#tbt review: Intergalactic Nemesis live-action graphic novel

This review originally appeared in the Times Union on Jan. 12, 2012.

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A scene from “Intergalactic Nemesis”

“The Intergalactic Nemesis” has landed at Proctors in Schenectady with an answer to the question, “What exactly is a ‘live-action graphic novel’?”

That’s how “Nemesis” bills itself, and though that term may bring to mind Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” series of movies, “Nemesis” is a stage-play hybrid: part radio show and part slide show.

Three actors at microphones voice multiple characters, while a Foley artist creates sound effects from objects on the tables before him — such as shoes, crinkled paper and even a box of macaroni and cheese — and a keyboardist maintains a dramatic score. Meanwhile, one comic book image after another is projected on a screen that towers above the people. The show uses more than 1,200 images.

The story is set in 1933 and reporter Molly Sloan, her assistant Timmy Mendez and a mysterious and heroic librarian named Ben Wilcott join forces to thwart the impending invasion of sludge monsters from the planet Zygon, who are aided by the evil hypnotist Mysterion.

The show has plenty of charm. A lot of that has to do with watching the quick work of Foley artist Buzz Moran and his delighted expression when he shakes a metallic sheet to create booming sounds of thunder.

Other fun moments come from the multiple voices the actors assume for different characters, especially when those characters are having a dialogue and one actor does both voices. The actor Chris Gibson stands out in this regard, as he hams up the maniacal laughter of the evil Mysterion, who is often in dialogue with Wilcott.

Silences are also effectively used, as when a revelation leaves the characters dumbfounded and the actors say nothing as the screen shows one surprised face after another. Also of note are the humorous ways the three actors create crowd conversation noise at a fancy party and on a street in Tunisia, and how they create the sound of applause by gently slapping their cheeks.

The show has enough of these moments to make up for some of its weaknesses, such as an overlong and static first act. A lot happens in that act, and I don’t want to give it away, but it does more to set up situations in which the characters react them to, instead of revealing to us who these characters are and what motivates them. In that regard, the second act is much better. I also wished that more of Tim Doyle’s images were better drawn, because too often the expressions and body positions seemed awkward and distorted.

One of the difficulties of this hybrid show is knowing what to watch: the images or the actors and Foley artist. In some ways, it seems as if it is playing against too much nostalgia for a clear focus. But if you’ve never seen a Foley artist at work, then this a must-see. Best of all, it is appropriate for audiences of all ages, from those who’ve never known a world without iPhones to those who once gathered around the wireless (radio, that is) for nightly news and entertainment.

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On Broadway

This is cool. My words have made it to the bright shining lights of Broadway.

My former Times Union colleague Steve Barnes (thanks, Steve!) sent me a photo from outside the Lyric Theater, where a revival of the classic show “On the Town” has just opened in previews.

The photo shows a poster that quotes the Times Union (alas not my name, but those are my words) from a review of the musical that I wrote when the same production was presented last year at Barrington Stage Theater in the Berkshires.

Pretty cool, to be blurbed on Broadway.

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Moss Hart, Act One and the persistence of You Can’t Take It With You

Tony Shalhoub as George S. Kaufman and Santino Fontana as Moss Hart in "Act One" at Lincoln Center (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Tony Shalhoub as George S. Kaufman and Santino Fontana as Moss Hart in “Act One” at Lincoln Center (Photo by Joan Marcus)

“Act One” officially opens at Lincoln Center later this week, but this weekend I saw a preview showing of it. It’s good. Not great — the story of the life of Moss Hart, the playwright who grew up poor in the Bronx and had only a eighth-grade education (he had to go to work) but who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

The production is magnificent — a rotating set, great period costumes, top-notch acting from Tony Shalhoub (as an older Moss Hart, narrating Our Town-style; as the father of the 11-year-old Moss Hart; and as George S. Kaufman, who works with the young adult Moss Hart); the young adult Hart is strongly played by Santino Fontana, who may be best known as the voice of the evil prince Hans in the movie musical “Frozen”; and Andrea Martin, nailing multiple roles.

The play (written and directed by James Lapine), though, moves a bit slowly in, yes, Act 1, and feels very much like a less madcap Moss Hart play — a little dated in trying to stay true to the source material, Hart’s 1959 autobiography about his Dickensian early 20th-century life. What also seems dated is the ease of access Hart had to some of the brightest minds of his day, despite his lack of education. Perhaps a 21st century analogy would be talented computer coders and programmers who drop out of college and gain access to the best and brightest in that field.

What was most interesting to me though was what happened before I saw the show. I wanted to see the play in no small part because I had acted in Hart and Kaufman’s “You Can’t Take it With You” in high school, back in the 1980s.

At work, one of my coworkers, when I told her I was going to see the play, said, “I performed in ‘You Can’t Take it With You’ in high school.” She’s in her 60s, which means her high school days were in the 1960s. And also at work, another colleague said, “I was in ‘You Can’t Take it With You’ in high school!” That colleague, however, is an intern, a college senior, and her high school days were in the 2000s.

There it was, three generations of people all working at the same place all having been in the same play, which was first performed 1936 and won the Pulitzer in 1937.

So if you love the theater, and if you’ve been in any of Hart’s plays (such as “The Man Who Came to Dinner”), then this play is highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

‘On the Town’ a frisky, energetic romp

‘On the Town’ a frisky, energetic romp

 
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Barrington revival captures musical’s sass, sexiness

Pittsfield, Mass.

If the Broadway original of “On the Town” was anything like the production at Barrington Stage Company, then it’s no wonder the baby boom coincided with the hit’s 1944-46 run.

Sassy, sexy, energetic and fun — it’s a hell of a musical. Continue reading

On the Town at Barrington Stage Company, 6/16/13

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Pittsfield, Mass.

If the Broadway original of “On the Town” was anything like the production now on stage at Barrington Stage Company, then it’s no wonder the baby boom coincided with the hit’s initial run (1944 to 1946).

Sassy, sexy, energetic and fun — it’s a hell of a musical.

The story is simple enough: three sailors — Ozzie, Chip and Gabey — set out on a 24-hour shore leave in 1944’s New York City looking for adventure — and dames. The stage set is simple, too, with minimal signs and scrims, and occasional tables and seats to suggest apartments, restaurants, a taxi, streets and museums.

The rest of it, though, only seems simple. The top-notch 10-piece orchestra under the direction of Darren R. Cohen nailed Leonard Bernstein’s energetic and upbeat score. Joshua Bergasse’s choreography filled the stage with joyous movement and vitality, creating stage pictures that winked at Jerome Robbins while taking on a life of its own (the musical was based on Robbins’ ballet “Fancy Free,” after all). Continue reading

Summer theater guide: A graphical approach to the season’s plays and musicals

The plays mentioned in this chart and a link to each theater company:

Classic musicals
“On the Town” @ Barrington Stage Company, June 12-July 13, http://barringtonstageco.org/
“Singing in the Rain” @ Mac-Haydn, July 4-21, http://www.machaydntheatre.org/
“Oklahoma” @ Colonial Theater, July 6-20, http://www.berkshiretheatregroup.org/on-our-stages/theatre.html
“Camelot” @ Glimmerglass Festival, July 13-August 23, starring operatic baritone Nathan Gunn!, http://glimmerglass.org/
“Les Miserables” @ Mac-Haydn, July 25-August 4, http://www.machaydntheatre.org/
“Gypsy” @ Mac-Haydn, August 22-September 1, http://www.machaydntheatre.org/ Continue reading