The Odd Couple at Playmakers Theater through Oct. 4
It was so good to be heading to the North Shore recently to see a show at Playmakers Theater.
First because I was looking forward to visiting this historic 65-year-old playhouse in Covington for the first time since it reopened in July (I missed its A Chorus Line then). And also because, just as the drive began, I got the terrible news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away and I hoped that Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple could serve as some sort of balm.
Fortunately, it did, at least for a few hours.
While this classic comedy may now best be known for its celebrated TV version, it started life in 1965 as a Tony Award-winning show which ran for over two years on Broadway followed by a successful movie. Simon’s pairing up of Oscar Madison, a divorced slob, and Felix Ungar, a soon-to-be-divorced neatnik, in one Upper West Side apartment created two of the most iconic characters of modern theater. Somehow they make their joint misery hysterically funny.
The brilliant, character defining dialog that Simon wrote (when Felix’s buddies think he may be suicidal, Oscar replies “The worst he could do is brush his teeth to death”) still holds up though an occasional reference may go over young’uns’ heads (“Walter Pidgeon” anyone?). If the first act, as the situation is being set up, amuses, the second, with the introduction of the gents’ upstairs neighbors, the kooky British Pigeon sisters, provides lotsa literally laugh-out-loud moments.
Director Connor Loar succeeds in generally capturing Simon’s New Yawker rhythms and getting the script’s jokes to land. Apparently, performances had to be postponed a week due to the need to replace one of the actors (I’m not sure which one or why) so a little tentativeness at the first performance was understandable. Although scene changes could’ve been a bit quicker, Loar’s use of Sinatra songs to bridge these gaps added a nice, period-defining touch.
Wearing a Mets cap, Ken Richard’s Oscar was like a big bear, gruff and a guy’s guy, but with an underlying decency which is essential. On opening night, some of Richard’s lines didn’t flow freely but it could be said that his stumblings were in keeping with Oscar’s speech pattern; still, when he gets them all down, as I’m sure he will, it will allow Simon’s language to come forth even more smoothly and elevate an already very good performance to an excellent one.
With his boyish face, it would seem that Cameron Harmeyer’s Felix would have had to wed in high school for him to be married 12 years. That aside, by straightforwardly playing Felix’s anguished reality as he adjusts to single life, Harmeyer rings all the comedy from the role in a knowing, finely textured way. His Felix means well, but he just doesn’t understand why he drives everyone, especially Oscar, crazy (although, nowadays, spraying disinfectant on poker cards doesn’t seem quite as weird as it once did).
Both Richard and Harmeyer bring an innate warmth to their roles, softening the hardheadedness of each of their characters and enabling an audience to root for both even as we laugh at them.
While the Pigeon sisters tend to come off on the screen, large or small, as over-the-top wacky, when seen in the flesh, through the magical alchemy of theater, they seem a bit odd but no more so than some Quarter characters. And in Nicole Barwick’s and Erin Kate Young’s terrific performances, each perfectly in synch with the other, they veer expertly between silly and sympathetic, fun time gals and motherly types, swinging ‘60’s modsters and contemporary women (other than the absence of cell phones and those yesteryear references, the script could easily take place today); they may be wishful thinking products of a straight man’s imagination but Barwick and Young give the sisters vibrant dignity, forceful agency, and an utterly believable humanity.
Oscar and Felix’s quartet of poker-playing buddies (James Bevolo, J.P. DeCesari, Andrew Jordan, Jason Smith) displays a genuine camaraderie; if some cues could’ve been picked up faster I suspect that will naturally occur as the run continues. Jordan lives up to his character’s name “Speed”, however, and already has the always-in-a-hurry tone of a certain kind of Manhattanite down just right.
In a world of masks, social-distancing and ubiquitous temperature-taking (all of which the theater observes) as well as all the other cataclysmic events of our time, Playmakers’ The Odd Couple offers a marvelous two hour escape to a place where the only war going on is sloppy vs. neat…and everybody comes out a winner.
The Odd Couple plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through Oct. 4 (except for Oct.3) at Playmakers Theater (19106 Playmakers Rd.) in Covington. For tickets and additional information, go to https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/
Karen Olivo/The Seth Concert Series through October 12
Third time’s the charm. At least it was for Karen Olivo and Seth Rudetsky.
While there have been occasional little video or sound glitches since The Seth Concert Series started in May, an internet failure at host Rudetsky’s home in New York on September 6 was the first time a program had to be postponed. Olivo’s show was rescheduled for two days later on a Tuesday evening.
With Rudetsky in NYC and Olivo at her home in Madison, WI, things started smoothly enough with a lovely, playful rendition of You Go To My Head that showcased her creamy voice. We learned that Olivo was born in the Bronx, moved to Florida as a kid, and played Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! in high school “at a ripe 18 years old.”
When she was a junior at CCM (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music), “Rent happened”; she went to an open call for the show in Toronto, sang Come to My Window, made it to the final callback, didn’t get cast, but a month later was called to be a swing/understudy for the Broadway production. She stayed with the show for four years and went on in all the female roles except Joanne.
After giving this background, Olivo sang Take Me or Leave Me with her amazing–a word Rudetsky tends to overuse–voice, but despite a problem-free technical rehearsal, buffering or connectivity problems arose on Olivo’s end, the result, perhaps, of heavy thunderstorms in the area, or an overloaded internet from thousands of kids starting school that day, or who knows what.
The sound went out, but came right back. It went out again, stayed out a little longer, but came back better than before. Interestingly, Olivo/Rudetsky’s interview sections went smoothly enough but when she began to sing, the power of her voice seemed to blow out the audio portion of the connection.
