Review: `The Price’

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These reviews were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 22,

1999. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `Kiss Me Kate’

In case you were worrying that Broadway might botch

the revival of "Kiss Me Kate" the way it botched "Annie

Get Your Gun," "Kate" is — as in the title of the

show’s deliciously nostalgic waltz — "wunderbar."

Playwright John Guare has done a little tweaking of the original book

by Bella and Sam Spewack, ingeniously fused with Shakespeare’s

"The

Taming of the Shrew," but there is no radical revisionism at work

here. In fact, the respectful tinkering by Guare combined with the

work of director Michael Blackmore and choreographer Kathleen Marshall

is undoubtedly earning thumps up from composer Cole Porter and even

from the Bard himself. Blackmore, who imaginatively directed another

plot-within-a-plot musical, "City of Angels," has done a

bang-up

job preserving the flavor and integrity of "Kiss Me Kate."

Even as this musical opens with the familiar "Another Opening,

Another Show," you sense it won’t be just another opening. It

begins quietly with one stagehand entering the empty backstage area;

he is followed by more backstage crew climbing about and moving things

that have to be moved. As one voice is added to another, the exuberant

song steadily builds in excitement. The crew is soon joined by members

of the acting company, the dancers and singers, and then finally the

principals, all checking out their out-of-town venue until the entire

stage looks and sounds like Grand Central Station at rush hour. And

what a pulse-quickening rush hour it is.

First produced to general acclaim in 1948, "Kiss Me Kate"

is one of the great ones. It is filled to the brim with terrific

Porter

songs, witty dialogue, and dancing that is (as if you didn’t know)

"Too Darn Hot." An exciting dancing highlight, set in the

alley behind the theater on a hot night following a performance,

provides

a showcase for the fine dancer Stanley Wayne Mathis and the company,

as they switch gears from limp and languid to lusty and loose.

"Kiss Me Kate" is the kind of smart, raucous, and rousing

musical comedy that would seem to have vanished forever. The Spewaks

fashioned the cleverly entwined plot (supposedly inspired by the

real-life

thespian duo of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne) to parallel the

personal

problems of the tempestuous Lily Vanessi and the vain Fred Graham,

a forever battling ex-married show biz couple, with the characters

they play — Katharine and Petruchio — in "The Taming of

the Shrew."

And what a marvelous casting coup to have Brian Stokes and Marin

Mazzie,

who co-starred together in "Ragtime," reunited as the

hot-tempered

romantic show biz team that fights to the finish backstage and

onstage.

This pair brings unexpected panache to the whole show. Mitchell’s

rich baritone voice and comely countenance are perfectly suited to

the egotistical poses he assumes in the prose-song, "I’ve Come

to Wive it Wealthily in Padua." And what fun it is to watch the

gorgeous Mazzie turn from snarling hellcat to beguiling heroine in

her finale, "I’m Ashamed That Women Are So Simple," inspired

by Katharine’s sly lecture to "the ladies."

With "So In Love" and "I Hate Men" to give Lili’s

and Fred’s bickering and baiting pungent punctuation, and "Tom,

Dick or Harry" and "I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily,"

giving

Katharine and Petruchio complimentary equations, it is a joy to watch

Mazzie and Stokes bring equally sharp images to their respective

counterparts’

equally sharp images. You can expect the company’s antics in old

Padua,

cued by the hilariously repetitive, "We Open in Venice," to

provoke laughter. But this is tame compared to the laughs generated

by Michael Mulheren and Lee Wilkof, as two stone-faced gangsters,

who stop the show with their rendition of "Brush Up Your

Shakespeare."

This is surely one of the best musical comedy scripts ever to address

the eternal battle of the sexes. The only significant alteration made

by Guare is to emphasize the sexist attitude of Lilli’s fiance,

General

Harrison Howell (Ron Holgate), an autocratic woman-chaser with his

eyes on the presidency and his hands on another prized possession,

Lili.

There’s a lulu of a sub-plot that involves a flirtatious actress (Amy

Spanger) and her gambling boyfriend (Michael Berresse, in an awesomely

acrobatic performance). Their songs, "Why Can’t You Behave"

and "Always True to You (in My Fashion)," are audaciously

performed. No brush up is needed to appreciate the artistry of Robin

Wagner’s big and bountiful settings and Martin Pakledinaz’s snappy

and silly costumes. Say no more than "Kiss Me Kate."

