This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

ON THE 20th CENTURY

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher) is desperate for former flame Lily Garland (Kristin Chenoweth) to star in his next Broadway show (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 4, $67-$142
212-719-1300
20thcenturyonbroadway.com
www.roundabouttheatre.org

“There’s something about a train that’s magic,” Richie Havens sang in a series of Amtrak commercials in the 1980s. There’s more than just a little magic in the first revival of Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Cy Coleman’s 1978 screwball musical comedy, On the 20th Century, which has pulled into the American Airlines Theatre, brought back to glorious life by director Scott Ellis in this celebratory Roundabout production. It’s 1932, and suddenly bankrupt theatrical impresario Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher), trying to recover from a series of failures, has boarded the glamorous Twentieth Century Limited with his musketeer henchmen, Oliver Webb (Mark Linn Baker) and Owen O’Malley (Michael McGrath), in order to convince his former leading lady, Lily Garland (Kristin Chenoweth), to put aside the Academy Award (aka the Oscar, of course) she’s just won and return to Broadway in his new show. But her new lover and frequent onscreen costar, Bruce Granit (Andy Karl), is jealous, and Lily herself is suspicious of the scheming Oscar, who discovered her when she was shlumpy Mildred Plotka and turned her into a star. Also on board the train is a little old lady, Mrs. Letitia Peabody Primrose (Mary Louise Wilson), a religious zealot secretly slapping up signs demanding that all of these heathens “Repent!” while also considering financing Oscar’s next show. As the train continues its overnight journey from Chicago to New York, Oscar grows more and more desperate, resulting in ever-wackier high jinks. “New York in sixteen hours / Anything can happen in those sixteen hours / On that might-y / Ride-the-night-ly / Miracle of engineering brains . . . / On the Twentieth Century / On the luxury liner of locomotive trains,” conductor Flanagan (Jim Walton) proclaims, and indeed, anything can and does occur.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Lily Garland (Kristin Chenoweth) finds herself in a bit of a triangle between Bruce Granit (Andy Karl) and Oscar Jaffee (Peter Gallagher) in Roundabout revival (photo by Joan Marcus)

The show has a storied history, adapted from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1932 play, Twentieth Century (itself based on Charles Bruce Millholland’s unproduced Napoleon of Broadway) and Howard Hawks’s 1934 film, 20th Century, which starred John Barrymore as Oscar and Carole Lombard as Lily. (Various other versions and iterations have featured Fredric March, John Cullum, Rock Hudson, Orson Welles, José Ferrer, and Alec Baldwin as Oscar and Madeline Kahn, Judy Kaye, Anne Heche, Lily Palmer, Constance Bennett, Gloria Swanson, and Betty Grable as Lily.) Tony nominee Gallagher (Guys and Dolls, Long Day’s Journey into Night) has just the right amount of smarm and charm as Oscar, even if his singing voice is not quite virtuosic (although he is dealing with an illness that has forced him to miss several performances and delayed the official opening by a week), but Tony winner Chenoweth (Wicked, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) more than makes up for that in a role that she fully inhabits, giving a rafters-rattling performance that will knock your socks off, as if this were the role she was born to play. (In fact, in 2000, Green told Chenoweth, “You know what part you’re born to play?” To which Comden replied, “Lily Garland.”) When Oscar says about Mildred, “It was there. The pixie . . . the eternal woman . . . the fire . . . the passion . . . and the singing voice of a lost child heard by its mother echoing from beyond a corner,” it could just as well be Gallagher talking about Chenoweth. It’s a spectacular display that actually includes fireworks. The operetta-like score is not particularly memorable, overloaded with repetition and redundancy, but three-time Tony nominee David Rockwell’s Art Deco sets are, along with six-time Tony nominee Ellis’s (The Elephant Man, 1776) gleefully chaotic staging and Tony winner Warren Carlyle’s (After Midnight) glittering choreography. Tony winner McGrath (Nice Work If You Can Get It, Spamalot) and Linn-Baker (You Can’t Take It with You, Perfect Strangers) are a kind of Harpo and Chico to Gallagher’s Groucho, while Tony nominee Karl (Rocky, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) chews up the scenery as the narcissistic Granit. It all makes for one joyous journey, even when things get too silly, but the show’s self-deprecating humor, knowing nods and winks, and endless magic make you overlook its shortcomings (while reveling in the irony that the show that takes place on board a train is playing in a theater named for an airline and is produced by a company whose title can refer to a circular intersection cars drive around). Throughout the show, characters keep knocking on Oscar’s door, waving their scripts in his face. “It’s all about life on a train / I call it ‘Life on a Train,’ Flanagan sings, continuing, “I put it down just as it happened / Oh, the things I’ve seen!” I can happily say the same thing about On the 20th Century, itself: Oh, the things I’ve seen!

