Archive for October, 2013

London 2013 Spooky Theater Roundup

October 31, 2013

After a brief discussion with some other theater bloggers, I’ve decided to do a SPOOKY THEATER SPECIAL for you guys out there in readerville. Do you want to get SCARED for Halloween? Read on …

If you’re looking for traditional chills and thrills, it’s the last night of the third annual London Horror Festival. Perhaps you might enjoy a modernized Fall of the House of Ushers? Poe is perfect for Halloween and I think making the lead characters conceptual artists provides all sorts of opportunities for creepiness. Get in!

If you want to be frightened by what might be, I’d suggest visiting the Suspense Festival of Puppetry, a multi-week event being put on by the good folks at the Little Angel Theater – puppetry but not for kids. Tonight I’m going to see The Fantasist, a show about bipolar disorder – something which can be deeply terrifying, especially if it’s happening to you. If you’d prefer a classic tale of terror, you might want to try Little Angel’s own Macbeth – not on tonight but still a good time.

How about being frightened at how justice can be perverted in a nation in which “all men are created equal?” Yep, I’m telling you straight, if you want to feel like your heart is being ripped out of your body, The Scottsboro Boys at the Young Vic is like being strapped on top of an Aztec pyramid and awaiting communion with the sun god, only with really great music.

Would you prefer a show in which you WISH for death to come? In that case, perhaps From Here to Eternity is your cup of tea. As the actors totter woodenly about on stage while hauling out yet another cliche, you’ll be thinking that being bombed would be a relief.

Finally, what is scarier than OLD AGE? Even if you hang on that long, the possibilities of ill health and dementia are terrifying. Nothing captures that feeling better than Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic, which at least has the comedy value of the producing company having the brass balls to charge people 65 quid a pop to watch this turkey. You’ll want to run away as if a wall of blood was chasing you down the aisles. And suddenly, even though puppets are scary to some people, I’m guessing that Macbeth is sounding better and better …

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Mini-review – Macbeth – Little Angel Puppet Theater

October 28, 2013

I was excited about the opportunity to see Macbeth, one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, peformed in a format I enjoy a lot – the puppet show. The puppet Tempest I saw at the Little Angel two years before was genius, and I hoped for much of the same from this much darker play.

Of necessity, the play was stripped down, done end to end in about two hours and with no interval. This didn’t bother me; it is often necessary to adapt your source material to your performance format. And the puppets were beautiful and created additional layers of meaning to the characters; in this case, the trope was that the characters were birds, with Duncan a crowned swan (making for a very tragic death) and his sons two grey cygnets (always easy to pick them out). The lesser nobles (including Macbeth) are chickens (well, roosters, really). This makes for an almost comic scene in the death of Macduff’s “pretty little chickens and their dam,” but, actually, the slaughter of the baby birds in their nest was able to be far more bloody and sad than any production I’ve ever seen with human children.

However, the production was just understaffed to me. While the bunraku-style puppetry was executed quite well with just three performers (most impressive during the battle scene at the end!), this also made the use of a recorded, spoken soundtrack a must. And listening to this recording just took all of the power out of this best of plays. The Tempest I saw was all performed live, with a mix of human and puppet actors; but this felt a bit like a live action books on tape. Sure, puppets can’t move their faces the way humans do, but I think the decision to record the words was a mistake, and one that ultimately made a lovely bit of puppetry fall flat. Ah well, at least it was short.

(This review is for a performance that took place on October 5th, 2013. It continues through November 10th.)

Review – The Scottsboro Boys – Young Vic Theater

October 28, 2013

It’s been a three years since I saw The Scottsboro Boys in New York. At the time I saw it as a failure, in part because of its negative reception by local audiences (and rather quick closing) and in part because of my feeling that the music was just a bit of a hash of older music from the Kander/Ebb repetoire. But I was still very excited about a chance to see it again in London. What was it, I wonder? Was it because actually … it was really very good? Or did I just want a chance to see a show made by people who actually knew how to write music?

