To Begin ...
We are extremely pleased to be here at Talkin' Broadway offering our opinions to perhaps the most (equally) opinionated theatergoers in New York. As critics we have never set ourselves above our readers. Anyone who does that here should have their head examined. We welcome your criticism - and your applause, when we earn it. Mostly, however, we hope our writing provides a stimulant to further discussion. We are proud to begin our association with Talkin' Broadway with this column and look forward to all that you have to say ...
A Threepenny for your thoughts?
Scott Elliott's version of The Threepenny Opera plays like scattered coins. There is value in it, but just a penny here and a penny there. Wallace Shawn's translation has been raked over a few critical coals in the NY media, but the show's failure – and it is a failure – has more to do with direction than translation. The flow of the story and the impact of its themes have been blunted by Elliott's approach to the material. In his attempt to update the Brecht/Weill classic, Elliott has substituted sexual ambiguity for societal corruption, making so much less of the show's powerhouse themes. Instead, we get a series of star turns. Some of the star turns are entertaining – Jim Dale, for instance, is delightful fun as Mr. Peachum – but those moments are now substituting for what should be the accumulating power of the play.
The director's choice to pointedly announce each chapter not only with a super title but with a verbal announcement by a member of the cast turns each scene into a vaudeville sketch. In other words, the show is constantly starting and stopping, and each announcement takes the audience right out of its suspension of disbelief. Ah, but it is with disbelief that we see the results of Elliott's inconsistent casting. Of course The Roundabout has always been prone to cast its productions with an eye on the box office rather than the appropriate match up of talent and character, but oh, poor Nellie McKay – she is so out of her league as Polly Peachum. You may never hear as dreadful a version of "Pirate Jenny" as the one she performs with so little charisma.
And here's a question: Why hire Alan Cumming to play Macheath only to have him essentially play the emcee in Cabaret all over again? If you're going to have star turns, though, at least one gets a thrill out of hearing Ana Gasteyer belt "The Ballad of the Overwhelming Power of Sex." (What we wouldn't give to hear her sing "Pirate Jenny.") Gasteyer also acts the part of Mrs. Peachum with plenty of personality; she's a genuinely exciting performer. In addition, Cyndi Lauper turns in a winsome, poignant performance as Jenny. Among the lesser known cast members, Brian Charles Rooney, in the role of Lucy Brown, wows the audience in more ways than one.
It's ironic, but in 2003 the little Jean Cocteau Repertory Co. did a better job of reviving this show than did the mighty Roundabout with all its money and stars. In one way that's disappointing. In another way, it's rather reassuring.
Don't Rain on Julia Roberts
Let's talk about Julia Roberts and Three Days of Rain, but let's not dwell on her inadequate performance. If you saw Patricia Clarkson in the part when the play was originally staged at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1997, count yourself lucky. Be that as it may, let's get practical. Richard Greenberg's wonderful play did not transfer to Broadway that year. Or the next year. In fact, it would not have come to Broadway in any year if not for the fact that Julia Roberts attached her name to it. Though our resident movie star isn't up to Clarkson's performance, she doesn't wreck the piece. It's still a strong and effective play – and a great many people are seeing it now, and very possibly enjoying it – that otherwise would have no idea such a play even existed.
It's one thing for a movie star to come to Broadway in a classic, like Ashley Judd did in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and make a hash of it. Plays of that stature are going to get revived and there is no reason to cast them badly. But Julia Roberts picked a play that would have otherwise languished without the attention she brought to it. And even if she's mediocre (she's much better in the first act than she is in the second), she has happily made possible, by her presence in the play, the stellar performances of Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper with whom she shares the stage.
Put another way, it's extremely irritating when Hollywood stars come to Broadway and take jobs away from far better trained (and more talented) stage actors. Does the name Harry Connick, Jr. sound familiar? But it's quite another thing when Hollywood stars actually create work for stage actors by putting their names and reputations behind more difficult work. Al Pacino, for instance, deserves high praise for all that he's done for the theater. So, don't be too hard on Julia Roberts. Just don't give her a Tony!
-- Barbara and Scott Siegel