HHHH

— Simon Saltzman

Kiss Me Kate, Martin Beck Theater, 302 West 45 Street,

New York. $25 to $80. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Top Of Page
Review: `The Price’

Having just had the pleasure of seeing the ever rascally

Eli Wallach in Anne Meara’s new play at the George Street Playhouse,

I was reminded of how impressed I was with this grand actor’s

performance

as Solomon, the appraiser, seven years ago in the Roundabout Theater

production of Arthur Miller’s "The Price." I had forgotten

how absolutely brilliant this undervalued play is. The excellent

revival

currently on Broadway is a fitting companion piece to this season’s

earlier acclaimed production of Miller’s "Death of a

Salesman."

In fact, it stands ever more firmly at the forefront of the Miller

canon.

And how fitting that we can end this century with these two great

works of American dramatic literature. Like a long overdue rematch

between two heavyweight contenders, the resurrected conflict between

two estranged brothers in "The Price" remains, as always,

an entertaining but also tension-filled slice of life.

Forced by family circumstance to come to grips with the past as well

as the future, one brother — an unmotivated and discouraged

50-year-old

policeman about to be retired — and the other — a

hyper-motivated

and successful surgeon reconnecting with life after a breakdown —

are thrown into a memory-filled arena that is as real as it is

theatrical.

Theatrical realism, in order not to be boring, is generally viewed

as an intensification of life. But it is to Miller’s credit, as well

as to the credit of director James Naughton, that this very human

but agonizing play succeeds not so much with crafty intensification,

but by its subjective implications.

The implications of "The Price" are relatively simple: over

a lifetime, we must take responsiblity for the myriad choices we make.

Having forfeited his college career in order to care for his father

(an emotional and financial victim of the Great Depression), the cop

finds himself, 16 years after the father’s death, in the attic of

a Manhattan brownstone, bargaining with a 90-year-old second-hand

furniture dealer.

Presumably left alone by his anxious wife to negotiate with this

"ethical"

wheeler-dealer on a price for all the furnishings and nostalgic

bric-a-brac,

the cop is suddenly confronted by the appearance of his brother. The

play — a series of extraordinary riveting confrontations —

implies more than it discloses. As we discover from the verbal round

robin, the truth of the past is generally clouded by our emotions.

There is no lack of humor, particularly as compressed into the role

of the appraiser. Bob Dishy is absolutely sensational as the

extraordinary,

90-year-old Solomon, the appraiser who can still find time in the

middle of the deal of the century to sit down and eat a hard-boiled

egg, claim he was once in the British Navy, as well as part of an

acrobatic team ("They should rest in peace, I worked at the

bottom").

Dishy has reinvented this Second Avenue psychologist with a

disarmingly

relaxed charm. Until he is relegated to a back room, the old appraiser

referees the opening rounds with his philosophically profound grab-bag

of New York-styled Jewish-isms.

As the repressed skeletons in the attic begin their dance, the age-old

ritual of fraternal misunderstandings is played out with great

theatricality.

It is difficult not to shout out loud as we root for one and then

the other. Giving a performance of ever-increasing poignancy, Jeffrey

DeMunn, as Victor the cop, creates a devastating portrait of an

optimistic

loser. Part smug, but resolutely honest, Harris Yulin gives the role

of the surgeon just the right degree of pragmatic righteousness. And

in a very difficult role, Lizbeth Mackay, as the cop’s wife, does

amazingly well for a complex character that is continually searching

for the key to unlock her true feelings.

The Williamstown Theater Festival first presented this production

on August 19, 1999. As he did there, Naughton has directed this

wonderful

play with all the patience and attention to its emotional demands

and physical detail that it deserves. Some of the mammoth Victorian

pieces that were gathering dust in Michael Brown’s masterfully

cluttered

attic setting, look to be a bargain at any cost. The same can be said

for "The Price." HHH

— Simon Saltzman

The Price, Royale Theater, 242 West 45 Street, New York.

$25 to $65. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Top Of Page
Ticket Numbers

Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway reservations can be made

through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. For

Ticketmaster

listings call 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.

For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,

and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing

arts hotline. The TKTS same-day, half-price ticket booth at Times

Square (Broadway & 47th) is open daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening

performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Wednesday and Saturday matinees;

and noon to closing for Sunday matinees. The lower Manhattan booth,

at 2 World Trade Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to

5:30 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; closed Sunday. Cash or

travelers’

checks only. Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org.

A Broadway ticket line at 212-302-4111 gives information on Broadway,

selected Off-Broadway, and touring shows in other cities; calls can

be transferred to a ticket agent. Sponsored by Continental Airlines

and the New York Times.


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