nor
does he go for the cheap sympathies. He simply
makes us believe in her and root for her.
is a tribute to a certain type of sensibility-not
just a gay sensibility although the gays in my
audience were eating it up. And the camp factor
and kitsch factor are tres' high as well but it's
so much more. Priscilla is a tribute
to everyone who has ever been made to feel less
about themselves because they are "different"
or have a non-conformist lean about them. This
show dares everyone to fly their freak flag and
challenges the audience to not see it as a freak
flag at all, but instead, a celebration of an
individual's passion and creativity. For that,
this extravaganza-of-the-outrageous is well worth
by Phone 877-250-2929
Palace Theatre | 1554
New York, NY 10036
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Opened April 17, 2011
Reviewed by Frank
To say I am not
a fan of Frank Wildhorn musicals is to put it
mildly. He is responsible for co-creating what
I believe is the worst musical done on Broadway
in my lifetime, The Civil War (Did you
see that one Ben Brantley? Because trust me Spiderman,
Turn Off the Dark is a masterpiece in comparison.
Are you happy you’ve destroyed Julie Taymor’s
vision, Ben Brantley? That Spidey will
now be a “family-friendly” musical
with all dark elements banished, Ben Brantley?
Oh, dear, I am digressing at the speed of a falling
Spidey ensemble member…)
Back to Wonderland…
Then I read that
The Civil War lyricist, Jack Murphy is
responsible for the Wonderland lyrics and is also
the co-book writer. Yikes. This can’t be
Besides the travesty
mentioned above, Wildhorn has mucked-up Dracula,
The Scarlett Pimpernel and Jekyll
& Hyde (although I did like elements
of the latter). To be fair, his music is lovely
to listen to but when presented on Broadway seems
to take on a bombastic, cacophonous verve that’s
head-splittingly irritating. In addition, there
never seems to be a cohesive-style to his work
except for his need to write lift-able, sugary
ballads that Broadway divas (male and female)
can sing the shit out of…
Finally, most of
his shows are cast with talented singers, rather
than good actors who can also sing—so you
end up with dazzle over substance.
to say I’m not a fan.
That is exactly
why I was nonplussed by Wonderland. For
the most part it’s a vibrant, spirited,
appealing new show with--and yes, I am shocked
to be writing this—with a charming and cohesive
score that satirizes yet pays homage to different
musical styles that represent each character brought
to life in this modern take on themes and characters
presented in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in
Wonderland. So, this time, in being hodge-podgily
pastiche-y, there is actually a method to the
Wildhorn madness. And it all blends rather magnificently.
I wish the same could be said for the book, which
can be quite smart at times but also comes off
as forced and contrived.
The other major
boon here is that most of the cast members are
wonderful actors as well as fabulous singers.
Janet Decal plays this incarnation of Alice, a
teacher who wants to write children’s books.
She has a daughter (Carly Rose Sonenclar) and
is recently estranged from her husband. Exhausted
by her tattered life, she falls asleep on her
daughter’s bed and finds herself in the
anarchically zany world that Carroll’s Alice
found herself in, meeting each character (The
Caterpillar, The Cheshire Cat—here called
El Gato, The White Rabbit, etc…) And before
you can say The Wizard of Oz, they’re
all helping her on her journey to find her way
home. But not before they sing a number or two.
Along the way,
she meets up with gender-twisted Mad Hatter, played
fabulously by Kate Shindle, who is out to decapitate
the Queen of Hearts (Karen Mason) and seize the
thrown for herself.
Shindle has a terrific
burlesque number in Act One and brings the house
down in Act Two with “I Will Prevail,”
one of the best songs in the show.
Not to be outdone,
Mason sings a jazzy intro song in Act One and
has her diva showstopper, “Off With Their
Heads,” in Act Two. The latter is good but
should have been better.
Helping Alice out
is a cartoonish yet dashing White Knight, played
to the dapper-hilt by Darren Ritchie, who boy-bands-out
with, “One Knight,” another show highlight.
Alice runs into
Mr. Carroll in the musical’s most clever
sequence and Wildhorn pops out with “I Am
My Own Invention,” a “love yourself”
ballad that I should have hated but I rather liked.
The sets and costumes
are exceptionally colorful and outrageous and
director Boyd keeps things moving.
Besides all variations
on Oz—especially Wicked, which
the show seemed to want to desperately emulate,
there were elements that reminded me of a 1989
Tony-nominated musical called Starmites.
musical is all about finding the person you always
wanted to be and rebooting your life so you can
figure out who it was you once were so you can
set off on that journey once again. There is no
nonsense here, just the opposite. It’s almost
like the anti-Alice--an Alice for the self-involved
The bookwriters feel the need to force a simplistic
and silly ending after telling an interesting
and entertaining saga.
The final fifteen
minutes of story (last song notwithstanding) is
a mess. The show’s ‘message’
is spoon-fed to the audience and we are given
a forced and wholly unbelievable happy ending.
Alice’s estranged husband appears and—even
though we have never seen them together before
(not counting the fact that the actor plays Jack
as well), they make up and become one big happy
family because Alice has finally found her true
self. The sentiment is nice but impossible to
buy since we’ve never KNOWN these two together—so
we can’t really care. In addition we are
told exactly what we should be feeling. I’m
not certain just how many transformations this
finale has had but, it’s in need to major
tweaking to ring true.
as the ending is, the rest of the show makes up
for it and is definitely worth seeing.
$56.75 - $139.75
$30.00 Student Rush
Theatre | 1535 Broadway