After seeing Friday’s preview performance at the Young Vic, I’ve changed how I feel about this show: I now think it is a modern masterpiece, one that we are lucky to have performed in the intimate confines of the Young Vic with a prodigious shower of talent. Five of the eleven core cast (the nine “Scottsboro Boys” plus the key characters of Mr Tambo and Mr Bones) are from the original Broadway show, and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with excitement at seeing that much black talent on the stage at the same time, including British black talent. I don’t like that my favorite art form doesn’t seem to look at all like the society I live in, and it makes me really happy to see fantastic actors of color given a chance to shine. It’s good for their careers, it’s good for the industry, it’s good for diversifying the audiences that come to theater – and, in this case, it means we are getting to see a story that’s totally new, because it’s about a section of (American) society that isn’t portrayed on the stage very much.

And, wow, what a story. I knew where it was going but other people in the audience didn’t: I heard a young woman gasp with disbelief at a key moment in the story. The story of The Scottsboro Boys isn’t in British text books, and it was probably about one sentence in my high school American history class; but I don’t want people to be told what it’s about. Let the tale unspool as a surprise, so that every twist and turn can be as horrifying as it ought to be. In my homeland, black men were imprisoned for looking at white women. They were hung for getting out of line, and by their fellow citizens, not by any “law.” This was America. Nine men could go to jail for trumped up rape charges and still be kept there even when the evidence was shown to not exist. And yes, we kept 13 year old children in jail on charges of rape – two of them, in this case, and a fifteen year old, and two seventeen year olds. And my glorious “land of the free and home of the brave” systematically denied them every protection of law available.

Kander and Ebb take this tale of horrors and present it in the form of a minstrel show, with the traditional comic roles of Mr Bones (Colman Domingo) and Mr Tambo (Forrest McClendon) (they play the jailors, the judges, drunk attorneys and so on) while the one white character – the interlocutor (Julian Glover) – moves the action along. Or does he? In some ways, his role as the “master of ceremonies’ (per a traditional minstrel show) is actually transmuted into the “voice of white Alabama,” and his attempts to act as if his role as a superior is natural and accepted by the black men is blatantly subverted in the song “Southern Days” (which also makes clear the abuse of blacks that existed continually along the “genteel” side of the South). Attorney Samuel Leibowitz (also Forreset McClendon) shows up to give us a moment of hope for race relations – he is, at least, offended by the separate entrances and drinking fountains for “colored” – but as he sings “That’s Not the Way We Do Things,” it becomes clear he believes just as much in the superiority of whites – the people up north are just more subtle in their racism. And then we get “Financial Advice,” where the Alabama Attorney General starts talking about Jew money, and, seriously, sitting there in the audience, it’s just so incredibly dirty and distressing that it’s hard to stay in your chair.

Surrounding all of this like the praline around a pecan is the music and dancing that flesh out this work. Never trivial, always beautiful, I feel as if the creators of this show tried their hardest to keep us put by giving us beautiful singing and hair-raising choreography (oh, that electric chair song!) to help balance out the horrors we’re watching on stage. In some ways, it’s the Cabaret approach all over again, minus the sex and the drugs, with us hoping against hope that “I won’t lie to be free” Haywood Patterson (Kyle Scatliffe – how does he do it night after night?) is going to get a happy ending. Because, you know, that’s how it happens in Cabaret, right?

I could go on and on about how good the performances were, mutter a bit about the strange presence of “The Lady” (obviously meant from the beginning to be Rosa Parks – Dawn Hope), cheer about the inventive choreography, beam at the stripped down set that lets you build trains, jails, courtrooms, and plantation homes with your imaginations. But instead, I’ll just note that top price tickets for this show are 35 quid, and that, even at that price, I judge them to be a giveaway for what you get in return. It’s been extended to December 21st, and the running time is 1:45, by which time you’ll be exhausted and exhilarated and possibly wanting a drink. Book early: I think this might be the show you decide to go see twice – as it’s not British history you’re watching, there’s just enough separation to truly revel in the amazing thing the actors have created. The Scottsboro Boys is the crowning glory of the diamonds of American musical theater: don’t miss it.

