Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Addams Family the counter article

A scene from “The Addams Family,” featuring Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane, which opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater

Published: April 13, 2010

The new Broadway musical “The Addams Family” opened Thursday to the sort of scathing reviews that would bury most shows in the graveyard next to the Addamses’ forbidding mansion.

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Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

A scene from “The Addams Family,” featuring Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane, which opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.

Published: April 13, 2010

The new Broadway musical “The Addams Family” opened Thursday to the sort of scathing reviews that would bury most shows in the graveyard next to the Addamses’ forbidding mansion.


Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Kevin Chamberlin as Uncle Fester and Jackie Hoffman as Grandma performing onstage in “The Addams Family.”



The result: The show sold $851,000 in tickets last weekend on top of a $15 million sales advance, huge figures for a new Broadway run, and all but guaranteeing that it will be hard to snag a pair of good orchestra seats until fall. After five months of well-publicized creative difficulties for the show, this seeming paradox amounts to a theater world version of the golden fleece: the critic-proof smash.

Hollywood, pop music studios and book publishers long ago mastered the art of assembling commercially successful products that critics hate. Theater is different: Only a fraction of shows turn a profit to begin with (about 30 percent on Broadway each year), and expensive tickets, fixed performance schedules and a finite potential audience for most live theater increase the importance of reviews.

Yet “The Addams Family” seems to have cracked a formula that to various degrees made long-running hits of “Jekyll & Hyde,” “Beauty and the Beast,” ”Mamma Mia!” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” after being dismissed by many critics. Such shows have tended to attract audiences already fond of their songs or characters.

That formula for “The Addams Family” includes a beloved brand-name title, a famous star, an inoffensive script, echoes of nostalgia and some savvy commercial judgments. The producers chose a theater with an unusually large number of orchestra seats, many of which they can sell at premium prices that top out at $300 apiece. And, in an unusual move for Broadway, they recruited five regional theaters as producing partners, spreading the financial risk while also having access to their subscribers and to those theaters for a national tour.

While the creators promised to base the musical on Charles Addams’s mordantly sophisticated cartoons in The New Yorker, they ended up adding the theme song of the “Addams Family” television show for the audience to snap-snap along with before the curtain even goes up. In hopes of improving the show between a Chicago tryout and its Broadway run, they also added broad, sometimes goofy touches like a toupee-wearing Uncle Fester and a Grandma dressed like a Red Cross nurse — images that make some people laugh, but belie the darker spirit of the Addams cartoons for others.

The producers also built a marketing campaign that would cover all the bases, using images that would remind people of the cartoons, the television show, and the “Addams Family” movies. And the casting of Nathan Lane to play the paterfamilias Gomez, through at least next March, has been especially important to the musical’s fortunes, according to several theater producers not affiliated with the show, given that he is a popular actor with both theater- and film-goers.

“If Nathan Lane is in anything you already have my money in the till, and I imagine that there are thousands of others who feel the same,” said Michael Ritchie, artistic director of the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles, which is not associated with “The Addams Family.”

Whether the musical — which cost $16.5 million to mount on Broadway — can flourish without a well-known star like Mr. Lane is among the factors that will determine whether the show endures as critic-proof. Based on 26 major reviews for “The Addams Family,” including one in The New York Times, the theater Web site Stagegrade.com gave the show a median grade of D+. For now, however, the musical has grossed $6.5 million in five weeks — more than current hit musicals like “A Little Night Music,” “Billy Elliot,” “West Side Story” and “Wicked” did in their early weeks — and the producers are already planning a multicity national tour.

“We sought to create a musical that was not only very funny, but also surprised the audience by proving to be touching as well,” Roy Furman, one of the lead producers of the show, said in an interview by e-mail. “We are delighted that audiences have responded so strongly, as evidenced by nightly ovations, and word of mouth, which has sparked advance sales.”

Four years in the making, “The Addams Family” had a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago last winter, drawing huge crowds but mixed reviews from critics there. Those reviews prompted Mr. Furman and the other lead producer, Stuart Oken, to hire the veteran Broadway director Jerry Zaks to take over the show from its two directors, the Broadway newcomers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, and ostensibly fix “The Addams Family” before opening in New York.

Mr. Zaks, in fact, did not make many changes in the show, based on two viewings in Chicago and two in New York. The characterizations and pacing remained mostly the same. Most structural changes, meanwhile, came in the first act and were designed to introduce “the family and its eccentricities” more clearly, Mr. Oken said by e-mail.


The result: The show sold $851,000 in tickets last weekend on top of a $15 million sales advance, huge figures for a new Broadway run, and all but guaranteeing that it will be hard to snag a pair of good orchestra seats until fall. After five months of well-publicized creative difficulties for the show, this seeming paradox amounts to a theater world version of the golden fleece: the critic-proof smash.

Hollywood, pop music studios and book publishers long ago mastered the art of assembling commercially successful products that critics hate. Theater is different: Only a fraction of shows turn a profit to begin with (about 30 percent on Broadway each year), and expensive tickets, fixed performance schedules and a finite potential audience for most live theater increase the importance of reviews.

Yet “The Addams Family” seems to have cracked a formula that to various degrees made long-running hits of “Jekyll & Hyde,” “Beauty and the Beast,” ”Mamma Mia!” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” after being dismissed by many critics. Such shows have tended to attract audiences already fond of their songs or characters.

