Broadway Reviews

Ken AshfordBloggingLeave a Comment

Yup.  I was in the Big Apple this weekend and took in some shows.

American Idiot:  The much-hyped Green Day musical delivered on all fronts, and even exceeded expectations in some respects.  The music, of course, comes from Green Day, and it's high voltage all the way through.  Ear-shattering?  Too loud?  Well, the music ain't A Little Night Music, but it's definitely not distorted to the point where it's just white noise.  The punk rage is delivered loudly, as it should, but every lyric is discernible.

The set and effects were incredible.  Dozens of monitors mark a four or five story graffiti splattered wall.  A car and battered shopping cart hang precariously from the rafters, as scaffolding topples over (with an actor on it) — it all gives you the sense that someone onstage could get hurt, but that is completely in line with the edginess of the show and music.  Very little about the show feels "safe".  With the possible exception of one duet where the charactors fly and dance in mid-air, I didn't find the gee-whiz set or effects to be intrusive (as I do with many Disney musicals).

As a jukebox musical (a show which features the works of a performing group), I was pleasantly surprised at how well the songs were integrated into the book.  Better, I would say, than Mamma Mia.  Granted, the book wasn't terribly complex: American Idiot tells the story of three Gen-Xers — one stays a slacker, another ventures into a world of love and drugs, and a third joins the military.  There's no deep meaning except perhaps that nihilism gives you nothing in the end, which is pretty obvious.  But even still, the charactors are interesting to follow, even as you (sometimes) might want to look away at their self-destructiveness.  This is not merely a concert put up on a Broadway stage.

But music is the king here, and the cast performances of all-out rock anthems, as well as eerie and soulful ballads, are what makes American Idiot a must-see. A

Promises, Promises:  Sean Hayes and Kristen Chenowith tackle Broadway's first revival of the Burt Bacharach/Neil Simon's adaptation of The Apartment.  Thankfully, the show was not updated.  You simply can't update those Bacharach-esque beats (they are sooo sixties); nor can you update the somewhat crude view that the show has regarding marriages (wives are to be cheated on) and women (none of whom could possibly be a corporate executive in a Promises Promises world).

But as a period piece, it still works.  Sean Hayes was incredible playing the mild-mannered junior executive.  Nebishy and uncertain, to be sure, but not at all "gay" as some critics have asserted.  He had excellent timing — some very good pratfalls — and a surprisingly strong voice.  I think he was more in line with Jack Lemmon in The Apartment — after seeing Hayes, it's hard for me to envision Jerry Orbach (a man's man) in that role in the original Broadway production.

There were a few disappointments.  The Rob Ashford (no relation) chroeography did not blow me away, and I longed for the original "Turkey Lurkey Time".  Kristen Chenowith, I thought, while singing wonderfully (natch) didn't seem to explore all that she could with her charactor — a woman of questionable morality but still looking for love.  Perhaps Kristen should have watched Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment to find the nuance.

Kate Finneran showed why she won the Tony in her all-too-brief (she doesn't appear until Act Two) role as a barfly.  Typically, that charactor is played as an innocent dumb blonde type.  Here, Finneran turns the role on its head, making the character into a floozy trying to be an innocent girl, with her inebriation always getting in the way of making that happen.  In Finneran's hands, it works so much better that way.

Promises, Promises is an old-fashioned book musical and the revival does a very good job of making it interesting to contemporary audiences, despite its dated customs and male-centric viewpoint.  Yes, there are a few unnecessary songs and ballads, but they serve as quick-and-painless cleansers to the pallette.  It's probably won't be the best show for Chenowith fans, but if you like Bacharach, Hayes, or office musicals, you'll enjoy yourself.  B+

Everyday Rapture:  There is a tradition on Broadway of having one-woman shows: Elaine Stritch, Liza, etc.  I guess the threshhold question with Everyday Rapture is whether or not Sherrie Rene Scott is "big enough" to have one of her own.  I mean, if you don't know who she is, I think that largely diminishes your interest in this show.

Fortunately, I know Sherie and like her.  She has an unquestionably strong voice, and is a comedic talent as well.  Everyday Rapture is a story of her personal and spiritual journey from a half-Mennonite girl in Topeka Kansas to Broadway star.  It's an interesting journey, as we learn of her heroes (Judy Garland, Fred Rogers), as well as her efforts to come to terms with her views (or lack thereof) about God.

With the help two backup women, Ms. Scott brings the audience through the highs and lows of her career.  I thought the musical numbers were, on the whole, sufficient, but nothing blew me away.  It was also a little ballad-heavy.  One segment about her encounter with an Internet fan was a bit funny, and a tad bit mean as well (at least, the way he was depicted was mean, going for the easy laughs).

But in general the show had a lot of heart and humor — a nice way to spend a couple of hours at the theater.  B-

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson:  Take a little Reduced Shakespeare, with a little punk/emo American Idiot, and apply them to a History Channel documentary, and you have Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, an off-Broadway musical appearing at the Public Theatre downtown for one more week (until, rumor has it, it moves uptown to Broadway).

This is a fast-paced, very politically incorrect, rock musical about the life of President Andrew Jackson, the populist president.  Even if one were to scrap the music, it remains a broad comedy full of sight gags, sound gags, and well, all kinds of gags.  Don't worry about unquestionable historical accuracy (Andrew Jackson probably didn't engage in "cutting" behavior), but don't be surprised if you learn a thing or two about this controversial president, best known for expanding the frontiers of America by being merciless with the native population.

The show has an anything-goes sensability.  What happens when the wheelchair-bound narrator outlives her usefulness?  Jackson shoots her, and then sings about it.  Well, why not?  The show doesn't ask much of you, except to have fun.  You'll often find yourself thinking "that is soooo wrong", but laughing hard anyway.

If there was one complaint I had, it's that the supporting charactors in Andrew Jackson's life were very very limp-wristedly gay.  Now, that's pretty funny for the first couple times, but that joke wears itself out after a while.

The centerpiece of the musical is Benjamin Walker, the young actor playing Jackson.  He has the rugged individualism associated with Jackson, except that Walker's Jackson wears tight black jeans, eyeliner, and has a gun in one belt loop and a handheld mic in the other.  Well, why not?  Walker, who may or may not make the transition when/if the show moves to Broadway, is really the show's star – and probably a star of considerably magnitude in his own right.

A lot of the jokes and asides are subtle and quiet, and might not work in a full-scale Broadway house, which is a bit of a shame.  Some of the subtleties of the nice (but largely unused) set dressing will also be lost.  But the music is certainly Broadway-worthy, even as it represents the new wave of rock musicals.  This is not an historical parody in the way that Spamalot spoofed King Arthur; this is something much much more rude and intense.  In a good way.  A-