Preview – Third Annual London Horror Festival – Etcetera Theatre (through October 31st)

October 23, 2013

Well! It’s midway through the third annual London Horror Festival, and I thought it was a good time to have a catchup with co-founder Stewart Pringle about this year’s event. We sat down at Assa Korean Restaurant for a pint and a chat.

LCS: So how did this festival get started?
SP: I did a Grand Guignol show with Tom at uni, then we decided to try to do one in London. When we got into the Courtyard Theatre, we had some spare studio space, so we saw about bringing in a few more companies. Next thing you know, we had a festival.

LCS: I went to a few shows the first year – for me, Halloween is the perfect time for scary theater. How big is the festival this year?
SP: We had twenty-five companies apply this year and accepted fifteen, including an opera company! We had to see if they were compatible with what we had available in terms of size and space and length of run. We like to have lots of short runs and give people an opportunity to try things out and be experimental.

LCS: The playgoers or the producers?
SP: Both, really. Our festival is aimed at people who aren’t really theater goers, but maybe fans of horror cinema or lit. We try to keep the tickets very affordable. And we’ve expanded out to families as well, with the Zombie Science lectures (supported by the Wellcome Trust, by the way). But it’s also a place for playwrights and theatre companies to try out new things, maybe a show that hasn’t been performed before, or branching out into a different format.

LCS: You do seem to be really devoted to new writing.
SP: Five or six of the shows we’re doing this year are new. And of course we’ve got the radio play competition, that pulls in people who haven’t even done plays before, or maybe never had their works staged, and it gives them a life online. It’s just sad, you have the Brentwood Prize (for new play writing) with 100 plays on the long list, and maybe 12 of them will be done all of the next year in London. We prioritize new writing and things that have never been staged before. We’re passionate about it.

LCS: So what do you think is going to be the most popular this year? I’m of course looking forward to getting my Cthulu fix next weekend.
SP: Well, House of Nostril was a sell-out, and was also very popular at the Edinburgh Fringe. Upcoming still is What Monsters Do. It’s based on Nicolas Vince’s book of short horror stories. It’s already nearly sold out.

LCS: Ooh, when’s that?
SP: The 25th – 27th of October. It’s showing the same nights as Call of Cthulu.

LCS (marks info in calendar): So what are next year’s plans?
SP: We’re going to continue the partnership with the Et Cetera – we’ve looked at bigger venues but the price is high and cost is what makes it accessible to smaller companies. And, of course, we’re going to continue to prioritize the staging of new works.

LCS: Good to hear. The last thing we need is another celebrity casting of some Shakespeare play.
SP: That’s a fact.

(The London Horror Festival continues at the Et Cetera theater in Camden – over the Oxford Arms, near the Camden Tube station – through October 31st, 2013.)

Mini-review – Roots – Donmar Theater

October 22, 2013

It is depressing to spend a night at the theater listening to people expound politics and be dull, more so when the point they’re making (or the side they’re taking) is one you approve of … on paper. Shaw and Miller, J. B. Priestley, these are people who can take politics and make them dramatic. Roots, on the other hand, is lecturing with an obvious point at the end told over far too much time. The Donmar turns it into a true masterclass in the Norwich accent, solidly acted, and I found much to admire in the realistic depiction of how people lived in the 50s (running water and electricity a luxury!) not to mention the new vocabulary used (“clobber” for clutter and “squit” for “crap,” as examples). And, my, the way the family shut down expressions of emotions was really, really eye-opening for me as a west-coast American.

