Thursday, August 26, 2010

Second Verse, Better Than The First

Second Verse, Better Than The First

Two nights ago, I had a fabulously ridiculous dream.

In it, I was seeing a Broadway show alongside The New York Times' critics Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood, two men I've never met in person, but have certainly observed. It was a bizarre dream to be sure, especially since much like the rest of last season, I found myself disagreeing with Isherwood's assessment of the show, but agreeing with Brantley's (fortunately in this phantasm, the Gray Lady's senior critic was responsible for writing the review).

Imagine my delight upon waking to find myself agreeing with Isherwood regarding his excellent assessment of replacement casts.

In particular, I could not agree with him more that A Little Night Music constitutes the "must-see" production this summer. It's been positively transformed, largely on the heartstopping performance of Bernadette Peters. So transformative was her rendition of "Send In The Clowns" that you could hear a pin drop as she delivered it.

Having also seen Peters and her replacement Reba McEntire in the most recent Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun, I have to admit to concurring with his assessment that McEntire's performance eclipsed that of the tried-and-true Broadway Baby she replaced. I enjoyed Bernadette Peters in the title role, but the scrappy McEntire was born to play Annie Oakley. It is rather ironic that until I saw Peters as Desiree Armfeldt, Reba McEntire was my favorite Broadway replacement I ever had the thrill of seeing.

Additional props to Isherwood not only for discussing how truly disappointing the successors to Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick were in The Producers, but also for mentioning the fine replacements Jonathan Pryce and Estelle Parsons made for John Lithgow (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Deanna Dunagan (August: Osage County), respectively. While I thought Pryce's sophisticated delivery of the con artist Lawrence was an improvement over Lithgow, I'm convinced after beholding Dunagan perform as Violet Weston yet again last week that no one can ever quite match her bravura Tony Award-winning performance.

That goes double, by the way, for Dunagan's co-star Rondi Reed as Mattie Fae Aiken. I've witnessed two other actresses attempt making that delicious role their own. Try as they might, neither could erase my fond memory of the quintessential Mattie Fae. Coincidentally, Reed has also succeeded in winning my heart as the absolute best of the dozen or more Madame Morribles I've ever seen in Wicked.

So, dear readers, who are your favorite replacements? Or if your fabulously ridiculous dreams could come true, whom would you want to see as replacements in a current Broadway show?

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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At 26 August, 2010, Blogger JK said...


Sorry I can't agree with your assessment of La Peters in ALNM. However, I do agree that a replacement can be better. Marin Mazzie is better than Alice Ripley in next to normal. And I loved Alice.

Funny that you bring up Wicked... that show had, for me, a better Elphaba than Idina Menzel, in the wonderful Shoshona Bean.

I can't believe it has been 16 years, but I much preferred both Charlotte D'Amboise and her understudy, Valerie Wright to Bebe Neuwirth in the 1994 revival of Damn Yankees.

And I preferred BY FAR the luminous performances of Sandy Duncan and Ruthie Henshall to Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth in Chicago.

Betty Buckley was far superior to Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard, too.

Five of those preferred replacements replaced Tony winners! Funny thing is that in almost every case, I have nothing but love for the originals in other things - still can't see why Idina is the phenom that she's become...


At 26 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

With a completely open mind, I'd love to hear why you thought Catherine Zeta-Jones was better than Bernadette Peters.

Appreciate your list of favorite replacements. Quite an interesting list.

At 26 August, 2010, Blogger JK said...

Hmmm...her disgraceful appearance on the Tonys aside, I thought CZJ's "Send in the Clowns" was like watching it performed for the very first time. After having seen ALNM several times, I felt like I finally REALLY understood the song and the moment. (Kudos, too, to Alexander Hanson in the scene that surrounds it.)

I also preferred the regal falseness - the actor-ish affectations, if you will - style of her Desiree "veneer". Built like layers of fine china, watching it crumble, crack, repair itself, crack again made the entire performance interesting and enjoyable. It also justified her mother's disdain for the way she lives her life.

Please understand, I thought Ms. Peters was good. Not great, just good. Given the reviews (and my own internal hype) I thought she'd be much better. She plays it for laughs - a valid interpretation, especially given this Desiree's lineage with Elaine Stritch (notice I did NOT say Madame Armfeldt). I enjoyed her, but I wanted more. And, please, far less tears during "Send in the Clowns"! The constant face wiping took much away from this alleged "moment in musical theatre history."

And that's why I preferred Ms. Zeta-Jones over Ms. Peters.


At 26 August, 2010, Blogger JK said...

Oh! And kudos to you for taking the high ground and not mentioning the train wreck that is also "must see" for its sheer audacity. I was not and won't be as generous.

Learn your lines, sing your one number at the correct tempo, and play a role, not yourself would be my advice, and if you can't hear your earpiece, have them turn it up.

Legendary or not, have some dignity and bow out gracefully, don't take an extra curtain call.


At 26 August, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Fair enough, although I thought Zeta-Jones - a thoroughly talented actress and pretty good singer - came off as if she had something to prove, rather than feeling confident in the role.

At 27 August, 2010, Blogger ScottE. said...

I don't think anybody could have chosen a better performer for Annie Oakley than Reba McEntire...she was amazing!

At 28 August, 2010, Blogger Kevin Daly said...

For me, Bernadette brought the vulnerability lacking in CZJ's performance. Whereas I wanted more than anything for BP's Desiree & Fredrik to be together, with CZJ's (and even after her moment of truth in "Send in the Clowns") my feeling was "Well, she'll get over it." Not what is necessary for characterization of Desiree in that moment.

As much as I loved Deanna's Violet, I was unprepared for Phylicia Rashad's interpretation. Simultaneously the most maternal and most terrifying of the four Violets I've seen.


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