Monday, December 08, 2008

Did Slava Have Critics Thinking There's No Business Like Snow Business?

Did Slava Have Critics Thinking There's No Business Like Snow Business?

Yesterday, Russian clown Slava Polunin -- known for his fluffy white stuff play -- finally had his Great White Way day. His Slava's Snowshow opened at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre under Victor Kramer's direction. Reviews ran the gamut, with most criticism lodged against the steep ticket prices for the 90-minute show that includes an intermission.

Admitting that his "soul swooned slowly as I heard the snow falling faintly through the universe of the Helen Hayes," Charles Isherwood of The New York Times was smitten: [T]he show has retained the feel of a handmade diversion, modest in its means but powerful in its ability to induce waves of giggles and sighs of pleasure.... Let’s just say if I were charged with the entertainment of children under 10 and had a Broadway budget at my disposal, this would be the show I’d favor. It does not stun children with spectacle but fires their imaginations and gives them a savory taste of the sensory pleasures of live entertainment without forcing too much unsettling clown intimacy on the adults in the audience."

Despite whispering that "some of the magic has evaporated" since it's Off-Broadway incarnation, Variety's Marilyn Stasio offers more than flurries of praise: "[F]or all the fun of dodging giant beachballs and pelting your neighbor with tissue paper snowflakes, something more is going on in this show, which Slava used to take into remote parts of the Soviet Union during the Cold War years. Something that has to do with the eternal power of laughter and the sheer endurance of the Everyman clown. To be sure, some of that existential humanism survives in this new, spiffed-up version of Slava's Snowshow, often in quiet moments. Like the endearing old routine in which a lonely clown (the great Slava himself, in the signature yellow clown suit that makes him look like a big chicken) cuddles up to an empty coat hanging on a coatrack. Or the metaphysical moment of an angry clown contemplating his role on a silently spinning planet."

Calling "it an ingenious amusement" and "sure to bring out your inner child," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News nevertheless awards just three out of five stars: "It alternately makes you feel like you're in a fun house, shaken snow globe and a smooth-riding clown car.... This clutch of clowns is adorable, never scary, even when a tot with a loud laugh gets carried off.... Too bad the $111.50 price for most tickets -- twice as steep as the 80-minute show should charge -- brings out my inner Grinch."

Also complaining about the steep prices, New York Post's Barbara Hoffman gives the show just two out of four stars: "Back then, it seemed sort of charming. Back then, it wasn't $69 to $111 a ticket -- for less than 90 minutes, with an intermission. With apologies to Woody Allen -- the show is irritating! And so short!... Now and then, though, there are some beautiful images - fleeting, Fellini-like scenes that are at once funny and sad."

Concluding by noting how he's still asking himself, "omigod, what's going on here?" Philadelphia Inquirer's Howard Shapiro said this would have worked better in a Fringe Festival than Broadway: " So call me a banana-peel Neanderthal and send me to my cave (mind the peels), but while I admire the performances in Slava's Snowshow, I found it strange and unconvincing in a Broadway house, even the smallish Helen Hayes Theatre."

A dear friend of mine, whose opinion I value, saw the show Saturday and told me that it is, "Charming, inventive, possibly unique. And funny, funny, funny."

Audiences will have to decide for themselves if the price is worthwhile, but they'll only have until January 4 to contemplate since the limited run ends then.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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