Friday, April 18, 2008

Did Affair Positively Cater To Critics?

Did Affair Positively Cater To Critics?

Last evening, A Catered Affair -- the latest film turned stage musical -- opened at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre under John Doyle's direction.

Written by Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino, the tuner stars Faith Prince, Tom Wopat, Matt Cavenaugh and Leslie Kritzer, as well as Fierstein himself.

Even though this show was set very simply in the Bronx, the critic's reviews were practically all over the map.

Advising his readers to "hug it to your heart," Clive Barnes of New York Post offer a four-star review: "Under John Doyle's expert, discreet direction, it emerges less like a musical and more like a play with music: lovely, urban chamber music.... But it's (Paddy) Chayefsky's spirit that dominates the scene, and Fierstein has captured his 1950s, working-class milieu to perfection. This Bronx tale, with its interlocking, underlining and quietly beautiful music and lyrics by John Bucchino, skims along the edge of sentimentality to find honest sentiment in this story of a young soldier's death, a wedding and a taxi.... It's simply a musical with an honest heart, and that's enough."

Calling it a "small but satisfying drama," Variety's David Rooney is largely positive: " The odds that A Catered Affair will find mainstream acceptance may be slim, but the show commands respect by further challenging standard preconceptions of how the Broadway musical should sound, function and feel.... There are deep psychological nuances to be mined here, and Fierstein and Bucchino meticulously excavate the feelings of characters for whom suppressed emotion and sacrifice are an ineluctable part of life.... But the show resonates due to its modesty, grace, gentleness and emotional integrity -- qualities not often front and center in musicals."

Lauding the show she says is "ultimately a celebration of life," Elysa Gardner of USA Today offers a glowing three-star review saying A Catered Affair has "an emphasis on characters drawn with passion and compassion, and handled with that most quaint of virtues: dignity.... Harvey Fierstein, who co-stars as Winston, Aggie's big-hearted brother, has fashioned a witty, wise, moving script. John Bucchino's score is similarly thoughtful and heartfelt, though less accessible.... Doyle, Bucchino and Fierstein have a fine interpreter in Faith Prince, whose Aggie emerges as a sort of antithesis to Gypsy's Mama Rose.... Prince makes Aggie's conflicting emotions palpable and haunting. And her relationships with Fierstein's wisecracking Winston, Tom Wopat's worn Tom and Leslie Kritzer's touching Janey are completely believable."

Labeling the show "a disappointment -- one so intelligently staged and performed, however, that at times you can almost believe the show is as good as its production," The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout neatly tallies what he sees as the production's shortcomings: "Mr. Fierstein was right to think that Mr. Vidal's screenplay had the stuff of a musical in it, but he made three big mistakes in adapting it for the stage. The first was to put an anachronistically contemporary spin on his book by turning Aggie's brother, played in the film by Barry Fitzgerald, into a more or less openly gay florist, and the second was to play the part himself.... Mistake No. 3 was to invite Mr. Bucchino to write the score.... The problem is that his songs, with their pastel harmonies and introspective lyrics, have nothing in common with the working-class setting of A Catered Affair."

Dismissing "the undramatic new musical drama of disappointed lives," Ben Brantley of The New York Times is flat-out negative: "A short (90 minutes) but slow depiction of the family-fracturing pressures of planning an expensive wedding, A Catered Affair is so low key that it often seems to sink below stage level. From Mr. Bucchino’s trickling, self-effacing score to the tight-lipped stoicism of its leading performances, from David Gallo’s tidy tenement-scape set to Zachary Borovay’s tentative photographic projections, this show is all pale, tasteful understatement that seems to be apologizing for asking for your attention. (Well, except for Mr. Fierstein’s character, but you could have guessed that.)... No one is given to extreme reactions in A Catered Affair, except Uncle Winston and the gossiping chorus of tenement housewives (Ms. (Lori) Wilner, Heather MacRae and Kristine Zbornik) who lean out their windows in a conceit that was stale even in the mid-1950s."

