I liked this play a lot. It wasn’t necessarily life-changing, and I wouldn’t necessarily insist that you need to pay full price for a ticket, but I would say that if you have the opportunity to go, take advantage of it for a unique theatrical experience.
For the people out there who have not read the book (or the people who have and simply forgot everything about it like me), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came out in 2003, written by British novelist Mark Haddon. It’s about a 15-year-old boy named Christopher Boone. Christopher is extremely gifted in math, logic, and all things science, but he struggles socially. He doesn’t like when people touch him. He is easily overstimulated and screams until he is able to calm down. He has a complicated relationship with his dad and maybe an even more difficult relationship with his mother before she passed away two years earlier. The story begins with a neighbor’s dog being murdered. And à la John Coffey in The Green Mile, Christopher is found cradling the dead dog and is immediately accused. He makes it his mission to find out who did it and starts detective work even though he doesn’t like talking to strangers. But as he starts to dig, other mysteries begin to unravel as well, forever changing his life as he knows it.
The production (a transfer from the National Theatre in London) is very innovative and smart. It’s well-directed, and the design is arguably the best part. The creative team has done an excellent job of making the audience feel – or at the very least, understand – how Christopher feels day-to-day. In one scene, he explains that he “sees everything.” You know how Raymond counts the toothpicks in a split second? Like that, Christopher registers every single thing around him. Therefore, if he’s in a crowded place like a train station, it’s an unreal amount of stimulation that overwhelms and cripples him until he is able to find a rhythm to the madness. This then guides him back to his own personal equilibrium. So, through a slick scenic design, charged music, flashing lights, and incredibly well-used projections, the stage transforms into what’s going on in his brain during these moments. It can be very unnerving at times (in the best way possible). With such an effective design and moving choreography, the creators have set up a great storytelling convention for us to go directly into this kid’s mind. Now that I think about it, even in the calmer sections, the design is still how Christopher sees the world – like a grid, finding whatever sense he can in his surroundings. For example, he builds a train set throughout Act 1, literally taking the different pieces out of the walls around him. Everything is compartmentalized, organized, and clean…until it’s not, and he panics. Christopher is wonderfully played by Alex Sharp, a 25-year-old recent graduate of Juilliard (and by recent, I mean this past May). You’re looking at a future Tony nominee, folks.
Now this isn’t exactly a heads-up per se, but I feel like I should note again that this production came over from the West End, and you can definitely tell. This is British theatre at its core. It’s hard to explain what I mean by that. Basically, the style is different – the way of storytelling, the pacing, etc. Quite often, it can be tricky for plays to make the jump across the pond for these very reasons. Sometimes, American audiences have a difficult time adjusting to the style shift. I’m very curious to see what the critics will think. I personally like that it’s structurally different and that the storytelling makes you work, although the pacing was often a problem. I was bored at times, and it’s a little long. Granted, I saw it in the middle of previews, so this may change (they even had to hold for a few minutes during Act 2 due to technical difficulties. Ohhh previews.).
So my bottom line? It’s a striking design and a very, very technical show, but what’s lovely – and crucial – is that amidst all the flash and spectacle, Curious doesn’t lose its heart.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Written by Simon Stephens, Based on the novel by Mark Haddon, Directed by Marianne Elliott
Barrymore Theatre, Open-ended
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Alex Sharp
Okay, a disclaimer about this song: I found out about it from a Smash promo. You should know, I have very mixed feelings about that show. I actually stopped watching after the third episode so I wasn’t even a viewer by the time Jeremy Jordan made his entrance as Jimmy on season two. But I remember catching wind of this tune and looking into it immediately. Written by Joe Iconis, it has a great hook, haunting lyrics, and an ending that gives me chills every time.
Here is “Broadway, Here I Come!” performed by the man with the ultimate pipes, Jeremy Jordan (the song starts at 1:37).
Long time no chat, Broadway fans! Sorry I disappeared there for a while. I was lucky enough to be in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago (the Big Island – check out the music video!), and I’m only now beginning to resurface and return to the reality of living on this island. So let’s catch up on some theatre, shall we? I saw This Is Our Youth back in August during its second week of previews (broke that damn rule again) and was happy to see that it opened to great reviews while I was busy “sun tanning.” And surprise, surprise – I’m on board with the critics for this one. You may have already heard the buzz: the Kenneth Lonergan revival directed by Anna D. Shapiro (Of Mice and Men, August: Osage County) transferred from Steppenwolf starring Kieran Culkin, Michael Cera, and Tavi Gevinson.
Like the many theatre students before me, This Is Our Youth was required reading in college. I think I bought it from the campus bookstore my sophomore year for Acting I. What I’m sad to admit is I didn’t remember a lick of it. Perhaps if I’d had to do a scene in class, there’d be more pieces of it in my memory. But when I think of that play, all that tends to come to mind is three angsty teens in an apartment…which you could argue is exactly what the play is about. There isn’t much of a plot in the typical sense; it’s definitely more character-driven. I bought tickets for this production well in advance, eager to see one of the first plays of the season, but honestly, I wasn’t that excited for this play in particular. There was no reason for this really. It had plenty going for it, but nonetheless, I went in without any expectations. I’m happy to say that I liked it quite a bit.
The play takes place at Dennis’s apartment in Manhattan. His friend Warren stops by late one night, having just been kicked out of the house by his abusive father, with a bag of stolen money in tow (we come to find out rather quickly that it’s his father’s money). They start to scheme how they can go about taking advantage of the stolen money but also somehow return the full sum the next day (as you might expect, this involves many an illegal activity). The night carries on as these two teens navigate the theft, the piling up dilemmas, and their relationship with one another. It gets even more complicated when Jessica, the outspoken girl Warren has been crushing on for a while, shows up.
