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Opening Night: The Devil Wears Prada Needs More Fire

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The Chicago audience was jumping out of their Jimmy Choos at Chicago’s Nederlander Theater Sunday night, cheering the official opening of the musical version of The Devil Wears Prada, based on both the novel by Lauren Weisberger, and the popular film made of it in 2006 starring Anne Hathaway as Andrea “Andy” Sachs, an aspiring writer who makes what turns out to be a Faustian deal for success. As they say in the show, “Hell is a runway where the Devil wears Prada.”

Megan Masako Haley and Taylor Iman Jones in The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical Photo by Joan Marcus

It may seem an odd choice for the former Artistic Director of Chicago’s renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company, famous for not doing musicals, and  Tony Award winning director of such plays as August Osage County, to helm this production. But Chicago theater artists know how to tell a human story with honesty and depth. There are no gratuitous numbers or meaningless bellowing in this show. Ms. Shapiro has made sure Andy’s story is told with a sincerity that I appreciated.

The cast of the Devil Wears Prada photo by Joan Marcus

Andy is played with unforced warmth, inner wisdom, and humor by Taylor Iman Jones. Although Ms. Jones can, and does on occasion, rock the house vocally, she never overplays her more quiet and internal moments in song.  We root for Andy to find the strength to stand up for herself, and cheer for her when she does because Ms. Jones makes us believe she has earned it.

Javier Muñoz and The Cast of The Devil Wears Prada, The Musical Photo by Joan Marcus

After countless doors as a writer are closed in her face, Andy gets an unexpected call for an interview from the head of H.R. at Runway Magazine. So Andy takes a job she doesn’t want, working in an industry she doesn’t care about, and then must fight to prove herself worthy of it. She becomes the second assistant to Miranda Priestly, the icy, iron maiden editor of Runway, played by Tony Award winning comedic genius, Beth Leavel.

Miss Leavel is a more hot blooded Miranda than Meryl Streep’s icy “Snow Queen” in the movie, and she has red hair instead of white to prove it. Ms. Streep’s Miranda was necessarily as inscrutable as she was cold, because the screenplay never really let her express her inner thoughts.  I was afraid this musical would suffer if Miranda was portrayed the same way here. Luckily, in a musical, characters get to express and reveal themselves in song. So Ms. Leavel gets to become a musical baked Alaska, putting hot and cold together in a delicious and tasty delight of a performance.

Andy is second assistant behind Miranda’s first assistant, Emily, played with fine comedic sensibility and perky energy by Megan Mesako Haley. Andy is also helped in her rise within the organization by head designer, Nigel Owens,  played with tremendous charm and physical expressiveness by Javier Munoz.

When Nigel gets Andy to start dressing with style and taking her position more seriously, she begins to rise in Miranda’s eyes. As Andy becomes more enslaved to the whims of Miranda, we wonder whether or not her long suffering boyfriend, Nate, played with simple warmth by Michael Tacconi, can ride out the storm with her.

Andy also has two close friends and roommates, Lauren played by Christiana Cole, and Kayla, played by Tiffany Mann, who are there for love and support in small but meaningful moments. The strain Andy’s new job puts on their relationship isn’t a big part of the show, but adds dimension.

The fly in Andy’s ointment is Christian Thompson, a writer for the publication she really wanted to work for.  Although seemingly supporting her, he has his own agenda.  This role is played skillfully by… Christian Thompson. Go figure.

The book by Kate Wetherhead is acerbic and crackling with humor when appropriate, and touchingly sincere when called for. It keeps just enough of the sources for inspiration, as when Miranda says to Andy icily, “By all means, move at a glacial pace.”But she gets new jabs in as well.

The songs, with music by Sir Elton John and lyrics by Shaina Taub, do what good musical theater songs should do: Reveal inner thoughts, advance plot, and let characters process their emotions. However, Ms. Taub tries to say so much in her lyrics that the central idea of the song often gets lost. For example, Nigel gets a big song about coming out, and at the end of it, I still didn’t know what the song was supposed to be called.

The best that can be said of Sir Elton’s music is that it is serviceable. Maybe he tried too hard to defer to  Ms. Taubs meandering lyrics, which rarely landed on a hook he could set with any musical excitement. Andy’s opening song, “I’ve Got a Job to Do,” is very energetic. But otherwise, most of the music just lays there like last year’s dead stock.

