The New York season traditionally divides itself into two halves; one that lasts through the Christmas holidays, and one that begins in February. The current season behaved itself, despite the rest of the world breaking with all tradition and going quite mad on all fronts. So in mid-February we had The Story of my Life about which I’ve written, and the much anticipated revival of Guys and Dolls which I haven’t seen. But when its lead producer announced after reading the notices, and here I paraphrase, “I believe in this, and I will give it a run in which to find the audience I know will respond”, you know he still has deep pockets. I wish him well, for it’s always good to have Miss Adelaide and Nathan and Sky and Sarah Brown and Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet around to cheer us as best they can.
There is a beautifully mounted production of D.H. Lawrence’s play The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd running at the tiny Mint Theatre on West 43rd Street that holds its audience spellbound. As Lawrence’s tale of a battered wife unfolds, she living under the bondage of a marriage to a controlling alcoholic coal miner husband. She wishes him dead, only to find fate is there to grant that wish. He dies in a mining accident, and she is technically free to fly off to Spain with Blackmore, a local plumber for whom she has strong feelings. But her conditioning, and her place in 1910 English blue collar society, leave Mrs. Holroyd in an untenable position. The conclusion of this play is moving, honestly written, beautifully played.
I noted to my surprise that it was directed by Stuart Howard, whose work these many years as a casting director of distinction made me wonder if he was the same Stuart Howard. His bio in the program assured me that he was indeed the same man, and all I can say is he has been hiding his bright talent under a very large bushel, for he’s good. The production is filled with any number of directorial touches, splendidly executed by an absolutely perfect cast, that makes this one of the richest of the season’s offerings. Lawrence never lived to see any of his eight plays produced (this was his second, based on a story of his, The Odour of Chrysanthemums.) He wrote the play in 1910 and it wasn’t even published until 1914, but it wasn’t until 1916 that it had a full scale production – at Los Angeles’ Little Theatre – for one night only! The Long Wharf in New Haven did it under Arvin Brown’s direction in 1974 and it was filmed for British TV in 1976. But it took Jonathan Bank and his very important Mint Theatre to give it a New York outing, and we all owe him for that.
I urge you to come on up and see it if you can; it won’t be coming along soon again, and it’s only running through April 5th. Its cast of eleven is unbeatable, and includes players all new to me, which made the afternoon even more startling and refreshing. I must mention Julia Coffey as “Mrs. Holroyd”, Eric Martin Brown as “Holroyd” and Nick Cordeleone as “Blackmore” (the man in Mrs. Holroyd’s unfortunate life), for they bring to it abilities that let them feel comfortable in their period clothes and with their Yorkshire accents, and most importantly, they all listen to each other, and respond honestly. I believed these characters, I identified with them, I empathized with them, and that’s an achievement for this cast and this director for they live in a world I’ve not known, at a time before my own. Well done!
The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd plays at the Mint Theater through April 5th.
I did catch a mid-season attempt by the valiant Musicals Tonight! impresario Mel Miller to shed light on a very early Jerome Kern-P.G.Wodehouse piece of fluff called Cabaret Girl. This one could only be of interest to musical theatre nuts like me, because the material is just plain silly, and the score offers little to suggest Kern would rise to the majesty of his later efforts. He’d already done 5 or 6 Princess Theatre musicals by the time he created this one (1922) but it’s difficult to see how it managed a run of over 350 performances in London at the time, for its score sounds like it was thrown together in a day or two.
The musical was commissioned by a London impresario, who sailed the Atlantic with Mr. Wodehouse, during which voyage the book was written in five or six days. It sounds it! 1920s musicals had silly plots, (until Show Boat in 1927 by the very same composer!) but this one has several silly plots. For me, and many of the others in the audience, anything by Kern would be of interest, but this time out Mr. Miller didn’t come up with the first class cast absolutely necessary to lift this one off the floor. A large cast tried valiantly, and the curtain call reprise was effective, for it was a pleasure to hear twenty voices, sans assistance from anything electronic, harmonizing over the grand finale. But two hours to wait for magic is asking too much, and I’m certain Mr. Miller and Company will do better by the World War II musical Early to Bed, coming up in a month or two.
Cabaret Girl plays through March 15 at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre in NYC.
The global recession, and its accompanying gloom has not hit Broadway or Off-Broadway – yet. I suppose all those productions we face between now and season’s end in May, were financed prior to the current financial meltdown, for things look mighty promising. The next big one to appear (on March 9) will be Jane Fonda’s return to Broadway in 33 Variations which tells the story of Beethoven’s fascination with a trivial waltz, and the modern-day musicologist, Katherine Brandt (Ms. Fonda) who sets out to discover the root of his obsession. March 15 will offer us the all-star revival of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Shubert with Angela Lansbury as the daffy Madame Arcati, and with Rupert Everett as Charles Considine whose two wives (one of them alive, one dead) are driving him daffy. March 19 brings us the bilingual West Side Story revival under the direction of its author Arthur Laurents to the famed Palace on Broadway. You in D.C. have already had your chance to see two of these, but if you missed out, you might want to remedy that by popping up here to give it a gander. I’ve heard many good comments but I’ll wait to see it till I return.
March 22 brings Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden, a smashing quartet of talented folk, to give us their take on God of Carnage, from the pen of Art’s Yasmina Reza. This tale of two couples, each with a young son, captured London last season with a cast headed by Ralph Fiennes and Janet McTeer. I saw it there, and it packed a 90 minute wallop. I suspect this very American cast will play it as American, but then hey, you never know. And March 24 brings to the Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen in a new play called Impressionism, to be directed by Jack O’Brien. For those who believe in omens, Ms. Allen’s last two outings on Broadway (in Burn This and The Heidi Chronicles) and Mr. Irons’ last one (The Real Thing) were all three at the same theatre (then called the Plymouth). All were hits; can these two gifted actors hit four out of four? We’ll see..
There is so much more coming our way this spring. I can only tease you with highlights. David Hyde Pierce, much loved in his last outing here, Curtains (he won a Tony) returns in a rarely revived Accent on Youth by Samson Raphaelson, whose successes in the thirties and forties seem to have been forgotten. So, thank you Manhattan Theatre Club for remedying that. Dolly Parton is going to have her shot as a Broadway composer/lyricist with 9 to 5, the musicalization of a hit movie in which she once co-starred. That will end April, on the 30th, at the Marquis in the heart of Times Square. Other highlights include the return to Broadway (via Roundabout) of Matthew Broderick in Christopher Hampton’s 1970 play The Philanthropist, and his buddy Nathan Lane in another Roundabout production, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot.
There is so much more here, but I’m afraid to tell you about them, for fear it will be like too much cake at a wedding. I don’t want to be known as a stuffer. And to make certain that I’m fresh, eager, ready to rock ‘n roll during the second semester of this season, I’m off tomorrow to Fort Lauderdale, where I embark on a 7 days sail round the Caribbean to stop at little-known ports of call, to get as far from Times Square and Wall Street as I can get round trip in a week.
I wish you all a healthy and hearty time. Please think of me now and then, as I promise I will of you. If there is any theatrical activity of note in Curacao, Haiti or the Dominican Republic you know you can count on me to make certain you are the first to hear of it. I hope, as I’m certain you are, that by the time I return on the 16th of March, conditions will have improved, and we’re all back on the rocky road to living the American dream.
- Richard Seff interviews Broadway luminaries:
- Carole Shelley
- Brian d’Arcy James
- Chita Rivera
- John Kander, With Complete Kander
Richard Seff chats with Joel Markowitz: