Thinking About Theater and Ode to Joy

For a change of pace, today I'm offering you a series of random theater-related thoughts. None of which could take up a post on its own, but together they seem worthy.

Although it got a couple of great reviews, Fly By Night didn't do as well with critics as I had hoped it would. While I too thought it should be shorter (my feeling was it should be a one-act with the first half of what is now the second act excised), I still was completely charmed by it. I took my friend and her husband and they both liked it as well. I urge the people reading this that like intimate musicals to head over to Playwrights Horizons before the show closes at the end of the month.

Everyone knows Shakespeare in the Park is pretty much my favorite annual event. Much Ado About Nothing got raves. For me, going in, I was nervous about Hamish Linklater as Benedick. He is in fact giving the best performance I've ever seen him give at the Delacorte. Lily Rabe of course is great, as is the rest of the supporting cast. (It was not surprising to me that Jack O'Brien chose to have Brian Stokes Mitchell sing.) I was particularly struck by the effectiveness of Jack Cutmore-Scott as Claudio. Claudio is a completely thankless role. He's an ass; he betrays poor Hero. You don't really feel great that he is getting the girl in the end -- you think he should suffer. A successful Claudio must be naïve enough that you don't completely hate him and yet believable as a soldier. Cutmore-Scott got there.

I was very interested to see what the reviews for Holler If Ya Hear Me would be like last night. The show, which has been struggling at the box office, needed raves. I didn't think it would get them, but I've often been completely off on predicting such things. This time I did not miss the mark -- the show did not do well with most critics (though it had its supporters). There will be some who believe this is because the Broadway critics, many of whom are white men over 40, did not relate to the show. For me, I don't think it's about that. I went into Holler If Ya Hear Me wanting to support it. I was excited to see something fresh; I ended up loving those guys my last column was about, Joshua Boone and Dyllon Burnside. A big problem for me was the stale choreography. If you're going to bring a unique sound to Broadway, why not go with unique steps? There are so many great, innovative hip-hop choreographers. Instead they hired Wayne Cilento, a 64-year-old Broadway veteran, whose work is not horrible, but just completely lacks innovation. Cilento has done a lot of good things in his career; I take nothing away from him. He should not however have been hired to choreograph this musical.

I love how Fool for Love at Williamstown went from starring Lauren Ambrose and Chris Pine to starring Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell because of so-called "scheduling conflicts" for both the original actors. The show was expected to transfer to Broadway in the fall. Am I the only one who is a little less excited about that possibility now? I still wish it the best, but I am disappointed.

I am however excited about a possible transfer of the West End revival of David Hare's Skylight with Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy. Will it into being with me, please.

Currently the fall offering I am most looking forward to is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The National Theatre mounting is likely coming to a movie theater near you in the next couple of months. And the extended Broadway promo, featuring scenes from that mounting, can be seen here.

To end on a sad note, I've been thinking a lot about illness and death in the last few weeks. Not only because of some of the shows mentioned in this very column, but because I think I somehow end up going to more wakes and funerals than most people my age. Medical advances have come so far in many fields -- I got my last cap made at the Jurim Dental Group in Long Island and they made it while I read a Playbill. There was no temporary needed; coolest thing ever. And we all know that no matter what type of erectile dysfunction you have -- in 2014, the pharmaceutical companies have you covered, or so my TV tells me. But so many people are still getting sick with seemingly incurable diseases. One of my favorite theater actresses (who is turning to directing soon with ValueVille at NYMF), Donna Lynne Champlin, has a sister-in-law with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease). That is one of those things that, in most cases, has no known cause or cure. So what do you do? Well, Donna Lynne has gotten almost everyone she knows--and she knows a lot of people--to donate tons of Broadway memorabilia and services in hopes of raising enough money for her sister-in-law to buy a Tobii product, which basically allows you to generate speech through eye movements. Seriously. This very well might be cooler than the porcelain dental cap machine. Anyway, there are some great items in this auction, signed head shots, one-on-one lunches and cast memorabilia that I've even never seen before. Stuff from Harold Prince, Carol Burnett (you may remember Champlin played her in Hollywood Arms), Emily Skinner, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and many more.

Watch this video about the auction if you want and please check out the site and bid until 9pm tonight:

Also, as long as we're on sad things, I want to send my respects to the families of both Seth Popper, from the Broadway League, and casting director Barry Moss. Both men I worked periodically with throughout the years and both were great. There are so many in the theater that work behind-the-scenes. Their deaths are often meaningful to members of the community, but their losses don't make headline news. These two men contributed a great amount to the industry.

And for those of my readers in the community, veteran press agent Don Summa (Rent, Hairspray, many others) lost his mother a couple of weeks ago. He spoke at the funeral about how his mother helped support his love of the theater - as I have previously written, we need more parents like that. (There is a scholarship fund in her name, if you knew him and would like to give: Sylvia J. Summa Scholarship Fund Order Sons of Italy in America/ New York Grand Lodge Office/2101 Bellmore Avenue/Bellmore, NY 11710.)