This is my latest pride and joy for the Brooklyn College Excelsior. So far, I am a bit too... Impatient with showing off my work, so I want to put it up here.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you show business at its finest. From Arci's Place I have a cabaret act from one of the finest ladies of Broadway about her life in the wings. Closer to home in the New Workshop Theatre, I also have a trenchant parody of show business! For the nights of October 3rd and 4th, I was on a roll – maybe it's my passion for the theatre and the cabaret scene, my appreciation for shows about show business, the raspberry martini I had in the 3rd, or the the sight of one of the leggiest actresses in Brooklyn College.
October 3, 2001 - Donna McKechnie in Arci's Place
It's been a month since I went back to Arci's Place (450 Park Ave. South) – You've probably noticed my warm-up of an article mentioning my trips to Joe's Pub and Don't Tell Mama from last week. I came back to my first cabaret venue since last year in expectation to see the triple-threat Donna McKechnie. She gave us a look at her influence from watching movies in her hometown in Detroit, and her career from How to Succeed... and A Chorus Line. Even better, the director of the current Paper Mill Playhouse production of that very show, Baayork Lee, has dropped by to see this show in opening night right across my way along with the rest of the cabaret family I have missed since last month.
Donna in her own perky-diva fashion came out to the stage from the kitchen with "Everything's Coming Up Roses," and she was so chipper she had to question herself whether or she was too much in front of the audience. From what I saw, I'll never have too much of the Midwestern Perky Diva – I've seen Karen Ziemba and Karen Mason doing their shows on Broadway and the cabarets respectively, and their personalities are not the kind of stuff I would stop enjoy seeing in full steam onstage.
This show is a first time for musical director Dennis Buck – specifically it's his first time doing a show in Arci's. Any first-time kinks he had was gone right after the overture behind the piano. Otherwise, he kept up with Donna's singing and making great use of her dancing skills. The medley of movie songs (especially with a bit of "Put the Blame on Mame" from Gilda and Harold Arlen's "Get Happy") from Jerry Herman was gave just as much rhythmic room for dancing, leading to the precise footwork for Ann Hampton Callaway's "Astaire" while Donna was telling us about her night with Fred Astaire. I'm all for certain the precision was a chip off of Bob Fosse's old block.
One of my favorite parts of my DVD collection is the D.A. Pennebaker documentary for the making of the 1975 cast recording of the Sondheim musical Company. I could barely see Donna doing the recording of "You Could Drive A Person Crazy" because the emphasis was on the rest of the ensemble cast. However, her doing the same song was a treat that made me want to sing along.
The show itself is also a tribute to the folks who created the musical A Chorus Line. In memory of the late composer Ed Kleban (remembered in the last time with the musical A Class Act), Donna did the very song that has gotten Ed his chance to do this show – the "Broadway Boogie Woogie Blues." The same went for choreographer Michael Bennett with "Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises. Granted the dance was too... ridiculously wacky with Donna's head swinging left-and-right into a blur (earning the Clive Barnes quote comparing her to a "steam hammer in heat"), the number wasn't done to insult Mr. Bennett's pre-Chrous work but as a fascinating and an embarrassingly silly aside leading to his making the moves for the big show that made her big in '75 after Sondheim. If Michael Bennett was alive today, Broadway talk-show host Seth Rudetsky would have asked for Donna's performance in lieu of a "Mortifying Clip of the Week." Ms. McKechnie doing the showstopping "The Music and the Mirror" to tie up the tributes to Kleban and Bennett working together was not given short shrift even with the small stage.
October 4, 2001 – Anton in Show Business in the New Workshop Theatre
To continue onwards to the hijinks behind the stage I went to see Anton in Show Business as directed by David Garfield. At first, I was under the impression that I had to have a serious scholarly appreciation for Anton Chekov's writings or at least the experience of watching The Seagull as presented by the Public Theatre up in the Delacorte Theatre this Summer (the post-Star Wars fascination with Natalie Portman scares me). Anton is less about Chekov's history but instead more about the latter-day situation of the American theatre. Revolving around a failed production of Chekov's The Three Sisters in Texas, this is an examination of the absuridity of today's theatre as a business, and the raison d'être of the performer and audience in this business. Given the use of rough language throughout the play (like describing the modern-day theatre being in a "shitload of trouble" right at the beginning), I was surprised that this whole message of showbiz didn't fall into chaos with its monologues praising or punishing various aspects of the business behind the stagecraft.