Concluding that he had dashed hopes "this would have been an Affair to remember," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News -- who now gives out stars on a five-point scale -- provides just two: "The show, which opened last night, seems well-intentioned but doesn't deliver enough story, substance or satisfaction. It's about poor people, yes, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have meat on the bone and icing on the cake.... Fierstein stays close to the sources, but still manages to veer in places. Chiefly, he's made the uncle who lives with the family openly gay -- and put himself in the role. Unfortunately, the character and performance are distracting.
The music by John Bucchino, a popular cabaret composer, fails to add much dimension, or fire many emotions."

Lamenting "How sad that the results are so glum," Newsday's Linda Winer tries to be kind, but offers a critical assessment: "[T]his is a colorless little piece of '50s social realism about a Bronx family that isn't so much emotionally repressed as emotionally deficient.... Composer John Bucchino, better known for cabaret songs, has written meandering, conversational melodies baked by innocuous accompaniments.... Fierstein, the quadruple Tony Award winner and perpetual force of nature, both gives and takes away in his adaptation and his performance."

Citing how "this admirably spartan staging ultimately feels like as much of a contrivance as the standard bells-and-whistles approach," Eric Grode of The New York Sun wonders aloud what he think went wrong: "It wears its virtues on its threadbare sleeve, and the vaguely medicinal taste goes a long way toward negating Mr. Fierstein's terse, insightful libretto and a pair of emotionally stripped-down performances by, as the pressured daughter and regret-steeped mother, Leslie Kritzer and an atypically somber Faith Prince. The show's missteps are understandable and often heartening in their own right, but they are missteps nonetheless.

Did these critics really all see the same show? I'll be taking in a performance of this musical in a couple weeks and will provide my SOB Review shortly thereafter.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
A Catered Opening Night (April 17, 2008)
Early Tony Handicapping (March 25, 2008)
Wildfires Force Closure Of La Jolla And Old Globe Theatres (October 23, 2007)
Harvey Fiersback (October 5, 2007)
Were Left Coast Critics Feting A Catered Affair? (October 3, 2007)
San Diego Opening Is Catered Affair (September 30, 2007)
Which Upcoming Broadway Musicals Will You See? (June 15, 2007)
Fierstein To Musicalize Bette Davis' Fave Flick (March 21, 2007)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


At 18 April, 2008, Anonymous Chris Caggiano said...


You've likely seen my review of Catered Affair, so you know I'm a bit closer to Clive Barnes in really enjoying the show. Yeah, it's a bit slow, and the subject matter is quite serious. But what's wrong with that? These are real people, with real problems, and the performances are heartfelt and subtle. Linda Winer has a point about Bucchino's score: it's a bit divorced from the setting and subject matter. But overall this is a lovely show that probably should have gone to an Off-Broadway house. It might have had a chance at a healthy limited run. I fear it's not long for the Broadway stage, however.


At 18 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, I hope my readers will take a moment to read your review by clicking here.

I'm truly looking forward to seeing this show. Of course, given the spate mixed notices, I have no idea what I'll think, but appreciate the care you put into your thoughtful review.

At 18 April, 2008, Anonymous BroadwayBaby said...

My biggest problem with the show is the DULL score. I am willing to forgive a lot if the score is good but all the songs are monotonous recitatives.

At 18 April, 2008, Anonymous Chris Caggiano said...

Ooh, gonna have to disagree with you, BroadwayBaby. Bucchino's music may not be everyone's idea of tuneful, but it is hardly recitative. Just listen to this lovely song from the show on YouTube:

It's called "Coney Island" and it's one of the highlight of the show. It's a stirring song and a lovely sentiment, even if Harvey Fierstein isn't quite Paulo Szot in the vocal department.

At 18 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

BroadwayBaby, Just curious to know whether you've had a chance to see the show since you took it in during its San Diego tryout?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Technorati blog directory Blog Directory & Search engine
Visitor Map

Powered by FeedBurner