That formula for “The Addams Family” includes a beloved brand-name title, a famous star, an inoffensive script, echoes of nostalgia and some savvy commercial judgments. The producers chose a theater with an unusually large number of orchestra seats, many of which they can sell at premium prices that top out at $300 apiece. And, in an unusual move for Broadway, they recruited five regional theaters as producing partners, spreading the financial risk while also having access to their subscribers and to those theaters for a national tour.

While the creators promised to base the musical on Charles Addams’s mordantly sophisticated cartoons in The New Yorker, they ended up adding the theme song of the “Addams Family” television show for the audience to snap-snap along with before the curtain even goes up. In hopes of improving the show between a Chicago tryout and its Broadway run, they also added broad, sometimes goofy touches like a toupee-wearing Uncle Fester and a Grandma dressed like a Red Cross nurse — images that make some people laugh, but belie the darker spirit of the Addams cartoons for others.

The producers also built a marketing campaign that would cover all the bases, using images that would remind people of the cartoons, the television show, and the “Addams Family” movies. And the casting of Nathan Lane to play the paterfamilias Gomez, through at least next March, has been especially important to the musical’s fortunes, according to several theater producers not affiliated with the show, given that he is a popular actor with both theater- and film-goers.

“If Nathan Lane is in anything you already have my money in the till, and I imagine that there are thousands of others who feel the same,” said Michael Ritchie, artistic director of the Center Theater Group in Los Angeles, which is not associated with “The Addams Family.”

Whether the musical — which cost $16.5 million to mount on Broadway — can flourish without a well-known star like Mr. Lane is among the factors that will determine whether the show endures as critic-proof. Based on 26 major reviews for “The Addams Family,” including one in The New York Times, the theater Web site Stagegrade.com gave the show a median grade of D+. For now, however, the musical has grossed $6.5 million in five weeks — more than current hit musicals like “A Little Night Music,” “Billy Elliot,” “West Side Story” and “Wicked” did in their early weeks — and the producers are already planning a multicity national tour.

“We sought to create a musical that was not only very funny, but also surprised the audience by proving to be touching as well,” Roy Furman, one of the lead producers of the show, said in an interview by e-mail. “We are delighted that audiences have responded so strongly, as evidenced by nightly ovations, and word of mouth, which has sparked advance sales.”

Four years in the making, “The Addams Family” had a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago last winter, drawing huge crowds but mixed reviews from critics there. Those reviews prompted Mr. Furman and the other lead producer, Stuart Oken, to hire the veteran Broadway director Jerry Zaks to take over the show from its two directors, the Broadway newcomers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, and ostensibly fix “The Addams Family” before opening in New York.

Mr. Zaks, in fact, did not make many changes in the show, based on two viewings in Chicago and two in New York. The characterizations and pacing remained mostly the same. Most structural changes, meanwhile, came in the first act and were designed to introduce “the family and its eccentricities” more clearly, Mr. Oken said by e-mail.

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The Chicago opening number, “Clandango,” with the family singing in a cemetery, featured the character Wednesday in a coffin and chorus members holding tombstones as they danced. A new opener for Broadway, “When You’re An Addams,” is more lighthearted and generic, with Mr. Lane giving commands to the dancing family and chorus members: “Bunny hop!” “Do the twist!” “Death rattle!”

  • song and subplot about the sex life of Gomez and Morticia (played by Bebe Neuwirth) was cut for Broadway, as was an elaborate Act II swordfight between the couple. Additions for New York included a new second-act opening number for Morticia, “Just Around the Corner,” in which she humorously embraces the idea of death. It replaced a song in Chicago called “Second Banana,” in which Morticia bemoaned growing older just as her daughter Wednesday is falling in love — another subplot that struck “Addams” aficionados as un-Morticialike, and was softened for New York.

“Those changes were made to strengthen and deepen the Gomez/Morticia relationship for the audience,” Mr. Oken said. “We also wanted to show Gomez and Morticia as deeply committed parents, who like all parents, are thrown off base when their child suddenly seems to have become an adult overnight and has fallen in love.”

These changes and other elements of the script were derided by some critics as contrary to the sensibility of the cartoons. But following the lead of “Wicked,” Broadway’s biggest hit in years, “The Addams Family” aimed to appeal both to parents and children, thanks especially to its central plot, about the eccentric Addams clan encountering another, more normal family. That plot, too, drew some criticism in Chicago as hoary, but Mr. Oken said it was never considered for elimination for Broadway.

Whether the post-Chicago changes improved the show or amounted to a scratch, “The Addams Family” is selling as well as it did during its tryout. Scott Mallalieu, president of Group Sales Box Office, a major Broadway ticket seller, said in an interview Monday that “The Addams Family” remained the biggest ticket advance of any Broadway show that his company has sold this year. He said that no groups had canceled their tickets since the negative reviews last week.

And executives at the other regional theaters producing the show said that while it was impossible to predict how the musical would do without the popular Mr. Lane, they were optimistic that the title alone would make for a blockbuster.

“Even before Nathan and Bebe were announced, our subscribers were extremely excited just by the idea of ‘The Addams Family’ as theater,” said David Fay, president of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, one of the theaters that is producing the show. “Our audiences don’t expect to see a star on the road. What they are sure they will get, with a title like ‘The Addams Family,’ is humor, fun, and delight at being in that Addams milieu.”




