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April 24, 2012

TT: The lighter side of cancer

I wrote a bonus drama column for today's Wall Street Journal in which I review three Broadway openings, The Lyons, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Ghost. The first isn't bad, but the second two are appalling. Here's an excerpt.

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One of the reasons why we expect so much out of Broadway shows is that they cost so much to see. Nicky Silver's "The Lyons," which transferred to Broadway this week, is a clever little dysfunctional-family comedy that contains at least twice its fair share of laughs. Though it's more than a bit of a mess, "The Lyons" has its moments, and Linda Lavin, the star, is in sensational form. Off Broadway, that amounted to a passable bargain--but is it really worth $126.50 to see an amusing but inconsistent show? All I can tell you is that despite its extreme unevenness, "The Lyons" is never boring.

TheLyons1.jpgPart of what's wrong with "The Lyons" is that it feels more like a medley than a play. The first act is a skit about a Jewish family whose members despise one another. Ben (Dick Latessa), the father, is suffering from one of those extra-special symptom-free varieties of theatrical cancer that kill you in a week or two without causing any visible discomfort. Rita (Ms. Lavin), the mother, is a gleeful gargoyle who can't wait for him to expire so that she can redecorate their house ("Do you think plaid is too casual?"). As for the kids, Lisa (Kate Jennings Grant), the daughter, is an alcoholic divorcée, while Curtis (Michael Esper), the son, is gay and unemployed. Put them all in a hospital room and you get an hour's worth of horrifically malicious one- and two-liners: "You know, there's a very nice young man down the hall, Leonard something, end stages of lymphoma--and I think he's Jewish!" Imagine a middle-period Neil Simon play rewritten by Christopher Durang and you'll get the idea.

That's a nice start, but Mr. Silver skids off the road after intermission. The second act of "The Lyons" opens with a scene that appears to have been lifted from some other show (alas, it can't be described without giving away the game). Then we return to the hospital for a grand finale that staggers into seriousness and gets all gooey....

Even if the world had been breathlessly awaiting yet another Broadway revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire," Emily Mann's mediocre new multi-racial version of Tennessee Williams' most familiar play wouldn't have been anywhere near good enough to pass muster. Most of the acting, especially by Blair Underwood as Stanley and Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche, is about what you'd expect from a TV movie, and Ms. Mann's predictable-looking staging is devoid of anything remotely approaching a convincing sense of time or place....

The musical version of "Ghost," Jerry Zucker's 1990 film about how a cute young murder victim saves the life of his cute young widow by haunting a fraudulent but funny medium, belongs not on Broadway but in the Smithsonian Institution. Not only would such a transfer free up a valuable piece of real estate, but it might also help historians of the future to understand what went wrong with the Broadway musical in the 21st century....

The cast is a box of stale Twinkies. The songs, by Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard and Mr. Rubin, are just the sort of thing you'd expect to hear on a low-budget knockoff of "American Idol." If that sounds good to you, get out the steel wool and clean your ears....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted April 24, 2012 12:00 AM

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