Friday, May 12, 2006

The SOB Five "Worst" of 2005-06

The SOB Five "Worst" of 2005-06

Over the past twelve months, I’ve seen several truly excellent productions, the best of which stay with me even today. But remarkably, like a bad song you simply can’t get out of your head, the shows I liked the least still haunt me, too.

As previously noted, the vast majority of the 54 stage productions I’ve seen during the 2005-06 theatrical season were at least enjoyable, if not inspiring and thought-provoking. However, there were more than a handful that I felt fell far short of the mark, some with little or no redeeming value. Of course, this is all in the eye of the beholder. You may vehemently disagree or wonder whether I even have a clue as to what is artistic and what is not. But since my goal in life is to enjoy it rather than simply being a dilettante, I’m going to tell it like I see it by naming the five productions that I enjoyed less than any others.

5 – Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, IL)

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hackneyed production Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat unfortunately seems to enjoy more dreaded lives than Cats, continually resurfacing in touring production after touring production. This version -- with the buff Patrick Cassidy in the lead role -- didn’t seem to know whether it wanted to be played straight or as camp. It also contained the season's worst case of deliberate child exploitation, using local school children for an onstage chorus interacting with the show's “American Idol” narrator, no doubt to ensnare their families and friends to fill up the theatre.

4 – Koogoomanooki (Sandbox Theatre, Minneapolis, MN)

It’s a fact that some people sell their souls to get to the top of the corporate ladder, but this ridiculous, one-dimensional play about character Gil Salvatore’s date with professional destiny by playwright Ryan Hill sorely lacked any nuance or soul. This is ironic since Hill’s poorly conveyed message appeared to be that we must be true to ourselves rather than any “fat cat,” which was literally on display. I’ve always enjoyed the talent of actor Nathan Surprenant, who here played a co-worker left behind on a lower rung of the ladder. But even he couldn’t save this mind-numbing production from itself.

3 – Grand Hotel (Drury Lane Water Tower Place, Chicago, IL)

Everything I’d previously heard about this musical during its 1990 Broadway incarnation was extremely positive. After all, a Tony Award-winning show with Jane Krakowski and the late Michael Jeter couldn’t be all bad. Unfortunately for Chicago audiences, the talent on view was nowhere near as grand as that assembled on the Great White Way. This version, with overacting, poor choreography and terrible sound quality, seemed better suited for a third-rate dinner theatre.

2 – Loving Repeating, A Musical of Gertrude Stein (About Face Theatre, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL)

What can can I say say? What, what can I, can I, say, say, say? Say, say, say, “Cow!” No, what you’ve just read are not typos, nor are they the ravings of a mad man. Instead, it’s the repetitive style ad nauseum of relentless dialogue exhibited from start to finish in the tedious production helmed by Frank Galati. Despite the actors giving it their all, a surprisingly beautiful score by composer Stephen Flaherty, and Galati’s own personal abiding love for his source material – which I confess to finding downright condescending – it just wasn’t enough to make a broader audience appreciate Stein’s work that tries to milk sexual innuendo from all things bovine.

1 – After The Quake (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL)

As you’ll eventually see when I tally up my favorite productions of the year, Steppenwolf Theatre packs one of the most consistent emotional and satisfying punches anywhere. I saw virtually every one of their shows during the past year (and, in fact, I proudly serve on their Auxiliary Council Board of Governors). With that in mind, it pains me to report that the play I enjoyed least throughout the entire year was its production of After The Quake. I’m not sure if director Frank Galati and I are simply on the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of personal tastes (see above with Loving Repeating), but it seems very curious that he could have directed the very two shows of the last year I disliked most. I harbor no ill-will toward Galati; in fact, I enjoyed his Broadway direction of Ragtime in the 90s and recognize that he has enjoyed Tony Award-winning success with The Grapes of Wrath in 1990. While this odd story about the emotional distresses manifested by the Kobe, Japan earthquakes could have packed a jolting wallop, instead it was severely limited by incredibly stilted acting, nonsensical dialogue and a mysterious green frog. All I could do was scratch my head mystified by what was passing for riveting imagery. Yes, it was completely lost on me. Forgive me, Martha Lavey!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #1 - Theater Of The New Ear (Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA) (May 30, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #2 – Guys And Dolls (Piccadilly Theatre, London, UK) (May 26, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #3 – Hedda Gabler (Brooklyn Academy of Music – Harvey Theatre, New York, NY) (May 25, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #4 – A Blameless Life (Steppenwolf Garage, Chicago, IL) (May 24, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #5 – Reeling (The Children’s Theatre Company, Minneapolis, MN) (May 23, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #6 – “MASTER HAROLD”…And The Boys (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL) (May 21, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #7 – Love Song (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL) (May 19, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #8 - Billy Elliot The Musical (Victoria Palace Theatre, London, UK) (May 18, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #9 - The Well-Appointed Room (Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL) (May 17, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #10 - Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (May 15, 2006)
SOB's Best and Worst of 2005-06 Theatre Season (May 12, 2006)

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At 12 May, 2006, Blogger BroadwayBaby said...

Rumor has it that Graciela Daniele did most of the direction on Ragtime as Galati was basically a neophyte to musicals at that point.

At 12 May, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Too bad Graciela Daniele was nowhere near Loving Repeating, but I doubt even she could have saved it!


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