Monday, April 26, 2010

Bulletin from Broadway No. 2: 'Enron' and a Busch-Halston cabaret

A scene from‭ ‬Enron.

By Hap Erstein

Well,‭ ‬so much for the nice weather.‭ ‬I had another great day Sunday in all respects except meteorologically.‭ ‬It rained most of this gray,‭ ‬dreary day and even when the rains halted briefly,‭ ‬it was cold and raw.‭ ‬Fortunately,‭ ‬I had excuses to stay inside for most the time.

I went to a matinee of‭ ‬Enron,‭ ‬Lucy Prebble’s epically theatricalized chronicle of the Houston energy company‭ ‬whose collapse became the largest corporate bankruptcy in United States history,‭ ‬leaving virtually penniless its employees,‭ ‬who were encouraged to invest their‭ ‬401‭(‬k)s in company stock while upper management was quietly selling off its holdings.

It is a wild story of hubris and greed,‭ ‬but it could have easily bogged down in explanations of technical financial concepts like mark-to-market accounting,‭ ‬were it not for the dazzling window dressing of director Rupert Goold’s production,‭ ‬which features musical production numbers,‭ ‬Star Wars light saber duels,‭ ‬a pack of currency-eating raptors and lots of flashy video and electronic stock quote tickers.‭

Plus a stellar central performance by Norbert Leo Butz,‭ ‬who is usually seen in musicals,‭ ‬as the architect of Enron’s meteoric rise and almost-as-fast disintegration,‭ ‬Jeff Skilling.

I still prefer‭ ‬Red as a play,‭ ‬but the pyrotechnics,‭ ‬by actual fireworks and the actors,‭ ‬in‭ ‬Enron will make the Best Play Production Tony Award a true neck-and-neck race,‭ ‬I suspect.‭ ‬Reviews will be out Wednesday morning.

‭ * * *

I have a longtime friend,‭ ‬composer-lyricist Barry Kleinbort,‭ ‬who is also renowned as a director of cabaret acts.‭ ‬Coincidentally,‭ ‬this week he oversaw a series of one-night performances at a great playing space called‭ ‬59E59,‭ ‬which not coincidentally is its address.

And Sunday‭ ‬night,‭ ‬the only night I had free,‭ ‬it kicked off with a non-musical evening of reminiscences and readings by playwright-actor-frequent cross-dresser Charles Busch‭ (‬Psycho Beach Party,‭ ‬Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,‭ ‬The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife‭) ‬and one of his informal repertory company members,‭ ‬wacky actress Julie Halston.‭

Back when I was reviewing in my hometown of Washington,‭ ‬D.C.,‭ ‬over‭ ‬30‭ ‬years ago,‭ ‬I first met Charles,‭ ‬who was just starting out,‭ ‬doing a one-man show called‭ ‬Alone with a Cast of Thousands,‭ ‬a piece of performance art that gave a suggestion of the talent and ability to take on female roles that was to come.‭ ‬Anyway,‭ ‬last night’s cabaret was an amusing,‭ ‬informal,‭ ‬unpolished show and it was fun being in the throng of friends and fans afterward saying‭ “‬Hi‭” ‬to Charles,‭ ‬who has become a Tony-nominated playwright and star of numerous of his own works,‭ ‬some of which have been filmed.

‭ * * *

Barry Kleinbort and Penny Fuller.

Still,‭ ‬the cabaret serendipity paled next to going out afterwards with Barry and one of his friends and teaching colleague at Rutgers and Columbia,‭ ‬Tony nominee Penny Fuller‭ (‬Applause,‭ ‬Rex,‭ ‬The Elephant Man and,‭ ‬most recently,‭ ‬Horton Foote’s‭ ‬Dividing the Estate‭)‬.‭ ‬He has directed her in six cabaret acts over the years and on Wednesday she is featured in the‭ ‬59E59‭ ‬series with an evening of songs by Charles Strouse.

We went for drinks at the impossibly chic La Caprice bar nearby and sat around bemoaning the state of the musical theater,‭ ‬arguing over whether Durrenmatt’s‭ ‬The Visit is suitable for musicalization‭ (‬as Kander‭ ‬and Ebb have done‭)‬,‭ ‬plotting how to get Penny booked into the Colony Hotel’s Royal Room and generally solving the problems of the world.

As columnist Cindy Adams would say,‭ “‬Only in New York.‭ ‬Only in New York.‭”

Next:‭ The off-Broadway play‭ ‬The Tempermentals and a Starbucks rendezvous with‭ ‬West Side Story's Joey McKneeley.

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