THE AUDIENCE

THE AUDIENCE

The queen’s equerry (Geoffrey Beevers) serves as a kind of Greek chorus unto himself in THE AUDIENCE (photo by Johan Persson)

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 28, $79-$157
theaudiencebroadway.com

In 2007, Helen Mirren won an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’s The Queen, which deals with England’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana. In 2013, Mirren won London’s prestigious Olivier Award for playing the queen onstage in The Audience, and she is certainly in line for a Tony nomination now that the production has moved to Broadway, running at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre through June 28. Both the film and the play were written by Peter Morgan, who specializes in fact-based dramas that imagine what goes on behind closed doors, including Damned United, The Last King of Scotland, and Frost/Nixon (which was a hit both onstage and onscreen). His works have been criticized for stretching credulity as he makes up dialogue and characters and creates scenes that are known to never have occurred, like the meeting of David Frost and President Richard Nixon that takes place at the end of Frost/Nixon. In The Queen, Morgan focused on Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair; in The Audience, he explores the queen’s relationship with eight of England’s elected political leaders (of the twelve PMs who have served during her reign, which began in 1952) through her weekly “audience” with them, a real tradition in which they come to Buckingham Palace and very briefly talk about what is happening in the country. The royal is supposed to just listen and nod in agreement, but Elizabeth often eschews what is expected and shares her own views, which shocks some and annoys others, although in the end she is always demure and graceful. One prime minister turns her into a therapist, while another develops an unusual friendship that finds him vacationing with her at Balmoral Castle. “You have a way of saying nothing and yet making yourself perfectly clear,” one of the prime ministers says to her. Of course, since the weekly audience is completely private, no one knows what was actually said, so giant leaps of faith are needed as the queen flirts with an aging Sir Winston Churchill (Dakin Matthews), discusses the Suez Canal with Sir Anthony Eden (Michael Elwyn), becomes a confidant to John Major (Dylan Baker), goes head-to-head with Margaret Thatcher (Judith Ivey), and develops a genuine rapport with Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe).

THE AUDIENCE

Sir Winston Churchill (Dakin Matthews) is uncomfortable meeting with Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) in THE AUDIENCE (photo by Johan Persson)

Mirren is a marvel as the queen, magically changing clothes and hair onstage as the narrative jumps around through the years, splendidly capturing each era. (Hint: She is wearing multiple costumes at any one time, beautifully designed by Bob Crowley.) The story is too random, never establishing any legitimate conflict, and it seesaws between being too explanatory and not providing enough background information on British history, making references that will leave American audiences confused and, at times, just plain bored. It also gives a huge benefit of the doubt to the queen, as it’s a kind of love letter to British royalty that avoids controversy. McCabe excels as Wilson, a working-class slob who suddenly finds himself as the leader of a major world power, while Ivey is overly bombastic as Thatcher, inflating her into a caricature. The Audience features touching scenes of the young Elizabeth (alternately played by Sadie Sink and Elizabeth Teeter) appearing onstage as a memory, being taken care of by her dedicated nanny, Bobo McDonald (Tracy Sallows); the show would have benefited from more of those moments. Crowley’s set design is appropriately ornate and opulent; Geoffrey Beevers is playfully charming as the queen’s equerry, her dedicated right-hand man who explains in stately diction the provenance of the art and furniture, addressing theatergoers directly. Two-time Tony winner Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, An Inspector Calls) handles it all in a stylish, refined manner, doing what he can with a tale that is primarily built around two people sitting in chairs, talking about rather mundane things. The Audience is sure to find an audience, given its big-time star delivering a wonderful performance, but those who expect depth, surprise, or tension may leave their chairs not quite wholly in awe of the royal proceedings they have witnessed.

