Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
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There are terms I learned a long time ago not to put in a review, because they are overused to the point of meaning nothing. At least normally. This time, though, there are few words more apt than “hysterical” or “laugh riot” or even “side-splitting” for the deliciously insane “The Play That Goes Wrong” just opened at the Ahmanson. Seriously, this is one of the funniest things I’ve seen anywhere, ever.
Pretend that an extremely amateur, pompously overconfident, poorly cast company of players decides to stage a mystery best described as low-rent Agatha Christie. And then pretend that this is done with all the extremes of artifice, technical ineptitude, and sheer bumbling possible. Then you have some sense of what this show contains, but not really.
Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields’ play isn’t echoing Monty Python. It isn’t a Sherlock Holmes spoof. Rather, it’s a terrific send-up of amateur theatricals: occasionally cartoonish, tremendously physical, and impressively silly.
As with anything this physical, the old adage applies: it can take greater expertise to do something wrong on purpose than to do something right. The cast of this show lives up to this, handling the necessarily precise direction designed by Mark Bell, and carried out on tour by Matt DiCarlo, while making everything still seem spontaneous. This precision not only keeps the humor rich, but keep the actors safe as the physical comedy reaches heights even such spoofs as “Noises Off” dare not attempt. The thing must work like clockwork, and it does.
The members of the “Cornley University Drama Society” include Evan Alexander Smith, exuding righteously British pomposity as the group’s first-time director who has cast himself as the wise detective. Peyton Crim, whose sonorous voice is a delight, plays the stereotypical British aristocrat, shooting jacket and all, as the brother of the murdered man’s fiancé. Ned Noyes goes jaw-droopingly over the top on all occasions as the brother of the murdered man, unconvincingly romantically intwined with said fiancé.
Scott Cote’s stereotypical butler proves one of the greater comedic assets as the play implodes. Jamie Ann Romero turns the internal play’s only female into a delightful comedy turn, and a remarkably physical one – she faints with impressive skill. Still, perhaps the funniest aspects of this production are the two “techies” who disrupt or cope with this deeply flawed troupe’s foibles.
Brandon J. Ellis gives the overly casual lights and sound guy so much presence he, in his offstage cubicle, is sometimes all you can watch. Angela Grovey’s practical, then panicked stage manager turned sudden understudy becomes probably the most howlingly funny performer in the piece.
Someone should give set designer Nigel Hook a medal for creating a set which can seem so classically formulaic and can destroy itself to such remarkable comedic effect, without killing the actors. Andrew Johnson’s sound design becomes its own comic character. This truly is as ensemble a production as can be imagined.
So, drop everything and go see “The Play That Goes Wrong.” The times are stressful, and the world is a bit dark. We all need a vacation, and a chance to laugh, and laugh you will, almost constantly. My companion admitted afterward that she “laughed so hard no sound was coming out.” What a great way to spend a summer afternoon or evening.
What: “The Play That Goes Wrong” When: Through August 11, 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, with a 2 p.m. performance Thursday, August 8 Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles How Much: $30 – $135 Info: http://www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or 213-972-4400
There are many different slants on what makes a Broadway musical worth seeing. In some cases, the focus is on message or depth of story line. In others it may be the music itself, or the choreography, or the star performing in it. In rare cases there is a moment of particular spectacle which cannot be duplicated in any other art form, and which proves so completely theatrical the entire production is put on pause until the roar of applause subsides.
Which is why, if you love musicals, you will do yourself a treat to take in Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick’s “Something Rotten,” now at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Wry, silly and satirical, it includes one of the most complete show-stoppers in recent memory: “A Musical” is almost indescribably silly, paying homage to virtually every possible style, form, or substance of Broadway musical from the past 70 years or more, all in six minutes. It is not to be missed.
Not only this, but the show starts with another number nearly as clever, and adds a third rollicking one toward its close.
A send-up of musicals, Shakespeare, vapid writing, and ever so many other things, “Something Rotten” welcomes you to the Renaissance England. There The Bard is literally a rock star, and Nick Bottom is trying to find a niche for himself and his brother Nigel as a duo of playwright and director before their patron pulls his financial backing.
Desperate, he goes to a rather scattered sooth sayer to find out what Shakespeare’s next great hit will be, so he can steal it. Armed with an imperfect answer, Nick embarks on “Omelet the Musical”. The results prove just as bad as that sounds, while Shakespeare sneaks in to steal the best lines for himself. But the story isn’t the point, which is good because it gets rather uneven by the end. Rather, the constant use of Shakespearean dialogue in non sequitur ways, the many references to the Broadway musicals (some of them delightfully subtle) and the constantly raging subtexts are the real focus.
Among a list of characters almost entirely sharing names with the rough peasants in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” or the protagonists of “The Merchant of Venice,” Rob Mcclure is the brashly ambitious Nick, played to the hilt as a man of rather hopeless ambition. Josh Grisetti gives the meek, poetic brother Nigel an innocent charm which plays well against the brash Nick.
As his love interest Portia, the rebellious daughter of a Puritan, Autumn Hurlbert matches Nigel’s earnest love of words and general niceness in ways which balance the crazy silliness of brother Nick’s storyline. As Nick’s practical wife Bea, Maggie Lakis delights, spending much of her time being a woman who dons men’s clothing (a regular Shakespearean trope) to work at jobs which support her husband’s dreams, later doing so again to save him in more direct ways. Nick Rashad Burroughs gives the occasional narrator, a minstrel, a compelling presence from the first curtain-rise.
Still, it is beyond these central characters that the true charm of this show appears. Blake Hammond proves a hoot as the somewhat iffy prognosticator, Nostradamus. Scott Cote, as Portia’s Puritan preacher father, makes subtle (and not so subtle) statements about the hypocrisy of many a religious fanatic, all with body language. Yet all these pale next to Adam Pascal’s Shakespeare, in leather jacket and bling, providing the slippery, stagey Elvis-like icon cashing in on presence.
Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw is the reason all this works so well. So much of the comedy is physical, and so much of the pacing is critical, that his direction is key to the success of the entire venture. In this he is aided by Gregg Barnes costumes, which emphasize the more unique aspects of Elizabethan era clothing, and Scott Pask’s layered quick-changing set.
Truth be told, “Something Rotten” is not a perfect musical, but it is often very entertaining, ranging from snicker-amusing to full-guffaw funny. And those ridiculously delicious spectacular numbers are worth it all. We could all use a laugh in these tough times. Anyone who loves the Broadway musical art form will find a lot to laugh at. Go see.