Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for November 2009

By Brandon Voss

Originally published on Advocate.com November 16 2009 2:55 PM ET

Like the proverbial tree falling in a forest, if Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman are on Broadway, does the rest of New York’s theater scene make a sound? Shockingly, yes, but let’s focus on those hot daddies first.

A STEADY RAIN X390 (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOATE.COM

In Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain, which dries up December 6 at the Schoenfeld Theatre, two Chicago beat cops share shocking events in intersecting “he said, he said” monologues. Put simply, it’s like a 90-minute crime procedural (think CSI: Broadway!) that proves a star vehicle can succeed despite its mediocrity. Still, no thanks to ringing cell phones and spotty “Da Bears” accents, the studs deliver. Because I only scored one comp to the limited-run engagement, I drooled from mid orchestra while my boyfriend Nick paid a fortune for front row center, where he could feel Wolverine spit on his face. So we hate her.

HAMET JUDE LAW X390 (JOHAN PERSSON) | ADVOCATE.COM

To see or not to see — that is always the question when yet another potentially boring Shakespeare play opens on Broadway. If you want a riveting, eye-popping, titillating Hamlet, add Zeffirelli’s 1990 adaptation starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close to your Netflix queue. But if you’ve got the hots for Jude Law, check out the profitable new revival, which ends its limited run at the Broadhurst Theater December 6. Back on Broadway for the first time since dropping trou in 1995’s Indiscretions, the sinewy 36-year-old exudes an electric yet accessible intensity as the fashionable Prince of Denmark. Just don’t expect innovative surprises like a three-way with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; in fact, the spartanly staged production has such little else to offer. Even juicy characters like Gertrude and Ophelia blend into the all-black background.

 AFTER MISS JULIE X390 JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

It’s fitting that After Miss Julie at the American Airlines Theatre also closes December 6. After all, the mere idea that star Sienna Miller would be inhaling the same Broadway air as ex-boyfriend Jude Law was almost as big of a story this season as When Hugh Met Craig. Relocating August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie to a 1945 English country house, Patrick Marber’s riveting, slow-burning update tackles the tragic consequences when a spoiled aristocrat sleeps with her father’s servant, here played with blue-collar carnality by Jonny Lee Miller. Whether she’s demanding her shoe be kissed or killing a caged bird (symbolism alert!), Sienna breathes fire into a complex, crazy seductress who makes Hedda Gabler look like Hedda Lettuce. Not that it’s a competition, but her Julie would probably eat Jude’s Hamlet for lunch.

FINIANRAINBOW X390 (CHEYENNE JACKSON) | ADVOCATE.COM

“It’s a little dated,” whined one snooty show queen to another at intermission of Finian’s Rainbow, which opened October 29 at Broadway’s St. James Theatre. Well, duh, Mary. It’s a 1947 musical about Irish immigrants, a hidden pot o’ gold, and a racist senator who gets turned black by leprechaun magic. Of course it’s dated! This fully staged version of the New York’s recent City Center Encores! production is also as corny as Kansas in August (to quote another ’40s musical) and features one of the hokiest love stories ever staged. But as star Cheyenne Jackson recently told Advocate.com, “It’s actually incredibly current, and it’s crazy how much stuff in the show we’re still dealing with.” True dat. Plus the music is gorgeous, Cheyenne’s smokin’ hot, and the show’s poster design looks like an Irish gay pride parade float.

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 WISHFUL DRINKING CARRIE FISHER X390 (JJOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

First staged in Los Angeles in 2006, Carrie Fisher’s candid one-woman show Wishful Drinking brings its star back to Broadway’s Studio 54 through January 17. But this time she’s not doing drugs in the former disco’s basement; now barefoot and wearing pajamas, she’s spilling the tea on her bipolar disorder and family drama (her folks are Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher) that requires a photo-illustrated chart titled “Hollywood Inbreeding 101.” As warm as a wacky, wisecracking aunt, Fisher also pays homage to her Pez dispenser-friendly Princess Leia past and addresses ex-hubby Bryan Lourd’s accusation she turned him gay. And after tossing confetti onto the audience like Rip Taylor and doling out drink tickets, she even answered our questions about R. Gregory Stevens, the gay Republican who died of an overdose in her bed in 2005.

