Frozen; The Band’s Visit- Proctors

Frozen: technically brilliant

Band's Visit.playbillOne of the perks of retirement is that I’ve gotten season’s ticket to see musical matinees at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. Oh, I’ve had them before, but it’s been a few years that I went to the THURSDAY matinees. Those particular matinees mean three things: cheaper tickets, a lot of older patrons, and best of all, a discussion with the cast after the shows.

In some ways, the after-show talk is the best part. For instance, there were three cast members fielding questions from the audience at the mid-November 2019 performance of Frozen. I had seen the movie when it came out and thought it was though it was fine.

The cast let us know that they were up in Schenectady running technical rehearsals. Probably for geographic reasons, Proctors is often the first show on national tours. This involves making sure the show is set not just for that venue but all of the subsequent ones.

The three performers were a guy who was in the ensemble, a woman with a small role who was otherwise in the ensemble, and the guy who voiced the Olaf the snowman puppet-like creature. The first two had to make costume changes after almost every scene. The controller of Olaf had less changing, but had to make sure it was the snowman, not the person operating him, who was the focus.

Technically, Frozen was brilliant. Thanks to lighting, smoke and other effects, one believed the country was getting colder. There were audible gasps and even applause with the transition. The show was well-performed, but the extra songs did not enhance the narrative. I thought the second act in particular dragged. But I blame the script/songs, not the performers.

2018 Best Musical

Here’s the plot of The Band’s Visit. “When an Egyptian police band gets stranded in a tiny Israeli town, the musicians wait in a cafe — and get to talking with the locals.”

It is “one of four musicals in Broadway history to win the unofficial “Big Six” Tony Awards, which include Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical. It won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.”

My wife and I enjoyed a performance in late December. The woman behind me clearly did not. “Thank God it’s over!” We surmise it’s because there’s no big numbers in The Band’s Visit to let one know It’s A Broadway Show. It’s more subtle than that.

The four cast members we saw afterwards, all men, were particularly engaging. A couple of them were from the Middle East. One said he loved the show because it’s an antidote from being told he could only play a doctor or a terrorist.

Not incidentally, two of the leads in the show were played by understudies. Was that to allow them a chance to play a show or two each week? NO, the usual leads were not available.

Spamilton: An American Parody

created, written, and directed by Gerard Alessandrini

SpamiltonMy wife, my daughter and I enjoy the musical Hamilton. But we can also appreciate a bit of a takedown of the phenomenon. Spamilton: An American Parody fits the bill. My family saw it on a Saturday night at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. I was attending a library gala at the time, so I went on the previous Thursday.

The first song made it clear that it was Lin-Manuel Miranda who would be the target of many of the jokes. And, according to the program, a skewering was allowed by Manuel and his co-creators.

The bulk of the ninety minutes were played by five actors. Jared Alexander played Daveed Diggs, who played Lafayette and Jefferson in the original cast. Datus Puryear was Aaron Burr and the actor who played him, Leslie Odom, Jr. Rendell DeBose played various other characters, from Ben Franklin to Annie. Adrian Lopez is a ringer for a younger Lin-Manuel.

Paloma D’Auria played ALL of the leading ladies, sometimes with puppets. She also portrayed many of the divas of Broadway. Brandon Kinley only played King George III and one other role.

Not every setup worked. But the piece, created, written, and directed by Gerard Alessandrini, was so full of ideas that it barely mattered. The energy and talent of the five primary players were astonishing for ninety minutes, with no intermission.

Reviews

The New York Times review calls Spamilton “convulsively funny”. The Huffington Post raves “you don’t have to see Hamilton to have side-splitting fun at Spamilton.” True, but it DOES help to be at least familiar with the Tony-winning musical. Here’s a preview clip. The show will be in Kansas City, MO, and Greenville, SC, in the coming weeks.

Incidentally, my wife and I also attended a lecture on September 29 at Siena College. Hamilton: How the Musical Remixes American History by Richard Bell, a history professor from Maryland was presented by the Albany Institute of History and Art.

Bell is a HUGE fan, yet he noted the shortcomings of Miranda’s work, notably the role that women played. She suggested that Hamilton failed the Bechdel Test in that the women in it who talk to each other, mostly talk about a man, the named character. It may be an overly simplistic metric, but it is a tool.

