Seen on Broadway: Playwright Neil Simon is having a flurry of revivals this season, first with The Odd Couple, and now Barefoot In The Park, which is the perfect entertainment for a snowy March afternoon (I attended a matinee filled with many women who remembered the original version, and found the revival delightful). The cast includes Jill Clayburgh, Tony Roberts (who appeared as the younger man in the 1963 production in the role originated by Robert Redford), Patrick Wilson, and Amanda Peet. A cameo role, the telephone repairman, is played by the somewhat overweight Adam Sietz, who gets a lot of laughs as he figuratively huffs and puffs up the five (six, if you count the stoop) flights of steps to a Greenwich Village walk up we first see in its undecorated state, partially wallpapered, a ladder in the middle, no furniture, and a hole in the skylight.
Fortunately, set designer Derek McLane comes to the rescue and with a quick sleight of hand after the first scene, magically completes the variegated (and very bright) blue striped wallpaper, has all that mid-century furniture dropped into place, and presto, the place is transformed. The blue tweed upholstery on the sofa and easy chair match the wallpaper nicely, with a variety of period lamps on end tables or hanging from the ceiling, giving lighting designer Jason Lyons lots of practicals to play with. He also was confronted with a giant skylight (hole and all) that covers almost the entire stage area, Not only does this have to be lit to indicate the different times of day and night, but also has to light the actors who walk perilously across the roof at various moments, balancing the light above the stage and the light on stage, as it were. A nice comic moment is when Wilson, as the rebuffed young husband, starts to fall asleep on the sofa with his head directly under the hole in the skylight, and softly lit snow begins to fall on him.
The costumes are by fashion designer Issac Mizrahi who seems to have found a treasure trove of 60s garments. The most striking contrast is the difference between the suits and ties for Wilson’s young lawyer (who keeps his ties in a large dictionary so they don’t get wrinkled) and the bearded beatnik look for Roberts, with socks and sandals, corduroys and sweaters. The women appear in slacks with a zipper up the back, short skirts, dresses and shoes with big bows. The sound designer is Ken Travis, with Showman Fabricators serving as production managers. The scenery was provided by Great Lakes Scenic Studios, lighting by Hudson Sound and Light, and audio gear by Sound Associates. The wigs, by Paul Huntley completed the 60s look for Clayburgh and Peet, on blonde and one brunette respectively. Simon’s writing is genuinely funny, and while one might fondly remember Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashely from the original version, or Redford and Jane Fonda in the subsequent film, the play is a fanciful fight into the past and shouldn’t be dismissed too lightly.–Ellen Lampert-Gréaux
My sympathies to Martin Pakledinaz. Right up until the last minutes of the enjoyable Roundabout revival of The Pajama Game, one of its primary visual pleasures is his 50’s duds, an assortment that concludes with a veritable pajama party onstage. Then its star, Harry Connick Jr., pops his top, baring a freshly buffed chest—and an audience that has found its equivalent to Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz goes nuts, as if they had never seen a shirtless performer before. Why even bother with clothes? I can only wonder how much the boxoffice for this, the company’s cornerstone 40th anniversary production, would improve if Connick could be enticed to remove the bottom. There’d be lines around the block at the American Airlines Theatre, I bet.
But I digress. (And you will come out humming the costumes, I promise.) While not much of an actor, and no threat to Fred Astaire where dancing is concerned, Connick has a voice to match his physique. It’s not a “Broadway” sound, but, rather, his silky, Sinatra-style crooning, which puts an appealing new spin on some classic Richard Adler and Jerry Ross tunes, like “Hey There.” With it, his Sid Sorokin, the new manager of a Cedar Rapids pajama factory, is quite literally a babe magnet, exerting an ultimately irresistible pull on union representative Babe Williams (Kelli O’Hara, with a wholly different attitude, and I think a Paul Huntleywig or curls, from The Light in the Piazza) as the company faces a strike—one of the unlikelier plots for a hit musical. Its eccentricity may be why the show scurries away from it so much; its two most noted numbers, “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway,” have little to do with labor relations, and everything to do with giving its cast to strut their stuff, with the multifaceted Connick provided an excuse to lay down some mean piano licks for the latter. Truth is, the embellishment gets a trifle fatiguing over two and a half hours, and even with some revision for today’s sensibilities there’s not much chance of making a supporting character, Hines (Michael McKean), a lovelorn autocrat, less of a stalker in his pursuit of Gladys (Megan Lawrence). All things considered, I prefer the 1957 film, which streamlines the story, retains most of the original Broadway cast and the famous Bob Fosse choreography from 1954 (the revival’s director/choreographer, Kathleen Marshall, hasn’t come up with anything special to replace it with), and adds Doris Day. Still, this is as bright and energetic a production as one could hope for, and there are those dynamite songs to savor.
