Posts Tagged ‘I love new musicals’

Review – The Verb, “To Love” – Aria Entertainment at Old Red Lion Theater

May 3, 2015

I booked myself in to see The Verb, “To Love” knowing absolutely nothing about it other than it was a new musical. I love musicals, I very much support new plays, and I especially support new musicals because if we don’t get out there and make audiences for them, people are going to be afraid to put them on. So I showed up all bright eyed and bushy-tailed, but inadvertently set myself up as an object to be mocked by the musical, and even created an audience of one to watch a parallel comedy taking place in the the audience starring me. Yes, I was at the Old Red Lion on an internet date, a fact which I shared with another critic, Jordan (it was opening night so many of us were there), as a sort of an icebreaker while I sat and nervously nibbled on a cupcake. This meant that, no matter how you sliced it, I was absolutely the target audience for this play – practically the subject of it – or perhaps I’m being too maudlin. I think what I’m really saying is, despite this play seemingly being written for a very specific audience, it is, in fact, quite universal – at least, if your universe consists of being a middle aged saddo attempting to rebuild his or her life after the rather catastrophic end of what had seemed like a life long relationship. This is all verging heavily into oversharing, but hey, this is a blog and I’m not a professional critic, so sometimes you get some backstory and sometimes I talk about my cat and isn’t this the great thing about not being beholden to advertisers – it’s just me and, what, my thirty or so readers, none of whom (hopefully) see me as the horrible failure I often feel like outside of the pages of this blog. And what I was looking at on stage was someone who looked a whole lot like me, but was a gay man. Simon, I feel your pain.

If you haven’t managed to turn this first paragraph into something mimicking narrative coherence, I’ll give you a plot summary: The Verb, “To Love” is a musical about a middle aged man trying to rebuild his life after the end of a 20 plus year relationship. He manages to pull a much younger man, and we are taken on the entire arc of this experience, from seeing his “Two Eyes in a Doorway” to a long period of questioning if they were more than friends, then questioning if they were more than friends with benefits, then to questioning if it were actually love, you see how we’re going here? It’s almost entirely a one person show, and with so very much input from Simon (Martin Neely, effortlessly believable and a lovely voice) we’re able to follow very closely along with his heart as he goes on this emotional journey. There’s a lot of struggling with the age difference, but it turns into a struggle about how his career seems to be taking a back seat to his partner’s, and a whole host of associated feelings with that (especially regarding moving houses) that seemed remarkably universal, but, oddly, not the kind of thing I think I’ve heard as the subject of a song in a musical, or even in a play. Relationships are really complex things, and the emotions that accompany them are so much more than you get from, say, Rogers and Hammerstein – I found myself really pulled in to this story, which was the kind of soul baring you might only get from your very best friend and even then quite rarely because, well, it’s embarrassing to be as honest and imperfect and insecure as Simon is.

And then, shockingly, it was over. Well, not the musical, but Simon and Ben (Gareth Bretherton, the pianist, who couldn’t have surprised me more when he started singing than if the spider plant itself had struck up a tune), and although we could have stopped the musical there, instead we get to go on another journey with Simon as he tries to deal with his grief (and the joy of going from “I have to rebuild my life from scratch” at the beginning of the musical to “I’m just too old to do this any more,” and, brother, have I ever been there). We get to see some real ugliness (and hear an extremely modern song, “Talking/Stalking”) as Simon tries to sabotage Ben’s new thing via Facebook, then get some real comedy as Simon tries to give his heart a push start with “Online Dating.” The room was getting very warm, I was realizing I couldn’t talk about any of this stuff with the person sitting next to me, and I was thinking, wow, I’m at a musical that both in style and substance is truly 2015, capturing so many of the details that mark how life is being lived now, in fact, how I’m living my life at this extremely uncomfortable second.

This chamber musical was a real treat, tying my heart in knots no Boy Scout could unravel. Or maybe the knots were there when I walked in, but Andy Collyer had just found the words to describe them better than I ever could have myself. I only hope I can have my interior musical end on such an up head space as “Strong Alone” – but since the night ended with my date running off (hayfever set off by the astroturf on the set, apparently) and my new critic friend and I having a good laugh together, perhaps there’s hope after all.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 1, 2015. It continues through May 23rd.)

Review – Orton – a new musical at Above the Stag

April 6, 2014

I hadn’t really heard about Joe Orton before moving to the UK, although I had seen Prick Up Your Ears when it was released (for me, had a surprise ending – I knew that little). It was the incredible production of Entertaining Mr Sloan I saw at Trafalgar Studios (with Imelda Staunton hysterically unforgettable in the negligee scene) that really raised Orton’s profile in my mind; but What the Butler Saw cemented it, because it had the same completely-pushing-the-boundaries humor matched with an incredible tension. I’ve read a bit about him since I saw Sloane but still not much, so I was in a good place to see a musical about the life of Joe Orton without having a lot of preconceived notions. I also now have a much better idea of what England was like during the period he lived. I am also a fan of new theater, especially new musicals, and I thought it was great that the Above the Stag theater was not just hosting its premiere, but involved in producing it. It seemed the perfect venue for this show, and the packed house seemed very excited to be there.

While I can’t be sure of the “truthiness” of Orton‘s narrative, I found the emotional narrative believable and made for compelling theater. (I was sitting outside at the interval excited about going back in.) You sensed the squirreliness and isolation of Halliwell (Andrew Rowney) at the very beginning, his anxiousness to have a sexy young thing like Orton as his partner and his strong discomfort at his position as a social outsider. Meanwhile Orton (Richard Dawes) moved convincingly from “fresh out of Leicester” closet case to picking up guys everywhere he could city boy. I was never entirely sure of what he saw in Halliwell, but throughout, as Orton continued to be more successful with his sex life as well as his art, I felt entirely reassured by his connection to Halliwell, who came off not as a muse but as a kind of co-conspirator in art.

Swinging Sixties London was nicely evoked by the songs and the musical numbers, from I Don’t Think I Know One (about people willing to be amused at the characters in Orton’s plays while claiming not to know people like that – not surprising as they probably were keeping their behavior very private) to the sexual revolution captured with real belly laughs in Sex in the Suburbs. Sex was, appropriately enough, front and center for a lot of the musical number – and man, they were pretty damned hot. Richard Silver and Sean J Hume even managed to make the gay sex scenes witty (in Form an Orderly Line) – I can’t help but think Orton would have approved!

While the songwriting wasn’t Kander and Ebb, still, I think this was one of the best new musicals I’ve seen in a few years – tuneful songs, a cast with pipes (Valerie Cutko showing the pups how it’s done), and an emotional arc that pulled you right in. I felt lucky to have a chance to see it in an intimate house like the Stag – it could easily be moving to bigger venues soon.

(This review is for a permiere performance that took place on Friday, April 4th, 2014. It continues through May 4th.)