Resolution One: I will appreciate Judy Kaye more. True, since her first performance as Lily Garland in On the Twentieth Century more than a quarter-century ago, I have always valued the lady's talents; but in the York Theatre Company's Souvenir, she shows that she's even better than I thought she was. Kaye plays Florence Foster Jenkins, the would-be opera singer of yore who had no idea whatsoever that she was tone-deaf. This means that Kaye must purposely sing off-key, which I would think must be murderously hard for a performer -- especially when ace pianist Jack Lee is there slowly and deliberately plunking notes hard on the piano to guide her. As Jenkins, Kaye makes Susan Alexander Kane sound like Maria Callas (when she was good). After one scene of atrocious singing, she gets a wild burst of applause for doing such a wonderfully terrible job. "Would Mr. Mozart be pleased?" she timorously asks Lee, and he's hilarious in not knowing how to field the question. I have the answer, though: Mozart would have loved Florence Foster Jenkins because, as Peter Shaffer taught us in Amadeus a couple of decades ago, the wunderkind loved to laugh. Imagine the bark he would have come out with upon hearing Kaye as Jenkins! I also enjoyed the scene wherein Jenkins hears herself on a record for the first time, and we assume that now she's finally going to realize the truth. But there's Kaye kicking her legs in delight, pointing to herself and mouthing in glee, "It's me!" To the late Ms. Jenkins: As they say in Flahooley, here's to your illusions. To Ms. Kaye, I'll say what everyone else in the house cries out: "Brava!" for doing such a brilliant job of seeming incompetent.
Resolution Two: I will read Lady Windermere's Fan, by Oscar Wilde. I'm amazed that, in the four-plus decades that I've been attending the theater, I've never been in the right place at the right time to see it. But now, after catching a commendable revisal of Noël Coward's After the Ball at the Irish Repertory Theatre, I'm anxious to examine the source material. I didn't know that was this play that yielded such Wilde hits as "I can resist anything but temptation," "Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes," and "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." I noticed some other worthies, too: "It is absurd to divide people into good and bad; people are either charming or tedious." "Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about." "Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality." And my new favorite, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Coward apparently didn't use any of these to spur songs, though it's hard to say for sure because what we have here is Barry Day's revised version of the show. (It interpolates two Coward songs that weren't originally written for After the Ball.) So how close this is to Coward's 1954 188-performance West End failure is hard to say. But what is here is highly pleasurable, and I look forward to hearing the soon-to-be-reissued original London cast album. In the meantime, if I were you, I'd make a New Year's resolution to see this attractive curiosity. And by the end of 2005, I suspect that I'll be a Lady Windermere's fan.
Resolution Three: I will try to convince Jerry Zaks to make Gavin Creel cut his ponytail so that the affable revival of La Cage aux Folles will work better. If Jean-Michel is so concerned about pleasing his ultra-conservative father-in-law to be, not only would he make certain that Albin and Georges came across as ultra-conservative but that he would, too. I wouldn't mind seeing Creel with a ponytail for an act and a half, but in the scene where his prospective in-laws come to dine, he's got to have a haircut that would make a West Point dean smile. So, Jean-Michel, I'm going to say to you what God said to Jesus at the end of Your Own Thing: "Hey, boy, when are you gonna get a haircut?"
Resolution Four: I will encourage playwrights who write about historical people not to cannibalize their subject's words but, instead, to write in the style that made those people famous. Ginny Redington and Tom Dawes need to know this, for they've done just the opposite in their new musical The Talk of the Town, which is being presented by the Peccadillo Theater Company. Redington and Dawes deal with all those wits who used to populate the Algonquin's Round Table during the Roaring '20s -- Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woolcott, Harold Ross, Robert Sherwood, and Edna Ferber among them -- and they quote them verbatim all night long. This means that we get a lot of old jokes about leading a horticulture, frontal lobotomy, pearls before swine, etc. I don't think they missed a one. Too bad, for the performers are nifty: Rob Seitelman is an acidic Woolcott, Nicholas Belton a nicely ambitious Ross, Matthew Tweardy an engaging Sherwood, and the felicitiously named Donna Coney Island is a strong Ferber. But I wish the writers had given them new witticisms.
Resolution Five: I will try to get some classic theater company to stage All in Love. This occurred to me while I was watching the pleasant revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals at the Beaumont the other night. All in Love is the all-but-forgotten 1961 Off-Broadway musical version of The Rivals. The cast album was released as a so-called "long-playing record" by Mercury, the only label whose LPs had a distinctive aroma. (I swear this is true). The recording still hasn't made it to CD, so you probably don't know it. Composer Jacques Urbont and lyricist Bruce Geller were wise to start their show with Lydia and Jack, which Sheridan doesn't do; it's the scene wherein Jack pretends to be "Poor" Ensign Beverly. The songwriters gave Lydia's maid, Lucy, much more to do (with Sir Lucius) than in the play -- and she has a lovely song, "What Can It Be," which you may know from the late Jerry Orbach's 1962 album of then-current Off-Broadway songs. Bob Acres (played by the then-unknown Dom De Luise) is involved in a cute number called "Honour," about a subject on which Sheridan only touches: that those who save their honor via duels often wind up dead. Mrs. Malaprop's song ("A More Than Ordinary Glorious Vocabulary") could be wittier, but Urbont's music compensates. And the uncredited orchestrations are by a just-starting-out Jonathan Tunick. He doesn't have that many pieces for which to write, but he sure makes the most of them. Let's hear this score and those orchestrations in a new production. And finally:
Resolution Six: I will not mock Man of La Mancha even once during the entire year. And this, dear friends, is going to be the hardest promise to keep.
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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