It may seem odd to some that Miranda and Andy don’t have a song together. But I thought that was very appropriate. Even when in the same room, they always exist on two very different planes. This isn’t Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole in War Paint.

I particularly enjoyed the choreography by James Alsop. When backing up the singers, the ensemble always provided visual interest, but never overwhelmed them. The movement defined the world of the play through the ensemble at every moment.

The Scenic and Media Design by Christine Jones and Brett Banakis, complemented by the lighting design of Paule Constable, are a show unto themselves. When the walls of the New York office start leaning and become the sides of the Eifel Tower in Paris, which then lit up like a Christmas tree, the entire audience gasped and applauded for good reason.

The surprising disappointment of the evening was the relentlessly ugly Costume Design of Arianne Phillips. I frequently found her pieces to be loud, flat, and lacking in any of the distinctive design elements which the story is supposedly all about. She’s no Bob Mackie, and this sure isn’t “The Cher Show.”

In the end, Ms. Shapiro has created a show whose sum is far greater than its parts. Though the songs may be lackluster, they are always appropriate, and enrich our understanding of the characters. Ms. Leavel’s performance adds new dimensions to the story even if the book doesn’t. Overall, the show is a crowd pleaser, as the enthusiasm of the audience proved at every moment. Whether a fire can be lit under the songwriting team and the costumer before their Broadway opening to do something better, and what difference it may make at the box office, remains to be seen.

Jeffery Lyle Segal is a multifaceted theater artist who has worn many professional hats. He started as a musical theater performer in his teens. He attended Stanford U., Northwestern University, and SUNY at Binghamton to study acting, directing and dramatic literature. He also wrote theater reviews for The Stanford Daily and was Arts Editor of WNUR Radio at Northwestern. After college, he is proud to have been the first full time Executive Director of Chicago’s acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater Company. He left them to work as a theater actor and director. His special effects makeup skills got him into the movies, working on the seminal cult horror film, Re-Animator.He also did casting for several important Chicago projects, sometimes wearing both production hats, as he did on Chicago’s most famous independent movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. While living in Los Angeles, he joined the Academy for New Musical Theater, where he developed two book musicals as a composer, lyricist and librettist, Down to Earth Girl (formerly I Come for Love, NYMF 2008), and Scandalous Behavior! (York Developmental Reading Series 2010). He wrote, produced and performed his song “Forever Mine” as the end title theme of the horror film, Trapped! He also has written songs for his performances in cabaret over the years, and the time he spent pursuing country music in Nashville. Most recently he created a musical revue, Mating the Musical, for the Chicago Musical Theater Festival 2016. In NYC, he has attended the BMI musical theater writers’ workshop, and the Commercial Theater Institute 14 week producer program. He is currently creating a company to develop new musicals online. He still keeps up his makeup chops, working with top doctors in NYC and Chicago as one of the country’s most highly regarded permanent cosmetic artists (www.bestpermanentmakeup.com) and as a member of Chicago local IATSE 476. www.jefferylylesegal.com

Out of Town

“Player Kings” Shines in the West End With Ian McKellen at Falstaff

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I read that the first published book written about a Shakespearian character was focused not on the legendary Macbeth or Hamlet, but on the “dodgy, obese, cash-strapped, dissolute, self-interested” Falstaff, a larger-than-life antihero and cultural phenomenon, this time dutifully played in the new West End revival rich and tragic by McKellen (The Other Palace’s Frank and Percy; West End’s Ian McKellen on Stage).


Ian McKellen and Geoffrey Freshwater in Player Kings. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

His Falstaff is utterly dynamic and fascinating from the get-go, drawing us in with his grotesque drunkenness in a stained shirt. It’s flawless and funny, especially so as the character’s humor is delivered dry and philosophically portioned out for great effect, giving this slick modern-dressed production a thrilling brave heart and a solid foundation.

It’s a handsome, strongly staged production, not exactly centered around Ian McKellen’s great performance as one devilishly sharp Falstaff, but having that dynamic character involved lifts up the whole thing making the joined-together Player Kings a carnivalesque joy to witness. It’s a role he seemed destined to play, but unfortunately, he had a nasty fall from the stage in mid-June, forcing him to not only drop out of the play in the West End, but also from the tour that was created all around him playing this part. It’s a devastatingly sad turn but luckily for us, we were able to see him before his accident. And I’m hoping he will be back on his stage feet quickly so we all have the opportunity to take in his expert renderings for years to come.

