Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pygmalion (Roundabout Theatre Company)

BOTTOM LINE: a witty, interesting story with the creepiest Henry Higgins you've ever seen. Oh, and Claire Danes doesn't suck.

Pygmalion is the straight play version of the musical My Fair Lady and because it came before the musical, it's the original version of the story, told the way the playwright (George Bernard Shaw) wanted it to go. It's the story of a lower-class British girl (Eliza Doolittle, played by Danes) who meets an upper-class guy who is a master of phonetics (Henry Higgins, played by Jefferson Mays). Higgins makes a bet with his friend that he can teach the girl to act upper-class and even pass for a duchess. Eliza agrees to let him teach her and conflict ensues when she realizes that Higgins is a cold-hearted, creepy, pretentious man who only ever thought of her as an experiment. Which is NOT the way My Fair Lady portrays this relationship. Alas, this is not the musical and not only aren't there any songs, it's also in no way a love story. This play is endearing but definitely not warm and cuddly. In my opinion, the relationship between Higgins and Eliza is much more interesting this way, but there are definitely squirm-provoking moments.

Roundabout knows how to put on a show and this production is no exception. It's extremely polished and the sets and costumes are extravagant and lovely. The acting is precise and conscientious with an very talented cast under the direction of the very capable David Grindley. Maybe the reason the cast is so in sync with each other is because this isn't the first time they've shared a stage; Mays, Boyd Gaines (Colonel Pickering) and Jay O. Sanders (Mr. Doolittle) were all in Grindley's production of Journey's End last year.

Pygmalion is a funny play and this is good because when you get down to the meat of the story it's really quite creepy. Most of the relationships that are explored in this production work well and I was a big fan of the actors' individual work with their own characters. Jay O. Sanders has amazing timing and steals his scenes and the rest of the supporting cast does a great job rounding out the story. Boyd Gaines is perfect as Colonel Pickering, even though his relationship with Higgins is kind of strangely gay (I'll blame this on Shaw and not on the actors). Claire Danes acts her butt off and it's actually quite good. I'd much prefer to slam her performance but that would be unfair.

You should see Pygmalion if you're interested in the story and/or you want to see a high-quality play with an exceptional cast. If you're expecting something light and fluffy, this probably isn't your best bet. And be warned, it's not the musical and this Higgins is a bit disturbing.

(Pygmalion plays at the American Airlines Theatre until December are between $51 and $96 and are available by calling 212.719.1300. If you're under 35, get $20 tickets by signing up with for more information or call 212.719.1300)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Minimum Wage (Bleecker Street Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: infectiously happy. For a good time, call Minimum Wage.

In a feat rarely seen, Minimum Wage is entirely original and entirely entertaining. It's not every day that a brand-new concept unearths itself and actually works. And Minimum Wage accomplishes that with quite a bit of success. Here's the schtick: the audience takes on the role of "new hires in training" at Happy Burger, a McDonald's-esque fast food chain. The cast of five are Happy Burger employees who are teaching the new hires all about the fast food world...they are also singers who have an acapella group that they are taking on the road to a competition immediately after the training. So as the Happy Burger employees take over the training (because communication with the higher-ups is shorted) much of it is sung and performed more ostentatiously by these caricatured burger boys (and girl).

Because of the nature of the show, the audience is an intregal part and there's a large amount of audience interaction. If you don't want to participate, don't sit too close. Although I'm normally not a huge fan of fourth-wall-breaking, it really worked for me with this play because it personalizes the story; it's not just a passive theatre experience. It made me feel a stronger connection with the characters and it definitely helped ground a rather goofy piece.

Minimum Wage is charming in its sincerity because the characters couldn't be more endearing. Although it's silly and even ridiculous at times, it has a ton of heart and there's actually a much deeper message to it all. Throughout the play, the characters reveal their insecurities and past failures and eventually their fear about the upcoming acapella competition. After a pep talk from the group's leader, though, they realize that they have to go after their dreams. The message isn't meant to be hidden and you definitely leave with a sense of empowerment (and these catchy lyrics in your head: "you gotta grab life by the balls, hold tight never let go, I'm busy hold all my calls, I'm stepping into the light.") Despite the thick layers of absurdity, the true message remains crystal clear.

So on top of it all, you have a really friggin' talented cast who can sing as well as anyone on any stage in New York. And the best part is, there isn't a back-up band. It's literally acapella. With some crazy beat-boxing and beautiful harmonizing, there's no need for instruments. For the sake of the talent alone, Minimum Wage is worth seeing.

If you like musicals, and/or you like quirky theatre, you'll probably love Minimum Wage. If you're in the mood for an original theatrical experience with a stellar cast, you'll probably love it as well. And if you're just feeling down and want something to boost your spirits, Minimum Wage is cheaper than a shrink and won't give you a beer belly.

(Minimum Wage plays at the The Green Room at 45 Bleecker...Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Saturday at 10:30pm...get tickets at