But, seriously. I went to a nearly three hour play in which people 1) clean house 2) make cakes 3) take baths (after pumping and heating the water and pouring into a tin tub). The sprinkling of lectures about appreciating music and “solving moral problems” (et cetera) were just dull, dull, dull. Does it matter how much effort was poured into this play or how beautiful Jessica Raine was? At the end, she stands up and announces, “It’s happening to me!” and I couldn’t help but add, “Yes! You’ve become an incredible bore!” This obvious and dull play was just not really worth the trouble of reviving. Next time I’ll stick to Shaw: politics and plays mix at their peril.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, October 21st, 2013. It continues through November 30th.)

Mini-review – Grand Guignol “Summer of Terror” – Exeter Alternative Theate at London Horror Festival

October 22, 2013

Autumn has rolled into town, and along with fallen leaves and pumpkins, it’s time for the LONDON HORROR FESTIVAL! I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to catch an annual dose of frights, especially to see the now-out-of-fashion Grand Guignol plays. The “Summer of Terror” triple bill from Exeter Alternative Theater looked especially promising – two classics AND a new play, and a running time of one hour, plus it was in a pub so you could bring in drinks – basically, perfect – in and out and if it all got too scary, I knew I’d be able to hold out long enough for it to wrap up.

The plays had some common themes between them – rage, revenge, infidelity – that made for some interesting thoughts on the common threads of human motivations. Grand Guignol can be about mad scientists working in laboratories or the ghosts of serial killers, but what’s really terrifying is how the behavior of normal human beings can snap under certain kinds of pressure. In the first playlet, “The Last Kiss,” “he” (for so the male lead is called) has clearly gone round the bend some time before the curtain rose. “He” (Leigh Steadman) is blinded, but still has an overwhelming desire to his ex-lover, despite the fact that “she” (Carolyn Macey) blinded him. You know it’s not going to have a happy ending, but just how bleak is it going to go? I would have preferred Steadman to have dialed down “his” madness a bit, so we were sucked into the turnings of his mind, but I thought Macey was on as the dead-eyed girlfriend who couldn’t resist the call of curiosity – and maybe still had a fire burning for the man she injured in a fit of jealousy. And, to be clear, she was stunningly beautiful, exactly the kind of girl you could imagine “him” pining for and desperately trying to get back. Fin O’Leary’s landlady provided a lovely touch of normality to the whole business, which was over and done with before I’d made it to the bottom of my half of cider.

Next up was “Coals of Fire” (which, like “Last Kiss,” was written by Frederick Witney), a two-hander featuring a blind woman (“The Wife”) and her servant (“The Companion”). Taking place in an era in which divorce required proving fault, social services for the disabled were sketchy (as seen by the previous playlet), and unmarried women could be forced to have babies in “homes,” the play was fraught with the pressures both of personal lives and social norms. I found it extremely disturbing to see The Wife feel up The Companion to ascertain if her figure were good; but I also felt strongly the dilemma that any servant would have for being dismissed under questionable circumstances. The ending was brutal and apparently went against the original censor’s recommendations; but WHEW! It crackled! And while both characters seemed stiff at the start, I found myself relaxing into their conundrum quite naturally long before the end, which made for a much higher emotional impact.

Finally we got to the new play, “The Death of Love” (written by director Louis Ravensfield). It started with a highly improbably set up – a man and two women are stuck in a room together, tied to their chairs, and the man (Martin – Alan Smith) has to decide whom to shoot, his wife (Julia – Gabby Dexter) or his lover (Becky – Nicky Crew). It seemed rather ridiculous – I mean, really, how did NONE of them know how they got there (and this was never really resolved) – but, really, it was all just a trope to get us into the action. And it quickly grew very intense, as the women begged for their lives, cast aspersions on each other, and generally ratcheted up the pressure so much that even I was feeling Martin’s struggle. Where WAS it going to go? It ended with a twist and a bang, and, really, provided the biggest sizzle of the evening.