In spite of the challenges, the pair soldiered on. Saying that she “never wanted to be a pop singer; I had to learn this for the show,” Olivo sang Katy Perry’s Firework which is featured in Moulin Rouge, Olivo’s current hit starring vehicle on Broadway. There’s something so natural and convincing about her that when she sings it’s goosebump time.
The tech problems continued, however. Even though Rudetsky and Olivo displayed complete grace under pressure, some grouchy viewers made caustic remarks on the comment scroll (most folks, tho, were very supportive), and it was an absolutely wonderful train wreck to behold, an experience only a live show could provide.
But after about 25 minutes of this, Olivo, who had never done such a concert with Rudetsky and seemed not to be entirely familiar with how he conducts his shows, got a smidge testy, and rightly so, when he pushed her to do a number they hadn’t rehearsed. After one more song, a fabulous Easy to Be Hard from Hair, the ongoing tech problems proved to be too much and they mutually decided to end the show after about an hour with promises that they would make it up to viewers.
They did just that.
A few days later an email arrived from Rudetsky stating that he and Olivo were recording their concert; on Sept. 17 a link arrived to view this hour-and-a-half “On Demand” version for which they edited together the interview and song portions to get them “just right”. This was the first “On Demand” version I’ve seen and, if I missed the “live” aspect, I appreciated that I could start and stop it.
Olivo, with a voice that’s like a cross between a clarinet and cello with a little brass thrown in, reprised some of the numbers she had previously done. You Go To My Head was smooth and sultry. Take Me or Leave Me bluesy and jazzy. Easy to Be Hard a voluptuous, searching interpretation, clearly the way they had originally wanted it to be.
During the interview, we found out that Olivo is now coaching at CCM (remotely) and also taking classes to complete her undergraduate studies. Psychology, she said, is “very difficult, like a slow spiral into hell. But I’m gonna get my degree.” Brava!
It was clear that any rancor between Olivo and Rudetsky was gone and a nice chemistry appeared between them. Olivo spoke about her experience doing Anita in the revival of West Side Story for which she won a Tony Award…and the disappointment that ensued a month later when she broke her foot during a performance and was unable to return to the production.
Moving on from where they had suspended the concert, from In the Heights, the show which first brought her wide acclaim, Olivo sang only part of It Won’t Be Long Now since “I’m not an ingenue any more.” How refreshing to hear such honesty.
For How Long Has This Been Going On? Olivo transformed into a kittenish chanteuse. A compelling and artfully acted Don’t Cry For Me Argentina made one wish to see her as Evita.
In March, Olivo said she’d had a relatively mild case of COVID-19. When soon after that, Broadway shut down, Olivo went with her husband back to their kids in Madison. The concert ended on a charming note with Olivo doing a duet, I Know Him So Well from Chess, with her 16-year-old daughter, who clearly has inherited her momma’s talent.
After its rather stormy start, this edition of The Seth Concert Series turned out to be a delightful and utterly entertaining 90 minutes. If only all of today’s storminess could end that way.
Coming up next are wife & husband Orfeh and Andy Karl (Oct. 4) and Tony Award winner Beth Leavel (Oct. 11) about whom, when she appeared at NOCCA last year, I wrote that she gave “a fantastic, rollicking performance.” Enjoy!
To purchase tickets to these upcoming shows, or to see Karen Olivo’s show on-demand, available through September 25, go to thesethconcertseries.com
Lisa Sings Lee at Rivertown Theaters through Sept. 27
[Having debuted at Le Chat Noir ten years ago, Lisa Sings Lee returns to Rivertown Theaters through Sept. 27. The following is my June 2010 review of the original production.]
With her auburn hair, Lisa Picone didn’t try to recreate the look of Peggy Lee in her recent cabaret Lisa Sings Lee. Rather, having clearly done extensive research on the chanteuse’s life, she presented an intelligent, informative and entertaining overview of a career that foreshadowed those of Madonna and Lady Gaga for its originality, talent and business acumen.
With a small but lovely voice that nicely conjured up the smooth style of Lee, Picone drew her audience into the songs. Working chronologically, she did well impersonating Lee’s disastrous first recording with Benny Goodman when she was forced to sing in a too high key.
Picone blossomed, by which I mean her voice took on a richer persona, as Lee became “Miss Peggy Lee” with an amusing trip through her Carmen Miranda-inspired period; a simple and lovely What More Can a Woman Do?; and the unforgettable songs she wrote for Lady and the Tramp (Picone’s inner comedienne emerged in We Are Siamese).
As good as the program’s first half was, the second was an absolute knock-out as Picone continued with a superb Big Spender (I’d like to see her as Charity), I’m a W-O-M-A-N featuring great diction & lotsa sass, and a wonderfully wry Is That All There Is?
Led by Jesse Reeks on piano, a first-class trio accompanied Picone with acute sensitivity, fitting her song stylings like a glove. Elbow length, of course. Banu Gibson directed simply, which was fine.
Picone may not have Lee’s sizzle–who does?–but she created an evocative tribute to this legendary singer/songwriter. As anyone who has seen Picone in comedy, drama or musical theater here knows, however, she has her own effervescent personality. I look forward to her next cabaret and hope this talented performer will bring a sizzle all her own to it.
[Lisa is now married and goes by Lisa Picone Love. Banu Gibson continues as director. Jesse Reeks returns with Chris Guccione on drums and Joshua Gouzy on bass. Tickets are available here.]
José Torres-Tama will be doing a live performance of his “sci-fi Latino noir solo” ALIENS at the Columbia Theatre at Southeastern Louisiana University on Saturday, October 3, at 7:30pm. More information and tickets are available at https://www.columbiatheatre.org/whats-on/2020-21-aliens-immigrants-other-evildoers