Friday, April 6, 2012

Thoughts on Two Nights in the Theatre

Last week I saw an invited dress rehearsal for Nice Work If You Can Get It, a “new” musical now in previews at the Imperial Theatre.  I wasn’t going to write anything about it, because what I saw was a dress rehearsal.  Then I discovered that people who hadn’t seen even the rehearsal were bad-mouthing the play.  Apparently some fool had posted a little video of a number in rehearsal and the grumpy people hadn’t liked what they’d seen.  Whoever decided to post a rehearsal video before the show opened should be fired for stupidity.

Happily, since the first previews, more accurate descriptions of the play have appeared online.  What I have to say about the dress rehearsal was that Nice Work If You Can Get It is…well... s’wonderful, s’marvelous, hilarious, ridiculous. If you stop laughing long enough to think, you can say, “This is a black-&-white1930s movie musical and just as absurd, except it’s live and in color.” Even thinking that much is more than you’d have time for.  There was one point I was laughing so hard that my friend thought I was going to have a fit.  Speaking of fits, the theatre seats are as tightly crammed together as passengers on a Tokyo subway.  We were all so cramped that I couldn’t reach the floor to roll on it laughing. 

The dancers are brilliant doing terrific, exhilarating numbers, the choreography is gorgeous. Settings are funny, practical, imaginative.  The costuming is sublime. Orchestrations and orchestra are perfect.  And it’s all Gershwin, for goodness’ sake.  

The bad news:  It ran a bit long (close to three hours with a 15 minute intermission), but it’ll tighten up as the preview weeks teach the marvelous director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall what’s slowing it down.  I, of course, have my opinions on what must be cut, but I’ll wait to see what the professional does.  What I saw, after all, was still a rehearsal, the company’s first in front of an audience. 

I look forward to seeing the play again in 3-4 weeks, and see what changes have been wrought.  What I’ll never understand about the naysayers is how anyone could be anything other than deliriously happy during three hours of Gershwin.  S’madness.


Last night Horvendile and I saw Simon Callow in a new piece by Jonathan Bates called Being Shakespeare.  It was a very enjoyable evening in which Simon Callow told tales of Shakespeare’s life structured on Shakespeare’s own Seven Ages of Man. The scene appeared spare and yet it was very well thought out and decorated.  All elements of the design were marvelous, from the lighting by Bruno Poet, the scenic design and use of the space (design and direction by Tom Cairns), music and sound by Ben & Max Ringham were terrific, and then there were the trees.  It was a credit I’d noticed in the program before the play began, “Trees by Green Mile Trees,” which confused me.  But those trees deserve the notice:  some frightening and foreboding, some simple and comforting. 

I enjoyed Callow (although he sometimes swallowed the end of his words, and at others spoke so quickly in obscure accents that I’d no idea what he said, unless I already knew the particular bit of Shakespeare), the pacing was quite good, and there was enough actual Shakespeare to please.  Thing is, I don’t believe I could call Being Shakespeare a play.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a highly theatrical and invigorating hour and three quarters, it has a beginning: birth; and an end:  death.  Yet it was more like a very entertaining lecture than a play.  Jonathan Bates is an erudite fellow, a Shakespeare scholar, and quite interesting – I look forward to reading his prose.  But I’m afraid he’s not a playwright.  Nonetheless, if you’re in the mood for some history mixed with your Shakespeare, Being Shakespeare is playing at the BAM Harvey this and next weekend.

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