Len Cariou in Broadway and The Bard with Mark Janas at the piano.
A bit of theatrical lore from 45 years ago informs Len Cariou's appealing new show Broadway and The Bard, which opened last night at Theatre Row on 42nd Street. In 1969 this Tony-winning performer went directly from playing the title role in a brief run of Shakespeare's Henry V on Broadway to his first musical role, that of director Bill Simpson in Applause.
For this classically trained actor, who spent seasons at Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival and at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, it was a turning point of sorts. Since that time, he has originated roles in equal numbers of musicals and plays on Broadway. His work in the classics in New York has been limited but he has continued to perform them regionally. And yes, Cariou will probably be always associated with one role in particular: that demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd.
In this new show, created by Cariou with director Barry Kleinbort and musical director–pianist Mark Janas, the performer strives to bring the classical and musical sides of his career together, offering up portions of soliloquies from Shakespeare's plays alongside show tunes that echo or comment on the Bard's words.
The concept both intrigues and works remarkably well. For instance, it's fascinating when Cariou wryly delivers Petruchio's thoughts on how he'll "tame" the shrew Kate and then follows it with a delicate rendition of Lerner and Loewe's gentler "How to Handle a Woman" from Camelot. Equally successful is a pairing of one of Berowne's speeches from Love's Labour's Lost and Bob Merrill's "Her Face," as both beautifully explore the confusion and longing hunger that can accompany feelings of love.
There are some odd disjoints in the couplings of "Broadway" and "Bard." After Cariou intensely delivers a speech from King Lear, the lightly comedic "I'm Reviewing the Situation" from Lionel Bart's Oliver! seems somehow inappropriate, even it echoes the monarch's fears about aging. The same can be said of hearing the boisterous title number from Applause just after Cariou's offered up a galvanizing interpretation of Henry V's immortal battle cry. In this case, though, the whiplash audiences feel between the two probably is akin to what the performer himself experienced as he started in on the tuner.
Regardless, Broadway and The Bard ultimately succeeds because, throughout, Cariou commands attention during the spoken portions of the piece (one longs for him to take on some Shakespeare in the city soon). And when singing, his voice has a suppleness to it that charms.
The show unfolds in an environment from scenic designer Josh Iocavelli that evokes the back stages and front of houses of myriad theaters, and Matt Berman's lighting design gently shifts through the varied moods of the selections, as does Kleinbort's gentle direction for this journey through two different, yet related, theatrical worlds.
---- Andy Propst
Broadway and the Bard plays at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). For more information and tickets, visit: www.amasmusical.org.