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CDs of 2008: A Retrospective - Part 5 (Sony/BMG Masterworks, ArkivMusic)

Nearly finishing the end of this series...

Sony BMG Masterworks Broadway

Probably the one of the most visible, and notable, releases of 2008 has been Stephen Sondheim: The Story So Far…, the deluxe four-disc set that is a compendium of the composer-lyricist's work from his earliest songs to his most recent offerings. "Story" certainly will be welcome by anyone who loves theater. For a full review of this set, click to the following link.

The other releases from this label during the past year will also be terrific presents. I've actually already given copies of the Grammy-nominated new cast recording of South Pacific to family members for their birthdays. I find that Tony Award winner Paulo Szot's vocals are particularly appealing and Lorette Abeles Sayre's interpretation of Bloody Mary, so marvelous onstage, comes through beautifully on disc. Of course, it's hard not to fall for Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations which are brought to life sparklingly by the full orchestra led by Ted Sperling. A quick note on "Pacific:" there are two different releases of the disc, one general and one exclusively from Barnes & Noble. With the latter release, Sony included some six additional bonus tracks.

Now 2008 saw the label enter into two impressive collaborations. With Playbill records, Sony BMG Masterworks released Quintessence, a new disc from Betty Buckley and her long-time collaborator Kenny Werner. Together, they offer up 14 songs culled from both the musical theater and pop worlds, distilling the tunes' emotional essences in provocative, surprising and thoroughly satisfying ways. The disc opens with "So Many Stars," by Sergio Mendes and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, which Buckley delivers with an ethereal urgency. As an indication of how diverse "Quintessence" is, this number is followed by a jazzy, seductive take on "The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top" (from Oklahoma!). Other standouts on the disc is "Anyone Can Whistle," Buckley begins with an almost matter-of-fact delivery that becomes self-mocking before transforming into something more bittersweet and melancholy. Werner's jagged, dissonant arrangements for this familiar song beautifully reflect the mental agita implicit in the song.

The other collaboration from Sony BMG Masterworks involves ArkivMusic, which has been bringing classical recordings in specially burned CDs to listeners for years now. Together the two companies have brought out ten recordings of Jerry Herman shows, ensuring that they remain in circulation for years to come. Some of the Herman titles from Arkiv will be already be on people's CD racks: the original cast recording of "Hello, Dolly!, for instance, but Arkiv has made sure that even its releases of such mainstream work are unique. The "Dolly" disc includes all of the material from the deluxe edition that was released a few years back and several new tracks that are of conversation with Carol Channing about the show.

Other releases are ones that have proven elusive because they've been out of print: The Grand Tour and Milk and Honey (see DRG Records as well); just having both of these shows readily available is enough. They don't require "bonus" material. With other shows, you'll find that Arkiv has found some truly unique material. La Cage Aux Follesstance, features a bonus track of Jerry Herman singing "I Am What I Am. On Dear World, which may be Herman's most underrated score, the bonus track is of Herman singing "And I Was Beautiful" – a song not used in the show.

Most notable in this set of releases from ArkivMusic (which also include the OCR of Mame and an orchestral disc featuring the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra) is the Original London Cast recording of "Dolly!" – which previously has not been available on CD. ArkivMusic's release sounds terrific and Martin's interpretation is a true joy. Martin brings a true Texan hucksterism to the role which is smile-inducing throughout. Martin's winsome performance is certainly enough to warrant picking this disc up or gifiting, but there are other reasons for it to be on a list this holiday season. Alternate lyrics abound – most notably the final verse of "I Put My Hand In." Alongside Martin is Loring Smith, who delivers a wonderful sensitive portrayal of Horace Vandergelder and Marilynn Lovell sounds terrific when singing "Ribbons Down My Back."

For this "Dolly" release, the label has used the liner notes from the original LP. In all other instances, the fully-featured booklets accompanying the CDs feature the notes from the original compact disc releases. The London "Dolly!" certainly will be a welcome gift this holiday season, so would any of these other discs, but if you had to pick, order the OLC 'Dolly" now.

Also keep your eye on both labels come 2009. I've been told that when the new studio cast recording of Allegro is released in February, ArkivMusic will be releasing two other R&H shows - Carousel and Oklahoma! - both with special bonus material.

---- Andy Propst

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ATW Digest - Lucas' Prayer for My Enemy Has N.Y. Premiere - read the reviews

AmericanTheaterWeb

Review - Prayer for My Enemy - The Effects of War, Rage, Love, Dysfunction

New York Times

The Silence and the Fury Within Six American Lives
Anger is in the American bloodstream in “Prayer for My Enemy,” the provocative, confused and confusing new play by Craig Lucas.

New York Daily News

'Prayer for my Enemy' is unfocused
Not one, but two, tailgating incidents drive Craig Lucas' "Prayer for My Enemy," an unfocused play about a troubled family - is there any other kind?

amNY New York City Theater

Theater Review of Prayer for My Enemy
About halfway through Craig Lucas’ new drama “Prayer for My Enemy" at Playwrights Horizons, we suddenly made the following quick prayer: “Please end this tortuous show as soon as humanly possible.” Unfortunately for us, the 100-minute intermission-less play continued to its full conclusion.

