Posts Tagged ‘Proctors Theatre’

Broome and Roger in 2016

The past six weekends have been extremely busy, with Black History Month at church. The last Sunday in February, there was a miscommunication by the guest minister.

We ended up having two different preachers for our two services, the latter showing up five minutes before the latter worship started, and she was great, but it was nerve-wracking. That’s also the day of the luncheon, which my wife is heavily involved in.

March 10 began with cleaning the house in anticipation of having folks over to play the card game hearts. Back in 1987/1988, a rotating cadre of us would go to Broome’s house to play three or four times a week. It has been reduced to once a year, the Saturday nearest my natal day.

But it’s not all card play. There’s a lot of talking among old friends, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in a year or two. There’s also eating, especially Orchid’s lasagna(TM).

At one point, there were six of us left. We could have played two games of three players each. Instead, we pretty much invented, on the spot, a double-deck game, stripping the deck of the pair of 2 of clubs. One CAN get BOTH queens of spades at the same time. It was so bizarre, in a GOOD way.

Pretty much as soon as the last guest left, my wife rushed down to the Palace Theater to attend the Albany Symphony. Early on, the mayor of Albany, Kathy Sheehan gave brief remarks about how great the ASO is. I had introduced her at my church for her talk on her equity agenda six days earlier.

The concert was conducted, as usual, by the adventurous David Alan Miller: it was the preview of what would be performed at the Kennedy Center in April 2018. The first piece in the second half was Dorothy Chang’s The Mighty Erie Canal, featuring 150 fourth-through-sixth graders from the Troy Public Elementary School All-City Choir.

Of course, their parents were there to see them, bringing along the singers’ younger siblings, who made the noises that toddlers will make, during the first half, Joan Tower’s Still/Rapids featuring pianist Joyce Yang, and Michael Daugherty’s Reflections with tuba virtuoso Benjamin Pierce.

It was great that the parents got to hear the concert. My wife overheard one parent of a small child sigh that they were not able to afford a babysitter. So it was what it was.

Still, as a snobbish symphony goer, it was easier to listen to Michael Torke’s Three Manhattan Bridges, also with the dazzling pianist Yang, after the kids, and their parents, and their sibs departed.

We got to bed about 11 p.m. EST, but woke up about 7 a.m. EDT. My position about the evils of changing the clock is on the record.

We dragged ourselves to church, then the Daughter went to the movies while we went to see the touring production of the Tony-winning play, The Humans, by Stephen Karam, at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. It’s about a family dinner on Thanksgiving.

Instead going to the homestead in Scranton, PA, the folks celebrate at the apartment of younger daughter Brigid (Daisy Eagan), a struggling composer living with her 38-year-old, still a student, boyfriend Richard (Luis Vega) in Lower Manhattan.

The visiting Blakes are the father, Erik (Richard Thomas, yes of The Waltons), the mother, Dierdre (Pamela Reed), older daughter Aimee (Therese Plaehn), with a plethora of problems, and Erik’s dementia-stricken mother (Lauren Klein), who’s having one of her “bad days.”

If you’ve ever had a holiday meal with extended family, you will recognize these people. The play is funny, sometimes uproariously so, and sad, and a little eerie, as disappointments about life bubble up.

The Tony-winning set by David Zinn is recreated here, and it’s brilliantly designed and used. The Humans was sensitively directed by Joe Mantello. Here’s a review.

Finding Neverland is the story about how James Matthew Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe) wrote the story of Peter Pan by befriending a widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren) and her four boys. One of the boys is named Peter, and the death of his father had damaged his sense of childlike wonder.

Barrie too had gotten all grown up, married to a high society-minded woman, having fancy dinners with snooty people such as Mrs. du Maurier (Broadway working actress Karen Murphy), and in need of writing another successful piece for a theater impresario, Charles Frohman (John Davidson – yes, THAT John Davidson) and his troupe.

(I’ll admit I love the stunt casting in these touring shows that my wife and I see at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. I didn’t recognize Davidson straight off – his hair is much whiter than when I watched his TV show decades ago – but he was a solid performer, as was Adrienne Barbeau from Maude in Pippin a few seasons back.)

Barrie discovers he needs to find his own sense of adventure. And – no spoiler here – he finds it, with Frohman the inspiration for Captain Hook. Indeed, the Frohman character BECOMES Hook, taunting/inspiring the writer. Note that we’re not looking for historical accuarcy here.