To be fair, there was a lot of clunkiness overall in this evening, but I still left feeling like I’d had a good time – neither too frightened nor in the least bored. Good job, Exeter Alternative Theater, and thanks for coming to London for a visit!

(This review is for a performance that took place at the Etcetera Theater in Camden on Sunday, October 19th, 2013. Final performances are tonight, October 21st, at 19:30 and 21:30. Do not order food unless you have at least a half hour to wait; the pub is VERY slow sserving.)

Mini-review – Bare (“the rock musical”) – Greenwich Theater

October 16, 2013

Oh, the disappointment. Promised young teenaged gay men (or people pretending to be them) engaging in (mimed) sexual axtivities on stage while (possibly) wearing very little – and all being done to a rock soundtrack – I had a feeling that Greenwich Theater’s Bare was going to tick so many boxes on my like list that I was going to walk out dancing and singing and high-fiving any passing stranger.

It was not to be. On most of the areas which I judge a musical – songwriting, acting, singing, music – it was flaccid. The actors (and their characters) fought to maintain even two dimensions; the songs showed both a complete lack of inventiveness for lyrics and unmemorable melodies; many of the performers had second rate voices (Michael Vinson); it just failed to even slightly “rock” no matter how loud it was.

Were high school people really as shallow as this play made them out to be? Is coming out really worthy of this much badly-written attention? I managed to feel a bit of emotion as Peter (Vinson) and his mom struggled to communicate; and I got quite enthusiastic about “(Inside Every Gay Man) There’s a Black Woman.” But what is wrong with a gay rock musical when the best song is for a (possibly straight) woman, that a musical about high school kids saved its best tune for a teacher? Why was everyone dressed so badly? How is it I saw the ending coming from about minute 5 of the play, as dreadfully obvious as The Awakening or The House of Mirth? Aaargh. Maybe this show is enjoyable for 18 year olds with underexposure to musical theater; my feeling is that any adult gay male (or, frankly, any fan of musicals) will get a lot more out of The Light Princess.

Ah, well, the house was full anyway and people seemed to be enjoying themselves. But it was just an utter disappointment to me; less uplifting as well as less fun than Rock of Ages. Bah, I say, bah.

(This review is for the performance that took place on October 11, 2013.)

Review – The Light Princess – National Theater (or “National Theatre” for some)

October 14, 2013

Although I finished my review of Ghosts first, there’s no doubt in my mind that The Light Princess is the bigger theatrical event – any new musical would be, but this one has the advantage (over Bare, for example) of having Tori Amos write the music and, well, the National Theater to back it. But it really wasn’t on my radar because, well, Tori Amos, and, er, the National Theater – I figured it would be lifeless, pretentious, tedious, and full of boring music.

But, well, I did my usual thing of asking my theater loving friends, “What’s really good right now?” and got an earful about this show from Ought To Be Clowns. He RAVED about it, said he’d seen it several times already, and that if I liked Sondheim, there was a good chance I’d appreciate its non-tune oriented musicality. I was pretty impressed, and with a bit of luck on my side managed to get some 12 quid tickets for opening night. (They were the side seats in the very back of the theater but when I picked them up, they’d been magically upgraded to row F circle. Rah!)

A bit of plot as this is a new play: there is a princess, Althea (Rosalie Craig), whose mother died when she was young. All of the kingdom was plunged into mourning; Althea, for some reason, “rose above it all” quite literally, not only not crying, but literally losing her groundedness, becoming a floating (“light”) princess. Her father, King Darius (Clive Rowe), has her confined to a tower and focuses on her brother as his heir. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, Prince Digby’s mother also dies … but under mysterious circumstances (as she criticized the king). No one is allowed to mourn her; he becomes the solemn prince (Nick Hendrix), known for never smiling: ideal, as he is heir and his father wants him to be a heartless killing machine, with a life aim of taking over Althea’s gold-rich (but water-poor) kingdom. It seems inevitable that they should meet ….

