SIX at the Saenger Theatre through December 4
I had seen Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ SIX in London in 2019 and, between the British accents and over-amplification, had a hard time understanding most of the lyrics. I came out of the theater feeling like a guest at party where everyone else was having a great time except me.
So, I’m happy to report that, having seen SIX’s touring version at the Saenger Theatre, Marlow and Moss’ lyrics came through, thanks to a better sound design (by Paul Gatehouse) and American accents, (mostly) loud and clear, and they’re witty, sharp and even occasionally moving. I wish I could give you some examples but, as they tend to come forth in bursts, I was listening too intently to write any down. If you’re interested, however, I’m sure you can find them online.
The music, also by Marlow and Moss, is another story, however. SIX tells the tale of the six wives of Henry VIII as they vie to be lead singer of the pop-rock band they’ve formed. Who will win? Whoever was most badly treated by Henry, a kinda strange idea but musicals have been built on less.
Each wife’s song-styling is referenced in the program as being inspired by a different pop diva (Shakira, Beyonce´, Adele, Britney, Rihanna, etc.). Alas, Marlow and Moss’ tunes would not pass muster with any of these superstars as they all sound more or less the same and fade from memory with amazing rapidity. The only melody that is likely to stay with you is the 16th century Greensleeves which underscores the opening number (Ex-Wives) and has long been associated with Henry VIII.
This doesn’t really matter, however, as SIX has already caught on as a hugely popular trans-Atlantic expression of female empowerment (ultimately, the wives wisely realize they can best claim their individuality as a group sans leader). As such, a quibble like the Spanish Catherine of Aragon’s number (No Way) could’ve had a little more Latinx/salsa flair to it (a la J Lo or Gloria Estefan), might cause my head to be chopped off.
Marlow and Moss’ direction may be rudimentary, but Gabriella Slade’s Tony-winning costumes deliver stylish sexiness; Tim Deiling’s lighting heats things up and cools them down in explosions of eye-popping colors; and Carrie-Anne Ingrouille’s choreography keeps the wives moving in a mini-Busby Berkeley-esque way.
Opening night at the Saenger found three alternates performing but that didn’t lessen SIX’s panache; Jana Larell Glover made for a sassy and triumphant Anna of Cleves while Taylor Pearlstein impressed me a lot as the defiant, abused, Katherine Howard. (Only Cecilia Snow (Jane Seymour) was more community theater than Broadway.)
Of the regular cast, Gerianne Perez (Catherine of Aragon) and Sydney Parra (Catherine Parr) were fine, while Zan Berube with her squeaky voice played against type as Anne Boleyn creating a more intriguing portrait of Henry’s most famous, or infamous, wife.
I’m not sure if I’d give SIX a 10 (probably more like a 7.5), but, as a 20something friend put it “I felt like I was in a history lesson taught at a pop concert!” There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes.
New in New York
Alas, despite vaccines and boosters, Covid is still rearing its ugly head. During a recent visit to New York, that meant disruptions to some shows’ schedules and outright cancellations of performances of others, including the acclaimed Downstate at Playwrights Horizons. I can thus report on only two productions (while also encouraging you to see Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt and the new musical Kimberly Akimbo); fortunately, museums are fully operational and, if you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple over the Holidays, offer a number of fantastic exhibits.
KPOP was an award-winning hit musical in an immersive production off-Broadway in 2017. Apparently, it’s been almost completely retooled for Broadway and standardized into a typical audience-in-its-seats version now playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre. Having not seen the previous production, I can’t comment on the transformation. In its new iteration, however, KPOP delivers appealing, if somewhat cliched, entertainment.
KPOP tells of a small South Korean management agency that’s about to launch a US tour with its three main K-pop acts–a girl group, a boy group, and a solo diva (played by Luna, an actual K-pop star). Amid soapily operatic backstage drama, Ruby, the head of the management agency, is virtually a mustache-twirling villain; with some moving moments but many preposterous ones, the whole enterprise reeks of channeling a B-level musical melodrama flick of the 1930s.
Or so I thought until I saw an article in the NYTimes headlined “Abuse in K-Pop in Spotlight Again After L.A. Hotel Altercation” which describes a brutal and exploitative atmosphere permeating the actual K-pop business. It sounds like a wild situation. I just wish Jason Kim’s book had made KPOP’s narrative more believable for those of us who haven’t been following K-pop’s sordid history.