The production features music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, based on the book by James Graham. It was all quite serviceable to the plot, with a few pretty good songs. But I will admit that I got a bit misty-eyed at the end of the penultimate scene. It was one of the best payoffs I’ve experienced in seeing theater. If it’s touring in your area, I recommend it.

We did see the movie, also based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee. back in 2004 or 2005, with Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and Julie Christie. I remembered enjoying it, but this iteration, I believe, had a more of an emotional wallop.

Finding Neverland, the musical, ran on Broadway for 565 performances in 2015 and 2016, with Matthew Morrison, the teacher from the TV show Glee, as Barrie; Kelsey Grammer, who starred as Frasier on TV, as Frohman; and Carolee Carmello as Mrs. du Maurier. Morrison and Carmello were nominated for Tonys but did not win.

Fun Home

My wife and I saw Fun Home at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady back in November, and it was revelatory.

It’s about a girl named Alison, played at three points in her life, by three different actors. Small Alison lives in a funeral home with her brothers, making up would-be commercials for the facility. Her father Bruce is a professor but also the funeral director. Helen, his wife, tries to keep the house up to his exacting standards or retreats to playing the piano.

Medium Alison goes away to college, realizes she is a lesbian but is not eager to share this news with her father. She sings my favorite song from the show, “Changing My Major,” a paean to her girlfriend Joan. The adult Alison ruminates on all of this, including the death of her father shortly after she came out; is there a connection between the two events? Sometimes, there are two or even three Alisons on stage simultaneously.

The musical was adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir. It is not at all a linear telling but bounces back and forth in time, yet it works.

I’ve had the cast album for well over a year, so I knew the songs. “Ring of Keys” by Small Alison & Alison is another favorite. But “Days and Days,” sung by Helen near the end of the production, was particularly moving in the show I saw.

Considering that the show won the 2015 Best Musical Tony for Best Musical in 2015 and other awards, I was slightly surprised how many people are unfamiliar with the story. Then again, I actually WATCH the Tonys.

Not only that, one of my colleagues had a relative who played one of Small Alison’s brothers, so she’d seen the show on Broadway. She’s also seen a couple other productions and shared with me the fact that the show can be performed “in the round” or on a traditional stage.

It’s an odd thing getting a subscription for Sundays when the shows only run six days, starting on Tuesdays. I see the last show before it leaves town, and can’t say, “Go see it!” And in the case of Fun Home, I’ve discovered that the touring company ended its run on December 3.

This means that perhaps some local theater company in your area will be doing a production. I imagine it will be worthwhile.

Cynthia Erivo as Celie in the Broadway revival

I never finished reading Alice Walker’s powerful 1982 novel The Color Purple, though I had read good chunks of it.

The movie came out in late 1985, so I would have seen it in the first three months of the following year. I thought it was strong, powerful, and occasionally difficult to watch. Danny Glover played Mister/Albert, who was a brute. Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Johnson, Margaret Avery and Shug Avery, and, surprisingly, Oprah Winfrey as Sofia were quite good, as was the rest of the cast.

The film garnered 11 Academy Award nominations, including for those three women, winning zero, making it the film with the most noms with no Oscars. Goldberg and director Steven Spielberg did win the Golden Globes, and the film was named best drama.

Then there was the first Broadway production which ran from December 2005 to the end of February 2008, nominated for 11 Tonys, and winning one, LaChanze as Celie. Renée Elise Goldsberry, later of Hamilton fame, played Celie’s sister Nettie. The touring company production ended a couple years later.

The musical was revived at the end of 2015 and closed early in 2017. It was nominated for four Tonys, and won Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Cynthia Erivo as Celie.

The touring show started on October 17, 2017 in Baltimore. But wait. What did I see on October 8 at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, featuring “director John Doyle’s deceptively simple set design, a towering array of angled, broken barn boards and mismatched wooden chairs that rise up from the stage to the overhead fly-space”?

Technically, it was a preview show, working out the bugs in the story and technical problems. I’m told the cast in the earlier production was quite large, but only 17 in this iteration. The story is strong, especially in the first half. The songs are very inspirational, especially in the second half, and performed well throughout.