For a good long time at the start of The Light Princess (well, once the animated background movie was over), I was utterly absorbed in how Althea was made to float. Although at times it was via a harness, in fact, most of the time she was being moved by people, turned and supported (sometimes with their feet!) as if she were a bunraku puppet. Craig appeared to be entirely unaware of the hands and bodies manipulating her; she simply seemed buoyant. While I don’t want to say it was distracting – it was actually fairly invisible IF YOU STOPPED STARING AT IT – it was still such an unusual effect that I missed most of what she was saying (singing, actually, as there was little straight dialog) for at least half an hour.

Crisis time comes, inevitably (as princes and princesses from differing kingdoms must meet in any self-respecting fairy tale), as Althea runs away from her duty to her kingdom and Digby runs toward his (as leader of his kingdom’s army). They both meet in the great wilderness that divides their kingdoms, in a beautiful, magical lake.

Um. I have to stop here, because even before we had got to the lake, my theatrical suspension of disbelief had kicked in and I was just buying everything I saw. King Darius’s Amazonian major general in her amazing gold armor; the falcon that was Digby’s only friend (and the lady falconer with her red glove); a flying princess who could make friends with a beautiful blue bird (surely actually a hyacinth macaw!); Digby and Althea falling in love. I was completely ready for the unbounded amazingness that was the lake: cheesy simple effects with black lights and puppets making fish jump and water lilies bloom and the whole thing feel almost like a stop-motion animation come to life. And, yes, they were still mostly just singing. What could be more appropriate in a world so full of magic?

In retrospect, I had some quibbles: the music felt a bit samey-samey and wasn’t hitting a lot of different emotions; the lyrics, similarly, struggled to get beyond childishness and were crippled by repetition and a lack of imagination (the word H2O shouldn’t really be sung more than once in an entire evening). But otherwise I felt like I was seeing the grand flowering of British theatrical creativity taking place on stage in front of me, the culmination of fantastic set design, costuming, acting and singing talent (that could perform, night after night, while being tossed around like a football!), and a creative approach to movement (animation! puppets! acrobats!) that all blended together to create something I simply cannot believe I got to see in a space as intimate as the Lyttleton. And, man, I got to hear Clive Rowe really sing out, and I got to hear people sing about things I thought mattered – like being accepted for who you are, like not turning your back on things that make you uncomfortable – and, um, all that for twelve pounds? Wow.

The Light Princess is the kind of thing that makes me feel lucky that I live in London. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go again, but I feel sure lots of other people will, and will love it. And you, if you’re thinking about it, I advise you to not hesitate: this is going to be a sell-out.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on October 9, 2013. It is booking through January 9th, 2014.)

Review – Ghosts – Almeida Theater

October 10, 2013

I have to say, I wasn’t planning on going to see the Almeida’s production of Ghosts. I’m an Ibsen completist, but after seeing the Arcola’s 2009 production, I figured this was one I could skip seeing again. But, well, I got an offer to come to a bloggers’ review night, and I thought, why not?

As it turns out, with a different translation, the removal of the interval, and a more committed cast, this was not just a snappy play, but a performance that gave me new insights into the text. This show is known as the “syphilis” play, but it’s about much more than that: about morality, personal evolution, family ties, the impact of lies, and assisted suicide. Over all of this hovers the “ghosts” of the title, the past which Helen Alving (the stellar Lesley Manville) can’t escape … embodied pretty directly as her dead husband and the legacy of his life. She’s got a good position in society, but only as long as she keeps up the pretense of her husband’s reform after years of philandering and debauchery – a pretense which requires her to deny her own skill as a businesswoman. In the end, everything Mr Alving left behind is in ruins, including his son (Oswald, Jack Lowden) and the remainders of his money (to be turned into the funds for what looks to be a house of ill repute).