Fences

It’s No More Mr. Nice Guy for This Everyman

Published: April 27, 2010

When Denzel Washington talks about challenging death to a wrestling match, you suddenly sense that everything’s going to be all right. Not for Troy Maxson, the character portrayed by Mr. Washington in the vibrantly acted Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Fences,” which opened on Monday night at the Cort Theater; Troy might as well have “Warning: Explosives” tattooed across his forehead, with “Breakable” stamped on his back.



Sara Krulwich/The New York Times




Original Review: 'Fences' (March 27, 1987)


But all at once you feel that Mr. Washington is going to take Troy Maxson into dark and uncharted places, which is what he has to do for this mid-80’s play to register as more than a conventional domestic melodrama. Delivering that poetic riff, early in the first act, about going mano a mano with the grim reaper, Mr. Washington’s Troy morphs from the salty, genial everyman he’s thus far appeared to be into a much more arresting figure.

There’s an exhilarated craziness in his eyes and a confrontational glint that dares us not to believe him. On the subject of his own life, Troy — a former Negro League baseball star turned sanitation worker, and a man whose name aptly evokes a legendary, ruined splendor — is a first-class mythmaker. Which means he’s also a first-class storyteller and a first-class self-deceiver, and that we’re going to hang on to his words.

Mr. Washington, a two-time Oscar winner, has his own personal specter to wrestle with in this production, directed by Kenny Leon and featuring a magnificent performance by Viola Davis as Troy’s wife, Rose. By starring in the first Broadway revival of “Fences,” which picked up about every major prize on offer in 1987, when it arrived on Broadway, Mr. Washington is stepping into the outsize shadow of James Earl Jones.

Large of frame and thunderous of voice, Mr. Jones has a titan’s presence that invested the embittered Troy with an aura of classical tragedy. He was big in every sense of the word, and there was instant pathos in the spectacle of a giant confined by the smallness of a world hedged in by 1950s racism. Mr. Washington has the fluid naturalness we associate with good screen actors, and when he played Brutus in the 2005 Broadway production of “Julius Caesar,” he often seemed to fade into the crowd of milling revolutionary Romans.

His Troy, not unexpectedly, is smaller than Mr. Jones’s was, but that also means it is on a more human scale and in some ways more intricately drawn. Mr. Washington has to work hard to build his Troy, brick by brick instead of with one overwhelming first impression. But any strain we sense comes not from the actor but the character.

A family man with a roving eye and a solid breadwinner with unsettling memories of a sports hero’s past, Troy is twisted by fiercely contradictory impulses — of love and resentment, gentle judiciousness and brutal irrationality, responsibility and a lust for careless freedom. Registering troubled ambivalence has always been Mr. Washington’s great strength as a screen actor (including in his Oscar-winning “Training Day”), and he uses that gift to redefine Troy on his own terms.

This newly detailed reading allows us to look at Troy with fresh objectivity, and to realize that Wilson created a more complex, layered character than we may have remembered. And in his depiction of Troy and Rose’s marriage, Wilson, who died in 2005, delivered his finest and most credible portrait of a relationship between a man and a woman, brought to complete, aching life by Mr. Washington and Ms. Davis. But without the distraction of Mr. Jones’s Shakespearean grandeur, the play’s flaws, as well as its strengths, are more clearly visible.

“Fences” is part of Wilson’s great decade-by-decade cycle of the African-American experience in the 20th century, largely set (as “Fences” is) in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. It shares with more adventurous works like “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and “Seven Guitars” a specific sense of the history that brought its characters to their point in time. That includes handed-down recollections of slavery and more immediate memories of the northward migration from cotton country.

These elements are more in the background in “Fences,” and Wilson’s use of the soaring, aria-like monologue is more restrained. This is both his most accessible and least inventive work, seemingly shaped by dramaturgical blueprints from the era in which “Fences” is set. As a study in the Oedipal conflict between Troy and his teenage son, Cory (Chris Chalk), who is teetering defensively on the cusp of adulthood, “Fences” has tinny echoes of Arthur Miller and William Inge. Nor can Mr. Leon’s expertly fluid direction quite disguise the artificial overuse of some fairly tired symbolic motifs, including baseball and the fences of the title.

But there are scenes as vivid and heartfelt as any on Broadway now. Moving within Santo Loquasto’s exactly visualized urban backyard and Constanza Romero’s pitch-perfect period costumes, the ensemble members remind us of the rich pleasures of good, old naturalistic acting. More than most of Wilson’s plays, “Fences” allows its performers to develop sustained one-on-one relationships.

There’s particular pleasure (and sadness) to be had in following the waning friendship between Troy and his longtime pal, Jim Bono (the Wilson veteran Stephen McKinley Henderson, at the top of his form). Mr. Washington’s face and stance alone provide fascinating (and damning) glimpses into Troy’s attitudes toward his son from an earlier relationship, the 34-year-old Lyons (the excellent Russell Hornsby), and the desperate-to-please Cory (an underwritten part). And while I’ve pretty much had my fill of Wilson’s deranged prophet characters, Mykelti Williamson’s Gabriel is fine as Troy’s mad brother, eliciting a stirring mix of guilt and affection from Mr. Washington.

