PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 21-27: Openings Galore in the Final Week of Broadway's 2011-12 Season!

By Robert Simonson
27 Apr 2012

John Lithgow and Margaret Colin
Photo by Joan Marcus

The Columnist, David Auburn's character study about the complexities and contradictions in the life and work of the powerful, and secretly gay, American political journalist Joseph Alsop, opened April 25 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. With John Lithgow in the lead role, it was arguably the most anticipated premiere of the week. It has been 12 years since Auburn's Proof and critics were curious what the writer had been up to.

Overall, reviewers found the Manhattan Theatre Club-produced work admirable, but too safe and workmanlike in its construction and characterization. "As an old-fashioned architect, he can't be faulted here," wrote the Times. "But he doesn't furnish his rooms so that they feel genuinely lived in." Time Out said, "Rather than an incisive portrait that might connect Alsop's sexuality to his ideological stance, we get a well-scripted history lesson that ticks off JFK's election and assassination, the Vietnam quagmire and Alsop's refusal to accept defeat in Southeast Asia." Chimed in Newsday, "Neither [Lithgow] nor helmer Daniel Sullivan can do the impossible: manufacture a play out of the scattered events of Auburn's well-articulated but loosely structured scenes." However, nearly every critic applauded Sullivan and Lithgow's expert, professional work — particularly Lithgow who, most concurred, was made to play mentally tough and witty, yet emotionally vulnerable, characters such as Alsop.

The Roundabout Theatre Company opened a revival of Marc Camoletti's 1960-set sex farce Don't Dress for Dinner — a sort of sequel to Boeing-Boeing, which was a hit in revival on Broadway four years ago — on April 26 at the American Airlines Theatre. The cast included Ben Daniels, Patricia Kalember, David Aron Damane, Adam James, Jennifer Tilly and Spencer Kayden, under John Tillinger's direction.



Did lightening strike twice for Camoletti, whose reputation was nowhere before Boeing became an unexpected smash? Well, no. The critics knew exactly why there were suddenly seeing another Camoletti farce on Broadway. "You see, if it were not for the alchemical magic of Mr. [Mark] Rylance's Tony-winning performance in Mr. Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing, revived to popular acclaim on Broadway and in the West End a couple of years ago, I doubt I would have had to endure the creaking mechanics of Don't Dress for Dinner," wrote the New York Times. "Instead of feeling freshly whipped up from a classic recipe — as Boeing-Boeing did, against all odds — this Roundabout Theatre Company production has the stale flavor of an old TV dinner defrosted and microwaved."

Thus ends the Camoletti Spring.

Spencer Kayden and Ben Daniels
photo by Joan Marcus

"This time, due to an uneven ensemble, uninspired direction and a too-talky script, the farcical magic never materializes," wrote Time Out. "It's tired, warmed-over farce that involves seltzer spraying, imaginary insects, boob jokes, loads of alcohol, people jumping over sofas, and the cast running around in dressing gowns," observed the AP. "John Tillinger, the director, has made the amateurish mistake of encouraging his actors to troll aggressively for laughs instead of letting the situation generate them," said the Wall Street Journal, in a criticism that was mentioned in several reviews. The only thing critics uniformly liked was actress Spencer Kayden, who hasn't been seen on Broadway since Urinetown. "Please let Spencer Kayden get cast as often as possible," said Newsday.

The week mercifully came to an end with the April 26 opening, at the St. James, of Leap of Faith. The musical, based on a Steve Martin movie, is about a con-man preacher who blows into a depressed, drought-plagued Kansas town. The score is by Alan Menken (who seems to have written half of the new musicals that have opened on Broadway this season) and Glenn Slater.

If producers and theatre owners thought they might get to go home for the weekend with some good news tucked in their pocket, they were wrong. "Leap of Faith is this season's black hole of musical comedy, sucking the energy out of anyone who gets near it," wrote the Times. "This ersatz musical [is], like its cinematic source, a compendium of formulaic characters and clichéd situations all too obviously cribbed from better and more original works," stated Back Stage. "What Leap of Faith lacks is are sweat and heat," said the Wall Street Journal. The creators "are, like Mr. Esparza, content to skate glamorously atop the surface of their characters' feelings." Even Esparza, who is usually praised by critics no matter what play he's in, got poor notices, with most maintaining that his sham preacher was just to unappealing to save.

***

Whether the stage work is good or bad, you can't stop the award-giving machines from handing out trinkets.

This week, nominations for both the Outer Critics Circle Awards and the Drama Desk Awards were announced.

Nice Work If You Can Get It received nine OCC nominations, the most of any production of the season. The new musicals Newsies and Once each received seven nominations. Among plays, Death of a Salesman and One Man, Two Guvnors did best.

The Drama Desks — which, like the OCC, honor both Broadway and Off-Broadway — liked the Off-Broadway Maury Yeston musical Death Takes a Holiday and the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, giving them 10 nominations apiece. Nice Work If You Can Get It nabbed eight nominations, while the productions of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Leap of Faith, Queen of the Mist and Richard III all earned six nominations apiece.

This year the nominators chose to bestow a special ensemble award for acting to the cast of Sweet and Sad, including Jon DeVries, Shuler Hensley, Maryann Plunkett, Laila Robins, Jay O. Sanders, and J. Smith-Cameron. A special award will also go to character actress Mary Testa.