Helen Park and Max Vernon’s score provides 17 songs that show off the cast’s singing and dancing talents rather than actually advancing the plot or exploring character. They’re certainly bubbly and perky, but it’s a missed opportunity to convince viewers of K-pop’s viability as all the numbers sound alike (tho they do save the best ones for last) and are easily forgettable.
As they execute Jennifer Weber’s choreography, all the performers epitomize the “precision” and “perfection” expected of K-pop band members; while I feel sorry for Jully Lee who’s given mostly “dragon lady” material to work with as Ruby, ironically, Zachary Noah Piser, as an American hapa (or half Asian) who’s recently joined the boy group, stands out as he’s the only one who has a complex characterization to explore which Piser does with passion
As with SIX, I wish KPOP had provided 3 or 2 or even one memorable song. If all you want, however, is pure entertainment featuring spectacular costumes (Clint Ramos & Sophia Choi), lighting (Jiyoun Chang), and visual effects (Peter Nigrini), then by all means see KPOP…and hope that the lawsuit mentioned in the Times article will eventually be turned into a musical of its own. (More info at https://www.kpopbroadway.com/)
If Covid quashed some of my plans, I lucked out by being in NYC for Dina Martina’s CHRISTMASSHOW at Sony Hall. From her opening send-up of letters to Santa (“Jesus–talk about husband material”) to her faux gratitude at the end (“For quite some time, I’ve been looking forward to the end of this show.”), Dina gifted us with dextrous wordplay, deft physical comedy, and a worldview that’s as sublime as it is bizarre.
Sounding like a bullfrog with a nasal infection, Dina sang old favorites with new lyrics (Madonna’s Like a Prayer morphed into “You hear my voice/You have no choice”); mangled aphorisms (“A body at rest is worth two in the bush”); and gave advice for when things go wrong, “shit tight and lower the bar.”
And all that was before the Christmas Eve Douche commercial that was perfumed with such scents as “sick” and “surreal”.
Dina’s 90-minute act, filled with rococo humor that elicits both big laughs and little chuckles, may appear casual, but it’s brilliantly constructed; she just makes it look easy to pull off. A seeming descendant of Gracie Allen, who else could toss off a line like “Post-Covid, people are reinventing themselves, like the proverbial fetus rising from the ashes.”
Dina Martina may not be for everyone but for those who get her skewed sense of humor, there’s no one else like her. Watching her spin her singular web of entertainment, I grinned from ear to ear. If you have similar tastes (or have seen & enjoyed her before), then, next year, when you write to Santa (or presenter Daniel Nardicio), ask him to bring Dina down to NOLA for the holidaze. If you’ve been nice, he might say “Yes”; if you’ve been naughty, I’m sure he will.
Santa has already brought a number of early gifts to museums throughout Manhattan.
Can’t get enough of the six wives of Henry VIII, their hubby or their progeny? Then head to the Metropolitan Museum for “The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England” (thru Jan. 8). This sprawling exhibit traces the transformation of the arts in Tudor England from Henry VII to his granddaughter Elizabeth I using tapestries, armor, books, coins, sculpture and, best of all, paintings and drawings.
Hans Holbein’s iconic full-length portrait of Henry VIII is here as are various finely detailed images of Elizabeth I (That lace! Those jewels!), but you’ll also see portraits of ‘Abd al-Wahid bin Mas’ood bin Mohammad ‘Annouri, a devilishly handsome ambassador from Morocco whose image is the first ever painted of a Muslim in England; Hercule-François, Duc d’Alençon, a suitor to Elizabeth whose all-white outfit, complete with ruff, puffy embroidered breeches, and ermine cloak, is to die for; and the long-haired George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, the Queen’s Champion responsible for defending her honor by jousting, who wears a bejeweled blue & gold coat topped by a feathered hat which would not look out of place in the St. Anne Parade.
Best of all just might be a delicate chalk drawing by Holbein of Jane Seymour (SIX casting directors take note), lent by “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”. While it was, in fact, originally lent by Elizabeth II, the proper description would now be “Lent by His Majesty King Charles III”; the Met decided to leave the wall card as is in tribute to the late monarch.
I had planned to leave the Met, but rain kept me there longer than anticipated. SO happy it did as it allowed me to see “Kimono Style” (thru Feb. 20) which I thought would be rather dry, but turned out to be a sumptuous and fascinating exhibition which gives the history of kimonos from their beginnings in late 18th century theatrical productions to how they’ve influenced contemporary fashion.