I hear four distinctive voices representing the stagecraft: first is the hopeful beginner actress Lisabette (Cristina Marie Harris) with her enthusiasm. The second is the weathered anger of the experienced but desparate Off-Off-Broadway actress Casey (Sylvia Scalia). You'll know for sure she was cast for the role of the plain-Jane angry sister Olga in the ill-fated revival. The third is the deep and sex-driven voice of the egotistic soap-opera actress and temptress Holly (Calder Corey). The fourth voice, the voice of the audience and the voice of reason comes not from the stage but from the house. The audience member and writer Joby (Heather Collis) engages the cast during inopportune times talking about stereotypical characters, the deal with interpretations of classic plays, and the necessity of a sex scene between Holly and a country singer who was cast as her leading man.
One of the more innovative aspects of this play is the all women-cast. Since modern-day theatre is still run mostly by men, why wouldn't the playwright want women to play the satirized male characters? For the cast revolving right outside the "voices," their specific personalities are tinged and filtered like the lights above the stage to create different characters. Anita Ahiadormey played the stage manager, a stereotypically multicultural director, and a corporate sponsor for the play-within-the-play. Katarina Vizinova (previously from Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs last May in the Gershwin Theatre) and Dalia Farmer juggled their own set of three mostly male roles of people pushing around (or in some cases being pushed around by) the three actresses and the audience member/critic.
The rest of this show (which I wanted to call the "metaplay") required a lot of guts from playwright Jane Martin's part to maintain the story of making The Three Sisters, and this production shows how the secondary storylines were pruned and swept aside. The initial attraction between Kate (the Sisters producer) and Lisabette was confronted and immediately killed off when the actresses were drunk in a hotel room before their first rehearsal. The scenes of Holly's affair with the leading man spices up the whole story, but it gives way to the immediate failure of the Chekov revival. The same goes for the phone calls from Lisabette and Casey to their mothers in the first act, because the metaplay is not directly about the actors and their struggles – those kind of stories are probably covered enough in the Backstage weekly newspaper.
It turns out the same restraint used to keep the metastory in the low-profile clean and narrow also made interesting the long revalations about various negative aspects of the theatre. Wilkéwitch, a Polish emigré director played by Ms. Vizinova, revealed to the cast the significance of Chekov to his life. Ms. Ahiadormey revealed to Kate the idea that corporate grants do not necessarily lead to convincing artistic works. My favorite was Casey being angry over audience interruptions (especially two of the real-life audience members had to stifle their ringing phones – one ran off to the lobby to do so). Those litanies do preach to an extent, but they didn't come from some extraneous preacher character or required channeling some outside personality. Those multi-role actresses using their own personalities and the "filters" made the messages of the metaplay engaging without tiring the audience.
One of the quirks about this production is the costuming of the cast. The most colorful costumes belong to one woman – Calder Corey herself. I mean, everybody else was wearing lots of plain and low-powered costumes, and Ms. Corey playing Holly provides first dibs for a short and outré violet dress and other pieces in the "barely anything and almost nothing" department. The costumes for Casey are in degrees of black and white, a very faint crimson dress for Lisabette, and the costume closest to being excessive was Ms. Ahiadormey dressed as a "Black Rage" director. I wanted to drive most my of attention to the three actresses together, but I'm not surprised if the rest of the audience looked at the "Devil in the Violet Dress" followed by an eternity of looking at her legs. In fact, I can feel pitchforks poking my back right now.
Come to think of it, the interchange between Joby and Lisabette at the end struck me as a surprise – a local theatre critic who has already broken the fourth wall talking to the former ingénue about writing a review of the whole evening. That didn't just tell me that the audience for live theatre still exists even in college, but it made question my existence as a writer here. I already have been given an answer in favor if me staying here (not to mention my frustratingly empty systems manager role in the office), but this dialogue gave me the question of my relevance in here. . . Where did the reader go?
Kit Lo has taken a whole day trying to calm himself down after seeing Ms. Corey in order to write this review. In fact, the sleep he had after watching the show made things worse.