Good: `Music Man’

Bad: `Aida’

Ugly: `Jesus Christ Superstar’

Ticket Numbers

Corrections or additions?

Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 17, 2000. All rights

reserved.

Simon Saltzman

E-mail: SimonSaltzman@princetoninfo.com

The 2000 Tony Award nominations are in. And get ready

to hear a flood of complaints (from this critic and others) about

this dubious list of nominations. They are, in the major categories:

Best New Musical: "Contact," "James Joyce’s

`The Dead,’" "Swing!," and "Wild Party."

Best Revival of a Musical: "Jesus Christ

Superstar,"

"Kiss Me, Kate," "The Music Man," "Tango

Argentino."

Best New Play: "Copenhagen," "Dirty

Blonde,"

"The Ride Down Mount Morgan," and "True West."

Best Revival of a Play: "Amadeus," "A Moon

for the Misbegotten," "The Price," and "The Real

Thing."

Winners will be announced on Sunday, June 4, in Radio City Music

Hall ceremonies, and broadcast on PBS and CBS with host and Broadway

booster Rosie O’Donnell.

From the day the nominating committee insisted that "Contact"

be considered a musical, this has been the most hotly debated Tony

2000 category. Although this critic gives Susan Stroman’s

"Contact"

an unqualified four stars, it is, in fact, a danced drama; it contains

no original music — not even any live music. The committee

mercifully

refrained from nominating the authentically musical but numbingly

bad "Aida" (reviewed below). And why the inclusion of "The

Wild Party"? — a show so distressingly dour, dank, and

depressing

that, even though it is long, it is played without an intermission

lest patrons not return. And how is it possible that the stunning

breakthrough musical "Marie Christine" can be nominated for

its score and its book, and yet ignored in the Best Musical category?

Following you’ll find reviews of three musical contenders —

"the

good, the bad, and the ugly" — each written before the Tony

announcements. But my rant, and those of my colleagues, will doubtless

continue.

Top Of Page
Good: `Music Man’

In an era when the signature of a director or a

choreographer

on a musical carries more weight than does the composer and lyricist,

seeing what Susan Stroman has done with Meredith Willson’s "The

Music Man" is unlikely to reverse the trend. Here is one worthy

Tony nominee; Stroman’s imprint has not merely refreshed a musical

that most of us have seen at least a dozen times, but it has literally

stamped upon it the unique dynamics of her dance-propelled vision.

Coming right on the heels of her spectacular dance-drama triumph,

"Contact," Stroman has staged three dance sequences for

"Music

Man" that would be worth the price of admission alone — if

our attention wasn’t otherwise drawn to the charmingly persuasive

performance of Craig Bierko.

Making his Broadway debut as Harold Hill, Tony nominee Bierko is

giving

a bright new image to the role. This in light of the fact that the

part of the fast-talking con man who bedazzles the townsfolk in

turn-of-the-century

Iowa had been virtually copyrighted by the late, intensely charismatic

actor, Robert Preston.

Slight as it is, the story of how a scoundrel, posing as a music

professor,

convinces the local yokels to purchase marching band equipment, and

similarly convinces the uptight librarian to buy his romantic pitch,

sparkles with renewed wholesomeness and open-hearted enthusiasm. All

the prerequisites are more than met in Stroman’s robust staging,

giving

even the familiar and still delightful songs a lift. The musical could

not wish for a more radiant Marian than it has in Rebecca Luker, who

fills the score’s more melodic melodies — "My White

Knight,"

"Goodnight, My Someone" — with the most exquisite singing

we have heard all year on Broadway.

The supporting cast — Max Casella, as Hill’s sidekick, Paul

Benedict,

as the mayor, and Ruth Williamson, as the mayor’s wife — perform

their comedic assignments with aplomb. However, it the dancing that

will have you singing the praises of this "Music Man."

The show has no qualms about wrapping you in its corn and sweetness

from the minute the jostling railway coach choo-choos across the stage

with its traveling salesman singing (the innovative for its time)

rap-patter "Rock Island." As for those 76 trombones, Stroman

has devised a rousing and patriotic post-show finaletto that will

knock your socks off. Thomas Lynch’s pastel mobile settings and

William

Ivey Long’s glorious turn-of-the-century costumes (and those wow red

and gold band uniforms) are knockouts. Don’t miss this family show.

HHHH

The Music Man, Neil Simon Theater, 250 West 52 Street,

New York, 212-307-4100. $20 to $85.

Top Of Page
Bad: `Aida’

The sheer spectacle of a debacle can sometimes be worth

paying for. But in the case of "Aida," it isn’t. Unless, that

is, you feel that you must see this musical that gained Tony

nominations

for actress Heather Headley and for its original score, and will

surely

compete for the top turkey award well into this new millennium.

With 32 gold and 21 platinum albums, 29 consecutive top 40 hits to

his credit, Elton John certainly doesn’t care what anybody thinks

of his score, a regurgitation of his usual musical drivel. But there

is much more to make you barf in this flagrant waste of Disney money

than the music, which is mercifully not sung through as in pop opera.

While Tim Rice’s sophomoric lyrics and Linda Woolverton’s B-movie

commemorating book (made more so by director Robert Falls and

co-script-fixer-upper

David Henry Hwang) are often able to hide behind the derisive laughter

that greets them, Bob Crowley’s glossy high-tech road-show-ready

production

design, and Wayne Cilento’s inverted palms school of choreography

(with a little whirling dervish thrown in), are more garishly smeared

across the stage.