FISH IN THE DARK

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Brothers Norman (Larry David) and Arthur (Ben Shenkman) fight over where there mother will live in FISH IN THE DARK (photo by Joan Marcus)

Cort Theatre
138 West 48th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 7, $49 - $275
fishinthedark.com

The first act of Larry David’s Broadway debut as writer and actor is pret-ty, pret-ty good; unfortunately, the second act is pret-ty, pret-ty not. David is well known and celebrated — or hated, by some — for his television work: He was the cocreator of Seinfeld (the character of George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, is inspired by him) and the comic genius behind HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which he stars as a self-obsessed version of himself, getting into uncomfortable, cringe-worthy situations that are as funny as they are annoying. He has arrived on Broadway with quite a bang; Fish in the Dark virtually sold out its eighteen-week run at the Cort Theater before it even officially opened and the reviews started coming in. (Only premium seating, ranging from $185 to $499, is now available.) Fish in the Dark is, in effect, an extended episode of Curb, but whereas the cable show lasts a mere half hour, Fish goes on, and on, and on, clocking in at approximately two hours (with intermission). And it feels even longer. Playing what appears to be yet another version of himself — David looks and acts like he’s on the set of Curb, his only nods to being live onstage his exaggerated gestures when he’s talking, as opposed to standing around doing nothing when he’s not — David is Norman Drexel, a urinal salesman whose father, Sidney (Jerry Adler), is in the hospital, on his last legs. Right before Sidney dies, he makes his sons, Norman and Arthur (Ben Shenkman), promise to take care of their mother, Gloria (Jayne Houdyshell), and swear never to let her live alone. Thus begins a fight about which son is supposed to take the widow into their home. Arthur is a well-off divorced single father and successful lawyer, while Norman has much less money and a wife, Brenda (Rita Wilson), who threatens to leave him if he takes in his mother. It’s classic David shtick that gets even more complicated when longtime family housekeeper Fabiana (Rosie Perez) reveals to Norman a very expensive secret. Doing what David does best, he has taken a somewhat familiar, clichéd situation and turns it inside out, getting caught up in trivialities that are lifted to absurdist levels. But it all falls apart in a second act that devolves into repetition, silly slapstick, and dreadful, minor-league-sitcom plot twists.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Norman (Larry David) learns some surprising secrets about his father from housekeeper Fabiana (Rosie Perez) in David’s Broadway debut (photo by Joan Marcus)

Fish in the Dark, which boasts a talented cast of eighteen, also includes battles over a Rolex, eulogies, boob gropes, tipping doctors, reincarnation, and end-of-life care, all given equal weight in typical David fashion. Set changes are made behind a giant screen that is a blown-up State of California death certificate on which information is added or deleted over the course of the show, but it grows tiresome and confusing very quickly. Director Anna D. Shapiro (This Is Our Youth, Of Mice and Men) has done significantly better work; much of Fish in the Dark is too stagnant, with the audience (and the cast) waiting on the next telegraphed punch line. Meanwhile, some of the actors have trouble projecting, while others nearly shake the roof with their line readings. One of the many things that made Curb Your Enthusiasm so effective was that it was not overly scripted, instead providing plenty of room for the actors to improvise, providing a freshness to each exchange, something that is missing from Fish. (Critics were not permitted to see copies of the script, so I can’t verify what’s in it and what’s not, or how it might have changed since the play began previews.) In the fall of 2011, a trio of one-act comedies, Relatively Speaking, by Woody Allen, Elaine May, and Ethan Coen, ran at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The first act of Fish in the Dark would have felt right at home on that shared bill, since you’ll end up curbing your enthusiasm during the second act. Maybe it’s best to leave at intermission, feeling like you’ve seen a live taping of a decent lost episode of Curb.

TWI-NY TALK: SCOTT SIEGEL

Barbara and Scott Siegel go out on the town nearly every night

Barbara and Scott Siegel are out on the town nearly every night (photo by Russ Weatherford)

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR
The Town Hall
123 West 43rd St. between Sixth Ave. & Broadway
Sunday, February 23, Monday, March 30, Monday, May 11, and Monday, June 22, 8:00, $47-$57 per show, $180-$220 subscription for all four programs
212-840-2824
www.thetownhall.org
www.siegelpresents.com

In the December 31 edition of “The Siegel Column” for Theater Pizzazz!, the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Barbara Siegel examined the state of the Broadway musical, writing, “The current crop of new musicals — both brand new and new productions of revivals — are tanking left and right. What’s up?” Their theory? “Producers are banking too heavily on good reviews from the New York Times.” The Siegels know what of they speak; for years, they have been regulars on the city’s theater and music scene, covering Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway shows in addition to cabaret. Both are voting members of the Drama Desk, where Barbara chairs the nominating committee, so she has to see more than three hundred productions every season. Meanwhile, Scott hosts a multitude of music-related events in addition to attending hundreds of shows with his wife as well. “It’s like a rollercoaster going from show to show,” Barbara says, “but the ride is accompanied by a fantastic scoring of Broadway music.”