I found some of this play hard to swallow, still. Pastor Manders (Will keen) is both narrowminded and judgmental, but is both willing to be fooled by Jacob Engstrand (Brian McCardie) and then to quickly give up his pursuit of truth if it means he is to be stained by opprobrium. His gullibility and easy acceptance of false witness if it were to his benefit didn’t seem in keeping with his character. Meanwhile, Helene, while a believable loving mother and progressive thinker, completely falls apart at the end of the play, when her son starts piling on the bad news. This is a woman who made it through at least a decade (maybe more) of a terrible marriage that required her to deal with humiliation on a daily basis … where was her backbone when her son needed it? Manville had her sobbing and hysterical, but I think she probably would have pulled into herself, looked at the facts, and found strength and clearsightedness.

But, you know, it’s hard to blame actors for a playwright’s decision: I’m sure, like Jessica Rabbit, Manders and Helene were “just written that way.” And although I found moments which I think didn’t make sense, as a drama it all rolled on quite quickly to a blazing conclusion, with Oswald staring into the distance, asking for the sun, his mother standing beside him as the light of dawn peeps through the windows. Ooh such symbolism! And the whole thing took little more than ninety minutes. I was overwhelmed enough that I needed to get an ice cream afterwards to fortify myself – a big difference from how I felt walking out of the Arcola many years ago. This play was vibrant and relevant; I’m so glad I went!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, October 6th, 2013. It continues through November 23rd.)

Review – The Boys From Syracuse – Union Theater

October 8, 2013

Going into The Boys From Syracuse, I knew nothing about it other than it was by the Broadway musicals team of Rogers and Hart. “I’m completely unfamiliar with the plot!” I whispered to my companion. Yet a few minutes and flashing togas later, I realized I was wholly familiar with the plot: it was Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” my second least favorite of his comedies. Ooh difficult to swallow multiple-twins plot, ooh misogyny, ooh beating servant for laffs. I was a bit worried I was going to find the evening as grating as the play had been done straight, but this show just kind of wallowed into the whole mess with both feet, starting the evening off with the townspeople warbling about “an execution!” Oddly this kind of softened me up for the whole thing, much like a cartoon of a coyote being hit with an anvil doesn’t register as animal cruelty. It was a screwball musical comedy that had nothing to do with how actual Greek people (or even Elizabethan or modern people) behaved, and I could laugh accordingly.

The plot is slight to start with and even more condensed by George Abbot, as it needs to make room for singing; this, I think, is a good plan, giving us less time to worry about things making sense and more time to enjoy the talents of the cast. We’ve got the considerable comic talents of the put-upon Dromio twins (Matthew Cavendish and the rather too handsome Alan McHale), the great legs of the courtesans and town girls, and the very enjoyable voices of the female leads (Carrie Sutton as married Adriana and Cara Dudgeon as her sister Luciana). The women get some great showpieces, including Adriana’s “Falling in Love with Love” and the showstopper trio “Sing for Your Supper” (performed with cook Luce, Natalie Woods) which put me in mind of the Andrews sisters. It was odd that earlier I’d found Aaron Hayes Rogers’ voice somehow clashing with Dudgeon’s in their love duet; was it written funny or … well, fortunately, it was about the end of the first act, but it did leave me feeling out of sorts during the intermission.

While act two picked up quite a bit from the first, I couldn’t help but feel a little fidgety in my chair. To me, The Boys from Syracuse isn’t an A-list musical; it has too much of the episodic feel of 1930s writing, and the songs are not generally memorable. I’d call it a good night out for fans of the golden age of American musicals and certainly a better evening than the big-name Much Ado down the street; but while it went down better than the original, I might have picked a stronger show in general. Still, at the always affordable Union Theater prices, it delivered good value, and I know I’m not the only one who is happy to get to see a rarity like this performed live.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, October 5th, 2013. It continues through October 26th.)