But Troy’s interactions with Rose are what give “Fences” its moments of genuine glory. Ms. Davis, who won a Tony for her performance in Wilson’s “King Hedley II,” may well pick up another for her work here. Her face is a poignant paradox, both bone-tired and suffused with sensual radiance. Rose has resigned herself to her life in a way Troy cannot, but that doesn’t mean there’s not passionate yearning within.

What Troy rants about, Rose keeps to herself, and Ms. Davis draws extraordinary power from that reticence; you never feel that Rose is any less deep than her husband. You can sense, so palpably that it hurts, why Troy and Rose were meant to be together, and when it looked as if the marriage might be going south at the performance I attended, you could hear horrified gasps in the audience. Mr. Washington and Ms. Davis prove that lovers don’t have to be as young and star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet to generate shiver-making heat and pathos.

FENCES

By August Wilson; directed by Kenny Leon; original music by Branford Marsalis; sets by Santo Loquasto; costumes by Constanza Romero; lighting by Brian MacDevitt; sound by Acme Sound Partners; associate producer, Ms. Romero. Presented by Carole Shorenstein Hays and Scott Rudin. At the Cort Theater, 138 West 48th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200. Through July 11. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

WITH: Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson), Viola Davis (Rose), Chris Chalk (Cory), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Jim Bono), Russell Hornsby (Lyons), Mykelti Williamson (Gabriel) and Eden Duncan-Smith and SaCha Stewart-Coleman (Raynell).

Addams Family

Buh-Da-Da-Dum (Snap Snap)

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

“The Addams Family”: Tiptoeing through the tombstones at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater: from left, Adam Riegler, Jackie Hoffman, Nathan Lane, Zachary James, Bebe Neuwirth, Krysta Rodriguez and Kevin Chamberlin.


Published: April 9, 2010

Imagine, if you dare, the agonies of the talented people trapped inside the collapsing tomb called “The Addams Family.” Being in this genuinely ghastly musical — which opened Thursday night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater and stars a shamefully squandered Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth — must feel like going to a Halloween party in a strait-jacket or a suit of armor. Sure, you make a flashy (if obvious) first impression. But then you’re stuck in the darn thing for the rest of the night, and it’s really, really uncomfortable. Why, you can barely move, and a strangled voice inside you keeps gasping, “He-e-e-lp! Get me out of here!”



Though encumbered with a Spanish accent that slides into Transylvania, Mr. Lane is in fine voice and brings a star trouper’s energy and polish to one wan number after another. Ms. Neuwirth, whose priceless deadpan manner is one of Broadway’s great assets, here uses it as a means of distancing herself from an icky show and a formless part. Everyone else tries not to look embarrassed, though it’s not easy in a show that relies on a giant squid to solve its plot problems, makes Uncle Fester a cloyingly whimsical sentimentalist (he’s in love with the moon) and transforms Grandma into an old acid head out of Woodstock.

That squid is the work of the wonderful puppeteer Basil Twist, who also whipped up a giant iguana, a regular-sized Venus fly trap and a charming animated curtain tassel. Fans of the “Addams” television show will be pleased to learn that Thing (the bodiless hand) and Cousin Itt make cameo appearances. They receive thunderous entrance applause and then retire for most of the night. They are no doubt much envied by the rest of the cast.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa; based on characters created by Charles Addams; directed and designed by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch; choreography by Sergio Trujillo; creative consultant, Jerry Zaks; lighting by Natasha Katz; sound by Acme Sound Partners; puppetry by Basil Twist; hair by Tom Watson; makeup by Angelina Avallone; special effects by Gregory Meeh; orchestrations by Larry Hochman; musical director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell; dance arrangements by August Eriksmoen; vocal arrangements and incidental music by Mr. Lippa; music coordinator, Michael Keller. Presented by Stuart Oken, Roy Furman, Michael Leavitt, Five Cent Productions, Stephen Schuler, Decca Theatricals, Scott M. Delman, Stuart Ditsky, Terry Allen Kramer, Stephanie P. McClelland, James L. Nederlander, Eva Price, Jam Theatricals/Mary Lu Roffe, Pittsburgh CLO/Gutterman-Swinsky, Vivek Tiwary/Gary Kaplan, the Weinstein Company/Clarence LLC and Adam Zotovich/Tribe Theatricals by special arrangement with Elephant Eye Theatrical. At the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 West 46th Street, Manhattan; (877) 250-2929. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

WITH: Nathan Lane (Gomez Addams), Bebe Neuwirth (Morticia Addams), Terrence Mann (Mal Beineke), Carolee Carmello (Alice Beineke), Kevin Chamberlin (Uncle Fester), Jackie Hoffman (Grandma), Zachary James (Lurch), Adam Riegler (Pugsley Addams), Wesley Taylor (Lucas Beineke) and Krysta Rodriguez (Wednesday Addams).

That silent scream rises like a baleful ectoplasm from a production that generally offers little to shiver about, at least not in any pleasurable way. The satisfying shiver, of course, was what was consistently elicited by the gleefully macabre cartoons by Charles Addams that inspired this musical, as well as a 1960s television series and two movies in the early 1990s. It’s a rare American who isn’t familiar with the sinister little clan (which first appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 1938) for whom shrouds are the last word in fashion, and a guillotine is the perfect children’s toy.

This latest reincarnation of “The Addams Family” is clearly relying, above all, on its title characters’ high recognition factor. That such faith is not misplaced is confirmed by the audience’s clapping and snapping along with the first strains of the overture, which appropriates the catchy television theme song. When the curtain parts to reveal a Madame Tussauds-like tableau of the assembled Addamses, there is loud, salutatory applause.