Not only are there exquisitely designed kimonos, featuring everything from art nouveau peacocks to art deco spiders, but there are unusual firefighters’ coats, both male and female, and an adorable child kimono from the 1930s with images of Mickey Mouse on it. “Kimono Style” concludes with elegant kimono-inspired ensembles by such designers as Balenciaga and John Galliano. (https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions?building=The+Met+Fifth+Avenue)
Looking for sly sexy stylishness? Then visit Fotografiska New York for “make BELIEVE” (thru Jan. 8), David LaChapelle’s first solo major museum exhibition in North America. The Museum’s initial building-wide show, its three floors are taken up with images of beautiful people in saturated colors. LaChapelle’s aesthetic could be said to be a cousin to that of Pierre et Gilles as both have a “kitsch pop surrealism” sensibility.
Magpie-like, LaChapelle appropriates Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe”, substituting Amanda Lepore’s visage for the screen goddess’, and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” resetting it in Hawaii. His concern for the environment is evidenced in “Spree” in which a luxury cruise ship seems ready to sink (or go up in flames) after colliding with an iceberg. Yet, the most tender moment in the show is arguably “Revelations” where an older couple embraces on an abandoned, littered city street.
It all makes for a trippy experience in a 1894 landmark building in Manhattan’s Gramercy section, aided by Fotografiska’s staying open daily till 9pm with a chic restaurant on one floor and a cocktail bar on its uppermost one. (https://www.fotografiska.com/nyc)
Another landmark building, the Guggenheim Museum, currently has a stupendous exhibit, “Alex Katz: Gathering” (thru Feb. 20), a retrospective of the 95-year-old, still-working artist that fills the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda.
For my taste, “Gathering” starts off slowly as you see Katz’s early efforts in a variety of styles before he settles on that which he is best known for, up-close, flattened portraits, especially of his wife Ada. The final section, near abstract landscapes that have dominated his output in recent years, was likewise not to my taste, though one must admire an artist still creating in his tenth decade.
In between, though, accounting for more than 60% of the show, is a mesmerizing progression of works that capture people in an instant of intense feeling. The extreme close-ups usually give no clue to the subjects’ surroundings so we are left to hypothesize what causes their sometimes pensive, sometimes joyous expressions. There are exceptions, though; a group portrait of five people lolling on a deserted beach (with one reading a paperback version of Shakespeare’s “problem play” Troilus and Cressida), the interrelationships left ambiguous, just might be my favorite work of all.
Encompassing paintings, oil sketches, collages, drawings, prints, and freestanding “cutout” works, “Gathering” features poets, artists, critics, dancers, filmmakers, male, female, Black, white, gay, straight, some well-known, others not, but all friends, family, and acquaintances of Katz’s who have animated NYC’s cultural community from the postwar period to the present. You may well find yourself going up and down the curving path of the rotunda, as I did, not wanting to leave the invigorating humanity of it all.
You will want to detour, however, into the three galleries that make up “Nick Cave: Forothermore” (thru Apr. 10), a survey exhibition covering the entire Chicago-based artist’s career. Heading up, the first two galleries feature his early works including a series of bronze castings of his arm surrounded by a variety of other objects. These galleries are intriguing, though the works therein reminded me of many other artists.
The topmost gallery, however, showcases his iconic “Soundsuits”, which blend sculpture, costume design, and instrument-making. Seen as a group, they are wildly imaginative, each a unique way of armoring oneself against an oftentimes inhospitable world, particularly so for a queer, Black man like Cave. The gallery also includes two “Tondos”, large circular abstract wall-hangings made of wood, metal wire, glass beads, & textiles, and inspired by brain scans of inner city youth paired with extreme weather patterns. Beautiful…and even more intriguing when you know their background. (https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibitions)
(If you want to see more of Cave’s works, go to the Times Square Shuttle platform where “Each One, Every One, Equal All”was recently unveiled. Glass mosaics fabricated by a renowned Munich firm recreate a dozen of Cave’s Soundsuits from “Forothermore” in one section while the other two sections have the suits flying and moving all over the walls in joyous abandon.
