Broadway Musical Musings: May 26, 2016
So, the devastating news of shows beginning to close has already begun and the Tony Awards haven’t even happened yet. It was recently announced that the musical Tuck Everlasting will close on My 29th, and I have to say that I find this somewhat unacceptable. No, it wasn’t the perfect musical, but it was a sweet musical with a touching story that should have at least found some success in the family market. I saw the show while it was in previews, and I understand a case can be made for some inherent flaws in the piece, but here I am over a month later and I find many of the songs, characters, imagery and performances are still with me. The Chris Miller (music) and Nathan Tysen (lyrics) score, once it got past its overwrought and confusing opening number, settled in to be delightfully old-fashioned and lovely. The cast was across the board delightful with Sarah Charles Lewis proving that child performers don’t have to be cloying or robotic. Terrence Mann, as the Man in the Yellow Suit, showed us a whole need side of the character actor within (someone he should let loose more often). Robert Lenzi as Miles Tuck is terrific, taking the lead on the the show’s most powerful number “Time”. The only real problem Tuck Everlasting has is that it’s not all cut from the same cloth. Where the musical is often charming, humorous, and floating in a pool of gentle fantasy, the characters sometimes take abrupt turns into dark places. The Man in the Yellow Suit is played as a comic villain, innocuous until his final scene where he suddenly (and unexplainably) becomes menacing and violent. Book writers Claudia Shear and Tim Federle needed to solve these problems, but their dialogue is often rich and funny. The physical production of Tuck Everlasting is exquisite, and how Walt Spangler’s pastorally evocative and cleverly executed set design was overlooked for a Tony nomination in lieu of (She Loves Me aside) far less-deserving shows, is beyond me. It breaks my heart that this show will leave Broadway so quickly, but I am starting to believe there just isn’t a place on Broadway for this type of musical anymore. May Tuck Everlasting find eternal life in regional theatres, summer stocks, universities, community theatres, and high school productions. The forthcoming cast recording should make an excellent case for its longevity.
Speaking of shows that are closing this weekend, two that particularly charmed me are coming to the end of their limited engagements. First: The Roundabout Theatre’s raucous and spirited revival of The Robber Bridegroom will be closing up shop. For me, I made the trip down the escalator at the Laura Pels Theatre five times to enjoy the sublime talents of Director Alex Timbers who shaped that show into a joyous ensemble lark of invention and tongue-in-cheek storytelling. The sexy Steven Pasquale croons with ease. The hilarious Leslie Kritzer writes the guidebook on how to deliciously play the comic villain, and the entire ensemble (particularly Andrew Durand as the wily criminal Little Harp) all embrace the absurdity and hootenanny hilarity of this Mississippi fairytale. The other closing, and one that is even more disheartening by its departure, The Woodsman at New World Stages. Not a musical in the traditional sense, but riding on the wave of a haunting score Edward W. Hardy (music) and Jen Loring (lyrics), The Woodsman tells the tragic story of Tin Woodsman from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and how he was reft of his loving heart. James Ortiz, who wrote the book, designed the puppets used in the show, co-directed the project (with Clare Karpen), and leads the ensemble as the title character, should be given a great deal of credit for shaping this unsettling, poetic, ingenious world of theatrical storytelling. I rank The Woodsman as one of the finest pieces of theatre I have ever experienced and will assert, my life through, that anyone who missed this production was a fool. I certainly had hoped it would extend its run, but we are assured that it will close as scheduled.
Finally, I just wanted to take a moment to say goodbye to actress Beth Howland, best-remembered by Broadway fans as “Amy” in the original production of Company. Howland was the actress who introduced us to patter song of all patter songs, the sublimely frantic “Getting Married Today”, an insane tongue-twister sung by a twitchy bride on her wedding day. Howland was married to her Company co-star Charles Kimbrough. Apparently, Howland passed away back in December, but that sad news remained under wraps due a request by Howland that a fuss not be made. For many of us growing up in the 70s and 80s, Howland was a part of our weekly television-viewing lives, playing the flaky and insecure waitress Vera Gorman on the situation comedy Alice. Howland could always be counted on for a wide-eyed naive comment delivered with aplomb, and an extra ounce of heart to balance out the dryer, more sarcastic characters on the show. Miss Howland was a class act and we thank her for the multitude of smiles she brought to our lives. May she rest in peace.