The design, unsurprisingly, is cheerful; a dark “probing” of the material, this is not. Derek McLane’s factory set, festooned with buttons, is a delight, with pajamas skirting across on an overhead assembly line; there are also more prosaic sets that roll on and off, like Babe’s kitchen and a picnic backdrop, not to mention the hot and heavy hideaway. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting is appropriately slick, even, and high-wattage for the most part, with “Steam Heat,” the Act II opener, done in a different, Fosse-like style, in inky, sexy semi-darkness. The sound design, by Brian Ronan, is robust and muscular—maybe not as much as its star’s chest, but it gets the job done. [The scenery fabrication, painting, and automation are from Hudson Scenic, the lights from PRG, and the audio from Sound Associates; various properties were fabricated by Birch Street Design, Cigar Box Studios, and Factory at 54.] The Sleep-Tite factory is under new ownership on Broadway, but its half-century’s tradition of quality has been respected and maintained.--Robert Cashill
Bridge & Tunnel is billed as a one-person show, but it seems like there are a dozen people up there onstage at the Helen Hayes, so completely does writer-performer Sarah Jones bring a cross-section of multiethnic New Yorkers to life. A downtown hit two years ago, the show has moved uptown for a run extended into July, but from what I saw hasn’t lost an ounce of its street smarts in the transition. Jones, an African-American, moves swiftly and smartly among her characterizations, which range from an elderly Jewish matron to a young Vietnamese slam poet to a wheelchair-bound Hispanic union organizer. All these ingredients in the city’s melting pot post-9/11 are gathered for poetry night at the Bridge & Tunnel, a shabby-funky venue somewhere in the outer boroughs that is hosting the fifth annual I.A.M.A.P.O.E.T.T.O.O. reading, and Jones comes up with a freshly observed personality with each turn of the mike. Emceeing the evening is the unfortunately named “Mohammed Ali,” a Pakistani accountant who periodically retreats up the set’s spiral staircase to a cluttered office (pictured) where he attempts to sort out his own immigration problems, a reminder that for as richly funny as much of the show is the pot doesn’t always boil too well for New York’s newest arrivals.
Beginning with the funniest no-cellphones PSA I’ve ever seen (and there are some clever ones, depending on the show), Bridge & Tunnel is almost constantly amusing for its whip-smart 90 minutes, with some laugh-out-loud moments, as when Mrs. Ling from Flushing laments her daughter’s sexual orientation (“she told me she was in love with a nice Chinese girl, the words I’d always wanted to hear, but from my son”) or a disruption from rapper Rasheed, clad in electric orange, who checks himself for “proper mike stance.” The more heart-tuggingly poignant episodes are a little less successful, but they go down easy, too, so sure is Jones’ command of her accents, posture, and costuming (in a nice touch, some of her coats and hats drop down from winches). She’s at her best when one of her characters, Rose Aimee Sylvince, recites a poem called “God Bless America…But Not Because of You,” a rousing comic tribute to the contribution all immigrants have made for their adopted country—with one niggling, purely personal exception. A righteous anger has its place at her table, too.
Her cast of characters, directed by Tony Taccone, has been given an apt environment in which to express themselves. The mood is established right as you take your seat, by hip-hop music provided by DJ Rekha and Asa Taccone, thumpingly (but not irritatingly) conveyed by sound designer Christopher Cronin. David Korins’ two-tiered set, just this side of falling into decrepitude, manages to hang on, with bright coats of pink, blue, and purple paint giving it a splashy hip-hop look despite its basic disrepair. The lighting, by Howell Binkley, accents the colors when not slipping discreetly into darkness, giving cover for another one of Jones’ transformations. [Center Line Studios provided the scenery, PRG the lighting, and One Dream Sound the audio.] There is no credited costume designer, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Jones herself rummages through neighborhood thrift shops, looking for just the right jacket or accessory to bring her delightful ensemble to life. --Robert Cashill
Seen in Manhattan: Dance Theatre Workshop, or DTW as it is known, is a bastion of New York’s downtown dance community (in fact the venue is celebrating its 40th season, albeit in a new theatre built where the old one once stood). A recent performance was by Reggie Wilson / Fist & Heel Performance Group, in a piece oddly named, The Tale: Npinpee Nckutchie and the Tail of the Golden Duck (there is not a duck in sight). But the rather intimate evening features a company of eight dancers and singers who perform to a score that draws on the black American folk tradition of stepping, as well as contemporary popular music, 1930's jazz, and traditional songs from Senegal and the African diaspora, including Trinidad.
The lighting and set designer was Jonathan Belcher who lined the entire perimeter of the stage with strips of silver mylar that reflected the light at moments, and was brightly lit by vertical strips of bulbs placed between the sections of curtain. The overall effect is to create an environment that is at times showy, and at times homey, for the dancers, all clad in black with costumes designed by Naoko Nagato. Wilson and his dancers often break into two groups of four, and the lighting favors one group over the other, helping the audience focus on the action which ranges from social dancing to hand clapping and foot stomping. The dancers were clearly enjoying themselves, and the only thing the audience wanted was more, as the piece lasted not more than about 50 minutes. Maybe Wilson should have pumped up the volume and invited the audience to come up and dance, or perhaps he just wanted to make sure we’ll come back to see what he’s up to the next time.–ELG