Mattress, Wine & Roses

The opening quote for this week’s column could have been the following quip by composer Mary Rodgers, when discussing how to cast the lead in her musical Once Upon a Mattress:  “You need a real clown with a great voice, someone with a huge personality but immediately likeable, and there aren’t many performers like that…as we unfortunately found out in the 1996 revival, when Sarah Jessica Parker got one of those four things right.”  While you try to determine SJP’s sole attribute, let me tell you about Sutton Foster, who is leading Encore!’s production at New York’s City Center.  I’d say Sutton is a good solid 3.0 on the Mary Rodgers scale.  She has a great voice and is immensely likeable.  She’s not a natural clown or in possession of a huge personality – but she is game to do virtually anything, so I gave her half a point for each.  It’s a curious thing – while watching her terrific performance, I couldn’t help but think there is a role-tailor made for her talents – Annie Get Your Gun.  Someone get on that!

Back to Mattress – this is as good a cast and production as one will ever see (to say nothing of the luxury of hearing a full orchestra).  There is a bit of questionable direction which I found distracting.  When Carol Burnett belted out the word “Shy”, the onlookers leaned back and covered their ears at the force of sound.  Sutton is not a belter, and her “Shy” sounds no different than the rest of her impressive instrument.  So having the same response that Burnett got was not only lazy direction, but nonsensical.  That out of the way, the cast is superb from top to bottom.  Prince Dauntless was played by Broadway MVP, Michael Urie (whose costume, while fetching, was all but drab).  His mother, Queen Aggravain, is assumed by the divine Harriet Harris at her most imperious – she all but steals the show whenever she’s onstage.  The second couple, played by the dreamy Nikki Renée Daniels and a charismatic Cheyenne Jackson (wearing spurs), delivered everything one could want – gorgeous vocals, touching acting…and they ain’t bad to look at.  Let me make special note of the wigs for Urie and Jackson.  J. Jared Janas (who presumably designed them) should get the Nobel Prize.  The show runs through February 4th.


I also saw the new musical Days of Wine and Roses by Adam Guettel (Mary Rodgers’ son) and Craig Lucas – the same team that brought us The Light in the Piazza.  Truth be told, I am not a fan of lengthy expositions.  I like just getting into the story.  However, a bit more exposition would have been nice in this case.  Within a few short minutes, a girl who didn’t particularly like her male coworker or alcohol, is convinced to go out with him and have a drink.  Shortly thereafter, they sample about a dozen different cocktails – including margaritas out of metal cups with way too much salt.  And then they’re married with a child.  That’s a whole lotta ground to cover in a short amount of time.  At that point, the show settles into a beautiful, if episodic, piece about these people’s descent into alcoholism.  I can’t blame the show for wanting us to get to the heart of the relationship between Bryan d’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara – two of the most talented performers around.  What we find in this show is that they’re more than great singers – they’re fantastic actors.  While each has standout vocal moments, the score takes a backseat to the drama.  This is ultimately a play with music rather than an outright musical.  That isn’t a bad thing – it’s a heartbreaking play that is beautifully performed.  It’s at Studio 54 for a limited 16-week run.


Returning briefly to Sarah Jessica Parker, she made a stir last week during a performance of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite – in which she appears alongside hubby Matthew Broderick in London’s West End.  Fans have not been able to control themselves from taking photos or videos.  In mid-sentence, SJP looked out at the audience, pointed at someone in the orchestra section, and said, “Please put your camera down.”  She then paused – surely for dramatic effect – and then continued what she was talking about.  At least she didn’t go all Patti LuPone on the person!

By the by, Sex and the City is headed to Netflix.  All six seasons are poised to land on the streamer starting in April.  I don’t believe this will affect their deal with E!, where we get heavily sanitized episodes regularly.

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