Monday, February 28, 2011

Broadway and Off-Broadway, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 11:19 AM

Whether you’re interested in catching an early peep at the blockbusters headed toward the Charlotte’s PAC in future seasons, or you’re curious about the edgier fare that our smaller homegrown companies are drooling over, the places to go are Broadway and off-Broadway. That’s where the Queen City’s deciders sneak off to as they fashion their theater menus, and that’s where my wife Sue and I go at least once every season.

We went a little later this year. Not late enough to miss the ginormous snowfall that has made the Great White Way even whiter in 2010-11, and not late enough to catch the official press opening of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which has slung an unprecedented web of postponements. On the other hand, we caught The Addams Family and Love, Loss, and What I Wore during our 15-day invasion, two properties that I knew were in the PAC’s crosshairs as we hit the road. Since our return, news has leaked that Colin Quinn: Long Story Short has a Charlotte rendezvous in its future after it closes in New York.

Intrepid surfers can also check out CL’s past reviews of In the Heights, Next to Normal, Million Dollar Quartet, and Memphis for additional assessments of present and future touring fare.


Colin Quinn: Long Story Short (***3/4 out of 4) – On the night we saw Quinn’s one-man show, the Saturday Night Live alum seemed surprisingly nervous at the outset. You can take my word for it, or judge for yourself: five cameras captured that evening’s performance for an HBO Special that airs on April 9. Directed by TV and stand-up legend Jerry Seinfeld, Long Story Short gives its writer-performer plenty of reason for anxiety.

That’s because, over the next 82 minutes, Quinn offers us nothing less than his own skewered history of the world – and we must jump quickly aboard to keep up. Quinn’s unifying thesis is that humanity has not evolved over the course of history, and Exhibit A behind that indictment is this morning’s newspaper. Many more choice observations crop up along the way, as we travel where few, if any, stand-ups have voyaged before: the Greek amphitheaters where drama was born, the Roman and Holy Roman Empires, and most surprising of all, the Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland.

As he hopscotches the world and exposes the foibles of the British, the French, the Chinese, the Peruvians, the Africans, the Israelis, and India, Quinn occasionally yields to temptation and scoops up the easy stand-up laugh. Mostly, Quinn scorns the low-hanging fruit and challenges us with the most satisfying one-man show to hit Broadway since Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays in 2004. (Through March 5)

Lombardi (***1/2) – The NFL commissioned this script, based on When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss, and they surely knew they had a winner when Dan Lauria was cast in the title role. Best remembered as the dad on ABC’s The Wonder Years, Lauria is also a former Marine and high school football coach. When he dons a replica of the legend’s eyeglasses and smiles, Lauria’s resemblance to Lombardi is uncanny, and when he roars, the visceral effect is like getting a Bart Starr handoff in the gut.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
  • Photo credit: Joan Marcus

The book is admirably condensed into the space of a football week in 1965 by playwright Eric Simonson as reporter Michael McCormick journeys to Green Bay, Wisconsin, on assignment to discover what makes the fabulously successful Packer coach tick before a pivotal game. He actually moves in with Vince for the week, so a large part of McCormick’s perspective comes from Marie Lombardi, the coach’s wife. Mixed in with scenes at home and at the practice field, there are flashbacks to the coach’s early days with the Pack – and to Englewood, New Jersey, where the Lombardis lived when Vince received his fateful call from Wisconsin.

Vince is a controlling personality, and he has accepted Michael into his home with the understanding that he has final approval on the story before it is printed. Michael is unaware of this arrangement between Lombardi and his publisher, so a genuine dramatic tension develops between Lauria and Keith Nobbs, who plays McCormick. That relationship helps us understand how Lombardi, despite his hair-trigger temper and whiplash tongue, so deeply loved his players – and vice versa.

Lauria and Nobbs are clearly worthy of Tony Award consideration, but so is Judith Light, the TV diva of Who’s the Boss and Ugly Betty, who portrays Marie with a world-weary, jaundiced elegance. We also get quality time with three Packer legends, thanks to the excellent performances of Chris Sullivan as fullback Jim Taylor, Robert Christopher Riley as linebacker Dave Robinson, and Bill Dawes as halfback Paul Hornung. Of course, Lombardi’s relationship with the rakehell Hornung is another touchstone to his character, and Dawes’ portrait of the “Golden Boy” is spot-on down to the last blond curl.

I’ll admit it: when Lauria delivered the famed “in the alley” chalktalk on the Green Bay Sweep, I was nearly in tears – but my approval of Lombardi comes with thorough wife-testing. The victory by the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV should also bring extra bounce to this excellent show’s legs.

To be continued...

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