There they are, lined up like tombstones (appropriately, since the setting is a cemetery) and looking as if they had just stepped out of Charles Addams’s inkwell. Shrink these impeccably assembled creatures to a height of 10 inches, and you could give them away with McDonald’s Happy Meals (or, given the context, Unhappy Meals).

This is not an inappropriate thought, since this show treats its characters as imaginative but easily distracted children might treat their dolls, arbitrarily making them act out little stories and situations. The creators of “The Addams Family” — which has a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and songs by Andrew Lippa — have said they wanted to return to the spirit of the original New Yorker cartoons.

It’s true that the show has moments that quote directly from Addams’s original captions. But those captions were for a limited number of single-panel cartoons. So what to do for the rest of the evening? The answer, to borrow from Irving Berlin, is “everything the traffic will allow.”

A tepid goulash of vaudeville song-and-dance routines, Borscht Belt jokes, stingless sitcom zingers and homey romantic plotlines that were mossy in the age of “Father Knows Best,” “The Addams Family” is most distinctive for its wholesale inability to hold on to a consistent tone or an internal logic. The show, which was previously staged in Chicago, has a troubled past. The original directors, Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (also the production’s designers), still retain director credit, but Jerry Zaks, identified in the program as a creative consultant, is known to have reworked the show. (The look is Charles Addams run through a Xerox enlarger, though it makes witty use of the classic red velvet curtain.)

Mr. McDermott and Mr. Crouch were responsible for the blissfully ghoulish little show “Shockheaded Peter,” and their darkly precious aesthetic is the opposite of that of Mr. Zaks, a veteran purveyor of Broadway razzmatazz. So a collision of sensibilities was to be anticipated.

What’s more surprising (given Mr. Brickman and Mr. Elice’s solid collaboration on “Jersey Boys”) is the ragbag nature of the script, which seems to be shaped by an assortment of mismatched approaches. The show begins with the expected milking of classic Addams perversity, in which morbidity is automatically substituted for cheerfulness. But somewhere along the way the plot becomes a costume-party rehash of the proper-boy-meets-girl-from-crazy-family story line that dates back to “You Can’t Take It With You.”

Gomez (Mr. Lane) and Morticia (Ms. Neuwirth), the heads of the family, discover to their alarm that Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez), their 18-year-old daughter, has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor), a young man from a middle-class all-American home. What’s more, Wednesday has invited Lucas and his parents — Mal (Terrence Mann) and Alice (Carolee Carmello) — for dinner, and insists that the family try to act “normal” for the night.

That directive includes Uncle Fester (Kevin Chamberlin), Grandma (Jackie Hoffman), little Pugsley (Adam Riegler) and Lurch (Zachary James), the towering, taciturn butler. It is clear things will not go well when, as soon as the Beinekes arrive, Mal asks, “What is this, some kinda theme park?”

Of course it is, Mal. This is a 21st-century Broadway musical. Did I mention, by the way, that the Addams homestead in this version is in Central Park? In what appears to be a tourist-courting stratagem, the seeming strangeness of the Addamses is equated with the strangeness of New Yorkers as perceived by middle Americans. (Cue the old New York City jokes.)

But it turns out that all of us are strange in our own ways (even Beinekes), that love conquers all, and that Morticia and Gomez are really just a pair of old softies, who worry about the same things that all moms and dads do, like getting older and seeing their children leave the nest.



sondheim on sondheim

Hymn to Himself: Something Hummable


Published: April 23, 2010

God has spoken on the subject of His existence. And you will be pleased to know that He seems resigned to and amused by the obeisance and sacrifices that are made in His name. Listen, O children of Broadway, to His own words, chanted by a chosen tribe of His disciples at the theater at Studio 54 (once a pagan temple to the gods of disco) as His sardonic image smiles down upon them.


Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Multimedia



Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

I

“You have to have something to believe in,” they sing, “Something to appropriate, emulate, overrate. Might as well be Stephen, or to use his nickname: God!”

Thus does the composer of those lyrics address the question of his divinity in a little number called “God” at the top of the second act of “Sondheim on Sondheim,” a genial, multimedia commemorative scrapbook on the life, times and career of you-know-who. The song was inspired by the title of an article featured inside a 1994 New York magazine: “Is Stephen Sondheim God?” And the answer, for those of us for whom musicals are truly a religion, is — now as then — yes. Or to use the language of the common folk, “Well, duh.”

Mr. Sondheim turned 80 last month, and the occasion has already been honored by more tributes than are normally accorded the Yankees when they win the World Series, with more to come. This is not overkill. Mr. Sondheim bears a relationship to his vocation that is unlike that of any artist in any other field.

In the world of American musicals he is indisputably the best, brightest and most influential talent to emerge during the last half-century. Even when his shows have been commercial flops, they are studied, revered and eventually reincarnated to critical hosannas. No other songwriter to date has challenged his eminence, and it seems unlikely that anyone will in his lifetime. It is even possible, if sadly so, that he may be remembered as the last of the giants in a genre that flourished in the 20th century and wilted in the 21st.