The Waitress phenomenon

Larry Dallas

christine dwyer
Christine Dwyer
When I was still working, there was a woman in one of the other departments in my building who was obsessed with the musical Waitress. She had seen it more than once on Broadway and had selfies with members of the cast. When it hit Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, she saw the touring show.

But she also had a Waitress cookbook and even promised to bake me a pie before I retired. (She tried to, but the pie failed, so she bought me one.)

When my wife, daughter and I saw it back in June, I thought it was… fine. Pleasant. It reminded me structurally to the TV show Alice. Alice never fell for her gynecologist, as Jenna (Christine Dwyer) did, though. Becky, the black waitress (Melody A. Betts), reminded me of the white, wisecracking Flo on the TV show. The timid Dawn (Ephie Aardema) is not dissimilar to the flaky Vera.

Even the diner managers, Mel, and Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) were guys with rough exteriors but with hearts of gold. Odd that I didn’t get that deja vu feeling with the movie.

All she found was Earl

In the musical, Jenna’s abusive and controlling husband Earl (Jeremy Woodard) made my daughter extremely uncomfortable. In both stage and screen, Earl reminded me of the villain in the Dixie Chicks’ video for Goodbye Earl with Jane Krakowski, Dennis Franz, and Lauren Holly.

Another difference is that in Waitress, the actual diner owner was an older man named Joe, played in the show I saw by Richard Kline. You may remember Kline best from the sitcom Three’s Company as Larry Dallas.

The most interesting/bizarre character in Waitress is Ogie (Jeremy Morse), who is wooing Dawn. A local reviewer suggested that he seemed to belong in another play entirely, he was so off the wall. He was the most entertaining part of the production.

Waitress opened on Broadway on April 24, 2016, and has over 1450 performances. But it will close on January 5, 2020. Several people I’ve actually heard of have played Jenna, including Sara Bareilles, who wrote the serviceable music, and former American Idol contestants Katharine McPhee and Jordin Sparks. Meanwhile, the touring show continues through at least mid-2020.

The Book of Mormon, more theater

Think the Tonys for the under-20 crowd

Book of MormonMy family goes to the theater quite often. Capital Rep in downtown Albany is a “287-seat professional regional theatre [which] operates under regulations dictated by Actors’ Equity Association.” It’ll be moving four blocks away later this year.

Proctors Theatre in downtown Schenectady is an old old vaudeville venue with about 2600 seats. I have an odd attachment to the place, because when the powers that be decided to renovate the building back in 1978, I worked there on the second floor for the Schenectady Arts Council for several months.

Besides being a reminder for ME of what I’ve seen, i’m hoping to drop some information for you, in case you come across these shows.

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Cap Rep, December 23: “A sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set two years after the novel ends, MISS BENNET continues the story, only this time with bookish middle-sister Mary as its unlikely heroine.”

If it is a seasonal trifle, it is a very good one, with a lovely assortment of classical music pieces interspersed, played by the actors. There will be a half dozen productions in 2019 in the US and Canada, and it’s worth seeing if it comes to your area.

School of Rock, Proctors, February 10. I never saw the movie with Jack Black. The three of us liked the musical a lot, especially that narrative that you have to really LISTEN to your kids. It was on Broadway for about three years, and has been touring since September 2017, alas, ending in San Jose, CA this week.

High School Musical Theatre Awards, Proctors, May 11. Think the Tonys for the under-20 crowd. Our family had its rooting interests.

Sweet Charity from Albany High School got four nominations, getting one, for the orchestra. Beauty and the Beast from Catskill High School, and starring one of my nieces, got one nomination but did not win. Still, the other talent onstage was tremendous and the ceremony was very much worthwhile.

The Book of Mormon, Proctors, May 15. Back story: last time this show played in the area, in 2014, our daughter was sick in the hospital. Since my wife had stayed with our daughter the night before, I suggested that I should stay at the hospital so she could see the performance.

My wife went; she didn’t like it, finding it too coarse. This time, I went by myself, ON OUR ANNIVERSARY, no less. I thought it was quite funny and said a lot about stereotypes, religious imperialism, and the power of myth. The tour is continuing at least through August 2020.

47 hours: hearts, symphony, Humans

It was great that the parents got to hear the concert.

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.