Scott’s signature event is “Broadway by the Year,” which is about to begin its fifteenth year at Town Hall. Since 2001, Scott has been pairing performers with musical numbers from a particular Broadway season, but for the fifteenth anniversary, he will be honoring quarter-centuries, paying homage to the Broadway musicals of 1916 to 1940 on February 23, followed by 1941 to 1965 on March 30, 1966 to 1990 on May 11, and 1991 to the present on June 22. The February 23 show will feature a host of Tony, Grammy, and Drama Desk winners and nominees, including Tonya Pinkins, Steve Ross, Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, John Easterlin, and Nancy Anderson. While preparing for this and other shows, Scott discussed theater, music, and the many hats he wears.

twi-ny: This year you’re celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of “Broadway by the Year.” Did you ever anticipate that it would be still going strong all this time later?

Scott Siegel: When the series got started, I could never have guessed that it would reach a fifteenth season and that we would be sponsored by Bank of America. Nor would I have guessed that last year we would have changed the format to have over one hundred stars over the course of our season — which we are boldly attempting to do again this year. Getting so many stars willing to commit their time to our shows is almost as great a testament to our staying power as the loyal subscriber base that makes the whole series possible.

twi-ny: How did it initially get started?

SS: That’s a long story. Suffice it to say that I had a concept that Town Hall embraced and they asked me to produce it for them. At that time, I was exclusively a writer/critic. I had not produced anything whatsoever before the very first “Broadway by the Year.” Believe me, having your first experience as a producer putting together a show in a 1,500-seat landmarked theater is pretty daunting. But at its very core, “Broadway by the Year,” while it may have more bells and whistles by way of production values, is still very much the same concept now as it was fifteen years ago. Essentially, I put the music first and foremost; the historical context that I provide from the stage is there only to set up the songs (and hopefully entertain a little bit, too).

Scott Siegel hangs out with the cast of Broadway by the Year in 2014 (photo by Maryann Lopinto)

Scott Siegel hangs out with the cast of Broadway by the Year in 2014 (photo by Maryann Lopinto)

twi-ny: For your fifteenth season, you’re hosting four presentations, each one representing twenty-five years. Do you have a particular favorite quarter-century?

SS: Generally, I prefer the twenties and thirties the most because that’s when there were so many great composers / lyricists at work. All that Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Porter, Romberg, etc.

twi-ny: What was it like in the early years, when you were just starting out, to get stars to participate?

SS: Wonderful question! I’ll tell you the secret. Provide singers with great material, a lot of support, a fun and rewarding experience, and they tell their friends. The very first concert had Jason Graae, Heather MacRae, and Sally Mayes — just those three. Not long after, I saw Liz Callaway at Joe’s Pub and went backstage to say hi and ask her to do the next “Broadway by the Year.” Before I could ask her, however, she said, ‘My friend Jason Graae just did one of your concerts and had a ball. Can I do one?’ Liz has been one of our regulars, appearing in one of the concerts almost every season since then. That’s how I got over one hundred stars last year and why I’ll get them this year :).

twi-ny: You also put together “Broadway Unplugged” and the Nightlife Awards, have written many books and columns, have led film seminars, had a radio show, are producing “Maxine Linehan: Beautiful Songs” at the Metropolitan Room — and still find the time to go to hundreds of Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway shows with your wife. You must be out nearly every night of the year.

SS: I’m exhausted just hearing all of that. Actually, the only time either of us takes a break is when we break down, getting sick. It really helps that we love what we do. And every day is different, so it never gets boring.

twi-ny: What would an actual break entail for you?

SS: We’re often asked that. On the rare times when we leave New York, it’s usually to do the same stuff we do here someplace else. A musical festival in Quebec City — things like that. We’re not the types to lie on a beach in the sun.