But such brooding thoughts have little place in a discussion of “Sondheim on Sondheim,” which opened Thursday night. This is a chipper, haphazard anthology show that blends live performance of Sondheim songs with archival video footage and taped interviews with Himself. Conceived and directed by James Lapine, Mr. Sondheim’s frequent (and, to me, best) collaborator over the years, this somewhat jittery production never quite finds a sustained tone, a natural rhythm or even a logical sense of sequence.

It does, however, have a polished and likable eight-member cast (that includes Tom Wopat, Vanessa Williams and the great Barbara Cook); a savory selection of Sondheim material that never made it to Broadway as well as canonic standards; and heaping spoonfuls of insider dope about the creation of shows like “Company” and “Follies” and the changes they underwent on the road. And then there is Mr. Sondheim, who appears in appropriately larger-than-life form on artistically arranged monitors, typically concealing as much as he reveals in quick takes of self-portraiture.

It is these interviews that provide the shape and, in many cases, the direct cues for the live action onstage. Occasionally this is achieved with a literal-mindedness that is too cute for comfort. Footage of Mr. Sondheim on the Mike Douglas show talking about why he likes to write about neurotics is followed by Ms. Cook and Tom Wopat singing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from “Company” (1970).

More often, though, the performers channel their master’s voice in direct, annotative illustrations of what he’s talking about. Three different versions of the opening number in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (from 1962, Mr. Sondheim’s first full Broadway score) are spliced into his accounts of rewriting them. There are similarly illuminating insights into the labor pains of “Follies” (1971), “Passion” (1994) and “Road Show” (2009), the musical formerly known as “Bounce” (2003).

This format has the disadvantage of often giving the performers the status of audio-visual tools. Mr. Sondheim says he’s always most comfortable when he can create for a specific character instead of an abstract type or emotion. And it’s not easy for singers to reflect that specificity in a show like this one. At its least inspired “Sondheim on Sondheim” has the smiley supper-club blandness of previous Sondheim revues, like “Putting It Together” and “Side by Side by Sondheim.”

But there are also blessed if infrequent examples of singers making songs their own. Most often they involve the 82-year-old Ms. Cook, a longtime and exceptionally sensitive Sondheim interpreter. But the vulpine Ms. Williams has her moments too, slithering through the striptease of “Ah, but Underneath” (from the 1987 London production of “Follies”) and singing “Losing My Mind” (from “Follies”) in counterpoint to Ms. Cook’s profoundly wistful version of “Not a Day Goes By” (from the 1981 show “Merrily We Roll Along.”)


As an ensemble the cast — stylishly filled out by Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, Euan Morton, Erin Mackey and Matthew Scott — is strongest in its haunting choral delivery of two songs from “Assassins” (Mr. Sondheim and John Weidman’s dark journey through American history), the grim contemporary relevance of which requires no epigrammatic explanation. And they are well served by a crisp physical production that includes Peter Flaherty’s witty, perfectly synchronized video and projection designs and Beowulf Boritt’s moving-building-block set.

In the autobiographical “Opening Doors” number from “Merrily We Roll Along” (nimbly performed here by Ms. Kritzer, Mr. Morton and Mr. Scott) a young songwriter is told by an old Broadway pro that “there’s not a tune you can hum” in his work. That was a standard complaint about Mr. Sondheim for decades. Yet when you hear many of the numbers in this revue, you’re struck by how they’ve penetrated and stuck in your consciousness in ways deeper than merely hummable songs allow.

Of course there are also songs that have turned out to be surprisingly hummable, like “Send In the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” (1973), which is here presented in the first act as a hilarious YouTube collage of widely (and wildly) ranging interpreters, professional and otherwise. Then in the second act Ms. Cook takes up the same song and delivers it with a simple, sweet bereftness that breaks your heart.

It’s a lovely reminder that for all his much-touted cleverness, Mr. Sondheim is great not because he’s a wizard with rhyme, rhythm and key changes. It’s because he senses and conveys the darker currents of pain and loneliness that swirl beneath even the shiniest surfaces. He sees inside us. And there is something kind of Godlike about that.

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; conceived and directed by James Lapine; musical staging by Dan Knechtges; music direction/arrangements by David Loud; sets by Beowulf Boritt; costumes by Susan Hilferty; lighting by Ken Billington; sound by Dan Moses Schreier; video and projection by Peter Flaherty; orchestrations by Michael Starobin; music coordinator, John Miller; executive producer, Sydney Beers; associate artistic director, Scott Ellis. Presented by the Roundabout Theater Company, Todd Haimes, artistic director; Harold Wolpert, managing director; Julia C. Levy, executive director. At Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan; (212) 719-1300. Through June 13. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.

WITH: Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, Euan Morton, Erin Mackey and Matthew Scott.


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Capricorn Horoscope for week of April 29, 2010

Verticle Oracle card Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
What excites you? What makes you itch with a longing to be surprised? What fills you to the brim with curiosity and an agitated sense of wonder? You may not know even half of what you could potentially realize about these matters. Have you ever sat down and taken a formal inventory? Have you ever dedicated yourself to figuring out all the things that would inspire you most? Do it sometime soon, please; attend to this glorious task. According to my reading of the omens, it's prime time to do so.

sightings

Sightings: I ran into a woman I met from WW at the Met. She worked there and subsequently had gastric by pass surgery. At the Tribeca Film Festival, I was greeted by

Another woman I knew from WW and then about 1.5 hours later her husband came to join her. I run into my weight watcher people all over the city.

