Daily Archives: November 6, 2008

Dear Stephen Sondheim, Ouch!

I don’t really know what happened. I wanted to love the new musical based on the real lives of Addison and Wilson Mizner (two brothers, one was the architect responsible for Mediterranean Revival-style resort homes of Palm Beach and Boca, and the other a cardsharp, boxing manager, Broadway playwright, investor in the

A Mizner home in Boca

A Mizner home in Boca

Brown Derby and all-around con artist, respectively). The premise was interesting: the brothers each follow their own roads: Addison’s is met with what seems like a never-ending string of failures, Wilson’s with a sugarmama who bankrolled his every whim. The roles soon reverse when Addison gains his footing as an architect in south Florida (and a sugarboy), while Wilson’s wife kicks him to the curb.

The two brothers eventually reconnect when a poor, sickly Wilson shows up at healthy, wealthy Addison’s door, and they team up to build/create their own city, Boca Raton (mouth of the rat), with Addison designing and Wilson selling. Given Wilson’s history and penchant for weaving a good yarn, one can guess where this is all leading.

The score was, well, even if I don’t like a musical, chances are I’ll still leave the theater humming a tune or remembering a few words from a song. Unfortunately I only remember one word from the “big” number: gold. And, I think, appropriately enough, the song is actually titled “Gold.”

On a positive note, the costumes are quite inventive. Each member of the chorus wears something specific to the period (1918-1920’s) but printed on the cream-colored fabric are blueprints of actual Mizner homes. It’s a really cool look and a nice detail.rs_slide

But why doesn’t this musical work, exactly? That’s a question I’ve kept turning over in my mind for the past 24 hours and I think I’ve figured out the answer. The autobiographical quality of two brothers gaining and losing everything is fascinating, as is their relationship. But it’s also the story of two brothers that gain and then lose everything. People like rooting for the underdog, so once Addison succeeds, we’re done rooting for him and Wilson’s not like able enough to want to root for at all. And, once they start to lose money because of their greed, we don’t like either of them and aren’t invested or interested in them enough to care.

When you work on a musical for 30 years, like Sondheim did with this one, and I truly admire his passion and sticktuitiveness, sometimes it’s just better to stick it back in the drawer.  It’s no longer the earnest work of a 25-year-old, rather it’s the over thought, overly earnest work of a 78-year-old man. The worst part is, the failure of this production isn’t just in the writing, it’s in the directing, acting from the chorus, and perhaps even a little bit of the fault of the Public Theater. Due to the architecture of the theater space, there really aren’t any wings to the stage, so everyone is onstage at all times and they look bored. You, as the audience, are completely aware of how bored they are. It seems like every member of the chorus can’t wait to go home and go to bed. And soon enough, the audience starts to feel the same way.

– Downtown

92 Y Heads Downtown

92-y-tri

Today I journeyed even further downtown to check out an event (18 Nights of Inspiration: Ira Glass talks to the cast of [Title of Show]) at the 92nd St Y’s new Tribeca branch (200 Hudson Street @ Canal). 92YTRI is an awesome space with a little cafe and a main stage area set up as a cabaret — complete with battery-operated candles on each table. Having opened a mere 2 1/2 weeks ago, the downtown staff at Tribeca seems to have it pretty together, and unlike most newly opened places, there wasn’t the sound of construction or the fumes from fresh paint lingering in the air. There’s even more to the space including a bar area, lounge, art gallery, and screening room, which I’m totally checking out when I head back down there for the next event (I’m eyeing the Purple Rain Sing-along and Reel Paris: Short Films in the City of Light).

The hip, young downtown cousin of the UES institution, 92YTRI is a welcome breath of fresh air to the lecture/performance/comedy/music/theater/class scene. And, as they would say at the uptown branch, L’Chaim!

-Downtown