Scott Siegel is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of his popular Broadway by the Year series as Town Hall

Scott Siegel is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of his popular “Broadway by the Year” series at Town Hall

twi-ny: You and Barbara appeared on The Joe Franklin Show. What was that experience like?

SS: Barbara is the shy one. She didn’t appear on the show, but I did the TV show with Joe several times, and I was on his WOR radio show many times as well. Whenever Joe would see me, he would always greet me with “Mr. Siegel, make it legal,” and ask me if I knew who sang that song. I would always answer Sophie Tucker, and he would always pretend to be amazed that I knew that. Joe was a genuine New York character and I’m glad I had the chance to know him.

twi-ny: In your opinion, what’s the current state of the Broadway musical?

SS: Such a big question. For the most part, today’s Broadway musicals are tourist attractions; they have to be in order to be successful. A show can only run for about three months, at most, with the core New York theater audience. That’s why the more daring and interesting musicals are off-Broadway. When one of them takes off with great reviews and major buzz, it can move to Broadway and compete — like Fun Home, which is coming to Broadway from the Public. But it’s an uphill battle. I’m always impressed when a show without stars, just good music, a good book, and talented actors, can swim upstream and succeed, like Memphis and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. They are the wonderful exceptions to the rule.

twi-ny: What are some of your favorites that are playing right now?

SS: As for brand-new musicals that are running right now, I’m a fan of Honeymoon in Vegas. The music and lyrics are terrific — and the show is so beautifully crafted. It just works like an old-fashioned, well-made Broadway musical. I would say about Hamilton, at the Public, that it’s going to be considered one of the most important musicals of our era.

CONSTELLATIONS

Beekeeper Roland (Jake Gyllenhaal) and cosmologist Marianne (Ruth Wilson) look at life and love from all sides in CONSTELLATIONS (photo © 2014 Joan Marcus)

Beekeeper Roland (Jake Gyllenhaal) and cosmologist Marianne (Ruth Wilson) look at life and love from all sides in CONSTELLATIONS (photo © 2014 Joan Marcus)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 28, $67-$125
www.manhattantheatreclub.com
www.constellationsbroadway.com

It takes several minutes to get into the flow and rhythm of Nick Payne’s Constellations, a two-character play set in the quantum multiverse, in the “past, present, and future.” Beekeeper Roland (Jake Gyllenhaal) and cosmologist Marianne (Ruth Wilson) meet in a bar, have a brief chat, the lights go out, then they do it again, and again. But each time, something changes — the tone of their voice, the movement of their bodies, their positioning onstage, a word here and there. What at first seems like it might be just a tiresome theatrical exercise turns out to be a captivating, sophisticated exploration of the many roads a relationship (and storytelling itself) can take. Over the course of seventy minutes, there are more than fifty short scenes as Roland and Marianne go through repeated iterations of hooking up and not, discussing their careers, being faithful and unfaithful, and, ultimately, facing mortality square in the face. Once you fall under the spell of the drama’s intellectual conceit, a scene won’t even be over before you’re eagerly anticipating how the next one will be slightly different. Constellations is no mere Sliding Doors rehash in which the protagonists have two choices that will take their lives in alternate directions, nor is it as black and white as the Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within,” in which each character has a good and evil version; instead, it posits that there are parallel universes in which Roland and Marianne are interacting at the same time, each one similar but unique — and each one, ultimately, ending in death, something that never changes.

CONSTELLATIONS

Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson both excel in their Broadway debuts in superb Nick Payne play (photo © 2014 Joan Marcus)