Midway in the corridor heading towards Bryant Park, a set of screens plays a 3-minute video every quarter-hour (the other 12 minutes are filled with ads) showing dancers bounding and bouncing around wearing Soundsuits. You’ll smile watching it. You’ll smile even more knowing that admission to these effervescent public artworks, NYC’s newest, is a mere $2.75.)
Shifting from presenter to subject, the Big Apple stars in “Edward Hopper’s New York” (thru Mar. 5) at the Whitney Museum. Beginning as a magazine illustrator, Hopper’s career expanded as New York boomed. He was fascinated by the city’s infrastructure and this exhibit gives us a lot of bridges and buildings and views from Hopper’s Washington Square Park apartment window. Frankly, my reaction to these was “meh.”
The twenty or so canvases, along with etchings and drawings, of people, however, are among the greatest ever done that capture mid-20th-century existential angst and the disconnectedness of people in a metropolis. (I wonder what Hopper would make of things today.) Hopper lavishes empathy without any sentimentality on his subjects, drawing a viewer in to their often isolated lives. You’ll want to linger over each and every one of these.
One room is devoted to works inspired by Hopper and his wife Jo’s regular visits to the theater. In the middle of it, a long case displays stubs from shows that they attended, everything from John Gielgud in Hamlet to The Children’s Hour. The frugal Hoppers always sat in the balcony at a time when those tickets cost $1.00 or $1.10. A slide show projects photos of the productions they saw as well as the interiors of the Broadway theaters that would later appear in some of Hopper’s paintings. It’s a happy place for any theater maven. (https://whitney.org/exhibitions/edward-hopper-new-york)
Any theater maven, including the Hoppers, will want to visit NYC’s newest museum, the recently-opened Museum of Broadway on 45th Street next to the Lyceum Theater. It provides what heretofore had been missing in the Times Square area.
You enter and after viewing a short film that gives an encapsulated history of theater, from the 1700s onward, in New York, proceed thru two floors that unspool a comprehensive history of Broadway, mostly focusing on the 20th and 21st centuries.
Panels with a generous supply of photos and reproductions of programs showcase plays and musicals in chronological order, highlighting the hits, but also mentioning some of the high-profile musical flops. The Museum admirably details the contributions of Black writers, directors & performers, including many productions that were notable in their era but have now faded from the collective memory.
Along the way, the exhibition highlights notable musicals, starting with The Ziegfeld Follies whose area showcases two vintage outfits found when Disney took over the New Amsterdam Theater. Showboat, Oklahoma!, Fiddler on the Roof, Hello, Dolly!, and Cabaret follow accompanied by video interviews with some of those landmark shows’ creators. There’s also correspondence, handwritten lyrics, and a section devoted to Sondheim and his love of puzzles.
As we get to the 1970s and beyond, not surprisingly, more props and costumes are displayed in the sections on A Chorus Line, The Wiz, Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and La Cage aux Folles. For Wicked, there’s a fascinating 3D look at the activities in the many rooms on multiple floors that surround the mammoth stage that allow the show to go on smoothly eight times a week. Jukebox musicals get their own section.
The devastation that AIDS wrought on the theatrical community is acknowledged by the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Memorial Quilt with small panels contributed by many shows.
The exhibit concludes with costumes from a variety of shows (including Anne Boleyn’s from SIX) on two levels of platforms.
The Museum wisely concentrates on productions not people as there’d probably be complaints about omissions, but such giants as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Hal Prince, Bob Fosse, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Cameron Mackintosh, are duly recognized.
A special exhibit on the ground floor takes you backstage via an immersive environment that includes videos of general managers, press agents, craft and technical people discussing what they do. If you had read all the panels on the preceding two floors, as I did, by the time you get here you may be a bit saturated, as I was. I began to think that the folks who passed more quickly through the earlier sections of the Museum may have had the right idea.
The Museum concludes with another special exhibit “The American Theatre as seen by Al Hirschfeld” (thru Mar. 15) featuring images by the great “Line King” stretching far enough back to a time when he didn’t hide any NINAs in his drawings.
With tickets in the $40 range and up (inc. fees), The Museum of Broadway is not cheap. But after you consider that Broadway tickets now routinely go for $100, $200, or more and the Museum provides 3+ engrossing hours worth of displays, its fee doesn’t seem too outrageous. Whether you’re a hardcore theater afficionado or a casual fan, The Museum of Broadway is a welcome addition to the Times Square Theater District. (More info at https://www.themuseumofbroadway.com/