Piled up high with vintage accoutrement on the Manhattan Theatre ClubBroadway stage by set and costume designer Bunny Christie (National/Broadway’s Curious Incident…), the Almeida Theatre transfer of James Graham’s INK takes its defiant stand in two bold and brightly talented spots of light against the British elitisms of London’s Fleet Street in the year 1969. It’s a “fuckin’ good story” told under the rule of five W’s. A captivating and riveting look at the birth of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, a growth that many (now and then) might refer to as a wild growing weed basking in the Sun of some sort, finding its earth in populist (and somewhat trashy) entertainment to take root. It’s a sordid world I know very little about, but one that always amazed me many many moons ago when I was a naive 22 year old living and working in London, England. This Canadian was shocked and bemused on a daily basis by the topless or semi-nude ‘Page 3’ girl that graced The Sun daily newspaper, especially the Kardashian of her time, Samantha Fox. That woman, although she was not the first, was “the most photographed British woman of the 1980’s” and by far the most well-known ‘Page 3’ girl, but, as this play powers forward, we learn through the backstory that she was not the first. The first was a young Stephanie Rahn, played deliciously by Rana Roy (NBC’s “The Night Shift“) in INK‘s retelling, but her story, although fascinatingly highlighted within the text, is by far not the most interesting part of this captivating trashy David up against the intellectual Goliath newspaper tale. The whole is far more thrilling than the sum of some naked parts.
That clash of the news titans all began when Australian media magnate, Rupert Murdoch and newly hired editor Larry Lamb relaunched The Sun as a newspaper for the masses after a quick turn over and hastily recruited staff of about 125 reporters on November 17th, 1969. They aimed their sights high, “punching up, not down“, challenging themselves to take on the largest newspaper in the world at the time, the Daily Mirror, who’s parent company, IPC had just sold The Sun to Murdoch, basically out of a fear that the unions would disrupt publication of their very successful Mirror if they stopped publishing the original money losing The Sun. The new focus of Murdoch and Lamb’s pure populist entertainment relaunch sent shivers and reverberations down the spines of all the newspapers at that time. Maybe not on the first day, but soon after, because it had an element of their cut-throat business style, believing that a paper’s quality was best measured by its sales, and a whole heap of revenge ladled on top, as both outsiders had reasons to win beyond the obvious; Murdoch, a successful Australian business man always felt pushed out of the high-class club of British publishers, and Lamb, a former senior sub-editor of the Daily Mirror and the northern editor of the Daily Mail in Manchester, knew he would only go so far within the tight high-class structured Daily Mirror. So somewhere deep in that great disruption, playwright Graham (Labour of Love, This House) found his typeface for his play, INK, seeking to tell us a story of the triumph of the underdog, but also give us some insight into the parallel trouble we find ourselves in now when populist entertainment and ‘the news’ gets cross breed.
Within the tight and clear minded direction of Rupert Goold (Broadway’s King Charles III), the examination of that “fuckin’ war‘ of revenge and reporting are unearthed and dug up for our delight; from the moment the compelling and head-strong Rupert Murdoch, played with firecracker dynamics by the phenomenal Bertie Carvel (Broadway’s Matilda) approaches the ambitious and determined Larry Lamb, beautifully and roughly played to heightened perfection by Jonny Lee Miller (Broadway’s After Miss Julie, “Elementary“). Using rivalry and class pretensions as a drive and a thirst, the power-hungry Murdoch found the rapport he needed in Lamb, asking him to go to any lengths to beat their rivals and become the most popular newspaper in the World. Lamb went full throttle, finding the staff to make it happen and the guts to go the distance, even when questioned by Murdoch. The cast assembled for this production are as flawless and entwined as the gathering of staffers at The Sun, with standouts in the form of Tara Summers (LCT’s The Hard Problem) as Joyce Hopkirk/Muriel McKay and Andrew Durand (Broadway’s Head Over Heels) as photographer Beverley. They give it their all, to the beat of the late 1960’s sound, beautifully creating a moment early on that sets the whole printing press in motion, thanks to the strong original music by Adam Cork (NT’s London Road), stellar music direction by Julie McBride (Broadway’s SpongeBob…), fantastically heightened projection design by Jon Driscoll (Broadway’s Finding Neverland), intricate lighting by Neil Austin (Broadway’s Travesties, Harry Potter…), and wonderfully dynamic choreography and movement direction by Lynne Page (Broadway’s American Psycho). It’s a powerful trip through the trenches, a manic tick tock towards confrontation between stodgy and those nowhere near to being called ‘fancy pants‘.