I think what surprised me most was Michael Cera’s work. I was very impressed by him. I don’t mean to imply that I expected him to be bad, but Cera, as we all know, has been pigeonholed in film and TV as the awkward never-knows-what-to-say kid, and as a result, we’ve come to expect a certain type of character from him. While Warren is arguably still in that vein, it was nice to see Cera’s additional colors and deeper vulnerability. He is very present in the role. I think this style of theatre and dialogue is a good fit for him – very natural and organic. Cera’s moments alone on stage are great, for example, because nothing actually happens. He’s just there, in a room that he knows he doesn’t belong in, not sure how to be in his own body or the space around him, and Cera is excellent at emanating that feeling without having to work for it. Kieran Culkin is also fantastic. You can see all of Dennis’s layers at work, and his chemistry with Cera is so easy. They’re always on the same page and in tune with each other.
I wish I could say I liked the girl. Gevinson is 18, and from what I’ve been told, a fashion savant blogger turned actor. I think I’ve said this before, but I admit that I’m often more critical of female actresses because I’m looking at the role more closely – not necessarily for myself but because I have friends that I know could knock it out of the park. Her performance felt “put on” to me. The naturalness that was so effortlessly coming out of the boys was not there with her. I wanted the role to be more in her skin. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was forced, but it wasn’t comfortable. At least for me; the critics loved her.
Regardless, I’m glad I went to see it. Shapiro’s directing is clean and specific. This play so convincingly reminds us of that difficult, awkward time in our late teens when we were figuring out our own opinions, learning who our real friends are, and coming into our own. If we ever truly do.
This Is Our Youth
Written by Kenneth Lonergan, Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Cort Theatre, Closing January 4, 2015
Photo Credit: Brigitte Lacombe
Pictured: Kieran Culkin and Michael Cera
I’ve been digging on this song for years and years now. I actually can’t remember who first introduced me to it. Written by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, it’s from a musical called The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown. This is the only song I know though; I should really learn more of their work.
In honor of my second Violet review earlier this week, I would like to share a number from the show. This song is Flick’s anthem. It’s a stirring solo as he strives to inspire Violet to spread her wings. What begins as a simple marching rhythm grows into a rousing gospel-like tune (watch the writers talk about it here).
Here is “Let It Sing” performed by Tony nominee Joshua Henry at the 2014 Drama Desk Awards.
Matt has a rule that he doesn’t see a show in previews until at least the third week. I, as of late, have been trying to adopt this habit. This is not to say previews aren’t worth seeing or that they’re “bad” performances by any means, but more often than not, the show is simply not ready. It likely still needs more time to polish technical cues, and as they say in the theatre business, the show isn’t “frozen” yet.
For those of you who don’t know how previews work, basically, during those three or four weeks before opening night, the show is still malleable. Cuts are made, lines added, blocking shifted, light cues changed. Many of these shifts are based on how things are going in front of the audiences – the creative team and performers get an idea of which moments aren’t working, what isn’t reading, what can be taken further, etc. So everyone is also rehearsing during the day before the performances each night and constantly adapting to all of these changes. It’s an exhausting and frenzied time. There is so much else going on during a preview period aside from the story being told.
Back in April, Matt and I broke his rule when we got comp tickets to Violet, because come on, we weren’t going to pass up free seats! We saw the seventh preview I believe, and while I liked it (and gave it a fairly good review), it still lacked…something. It felt unfinished, the actors weren’t as connected as they could be, they hadn’t quite found their rhythm – all symptoms of early previews of a musical and of course, things I would never hold against a production.
Something I don’t often get to do is then go back and see a show later on in its run. To be able to return and see the developments and changes is always a rush. In this case, I couldn’t have asked for better circumstances. Four months of eight shows a week (and four Tony nominations) later, I took Brigitte to see the closing performance of Violet last Sunday for her birthday, and I am so happy to have witnessed it. So happy that I’m writing a second mini-review!
I loved this production. Truly. Back in April, I said in my review that I didn’t think the stripped down, minimalist approach fully served the show. Now I couldn’t disagree with myself more. It was incredibly effective and put the emphasis on the characters and the heart of the story. The connections between people were real and specific. I noticed so much more detail this time around – like the way Flick was treated in the opening scenes even when he was not the focus. There were sharp, striking flashes of choreography in “On My Way” and “Luck of the Draw,” moments which may have been there back in previews, but they didn’t read the way they did last week. Props to director Leigh Silverman and everyone else for such tight, precise storytelling.
I also had said there was no depth to the character of Monty and that I didn’t buy the love triangle. Again, now this couldn’t be further from the truth. Colin Donnell brought so much to the role, and you could actually see Monty changing, or at least wanting to change and be better. And I definitely believed this odd triangle of people and the twists and turns of their relationships, thanks to the nuance that developed over the course of the run.
The show was extra emotional since it was the last performance, and everyone was giving it their all. There were extra riffs, milked moments of laughter, and super long applause breaks between numbers. It was quite the ride, and I’m so thrilled I was able to go back on the Violet bus for a second time.
Music by Jeanine Tesori, Book and Lyrics by Brian Crawley, Directed by Leigh Silverman
American Airlines Theatre, Closed August 10th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Sutton Foster and Alexander Gemignani
Are you familiar with Adam Gwon’s music? He wrote the musical Ordinary Days which had a run at the Roundabout Underground several years back. His music is also often featured on the web series, Submissions Only.
I got to see Ordinary Days and have been known to repeatedly watch the videos of the cabaret evening when they celebrated the release of the cast recording. It’s a quirky, minimalist musical with four characters. I dig a lot of the music, but this song is the song. It’s a beautiful chorus with a heartbreaking story being told. I strongly recommend watching the whole number.
Enjoy “I’ll Be Here” performed by the lovely Lisa Brescia.