Newsday

'Prayer for My Enemy'
Few playwrights pull us down life's rabbit holes with the dark yet altogether engaging force of Craig Lucas.

New York Post

Message lost amid the mess
To say a play is too ambitious seems churlish, but "Prayer for My Enemy" fairly begs the criticism. This drama of family...

Hartford Courant

"Prayer For My Enemy" Works On Several Levels

Associated Press

A family struggles to connect with each other
Craig Lucas'"Prayer for My Enemy" is a fractured play about a fractured family, a jagged piece of uneasy domestic drama ...

Variety

Review: Prayer for My Enemy
The folks onstage in Craig Lucas' "Prayer for My Enemy" are all struggling to make sense of themselves and their roles in a mystifying universe. The play touches on relationships, family, sexuality, addictions, war, resentment and forgiveness, nature and technology ... Despite Bartlett Sher's customarily classy staging and a topnotch cast, most audiences will find themselves as unmoored as the characters.

Back Stage

Prayer for My Enemy reviewed by David Sheward
Here we go with yet another dysfunctional-family drama. When times are tough, the theatre seems to fall back on this reliable genre. Hard on the heels of August: Osage County and Dividing the Estate comes Craig Lucas' Prayer for My Enemy

TheaterMania

Review: Prayer for My Enemy
Craig Lucas' thoughtful and engaging new play examines the damage we are capable of doing to one another, as well as our capacity for forgiveness.

Talkin' Broadway

Review: Prayer for My Enemy
Atoms colliding, entropy swirling, galaxies expanding - it's not a friendly universe for anyone caught in the eddies of pan-dimensional randomness. The six characters in Craig Lucas’s loosely engrossing new play Prayer for My Enemy, which just opened at Playwrights Horizons, learn this the hard way. They’re all unwitting victims of that most unfortunate of natural forces: blind chance. . . .

nytheatre.com

Review: Prayer for My Enemy

CurtainUp

Review: Prayer For My Enemy
Craig Lucas, takes on the suburban American family and the effect of the Vietnam and Iraq wars on their innate dysfunctional tendencies. . .

ATW Review - Beasley's Christmas Party - Small Town Intrigue and Yuletide Warmth

The simple charms of life in a small town in a bygone era prove almost irresistible in CW Munger's adaptation of Booth Tarkington's story Beasley's Christmas Party, which recently opened off-Broadway in a Keen Company production staged with gentleness by the company's artistic director Carl Forsman.

"Party" centers on what happens late one fall and early winter just after Booth (Tony Ward), a newspaperman, has moved to Wainwright, the capital of an unnamed state. Even before his arrival in Wainwright, Booth has been fascinated by what he believes to be the most handsome home in the city, and he's naturally delighted that the boardinghouse in which he's living is situated right next door to the building that has so captured his imagination. What Booth can't foresee, though, is that he will be drawn into the house, and the world of its owner, a reclusive senator who says little, but is much beloved by his constituents. When Booth observes some unusual behavior from this politician, Mr. Beasley, he begins to do what all reporters do: he looks for the story.

What Booth uncovers is that Beasley was once jilted by Anne, the daughter of the woman who runs the boardinghouse where Booth is living. Anne, it would seem, felt that Beasley's inability to communicate showed that he lacked imagination (more specifically, he didn't measure up to the sorts of men that she has come to know through her voracious appetite for romantic novels).

Beyond the curious détente that exists between Anne and Beasley now many years after their engagement was called off, there's politicking among some local malcontents who do not want to see Beasley become the state's next governor. When one of these men gets wind of the behavior that Booth's investigating – on Christmas Eve no less – well, it looks as if Beasley's career might be over. Instead, the explanation for what Booth had initially observed proves heartwarming, so much so that even thaws the imperiously romantic Anne.

In this vest-pocket production (which unfolds against an almost sculptural scenic design from Beowulf Borrit: four towers of old suitcases and trunks) two performers – Joseph Collins and Christa Scott-Reed – play all of the characters whom Booth meets in Wainwright. Although Scott-Reed imbues Anne with a little too much iciness, she's wonderful as a talkative widow who does not approve of Anne's behavior and plays several male roles with terrific specificity. Collins' work as Beasley charms from beginning to end, and he's equally adept with several other characters, including an attorney who helps Booth sort through the mystery around Beasley.

Although Ward has difficulty balancing Booth's curious combination of childlike innocence, hardnosed curiosity, and romantic ideals during the play's early moments, settling for a sort of earnest warmth and breathless enthusiasm, he ultimately modulates his characterization, particularly after the play has developed its dramatic momentum. And once this has occurred, and "Party" has begun its leisurely roll toward explicating the mystery of Beasley and his home, there is enough in the production to make theatergoers themselves long for the warmth of a fireside in a small town where scandals are never much more than a tempest in a teapot.