In writing Constellations, Payne — who previously tackled climate change in If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, in which Gyllenhaal made his New York theater debut — was inspired by the work of Columbia physics and mathematics professor Brian Greene, the superstring theorist and author of the highly influential book The Elegant Universe, giving an intriguing, well-researched scientific edge to the play. While Marianne’s job has her studying the origin of the universe, Roland is a rooftop beekeeper, caring for insects whose very existence might determine the future of the planet. In her Broadway debut, Wilson, whose star has risen dramatically in just a few short years — the thirty-three-year-old actress has won two Olivier Awards and had starring roles in such well-received television series as Luther and The Affair — is sensational as Marianne, combining an innate intelligence with just the right amount of vulnerability. And in his Broadway debut, the thirty-four-year-old Gyllenhaal — who is currently up for an Oscar for his performance in Nightcrawler and has starred in such other films as Zodiac, Brokeback Mountain, and Proof — is a worthy partner as he keeps his character beguilingly unpredictable under the sure hand of Michael Longhurst, who previously directed Gyllenhaal in the Roundabout production of If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet and Wilson in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, when the two were at the University of Nottingham together. The play, which originated in London with Rafe Spall (Life of Pi, Betrayal), who also originated the role Gyllenhaal played in If There Is, and Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, Blue Jasmine), features a fascinating set designed by Tom Scutt, with lighting by Lee Curran; the actors remain on a central rectangular platform that is surrounded on three sides and above by balloons that represent stars, with different orbs glowing on and off in each scene. Constellations is a challenging, intellectually stimulating and satisfying work, expertly written, directed, and acted, but even with all the thought-provoking science, when it comes right down to it, it’s really just a, er, universal love story, as boy meets girl, then boy meets girl, then boy meets girl....

A DELICATE BALANCE

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

John Lithgow, Glenn Close, and Lindsay Duncan star in stellar Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s A DELICATE BALANCE (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Golden Theatre
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 22, $60 - $155
www.adelicatebalancebroadway.com

It seems that everyone wants to live with Agnes (Glenn Close) and Tobias (John Lithgow) in their elegant New England suburban home, but it’s hard to understand why in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning A Delicate Balance, running at the Golden Theatre through February 22. Tobias is a calm, retired businessman who likes to sit in his chair and read while sipping fancy cocktails. Agnes is a stern, cold woman who believes that “there is a balance to be maintained . . . and I must be the fulcrum.” They sleep in separate bedrooms and, while civil to each other, don’t seem to be particularly close anymore. Agnes’s wild and unpredictable sister, Claire (Lindsay Duncan), is already living with them. Tobias and Agnes’s thirty-six-year-old daughter, Julia (Martha Plimpton), has just left her fourth husband and is on her way to move back in with her parents yet again. But before Julia arrives, Tobias and Agnes’s best friends, Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins), show up unannounced, claiming that they are too frightened to remain in their own house, quickly heading upstairs and locking themselves in Julia’s room. So when the bitter Julia returns home to find that her room is spoken for, the already none-too-happy woman gets even more upset. But since Tobias and Agnes both try to avoid confrontation, not much gets resolved in this growing household, even as secrets are being whispered and certain emotions are reaching the boiling point. It’s not quite as explosive as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but it’s no barrel of laughs either. “Do we dislike happiness?” Agnes asks. Apparently, yes.

Daughter Julia (Martha Plimpton) drives the emotional angst in Pulitzer Prize-winning play (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Daughter Julia (Martha Plimpton) brings the emotional angst to a boil in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Director Pam Mackinnon, who helmed the recent smash Broadway revival of Woolf as well as Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Clybourne Park, lets the anger simmer before it erupts as the play examines themes of loss and fear. Agnes, who is questioning her sanity, is afraid of facing certain truths about her husband and her life, Tobias is frightened that Agnes will find out about his long-ago indiscretion, Claire is scared of being sober and responsible, and Julia is still terrified of growing up. Harry and Edna never reveal precisely what it was that drove them from their home, but they appear to be afraid of not being afraid. Albee, who also won Pulitzers for Seascape and Three Tall Women, captures suburban angst and WASP culture with his incisive, biting dialogue, which was written with very specific performance notes; in addition, most of the characters were based on relatives of his. The play has quite a history; the original Broadway production in 1966, starring Hume Cronyn (Tobias), Jessica Tandy (Agnes), Rosemary Murphy (Claire), Henderson Forsythe (Harry), Carmen Matthews (Edna), and Marian Seldes (Julia), won the Pulitzer and was nominated for a Tony. Thirty years later, the first Broadway revival won the Tony with another stellar cast: George Grizzard (Tobias), Rosemary Harris (Agnes), Elaine Stritch (Claire), John Carter (Harry), Elizabeth Wilson (Edna), and Mary Beth Hurt (Julia). And Tony Richardson’s 1973 film featured Paul Scofield (Tobias), Katharine Hepburn (Agnes), Kate Reid (Claire), Joseph Cotten (Harry), Betsy Blair (Edna), and Lee Remick (Julia). Nearly fifty years after its Broadway debut, A Delicate Balance still feels fresh and alive, poignant and relevant. In 1996, Albee wrote in an introduction to a newly published edition of the work, “The play does not seem to have ‘dated’; rather, its points seem clearer now to more people than they were in its first lovely production. Now, in its lovely new production (I will not say ‘revival’; the thing was not dead — unseen, unheard perhaps, but lurking), it seems to be exactly the same experience. No time has passed; the characters have not aged or become strange. . . . I have become odder with time, I suppose, but A Delicate Balance, bless it, does not seem to have changed much — aged nicely, perhaps.” It has aged nicely indeed, in yet another lovely production.