You needn’t worry whether Verdi is doing flip-flops in his grave.

After all, the reconceived story, about Radames (Adam Pascal), the

hunky Egyptian warrior who falls in love with the nubile Aida (Heather

Headley), his captive Nubian princess, bears only the most superficial

— make that supercilious — resemblance (except for the

climactic

scene in which the lovers die in a tomb locked in each others arms)

to the opera of the same name.

At the performance I attended, barely stifled giggles were mingled

with the cheers of fans of faux pop culture, as the show’s dialogue

was answered not only by the actors, but also by audience members.

One scene, in which soldiers storm the prisoners’ lock-up to find

the missing Aida, prompted an unprecedented audience response.

Soldier:

"Which one of you is Aida?" Audience member (in the

orchestra):

"I am Spartacus." Instant response from another audience

member

(in the mezzanine)" "No, I am Spartacus." Laughter and

applause

followed.

In a way it is sad to hear a show being both mocked and enjoyed by

factions who get it and factions who don’t and won’t. Oddly, the

musical

plays as if it were planned to zigzag between its blatantly campy

pretensions and its pseudo-serious romantic triangle of a plot.

Headley is such an instinctively honest actress and singer that she

can’t help but inject some real emotion even into her most ludicrous

lines, as well as into the caterwauling requirements of the score.

Pascal, who appeared more comfortable in "Rent" and who sings

a bit better than he acts, is hard pressed to do anything with

conviction.

But to his credit, he does look as self-consciously embarrassed as

does the rest of the cast in Bob Crowley’s ghastly Euro-trash

costumes.

Amneris (Sherie Rene Scott), the Egyptian princess betrothed to

Radames,

is characterized as a ditsy blonde clothes horse (With her

ladies-in-waiting,

she presents an outrageous fashion show of Egyptian haute couture

that for its sheer lunacy is a hoot. Amneris’ best line regarding

Aida is that she is "a slave who knows her fabrics." Of the

other performers, only John Hickok, as Radames’ spiked blonde-haired

villainous father Zoser, is worth mentioning, if only for being the

only actor on the stage who seemed to know it was all a bad joke,

and play it that way.

The story is book-ended by scenes in the Egyptian wing of an art

museum.

In it, two young people, modern day reincarnations of the ancient

lovers, meet and inspire the mummies to come alive. Oh, if only what

happens in between could be buried alive. "Aida" may not be

the worst musical I have ever seen, but I’m not going to take the

time to figure out which one is. H

Aida, Palace Theater, 1554 Broadway, New York,

212-307-4747.

$20 to $80.

Top Of Page
Ugly: `Jesus Christ Superstar’

Just when you think you’ve hit the bottom, you realize

that there is one step farther down you can go. That step is the

descent

into the hell of Australian director Gale Edwards’ neo-apocalyptic

staging of "Jesus Christ Superstar" — a vision so awash

in psychosexual, neo-Fascist, bloodthirsty imagery, as to make Jesus

puke (to borrow respectfully a phrase from "The Catcher in the

Rye"). And a Tony nomination in the Best Revival category only

adds offense to injury for Edwards’ reprehensible depiction of the

Jewish priests as ravenously sadistic thugs.

The apostles, disciples, and "soul girls" who most resemble

an urban street gang, spend a lot of time riding up and down the

elevator

of an Erector Set-like bridge set between decaying Roman pillars.

They appear to be preparing more for the siege of Troy or NYU than

for the persecution and death of Jesus. To say that this musical

gospel

according to Andrew Lloyd-Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) is

literally off-the-wall is not a stretch.

It seems as if spiked-hair blondes have become a trend for villains

on Broadway, and Tony Vincent, who plays Judas with a great deal of

greasy gusto, sports one even more spiked than John Hickok’s in

"Aida."

But I can see why his haircut might offend Jesus (Glenn Carter),

another

pretty boy with long, permanent-waved blonde hair, who walks around

in a stupor in open-toed sandals (as opposed the storm-trooper boots

worn by the rest of the cast) and sings that way.

The character of Mary Magdalene, the whore with the wholesome heart,

is always a trip, but why do we feel that Maya Days, her interpreter,

never left home. The tedium of the first act is replaced by tackiness

in the second. In it, Paul Kandel, as Herod, emcees, with the help

of a group that look like the old Supremes, a Las Vegas-styled beauty

pageant that oddly is the least offensive part of the show. The

piece

de resistance, however, is the huge, blinding electric-lighted

cross that Jesus is nailed to, apparently geared to torture us as

much as him. Since you won’t be able to hear the lyrics, this is best

recommended for those who know the score from the recording, or from

a production they may have been in when they were in high school.

H

Jesus Christ Superstar, Ford Center for the Performing

Arts, New York. 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100. $26 to $81.

Top Of Page
Ticket Numbers

Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway and Off-Broadway

reservations can be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or

212-239-6200. Other ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200;

Ticketmaster, 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 hotline

operated

by the Theater Development Fund.

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 11 a.m.

to closing for Sunday matinees. The lower Manhattan booth, on the

Mezzanine at 2 World Trade Center, is open Monday through Friday,

11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Matinee tickets

are sold at this location on the day before performance. Cash or

travelers’

checks only; no credit cards. Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org.


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