As you might be able to guess from the title, I have just seen four plays in one week! It's been a busy week, but I love the theater, so I'm happy to get caught up a little bit. Here are some thoughts on all four shows:
"A Chorus Line," Orpheum Theater-Despite billboards telling me otherwise, "A Chorus Line" is NOT the "Best Musical. Ever." In fact, I wouldn't even put it in my top five or ten. It's decent, but honestly, it's really dated, and all the characters are really pretty shallow sketches. The songs are good but not great, although "One" was stuck in my head for hours afterwards! Argh! The singing and dancing were both really good, though. The only other time I saw "A Chorus Line" was on a choir trip when I was in 7th grade, and wow, it was shocking then! She just said "tits" on stage!!! Can they do that??? In 2009, it's definitely lost any power to shock or surprise, but it's difficult for anything to have the same impact nearly 35 years later. Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
"Singin' in the Rain," Ordway Center for the Performing Arts-A stage version of the classic film. Amazing! This might actually be the best musical ever, despite the fact that the songs used in the film were just old ones that they threw together. (With some new songs.) Seeing the movie in Rice Park in downtown St. Paul a couple of weeks ago definitely whet my appetite for this show! The movie was one of my favorites as a little kid, and I hadn't seen it in a long time. It's just so euphoric and giddy and fun! Of course, it's impossible to find anyone to top Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, but Michael Gruber and Tony Vierling did a fine job. I had a blast seeing one of my all-time favorite movies live on stage! Rating: 5 stars out of 5.
"Caroline, or Change," Guthrie Theater-Part of the Guthrie's all Tony Kushner Spring and Summer, this Tony-winning musical features a tour de force performance from Greta Oglesby in the title role. Caroline is an African-American maid in Louisiana in 1963, and the play deals with her relationship with the Jewish family for whom she works. The whole production was so well done, my only quibble is with a piece of history. Part of the action of the play takes place on November 22, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In the play, the characters don't hear about the assassination until the evening. That would not have happened, as Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1PM. And since Caroline listens to the radio all day long, she would have been hearing news bulletins all afternoon. Likewise, grade-schooler Noah Gellman would have most likely been sent home for the day around lunchtime, instead of hearing the news late at night. I know I'm picking on this point a bit, but as a history buff, it was a glaring error. But other than that, it was a really great show. And one of my favorite actors, Bradley Greenwald, got to show off his clarinet-miming chops as Noah's father. (Bradley has a fantastic voice, but he didn't get to use it a lot in this show.) Oh, and I saw Tony Kushner in the Guthrie gift shop before the play! I probably wouldn't have recognized him except for the fact that I had just seen his picture about 5 times on my way from the rush line to the gift shop. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.
"Shipwrecked! An Entertainment-The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself)" Jungle Theater-I just saw this last night, and it was a terrific show! It tells the story of Louis de Rougemont, who thrilled Victorian England with his tales of being shipwrecked and spending 30 years living amongst Aborigines off the coast of Australia. But was de Rougemont telling the truth? I won't spoil it for you, sometimes we need a little imagination. The play is by Donald Margulies, who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Michael Booth gives a great performance as de Rougemont. He reminded me a little of Peter O'Toole, in his ability to keep you hanging on every word, whether it's true or not. The supporting performances surround Booth with a daffy lunacy, as 3 actors play all the remaining parts. Stephen Cartmell stole the show as Bruno the dog, de Rougemont's faithful companion. It's an incredibly funny performance. Cartmell also reduced me to giddy laughter as a wombat expert, and I think I might find just the word "wombat" funny for the next week or two. "Shipwrecked!" is a fantastic show about the power of stories. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.