A couple actors weren’t miked well, and I couldn’t really make out what they were saying.

A bigger problem for me, though, was the transformation of Mister/Albert from Act 1’s bully to Act 2’s saint. It didn’t feel earned, and as my wife noted, when a child is left in hs care, she worried about the baby’s welfare, unnecessarily so, as it turns out.

I’m sure that the technical issues will be fixed. Whether the storyline will be, I don’t know. Still, even with that caveat, it was well worth seeing.

We go to the theater a fair amount, but the first half of April 2017 was quite the outlier.

Sunday, April 2: The Little Mermaid – Catskill High School (three of us)

One of my nieces was in her fifth production, and the three of us have seen them all. This was her largest role yet, playing Flounder. She was quite good, actually, and I say this not out of familial loyalty.

In general the girls were better singers than the boys. Ariel’s sisters were fine as were Ursula’s assistants. But the hits were Sebastian (Edward Donahue), Ariel (Ade Spencer) and especially Ursula (Anna White).

Thursday, April 6: The Sound of Music – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (three of us)

Proctors has had Broadway-quality productions for a number of years, and this was no exception. The trick with the musical is that the movie is so imprinted in the brain. My Favorite Thing is sung at the abbey, Do-Re-Mi at the Trapp villa, and The Lonely Goatherd in Maria’s bedroom, when she calms the children freaked out by the thunderstorm.

While the two leads (Charlotte Maltby, Nicholas Rodriguez) are fine, and the children are amazingly good, the largest applause went to Melody Betts as Mother Superior after she sang Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

We bought tickets for next season’s shows, including Fun Home, The Color Purple, Finding Neverland and On Your Feet! (the Gloria Estafan story). Buying a subscription THIS year will mean getting dibs on buying toicxkets for Hamilton in 2018-2019.

(Only somewhat off topic: Alison Bechdel is Vermont’s cartoonist laureate. She created Fun Home.)

Saturday, April 8, 2017: They Built America: The Workers of the Erie Canal – local school (two of us)

This is a Capital Rep show commemorating the 200th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the engineering feat that went from Albany to Buffalo. “Meet the real men, women and children, the politicians, farmers, merchants and laborers who…[built] the Erie Canal.” There are four actors, and three of them, the two men and one of the women, play multiple parts. It was quite good, about an hour long and suitable for children.

The Daughter should have come.

Sunday, April 9: Oliver! – Albany High School (two of us)

This was, aside from some occasional sound problems, extraordinarily good. I was’t familiar with the story, though I sang Consider Yourself in glee club in high school. It’s a dark, sordid, violent tale.

The standout were the terrifying Bill Sykes (Ackazemas Myers), the show-stopping singer Nancy (Williemae Fiddemon), and the shifty Fagen (Raphael Cohen), who had a fun bit with the violinist in the orchestra. Oliver was played by sixth-grader Hassan Laing who was good, but occasionally miked badly.

Saturday, April 15: Beautiful: the Carole King Story – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (two of us)

I saw this on the calendar months ago and said, Who scheduled this for Holy Week?” It’s only on the Wednesday through Sunday. I have to sing or rehearse or travel the other days. Based on the packed house for this matinee, many folks wee in the same boat.

Just from casual conversation with the folks around the Wife and me, it was clear that almost everyone knew the Tapestry album from 1971 but few were familiar with the songwriting of Carole King (the wonderful Julia Knitel) with husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) well before that, competing to get their songs pitched to the right singer or group that might make their songs #1.

As Greg Haymes noted in Nippertown: “‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era, i.e., ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ (Leiber and Stoller) or ‘Leader of the Pack’ (Ellie Greenwich). But thanks to some smart, comic dialogue by Douglas McGrath, deft direction by Marc Bruni and strong, all-around performances by the cast, ‘Beautiful’ is a snappy musical that rises above the level of the usual jukebox musical expectations.

“But it’s not all about King, and the title of the show is something of a misnomer. The secondary couple – portraying the songwriting team of Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) – and their music is crucial.”

Yes, it wasn’t just a Kingfest, as the early “1650 Broadway Medley” had songs from Neil Sedaka (singer of “Oh, Carol”), Leiber and Stoller, Phil Spector and many others. The Mann/Weil hit You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling was a standout.

But Act 2 belonged to the former Carole Klein. I LOVED this show.

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