Yet Player Kings, when I saw it in early June, had McKellen in full true form, creating this delivery as expertly as one could hope for. Surrounded by talent on all sides, the curtain is quickly pulled back in those first few moments, and all kinds of partying chaos flies forward in abundance. A bare-bottomed rendering destined to be king sends just the right energy into the air and we can’t help but lean into this expertly crafted production of the two Henry IV history plays combined into one, adapted and directed with strength and clarity by Robert Icke (Almeida/Park Avenue Armory’s The Doctor).

Toheeb Jimoh and Daniel Rabin in Player Kings. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

On a detailed, multidimensional set, incorporated with great intent by set and costume designer Hildegard Bechtler (Old Vic’s Mood Music), with sharply hewed slices of light by Lee Curran (Donmar’s Next to Normal) and a solid sound design by Gareth Fry (Donmar’s Macbeth), the brick and curtained crew of revelers and hang-abouts make playful use of the arena given. The cast is cleverly created for this sometimes complicated history concoction, a dual engagement that I have only seen once before, to a somewhat lesser effect. But with Toheeb Jimoh (“Ted Lasso“) as Prince Harry (or Hal) staggering about in his skivvies ready and willing to expose his true nature before us all, this Player Kings is destined to be remembered. And not only for McKellen giving it his all in a dream part.

But Hal’s difficult journey forward into the adulting royal circle, standing true and solidly performed, is just one of many contextual arrangements created with flair around the centripetal force that is Falstaff. Hal’s proxy-father relationship with Falstaff is balanced and pulled tight with tension by the hard-hearted King Henry, played with intensity by Richard Coyle (Almeida/Duke of York’s Ink). It unpacks layers of patriarchal complications that shuttle between coldness to death-bed loving attachment. It’s a compelling understanding delicately unfolding over the course of this fascinating adventure.

Samuel Edward-Cook in Player Kings. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Another tight-rope balancing act, this time between two different yet powerful worlds, Samuel Edward-Cook (Globe’s Titus Andronicus) finds compelling tones with his Hotspur, in suit and also donning fatigues, playing the modern dress unveiling with force, even with a few unclear contemporary connotations.

At just over three and a half hours, the tonal shifts of Player Kings between parts one and two are subtle yielding a suspenseful framing that leads into a less captivating battleground. But every moment of the complex condensed storytelling is well worth it, mainly to see McKellen living large inside a part that seems tailor-made for this expert thespian. The historical text is heavy lifting sometimes, not exactly created for those looking solely for light comic entertainment, but if Shakespeare is your thing, even the more complicated history plays, then Player King with McKellen feels like required viewing. I only hope that it has been recorded so those who unfortunately missed their chance, will have a further opportunity to take in his glory.


Sir Ian McKellen and cast at the curtain call during the press night performance on 11 April, 2024.

Player Kings was performed at Noël Coward Theatre, London, closing on 22 June, 2024.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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Fringe Festival “86 Me: The Restaurant Play” Serves It Up Strong

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Grabbing a seat inside and a drink from the bar on a Saturday afternoon (don’t judge me), we are welcomed into Our Lady Kensington, a dive bar on the verge of being 86’d from the scene. That is until this evening when chaos and fires erupt, and a seemingly straight-laced young man enters the space. He has been sent by management to inspect the bar for efficiency and professionalism, but what he discovers about the space, the people in it, and himself is far more complicated and difficult to correct simply with a clipboard and pen. The qualities listed are obviously lacking in this forever empty establishment, and this band of misfits who ‘work’ here, who harass, flirt, break up, drink, and indulge themselves silly during their shift, don’t seem like they are the ones who could help. Or are they?

With a cast of wonderfully focused actors, namely Luke Kimball, Marianne McIsaac, Mia Hay, Ben Yoganathan, Carson Somanlall, Elizabeth Rodenburg, and Jeff Gruich, 86 Me: The Restaurant Play, currently playing to sold-out crowds at The Supermarket Bar and Variety as part of Toronto’s Fringe Festival, is deliciously fun and invigorating. The play, as written, is definitely overly complicated and sometimes distracting. It veers this way and that through the immersive space trying to connect while dodging the problems within the framework, but with a solid tightening of that waiter apron, the heart of the piece could live quite solidly within the space, and inside these strong-minded performances and their pre-wrapped set-up. The actors do their job well, working hard trying to get to the essence of their inner world and bring it into some sort of order, all the while engaging with the delivery of drink orders and their lines to each other and us.

