PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 17-23: La Cage, American Idiot, Sondheim

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23 Apr 2010

<I>American Idiot</I> star Tony Vincent
American Idiot star Tony Vincent
Paul Kolnik

At this late stage in the Broadway season, with Tony nominations and box office takes at stake, producers don't like surprises. But that's what they got this week as the new revival of Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles, which opened April 18, unexpectedly reaped the best musical reviews of the spring, and American Idiot, the highly anticipated stage version of rock group Green Day's iconic concept album, received a more mixed bag of clippings.

The critical corps could not have been more bored shuffling into the Longacre Theatre last weekend to see yet another production of Herman's valedictory hit from 1983, about the comical travails of a middle-aged gay couple who run a French nightclub. Didn't they just see this show on Broadway, like, five years ago? But against their will, they fell in love with director Terry Johnson's scaled-down, intentionally shabby vision of Herman's farcical love story, with its gently radical social message. (One of the most amusing sights in all of theatre is a critic walking out of a performance pleasantly stunned at his unexpected satisfaction.) The Menier Chocolate Factory production, a transfer from London, was found to be wonderfully human-scale and heartwarming by the reviewers, and truer to the play's milieu (a transvestite club on the French Riviera) than was the opulent original production. And all lauded Douglas Hodge's fierce and funny performance as cross-dresser Albin. The money star, Kelsey Grammer, won less fervent praise, but praise nonetheless, and people applauded the chemistry between the two actors.

American Idiot opened two days later. No show this season has greater name recognition, or was more eagerly assumed to be a made-to-order smash. The show had, after all, gotten great reviews when it debuted last year in Berkeley, CA. And, well, you know, it's Green Day. But the New York reviewers were divided. The New York Times notice was an out-and-out rave, calling the propulsive, kinetic show a triumph. That was surely a relief to the producers. After that, it got murky. Reviewers liked the music and the performers, Michael Mayer's electric staging, and didn't deny the jolt of life the rock musical brought to The Street. But they carped about the skeletal and simplistic storyline, the cardboard characters, the short length, and the unrelenting bray of the show. Those who really didn't like it said it was an arena concert posing as a musical. (This literally became the case when Green Day itself gave an impromptu concert at the end of the April 22 show.) But every critic did their best to find something good to say; good will was rampant in the reviews.

The third Broadway opening of the week was Sondheim on Sondheim, the new revue of music and lyrics by, well.....anyway, the hook for this show was that Stephen Sondheim himself was a star, talking openly (albeit, on film) about his life, upbringing and the inspiration behind his various songs. The critics found a lot to like, as they almost always do with a Sondheim show these days. The piece is a bit jerrybilt and scattershot, and more than a little self-involved ("celebratory overkill" deemed one), they said, but it has wonderful moments sung by the likes of Barbara Cook (heralded by all, natch) and Vanessa Williams, and all that great material. And it's kinda cool to be the room (well, sort of, anyway) with The Man himself, you know.

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In a Next to Normal-type move (which began Off-Broadway and then did some retooling out of town before coming back to Broadway), Broadway producers Barry and Fran Weissler are taking the Off-Broadway hit The Scottsboro Boys, the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical, to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis July 31 for an eight-week run. The Weisslers have expressed interest in transferring the production to Broadway in the coming season.

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Is anyone still attached to Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark besides Julie Taymor and U2?

This week it was announced that Alan Cumming will not play the menacing Green Goblin in the delayed Broadway-bound show. Actor Reeve Carney is the only performer now confirmed for the production. Casting and a production schedule for Spider-Man will be announced soon. They say.