Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New York postcard: 'Accent on Youth,' and the Easter Bonnet show

Mary Catherine Garrison and David Hyde Pierce
in Accent on Youth.

Editor's note: Palm Beach ArtsPaper's Hap Erstein is on assignment in New York this week.

By Hap Erstein

So I am up in the Big City for the week, gorging on theater, gauging the season and, for good measure, catching a couple of pre-release film screenings.

This evening (Tuesday), I saw the final preview of a Manhattan Theatre Club production of Accent on Youth, a cobweb-cluttered 1934 play by Samson Raphaelson, apparently revived as a vehicle for David Hyde Pierce, Tony Award winner for the musical Curtains a couple of seasons ago and, of course, multiple Emmy winner for playing fussy Niles Crane on TV's Fraiser.

He plays a similarly emotionally constipated guy, a playwright, in Accent on Youth, so it plays to his strengths to the extent that it plays at all. It is an extremely arch and artificial comedy about affairs of the heart and theatrical manipulation, but it never rings very true and feels much longer than its two hours.

I can't imagine it getting many positive reviews or making many fans of the play.

* * *

In the afternoon, I had a much better time at the 23rd annual Easter Bonnet Competition, an inside theater community celebration of the end of its fund-raising drive for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

For two days it takes over the Minskoff Theater (where The Lion King resides normally) with supporting players and chorus members of Broadway shows performing skits that make fun of their own show or other shows in one big roast. Then each skit culminates in the presentation of each group's Easter bonnet, an often elaborate chapeau that is the punchline of the skit.

Frequent comic targets included the multilingual West Side Story (which I'm seeing Friday night), Patti LuPone's hissy fit during the final performance of Gypsy, the recession and Liza Minnelli's frenetic style. Minnelli herself put in an appearance, singing a painfully strained rendition of New York, New York, as did Jane Fonda, who showed she has a good sense of humor about her reputation for keeping a tight rein on her current play, 33 Variations.

I'm sure there is better theater ahead thus week than Accent on Youth, but perhaps nothing more fun than the Easter Bonnet Competition.

* * *

To further pack my first full day in town, I caught a screening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the spin-off of the X-Men franchise focused on Hugh Jackman's mutton-chopped, adamantium clawed mutant. The back story of how Logan became Wolverine involves a half-brother, Victor Creed a/k/a Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and a new team of freaks with superpowers.

The movie is very involving until the inevitable special effects overload. Still, expect it to be a popular kickoff of the summer movie season. But no, Broadway fans, Jackman doesn't sing a sngle note, alas.

Tomorrow: Waiting for Godot with Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin and John Goodman and the musical version of 9 to 5.

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