I saw Joan Rivers, Jami Bernard (the NY Daily New TV critic), the cast of Memento at a screening for that film.


I saw Malcom Gladwell and then another woman from WW who is a regular at thursday meeting.

dream

Dreams:

I had a Natalie Merchant dream that I don’t really remember.

I dreamed that there was a character festival and parade in the street, parade and street fair. I was trying to get through the crowd. I got through the crowd and to get out, I had to go through this stone tunnel with an arch. The sign above the tunnel warned that it was treacherous. I was skeptical and somewhat hesitant. To lure me down the tunnel, the monitors/operators put dollar bills at intervals. I questioned in my mind if the space was large enough for me to go through. I questioned if my back pack could get down the chute. I started down on my back and collected the dollar bills along the way. At the end of the tunnel, I thought that maybe going head first was a better option ( I turned it into a water slide, though it looked like an x-ray of the throat or arteries.) At the end of the tunnel, I saw many silver coins of all sizes, Half dollars, quarters and I took hands full and stuffed my pockets.

I then saw people at the street fair and had to pass them. I told them these fairs happen all the time and saw some characters like Winnie the Pooh- it was paper mache and blue. There were two homemade Winnie the Pooh head and many other home made costumes like the Easter parade.


In the next scene, I knew that I had some minor repairs down in my apartment. I saw one of my cousins who asked me about getting the handyman to do repairs. We were outside and there were small hills, he was going over the hills. I advised him that for minor repairs, things like changing lightbulbs, he was better off to do it himself. If it’s a major thing or may cause damage to the apartment, he can get to the super to do it.

dream

It was an outdoor dream and I climbed to the top of the steep hill and through a deck entered an department store, like a woolworths or a 5 & dime but it was a target. I was looking around but bought nothing. I had a conversation with someone and they asked if i climbed that steep hill and I said i have done it many times, that this was my 3 or 4th trip. On my trip up, in corner of the deck stood, Paul Simon. The air was misty like a ski resort or a place in the berkshires summer with the mist coming up over the hills. I thought to myself, I have seen paul simon so often on my trips up the hill that I should get his autograph.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Freewill Astrology Capricorn April 1

Horoscopes for week of April 1, 2010

Verticle Oracle cardAries (March 21-April 19)
I'm worried about your ability to sneak and fake and dissemble. These skills seem to have atrophied in you. To quote Homer Simpson, "You couldn't fool your own mother on the foolingest day of your life with an electrified fooling machine!" Please, Aries, jump back into the game-playing, BS-dispensing routine the rest of us are caught up in. APRIL FOOL! Everything I just said was a filthy lie. In fact, I admire the candor and straightforwardness you've been cultivating. My only critique is that maybe you could take some of the edge off it. Try telling the raw truth with more relaxed grace.


No one knows you better tha

Horoscopes for week of April 8, 2010 -Freewill Astrology Horoscope


Horoscopes for week of April 8, 2010

Verticle Oracle cardAries (March 21-April 19)
It would be a good week for you to perfect your ability to crow like a rooster, Aries. I also recommend that you practice your skill at leaping out of bed in the morning fully refreshed, with your imagination primed and ready to immediately begin making creative moves. Other suggested exercises: being on the alert for what's being born; holding a vision of the dawn in your heart throughout the day; and humorously strutting around like you own whatever place you're in

free will astrology Capricorn

Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
Here's my startling prediction: More Capricorn spiritual seekers will become enlightened in the next five weeks than in any comparable period of history. Hell, there'll be so much infinity mixed with eternity available for your tribe that even a lot of you non-seekers could get a lightning bolt of illumination or two. That's not to say that you have to accept the uplifting revelations, or even tune in to them, for that matter. If you'd prefer to ignore the sacred hubbub and go about your practical business without having to hassle with the consequences of a divine download, that's fine

Capricorn according to Rob Brezney Freewill Astrology

http://www.freewillastrology.com/



Capricorn Horoscope for week of April 22, 2010

Verticle Oracle cardCapricorn (December 22-January 19)
The Weekly World News reported that a blues singer sued his psychiatrist for turning him into a more cheerful person. Gloomy Gus Johnson claimed he was so thoroughly cured of his depression that he could no longer perform his dismal tales with mournful sincerity. His popularity declined as he lost fans who had become attached to his despondent persona. I suspect you may soon be arriving at a similar crossroads, Capricorn. Through the intervention of uplifting influences and outbreaks of benevolence, you will find it harder to cultivate a cynical attitude. Are you prepared to accept the consequences that may come from being deprived of some of your reasons to moan and groan?


Need more help deci


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

dreams

dreams

It is not surprising that I had a Natalie Merchant dream as she has a new cd project out and I saw her two times last week. I am obsessed with learning about the poets that make up the project. She has set the poems of writers who have written for children primarily.

Other dreams that I have had in the last two weeks are more vivid and stranger. I wanted to keep a record of them or record them as they unfolded.

I dreamed that some of my work colleagues gave me a birthday present. I was excited that it was a jacket, military style like a Marine’s jacket, long with gold piping and tassels at the shoulders. It was Navy Blue and red. I saw two of my colleagues in the beginning part of the dream ( I don’t generally get on that well with one of them, and the second was her friend so when ices me when they are together.). two more colleagues were in the second part of the dream, where they gave me the jacket. I was surprised that they gave it to me and I thanked them for their thoughtfulness. When I looked at the coat, I realized it had no buttons. I first thought to reject the coat and then thought about how easy it would be to procur buttons and I thought about the gold buttons that I would put on the coat. I thanked them profusely for remembering me and giving me the coat.

