Hair Shines in the Park
Set outdoors on a grassy field, stripped of all the omnipresent opportunities to overproduce it, Hair, under the direction of Diane Paulus at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, has finally regained some measure of it greatness. There are those who will say that audiences and critics are responding to it now because our current politics has made the show relevant again. Yes, well perhaps, but we suspect the real reason is the direction by Paulus, who wisely took advantage of what the Delacorte offereda patch of groundand added no more to it than lighting design and an exuberant, talented cast, and she cut right to the musical's thematic core. Our tribe of young hippies exist now truly out of doors, under the stars, and in a timeless, eternal sixties.
Led by the charismatic Will Swenson as Berger, the tribe is a heady mix of naiveté, commitment, fun, and political purpose. Its ramshackle book, which is more of a concert of concerns, is appealing in this contextand it even seems more purposeful in the park setting. In a cast of relative unknowns Bryce Ryness as Woof comes close to stealing the show; his natural, easy performance is a pleasure to watch. The key role of Sheilakey, because she's got two of the most famous songs in the showis resolutely played and well sung by Caren Lyn Manuel. Megan Lawrence is a standout as Mother, but in contrast, Allison Case as Crissy brings nothing to one of the score's most charming songs, "Frank Mills."
The show's star attraction Jonathan (Spring Awakening) Groff plays Claude with an earnest intensity that just misses the mark. He sings the role very well but his acting only skims the surface of the character's plight. He will be leaving the show during its two-week extension (from August 17 - 31), replaced by Christopher J. Hanke from Cry-Baby. That might just work out for the better. As for the ensemble, it is attractive, talented, and exceptionally well-choreographed by Karole Armitage. This is a shining moment for The Public which, we trust, they won't screw up by moving Hair to a Broadway stage. It will lose a lot in the transfer from outdoors to indoors.
Visit www.publictheater.org/ for more information.
Could August: Osage County be Better Now After Cast Changes?
The addition of Estelle Parsons to the cast as the matriarch of this now famously twisted Weston family is a stroke of genius. The new Violet Weston is as sharp-tongued and malicious as the original Tony-winning actress who played her (Deanna Dunagan), but Parsons brings a greater vulnerability to the part. It is a stunning performance, made all the more amazing by the fact that the actress is eighty years old.
A number of other actors have slid easily into their replacement roles, principal among them Frank Wood and Robert Foxworth, while some of the original performers, most notably Sally Murphy, have truly burnished their performances into something far more impressive over time.
But we are writing about Tracy Letts' play again this time to extol the brilliance of Amy Morton who is truly the centerpiece of this powerful work. She gives one of last year's and this year's most towering performances. Morton is unforgettable in her role as the Weston sister who tries to hold everything together and fails.
Simply put, if you haven't seen August: Osage County, you really should. If you saw it before, you just might want to see it again.
August: Osage County at the Music Box Theatre. Tickets and performance information available at Telecharge.com.
A Comedy Surprise
We were surprised and delighted by the high concept comedy What To Do When You Hate All Your Friends by Larry Kunofsky. If some of the comedy is a little forced and not everything works as you might like, there is a great deal of intelligence and wit in this clever play. Jacob Krueger's sly direction helped considerably to smooth over the rough spots and make the high spots that much higher.
This is a play about love and friendship with a contemporary twist. We've seen others try to write about young people today and they almost always fail with embarrassing self-indulgence. This, instead, has a sense of humor about itself and a touch of whimsy that is charming. Most charming of all is Todd D'Amour as Matt, the lead character who hates all of his friends. He is hilarious in a dry, sexy way, possessing exquisite comic timing. He's a real find. Also entertaining are Carrie Keranen as D'Amour's almost equally dysfunctional love interest and Josh Lefkowitz who plays a series of roles with comic aplomb. Susan Louise O'Connor and Amy Staats round out the cast in this entertaining and intelligent new play.
What To Do When You Hate All Your Friends at the Lion Theatre through August 23. Visit www.hateallyourfriends.com for more information.
-- Barbara and Scott Siegel