It’s Friday, and the fruits of my recent nonstop playgoing are on display in this morning’s Wall Street Journal drama column, which contains reviews of four New York shows: Julius Caesar,
On Golden Pond,
Steel Magnolias, and the Lincoln Center American Songbook concert version (now closed) of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion.
Julius Caesar is a toxic waste dump:
According to the posters, Denzel Washington is the star of “Julius Caesar,” which opened Sunday at the Belasco Theatre. The fine young ladies in the balcony signified agreement by squealing when he made his entrance in a sharp-looking business suit, this being a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s classic tale of dirty work in ancient Rome. Don’t let appearances fool you, though: The real star of this mostly horrible show is Colm Feore, who is high-strung and lustrously precise as Cassius. Next to him, Mr. Washington comes off like a well-meaning amateur, standing stiff as a weathervane and gabbling his way through Brutus’ lines. Sometimes he snaps into focus, but for the most part he stalks haplessly through Daniel Sullivan’s hopelessly confused updating, which is set in some unknown country–perhaps the one where modern-dress Shakespeare productions go to die….
On Golden Pond is a terrible play, unredeemed by the very best efforts of James Earl Jones:
Needless to say, it’s great to have Mr. Jones back on Broadway, from which he has been absent since 1987. Would that the vehicle for his return were worthy! He’s still got the best pipes in the business, but to hear them, you’ve got to sit through the damn play. I gather from the press release that this is “the first major production to feature African-American performers.” O.K. by me, but no matter what color you paint the Thayers–or how well you act them–they’re still phony. My reluctant advice: If you feel the need to be manipulated, go see a chiropractor….
Steel Magnolias, making its Broadway debut in this revival, is an unpretentious commercial charmer:
Robert Harling’s 1987 play about the comical clients of Truvy’s Beauty Spot is, of course, actor-proof. I last saw it performed by a stageful of Orthodox Jewish schoolgirls, and it was still funny. Nevertheless, it profits from the attentions of professionals, and this cast is nothing if not professional. Don’t ask me why Marsha Mason was cast as a grumpy Louisiana broad, but everyone else, Frances Sternhagen very much included, is just right or close to it. Christine Ebersole gives a nicely lemony performance as M’Lynn (think Eve Arden), Delta Burke shrewdly underplays Truvy (don’t think Dolly Parton), and Broadway debutantes Rebecca Gayheart and Lily Rabe are charming as Shelby and Annelle….
And Passion was predictably fine, with one unexpected qualification:
Patti LuPone was especially fine as the sickly, unbeautiful Fosca, whose desperate obsession with Giorgio (Michael Cerveris) pulls him inexorably away from his married lover Clara (Audra McDonald). Paul Gemignani, Mr. Sondheim’s preferred conductor, made Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations sound more luscious than ever. As for the score, it’s beyond praise, a musical achievement comparable in quality to “Sweeney Todd.” I can’t say better than that.
I had only one reservation about “Passion,” which is that Ms. McDonald’s singing is becoming infested with scoopy mannerisms that have no place among Mr. Sondheim’s spare vocal lines….
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