Theatre: “American Psycho the Musical;” “Bright Star;” “Dear Evan Hansen”

AMERICAN PSYCHO the MusicalYES
Closes June 5th at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45 Street

IMG_3424If you are in NYC, or plan to be by 6/5, AND you have an affinity with musical theatre or share a concern about where America is heading, I urge you to see “American Psycho.” It is truly the first modern, i.e., 21st Century, musical. Its genesis is the music video, not vaudeville nor the musicals of Broadway’s Golden Age. It is a funny and searing indictment of a time and place (Manhattan, 1989) whose values have brought us to a point in time where Donald Trump appears headed to become the Republican candidate for President. It also contains two of the most brilliant, and inexcusably overlooked, performances of the season–Benjamin Walker and Heléne Yorke.

This is not a show for children as there is coarse language and simulated intercourse as well as simulated acts of violence. It is a show for adults who like musicals that are challenging and cause one to think. A musical like “American Psycho” comes along rarely. Eventually, it will be re-mounted and recognized, but the thrill of this original Broadway production should not be dismissed.

See my earlier posts about “American Psycho” here and here.

“DEAR EVAN HANSEN” – NO
Closed May 22nd at Second Stage; opening on Broadway later in 2016

"Dear Evan Hansen" is currently playing at Second Stage through May 22nd.
“Dear Evan Hansen” recently closed at Second Stage, and is scheduled to open on Broadway later in 2016.

Some theatre-goers were commenting that this off-Broadway show was “superb,” so several weeks ago I went with hopes high, not knowing anything about it. Unfortunately, my elation quickly turned to annoyance and tedium. The book, by Steven Leveson, of teen-age loneliness and angst rang false and unrealistic. The show, to me, was poorly written. The first 20 or 30 minutes did not move the plot forward, it simply repeated: Evan is friendless and has some type of social anxiety disorder, wringing his hands and”Waving Through A Window.”  He is being raised by his single Mom who, I seem to recall, was going to school herself or working a second job. Evan’s therapist has instructed him to write a daily letter to himself (hence the show title,  get it?) encouraging himself that today will be a good day. Evan silently pines for a girl at school, Zoe, whom he believes barely notices him. The only true character conflict came in the last 15 or 20 minutes when Evan’s reprehensible behavior is revealed and his relationship with the other characters is now cracked and tested but the writers never explore this. Evan’s actions, supported and abetted by his teenage schoolmates, struck me as dishonest, disagreeable, despicable and emotionally cruel. The lone exception is the innocent Zoe, who becomes one of the victims of his inexcusable behavior.

With the exception of Ben Platt who is a good performer but too mature to be playing a teen-ager, the acting was poor all around. The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Dogfight,” “A Christmas Story,” “James and the Giant Peach”) had no song that caught my attention nor whose melody I even remember. The point was made numerous times that Evan and his mother were abandoned by the father/husband, so there was no need for a useless song about a baseball glove, “To Break In A Glove.” The plot made the point repeatedly of Evan’s strong affinity for jazz music, and in which music class he first set eyes on Zoe, yet there’s not one note of jazz music in the score. It’s all blue-grass, guitar and banjo strumming and depressing.

Michael Greif’s direction was basic and unimaginative with nearly every song sung downstage and to the audience and with little to no connection between the teen-agers and adults on stage. Act One ended for me with no reason to return. I did because I was still hoping there might have been a positive reason to have sat through the first act. There wasn’t.  The show was over-produced–sliding panels gliding on and off, back and forth, onto with were projected images of teen-age emails and instant messages. The reason for these being, I suspected, to distract the audience and maintain attention while masking the fact that nothing was truly happening.

Some folks appear to be making much of this show and its supposed relevance to today. To which I strongly disagree. This show will date quickly. The Broadway audience for this show strikes me as limited at best. I recognize that many people believe this show is superb with fine music and lyrics, and that I’m in the minority. In my opinion, the reason for this Evan Euphoria stems from an unconscious collection of critics and fans of Pasek and Paul who sympathetically believe attention and recognition is due to this creative team. “Dear Evan Hansen” will not survive a transfer. The theatre work of Pasek and Paul up to now will not stand the test of time. Let’s see what they write in the future for the theatre, after they mature and leave the children and young adult shows and films behind them.

See my earlier post about “Dear Evan Hansen,” here.

BRIGHT STAR” – YES
Currently at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street

facebookMy opinion about the score’s overindulgent use of repetitive lyrics and false rhymes remains unchanged from my first hearing of the Broadway Cast Recording (Sh-k-Boom/Ghostlight). Since seeing the show at the Cort, however, which gave context to the score I found that I truly enjoy listening to the cast recording. Truly, truly. The show’s book is simple, straightforward, even predictable. Still it’s full of heart. It also has one of the season’s brightest Broadway debuts, Carmen Cusack. See this for her.  See it too for Alexander Paul Nolan, Hannah Elless, A. J. Shively and Emily Padgett, all who deliver fine performances.  You’ll also have a good feeling have when it’s over, and you’ll be glad you went. Don’t be surprised to find Steven Martin, one of the co-writers, showing up to play the banjo in the Entr’acte with the on-stage band. He’s known to do that.

See my earlier posts on “Bright Star” here and here.

 

CD Review: “Hamilton,” 2016 Original Broadway Cast

WTF?! Patrick Bateman led me to Alexander Hamilton.