The cast of 86 Me: The Restaurant Play at Toronto’s Fringe Festival.

The central force of the play runs true and compassionately focused, as the cast runs circles around us all, flinging drink orders into the air for others to catch, along with other antics that endear us to this motley crew. But the catalyst really lies in Luke Kimball (Mirvish’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and his portrayal of the socially awkward, young, but determined newbie, Zach, or as he is affectionately called, even by a member of the audience, the bar’s “little bitch boy”. And it sticks, mainly because of his focused portrayal of someone lost and looking for salvation, even if it seemingly is arriving thanks to “Mr. Fancy Pants“, played cleverly by Jeff Gruich as James “The Owner”.

There is a couple (Carson Somanlall & Elizabeth Rodenburg) who break up and quit each other more often than the number of times audience members bravely call out their drink orders to cast members who never break focus, even when the order comes at an impromptu moment. The drinks do make it to them, thanks to the staff of the actual bar, who keep the energy of the space filled and rolling, even as the drunk regular (Marianne McIsaac) preaches and yells at the staff from the back table wanting more of everything from anyone who will listen. An indulging host (Mia Hay) vapes and drinks in the corner waiting for connection, but ultimately looking for an escape, and a desperate server (Ben Yoganathan) cooly and constantly trying to use his French-ness as a ploy to get closer to the escape-artist host. It’s a lot, but it’s sold well, so we drink it all down, like a good tall Gin and Tonic on a hot day.

Directed and created by Jackson Doner, 86 Me: The Restaurant Play finds hilarity and some tender engagements within the chaos that lives and breathes in this dive bar on the verge of being 86’d out of existence. The talented crew and script offer up a problematic staffing situation that is completely out of control. Clearly, there is no one strong enough or focused enough on board to guide them through this tumultuous time, but maybe there is someone who can help, if only they can help themselves first. All this, while attempting to take care of a full bar of thirsty patrons and a father who doesn’t know how to really be there for his son. But even in all that chaos and wild shenanigans that transpire within this converted cabaret space, produced by Dead Raccoon Theatre, 86 Me keeps us tuned in and caring, while throwing coins in cups to show our appreciation.

Clockwise from top left: Carson Somanlall as Carson “The Supervisor”, Mia Hay as Eva “The Hostess”, Ben Yoganathan as Francois “The Server”, Elizabeth Rodenburg as Laurie “The Bartender”, Luke Kimball as Zach “The New Guy”, Jackson Doner, and Marianne McIsaac as Jasmine “The Regular” from 86 Me: The Restaurant Play at Toronto’s Fringe Festival. Photo by Ally Mackenzie.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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The John W. Engeman Theater Presents Legally Blonde

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The John W. Engeman Theater celebrated the opening night of Legally Blonde.

The Cast and Creative of Legally Blonde

Choreographer Jay Gamboa joins with Sorority Members- Lara Hayhurst, Rebecca Murillo, Juliana Lamia, Emma Flynn Bespolka, Julianne Roberts, Emily Bacino Althaus, Bridget Carey, Amelia Burkhardt and Jessie J. Potter

The Musical is directed by Trey Compton (Engeman: Once, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder; Off-Broadway: Yank!, White Lies; Regional: Seattle 5th Avenue, Goodspeed, The Ogunquit Playhouse, The Fulton, Riverside, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Millbrook, Mac-Haydn, and Cortland Repertory) and choreographed by Jay Gamboa (Engeman: Mama Mia!; National Tour: PJ Masks, Hello Kitty; Regional: Stages St. Louis, Gateway Playhouse, San Diego Musical Theatre, East West Players; Film/TV: The CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”).

Trey Compton (Director) and James D. Sasser

Elle Woods appears to have it all until her life is turned upside down when her boyfriend dumps her to attend Harvard. Determined to get him back, Elle charms her way into the prestigious law school. An award-winning musical based on the adored movie, Legally Blonde, The Musical, follows the transformation of Elle as she tackles stereotypes and scandal in pursuit of her dreams. Exploding with memorable songs and dances–this musical is so much fun, it should be illegal!

