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Gettin’ the Band Back Together
Book by Ken Davenport and the Grundleshotz; music & lyrics by Mark Allen
Directed by John Rando
Kelli Barrett and Mitchell Jarvis in Gettin' the Band Back Together (photo: Joan Marcus)
Vanity projects don’t come more desperate than Gettin’ the Band Back Together, with a book co-written by Ken Davenport, one of its producers, who brags to the audience before the show begins that it was created through improv. Unsurprisingly, that mish-mash of witless, unfunny, uninteresting anecdotes and characters was stitched together into a dreary, overlong musical with pseudo-rock songs that try to (but never) approximate the hitmakers they emulate, Bon Jovi.
Bon Jovi is quite a low bar, but songwriter Mark Allen never gets over it. The story is about Mitch, a failed Wall Streeter who returns to his hometown of Sayreville, NJ (where Jon Bon Jovi came from) to find that it’s apparently stuck in a time warp, with his high school friends still living there and his high school nemesis Tygen still winning local band competitions. When Mitch finds out that Tygen owns much of Sayreville, including his mother Sharon’s house (which she has foreclosed on), he takes Tygen’s challenge to join the contest and is soon back in the garage with his buds in the band Juggernaut, playing the rock’n’roll music they love so much.
This could have been a breezy, 80-minute off-off Broadway show, but instead, at 2-1/2 hours, Band treats its non-story like the preparations for D-Day. Very little of this is amusing, much is risible, and nothing’s memorable. Worst is how the women are treated: Mitch’s mom Sharon is a MILF who has an affair with Bart, the clownish high school teacher who plays bass in Juggernaut, to Mitch’s understandable disgust. It’s played for laughs, but more obnoxious is how Dani, Mitch’s long-ago girlfriend, is treated: a single mom with a teenage daughter, she’s—get this—dating self-centered Tygen, which makes no sense but, since it gets Mitch’s goat, into the show it goes.
The songs blend together blandly—and playing tunes by the likes of The Who, the Beatles, and Grand Funk Railroad pre-show and at intermission, and having Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry figure in the plot (he screwed Mitch’s mom many decades ago), does the show no favors—even if the slickness of John Rando’s direction, and Derek McLane’s and Ken Billington’s clever sets and lighting, ensure that it all looks like a professional production.
The energetic cast works hard, especially in two stupefyingly weird numbers that open Act II and that provide “what the hell was that?” entertainment: a rap-metal “Hava Nagila” at a Jewish wedding and a song “Second Chances,” wherein the world’s most self-pitying lounge singer bemoans his romantic misfires at the local diner.
The only ones escaping this mess unscathed are the ageless Marilu Henner as Sharon and the matchless Kelli Barrett as Dani. Barrett is a Rock of Ages alumna—she made the original off-Broadway incarnation palatable—but has since gone from flop to flop like the Doctor Zhivago musical and now this. She deserves much better.
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, NY, NY
Blu-rays of the Week
Gabrielle Union makes a kick-ass heroine in this derivative but fun thriller as a mother who takes revenge on the murderous thugs who invade her dead father’s home looking for a stash of cash and take her two children hostage.
A scant 88 minutes—the unrated cut is barely a minute longer—James McTeigue’s drama is nearly all twisty action, and Union throws herself into the role with intensity, whether climbing the roof or turning the tables on the thugs. The hi-def transfer is stellar; extras include an alternate opening, deleted/extended scenes, featurettes and director’s commentary.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.
Arrow—Complete 6th Season
Oliver Queen, aka Arrow, now adds the even more difficult job of father to his already packed resume of mayor and superhero, which gives the series’ latest season its forward momentum. Also helping is that a group of past villains now threatens him and Star City, so he recruits several compatriots for a battle royale that highlights these 26 action-packed episodes.
