Two from Van Hove & a Stunning Color Purple from Doyle
By Barry Bassis.
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
Ivo van Hove may be the busiest director in New York this season. Currently running at the Lyceum Theater is Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, an import from England, where it won an Olivier Award for Best Revival.
So, do we really need a British cast led by a Belgian to present a play about a Brooklyn longshoreman? The answer is apparently "yes" when it is done with such an original slant. Van Hove presents the work starkly, basically without scenery (or strangely, footwear).
Performed in two hours, without intermission, the feeling of impending tragedy is overwhelming. Mark Strong is superb as Eddie Carbone (the longshoreman who falls for his wife's teenage niece). Problems start when two immigrants (relatives from Italy) sneak into the country and come to stay with the Carbones. The girl falls in love with one of them and this drives Eddie crazy. He goes Donald Trump on the illegals. The build-up with a percussive background keeps the audience on edge.
A View from the Bridge could have been called An American Tragedy if Dreiser hadn't already used the title. The revival should be a contender in the Tony's.
Van Hove is also strutting his stuff off-Broadway with Lazarus at the New York Theatre Workshop. Here, the director (assisted by video designer Tal Yarden and sound designer Brian Ronan) shows he has as much flair staging musical numbers as dramas. The songs are by David Bowie and include some of his greatest hits, including "Changes" and "All the Young Dudes," as well as new songs. Unfortunately, you have to put your mind to sleep for the dialogue that comes between the numbers.
Bowie had played the title role in the science fiction film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Based on a Walter Tevis novel, the movie concerns an alien named Thomas Newton, who comes to Earth to obtain water for his planet. He is stranded and becomes an alcoholic recluse. Lazarus is a sort of sequel with Michael C. Hall playing the character 40 years later. Newton hasn't aged, but the other characters from the film are long gone.
Hall may be a better all-round actor than Bowie, but the rocker is more convincing as a non-human. The cast is excellent; all can sing well (especially Hall, Cristin Milioti, and Sophia Anne Caruso). Enda Walsh, who wrote the charming script in Once, is on this occasion "Lost in Space." A plain revue of Bowie songs would have been much more enjoyable.
THE COLOR PURPLE
John Doyle is known for taking classic musicals and presenting them in stripped down versions, usually with the actors playing all the instruments, as in his revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company. With The Color Purple at Bernard R. Jacobs Theater, he has a traditional orchestra in the pit and has eliminated most of the scenery. With a powerful blend of songs and script, the show has the audience whooping and hollering as if they are at a revival meeting. Cynthia Erivo as Celie delivers a "star is born" performance and Jennifer Hudson is a force of nature as Shug Avery. The whole cast is outstanding and this production brings out all the beauty and wit in the score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray and the book by Marsha Norman, from Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize winning novel.