Emma Flynn Bespolka

Emma Flynn Bespolka

Quinn Corcoran

The cast of Legally Blonde, The Musical features Emma Flynn Bespolka as Elle Woods (UK Premiere: Clueless; Regional: Kinky Boots, South Pacific, Bye Bye Birdie, Grease)

Quinn Corcoran, Emma Flynn Bespolka

Quinn Corcoran

Quinn Corcoran as Emmett (Off-Broadway: James and the Giant Peach, Rescue Rue, Blue Man Group, Hair; Regional: Maltz-Jupiter Theatre, Sierra Repertory Theatre, Servant Stage, Mac-Haydn Theatre)

Chanel Edwards-Frederick

Chanel Edwards-Frederick as Paulette (West End: Hairspray; International Tour: The Book Of Mormon; Regional: The Royal Theatre, La Mirada Theatre, Repertory East Playhouse, Interlakes Theatre)

Nicole Fragala

Nicole Fragala, Emma Flynn Bespolka

Nicole Fragala as Vivienne (National Tour: Tootsie; Regional: Cmpac, The New School, Broadhollow Theater; TV/Film: “Pretty Little Liars: Summer School,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Prom”)

Nathan Haltiwanger

Nathan Haltiwanger, Emma Flynn Bespolka

Nathan Haltiwanger as Warner Huntington III (Regional: Sweeney Todd, Beauty and the Beast, My Fair Lady, Next to Normal, The Sound of Music)

Julianne Roberts

Julianne Roberts as Brooke Wyndham (Regional: Chicago, The Little Mermaid, Movin’ On, Catch Me If You Can)

James D. Sasser

James D Sasser as Callahan (Engeman: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Broadway: Riverdance; National Tour: Jesus Christ Superstar; Off-Broadway: Teeth; Regional: Theatre Under The Stars, Four Corners Musical Theatre, The Village Theatre, Berkeley Playhouse; TV/Film: “Madam Secretary,” “The Good Fight,” “Succession,” “The Bite”).

Sorority Members- Lara Hayhurst, Rebecca Murillo, Juliana Lamia, Emma Flynn Bespolka, Julianne Roberts, Emily Bacino Althaus, Bridget Carey, Amelia Burkhardt and Jessie J. Potter

Katelyn Harold

Terrence Bryce Sheldon

Amelia Burkhardt

Matt DeNoto,

Joshua James Crawford

Rebecca Murillo

Zunmy Mohammed

Juliana Lamia

Bridget Carey

Emily Bacino Althaus

Yash Ramanujam

Lara Hayhurst and Trey Compton with Little Ricky and Cha Cha

Lara Hayhurst

The Swings-Amelia Burkhardt, Terrence Bryce Sheldon, Joshua James Crawford and Katelyn Harold

James D. Sasser, Nathan Haltiwanger and Quinn Corcoran

James D. Sasser, Trey Compton Nathan Haltiwanger and Quinn Corcoran

Legally Blonde, The Musical will play the following performance schedule: Wednesdays at 7:00 pm, Thursdays at 8:00 pm, Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Tickets start at $80 and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900, going online at engemantheater.com, or visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport is Long Island’s only year-round professional theater company, casting actors from the Broadway talent pool. From curb to curtain, we have made it our business to provide affordable, quality theater in an elegant one-of-a-kind location with outstanding facilities and extraordinary service. The renovated theater offers stadium-style seating, state-of-the-art lighting and sound, a full orchestra pit, and a classic wood-paneled piano lounge with a full bar.

For a complete show schedule and more information, contact the theater directly at 631-261-2900, visit the box office at 250 Main Street, Northport or visit engemantheater.com.

The Cast and Creative of Legally Blonde

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Entertainment

Times Square Chronicles Presents The Hamptons

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Since “Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents” is so popular, we decided to do a summer edition called “Times Square Chronicles Presents The Hamptons”. We started with the Bay Street Theatre  Gala because it is what we know.,,,,,theatre. The Gala honored Neil Patrick Harris, David Burtka, and Dr. Georgette Grier-Key.

In this episode you can see Richard Kind, Marc Kudisch, Scott Schwartz, Tovah Feldshuh, Lena Hall, Tracy Mitchell, Rose Caiola, Stewart F Lane, Lliana Guibert, Kate Edelman Johnson, Steve Leber and Bonnie Lautenberg and Riki Kane Larimer.

