Sunday, May 1, 2011

Broadway Postcard No. 7: Boca team backs sharp 'Born Yesterday'

Robert Sean Leonard,‭ ‬Nina Arianda
and Jim Belushi in Born Yesterday.

By Hap Erstein

This afternoon I got to see the handiwork of those three young chargers from Boca Raton‭ ‬--‭ ‬Philip Morgaman‭ (‬27‭ ‬years old‭)‬,‭ ‬Frankie J.‭ ‬Grande‭ (‬28‭) ‬and Brian Kapetanis‭ (‬28‭) ‬--‭ ‬the lead producers of the new revival of‭ ‬Born Yesterday that opened‭ ‬last‭ ‬Sunday night to very favorable reviews.‭ ‬That was the opening I missed taking a three-hop flight to New York by way of Detroit.

It remains to be seen whether they can make money on the venture,‭ ‬since the show’s male stars,‭ ‬Jim Belushi and Robert Sean Leonard,‭ ‬are only committed to the production until July,‭ ‬when they head back to the West Coast for their television responsibilities.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬the chemistry between them and particularly with their co-star Nina Arianda,‭ ‬who gives a certifiable star-making performance as smarter-than-she-looks Billie Dawn,‭ ‬is evidence that these emerging producers have good taste and theatrical savvy.

From the start,‭ ‬after Morgaman came up with the idea of reviving‭ ‬Born Yesterday and persuaded the estate of playwright Garson Kanin to issue them the performance rights,‭ ‬they‭ ‬knew that they wanted two stageworthy television veterans to play thuggish scrap metal magnate Harry Brock and crusading‭ ‬New Republic writer Paul Verrall,‭ ‬plus an unknown with strong comedy chops for Billie.‭ ‬And that is exactly what they got.

The play,‭ ‬which first met audiences in‭ ‬1946‭ ‬but comes off as remarkably relevant to the political scene today,‭ ‬is kind of a‭ ‬20th-century Pygmalion tale,‭ ‬with chorus girl Billie visiting the nation’s capital for the first time ever,‭ ‬brought to Washington by her brusque,‭ ‬bullying beau Brock,‭ ‬who has come to lean on a bought-and-paid-for senator to get favorable treatment on tariffs and taxes. Knowing he will need to take Billie to D.C.‭ ‬social functions,‭ ‬he hires Paul to educate her,‭ ‬a task Paul succeeds at all too well.

Written in three acts,‭ ‬for an audience with far more patience than a‭ ‬2011‭ ‬audience has,‭ ‬the script can be pokey,‭ ‬but director Doug Hughes finesses the problem nicely and the cast also more than compensates.‭

‭ * * *

Aaron Tveit and the cast of Catch Me if You Can.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

My New York theatergoing ended on a disappointing note,‭ ‬seeing the musical‭ ‬Catch Me if You Can,‭ ‬based on the‭ ‬2002‭ ‬Steven Spielberg/Leonardo di Caprio movie about real life con man-counterfeiter Frank Abagnale,‭ ‬Jr.‭ ‬It reunites the creative team of‭ ‬Hairspray‭ ‬--‭ ‬songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman,‭ ‬director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell‭ ‬--‭ ‬with none of the same buoyant results.

Much of the problem stems from the device of telling the story in the style of a‭ ’‬70s TV variety show,‭ ‬which leads to a homogenized,‭ ‬upbeat score and precious little emotional impact.‭ ‬Ultimately,‭ ‬the show is not very involving and leading performer Aaron Tveit‭ (‬Next to Normal‭) ‬is not charismatic enough,‭ ‬does not have the star power,‭ ‬to make us care.

‭ * * *

Karole Armitage,‭ ‬the choreographer of the‭ ‬Hair revival,‭ ‬called me‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬apologized for the interview that did not happen on Friday and rescheduled for this‭ ‬morning.‭ ‬So instead of going for a leisurely brunch with my friends,‭ ‬I will try again to meet with Karole at the Joyce Theatre downtown before catching my plane home.

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