NEW YORK THEATRE REPORT (Fall 2003)

BOY FROM OZ Broadway
(From the CITY PAPER ARCHIVE — more Broadway reviews.)

It’s a busy season, so let’s cut straight to the chase..

AVENUE Q.  Likely to be the most delightful, original of the season, this is Sesame Street with a difference: the residents are young-adults with young-adult issues, including dating, unemployment, racism, closeted homosexuality, and “Schadenfreude.”  The last is treated to a superb parody “word-of-the-day” song, one of many numbers that employ crudely hilarious imagery (“Grab your dick and double-click”) that is simultaneously childlike and ballsy.  Leading man John Tartaglia (an authentic SESAME STREET alumnus!) is cute as a button, and the others equally hug-able.  Be aware that because the show is so referential, its appeal may depend on demographics.  The ideal audience member is a twenty-something gay Ivy League graduate and theatre fan.  Luckily, I attended with one such, and he was in seventh heaven.  Open run, John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., 212-239-6200

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.  This first Broadway production of the 20-year-old favorite is energetic and enjoyable – and the show wears its years lightly – but ultimately it’s a bit of a letdown.  The best parts are the leading man and the foliage.  Hunter Foster is a dorkily adorable Seymour, and Audrey II has a sensational curtain-call coup de theatre. The rest of the cast is fine but somehow unmemorable; Jerry Zaks’ staging looks snazzy, but unfortunately strips away both the show’s charming naiveté and its schlock B-movie roots.  Ultimately, this may simply be a case of right-show, wrong-place: uptown plushness doesn’t suit this edgy downtown icon.  Open run, Virginia Theatre, 245 W. 52nd St., 212-239-6200

THE BOY FROM OZ.  Forget Antonio and Melanie (Maltonio?).  Broadway’s new beautiful couple is Hugh Jackman and Jarrod Emick.  The two portray, respectively, ‘80s Aussie singer/songwriter phenom Peter Allen and his feisty boyfriend, Greg, and they’re magically delicious.  Jackman is a veritable charisma machine: whether dancing or singing (in a confident if not always limpid tenor) or schmoozing, shirtless, with the audience, he dispenses an unending stream of stardust and pheromones.  Good thing, too, since the show is dismal, a kind of A&E BIOGRAPHY-with-music that limns Allen’s career and personal conquests (including Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland) in the style of a Disneyland animatronic ride.  Allen’s often-good music is ill-suited to most of the scenes it supports, and several big numbers – including one with Judy offering a post-mortem concert – are of such surpassing awfulness they’d be at home at the Oscars.  Open run, Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St., 212- 239-6200

WILDER.   In this 80-minute, five-performer chamber piece by playwright Erin Cressida Wilson and musicians Jack Herrick (of The Red Clay Ramblers) and Mike Craver, an old man looks back at his Depression-era youth, spent in a Colorado whorehouse. It was a time of dire poverty and loneliness, yet also of unfettered imagination, and Wilder attempts to create theatrically what Walker Evans did in his bleak-yet-noble photographs. It’s a good idea, some of the songs are hauntingly lovely and John Cullum as the man gives a consummate, deeply moving performance.  But despite this, the piece doesn’t quite hang together, and is compromised by flights of pretentiousness. Through Nov. 14, Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., 212-279-4200.Through November 14th, Playwrights Horizons, 214 W. 42nd St, 212-279-4200)


Categories: New York, Theater

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