You can watch us here

 

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Soulpepper’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” Clashes Hard and True Against the Backdrop of Jazz and Booze

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It’s the quintessential sound of New Orleans that draws us in. Starting with the iconic rattle of that Streetcar Named Desire, clanging and banging its way through the streets, the unraveling, beautifully unpacked here at Soulpepper, brings a clearly out-of-place, white-clad sister to the door of a home filled with a rough and tumble energy that is as red as she is white. It’s a classic beginning, seeing her stand there, out-of-place and out-of-sync with a subtle modernist flair courtesy of director Weyni Mengesha (Soulpepper’s The Guide to Being Fabulous). It is that visual that delivers Tennesse Williams’ iconic damsel to the door of sister Stella, and we see it in her contemporary touch that this is an undoing worthy of our watch.

The big easy New Orlean chaos is rolled out and unmasked, here and there from time to time (with an energy that I wished I got to see a bit more), as the clashing of types overpowers and fills the stage and down the aisle. Meat is thrown from outside in, by a wife-beater-wearing Stanley, played with blue-collar deliverance by Mac Fyfe (Howland C0./Crow’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning), and caught by the love-struck Stella, played with a straightforward deliberation by a very game Skakura Dickson (Mirvish’s Dear Evan Hansen). Their engagement is effortlessly of that space, etched in the way they look and touch one another before she runs off to watch him bowl. And then she comes, dragging a hard-cased rollie bag down the aisle, banging the floor at each step as if to signal her approach. Or maybe an alarm. Possibly to her own self as much as to the others. It almost screams out, I don’t belong here. That I am a visitor, from another time and place, and this arrangement is a distinct contradiction to the word ‘easy’.

Mac Fyfe in Soulpepper’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo by Dahlia Katz

This Soulpepper Blanche, played timelessly as if a relic from some other world by the captivating Amy Rutherford (Segal Centre’s Fifteen Dogs), is worthy of the look the neighbor, Eunice, played to perfection by Ordena Stephens-Thompson (Soulpepper’s Three Sisters), gives as she leaves Blanche to her requested privacy and her secret consumption of Stan’s liquor. Rutherford’s Blanche is vibrant in her false framing, modulating her drawl for full manipulating effect, moment to moment. She gives us a magnificent creation based on nervous intention and supreme denial, pivoting this way or that, depending on the requirement that hangs in the thick air. It’s the smoothest of simulated posturing, that conveys a deft and disturbing downfall waiting in the wings, just behind another type of curtain drawn to protect and hinder inspection under a harsh unforgiving light.

Her statuesque framing is in harsh objection to all that runs around it, swinging and engaging in the smooth wildness of modern New Orleans. The sounds rise up from the edges and behind closed walls, singing and laughing in their jazz-infused joy, but they find no home in Rutherford’s Blanche. Here is the hot-blooded underlying surrounded by hard metal that reveals smokey sexuality when required, that breathes extra life and fire into the roughness of the room, designed to deliver by Lorenzo Savoini (Soulpepper’s De Profundis), with captivating lighting by Kimberly Purtell (Tarragon’s Withrow Park) and a strong sound by Debashis Sinha (Stratford/Soulpepper’s Casey and Diana). This hot musical energy is what I was waiting for as Soulpepper revisits A Streetcar Named Desire, which comes clanging back to their main stage (after a very successful 2019 production). Blanche’s downfall is clear and predetermined, mapped out from the moment Fyfe’s Stanley first sees her, and from the faulty flirtation she throws his way. Blanche is out of her dimmed-light element, and even though Dickson’s Stella tries her best to serve her in the way she likes to be cared for, the escalations of love, lust, and fury will have their way with this damsel in self-created distress. And she won’t have the strength to see her way through the smoke into the reality of the modern world that swirls around them.

