Today’s Wall Street Journal drama column contains the first fruit of my recent travels, a rave review of a rare revival of Tobacco Road by Triad Stage, a company based in Greensboro, N.C. I also review the New York premiere of Stephen Lang’s Beyond Glory and a production of Pirates! (an updated version of The Pirates of Penzance) at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J.:
Why did “Tobacco Road” disappear from American stages? Now that I’ve finally seen it, I haven’t a clue, for it turns out to be an immensely powerful piece of theatrical goods. Needless to say, some of the impact of the original 1932 production must have derived from the fact that few New York playgoers then knew anything whatsoever about the poverty-wracked corner of America that Erskine Caldwell and Jack Kirkland portrayed so frankly. But “Tobacco Road,” unlike “Inherit the Wind,” is not a sniggeringly condescending travelogue about life in the hookworm-and-incest belt of the Deep South. It combines humor and horror to strikingly modern effect, and its unattractive characters are portrayed with an unsentimental sympathy that fills the viewer with pity….
It took long enough, but “Beyond Glory,” Stephen Lang’s fire-eating portrayal of eight recipients of the Medal of Honor, has finally opened Off Broadway two years after I saw it at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. “Mr. Lang’s one-man play is no simple-minded piece of flag-waving,” I wrote in this space in 2005. “It is an unsparingly direct portrait of men at war, pushed into narrow corners and faced with hard choices. It is also one of the richest, most complex pieces of acting I’ve seen in my theatergoing life.” I went back to see it again last week, and I stand by every word of my original review….
Purists who believe that “Pirates” is perfect as is should note that Arthur Sullivan’s elegantly Mendelssohnian score has been rewritten by John McDaniel in the manner of a Broadway musical, W.S. Gilbert’s witty libretto has been rewritten by Nell Benjamin (lately of “Legally Blonde”) in the manner of a Three Stooges short, and Gordon Greenberg’s staging is loud, frenetic and nudgingly naughty. At first I bristled, but then I gave in, went with the flow and ended up having a fine time, in part because of the ever-gratifying presence of Farah Alvin, one of New York’s very best musical-comedy singers, whose voice, as always, is brilliant and true….
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