Monday, May 14, 2007

The SOB Five "Worst" Of 2006-07

The SOB Five "Worst" Of 2006-07

As noted earlier, I've been enormously blessed to have had opportunities over the past year to take in 77 different theatrical productions. I purposely try to see productions that I think I would enjoy -- after all, with the price of tickets continuing to climb, who wants to throw good money after bad?

Much like last year, a solid majority of the shows I've seen were at least enjoyable, even if some lacked inspiration or inspiring tone. But unfortunately, there were still enough bad productions that I'm compelled to provide my second annual list of the "5 Worst" shows. Remarkably, this year, those five productions literally run from A to Z.

What I stated last year still holds true: "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."

And so, (imagined drum roll, please) here you go:

5 - The Pirate Queen (Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago, IL)

Unfortunately for the second year in a row, director Frank Galati has landed on my "5 Worst" list. I caught this musical's opening during its Chicago tryout, months prior to its critically-panned Broadway run. As a spectacle, The Pirate Queen often seemed much more like a spectacular dual-edged retread. Think Les Misérables meets Riverdance as ships passing in the night (only there were no actual ships unless you count the remarkably small scale model trotted out during one of the few battle scenes). Its jumbled storytelling made it easy to forget that this was as much about Grania -- the titular real-life 16th Century Irish leader -- as the love she was forced to abandon in order to unite the clans of Ireland. I wanted so desperately to like this new musical, but found myself laughing at some key plot points while wondering how something so visually arresting could still be so predictable and ultimately boring.

4 - Reunion (Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)

On the way to Sydney in David Mamet's Reunion, director Andrew Upton lost something in its translation especially in steeping one of his two key American characters so deeply in a lower class Aussie accent. Upton punctuated this short story with many sharp breaks scattered throughout as if to accentuate the passage of minutes or perhaps longer periods of time -- it was hard to tell. However, one couldn't help but feel cheated for missing key dialogue that might have helped propel the story further along. Ultimately, this Mamet tale simply didn't feel complete (it was, after all, a one-hour play), nor was the audience ever given any reason to really care about either character.

3 - All Shook Up (Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, MN)

The touring Broadway production of All Shook Up begins with a bang in the electrifying "Jail House Rock." From there, it doesn't just coast, it goes strictly downhill largely because of an incredibly convoluted plot found in an insipid-meets-corny book by Joe DiPietro lacking virtually any real wit. The production relies almost entirely on the cocky sensuality of its charming lead Joe Mandragona (as roustabout Chad) and the turbo-charged choreography by Sergio Trujillo to power it along. Unfortunately, whenever the incredibly talented Mandragona is off the stage, All Shook Up's tank teeters on empty. By packing such a twisted story into its two-and-a-half hours, All Shook Up ultimately explodes like a shaken can of soda. It may appear to be forceful, yet when you look inside the can, there's not much left.

2 - Zombie Prom (Hennepin Stages Theatre, Minneapolis, MN)

What happens when you throw good talent after bad? The end result was the same as throwing good money after bad. It mostly ends up as a waste. Unfortunately for those players, that production -- Zombie Prom -- was just plain bad. There’s little in the utterly flat score by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe to excite beyond one or two clever tunes. In fact, I was feeling a bit like a zombie myself, despite a performance time that clocked in at less than two hours (including intermission). Most problematic was the ridiculously silly (but largely unfunny) main story line in Dempsey’s haphazardly written book, which disastrously paints its lead characters far too one-dimensionally.

1 - Zhivago (Mandell Weiss Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla, CA)

After being truly relieved once the very disappointing three-hour Des McAnuff-helmed musical version of Zhivago finally concluded, I was struck by how uninspired its score was. Like the show's integral revolving flatbed train car, the anthems seemed like an attempt to conjure up memories of another revolutionary musical, Les Misérables, rather than imbue the audience with something truly original. The stark set made it difficult for the largely scenery-chewing cast to be convincing. Whether it was the overwrought dialogue or Cliff Notes-writing style, Michael Weller’s book seemed bent on speeding the movement along at such a dizzying pace that the full essence of each character, including Yuri Zhivago (Ivan Hernandez) and Lara Guishar Antipova (Jessica Burrows), never felt fully developed or realized. Perhaps it’s because of the hurried pace of the show that lines were nearly universally delivered staccato-style with such overexcited urgency. Instead of providing nuanced performances, the cast was reduced to the kind of overacting ordinarily reserved for high school productions. No wonder there's been nary a word since of a possible Broadway berth.

So, there you have them: this SOB's choices for the "5 Worst" shows I endured during the 2006-07 Theatrical Season.

Just as two Frank Galati-helmed productions were featured on my list last year, this year, two shows associated with both lyricist John Dempsey (Zombie Prom and The Pirate Queen) and choreographer Sergio Trujillo (All Shook Up and Zhivago ) have made the list. While I can at least positively affirm that Trujillo's choreography was among the only bright spots in each of his shows, I confess that Dempsey's scores will forever give me pause from seeking out any of his other work.

If you saw any of these shows, let me know what you thought. And please feel free to share the worst shows you sat through (or walked out of) during that past year!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
SOB's Best & Worst Of 2006-07 Theatre Season (May 14, 2007)
All Shook Up (The SOB Review) (May 11, 2007)
Zombie Prom (The SOB Review) (March 9, 2007)
Reunion (The SOB Review) (December 29, 2006)
The Pirate Queen (The SOB Review) (October 30, 2006)
Zhivago (The SOB Review) (July 9, 2006)

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At 15 May, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's too soon for me to tote up my own best and worst lists for the season but I had to write to say how much I admire--and envy--the geographic range of your theatergoing. Although just seeing that there is a show with the name Zombie Prom was a treat in itself.

At 15 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Jan, Thanks for your comments. I've been very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel extensively and see the shows and/or actors that I don't want to miss. I realize that not everyone else has that opportunity, which makes me feel especially blessed.


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