Clinging to her distorted past that we hear glimpses of, playing in the background until the shot ends the fantasy, A Streetcar Named Desire delivers magic and the cruelty of realism balanced in abundance. The visuals and the musical energy, courtesy of both Mike Ross (Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage), the original music director, and Kaled Horn (Shakespeare Bash’d’s As You Like It), the music director of this remount, emphasize the clash, excluding the delusional Blanche from the rest, even as she entices, for a moment, the kindly Mitch, played engagingly by Gregory Prest (Can Stage’s The Inheritance). The costumes by Rachel Forbes (Can. Stage’s Topdog Underdog), push forth the same cultural and societal clash. Stanley and his buddies, played well and true by Sebastian Marziali (“Dark Side of Comedy”) as Pablo, and Lindsay Owen Pierre (“Jack Reacher”) as Steve, are outfitted in your standardized blue-collar constructs, that feel curated from a different era then Blanche, although I never really understood the collection of coats and jackets these guys carry around with them on these hot humid nights. Stella finds herself straddling the timeframes in short shorts that bridge the gap that Blanche’s ensembles don’t. They engage with both, to different effects, igniting Stanley’s passion while also cementing a subtle connection to Blanche and her past life.

The cast of Soulpepper’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

But it’s Rutherford who our eyes are glued to, and she is a marvel inside her performative Blanche, weaving lies upon lies in hopes of escaping the trap she has created or found herself in. She tries her best to hold it all together, taking hot baths on steamy hot days to calm her nerves, and weaving tales of Southern elitist privilege often in comparison to Stanley’s less refined heritage. It makes her hard to feel much for, on the surface, as she lies and throws attitude, but Rutherford finds her way through the text pretty brilliantly, delivering a woman who is perplexed, anxious, and confused. It’s all wrapped up in one intense performance by one amazing actress. Dickson’s Stella doesn’t stand a chance in that rosy dim spotlight.

It’s no wonder this part is coveted by so many performers, and I’ve seen a few, including Cate Blanchette at BAM, Jessica Lange on Broadway, and Gillian Andersonat St. Ann’s Warehouse. It’s an emotional and deeply complex role that gives an actress such a deviating journey to move through from entrance to heart-breaking exit. Rutherford’s Blanche finds her way into the room inside a unique framing, taking us through an emotional journey that is epic, devastating, and deeply affecting. It’s an extremely complex and modern take on the role, weaving in layers of addictive energy and validating anxiety that feels so deeply integral to Blanche, especially during the incredibly uncomfortable interaction with the young newspaper collection boy, played captivatingly cute by musical director Horn.

Amy Rutherford and Gregory Prest in Soulpepper’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Photo by Dahlia Katz

The time flies by as we watch Rutherford’s wounded, flailing, and righteous-sounding bird struggle to save herself, but Fyfe’s Stanley is too brutal of an animal force to be caught in Blanche’s desperation. He’s also difficult to ignore. He plays it more subtle than loud, unpacking unknown layers that intrigue, even when they don’t add the required heat. The same could be said of Dickson’s Stella who finds her space, but not always the right amount of heat.

At times we are drawn into Blanche’s flawed pain, especially the dramatic sad story of the love that seemed to break her apart. That famous monologue, as it should, destroys, but she’s also too difficult to love and to take. During many of those tense moments, we feel for her sister, Stella, who has no idea how to take care of her or even deal with Blanche’s grandiose facade. The only one who can actually save Blanche from Blanche and her situation is Mitch who attempts to balance the sweet suitor with the desperately defeated man. Prest’s Mitch is far more gentle than most I’ve seen tackle the part, bringing his own dreaminess to the role, but it doesn’t actually mesh well with the resulting pivotal provocative scene that erupts from inside him brought to the surface because of her lies and deceit.

The tension and the rise to violence does float in the air over and within, matched by the music that erupts from behind that wall. And with the loud crash of bed posts against the same, the loud collision elevates the heat and the heaviness, sometimes too fast and furious, changing direction and speed as if the anxiety and the alcohol levels fuel the fire and the fury, without enough underlying formulations. This idea includes the final inevitable collapse of Rutherford’s Blanche, and her disconnect from reality.  It’s a jarring, majestic, and heart-wrenching full-speed crash, and one not to be missed, but somehow it doesn’t hold the framing together as well as I expected.  I wanted more of a build-up; a long fuse leading from one room to another, lit by claustrophobia and an insulting fantasy world. But this one, pushed forward by Fyfe’s Stanley is short, popping up hard and violent into the hot humidity. Yet, as expected, we watch her walk out on the arm of the stranger; a gentleman doctor who is to commit her to a mental asylum, with compassion and sorrow.  Her disintegration into shattered collapse is complete, but the mystery and deluded fantasy of her grand self still holds even if it’s as wobbly as the legs that carry her forward into the night, and up the aisle before our very eyes.

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