21 - 27 October '04
22 oct THE LAST 5 YEARS 7 p m Cast B.U.On Broadway GEORGE S. UNION
22 oct THE LAST 5 YEARS 9:30 p m Cast B.U.On Broadway GEORGE S. UNION
24 oct EARS ON A BEATLE Lyric Stage 104
When talking to Matt Kidd and Shawn Lee, Director and Musical Director of "The Last Five Years" I asked "Well, when will your Second Cast do the show?
"At nine-thirty," Kidd said. "No," I explained, "what DATE? If I have that date free I might come back to... " "Nine-thirty TONIGHT," HE explained ...
and so I sat in the very same seat and saw the very same show twice in one night --- like staying after a movie to take it in a second time, except that I saw two different pairs of actors do that show.
And I learned something.
For one thing, Jason Robert Brown's cycle of fourteen (or is it really 16) songs presents several scenes in which what's heard and seen is One-Half of a dialogue --- with the Other half positioned elsewhere in the cycle. And this is true because for the male in this couple each song marches forward in time, while all the female's songs show up in reverse order. The major argument between the two people --- her refusal to go to his Publisher's Party as "wife of the famous novellist" --- comes late in their marriage. Thus it is the subject of her third or so song, but it is in his fifth or sixth. Here Director Kidd had each "speaker" sing to empty space, but as though the other half of the couple were addressed.
And there are internal details that are fun. Cathy's first song is lists of facts or comments, followed by the refrain "But I'm still hurting..."
This is mirrored by Jamie's list-song that ends with "But I'm still Rolling Along..."
And I also learned (as William Gibson once cautioned me) that, from the outside, critics often level blame or praise on the wrong people. Between the shows, I complained to the musical director that his excellent six-piece orchestra got louder and louder while the singers got softer and softer. Turned out, Sound Designer Preston Brice had set levels for the second pair of performers, each with a big voice, while a couple songs sung by the first performers suffered from failed microphones.
The two pairs of performers, both faithful to the essence of the show, nevertheless chose to emphasize different details. The critc-game would demand that I praise one and damn the other, but I couldn't. Neither was "better"; both were "different" --- and each one a good show.
And one other thing this show did --- coming only 48 hours after I had seen the SpeakEasy production of "Company" --- was allow me to compare Jason Robert Brown with Stephen Sondheim.
In a sense, it reminded me of some snap evaluations of other lyricists I heard from Sondhiem in a television interview. He criticized Larry Hart for throwing conversational grammar overboard in the search for the surface-glitter of cute rhymes, while he said "Oscar [Hammerstein II] didn't write Lyrics; he wrote Stories." Well, both of these newer composer/lyricists pay serious attention to speech-patterns, they write Songs that can be Acted, and they make songs that both move the plot and define character. But there is a bit more of the glitter of clever rhyme in Sondheim, a bit more everyday speech in Brown --- and both make brilliant theatrical wrks!
I nearly missed the Press Opening for "Ears on A Beatle" at The Lyric Stage, noticing on Saturday evening that I was actually free the next Afternoon. Mark St.Germain's play invents a pair of F.B.I. Agents, played by Steven Barkheimer and Michael Kaye, whose "subject" is the ex-Beatle John Lennon --- suspected of peparing to throw his notareity with newly legay teen-age voters to defeat President Nixon's re-election bid.
A lot of the show tries to remind people my age who Nixon and Lennon were, while both Agents (one of whom was in the hall when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated) skate occasionally onto the thin ice of questioning the truth of investigations of both Kennedy's and Martin Lucher King's assassinations.
The running sub-text of this subtle revelation of the F.B.I.'s ham-handed and short-sighted invasions of privacy is the younger Agent's (Michael Kaye's) obvious adoration of his "Subject" and the older, harder-nosed Agent's gradual agreement with that decidedly not Objective response.
Designer Robert M. Russo and Lighting Designer Eleanor Moore cover the back wall with photos of the contemporary historic figures in question, picking out now one, now another with square lighting when each becomes relevent.
The show is a little like a History Channel "exposee" of a corner of an important historical picture. Maybe if I ever cared about The Beatles, I might be more enthusiastic.
But there are different details to note here.
Paula Ramsdell (who directed "Over The River & Through The Woods" for the Lyric) lists in her bio not a fistful of off-Off-Broadway or Regional triumphs, but work for Somerville's Theatre Cooperative and The Mill 6 Collective and the Boston Women On Top productions --- seems The Lyric has decided that work in Boston can produce talent worthy of notice.
In another odd innovation, Speakeasy's "Company", The Boston Conservatory's "The Good Woman of Setzuan" and The New Rep's "Permanent Collection" were all ADVERTISED in The Lyric program. That too suggests that Boston theatres are less afraid of losing subscribers to "rival" companies and more willing to Share audiences' love of good theater with one another.
That's something I always hoped would happen, and I hope it continues.
( a k a larry stark )