I recently sat through a musical adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, and if you couldn’t tell by my use of the phrase “sat through,” it didn’t quite thrill me. Here’s my TheatreIsEasy.com review of Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore, which I sincerely wish I could have titled “Edgar Allan Nope.”
This critic shall sit through an Edgar Allan Poe musical NEVERMORE GET IT
BOTTOM LINE: Although designers may appreciate the elaborate steampunk costumes, this Edgar Allan Poe musical neglects and reduces its subject to a series of basic bullet points.
In last year’s Red Eye to Havre de Grace, New York Theatre Workshop staged Edgar Allan Poe’s last days with innovative theatricality and exquisite dread. It may not seem fair to compare such an achievement to Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore, now playing at New World Stages, but both productions do in fact share a protagonist, despite vast cosmetic differences. Where one was a haunting meditation on the cost of genius, the other is a musical confection that shrinks, flattens, and buffs our collective image of Poe to a sickly-sweet shine. Indeed, were the man himself to rise from the grave and stalk the theatre’s aisles, he might not even recognize this quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.
Nevermore deploys a familiar aesthetic, a kind of glamorous moroseness made popular by everyone from Margaret Keane to Lemony Snicket. Designers take note: Bretta Gerecke’s black and white garments are a marvel of ingenuity. Although at odds with her curiously industrial set of metal bars and sliding doors, the Victorian steampunk vibe allows the designer to hide elaborate delights in her handiwork. As the cartoonish cast of narrators embody the players in Poe’s life, the whole thing looks like an unusually dark children’s TV show meant to educate but mostly dazzle. It’s a Disneyland ride as brought to you by the Addams Family. It’s Tim Burton’s Seussical.
It’s almost 2015, bitches. Let’s do this.
“Guess why I smile? Uh, because it’s worth it.” – Marcel the Shell
- “I have arms. I’m a pretty good fighter.” – Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard.
- “You have to have Darth Vader, you can’t just have Obi-Wan Kenobi.” – Inherent Vice scene stealer Josh Brolin!
- “I can’t look at myself in the mirror if [my] standup sucks; that’s like being a chef and cooking a fake cake or something.” – my longtime hero Jenny Slate, whose fantastic performance in Obvious Child would have my vote for Best Actress.
- “He’s just a totally fucked-up mess for the rest of his life. But a strong one.” – Logan Lerman on his character in the WWII thriller Fury.
- “Until I can find the emotional truth of the character, by sitting with people and hearing their experience—that’s the only way I can find how to emotionally connect.” – the faaabulous Michelle Monaghan (just Golden Globe-nominated for her work on True Detective) on her indie showcase Fort Bliss.
- Director JV Mercanti offered some useful advice I’d never heard before…
- Eric Tucker of up-and-coming theater company Bedlam is making some truly tremendous theater to get himself and his friends on the map…
- Micah Stock gets to share a stage with Nathan Lane and Stockard Channing every night in It’s Only a Play…
- Curious about how some of 2014’s best movies were cast? Check out The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s Douglas Aibel, Pride‘s Fiona Weir, Interstellar‘s John Papsidera, A Most Violent Year‘s Tiffany Little Canfield, & Selma‘s Aisha Coley…
- And most importantly, 33 pieces of advice from actors who chatted with Backstage this year!
Posted in Jack, Pop Culture, Theater
- Tagged Acting, Backstage, Broadway, Criticism, Film, Jenny Slate, Josh Brolin, Marion Cotillard, SmartReads, Theater
For my second Backstage cover story, I sat down with Emily Blunt (at the Four Seasons New York, no less!) to chat about her work as the Baker’s Wife in the big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. It was truly one of the highlights of my 2014. In addition to the topics I was able to include in the article, we talked about how annoying it is that some high schools skip the musical’s second act, what project she’d like to tackle next – a Western! – and the embedded nerve she got from filming Edge of Tomorrow while wearing an 85-pound metal suit. She is every bit as charming and down-to-earth as you might imagine, and her performance in Into the Woods, as with all her other movies, is superb. Don’t miss it!
Photo source: Matt Doyle
Posted in Jack, Pop Culture, Theater
- Tagged Acting, Backstage, Criticism, Emily Blunt, Film, Into the Woods, Meryl Streep, SmartReads, Stephen Sondheim, Theater
‘Tis the season for gift giving! Not sure what to get your theater geek cousin? Your therapist? That boy you’ve been sort of seeing who says he likes your smile but refuses to have a “check-in” conversation and now you’re just sort of wading through a gray area relationship-wise? Fear no more! Over at TDF Stages, I wrote up a list of 12 theater-related books for the 12 days of Christmas/the postmodern holiday pastiche we’ve been lazily referring to as “Christmas.” It also doubles as my wish list. FYI. Happy Holidays!
Your Holiday Gift Guide: Theatre Books
Mandy Patinkin singing Arlen & Harburg’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”: A Step-by-Step Reaction
Bylines are not clickable on Backstage unfortunately, so these little updates are the best way to check out what I’ve been up to writing-wise. Do what I do when browsing a writer’s body of work: spend 4.3 seconds scanning for juicy buzzwords, and click what tickles your fancy. Here we go!
Photo source: Janice Yi/NPR
- Say you prefer cute listicles and slideshows (who’s got the attention span for anything else, amiright?): famous actors’ former day jobs, inspirational film monologues, and yet more Robin Williams in recent commercials featuring famous actors.
- What about famous theater personalities? Turns out, they’re just like us! We’ve got the amicable John Gallagher Jr., the colorful Seth Rudetsky, the gregarious Celia Keenan-Bolger, the hilarious Tracee Chimo, and especially playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who gave probably the best phone interview ever. (“I’m just saying, like, praise be to you all who have made plays over the years! Here I am now following in your footsteps.”)
- Looking for a web series to invest some internet-dawdling time with? Try Capitol Hill (silly), or Video Game High School (epic), Augie Alone (hysterical), or really any of these.
- Or perhaps you want some practical advice, Backstage-style? There’s Stefanie O’Connell and her wonderful finance website, Carmen Zilles, who is now performing at the theater at which she interned, up-and-coming superhero B.J. Britt, the Naked Angels’ fabulous reading series Tuesdays@9, Ryan R. Williams and his real talk, and the Lincoln-quoting David H. Lawrence XVII. Lots of great food for thought.
- Random, but still worth a look: I interviewed one of my heroes at NPR, Michel Martin, after a fascinating panel about racial diversity on Broadway with four awesome playwrights, as well as the creator of vegan ballet slippers, and the head of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This holiday season, donate!
So my very first Backstage cover story came out! I had the good fortune of sitting down with Michael Esper, star of Sting’s Broadway musical The Last Ship, to chat about his upbringing in the theater and his acting identity crisis. (This might seem like tooting my own horn, but hey, what are blogs for?) Everybody should go see the show – it’s a refreshingly original musical with a dazzling cast.
Photo source: Matt Doyle
As the son of renowned acting coaches, Michael Esper spent his childhood immersed in the theater. He describes the influence of his parents, founders of the William Esper Studio, as “so massive. It probably can’t be overstated. Some of my earliest memories are watching my father’s productions of plays, watching my godfather play Hamlet’s ghost, watching my mom play Arkadina in ‘The Seagull,’ listening to actors do repetition exercises through the walls of the studio.” Esper is the first to acknowledge that having family in the business can be tricky. Was there an expectation, unspoken or otherwise, that he would continue their legacy?
Posted in Jack, Theater
- Tagged Acting, Backstage, Criticism, Joe Mantello, Michael Esper, Music, SmartReads, Sting, The Last Ship, Theater