Seen on Broadway:
The new musical A Year with Frog and Toad brings bona fide children’s theatre to Broadway. Set designer/co-producer Adrianne Lobel is the driving force here, as the show is adapted from celebrated storybooks by her father, Arnold. The production comes to the Cort Theatre from The Children’s Theatre of Minneapolis via the Victory on 42nd, where it played earlier this year. Adrianne’s designs are a lovely collection of drops that conjure up a watercolor world of butterflies, towering stalks of grass, and autumn leaves arrested in mid-flight. Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes are similarly inventive--a trio of birds are dressed in peacock-patterned coats and green tights, with feathered hats. James F. Ingalls’ lighting casts a sweet glow over the action, and he’s ready with a followspot and footlights when the occasion calls for it. Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen unleash some scary thunderclaps, and their amplification is clear enough to accommodate the youngest audience member.
A Year with Frog and Toad photo: Rob Levine
Mark Linn-Baker and Jay Goede are amusing and touching as Frog and Toad, here portrayed as a pair of fussy bachelors who cling to each other through thick and thin (those who have read a gay subtext into the show aren’t far off--there’s a reason there are no tadpoles in this pond). The score by Robert and Willie Reale is never less than pleasant, and they’ve come up with an especially amusing number for a Snail who’s a little slow at delivering the mail ("I put the go in escargot!" he sings, boastfully). There’s really nothing wrong with A Year with Frog and Toad--then again, nothing really happens for 90 minutes. It’s sweet, but a little underpowered for a Broadway showcase. It’s also really best for audiences under the age of six or seven. If your children are any older, you may as well see Hairspray or Mamma Mia! (assuming they’ve already been to the Disney shows); these shows cost as much as Frog and Toad and are far more dynamic. Anyway, A Year with Frog and Toad can be counted on to provide a pleasant afternoon for the kindergarten set. --David Barbour
Seen at the Movies: Talk about a bird’s-eye view: Jacques Perrin’s Winged Migration does its considerable best to provide just that to its viewers. This Oscar-nominated documentary follows the migratory paths of dozens of avian species through 40 countries and all seven continents (the Eiffel Tower, Monument Valley, the Sahara desert, the Amazon rain forest, and, in one breathtaking moment, the late World Trade Center, all put in appearances). What’s more, through the use of traditional and remote-controlled model gliders, model and regular helicopters, delta planes, balloons, and the Ultra Light Motorized aircraft, developed for the film with a 360º field of vision, the film gets amongst the birds in flight to an unprecedented extent. It’s incredibly exhilarating to experience this, even if the gaga music threatens to send us into Jonathan Livingston Seagull territory. Perrin also produced Microcosmos, and Winged Migration suffers from a similar leavening of its natural science with quasi-mystical flourishes.
Winged Migration photo: Mathieu Simonet/Sony Pictures Classics
No matter. This is a mostly wondrous film, brimming with information about the habits and flight patterns of barnacle, Canada, and snow geese, sandhill cranes, whooper swans, storks, pelicans, eagles, sparrows, and albatross. Some of these species migrate as far as 10,000 miles one way. Winged Migration credits a team of 14 cinematographers, who along with the 17 vehicle pilots are the real heroes of the movie. Bernard Lutic is the most prominent of the film’s DPs, with feature credits like I Dreamed of Africa, Colonel Chabert, and Lumumba; he died in a plane crash in 2000. The others are Michael Benjamin, Sylvie Carcedo-Dreujou, Laurent Charbonnier, Luc Drion, Laurent Fleutot, Philippe Garguil, Dominique Gentil, Thierry Machado, Stephane Martin, Fabrice Moindrot, Ernst Sasse, Michael Terrasse, and Thierry Thomas. Sound recordist Philippe Barbeau also deserves kudos for capturing the flapping and chatter.
Winged Migration photo: Renan Marzin/Sony Pictures Classics
For an utterly sublime downer of a film, it would be hard to find better than Lukas Moodysson’s Lilya 4-Ever. This story of a 16-year-old Russian girl, abandoned by her mother, whose existence spirals relentlessly into the lower depths, is almost unbearably painful. But Moodysson’s compassion for the character, together with the lovely, somehow life-affirming quality of the performance by lead actress Oksana Akinshina, lift the movie into a more edifying sphere. Lilya and her 11-year-old friend Volodya are two long-term casualties of the collapse of the Soviet system, but Moodysson, a Swede, doesn’t let western Europe off the hook--Lilya ends up in Malmo in a situation of sexual slavery. Throughout, the character retains something, even if it’s not hope, exactly; perhaps it’s something like a concept of grace (angels figure prominently). This is a beautiful, heartrending film, shot with a welcome sense of poetry by Ulf Brantas.