BYE BYE BIRDIE X390 (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

John Stamos came clean about his 2007 drunken Australian TV appearance in a recent Advocate.com interview to promote Bye Bye Birdie, so at least something good has come out of the show that calls Henry Miller’s Theatre home through April 25. Stamos and gay icon Gina Gershon aren’t great singers, but I hoped their comic charms would make BBB soar; too bad their low energy and lack of chemistry as Albert and Rosie turn Broadway’s first revival of the 1960 musical into a candy-colored dud. Out director Robert Longbottom’s vision favors realism over camp, but Bill Irwin’s freakishly mugging Mr. MacAfee probably has Paul Lynde twirling in his grave. I did like Nolan Gerard Funk’s Birdie (particularly his scene wearing beer-soaked briefs) and Spring Awakening alum Matt Doyle, who plays Eric’s boyfriend on Gossip Girl, as Hugo.

THE ROYAL FMAILY X390 JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

Rich in one-liners, The Royal Family ends its reign at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre December 13, but you should get there soon, before the scenery’s been completely chewed and digested by the delicious cast. George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s farcical comedy, which was inspired by the Barrymore dynasty and debuted in 1927, spotlights the fictional Cavendish acting clan in their ornate Manhattan home. As the grande dame matriarch and a daughter prone to throwing herself on the ground in animated despair, Rosemary Harris and Jan Maxwell will surely be toasted by Tony nods. Solid support comes courtesy of celebrated out actors like Love! Valour! Compassion!’s John Glover and gender-bending downtown denizen David Greenspan, but SNL alum Ana Gasteyer seems out of her league as a brassy rival actress.

BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS X390 (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

The first Broadway revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Neil Simon’s autobiographical 1983 Jewish family comedy, opened October 25 at the Nederlander Theatre to fine reviews. Then it closed November 1 after only nine performances, which also squelched upcoming plans to run Simon’s Broadway Bound in repertory. Chicago-based director David Cromer staged the jokey Depression-era coming-of-age tale with unexpected subtlety and pathos, but maybe paying audiences wanted more stars and spectacle. Though the production did lack a “wow” factor, the performances were remarkably poignant, particularly those of Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf and Jessica Hecht, best known as Ross’s ex-wife’s lesbian lover on Friends. Here’s hoping Simon saves face with next spring’s Promises, Promises revival starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth.

MEMPHIS X390 (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

A brisk original musical with an ass-busting cast, Memphis deserves a long, soulful life at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre. Charismatic Chad Kimball, who played gay in the L.A. production of Little Fish, makes a splash here as colorblind Huey, a fictional white DJ in the ’50s pushing to get “race records” on the radio. Later, Huey hosts a corny TV dance show and argues with the talented black singer he can’t love publicly. Uh, so if you liked Hairspray, Dreamgirls, and the landmark civil rights case of Loving v. Virginia, you won’t mind Memphis — how’s that for a marquee quote? At least the songs by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan are rousing, and the racial struggles are easily connected to today’s marriage equality movement thanks to out book writer Joe DiPietro, who does his best to sober up his style following fluff like Fucking Men.

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SUPERIOR DONUTS X390 (ROBERT J SAFERSTEIN) | ADVOCATE.COM

If you’re playwright Tracy Letts, how do you top the Tony-winning August: Osage County? Well, you don’t — at least not with his seriocomic Superior Donuts, which comes to Broadway’s Music Box Theatre following its premiere at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company last year. Michael McKean, much more subtle here than as a gay shih tzu owner in Best in Show, stars as the aging hippie proprietor of a dilapidated doughnut shop who bonds with his new employee, a black street kid hounded by smarmy debt collectors. Quirky supporting characters like a lovesick cop and a crazy lady named Lady lend to the play’s sitcom-y feel, but at least it’s a “very special episode.” As an extra treat, doughnuts from Doughnut Plant are delivered daily and sold in the lobby for $4 each. I totally ate two during intermission. Yes, I eat my feelings.

OLEANNA X390 (CRAIG SCHWARTZ) | ADVOCATE.COM

Direct from a successful engagement at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, David Mamet’s Oleanna opened October 11 at the John Golden Theatre with Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman. A two-person “he said, she said” drama about an arguably inappropriate college professor and the arguably opportunistic student who accuses him of harassment, Oleanna has inspired much debate over the years about which character is truly the victim. But when this play made its off-Broadway premiere in 1992 (a film version followed in 1994), the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill sexual harassment hearings were the hottest of hot topics. Its somewhat tedious Broadway debut proves less polarizing, rendering a post-show talk-back series called “Take a Side” pointless. Take a side? Gladly: Stiles’s student is nothing but a raging, manipulative, psycho bitch.

