Laura Osnes and Colin Donnell in Anything Goes.
Last fall, Laura Osnes impressed Asolo Rep audiences with her portrayal of outlaw Bonnie Parker in the new musical Bonnie and Clyde.
Osnes may get the chance to reprise her role if a proposed Broadway production of Bonnie and Clyde is mounted later this year. But in the meantime, she’s dazzling Broadway audiences as lovestruck debutante Hope Harcourt in a buoyant revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. The music in Frank Wildhorn’s Bonnie and Clyde is fine, but it’s a delight to hear Osnes’s gorgeous renditions of Porter’s De-Lovely and Easy to Love.
Of course, the lead role in this 1934 romp on the high seas is nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, a part played in the past by Ethel Merman and Patti LuPone. In this production, Sutton Foster shows she belongs in their company, belting out show-stoppers like “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and the rollicking title song, and tenderly singing “I Get a Kick Out of You.” All the while, she exudes charm and moxie and a delightful comic presence.
The plot of the show, about mismatched couples, gangsters and social climbers on a transatlantic cruise, is pure froth, and some of the jokes are wince-inducing. But with a stellar supporting cast that includes Joel Grey and Jessica Walter, and that glorious Porter music and lyrics, you won’t think about jumping ship.
Another highlight of my recent week in New York was the thrilling Lincoln Center production of War Horse, presented by the National Theatre of Great Britain. The show was a huge hit in London for the past three years, and it’s playing to sold-out houses here, too.
The play is a sweeping epic about World War I, performed in the round by a large cast of actors. They are joined by the brilliant artists from the Handspring Puppet Company, who make 18 skeletal, life-size horse figures seem so real that you gasp with worry when they charge into battle against German troops armed with machine guns and tanks. According to the production notes, nearly 1 million horses were part of the British war effort, and only 62,000 returned home alive.
The visually poetic, almost dance-like movements of the horses are astonishing, and the entire production design is equally imaginative. I particularly loved the projections of scene-setting drawings on what seemed to be a torn strip of paper above the stage.
The show follows teenager Albert Narracott (a winning Seth Numrich) into the battlefields of France, where he searches for Joey, the horse his drunken father sold to the British calvalry for 100 pounds. For me, the level of the ensemble acting and the script didn’t match the theatricality of the production values. There were too many war-story clichés, from the gun that fortuitously jams to the warm-hearted cease-fire moment between the German and English troops.
Yet I’ll readily admit that, like everyone else in my row, I was wiping away tears at the show’s stirring conclusion.
BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO
Ironically, on the same day I saw War Horse, I attended a matinee performance of another play that uses an animal to comment on war, Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. Robin Williams stars in the title role, as a tiger killed at the zoo by American troops after the invasion of Iraq.
Williams spends most of the play as a ghostly, grizzled figure, wandering the stage in tattered clothes to offer wry, sometimes profane, sometimes angry comments about God, the cosmos and the nature of man. I often find Williams too cloying and sentimental when he takes on serious roles in films. But here he was a riveting, subtle presence.
The play powerfully explores the corrosive effect of the Iraq war on both the American soldiers and the Iraqis who are affected by their presence. It also touches on the terror and violence that were part of Iraqi life during the Saddam Hussein regime (one of his vicious sons, Uday, is a character in the drama).
This is a dark, haunting play that will leave you feeling unsettled hours later. It may be too soon for American audiences to confront this subject–even with Williams’ star power, there were many empty seats on the afternoon I attended. But those looking for theater that confronts contemporary issues in an unflinching manner will be thoroughly rewarded.
Mark Rylance, who wowed Broadway audiences last fall as a preening, egocentric playwright in La Bete, is giving another remarkable performance in Jerusalem, the final play I caught during my all-too-brief visit. Rylance is a virtual lock to win the Tony Award for Best Actor next month for the role of Johnny "Rooster” Byron, a former motorcycle daredevil living in a trailer in the woods in rural England.
As the play opens, the town council has put an eviction notice on Rooster’s metal door. The woods will soon make way for a soulless real estate development, and, besides, the hard-drinking, drug-using Byron is no community asset. His trash-strewn property is regularly the site of all-night parties that attract local teenagers and other hangers-on.
Though Rooster is hardly a heroic figure, Rylance gives him a kind of eccentric grandeur. He’s a modern-day Falstaff, living large, railing against conformity and thumbing his nose at society.
The show’s title comes from a popular British hymn adapted from a poem by William Blake. Many critics, particularly in Britain, where this Jez Butterworth play originated, found Rooster to be a symbol of a mythic England that may never have been, but whose passing is nevertheless deeply lamented.
That metaphor was lost on me. But you don’t have to be English to appreciate the brilliant work of Rylance and the rest of this talented cast.