Sunday, April 10, 2011

Musicals, Old and New


Sutton Foster in Anything Goes (photo by Joan Marcus)
Anything Goes
Lyrics and music by Cole Porter
Choreographed and directed by Kathleen Marshall
Starring Sutton Foster, Joel Grey, John McMartin, Jessica Walter, Colin Donnell, Laura Osnes
Performances began March 10, 2011
Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 123 West 43rd Street

Catch Me If You Can
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman; music by Marc Shaiman
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Starring Norbert Leo Butz, Aaron Tveit, Tom Wopat, Kerry Butler, Rachel De Benedet
Performances began March 11, 2011
Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street

Lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Lonny Price
The New York Philharmonic conducted by Paul Gemignani
Starring Craig Bierko, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Katie Finneran, Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Hendricks, Aaron Lazar, Patti Lupone, Jill Paice, Martha Plimpton, Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Jim Walton, Chryssie Whitehead
Performances April 7-9, 2011
Avery Fisher Hall, West 65th Street and Broadway

Spring means that musicals are blooming on Broadway and even at Lincoln Center, thanks to the New York Philharmonic’s starry Company. While it’s unfair to compare the elegance of Sondheim’s Company songs or the timeless Cole Porter tunes of the Anything Goes revival to the Catch Me If You Can pastiches concocted by Marc Shaiman, the genuine talent onstage and behind the scenes makes Catch as winning as the indisputable Sondheim and Porter classics.

As Reno Sweeney, the irrepressible man-eater of Anything Goes, Sutton Foster gives the kind of electrifying performance that fans of this hugely talented singer-actress knew she had up her sleeve as they watch her effortlessly dominate Kathleen Marshall’s irresistible revival.

Set on a cruise ship populated by gangsters, preachers, rich widows and widowers, young lovers and Reno, the brassy entertainer, Anything Goes is saddled with lame plotting, silly dialogue and banal characterizations that were surely old-hat in 1934, but that’s not really the point. Whenever a glorious Cole Porter song begins, we’re in heaven. From “I Get a Kick Out of You” to “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” the Porter jukebox blasts one classic after another, putting other so-called “jukebox musicals” to shame.

Nimbly staged and sparklingly choreographed by Marshall on Derek McLane’s spiffy shipboard set, with Martin Pakledinaz’s snazzy costumes and Peter Kaczorowski’s magisterial lighting along for the ride, this revival effervescently kicks up its heels. The de-lovely cast features zany Joel Grey as crook Moonface Martin, sly John McMartin as eternally tipsy millionaire Eli Whitney, suave Colin Donnell as stowaway Billy Crocker and incandescent Laura Osnes as lovestruck ingénue Hope Harcourt.

But this is Sutton’s show all the way: her infectious personality, angelic good looks, lithe athleticism, powerhouse voice and dance moves add up to Broadway’s best musical performer.


Aaron Tveit in Catch Me If You Can (photo by Joan Marcus)

The bubbly Catch Me If You Can isn’t musically memorable, although Marc Shaiman’s score is serviceable. Instead, it’s the pizzazz of Jack O’Brien’s staging that gives this adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film about Frank Abagnale, Jr., world-class con artist who tormented FBI agent Carl Hanratty for years before his capture, a shiny veneer.

The musical shrewdly has Frank present his story as a TV variety show, complete with dancing girls, production numbers and “guest stars” like his parents, agent Hanratty and women he seduces. With vets like director O’Brien, book writer Terrence McNally, lyricist Scott Whitman, choreographer Jerry Mitchell and composer Shaiman aboard, this diverting show also stars a game cast which turns Shaiman’s ersatz light jazz, fake blues and ‘60s doo-wop tunes into real showstoppers, led by Kerry Butler singing the “American Idol”-ish fantasy “Fly, Fly Away.”

Aaron Tveit (Frank Abagnale) and Norbert Leo Butz (Carl Hanratty) work their tveit butz off: Tveit is a charming and likable guide to the proceedings, while the incomparable Butz balances absurd comic touches with song-and-dance skill, and whose rousing first-act number, “Don’t Break the Rules,” stops the show so thoroughly that there’s almost no sense continuing.


The cast of Company (photo by Chris Lee)

Sondheim musicals are no strangers to neither New York Philharmonic musicians nor conductor Paul Gemignani, who tackle Company with a lushness rarely (if ever) heard on Broadway.

This staged concert version of Company, slickly directed by Lonny Price (who cleverly moves his cast around the stage to simulate a much larger playing area), stars established musical performers and assorted television actors, led by Neil Patrick Harris as eternal bachelor Bobby, whose comic timing serves him well, even if he can’t quite handle the big emotions needed for the finale “Being Alive,” which Raúl Esparza easily pulled off in the 2006 Broadway revival.

Martha Plimpton and Stephen Colbert have the best (and most amusing) chemistry among the five couples badgering their friend Bobby to settle down, while Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks shows off a fantastic figure and nice talent for light comedy as April, a stewardess who beds (but not weds) Bobby. Among the many Broadway vets, Anika Noni Rose splendidly nails “Another Hundred People,” Katie Finneran overdoes the murderous patter song “Not Getting Married Today,” and Patti Lupone takes flight with the classic “The Ladies Who Lunch,” punctuating her venomous rendition by flinging her drink into the first few rows. It’s enough to make one forget all about Elaine Stritch. Well, almost.

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