The hi-def transfer is immaculate; extras are four featurettes and four cross-over DCD comics episodes from other series.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Director-cowriter John Cameron Mitchell pointlessly expands Neil Gaiman’s 2006 short story about a cult of extraterrestrial hotties in late ‘70s England, and hits us over the head with punk and hormonal teen angst that rarely becomes interesting or insightful.
Elle Fanning is completely lost trying to make sense of her ridiculous character, and the rest of the cast doesn’t stand a chance in this bloated adaptation of a concise 18-page story. On Blu-ray, the movie looks fine; lone extra is a short making-of.
Life of the Party
Here’s another lazy Melissa McCarthy vehicle: she joins her daughter at Decatur U. after her husband drops her for the local realtor.
Once in her dorm room, this mousy middle-aged housefrau becomes big woman on campus, seducing a bartender half her age (her ex’s new wife’s son, naturally) and living a fantasy life only possible when the star and her director husband Ben Falcone write a script accentuating easy laughs. It looks decent on Blu; extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes and featurettes.
Strike Back—Complete 5th Season
Section 20 has recruited a fresh team of commandos to continue the undeclared but seemingly endless war on terror in the ten episodes that make up the series’ fifth season, punctuated by derring-do and triumphant breakthroughs.
Although the repetitiveness of their actions and ops slows down its momentum, there’s still much there to entertain. It all looks great on Blu; extras comprise making-of featurettes.
The Yellow Birds
This earnest-to-a-fault Iraq war drama attempts to distinguish itself from other similarly-themed films about our soldiers in a remote area of the world where they are neither wanted nor respected, but its story of two platoon buddies and how one must keep his promise to the other’s mother just feels derivative and stale.
Director Alexandre Moors gets good performances by Ty Sheridan and Alden Ehrenreich as the grunts and Jennifer Aniston as the grieving mom, but there’s nothing here that hasn’t already been done more affectingly. There’s a very good hi-def transfer; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
DVD of the Week
Spiral—Complete 6th Season
This first-rate French crime series returns for one of its most engrossing, if grisly, seasons yet: the Parisian police unit led by Capt. Laure Berthaud (recently back from maternity leave, she must balance her lack of motherly instinct with her sickly premature daughter) conducts a murder investigation involving corrupt cops, while Judge Roban and Josephine Karlsson deal with demons of their own as their professional lives demand even more.
Skillfully written and directed, Spiral is riveting thanks to an explosive cast led by Caroline Proust as Laure, Philippe Duclos as Roban and a pair of extraordinarily diverse performers who also made A French Village a must-watch: Thierry Godard as Gilou (Laure’s partner turned lover) and Audrey Fleurot as Josephine.
CD of the Week
Two decades ago, a series of recordings released under the “Entartete Musik” rubric covered composers whose music was suppressed by the Nazis; the great thing about that invaluable series was its paving the way for other labels to release music by these forgotten but worthy names. This disc pairs cello concertos by Franz Reizenstein and Berthold Goldschmidt, the latter well-represented by “Entartete music” (including a recording of this concerto by Yo-Yo Ma).
These performances by soloist Raphael Wallfisch and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin under conductor Nicholas Milton’s baton are filled with energy and finesse, providing glimpses of voices that were only temporarily quieted (Reizenstein died in 1968, Goldschmidt in 1996).
Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah & Shaina Taub
Directed by Oskar Eustis & Kwame Kwei-Armah
Performances through August 19, 2018
Nikki M. James and cast in Twelfth Night (photo: Joan Marcus)
For its sixth-year Central Park presentation, Public Works brings back its 2016 abridgment of Twelfth Night—Shakespeare’s lyrical comedy about separated twins and a cross-dressing heroine—which unfortunately drops far too much of the Bard’s most sublime poetry and replaces it with Shaina Taub’s serviceable doggerel accompanied by her pleasant if unremarkable tunes.