It’s hard not to look at our television and media outlets now and not see the impact of this darkly Sun-ny tale. It was controversial back then, and it still would be considered just as shocking to this day, if it were to happen in New York City. The last scene is chilling to watch, as Murdoch digs into his meal with relish. We sit in a modern day America, reeling from the quickly spreading weeds that have sprouted up as a result of this clash reverberating. But back in 1969, they dressed up mutton as Lamb, producing content that would excite the masses even if it disrupted the elite, and then, they just kept feeding the populists peeps until the only place left to go was a ‘Page 3″ spread to drive it over the top. Sound familiar? INK never takes the same bait though, it’s pure thoughtful and exciting entertainment based in the smarts of the war of words and wisdom. A character asks in the beginning to “tell me a good story“, and boy, does Graham do his damnedest to do just that, and wins.
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Broadway’s Harmony Sounds Great But Lacks Emotive Power
I don’t think I knew, going in, that Harmony, the new musical from book/lyric writer, Bruce Sussman (Ted Tally’s Coming Attractions) and music writer Barry Manilow now on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, is based on a true story. But as it sings itself out to us, it starts by taking us back to the Carnegie Hall stage of 1933, but then shifts even further back to Berlin, Germany 1927, giving us a clearer picture of what might be coming at us. Panning out in tones not so subtle and utilizing the narrative structure of a standard memory play, a narrator, played by the endearing Chip Zien (Broadway’s original Baker in Sondheim/Lapine’s Into the Woods), stands forward, center stage, ushering us into the past and this story. His name, he tells us, is Rabbi, and he once was, back in the day, a member of a comedic singing group in Berlin made up of six young men who could harmonize and craft a joke like few others could. The group, ‘The Comedian Harmonists‘, was an internationally famous, all-male German close harmony ensemble that performed between 1928 and 1934. As one of the most successful musical groups in Europe before World War II, they steadfastly rose to fame and fortune as the Nazis came to power in Germany, and within that historic framework, the dye has been cast and the stage set.
Zien is most definitely an affable figure, one guaranteed to take us through this complicated and emotional story with expert ease, and we feel safe in his testimony. The elder Rabbi pulls us in, ushering us back to the first days of the group, and joining in with the fun whenever he can. It’s a tender beginning, and as directed and choreographed with energy by Warren Carlyle (Broadway’s After Midnight), we are forever cognizant of where this all will be heading. Zien quickly lets us into the framework, informing us that he is the only surviving member of this long-forgotten troop of singers, and he’s here to tell us their story so they won’t be forgotten. Noting the historical landscape, we can’t help but know where we are being delivered to, and it’s not all that shocking where we will end up.
With a group name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, they come together with a joyful clarity, delivering the cool notes of a well-cast harmonic group. The crew of six, including a very good Matthew Mucha (CFRT’s Memphis)-an understudy for the absent Danny Kornfeld (Barrington’s Fiddler on the Roof) who usually plays the parallel part of Rabbi, younger and sweetly entwined with the other five; Sean Bell (HBO’s “Succession”) as Bobby; Zal Owen (Broadway’s The Band’s Visit) as Harry; Eric Peters (National tour: Motown the Musical) as Erich; Blake Roman (Paramount+’s “Blue Bloods”) as Chopin; and Steven Telsey (National tour: The Book of Mormon) as Lesh; come together neatly. They all fit into nicely categorized stereotypes that sing, make scene jokes, and travel the world entertaining their audiences with an ever-increasing amount of success, all under the watchful, but pseudo-approving eyes of the Nazis.
The six singers, all delicious and delightful to watch, deliver the goods solidly, even with songs that aren’t exactly memorable. But they sure look and sound good (and sometimes even great). No wonder they are seen as good public relations personas to the world, especially with their diversity, but as an audience member who knows what’s coming, it doesn’t sit so easily in the pit of our stomachs. The Nazis, as embodied by Andrew O’Shanick (“Pitch Perfect“) as Standartenführer – who claims to be a fan – don’t even seem to mind that a number of the group members, but not all, are in fact Jewish. This comes as a surprise, as most Jews and their equivalents were being robbed of their livelihood, their money, and their passports. But not these boys. Even when they push the boundaries of their PR protections outside of Germany, nothing happens, at least not right away.