ROCK OF AGES X390 (JOAN MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

I’m not one to revisit a show, but I returned to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre last month to see the ’80s jukebox musical Rock of Ages, despite my disdain for Chris D’Arienzo’s weak, overly complicated book. (Note to Adam Shankman: When making the movie version, please keep in mind that we just want to hear the songs!) Why? Well, Kerry Butler, something of a gay icon in New York theater circles for her work in Xanadu and Hairspray, recently joined the Rock cast as Sherrie — just a small-town girl livin’ in a lonely world. What’s really cool about Butler’s casting is that it reunites her with So NoTORIous hottie James Carpinello, her original Xanadu costar before he infamously injured himself in previews and Cheyenne Jackson took over. As a bonus, gay Buffy alum Tom Lenk now plays Franz, the effeminate German.

MADE IN HEAVEN X390 (JAY BERNZWEIG) | ADVOCATE.COM

Somehow I missed Made in Heaven when it played as part of the New York Fringe Festival in August. Luckily, Jay Bernzweig’s racy comedy has returned to off-Broadway’s SoHo Playhouse through January 3. If you thought the Gossip Girl threesome was scandalous, meet Max and Benjie, conjoined twins who share one large penis. They’re about to propose to Jessica, a heavyset Jewish girl with low self-esteem, when Benjie admits he’s gay and completes a freaky foursome by hiring a cocky bisexual escort who just happens to be Jessica’s ex-husband. Even at 90 minutes, the whole gag’s stretched about 15 minutes too long, but likable leads Kevin Thomas Collins and Alex Anfanger nail the three-legged race physical shtick. And as the substance-abusing man whore, Matthew Bondy is skilled at stripping and simulated fellatio.

CHILDREN AT PLAY X390 (JEANETTE ORLIC) | ADVOCATE.COM

The kids are not all right in Children at Play, Jordan Seavey’s challenging, satisfying, and profoundly disturbing new work playing the Living Theatre through November 21. Led by the striking Susan Louise O’Connor (a Theater World Award winner for her Broadway debut in Blithe Spirit), a group of gifted and talented students remains friends through junior high and high school. We watch them deal with eating disorders, molestation, bad parenting, and even the fallout from being a Chernobyl baby. Seavey, who previously tackled gay-bias crime in The Truth Will Out, also adeptly explores both the dark and the delightful sides of shifting adolescent sexuality with a masturbation sequence behind a backlit curtain, a revealing game of truth or dare, and a Sybilesque argument between two boyfriends played by the same actor.

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LOVE CHILD X390 (CAROL ROSEGG) | ADVOCATE.COM

Written and performed by Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton, Love Child is one of those shows where the actors play, like, a million different characters each. Sometimes it’s breakneck bliss; other times it’s a muddled mess. At off-Broadway’s New World Stages through January 3, Love Child is especially confusing because some of these characters are in an off-off-Broadway troupe acting as other characters in an obscure Greek tragedy — a play within a play that allows for plenty of chatty audience members, backstage crew members, agents, etc. I can only assume that Stanton, the gay one of the pair, put the queer polish on the plot: Though straight, an actor with an openly gay dad is also up for a part in Chelsea Boys, a cable series about gay twins who’d have an incestuous relationship were it not for the fact they’re both bottoms.

THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS X390 (CAROL ROSEGG) | ADVOCATE.COM

Best known as advice columnist Ann Landers from 1955 until her death in 2002, Eppie Lederer wasn’t really pro-homosexuality until her last decade (twin sister Pauline “Dear Abby” Phillips was a much better friend to the gays), but you won’t sense that ignorance in The Lady With All the Answers, David Rambo’s solo bioplay running through November 29 at off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre. Played with Midwestern cordiality by Designing Women alum Judith Ivey, this Ann Landers puts off an important column about her husband’s infidelities by sharing anecdotes with us, the rapt guests she’s invited into her living room in 1975. At one point she even recalls her reassuring response to a letter she received from a gay teen: “You are not alone.” So if you could forgive Julia Child enough to enjoy Julie & Julia, you can live with this lady for a night.

 AVENUE Q X390 (CAROL ROSEGG) | ADVOCATE.COM

Avenue Q ended its six-year run on September 13 as the 20th-longest-running show in Broadway history. Then, giving hope to future shows that can’t sustain their Broadway runs, the adult-themed Sesame Street spoof reopened at off-Broadway’s New World Stages October 21. The greater intimacy definitely helps pinpoint the puppet-packed production’s purpose (and ticket prices have reduced), so it’s the perfect time to revisit the Best Musical Tony winner, which also earned gay playwright Jeff Whitty a Tony for his clever book. Seth Rettberg, a huggable bundle of wide-eyed energy and eager charm, currently shines in the dual role of neighborhood newbie Princeton and Rod, the closeted gay Republican who should not be confused with the dude who died in Carrie Fisher’s bed — may he rest in peace.