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CATCH EM BEFORE THEY’RE GONE

John started going to the theater when he was in high school. His first Broadway show was Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” on December 18th, 1970. He’s been passionate about live theater ever since, especially London theater, where he’s logged in 22 shows in 13 days, a record he’ll be happy to break, as soon as the dollar improves and the exchange rate levels out. In the meantime, enjoy John’s latest rants and raves.
I’m going to bring up some lovely things you’ll need to catch soon before they disappear and I’ll also mention something that should be available in the near future which I can heartily recommend.

Since I’m still catching up on things I missed during the dread stagehands strike, FIRST, let me suggest you hightail it to “Is He Dead?” while it’s still in its prime. I must tell you, however, it’s supremely silly, there are lots of really bad puns, men in drag, moustache-twirling villains, mistaken identities, howling, screaming, shrieking, and all the things you’d expect from Mark Twain. MARK TWAIN??? Yes, indeedy, this niftly little two hour treat was written by the famous Mr. Twain and updated by playwright David Ives. Superbly directed by Michael Blakemore, and beautifully played by a stageful of gifted loonies, it’s the story of a starving artist who fakes his own death to increase the value of his paintings. Imagine! A story by Mark Twain that involves faking one’s death? How Tom Sawyer of him! The artist is played by the wonderful Norbert Leo Butz, who won the Tony some years back for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, and is in top comic form here, especially when cavorting about as the fetching young widow, Daisy. The supporting cast is populated by some of Broadway’s best comic talents, including Michael McGrath, John McMartin, Marylouise Burke and the stunning David Pittu. Get yourself tickets now, while the original cast is intact! It’s a gorgeous laughfest, it is!

I also finally caught up to Aaron Sorkin’s “The Farnsworth Invention”, a nifty drama about the invention of television, starring Hank Azaria and directed by Des MacAnuff. Although it’s not drama at its most intense, it IS highly entertaining and based on the actual events concerning the invention, and eventual hijacking, of the thing we call tv. And, although facts and names and dates and events have been somewhat rejigured to conform to a two hour stage piece, you won’t mind the hoodwinking involved if you just sit back and enjoy the art of storytelling told by another gifted group of Broadway regulars who work their butts off to make it all believable. Even if a lot of it isn’t. But trust me, you won’t even think about the hokum factor until it’s over-that’s the magic of live theater! It’s a fascinating ride, nonetheless.

Over on Theatre Row on 42nd Street, The New Group is presenting a new play by Mike Leigh, author of such works as “Abigail’s Party”, “Secrets and Lies” and “Topsy Turvy”. Now this is a fascinating play called “Two Thousand Years” about a Jewish family outside of London who believe they’re immune to the world and the politics that create the world, because it really doesn’t involve them. Until their younger son becomes the kind of religious Jew they’ve always avoided, and then they’re forced to confront the issues they’ve never believed in. It’s a heady mix of life-defining reality for these people and the audience I sat with a few weeks ago were clearly uncomfortable with the stuff going on up on that stage. But it’s a lovely piece of writing and certainly food for thought, and again, a terrific group of actors led by film star Natasha Lyonne (“American Pie”) and stage veterans Laura Esterman, Merwin GoldsmithJordan Gelber and one of my favorite actors of all time, the gifted Richard Masur. It was a very somber group that filed out of the theatre that night, but I was still very grateful to have experienced “Two Thousand Years”.

As bizaare as this might sound, I thoroughly enjoyed “Jerry Springer-The Opera” again the other night when it played a two night stand at Carnegie Hall. The work has quite a history about it, having played London’s National Theatre 5 years ago, then moving to the West End afterwards, then being televised on the BBC, which stirred up the kind of hornets’ nest one could only expect in Jolly Old England. There were death threats against television executives, protest marches, boycotts-just the kind of thing to make the public pay MORE attention. In reality, it’s a harmless piece that doesn’t get to zinging organized religion until the Second Act, and, of course, that’s the kind of thing guaranteed to raise a few hackles. Indeed, upon arriving at Carnegie Hall on Opening Night, we were greeted by a gaggle of robed figures bearing torches and protest signs, not the kind of thing you normally encounter on 57th Street. But it’s what happens when you dare to satirize religion. As my grandmother used to say, “If you wanna get people riled, jus tell em you don’t like their God”, and of course, she was right. What she would have thought of this, I’ve no idea. She never got over the movie “Victor, Victoria”, but that’s another story. Certainly, Nanny would have been goggle-eyed at the sight of singing and dancing pole dancers, transsexuals, drug addicts,diaper-wearing grown men and women and a chorus line of tap dancing KluKlux Klansmen. And yes, I did see the London production 5 years ago, and the voices here in NYC were stronger than they were there, and I do believe the humor was stressed more here and better played. I wasn’t entirely thrilled with Harvey Keitel’s Jerry Springer, but I think he might have been a bit overwhelmed by the whole musical thing, which I don’t think he’s had much experience with, even though Jerry’s is the one non-singing role in the show.

But I did have a great time, and I bring it up because it’s almost a certainty that it will re-appear on the New York scene before 2008 is over. Whether it plays Broadway or a limited run in a larger venue, I’ve no clue, but you’d be silly to miss it when it returns.