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS

(photo © 2014 Carol Rosegg)

Jack Singer (Rob McClure) thinks he can’t lose in HONEYMOON IN VEGAS (photo © 2014 Carol Rosegg)

Nederlander Theatre
208 West 41st St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 31, $69-$152
www.honeymoonbroadway.com

Perhaps what happens in Hollywood should stay in Hollywood. Musical adaptations of Hollywood dramas continue to flood Broadway, despite the lack of success experienced by such recent fare as The Bridges of Madison County, Big Fish, and Rocky. And now, before we can even think about Doctor Zhivago, An American in Paris, and Finding Neverland, we’ve been pummeled by Honeymoon in Vegas, which arrives on the East Coast smothered in glitz and glamor but ultimately coming up snake eyes. Writer-director Andrew Bergman, who has written and directed The Freshman and Striptease and written or cowritten The In-Laws and Fletch, has transformed his 1992 film into a Broadway musical that draws to an inside straight and falls desperately short. Rob McClure (Chaplin) stars as Jack Singer, a wimpy New Yorker in love with the beautiful Betsy Nolan (Brynn O’Malley); she is ready to get married, but he is terrified by a deathbed curse delivered by his mother, Bea (Nancy Opel), who has forbade him from ever taking a bride, claiming that no woman can love him like she did. Bea, ten years dead by this point, keeps popping up at crucial junctures, like in the middle of Tiffany’s when he’s about to buy a ring for Betsy. Betsy gives Jack an ultimatum, so he suddenly tells Betsy that they should fly immediately to Las Vegas and get married, no matter what his mother demanded. Off they go to Sin City, where Jack, a natural gambler, gets suckered into a poker game organized by the smooth-talking Tommy Korman (Tony Danza), a high-rolling mobster who thinks Betsy is a dead ringer for his late wife. When Jack can’t pay the fifty-eight grand he loses in the game, Tommy says he’ll call it even if he can borrow Betsy for the weekend. Furious at what Jack did, Betsy agrees to the deal, leaving Jack to either fight for her or give her up forever. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Jack just let her walk away, so he is soon off to Hawaii to win back his true love.

(photo © 2014 Carol Rosegg)

Tommy Korman (Tony Danza) woos another man’s girlfriend (Brynn O’Malley) in musical version of 1992 film (photo © 2014 Carol Rosegg)

Bergman’s 1992 film featured established stars Nicolas Cage as Jack, James Caan as Tommy, Sarah Jessica Parker as Betsy, and Anne Bancroft as Jack’s mother. O’Malley, as the blond Betsty, is the breakout star of the Broadway musical, showing a natural talent for romantic comedy while also displaying a fine voice in such numbers as “Anywhere But Here” and “I’ve Been Thinking.” McClure does an admirable job as Jack, his highlight coming early on in “I Love Betsy.” The eminently likable Danza blows hot and cold, delivering on the mournful ballad “Out of the Sun” and the clever “Come to an Agreement,” but he stands around too much when he’s not involved in the immediate action, and a tap-dancing number was wholly unnecessary. The less said about Opel (Urinetown, Cinderella) in the thankless role of the mother the better. And yes, the Flying Elvises are in the building, but prepare to cringe. Brian C. Hemesath’s costumes are flashy, particularly in the Vegas nightclub scenes, while Denis Jones’s choreography is relatively flat and lifeless. The music and lyrics, by popular and critical darling Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, Parade, The Last Five Years), are, for the most part, surprisingly standard and uninteresting. (“Jump jump / jumpity jump”?) Another surprise was that there was no standing ovation at the end, since audiences seem to jump jump jumpity jump to their feet after most splashy musicals these days, no matter the quality. But maybe they could tell too that this Honeymoon in Vegas is in need of a Haitian divorce.