Saturday, March 13, 2010

High Marx: Clips From The Skylight

Pardon Me While I Have A Strange Interlude

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It’s been a weekend of bite-sized performances, Theatre Gigante’s one-hour, one-weekend only production Other Three Sisters was joined last night by the opening of the Skylight Opera Theatre’s A Day In Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.

The double feature is, itself, comprised of numerous smaller moments that would be far too numerous to fit in the print review of the show that runs in next week’s Shepherd-Express. Here are a few, quick impressions . . .   

Set, Costuming and yes . . . hair.

 Thee opening one-act is viasually quite impressive. The 1930’s musical revue is a tribute to 1930’s cinema. The visuals here are impressive—the Shima Orans costuming here was remarkably vivid. She managed to find a 1930’s cinema usher’s costume that looked just as good on the men as it did on the women. Very cool. And this was an instance where I actually noticed the work of the hair stylist. Justin Deehr’s work on this portion of the show was impeccable. The styling was spot-on period perfect, The full effect felt very, very distinct. 

Ben George/Fred Astaire

I’d never been a huge fan of Fred Astaire. I can appreciate the genius level of talent the man had, but it never really appealed to me. Somewhere along the line last night, I understood. Choreographer/Director Pam Kriger brilliantly rendered a Top Hat-esque dance with Ben George impeccably dressed and poised as Fred Astaire. It was subtle, classy and casually stunning. I’d seen George in a number of shows recently. The man is actually built like Astaire and it turns out that he has some degree of grace about his movements as well.  

 

Groucho to Groucho, Harpo to Harpo, Chico to Chico—Marx to Marx

The show returns from intermission with a musical inspired by Chekhov and the Marx Brothers. Loving the style and humor of the Marxes as I do, I was expecting to wince through some weak but well-meaning impressions of them live onstage. To this end, I deliberately missed a recent Skylight production of Animal Crackers. Seeing Norman Moses as Groucho, and particularly Ray Jivoff as Harpo last night was a huge relief. As opposed to doing a straight ahead impression of Groucho, Norman Moses lets the comedy animate the style in a Groucho-eqsue way. It isn’t Grouch Marx—It’s Groucho Moses, which is actually a great deal of fun. More so than the rest of the Marxes, Groucho is a character I don’t mind seeing in a mutation of the popular film version (most likely due to the work of a certain Canadian artist) Moses’ particular like-a-look Groucho has a towering sort of authority about him that suits the character well. Groucho Marx was 5’7½.” I don’t know how tall Moses is (A 1985 Milwauke Sentinel piece referred to him as “average height,”  but here he looks considerably taller than Groucho’s 5’7½.”  A lankier, more forceful Groucho is an interesting mutation. There was only one Groucho Marx, but Groucho Moses is a lot of fun, too. 

For his part, Benjamin Howes is a pretty good Chico. The comically artificial Italian accent doesn’t quite perfectly wrap around Howes performance. That being said, he’s got somewhat brilliant delivery of the comedy in places. The show gives him an opportunity to illustrate a particularly theatrical version of Chico’s distinctive piano style, but the real work there is done in the orchestra pit by Mark Carlstein.

There really isn’t much to say about Ray Jivoff’s  Harpo. It’s perfect. Jivoff seems to have nailed nearly every aspect of Harpo’s comic style down to the smallest detail. (I was sitting in row D, I was expecting some level of deviation. There was none that I could see. He doesn’t look exactly like Harpo, but the costume covers for any significant difference. Classic physical prop comedy is rarely seen onstage, aside from the work of a relatively new local group. There’s a classy homage to Harpo’s musical namesake that’s mixed-in with some of the physical comedy. You can see it coming from a mile away, but Jivoff makes it fun.

The Skylight Opera’s production of A Day In Hollywood/A Night In The Ukraine runs through April 4th at the Broadway Theatre Center. A review of the show runs in this week’s Shepherd-Express. 

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