Monthly Archives: April 2010

Theatre Reviews: Sondheim on Sondheim

Contributed by New York Theatre Reviewer Carlos Stafford – The Model Critic
It was an immediate standing “O” for Sondheim on Sondheim  at Roundabouts’ Studio 54 production in New York City.  Still in previews, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat and the doyenne of song, Barbara Cook, head up a joyous biographic tribute to Stephen Joshua Sondheim.
Winner of a Pulitzer Prize and numerous Tony’s, this prolific lyricist has enjoyed a storied career spanning five decades .  Starting with his childhood neighbor and mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, he has collaborated with many luminaries from the Broadway Stage; Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Rodgers, to name a few.
His overriding themes and ideas are adult and poetic, and his idiosyncratic music and lyrics often convey neurotic people on an emotional precipice. Some of his major successes for music and lyrics include “Company,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Assassins,” “Passion,” “A Little Night Music,” and the great “Sunday in the Park with George;” and lyrics for “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” “Do I Hear a Waltz,” and “Candide.”
Video projections of Sondheim commenting on his childhood, his early years as a struggling artist, and the creative process for each of his works, were artfully delivered.  They showed Sondheim as warm, relaxed and humorous–in his home, at his piano, lounging on a couch, his poodle nearby, an a his desk.  All is very intimate and friendly. He recounts his close relationship with Oscar Hammerstein, and how he adored him.  He said he would have done anything Oscar would have done–if Oscar would have been a geologist, he relates, he too would’ve been a geologist.  All this comes at a tumultuous time in the young boy’s life, his parents having been recently divorced.  Oscar became a friend and mentor, and was a pivotal figure in his early development.
Another intimate revelation is the fact that he wrote about love relationships and marriage, but had never been in love, or in a relationship, until he was sixty years old.  When he wrote “Company,” a stark look at urban marriage, he had no idea what to write; so he interviewed a friend who had been married, pencil and yellow pad in hand, and he received his information.  That, he said, was the unlikely genesis of the musical.  Always charming and articulate, he walks us through similar moments of his life in a graceful and easy manner.
Underscoring his own words, comes the musical arrangements of his most successful works.  The cast is terrific, the songs are delivered with energy and passion, and there are many moving, electric moments.  The lyrics have sweep and majesty as in “Sunday;” great depth in “Being Alive;” and profound melancholia with a song covered by Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Collins,and Barbara Streisand, and countless others, “Send in the Clowns.”  My personal favorite, was a small, but charming song, “Anyone Can Whistle.”
It was bliss, I think you’ll agree.
The Story
It’s a completely different kind of Sondheim evening: an intimate portrait of the famed composer in his own words…and music. An ensemble cast, led by Tony Award winner Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams and Tom Wopat, will perform brand-new arrangements of over two dozen Sondheim tunes, ranging from the beloved to the obscure.

March 19 – June 13, 2010

Studio 54, 254 W 54th St
(Between B’way & 8th Avenues)
Ticket Services: 212.719.1300


Broadway’s “The Glass Menagerie” Reviewed

Reviewed by:  Carlos Stafford *March 28, 2010

The Glass MenagerieThe Glass Menagerie,” the 1944 play by Tennessee Williams, recently opened at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City.

The legendary play deals with Amanda Wingfield, and her two grown children; Tom, young, drifting, drinking his life away, working at a dead-end job at a shoe factory making $60 a month; and Laura, his crippled, introverted, pathetic, stay-at-home sister.  Amanda’s husband has long since vanished, having once worked for the telephone company, and “fell in love with long distance.”

This new production strips away some of the familiar beauty and rhythm of other “Glass Menagerie’s” I’ve seen.  It reduces the sweep and color often associated with the play to a bare bones clash between a hectoring, neurotic mother, played brilliantly by Judith Ivey, and her long-suffering, effeminate son, and sad sister.

Amanda, like another Williams character, Blanche Dubois, is filled with affectation, and visions of grandeur from her glorious past.  She was a sought after debutante, admired, and pursed by numerous “gentlemen callers.”  In relating her past, she tries to raise Laura’s expectations to grasp the world, to prepare herself for her own “gentlemen callers.”  She finally desperately convinces Tom to bring home a fellow worker from the factory to meet Laura.At times the production goes for laughs in a contemporary, sitcomish manner, which is inappropriate for the time and place.  Think Ray Romano!  Lot’s of “tude.” I say, let the words flow, become real, no pastiche necessary.

The problem with this production is the staging.  As a memory play, the action opens with Tom in a shabby hotel room, years later, banging on his typewriter, trying to exorcise his past.  Behind a scrim, the past becomes present, and Tom melds into the action.  But the set remains the same–the same hotel room with one bed, one table, with minimal, nondescript furnishings.  A huge portrait of the absent father hangs on the bare wall.  We are made to imagine the Wingfield home, but all is stark and depressing.  No grandeur here.  No hints or whispers of Amanda’s past–just bald, bland, poor.

The central metaphor, the menagerie, is placed unceremoniously on the edge of a desk, next to a typewriter, and has as much importance as a box of staples.  No magic here, no gravity, no one even cares about the menagerie–a useless prop.

The well-acted gentleman caller arrives.  He is sturdy, kind, forthright, and good-looking.  A one-dimensional character but appropriate. Laura remembers him from high school, and alone now, they have a tender, open meeting that quickens Laura’s fragile heart.  He implores her to believe in herself,  tells her that she is pretty, and even makes her repeat it out loud.  You see her blossom.  But then, at the end of the meeting, he announces that he is engaged to be married.  Laura is silently crushed, as he takes his leave.  Amanda then storms at Tom for bringing home a fellow who was already engaged to be married. All is lost, the tragedy of the family is complete, dreams shattered.  Tom makes his escape “on the light fantastic.”

Some years ago the Roundabout presented the same play with the great Julie Harris as Amanda, John Malkovich as Tom and Calista Flockhart who made her brilliant Broadway debut as Laura.  I felt this production was truer to the heart of Williams’ play.  Directors feel the need to tinker and fiddle with already good plays, to make them more modern and accessible to audiences, and to reflect their own view of the world, I suppose. But its only gilding the Lilly. What we need are new plays reflecting our own times.  Let good ones stand as they are.