Anger Management photo: Sidney Baldwin/Columbia Pictures
Nobody would ever describe Anger Management as sublime, though one scene, where stars Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson duet on "I Feel Pretty," flirts with the term. This fitfully funny movie, with a nonsensical plot about Sandler’s introverted character being forced to attend anger management therapy led by a maniacal Nicholson, is cruddy on many fronts. The script feels molded into a state of incoherence, especially in what must be a studio-mandated conclusion. The cinematographer, Donald McAlpine, has done great work in the past, but director Peter Segal isn’t about to inspire anyone to visual elegance. Production designer Alan Au comes up with some attractive New York interiors, and costume designer Ellen Lutter’s work, especially on such supporting players as Woody Harrelson (as a cross-dressing hooker) and Luis Guzman (as a pot-bellied, midriff-baring gay ragaholic) is often witty. --John Calhoun
Seen Off Broadway: Broad Channel has opened rather under the radar, but it’s worth a look; it’s an hour-long monologue offered in a no-budget production in the tiny Phil Bosakowski Theatre on 45th Street, yet it leaves a strong impression. Playwrights Anna Theresa Cascio and Doc Dougherty have brought to life an obscure corner of Queens, an Irish-American enclave where the drinking starts at ten in the morning, the priests are feared and reviled, and, in personal relationships, a punch is as good as a kiss. The narrator, Eddie Doc, is a troubled young man, who, at 19, has years of sorrows behind him, including a sadistic father, trouble with the law, and a stint in the military. The play follows him through one long night as what is left of his illusions are shattered one by one. Dougherty also plays Eddie, and, under Molly Fowler’s direction, easily evokes his brutal father, downtrodden mother, conniving brother, a supercilious priest, as well as various losers, drunks, addicts, and petty thieves. The script could use a touch more humor at times and the rushed, unconvincing ending is a major problem, but Broad Channel offers undeniable proof of talent. Michelle Malavet’s set is minimal to the point of invisibility--I suspect she acted as a consultant to the production--but Greg MacPherson’s lighting creates a vivid nighttime feeling and Elizabeth Rhodes’ sound design shows her usual facility for selecting exactly the right pop tune to fill out a scene; she also contributes some realistic effects to a scene of breaking and entering.
How to explain She Stoops to Comedy? David Greenspan’s new play, at Playwrights Horizons, begins with a standard farce setup: Alexandra Page, a lesbian actress, gets herself cast as Orlando in a summer stock production of As You Like It, so she can spy on her girlfriend Alison, who’s playing Rosalind. Alexandra is played by Greenspan, who makes no attempt to resemble a woman. Also, Greenspan, who also directed, has seemingly scattered every draft of his play across the stage, so that characters and plot points change from moment to moment. The time frame is first 1950, then 1997. One character begins a scene as an archeologist, and ends it a lighting designer ("After all," Alexandra remarks, "archeology is a thing of the past"). There are many hilarious lines (Alexandra, posing as a man, asked about "his" recent roles, nervously asks, "Are you familiar with theatres in Montana at all?"); however, Greenspan skips over the farce action, preferring to moderate a witty, sophisticated discussion of role-playing, sexual identity, and power games, on- and offstage. The action is marked by several dazzling set pieces, including a nerve-rattling rant by T. Ryder Smith as a self-hating gay actor who likes straight men (he makes a pass at Alexandra, because he wants a real man!) and a tour de force from E. Katherine Kerr, who plays both halves of a warring lesbian couple. The production design is, largely, non-existent: Michael Brown’s setting consists of one big bed. However, Miranda Hoffman’s wardrobe of casual actor wear is well-chosen and Matt Frey’s remarkably subtle and well-modulated lighting design makes a major contribution. She Stoops to Comedy is an original. It’s also the debut production in Playwrights Horizons new studio space, the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, a venue that offers plenty of leg room, a deep stage, and an unusually large number of lighting positions. I can’t wait to hear what designers think of it.
She Stoops to Comedy photo: Joan Marcus
Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads is a collection of monologues, but it feels like it has a cast of thousands; each piece is so packed with idiosyncratic characters and bizarre yet accurate observations that the stage seems positively crowded. Each richly wrought piece presents a North-of-England eccentric in a moment of crisis or revelation. They’re presented in two distinct evenings and it’s impossible to choose among them. Program A features Brenda Wehle as a covetous antiques dealer whose greed blinds to her to one great opportunity; Christine Ebersole as a recluse who spends her days writing endless letters and snooping on the neighbors; and Kathleen Chalfant as an alcoholic vicar’s wife who has an unlikely sexual awakening in the back room of a convenience store. Program B features Valerie Mahaffey in a hilarious turn as an actress whose career consists of small roles in cheapie action films and starring roles in one-night stands; Daniel Davis as a mentally unstable mama’s boy whose elderly mother unexpectedly begins seeing an old flame; and Lynn Redgrave (below) as a middle-aged spinster, saddled with an invalid brother, whose visits to the chiropodist take a rather scandalous turn. Talking Heads was written for television, but under Michael Engler’s direction they are eminently stageworthy. Rachel Hauck’s setting, an arrangement of white walls, can be configured several ways, and Chris Parry uses softly colored backlighting to set off each performer. Wendall K. Harrington’s projections, filtered through the lighting, have an almost dreamlike quality. Candice Donnelly’s costumes instantly reveal much about each character (although Ebersole’s wig looks a bit fake). Talking Heads is playing at Off Broadway’s Minetta Lane Theatre. The producers should have taken it to Broadway; in this weak year for new plays, it might very well have won the Best Play Tony. --DB
Talking Heads photo: Carol Rosegg