Sunday, May 12, 2013

Two Musicals

As a general rule, we tend to avoid musicals, but the current season has proven an exception to practice: we have attended an unusually large number of musicals this season.

We caught two musical productions this weekend.


On Friday evening, my parents, my middle brother, and Joshua and I went to Saint Paul, where we saw The National Touring Company production of the 2011 Broadway revival of the 1934 Cole Porter musical, “Anything Goes”.

The National Touring Company production of “Anything Goes” opened in Cleveland in early October and will close in Orange County, California, in late September. It features the actual sets and costumes used on Broadway, unusual for a touring production, and it features a sizable orchestra, also unusual for a touring production.

We enjoyed the presentation immensely. “Anything Goes” has several excellent numbers, and they were put across capably by a company not yet showing signs of road weariness.

The 2011 Broadway revival was based upon the 1987 Broadway revival mounted for Patti LuPone. Songs from other Porter musicals had been interpolated into the 1987 production, and they remain in the current production. Such a practice is not out-of-place in the case of Porter songs: Porter songs are “numbers”, not character studies, and all Porter musicals of the 1930s and 1940s carry the same basic tinctura (not necessarily true of the composer’s 1950s shows). No issues of “integrity” arise when Porter songs are shuffled in and out of his pre-1950s musicals.

Rachel York—who, to the best of my recollection, I had not seen before—portrayed Reno Sweeney. York was just good enough, no more, to carry the show.

Persons that saw the 1987 Broadway revival of “Anything Goes” have remarked that the 2011 revival is much inferior, almost wan in comparison.

The song-and-dance numbers are so good, however, that “Anything Goes” warrants periodic revival, even in a production that proves to be less than exceptional.

What we saw in Saint Paul was in no way memorable, but it was exceedingly pleasurable.


This afternoon, Josh and I took my mother and my sister-in-law to Bloomington to see Bloomington Civic Theatre’s production of the 1944 Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical, “On The Town”.

I am not an admirer of “On The Town”. I do not think the material is good, and the score leaves me completely cold.

To the extent it survives at all, “On The Town” survives solely on the community-theater circuit. The show is no longer taken up by major theaters.

After its first Broadway run (December 1944 to February 1946), “On The Town” was never again to be successful in New York. Over the years, there have been two costly attempts to revive the show on Broadway, one in 1971 and another in 1998, and both attempts were commercial and critical failures.

A single West End production was attempted, in 1963; it, too, closed virtually overnight.

There are two major problems with “On The Town”: the three male leads are insufficiently differentiated, which prevents an audience from connecting with them (the three female leads, much more carefully written, are a different matter); and the score is remarkably weak, derivative and unoriginal to an alarming degree. One wonders why even community theaters bother with “On The Town” these days.

The Bloomington production was not good. The 24-piece orchestra was superb, by far the most pleasing aspect of the production. Of the cast, stage design, stage direction and choreography, I can offer nothing positive.

For the current season, Bloomington Civic Theatre batted .500 in its presentations of musicals—and, probably for the first time ever, we attended all four musical productions.

The season opened with a lame production of “42nd Street”, a production in which the actress playing ingĂ©nue Peggy Sawyer looked old enough to be the mother of the actor portraying wizened theater director Julian Marsh.

The season continued with an exceptional and costly production of “Sunday In The Park With George”, a production worthy of the highest praise.

A magnificent and costly “Cabaret” followed, a production I would have been happy to sit through half a dozen times.

The season-ending “On The Town” was a listless, low-budget affair that invoked memories of the inept “42nd Street” that had opened the season.

In the 2012-2013 season, Bloomington Civic Theatre’s budget—said to be by far the largest civic-theater budget in the country—clearly had been directed to the Sondheim and Kander-and-Ebb shows.

The four musicals announced for next season: “Singin' in the Rain”; “Les MisĂ©rables”; “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”; and “Gypsy”.

I suspect we shall skip them all.

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