I dreamed about the writing of a child’s book. Part Detective story, part Victorian. I saw the cover of the book and knew the lead character’s name was Hunter. I knew that there were many possibilities and knew I had to get my nieces involved in story writing and illustration. There were young adult books, part Nancy Drew, part Twilight

I dreamed of the Flying Burrito Brothers. They were in a old time mining town in the west. There was a velvet curtain and I saw a huge Elephant Trunk come from behind the curtain. In the next scene the Flying Burrito Brothers were in this saloon and they were naked with their penises exposed. They were not conscious of their nakedness, they took off their guitars and sat down at a table to count the money that they had been paid. It was off putting that they were counting their money and smoking cigars in front of the audience members. In the dream there were crushed peanuts and popcorn on the floor and it was a circus like atmosphere.

The final dream was that I was at work and my phone rang and it was my supervisor Lance. He told me that I have been laid off. Later in the dream, I went over to talk to him and I confronted him on his behavior of not being able to see me face to face. I told him that he could see me in a private room or talk to me face to face about being laid off. I didn’t appreciate that he did it by phone. I was sitting in his office, getting more mad at him. I then saw some people that I worked with at St Josephs. One person was the head of the nursing department and the other was a Director of Preventative Services, Independent Living and then Kinship care. I was sorting through things and packing up toys, putting them in plastic garbage bags. I was giving things away with purpose.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

flower show outdoors










this and that

This and That-

Mrs Young- while waiting on the subway platform, I saw a young school age girl and her preschool age brother. Their mother had just picked her up from the local Elementary school. She suddenly became very excited and showed her mother that her teacher, Ms Young had walked by and moved down the platform to join a group of teachers standing there. From where I was standing, I could hear the teachers complaining about school rules, their principle and other school stuff. I also could hear the excitement of the young student. She called to her mother to see Mrs Young and then called out for Mrs Young. One of the women looked towards the student and said nothing. The rest of the three did not even look in the direction of the excited student. The mother of the child, just turned her and moved her towards the oncoming train.

Getting hit again on the train.

The other morning, I was waiting for the train on the subway platform, reading the paper, minding my business when a young man in a suit was reading his paper. The train pulled into the station and doors opened. The man could not make decision which entrance to get into the train. He turned to the right and to the left and then back to right. I said to him “ dude, you have to make up your mind”. I entered the train and a young woman about age 15 hit me on the arm. She said “ ou need to calm down”. I said to her “you need not to hit me.” She repeated again “you need to calm down”. I repeated again “you need not to hit people you don’t know.”

I steamed for a while about this encounter until my co worker highlighted that maybe this young woman lost control.

At the Polls.

I entered the local elementary school to vote for a special election and there was an older woman in her 80s who was to look up my address and direct me to the polling station. I approached the table and she asked me if I had received a Board of Election card. I told her I received that and many other solicitations and robo calls. She said that may not mean I was eligible to vote in this election. I asked her if she wanted me to look up my address. She finally looked it up and continued to tell me I was not eligible to vote. I reminded her that I knew she was getting paid for being at the voting polls.

I told her to please check again because I knew I was in the 64th district not the 74th district that she was trying to tell me I was registered in. She continued to ask me for the white cards and I asked another woman to look up my information. In fact, I was registered in the 64th district. As I was negotiating with this woman, my neighbor, a Russian speaking woman came and offered her ID with her address. I told the Voter worker that the Russian woman was my neighbor after she told her to put her ID away.

The Russian woman followed me to the voting booth. There was no attendant there. As I was waiting, I started to think about how many people were turned away from voting that day due to someone not taking the time to look up the address but asking questioning regarding what was sent in the mail.

The voting poll workers are paid and I find their error rate, lack of ability to do the work and lack of desire is standard in the polling place where I vote. I think they are more of an impediment to the voting process. In the past, I have been told that my vote does not count as much of the borough votes democratic. The voting rights violations are numerous and I have reported the poll workers on numerous occasions.

The Russian woman and I talked about the “right” to vote and exercising that right. In her country she was not allowed to vote. It is a right that I take seriously and preserve. No incompetent poll worker has a right to interfere with the right to vote.

On the Street

I ran into life time politician Mark Green on the street. I also over heard a father and his 7-9 year old son talking and the father was instructing him on “why white is not worn after Memorial day” and society rules around that.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

people i run into

I ran into Mark Green, past public advocate and just looked up and said " hi mark". I also ran into one of my past students from Adelphi on the train.


Week of March 31


Capricorn Horoscope for week of April 1, 2010

Verticle Oracle cardCapricorn (December 22-January 19)
Supermodel Selita Ebanks is your role model. In accordance with the astrological omens, I recommend that you arrange for the kind of special treatment she enjoys as she's preparing for a runway show. That means getting five stylists to work for hours every day perfecting every aspect of your physical appearance. Please make sure they apply no less than 20 layers of makeup to your butt. APRIL FOOL! I lied. The omens say this is not a good time to obsess on your outer beauty. They do suggest, however, that attending to your inner beauty would be smart. So please do the equivalent of getting 20 layers of makeup applied to your soul's butt.