What a cast! What a play! Twelve Angry Men has returned to Broadway in the Roundabout's revival at the American Airlines Theatre, and it is not to be missed.
This crackling story vividly captures the character of America in all its dimensions: petty, bigoted, and bullying on the one hand; resourceful, determined, and fair on the other. The clash of personalities in this theatrical dustup between 12 men in a jury room debating the life and death of a character that we never see features a wonderful combination of exquisitely detailed writing by Reginald Rose and dynamic ensemble acting by some of New York's most gifted performers. Give director Scott Ellis special credit because virtually everyone in the cast gives a stunning performance; no one is overshadowed. They each get their day in court.
At least two years ago, the idea for a concert that would feature great theater songs performed by the people who made them famous and backed by a full orchestra was suggested to us by TheaterMania's editor-in-chief, Michael Portantiere. He might not have been the first person to come up with the concept, but that's when we first heard it. We thought it was a great idea then -- and we know it's a great idea now because Show Stoppers!, the Gay Men's Health Crisis benefit held on Monday night at Avery Fisher Hall, proved it.
Performers still in their prime -- such as Liz Callaway, Stephen Bogardus, Ellen Greene, Debbie Gravitte, Andrea McArdle, Colm Wilkinson, and Brian Stokes Mitchell -- were sensational in the concert. And some of the older performers were astonishing revelations; the years vanished when Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach, Alice Playten, and George Hearn sang. The only time the concert faltered was when it lost its focus, bringing in performers from Aida and The Full Monty who were not the originals. On the plus side was the musical comedy turn of Christine Pedi, who stopped the show with her impersonations of showstoppers that never happened.
The most important take-away from this very special concert was that it didn't really matter if some of the aging musical theater stars -- e.g., Carol Lawrence and Robert Morse -- weren't quite as brilliant as they were in their youth. The audience members, full of love and generosity, seemed to fill in the musical blanks from their own collective memories. If the performers were stopping the show, the audience was stopping time; they were visualizing these performers as they were, and it was a beautiful thing.
On the Road with Melissa Manchester
The marvelous Melissa Manchester has arrived at Feinstein's at the Regency with a new and intriguing show. It won't be to everyone's taste, but there is something beguiling about Manchester's new, stripped-down style.
The show celebrates her return to songwriting and the release of her new album When I Look Down That Road (which we haven't heard). Manchester performs about five of her own hit songs with a new approach, slower and more contemplative. As a result, the lyrics suddenly stand out more clearly. Ironically, this is most effective in the one song in her act that she didn't co-write: "Don't Cry Out Loud" (Carole Bayer Sager/Peter Allen). But such hits as "Whenever I Call You Friend" (Manchester/Loggins), and "Come in From the Rain" (Manchester/Sager) also benefit from the fresh interpretations that they're receiving.
When performing her newer material, Manchester doesn't always vary her attitude from one song to the next enough, which tends to make them sound a bit too much alike. Yet whenever she sings with just an acoustic guitar to back her up, the sound is gorgeous.
The Cabaret Convention: Part 2
In our last column, we wrote about the first three days of the 15th Annual Cabaret Convention at Town Hall. Here's our report on the rest of the programs.
It's a shame that Julie Wilson was ill and couldn't be at Town Hall to celebrate her 80th birthday; the Cabaret Convention dedicated its Thursday evening show to Ms. Wilson for the occasion, and the audience sorely missed her energy. Thank God, though, for Sharon McNight. She brought a sense of fun to the evening with a nifty Julie Wilson kit so that you, too, could be the Queen of Cabaret. McNight pulled three items out of a paper bag: a pin-on bun for the back of your head, a flower to stick behind your ear, and (of course) a spectacular red boa. If you could sing "Hard-Hearted Hannah," you'd be in business. As a topper, McNight recorded the entire audience singing "Happy Birthday" to Julie and promised to play her the tape. That was sweet.
Friday night was devoted to composer Bart Howard. What we saw (we had to leave at intermission to see Brooklyn) was a loving tribute. Several performers stood out, among them Sylvia McNair, KT Sullivan, and Lumiri Tubo. It's worth noting, however, that both the Julie Wilson and Bart Howard nights might have been more satisfying if the shows were scripted with an ongoing flow of biographical information about the honorees. The evenings are far too hit and miss in that department.
We applaud the Convention's commitment to developing new audiences for cabaret with its young people's concert on Saturday afternoon. It was directed and hosted by Andrea Marcovicci and in its stellar cast was Daisy Carnelia, the daughter of composer Craig Carnelia. She stole the show last year at the age of eight. We couldn't wait to see how she'd do at the age of nine. Unfortunately, though, we couldn't be there. In any event, we heard she stole the show again!
The Sunday afternoon finale to the Convention was a disappointment. The show was devoted to the music of Cole Porter, so how could they go wrong? Well, Rebecca Spencer's "Love For Sale" was the week's low point. After announcing that she had had time to really immerse herself in Porter's work and had arranged the music herself, Spencer demonstrated not the slightest emotional or intellectual connection to the lyrics.
There were many other thuds, thunks, and kerchunks during the concert by other performers -- but then came the pros. The difference, if you'll excuse the expression, was like that between night and day. Karen Akers, Craig Rubano, Klea Blackhurst, and Jeff Harnar were among the entertainers who were de-lovely. And now it's on to next year!