Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Candy Store

Joel Bassin said a funny thing to me just as the lights were going down to signal the beginning of “Heathers: The Musical” on Tuesday night: “The only problem with having a hit is that you have to keep the bathrooms clean.”

And a hit “Heathers” has been, for good reason. Where “The Toxic Avenger” leavened its darkness with a healthy dose of silly, “Heathers” starts with teenage angst, stirs in irony, pathos and deeply twisted humor, and then whips it all into a dark delicious mélange. Even with an inevitable dip in energy in the second act as the various threads unravel, this production is a delight throughout and director Debra Clinton shows herself to be at the pinnacle of her skills.

Some bullet (pun intended) points:

  • Crack open a character and you find a person. One of this production’s many strengths is that even characters that can seem a bit one-note are played by actors who give them a fully-realized rendering when they take center stage. The most obvious of these is Leanna Hicks as Martha “Dumptruck.” Sure, she’s the superperky nerd sidekick, but then give her a song to herself (“Kindergarten Boyfriend”) and she’s a 3D person with a complex inner life. Hicks knocks it out of the park, a triumph echoed by Michaela Nicole (“Heather McNamara”) and Billy Christopher Maupin (“Ram’s Dad”) who both grab ahold of their solos and wring surprising depth of emotions out of them.

  • If only. Carmen Wiley as Veronica has been praised plenty already and she is truly fantastic. I’ll just add that this show makes me regret I didn’t make a point of seeing the Theatre VCU productions she was in.
  • Smug-free zone. Adam Valentine as J.D. is not the strongest singer. But he harmonizes fabulously in his songs with Wiley and, though it’s been a while since I saw the movie, I liked his performance better than I remember liking the annoyingly smug Christian Slater.

  • Music! The music may be recorded by Jason Marks’ tracks are playfully dynamic and richly produced. He and Clinton just need to keep doing more and more things together.

  • Lights! Speaking of dynamics, Michael Jarett’s lights add tremendous character to the production, intensifying moods from scary to snarky to shiny/happy. Ruth Hedberg’s costumes are also a hoot, particularly the Heather’s getups. Apparently, her budget ran out, though, so Caleb Wade and Steven Martella had to run around half-naked most of the second act. Not that anyone’s complaining…
  • Miscellany. A tidbit I found fun: the first trial concert production of “Heathers” starred Jeremy Jordan as JD. The name may not be familiar to many but, to this “Supergirl” fanboy, the thought of quirky, awkward “Winn” playing the brooding, murderous “JD” made me smile. Also: there’s apparently a “Heathers” TV show in production, which could be cool but I’m already worried about because the actor playing Veronica seems like she might be one of those actors who is actually beautiful who is going to be called on to be the nerdy, awkward outcast. But I’ll try not to pre-judge…

I'm lucky to have snuck in for one of the last performances; the end of the run through the 12th is sold out. What's your damage? If you missed this show, it could be significant.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

What a Week

At some point during every episode of Lovett or Leave It, one of my favorite political podcasts, the host Jon Lovett exclaims, “What a week!” He’s usually reacting to the turmoil in presidential politics. But you could certainly say the same for theater this past week, both local and national.

First, you have Morrie Piersol getting plucked out of the North Atlantic, a rescue so awesome it received Icelandic news coverage and even more comprehensive local coverage that got picked up on the national wire. Thank goodness Morrie is safe and thank god for the Icelandic Coast Guard and all rescuers involved for their heroic efforts. Morrie has been a great theater teacher at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School and has directed numerous acclaimed productions on local stages. We’re hopeful he’ll stay safe on solid ground for at least the next little while.

Then you have all of these shows opening or closing or both. SPARC’s “Oliver!” opened and closed and by all accounts was awesome. “Thoroughly Modern Millie” opened at the Dell and people have one more weekend to rush out and see it. And “In the Heights” (Virginia Rep) and “Macbeth” (Quill) both closed after sterling runs at their respective venues.

You’d think we’d have a minute to breath before there were new shows to rush out and see but, NO, before you know it “The View Upstairs” is going to be opening at RTP and “Alice: A New Musical” will debut at Firehouse (in a co-production with TheatreLAB as part of their season of collaboration).  It’s the summer, people – don’t you understand that things are supposed to be low-key and calm?!?!

We were all saddened by the passing of Sam Shepard – what the heck with all these iconic creative people dying lately? Shepard was a Virginia resident for about a decade and wrote some amazing, devastating plays. Productions of Shepard’s work in Richmond have been stunning and mesmerizing, starring some of our town’s best talent. Does anyone else remember Stephanie Kelley in “Buried Child?” She was exquisite. More recent productions of “True West” (Toney Foley! David Clark!) and “A Lie of the Mind” (McLean Jesse, Alex Sapp, too many to mention…) have also been exceptional. It’s sad to think of such a distinctive voice in American theater no longer making art.

Then we were all confused – ok, maybe just me – by the dust up related to “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” and the casting of Mandy Patinkin. The clash of Broadway financial concerns and racial optics seemed to guarantee that someone would be pissed off by something. There are a dozen or so OpEds embedded in this situation, but I don't have the time to write one just now.

Finally, my little geek heart was overjoyed that another podcast I listen to, puzzle-centric “Ask Me Another,” featured Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor this past week. They were promoting their roles in the revival of “Marvin’s Room,” which, even though it has pretty tepid reviews, I would go see just to watch Lili Taylor who has been a favorite of mine since "Mystic Pizza" a million years ago. And just to add excitement to an already fun show, one of the games was a very challenging "worst possible musical adaptations" quiz. Are you a theater know-it-all? You should listen to the show and see if you can answer the questions (I struggled…)