A lot of people will go to see Reckless on Broadway because Mary-Louise Parker is the play's star. That's fine, but it's not the most important reason to attend; the real star of this Manhattan Theatre Club revival is the play itself.
When we saw Reckless for the first time 16 years ago at Circle Rep with Robin Bartlett and John Dossett, what stood out (besides their fine performances) was Craig Lucas's winsomely wacky script. The passage of time has caused the play to seem less nutty -- after all, we're now living in exceedingly strange times -- but even more apparent today is how well crafted it is. It was always funny, but its more apparent in retrospect that it was written with wonderful economy and is fundamentally sound in its character development and dramaturgy. Few new plays produced these days are as intellectually and emotionally satisfying as Reckless.
Trying and Succeeding
On the other hand, if you choose to see Trying at the Promenade Theatre because Fritz Weaver is its star, that's precisely the right reason. Weaver gives a career-topping performance as former Supreme Court Judge Biddle at the end of his extraordinary life. Based on playwright Joanna McClelland Glass's own an experience with the real Judge Biddle, the script reeks of authenticity.
Still, it's Weaver who gives this modest drama its stature. His co-star in Trying is Kati Brazda, who is mighty impressive as well in the role of his battling secretary. The play is honest, understated, and touching but it lacks a dramatic second act, settling for something quieter. Rich in history, the play is richer still in its characters, which its two stars beautifully embellish.
A Tasty Satire
If you want to feel like a genuine musical theater insider, see Eat the Taste. This delicious political satire has agents for attorney general John Ashcroft plotting to put him on Broadway in a one-man musical written by the creators of Urinetown. The topper is that the actual creators of Urinetown, Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman, are in the show; better yet, Kotis wrote it, and he and Hollman also provide a hilarious song for Ashcroft's musical.
Set at the end of Bush's second term -- one hopes that this will be amended after November 2 --the action of the play takes place in a motel room where Kotis has been taken after his abduction. The humor is broad yet brainy. In-jokes abound, but that's half the pleasure for musical theater buffs. Kotis is fun to watch as he struggles to understand his plight; Hollman, in a smaller role, has a dry and winning delivery. Eat the Taste only plays two performances per week, on Monday nights at the Barrow Street Theatre.
The New Crossroads of Stage & Screen
On October 27, for the first time in history (?), you will be able to go to the movies and the theater in the same building. The Theatre Row complex on West 42nd Street, which comprises five different theaters ranging from 99 to 150 seats, has partnered with Emerging Pictures to lease any one of the five theaters (on a floating basis) to be used as a state-of-the-art digital movie theater. This will be the first commercial movie theater in America that never screens celluloid films; the digital projection equipment is portable so movies can be shown in any one of the five theaters and will only be shown when and where live theater productions are not scheduled.
The first film to be screened will be the award-winning documentary Home of the Brave, which will play for two weeks starting on October 27. Even more tantalizing is the rumored prospect of a regular Monday night series of movie musicals based on stage shows, all presented in the digital format.
The Cabaret Convention is celebrating its 15th anniversary and, two years after its bar mitzvah year, it is coming into its maturity. Known for always offering a mix of familiar cabaret stars and up-and-coming entertainers, this weeklong parade of talent at The Town Hall is a mecca for folks who love the Great American Songbook and desire its perpetuation. The first three nights were bumpy but bright. With more than a dozen performers on every program, most of them singing two songs apiece, it's the nature of these often long shows (they start at 6pm on weeknights) that they will have their ups and downs. Happily, the ups have been very high and the downs have been mercifully forgettable. So let us dwell on those moments to savor.
Monday's opener got off to a smashing start with Maureen McGovern's rendition of Bill Finn's "Sailing." Natalie Douglas wowed the crowd with "Bewitched" and jazz artist Allan Harris, in his Convention debut, stopped the show with the combination of his exquisitely understated introduction to and thrilling performance of "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables. We had to leave before the end of the show to make the 9pm curtain of Eat the Taste, but we heard that Sidney Myer was a huge hit as well.
Tuesday brought us the much-anticipated "Night of 100 Genes," better known as "The Family Show," in which the members of several talented cabaret clans showed up to sing. Things began smartly with the Callaway sisters, Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway, joined by their famous vocal-coach mom Shirley Callaway. What sweet harmonies they created in their 20-minute set! They were followed by Andrea Marcovicci and her mother, Helen, the latter bringing down the house with "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" as her proud daughter looked on with tears in her eyes. Among the others who performed were the always funny Klea Blackhurst and her mother Winkie, as well as Heather MacRae with her brother Bruce and their mother Sheila. Seven of the multi-talented Sullivans, including the matriarch of the brood, Elizabeth, closed the show. The highlight of the evening was the stunning performance of vocalist Sandy Stewart and her son, jazz pianist extraordinaire Bill Charlap. In their hands, such songs as "It All Depends on You," "After You, Who?" and "Fifty Percent" were revelations of style, beauty, and emotional honesty.
Wednesday evening's show started at a point of perfection when Christine Andreas sang "How Insensitive" coupled with "I'm a Fool to Love You." The performance was heart tugging and gorgeous. Another highlight was Michel Bell's highly theatrical rendition of "Lucky Old Sun," which ended the first half of the show. The second half featured the exceedingly likeable Tom Michael, the thrilling Jennifer Kruskamp (making her Convention debut), the smart and stylish Phillip Officer, and the always exciting Karen Mason.
The Cabaret Convention continues through Sunday, October 24; we'll report on the rest of the programs in our next column. For tickets or other information, phone 212-980-3026.