---- Andy Propst


Beasley's Christmas Party continues through January 3 at the Clurman Theatre / Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). Performances are Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm; and Sunday at 3pm. No performances 12/24, 12/25, 12/31/or 1/1. Additional performances are 12/21 & 12/28 at 7pm; 12/27 & 1/3 at at 2pm. Tickets are $41.25 and can be purchased by calling 212-279-4200 or by visiting www.TicketCentral.com Further information is available online at www.KeenCompany.org

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ATW Review - Prayer for My Enemy - The Effects of War, Rage, Love, Dysfunction

Craig Lucas' Prayer for My Enemy, on one level, is a gay romance. Another aspect of this bittersweet drama is political, examining how a young man's going off to war affects his family. This all dovetails into the play's overarching theme about how long-simmering rage and resentments drive people to violence, sometimes incomprehensibly. Lucas' various plots may sound like a lot for a 90-minute drama, but while "Enemy" may feel overstuffed, in director Bartlett Sher's taut staging that some of New York's finest actors, the play is never anything less than a captivating stew of ideas and emotions.

Focusing on Billy (Jonathan Groff), his parents Austin (Skipp Sudduth) and Karen (Michele Pawk) and his sister Marianne (Cassie Beck), "Enemy" begins just a few days before Billy, a reservist, is scheduled to ship out to Iraq. Coincidentally, Tad (Zachary Booth), a childhood friend of Billy's, arrives back in town on the day of Billy's going away party, which allows the two young men to reminisce about their just-pubescent love affair - something to do until they "get girls" Tad said at the time. At the party, Marianne finally realizes that she might have missed something in her brother's friend, and a romance develops between her and Tad in short order.

Karen (a cipher of a character imbued with incandescent warmth by Pawk) seems pleased by this development in her daughter's life and supportive of her son's military service. Austin (played with sensitivity by Sudduth), a recovering alcoholic who has yet to find the serenity attendant on so many people "in program," blusters and bullies his family, particularly after blowing up about his beloved Yankees' inability to beat their arch rivals, the Red Sox. Austin, who is bipolar, believes that his disease contributed to his drinking problem. He also feels guilty that his gene pool might have contributed to Marianne's six-year-old son's autism, which has forced the young woman to institutionalize the boy. Austin's homophobic treatment of Billy, who has yet to come out to anyone including himself, seems to stem from all of the above and just sheer lunkishness.

What might be most incredible about "Enemy" is how the story of this family's ups-and-downs both before and after Billy's deployment, dovetails with the story of another character, Dolores (Victoria Clark), a neurotic native of the town who's just returned to care for her elderly mother. Although Dolores, an unhappy secretary engaged to a very controlling therapist, extols her joy about being home and back within the peace and tranquility of her rural hometown, she carries every resentment ever incurred from her life in Manhattan. Clark brings a forced chipperness to her performance that is almost frightening, and makes Dolores' frequent trips to a rolling barcart (just one of the many small pieces of furniture that are brought onto John McDermott's sleekly spare scenic design) achingly pathetic.

There's an almost unbearable weight to the emotional baggage that Dolores alone carries, and when that is combined with the emotional baggage of Billy's family and Tad, , "Enemy," which also carries the burden of some pretty heavy metaphors, palpably groans under the pressure. Yet, Clark's performance, and the three sparkling and nuanced turns from Groff, Beck and Booth lighten the load of the piece immeasurably. Theatergoers come to care about these characters, and to a lesser extent Austin and Karen, with each twist and turn of Lucas' plot, no matter how strained. On many levels, "Enemy" feels as if it might want to be expanded. The shorthand in which it has been penned seems too terse for such a rich mix of emotions and ideas.

---- Andy Propst


Prayer for My Enemy continues through December 23 at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street). Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2:30 and 8pm and Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30pm. Tickets are $65.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-279-4200 or by visiting www.TicketCentral.com. Further information is available online at www.PlaywrightsHorizons.org

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Dixon Place Accepting Applications for Project Footlight Musical Theater Fest.

This just hit my mail box

The Project Footlight musical theater festival is happening - we will be pairing together 18 musical theater writers - 9 composers and 9 librettists - to brainstorm, create, cast, rehearse, and produce a single full-length musical in...one week!

Jump into this wild experiment, this bubbling cauldron of ideas, for seven days of hair-raising, mad-cap adventure that could only happen at Dixon Place.

Submit an application by January 5th to participate in this wild ride of festival which will culminate in shows on February 6 & 7 in the new Dixon Place theater on Chrystie Street.

The Project Footlight festival is a camp for emerging musical theater writers that focuses on the developmental process and the art of collaboration. The festival asks participating artists how we unify a work across a collection of different artistic perspectives while always mindful of the audience. We especially encourage those composers or writers from other genres and those pushing the boundaries of musical theater to apply. In keeping with the laboratory environment of Dixon Place, Project Footlight seeks to attract and cultivate new voices in musical theater while sponsoring a unique work of art.

Submit Applications:
NOW!!!

Musical Theater Festival:

Friday, January 30, 2009
to
Saturday, February 7, 2009

The New Dixon Place
161 Chrystie Street
b/w Rivington & Delancey
New York, NY 10002
More info: www.dixonplace.org