The NYTimes reviews the singular diva at Joe’s Pub: “As “The Bukowski Project” opens, Mr. Gierig is typing on a manual typewriter at the piano on which Ms. Lemper, in shadow, sprawls on her back, her legs extended to the ceiling. Soon his ambient keyboard music evokes a ’40s film-noir mood that is carried in many directions. Once Ms. Lemper begins singing, her mocking, haughty, Marlene Dietrich-like persona takes over. With her supple voice, she can caress you one minute, then shock you a moment later with horror-movie yowls.”
The great Andrea Marcovicci (with Shelly Markham and Jared Egan) sings a Johnny Mercer hit not actually written by Johnny Mercer.
I first saw the new production of Oklahoma! that’s inaugurating the newly-refurbished Arena Stage thanks to a friend involved with the production who got me tickets to the invited dress rehearsal. Given that the curtain call hadn’t even been staged at that point, I felt it wisest to suspend any public comment about the venture.
My overarching impression of the show was that it was a venture of a director who didn’t like musicals and was theatrically wary of spectacle. In addition, there seemed so much effort in trying to re-think Oklahoma — starting with a dumb-show sequence instead of Aunt Eller on the porch churning butter, beefing and hottening- up the role of Judd, cutting verses and reprises, changing Laurie from a soprano ingénue with spunk to a charmless, hostile belter, aggressively non-traditional casting, limiting the dance in the performance to the dance breaks in songs rather than have it imbue the program – that I wondered in part why even do the show.
Other things also annoyed me like the set pieces that seem to block audience views of the action, a lifeless, under-staged, under-harmonized title number, and an unfinished-looking set. But there were bright spots, particularly E. Faye Butler as Aunt Eller and June Schreiner as Ado Annie.
I was also fortunate to see opening night two weeks later as the guest of another friend involved with the show.
As the world knows, the leading lady had been replaced by this point by Elisha Gamble singing the role gorgeously and exuding masses of charm every moment she is onstage.
But during the show it struck me that Molly Smith really seemed to want to direct the play Green Grow the Lilacs and not the musical Oklahoma! Every time a musical number came along, I really felt that it was interrupting Smith’s attempt at storytelling – ironic for the show that most famously integrated musical numbers into the dramatic action, and was famous for billing itself as a “musical play” rather than a “musical comedy.” I also questioned a musical where the fight choreography seemed to be more compelling and featured more prominently than the dance choreography.
But I have to confess that mine seems to an idiosyncratically cranky take on this venture. Ron who went to opening night with me was practically turning cartwheels coming out of the theater. The show has become the highest-grossing venture in Arena history and has even extended. Evidently the Rodgers & Hammerstein people love the show. And I haven’t talked to anyone who has seen it who doesn’t love it.
A general rule for cabaret performers filtering feedback is that 30 audience members will have 30 different reactions to anything and that one person’s favorite number will be someone else’s most annoying moment in your show. But if you get the same reaction from 29 out of 30 people it would be wise to listen to it. I’m feeling that about what seems to be a general consensus on Oklahoma! Okay.
The Times reviews the new show from the uber-diva: “Because her shows are ceremonial rites in which she channels the shades of show business past, Ms. Marcovicci might be described as the high priestess of the American songbook. The songs seem to pass through her body as she delivers them in an eccentric theatrical style that includes parlando passages.”
Since the nice people at Signature Theater have put me in a Sunset Blvd place I had to post the clip above. It’s Patti LuPone singing the big song from Sunset Blvd when she was doing the first workshop of the show at Lord Lloyd Webber’s private theater on his estate at Sydmonton. Meryl Streep is in the audience checking out the show. Watch Patti fight for her theatrical life in a ridiculously high key. And also appreciate the irony of watching the first public performance of “As If We Never Said Goodbye” in the context of the show by the first performer who was famously fired from the production.
I have to admit that Sunset Blvd is probably one of my favorite musicals (along with Follies and Merrily We Roll Along). Here’s a fun-sounding event that Signature has in conjunction with its upcoming production:
Signature Theatre to Conduct “With One Look” Silent Film Competition
Contest to Accompany the Washington premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award®-winning musical, Sunset Boulevard at Signature Theatre
Arlington, VA – November 19, 2010 – In celebration of the Washington premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical sensation Sunset Boulevard about faded silent film legend Norma Desmond, Signature Theatre is holding the “With One Look” silent film competition open to anyone and everyone who loves the golden age of Hollywood. Prizes will be awarded to five finalists (announced on December 22nd) with a grand prize winner chosen by the fans who vote on the Signature website, Facebook, Twitter and at the Theatre.
Movie-lovers are encouraged to sit in the director’s chair and step into Cecil B. DeMille’s shoes, creating their very own, original silent films for consideration. Films can be in color or in black-and-white and are not to exceed 5 minutes in length. Musical accompaniment is permissible as are subtitles and silent film placards. The submission deadline for all filmmakers is December 17th. Submitting your film is as easy as lights, camera, action. Contestants simply upload their homemade masterpieces on YouTube, then send us their link at email@example.com – then let the voting begin.
The five finalists’ films will be screened in the Signature Theatre lobby during the run of the show. The finalists will also receive tickets to Sunset Boulevard’s “Perfect Year” New Year’s Eve performance and party, with the director extraordinaire garnering a Signature Theatre subscription for two (for the remainder of the 2010-11 season), a signed Sunset Boulevard poster, and a dedicated article on Signature’s March e-newsletter. Fame and fortune soon to follow.
Based on the classic Billy Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard continues Signature Theatre’s successful 21st season and plays from December 7th through February 13th. The production is directed by Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and stars Florence Lacey (star of Signature’s Follies and Broadway’s Evita).
For more information on the “With One Look” Film Competition please check out http://www.signature-theatre.org/with-one-look.htm or contact Peter Eramo, Jr. (571-527-1833).
Here’s one of my favorite writers singing one of my favorite songs…