|(Daniel Radcliffe and Tammy Blanchard in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.")|
Following in the footsteps of my New Testament predecessor, I will dispense some sage wisdom to my 12 followers (and whoever else may be peeking). First and foremost, forget about "The Book of Mormon." It's this decade's "The Producers," and any attempt to score tickets will cause untold humiliation waiting in cancellation lines, being mocked by condescending box-office personnel and losing your lucre, which could be better spent on weekly once-in-a-century bargains at that miracle on 34th Street, Macy's. Instead, you can achieve far more economical ecstasy by attending two sublime drag routines, one by a man (Brian Bedford) and one by an actual woman (Tammy Blanchard).
We, of course, define drag as the essence of caricaturing the foibles of a gender. Ironically, Oscar Wilde wrote the most savvy and perfect of English-language comedies in "The Importance of Being Earnest" and then was done in by the most unsavvy dictates of Victorian morality. Any well-acted production of "Earnest" would be worth the airfare to New York. But seeing Bedford, corseted and feathered, as Lady Bracknell would be worth your weight in gold, no matter how much you've cheated on your diet.
|(Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest.")|
Director-choreographer Rob Ashford is proficient in an overstated Vegas manner. But his rambunctious vulgarity cannot do in the joys of the classic "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." No, Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe does not have the wattage that Robert Morse radiated as the lead in the original 1961 production. If Morse was the human embodiment of a Hirschfeld caricature - all flashing eyes and impish smile - Radcliffe scores with a more subdued, Charlie Brown-like plaintiveness. Unlike Morse, he may not create lifetime memories, but his singing and dancing are more than winning.
What this second-row-center viewer will enshrine until senility is the crocodile smile of Tammy Blanchard as Hedy La Rue, the 60s variation on the ultimate man trap. Anyone who's seen Barbara Stanwyck play a stripper or Marilyn Monroe a gold digger will relate to this knowing spoof on sex: the self-loving twinkle as she reduces men to jelly and the radiating, palpable satisfaction as each hip twitch lands home. She pulls off the tightrope walk of making calculation lovable. Even a merely good revival of "How to Succeed" - with its great Frank Loesser score the apogee of musical-comedy wit - will still show up most of what passes for Broadway levity today.
|(Aaron Tweit and stewardesses in "Catch Me If You Can.")|
|(Robin Williams in "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.")|
|(Katie Nabors as Louis Maske in "The Underpants" at the Beck Center. Photo by Kathy Sandham.)|
The characters are all painted in cadaver-like makeup and made to move and react like giant windup dolls. The style of acting evokes silent cinema and the ominous Grand Guignol of Sweeney Todd. The director is taking a big risk in alienating his audience with this technique, but it pays off royally. When the same work was done at the Cleveland Play House a decade ago, it played like rancid Neil Simon. Here the story of a comely German hausfrau whose panties fall in public, causing de rigueur complications of the genre, unfolds with the merry synchronicity of a giant German bell tower clock. It's an evening of joyous anarchy, proving that one can still find happiness in one's own back yard.
|(Conrad Veidt in the the 1920 silent film, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.")|