6. Applause, Encores! at City Center, 2/7
|So, I've decided that performances of entire shows count, since, for me, it's a lot like hearing a cast album with more dancing and talking between tunes. (Other sorts of live shows and movie musicals, not sure yet.) Applause is the 1970 musicalization of All About Eve, updated to a (then)-contemporary setting: a gay male hairdresser (here, comic and The View semi-regular Mario Cantone) delivers Thelma Ritter's wisecracks, there are a couple of 'Nam references, and the score (m. Charles Strouse/l. Lee Adams, a few years after Bye Bye Birdie and several more before Annie) attempts to find a way to integrate some rock touches in rhythm and orchestration (nice combo organ) with a (then)-mainstream musical-theater style in the actual writing. Ersatz but fun, in other words, like the songs in a beach party movie. (The dancing, which was very strong in this production, is similar [assuming it was something like the original choreography], with a good deal of frug among the Fosse.) The score falls down badly in attempting to spin a number out of the famous "It's going to be a bumpy night" scene, and overall doesn't seem remarkable enough to have earned its Tony, which I suspect is a symptom of how weak and directionless Broadway was in the period when actual rock was genuinely becoming mainstream (the counter-culture becoming, at least in surface respects, the culture, as many have noted about the '70s). The two standout songs would be "I'm Alive," which has elements that prefigure Sondheim's "Being Alive" and "I'm Still Here" from later in the decade, and "One of a Kind," more for its tricky modulations than anything it does lyrically or dramatically. The book, by Comden and Green, has some zingers, but they're mostly from the movie. Inexplicably, though, they chose to collapse the show's producer and critic into one bland figure; eliminating George Sanders' narrative function removes at least half of the cattiness that drives the piece.|
The original ran for two-years-plus largely on the novelty of hearing Lauren Bacall (as Margo Channing, Bette Davis' great late-period creation) sing. The draw of this limited production (something like 5 performances, with production values closer to a staged reading), and certainly the reason I sprung for tickets, was the presence of Christine Ebersole, a far more adept singer, in the lead. If you don't care about this stuff at all, I'm not sure I convey to you the pleasure of seeing someone who really knows how to do this stuff, and who also has a distinct personality of her own as a performer. There was announcement before the show that Ebersole had been sick and missed some rehearsals, and, yeah, this showed in interactions with the rest of the cast, but her own songs, even those that I didn't think were much in themselves, were terrific. I can't say the same for the show's Eve, Erin Davie (like the star, recently off off Grey Gardens), who just didn't seem innocent enough at the start of the show to make the gradual revelation of the character's insincerity interesting (though to be fair, this could in part be a function of being extremely familiar with the film), and she left huge teeth marks on "One Hallowe'en," the song that's supposed to answer the question "What's her damage?" The supporting cast was just that, though the lead dancer, the show's representative of hard-working Broadway chorus personnel, was very hot.
Not fantastic, glad I saw it for Ebersole, but the failings won't keep me away from the next Encores! production, Mark Blitzstein's rarely-revived Juno, which does not involve what a quirky teen learns about life from a difficult decision. (I have more to say about that, but not now.)