I’ve spent the last several weeks under the musical spell of the Original London (and only so far) Cast recording of “American Psycho” by Duncan Sheik.  I decided it was time to stop holding my nose and listen to the OBC of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton: An American Musical,” the Original Broadway Cast recording. I have to admit that there is a lot to admire.

Having listened to “Hamilton” four or five times over the last week, including following along with the lyric booklet, I found myself more disposed to be taken in by the sheer musical audacity of the piece.  Musically it is much more varied than I had ever imagined and filled with catchy rhythms, snippets of which have stayed with me. Lyrically, I found that there is little imagery in my opinion and even less poetry.  To my sensibilities it is over-stuffed with repetition and cheap and poor rhymes. (I want a Hamilton $10 bill for every “Burr sir.) What I kept thinking each time I listened was, “how do the performers even begin to remember those lines?”  I found that there is nothing to help one remember where the music track is going. It’s accurate, I believe, to note that these are tracks and not songs as there isn’t a traditional song among the 46 tracks.

The history that the show’s lyrics convey is quite fascinating, for one or two hearings, even if some historians claim it to be historically questionable. At one point I was reminded of being in elementary school and the class being forced to hear one of those recordings of American history.  Fascinating if one liked history.   After several repeated listenings would one want to hear it again?

Hamilton_CastAlbum.jpg

The vocal and choral arrangements are credited jointly to Alex Lacamoire and Mr. Miranda; like jewels, the arrangements are multi-faceted and brilliant. The three-part vocal blending and harmonies of Philippa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsboro and Jasmine Cephas Jones in “The Schuyler Sisters” can take one’s breath away. The orchestrations and music direction by Mr.  Lacamoire is nothing less than stunning.

Frankly, it is these elements that make the recording of the score engaging, accessible and listenable. Well, listenable to a point for someone like me who has lived with the songs of the Great American Songbook in his head. I can most certainly understand, however, why listeners who live their life with a music shuffle would be caught up with the sound of “Hamilton.” It works well in small doses.

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Still, while I greatly surprised myself by liking it, I can not imagine listening to it too many times over the years. Not say, like I’ve listened to “Gypsy” or “South Pacific” or “West Side Story,” and even “American Psyho.” Scores whose songs are hypnotic and are able to recapture a moment of time in some of our lives and illicit deep personal feelings. On the London recording of  “American Psycho”  I found that “You Are What Your Weat,” “Oh Sri Lanka,” “At The End Of An Island,”and especially “A Girl Before” to be songs that I found easy to like and to listen to repeatedly.

“I am needing so much more, every pleasure is a bore, I am something other than a common man, I’m not a common man.”

True of both Patrick Bateman and Alexander Hamilton.  I recommend both recordings. If I were a TONY voter though Best Score would be “American Psycho.”

http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com

Currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, West 46 Street, New York City

http://americanpsyhothemusical.com

Currently playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, West 45 Street, New York City

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Theatre: “AMERICAN PSYCHO The Musical,” 2016 Broadway

“AMERICAN PSYCHO The Musical” is COMPANY for The Millennials.

One might make the quick comparison that AMERICAN PSYCHO the Musical is SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET for a new generation. After all, the main characters of both these musicals spend a goodly portion of plot and stage time murdering victims, either with a razor (Sweeney Todd) or in Patrick Bateman’s world with knives, or a buzzsaw or a gun. I would argue, however, to look deeper. For me, AP is the Millennial’s COMPANY.

If you haven’t seen AP let me say there will not be any spoilers here. Hey, I’m not even giving a critical assessment of the musical. I’m simply going to explain why it’s my point of view.

What equates Patrick Bateman to Bobby (the main character in COMPANY)? A fear of commitment and specifically of marriage. The drivers in both musicals are Patrick’s and Bobby’s emotional and psychological states as they unconsciously move towards an understanding of, and conquering of, that fear. Perhaps they are successful, perhaps not.

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“American Psycho” is currently playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Broadway.

In both AP and COMPANY Patrick and Bobby are single men living in Manhattan in the last quarter of the 20th Century, 25 to 30 years apart. Both men are well-to-do and happen to be white.  Both musicals are told within the framework of the emotional relationship between Patrick and Bobby to the other people (characters) in their world, as well as how those others see each of them. Both musicals include a birthday party for each man as hosted by those who hold them each most dear. Both musicals also include a wedding. The line that connects Patrick to Bobby, as opposed to Sweeney Todd, is Patrick’s and Bobby’s connection, or lack thereof, to the people around them.

Looking briefly at Sweeney Todd, he’s a man at an older age in life, living in another time, the Victorian era of the 19th Century, and in another country, London. Once married and with a child, both of whom he lost, Sweeney, is focused on revenge. That is what drives the musical. Sweeney’s relationships with the other people in his world are relationships that support his goal (Mrs. Lovett, the Beadle, etc.) or he has no use for the person (e.g., Anthony or Toby)

Sweeney is about revenge while Patrick is about self-awareness. That is especially evident if you believe, as I do, that what we, the audience, see on stage in not happening in real time, but rather in Patrick’s head.

So when someone says that AP is SWEENEY TODD, all they may be seeing is the slashing. That’s why I say look below the surface. One might see why Patrick and AMERICAN PSYCHO are Bobby and COMPANY the Millennials.

Oh, then there’s the matter of whether Patrick and Bobby are gay, or bi-sexual. I say, I’ll leave that for another blog, if there is one.

http://americanpsychothemusical.com/

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