The drama of the musical’s story is played out with conviction on a straightforward uncomplicated set by scenic designer Beowulf Boritt (Broadway’s New York, New York), with formula costuming by Linda Cho (Broadway’s Take Me Out) and Ricky Lurie (Gallery Players’ Godspell), inventive lighting by Jules Fisher + Peggy Eisenhauer (Broadway’s Gary), and a solid sound design by Dan Moses Schreier (Roundabout’s Trouble In Mind). It charges forward, but oddly, doesn’t hold us emotionally tight in its arms, running too long, and feeling soft-focused and sometimes generic in tone and form.
Can’t Wait For Boop To Come To Broadway
At the CIBC Theatre in Chicago, BOOP! The Musical, the new Broadway-bound musical extravaganza is making its debut . Actress Jasmine Amy Rogers is currently bringing her to life in Chicago, as she proves in this exciting song “Where I Wanna Be”.
The show is created by Tony Award®–winning director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, La Cage aux Folles, Hairspray) who brings the Queen of the Animated Screen to the theater with celebrated multiple-time Grammy®-winning composer David Foster (“I Have Nothing,” “After the Love Is Gone,” “The Prayer”), Tony-nominated lyricist Susan Birkenhead (Working, Jelly’s Last Jam), and Tony-winning bookwriter Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, The Prom).
I am obsessed with the songs already. First was “Something To Shout About” and now “Where I Wanna Be”.
For almost a century, Betty Boop has won hearts and inspired fans around the world with her trademark looks, voice, and style. Now, in BOOP!, Betty’s dream of an ordinary day off from the super-celebrity in her black-and-white world leads to an extraordinary adventure of color, music, and love in New York City—one that reminds her and the world, “You are capable of amazing things.” Boop-oop-a-doop!
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: Michael Urie and Ethan Slater
With the holidays, my caricature of Spamalot is taking time, so I decided to highlight the two performers who for me stood out.
I have drawn Michael Urie several times, but I love this picture with him and my drawing of him in Buyer and Seller. Urie as Sir Robin, shows a new side of him that is truly funny.
Ethan Slater should have won a Tony for Sponge Bob Square Pants. My guess is he will be nominated again for his multiple roles in Spamalot.
Up next my caricature of Spamalot
Spamalot Gives Them The Olde Razzle Dazzle
Somehow I missed the original Monty Python’s Spamalot, based on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” that played 18 years ago. So seeing this production at the St. James Theatre was fresh for me.
This show which runs over 2 1/2 hours is jammed packed with frat boy jokes, an uber talented cast and lots of razzle dazzle by director/ choreographer Josh Rhodes.
Satirizing the Arthurian legend, written by Eric Idle with music and lyrics by Idle and John Du Prez. The plot follows King Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart), as he is searching the kingdom for his Knights of the Round Table with his trusty sidekick Patsy (Christopher Fitzgerald). This is much like Don Quixote and Sancho, without those glorious songs. Instead we get “Look On The Bright Side Of Life.”
Arthur recruits Sir Bedevere the Wise (Jimmy Smagula), Sir Lancelot the handsome and incredibly violent (Taran Killam), Sir Galahad the Pure (Nik Walker) and Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave (Michael Urie). Arthur leads the knights to Camelot, but, after a Las Vegas Style review, he changes his mind, deeming it “a silly,” and they go off to find the Holy Grail.
In the meantime the Lady of the Lake (Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer) is rather peeved that her role has been cut. Kritzer tears down the house and the scenery with her vocal pyrotechnics and her attitude. She almost steals the show.
Ethan Slater plays the historian, not dead Fred, a baby, a nun, a mine and a minstrel, as well as wimpy Prince Herbert, and a demonic killer bunny. To each of these roles, he is like a chameleon and morphs into a comedic clown. He is truly funny.
Michael Urie, as Sir Robin, is hilarious and has the politically incorrect number “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway,” (if you don’t have any Jews). I am seriously surprised it has not been pulled considering parodies seem to be no longer appropriate.
Paul Tate dePoo III’s set is serviceable, but the projections are fabulous.
Many will like this show and if I had watched their performance on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I too would be buying tickets.
Monty Python’s Spamalot: St. James Theatre, 246 W 44th Street.
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