KPBS AIRDATE: November 11, 2005
Well, the “Jersey Boys” have successfully made the trip back East. The irresistible jukebox musical, about the rise and fall and rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, began as a huge hit at the La Jolla Playhouse last year, directed by Des McAnuff. The megawatt show just opened on Broadway – to a rousing reception from New Yorkers and Jerseyites alike. Personally, I prefer its earlier incarnation – it had more simplicity and heart. I loved David Noroña as Frankie Valli and wish he’d gone to New York with the rest of the cast. The new Frankie, John Lloyd Young, is talented and likable, but he doesn’t have Noroña’s adorable charisma. Audiences still screamed and cheered and clapped and bopped along, and the show is likely to have an extended life – and a palpable presence at the Tonys next spring.
Now, unless it has some serious revamping, “The Color Purple” is a lot less ready for prime time. Still in previews, this musical version of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, with some heavyweight financial backing from Oprah Winfrey, is clearly well-intentioned, but it feels contrived and derivative. Marsha Norman’s book is overstuffed; the music and lyrics, by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, sound too familiar and trite. This drama of African American women, both abused and independent, is an inspiring story of redemption. But despite the cast’s talent and hard-working willingness to please, the show is still far from a tight, well-conceived musical production.
That designation rests squarely with the impeccable and impossibly beautiful Tony Award-winner, “The Light in the Piazza.” It’s gorgeously composed by Adam Guettel and marvelously directed by Bartlett Sher, who cut his theatrical teeth in San Diego.
For sheer creative chutzpah, there’s the new, pared-down production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” with Patti LuPone playing Mrs. Lovett – and the tuba! The murderous, Sweeney is portrayed by a menacing Michael Cerveris, who starred in the La Jolla Playhouse premiere of “The Who’s Tommy” in 1992. With its small cast doing double-duty as orchestra, “Sweeney” may be extremely scaled down, but the horror factor is undeniably pumped up. If you harbor blood-lust, this is the show for you.
There’s one other local connection on Broadway right now – Noah Haidle’s “Mr. Marmalade,” which is whimsically directed by former La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Michael Greif. Understudying the title role, slickly played by “Six Feet Under’s” Michael C. Hall, is recent UCSD MFA-acting grad, Alex Cranmer. This delicious little black comedy presents a quirky, kid’s eye view of adults – in all their ugliest guises.
So, maybe you haven’t got the stamina for six plays in four days. But whatever your taste, there’s something delectable waiting for you on the Great White Way.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.