Taub also sings several of her songs as Feste the clown while leading a swingin’ onstage house band. As usual with Public Works, several community groups from throughout the five boroughs join the cast of professionals and amateurs for an entertaining jumble—a real mailman delivered a letter to the full-of-himself servant Malvolio (played with amusing smugness by Andrew Kober)—as Shakespeare’s isle of Illyria becomes a swirl of bright colors and sparkling costumes courtesy of set designer Rachel Hauck and costume designer Andrea Hood.
Luckily, the dozens of onstage performers are turned into a cohesive mass by Lorin Lontarro’s clever choreography to make this a satisfying communal event. Conspicuously missing are many of Shakespeare’s offhand insights, but the foolproof clowning subplot is highlighted by the guffaw-inducing Sir Toby Belch of Shuler Hensley, who would be an asset in any Twelfth Night.
The same goes for Nikki M. James, who returns with her winning portrayal of Viola, aka Orsino’s male servant Cesario, soon confused with her lost twin brother Sebastian. In addition to being a dynamic singer, James is also a superlative actress who deserves to show off her chops in an unabridged production of Shakespeare’s sublime comedy.
Delacorte Theater, Central Park, New York, NY
Straight White Men
Written by Young Jean Lee; directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Performances through September 9, 2018
Stephen Payne, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer and Paul Schneider in Straight White Men (photo: Joan Marcus)
Young Jean Lee’s first Broadway play—and the first on the Great White Way by an Asian-American woman—Straight White Men is an intermittently funny but frustratingly uneven comedy that’s as blunt and unsubtle as a ten-ton weight dropped on our toes, starting with its jokey title. For 90 minutes, a widowed elderly father and his three grown sons engage in horseplay, casually racist, sexist and homophobic comments and general un-P.C. behavior during a Christmas visit at dad’s home.
The brothers—the seemingly unambitious oldest, Matt, who has moved back home with their father, Ed; the arrogant middle one, Jake, who’s divorced from his black wife and has two young children; and the sarcastic youngest, Drew, who’s an aimless would-be writer—reenact juvenilia from their shared childhoods, making sure it annoys the others and conjures unhappy memories, along with telling NSFW jokes that show how they wear their privilege (the name they’ve given their family’s Monopoly board game) on their sleeve. That even includes Jake and Drew ganging up on their older brother for his being adrift in their eyes—if he doesn’t want to make real money, he must be a real loser, which to them is the ultimate curse word.
Despite its obvious topicality, Lee’s play tries to have it both ways, indulging in the men’s entitled but mostly harmless behavior while purporting to satirize it. Some of her dialogue is amusing and pointed, but too much of it is variations on a single theme, and these diminishing returns—even with its short running time, the play feels hopelessly extended—call to mind an SNL skit that simply doesn’t know when to end.
Blatantly underscoring the play’s façade as an epic take-down is gimmickry dreamed up by Lee and adhered to by her otherwise resourceful director Anna D. Shapiro. Before the show begins, raw, vulgar rap music—performed by the opposite of straight white men—is blasted into the auditorium, loud enough to bother the blue-haired ladies but not enough to cause consternation among those made of sterner stuff.
Then non-binary performance artists Kate Bornstein and Ty Dafoe (playing Persons in Charge 1 and 2) come onstage for a tongue-in-cheek introduction to what unfolds in front of the audience for the next hour and a half. After they leave—and they return periodically to assist the actors during scene changes—we see a working-class living room set (imaginatively dressed by designer Todd Rosenthal) framed by a…well, large picture frame, with the play’s title on an engraved plaque at the bottom as if our characters are behind glass in a museum.
It’s too bad that Lee never reconciles all the contradictions, contrivances and concerns that jostle one another, instead leaving them to fend for themselves. The machinations in the script are partially redeemed by the actors, who adroitly turn these cardboard cutouts into real people. Josh Charles (Jake), Armie Hammer (Drew)—who makes a smashing New York stage debut, by the way—Paul Schneider (Matt) and Stephen Payne (Ed) earn laughs alongside their thoughtful portrayals that go beyond what Lee provides in her provocative but protracted play.
Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, New York, NY
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