Book Review by Michael Ladenson
Book Review by Michael Ladenson
Funny folks, those of us who get smitten at a young age with live theater. We star in high school musicals, some of us even getting theater degrees, all the while dreaming of taking our place on the row of original cast albums next to our parents' stereo. Most of us, of course, never make it. Daniel Robert Sullivan is one of the few who almost has made it. In Places Please!, he gives us a terrifically engaging account of how he made his way into a leading role in the Toronto company of the smash hit musical Jersey Boys.
If you are at all in love with theater, especially musical theater, you'll find Places Please! a real page-turner, though not without its longeurs. For fifty pages, Sullivan takes us through a grueling series of auditions for the show, some when there isn't even a job currently available. Not that his journey isn't interesting, but you'll know what Sullivan didn't at the timethat he gets in, and stays in for hundreds of performances. If you were underwhelmed by Jersey Boys, you may wish you were reading an account of working in a different showor at least, in an art form that attracts brilliant directors, working with a wider variety of staging artists than just Des McAnuff, depicted here as a charismatic genius. And once Sullivan actually starts doing the show, you may tire of reading about how lonely he is for his beloved wife and stepchildren back in New York, or how he's fulfilling the childhood dream that has been his since he played Colonel Cuddly in fifth grade.
Never mind. Sullivan is such a likable guy, with such a good soul and a crackling sense of humor, that he makes his trip tremendous fun. He creates exciting reading out of the mind-boggling intricacy of his choreography, vocal harmonies and even costume changes (in a show where no one has time to return to their dressing room). Especially enjoyable are his accounts of his trip to the Emmy awards, when his wife, a hair stylist for "Saturday Night Live," lands a nomination; his parents' trip to see him in the show; some spirited backstage pranks; and the last performance of Jersey Boys in Toronto.
A teaching artist with the Roundabout Theatre, Sullivan knows his way around dramaturgy. At one point, he talks about approaching a scene with a variety of different acting methods: Stanislavsky, Stella Adler, Meisner technique, Viola Spolin and even Viewpoints. One could wish that discussion were a little more illuminating, with a little less sarcastic grad school humor, but he clearly knows his stuff.
Sullivan knows how to bring people to life on the page, giving us unforgettable portraits of his wife Cara, his stepchildren Mark and Rachel, and the Jersey Boys artistic team from Des McAnuff and Sergio Trujillo on down. I could have used more about his fellow Jersey Boys in the Toronto company, but you get the sense that Sullivan wishes he had the time to get to know them a bit better as well.
By the time he reaches his Toronto closing, Sullivan has taken us with him on his journey from "small time actor" to one of the stars of a blockbuster musical; the experience clearly meant a great deal to him, and he gets that across powerfully. You may find yourself wishing along with him that he got to play the menacing Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys on Broadway. Come on, Mr. McAnuff! You've already sent him on a promotional tour around the worldlet's have a second edition of Places, Please! in which this soulful artist gets to strut his stuff in Manhattan.
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