Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Previews and workshops

Last week’s theatre attendance consisted of a pre-Broadway tryout and a new works festival.
Martin Short is doing a pre-Broadway tryout of his new show called “Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me”. It is scheduled to open in New York in August. It is a very amusing and entertaining show. The format is a sketch and revue comedy in the "Carol Burnett Show" style. The running gag is that Martin Short has put together a “one man show”. He then parodies everyone else’s show: Billy Crystal, Elaine Stritch, Bea Arthur and others.
The production has a talented cast of four top performers; all trying to steal focus from him. Brooks Ashmanskas (Little Me), Mary Birdsong ("Reno 911"), Capathia Jenkins (Caroline, or Change) and Nicole Parker ("Mad TV") upstage Mr. Short every chance they get. Marc Shaiman, the musical director, also hams it up on stage. Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray) wrote the music with Mr. Short. The book was penned by Short and Daniel Goldfarb.

The two funniest numbers showcase Ms Birdsong and Ms Jenkins. In the first, Birdsong and Short do a song and dance number that could have come from a Canadian production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Ms Birdsong, dressed in young Dorothy gingham, performs the song in an over-wrought, late Garland manner with the stilted hand movements and body gestures. It is hilarious.

The other number comes two-thirds the way through the second act. Ms Jenkins addresses the audience and says that all successful musicals have a number in the second act where the big black woman comes out and sings a song the stops the show. She then proceeds to do a rafter shaking, diva number called "Stop the Show" . It is a rousing gospel/blues number that commands an ovation. Way too funny!

Our local repertory theatre, TheatreWorks, has a deep commitment to developing, staging and producing new works, especially musicals. For the last five years they have offered a writers retreat, staged readings and workshops as well as presenting new works on their main season stage.

Last week we saw five of the seven staged readings. The best and most polished of the works was “Emma” by Paul Gordon (Jane Eyre). It is a chamber musical based on the novel by Jane Austen. It is the story of a young and beautiful matchmaker that meddles in the love affairs of others but is clueless about her own romantic feelings. It is elegant and witty adaptation. I would be first in line to see a fully staged version of it.

Second most interesting was a bittersweet play called “Mezzulah, 1946” by Michele Lowe (String of Pearls). It is a soaring drama of the last woman working in a Boeing plant after the men come home from WWII. Choices and changes are confronted when her cousin arrives in town looking for a job and the only one available is hers. Hot topics of diversity, equality, bigotry, minority rights vs majority rules are explored in this period piece. City Theatre in Pittsburgh has already added this show to its season next year.

The most humorous and witty reading was “Asphalt Beach”. The writers, Andrew Lippa, T.C. Smith and Peter Spears, describe it as musical comedy on the edge. The plot is sort of a mashup of "Wicked" and "Grease". Two girls from the opposite sides of the tracks must set aside their differences to fight a common evil at Our Lady of Suppressed Desire Academy for Rambunctious Girls. It appears this work is headed to the screen. Mr. Lippa is a TheatreWorks favorite, having worked several of his other productions here including “A Little Princess”, “Jerry Christmas” and “Betty Boop”. An interesting connection: His “Jerry Christmas”, a funny Jewish Christmas musical, is a show that Mr. Lippa wrote with Daniel Goldfarb (Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me).
The final two readings I thought were still in early stages of development. Hopefully the writers got enough feedback to what is needed. The shows were: “Big Red Sun” by John Jiler and Georgia Stitt. The program describes it as big band boogie and bugle boy blues. A well intentioned but flawed story of a man searching for his father and learning about anti-semitism. “Something's Wrong with Amandine” by Lance Horne and Winter Miller. This show is a challenging musical play that explores the life of an intersex person, Amandine, living in an isolated convent in 19th century France.


chris m || hunkdujour said...

Theater is great... The 5th Ave up here in Seattle often does pre-Broadway engagements of shows. "Cry Baby" is going to be workshopped out here, from the creators of "Hairspray" -- should be fun!

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