Seen on Broadway: When you hear the hubbub from the mainstream media about a performance, you tend to go into the theatre with a bit of trepidation. Thankfully I worried needlessly when I saw Christina Applegate’s performance in Sweet Charity at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. I never saw Gwen Verdon (I’m not that old!) or Debbie Allen (still lived in Alabama) in their star turns as Charity Hope Valentine, the down and out taxi dancer looking for love. I’ve only seen part of Shirley MacLaine’s movie performance so I did not have a pre-conceived notion of how the role should be played. Applegate is, in a word, adorable! She is a winning performer and while she doesn’t have the dancing legs or the singing voice of a Verdon, Allen, or MacLaine, she did a lovely job and added warmth and spunk to the role. Dennis O’Hare was quite amusing as Oscar. Again, he’s not known for his singing voice, but he is a fine comic actor. The scene where Charity an Oscar first meet was a comic tour de force for O’Hare. The rest of the cast was able and worked hard, especially the troupe of dancers who mastered Wayne Cilento Fosse-lite choreography. While not a fan of director Walter Bobbie’s work on Chicago, the direction here was very fluid and a touch cinematic.
The set design by Scott Pask was, in a word, groovy. It was fun to see designs that were retro on a show when the same designs would have been contemporary when it first debuted. I was glad that Sweet Charity stayed in the mid-60s; an update to modern times would be a little scary. William Ivey Long’s costumes were lovely and his outfits for the “Rich Man’s Frug” were dazzling and worked well Pask’s purpley set. Brian MacDevitt ably used the lighting to commingle with the other design elements, also using rich shades of purples and pinks in the right places that capped off the scenes like a cherry on top. The sound by Peter Hylenski was top notch and perfectly captured the legendary Cy Coleman score. While nay sayers will continue to harp about certain things, theatergoers will have a nice night out on the town in a New York that today seems quaint.
Seen Off-Broadway: In the heart of Greenwich Village, a new off-Broadway musical has sprung up at the Actor’s Playhouse, which most recently housed the Marijuanalogues and Naked Boys Singing and it goes back to a tried and true format: appeal to the residents of the neighborhood. Therefore we now have the new musical Trolls which asks, rhetorically, “is there gay life after 40?” With book and lyrics by Bill Dyer and lyrics by multi-Emmy nominee Dick DeBenedictis, Trolls tells the tale of six gay chums who gather to remember a recently deceased pal. I won’t get into the different stereotypes the characters fall into, however, I will say that Jo, the post-op transsexual looked remarkably like Phyllis Diller. The production design by Matt Maraffi was as sunny as it could be with bright yellow walls, arched doorways, and terrazzo floors that signaled you could only be in Southern California. The lighting by Graham Kindred was as good as the challenging space could allow. The actors were not miked and to me it sounded as though the music was pre-recorded as I did not see a band so there was evidently no sound design to speak of (no sound designer was listed in the credits). Trolls is yet another in a long, long line of gay-themed plays that have multiplied with the success of The Boys in the Band some two and half decades ago. Luckily, unlike the self-loathing characters in Mart Crowley’s seminal play, the characters in Trolls genuinely like themselves (and each other) and have grown comfortable in their own skin, especially as it gets more splotched and wrinkled.
Seen at the Movies: If you’ve seen the previews for Kicking & Screaming, then you’ve seen the sum total of Will Ferrell blowing a gasket. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t deliver; it does and it’s a lot of fun for the whole family. However, for those who love seeing Ferrell go from placid to maniacal on a dime—which he does to perfection—you might be disappointed. As Phil, the son of a macho he-man, Buck (Robert Duvall), Ferrell becomes the ad hoc coach of his son’s soccer team, populated with typical movie kid stereotypes. However, once Phil discovers coffee along with two Italian soccer prodigies, his team’s fortunes improve. The production design by Clayton Hartley is fine, except for the fact that suburban Chicago looks an awful lot like Southern California (the mountains are a dead give away, folks). The cinematography by Lloyd Ahern II and Donald E. Thorin keeps the atmosphere sunny as most of the action takes place outdoors. The costumes by Pamela Withers-Chilton are straightforwardly suburban and stay away from being too high fashion or too low rent…just that sweet spot in between. Since Kicking & Screaming is geared to families, it’s not as randy as some of Ferrell’s other films but that’s okay. The supporting cast is stellar, especially Laura Kightlinger as one half of a lesbian duo. However, the entire film is almost stolen by Elliot Cho as Phil’s littlest player who is so cute that W.C. Fields would have hated him with a passion.
To say that a movie is not as bad as you thought it would be is not exactly the hosannas most directors crave, but House of Wax is just that. Actually, as directed by Jaume Collet-Serra the movie is jarring, fast paced, very suspenseful. It adds a high gloss—or wax, if you will—to the teen slasher flicks of my high school days. In a nutshell: Florida kids on the way to a college football game in Baton Rouge take a side trip off the main drag and find themselves in a deserted town…or is it? Then the fun starts as some of them are killed off, some in very gruesome ways (Paris Hilton haters will be sated as she succumbs to a most grisly demise). They happen upon the aforementioned House of Wax and soon discover—as you knew they would—that things aren’t what they seem. DP Stephen F. Windon keeps things sufficiently creepy throughout but the star of the show is its eponymous House of Wax. Turns out the whole thing is made of wax and credit must be given to production designer Graham “Grace” Walker and set decorator Beverly Dunn who created a helter skelter spook house that met a dramatic end at the film’s climax. The costumes by Graham Purcell went from typical twentysomething garb to backwoods hick in the blink of an eye; the only characters we ever see are the kids and the denizens of Ambrose, both real and wax. House of Wax is very much like a thrill ride and I doubt many people will be making a bee line to Madame Tussault’s afterwards! --Mark A. Newman