September 13, 2017

Reporting From Broadway

Michael Moore in The Terms of My Surrender. Joan Marcus, 2017. (click for larger version)
Michael Moore on Broadway, The Terms of My Surrender

Reading a letter from ABC inviting him, Michael Moore, to appear on "Dancing with the Stars," the curmudgeonly showman takes it as a death notice. Nothing scares him more than dancing; he just can't do it. But hold that thought. We'll get back to it in Michael Moore on Broadway, The Terms of My Surrender.

Presenting his platform for his 2020 Presidential run, Moore promises free HBO for all Americans, a ban on low flow showerheads, and two free joints, delivered weekly by the US Postal Service. Isn't that something every American can understand just as easily as "You're fired!?" Stirring things up for a change, Moore is not about to surrender; he will bring Donald Trump down.

That is why he has called us all here, to the Belasco Theatre, for a 12-step meeting. His higher power is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And the addiction he's working on is the drunken notion that Trump will be stopped without our having to do anything. While compassionate, his target is our fear of taking active measures to defeat the 45th President -- the apathy, lethargy, and spinelessness of liberal Americans, who allowed "this" to happen. His admonition, "Sober the (expletive) up!"

Describing our pathos, using his knowledge of the political scene, Moore presents a database of factoids about how the Democrats lost the 2016 Presidential election. One glaring statistic, that Clinton lost the state of Michigan by just two votes per precinct, drives the point. Activism starts small, but it starts with us. 

More importantly, he is probing and down-to-earth in analyzing the issues facing our country. His genius comes out in the way he follows a thread of information as it connects with another, and attaches itself to the bigger picture. Working his way from the biopsy to the disease, his ability to conceptualize and communicate in simple English is inspiring to witness. And if it propels us to action, as the Q& A afterward indicated, his show would have been civically worthwhile, too.

Of course, Moore is here to stir us up, to empower us, and to free us to all to play a role in changing the direction our country is taking. His premise, that everyone should run for office, is one he shores up with his own experiences, like getting his friends to vote him onto the Board of Education when he was in high school, so he could get their principal fired. What 18-year-old voter wouldn't go along with that? It's easy.

Still, facing one's fears is never easy. In the end, he faces his own – dancing. Like the buff cops who step into their roles on the kick line, Michael Moore sends us into the night, inspired to stand up with courage.

The Prince of Broadway

Nostalgia, in the very best sense – as a recollection of the past because it rings powerfully in our memory, drives The Prince of Broadway. A musical revue really, the eponymous Prince spans the decades from 1954 to 1986, the years during which Hal Prince directed and produced a run of Broadway hits, from West Side Story, Follies, and Fiddler on the Roof, to Kiss of the Spider Woman.

At its soul, the show is a compilation of the best musical numbers you can see in one evening in a Broadway theater. In addition, each of the incredible performers who carries it, is tasked with reciting stories about Hal Prince, most of which succeed for their brevity. But there is one, in particular, that speaks to this incredibly enjoyable evening of theater, and it's about Prince's revival of Showboat. It was the only revival Prince produced apparently, and he chose it because it's about the two things he loved most, family and theater.

Beyond that, the vanity aspects of a Broadway musical about the man who directs it are swept seamlessly into the background. Prince is not known for his ego, nor is ego the soul of the theater, as Prince envisioned it.

In addition to the selection of great numbers, the cast is wonderful. Tony Yazbeck breaks out into a rousing tap routine singing Buddy's song, "The Right Girl" (Follies), and shows up in Act II as a decimated Leo Frank in Parade about the immigrant Jewish factory manager who was lynched in Atlanta in 1913. He rolls through an enormous number of characters and songs here, from Tony in West Side Story, to Che in Evita, with Janet Dacal, a stunning Eva Peron.

With her amazing gift for acting a song, Karen Ziemba takes on some powerful roles as well. Her interpretative approach to the gorilla in Cabaret, and her emergence as the saddest of souls, Fraulein Schneider, are selflessly portrayed. But in Sweeney Todd, Ziemba is, in Mrs. Lovett's words, "disgusting," just like that old cannibal pie maker she portrays.

Warbling her way through a great range of musical styles from Sondheim to Weber, Emily Skinner hits an incredible high note in her rendition of "Send in The Clowns." And Bryonha Marie Parham brings down the house at the end of Act I, singing Sally Bowles's song in Cabaret. From the looks of things, it's time for another revival of that beloved show with Brandon Uranowitz as Emcee. He also rolls through a multitude of songs before we arrive at the show's eleventh hour number – Kaley Ann Voorhees (Christine) and Michael Xavier in The Phantom of The Opera.

Best for last: Chuck Cooper, portraying the American slave in "Ol' Man River" from Showboat.

If the wonderful confections of American musical theater thrill you, watching this show is like hanging out at Levain Bakery early in the morning, before the first customer arrives.

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