Wednesday, November 10, 2021

MD Review: Gods and Monsters

Leave it to Marvel to take a group of obscure comic book characters and build a whole big budget sub-franchise around them. But what worked for the Guardians of the Galaxy does not for Eternals, no matter how much the studio pushes it as their next awards-baiting break out, à la Black Panther. Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao tries, but it's hard to care much about a bunch of angsty, super-powered immortals you've never heard of before.

MD Rating: 6/10

Eternals is now playing in theaters.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Reverend's Reviews: Back to Broadway

With proof of COVID-19 vaccination and photo ID in hand, Reverend recently made his first trip back to NYC and Broadway since December 2019. Ah, how I longed for those carefree days when one could attend subsequent Best Musical Tony Award winner Moulin Rouge! (which we earlier honored as our pick for 2019's Best Stage Show) without fearing for one's life! But I'm happy to report that both Broadway and Off-Broadway are in healthy shape at present.

My intrepid theatre chums Joe, Zoe, David and I first paid homage to the gods of NYC theatre by taking in Off-Broadway's Fairycakes. It is playing at the Greenwich House Theater in Greenwich Village (duh). Written and directed by the acclaimed and often hilarious Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed, the stage adaptation of Xanadu and the LGBTQ film classic To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar), the comedy is something of a mashup of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pinocchio and Cinderella. It's first act is too long and convoluted, but things pay off nicely in the tighter second act. The play's main selling point is its big name cast currently consisting of comedian/CBS news correspondent Mo Rocca, Avenue Q veteran Ann Harada (who is also a regular on Apple TV+'s Schmigadoon!), Charles Busch's frequent sidekick Julie Halston and the one and only Jackie Hoffman. An enchanting musical score by Beane's husband Lewis Flinn as well as Gregory Gale's extravagant costumes also deserve special mention.

Disney is back on Broadway, not only with the return of long-running hits Aladdin and The Lion King but with their brand-new Winnie the Pooh. At 75 minutes, it is an adorable family-friendly delight. Sure, the simplistic plot consists of little more than honey-loving Pooh bear and his stalwart friends Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and Rabbit getting into various kinds of trouble while their human pal Christopher Robin is away at school. But the overall look of the production, supervised by Jonathan Rockefeller, is amazing. The various non-human characters are larger-than-life puppets visibly operated and voiced by Jake Bazel (Pooh), Chris Palmieri (Tigger), Kirsty Moon (Piglet and Roo), Emmanuel Elpenord (Eeyore, Rabbit and Owl), and Kristina Dizon as Kanga and various natural elements. Bazel, in particular, does a great job channeling the unforgettable voice of the late Sterling Holloway; he even looks like a young Holloway! Numerous songs by the Sherman Brothers from the classic animated films as well as tunes from more recent Pooh-related projects like Piglet's Big Movie (2003) and The Tigger Movie (2000) are incorporated. Both the kids and adults in attendance loved it. Trust me, there are way worse ways to spend a Saturday morning.

My Connecticut friends and I went our separate ways the afternoon of Saturday, October 30th. Reverend took in my #1 choice, which was Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, now playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. An import from London that originally opened on Broadway shortly before the COVID-related shutdown, it starred newly-minted Tony Award winner Adrienne Warren as the rock & roll goddess. Unfortunately, Reverend learned just a few days before the performance and months after buying my tickets that Warren was leaving the production last weekend so I didn't get to see her. On the plus side, her understudy and new successor Nkeki Obi-Melekwe was fantastic and I'm sure she would have won the Tony if she had originated the role. I also preferred Obi-Melekwe's vocal performance over Warren's more affected, gravelly singing (which I had heard multiple times beforehand via Sirius XM's On Broadway channel).

The book of Tina, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, is a fairly straightforward account of Turner's rise to stardom despite her abusive marriage to Ike Turner (very well-played with just enough sympathetic insight by Tony nominee Daniel J. Watts). I appreciated that the show, directed by Mamma Mia's Phyllida Lloyd, is bookended with references to Turner's longtime devotion to Buddhism. Many songs from the diva's five-decade career are successfully incorporated into the show, although some (notably "Better Be Good To Me" and the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome theme "We Don't Need Another Hero") feel somewhat shoehorned in. To call Anthony Van Laast's choreography energetic would be an understatement, and Obi-Melekwe impressed me even more with her post-curtain call mini-concert of three more Turner songs! Whether on Broadway or eventually on tour, Tina is a must see!

My theatre-loving pals and I closed out our 4-shows-in-24-hours NYC weekend together with a preview performance of Mrs. Doubtfire at the Stephen Sondheim. Adapted from the beloved 1993 movie that starred the late, great Robin Williams, the musical was in previews and primed to open before last year's Broadway shutdown. Our reaction to it was decidedly mixed but revisions may yet be made prior to it's official December opening.

I haven't actually watched the film since seeing it in a movie theater nearly 30 years ago. I enjoyed it but can't remember the plot with complete accuracy. That being said, the musical (written by Wayne Kirkpatrick, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell, who previously collaborated on the delightful Something Rotten!) recreates all the story's major points including "It was a run-by fruiting!" I do wish there had been a full musical number of this, though, in addition to a pair of terrific songs inspired by the movie's "Easy Peasy" and "Make Me a Woman."

The primary attribute of the stage version, which is directed by Broadway legend Jerry Zaks, is lead actor Rob McClure. He gives an amazing performance as Daniel Hillard/Euphegenia Doubtfire, aided and abetted by Catherine Zuber's quick-change costumes and Tommy Kurzman's makeup and prosthetics. McClure is hilarious and moving in equal shares, and I totally expect him to win next year's Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Mrs. Doubtfire: The New Musical Comedy is well worth seeing for McClure alone.

As I wrap up this article, I was just informed of the long-awaited casting of the two leads in the upcoming Wicked movie! Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo will play Elphaba while pop superstar Ariana Grande will be Glinda. The film starts filming next summer under the guidance of director John M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights). Reverend is already polishing his ruby slippers!

Reverend's Ratings:
Fairycakes: B-
Winnie the Pooh: B+
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical: A-
Mrs. Doubtfire: B

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.