Monday, April 6, 2009

Being Audrey


Music & Lyrics by Ellen Weiss, Book by James Hindman. Directed by Jack Cummings III. Transport Group at the Connelly Theatre. (CLOSED)

If one movie title from Audrey Hepburn's ouevre could sum up the critical response to Transport Group's new musical tribute to the late movie legend, it would not be They All Laughed but The Unforgiven. Critics have faint praise for a few cast members but find little nice to say about either the premise--a stressed-out movie fan with a husband on life support dreams she's living in a series of Hepburn movies--or the faltering execution.

Time Out NY C+
(Diane Snyder) Despite a tuneful score by Ellen Weiss that captures the splendor of the films and a spirited performance from Cheryl Stern (who contributed to the book and lyrics), the plot and characters are too thin to hang a little Givenchy black dress on...Valerie Fagan lends a supple voice to a couple of charming songs, while director Jack Cummings III lets his ensemble play with accents as they swoosh around hospital curtains. But the creative team may have forgotten that Hepburn's legacy endures not simply because she was beautiful but also because she was genuine. Being Audrey is just a contrivance.

Theatermania C
(Barbara & Scott Siegel) Disappointing if intriguing...This is precious material that requires a light, bright touch. While the book by James Hindman, music and lyrics by Ellen Weiss, the compelling, fluid direction by Jack Cummings III, and the excellent choreography and musical staging by Scott Rink all do their part to suggest the possibilities in this piece, the entire enterprise is weighed down by a miscast [Cheryl] Stern...Stern has musical theater chops and a broad vaudevillian appeal, but this role requires delicacy and sensitivity, even when it's being played for laughs--which is often the case. Fortunately, the rest of the cast is strong and effective.

Backstage D+
(Robert Windeler) The cast of eight is accomplished, featuring several strong legit voices--Brian Sutherland as Fred is especially notable in his versatility--and the staging by director Jack Cummings III and choreographer Scott Rink is inventive, with a practically dancing gurney and hospital screens. Yet the at-first-cute conceit falls flat very quickly, and the songs are merely serviceable--even the attempt at a Jerry Hermanesque title tune. And all the references to Audrey's greatest movie hits made me want to hear "Moon River," "Two for the Road," or anything from My Fair Lady, which oddly isn't a part of this piece. Two things Audrey Hepburn never was are bland and forgettable. Alas, this show ends up being both.

Village Voice D
(Andy Propst) Rather than being charming or bittersweet, there's an incredible "eww" factor to the affair. Despite Stern's game performance, watching this middle-aged woman cavorting like a teenager or twentysomething is embarrassing. Further, Claire's inability to focus on the tragedy at hand ultimately feels selfishly heartless. Director Jack Cummings III's manic staging only emphasizes the heavy-handedness of Hindman's attempts at blurring reality and fantasy. And though composer Ellen Weiss provides a few ear-catching tunes, they're not enough to elevate the nonsensical whimsy of the show.

CurtainUp F+
(Paulanne Simmons) What is it that makes Being Audrey seem so amateurish? Perhaps it is simply that no one can be Audrey or the polished men who surrounded her. Those who try can end up looking dumpy, clumsy and inadequate. But that's not the only hurdle Being Audrey has to leap. The play depends on an audience that not only has an almost obsessive interest in Hepburn but one that has seen and remembered her major motion pictures. All others will be left out in the cold. The dozen songs Weiss has written for the show are adequate but not particularly memorable...It all moves with a speed that borders on frenzy. Fortunately, choreographer Scott Rink keeps the actors from bumping into each other.

Variety F+
(Marilyn Stasio) A lot of busy hands went into the making of this musical fantasy, which makes it hard to know exactly who came up with the original lamebrained idea and whom to identify as enablers...For a musical inspired by the lightest and frothiest of materials, Being Audrey is shockingly earthbound, burdened by lugubrious songs with banal lyrics that do nothing to convey the psychological complexity of Claire's mental state...Among the overworked ensemble, Mark Ledbetter puts his pipes to best use, while Blair Ross (who is not afraid to play goofy) does a nifty impersonation of Kay Thompson in "Funny Face." But honestly, nobody seems to be having any fun.

New York Post F
(Frank Scheck) Stern -- who also contributed to the book and lyrics -- is no Audrey Hepburn. The actress, who is prominently center stage for almost the entirety of the proceedings, works very hard, and of course her unglamorous character's not being Hepburn is very much the point. But the nonsensical book by James Hindman and the mediocre score by Ellen Weiss would defeat the efforts of even the most luminous performer. Featuring dialogue on the order of, "You grew up right here on the street where you live" (get the "My Fair Lady" reference?), and lame musical numbers like "The Beatnook," with its ensemble of beret-wearing dancers, the show mainly serves to demonstrate that with tributes such as this, the late Audrey Hepburn doesn't need any enemies.

Lighting & Sound America F
(David Barbour) An obsession with Audrey Hepburn as a role model is appropriate in, say, a girl of 14. In a woman of 50, it's pathological. We're supposed to see Claire as winsome and witty, a delightful, fragile eccentric; instead, she comes off as monstrously self-involved, worrying only about herself while Larry fades away...There's nothing to do but watch Claire wander from one lame movie parody to the next, while Cummings and his choreographer, Scott Rink, send the rest of the cast spinning around her with bedpans and room dividers...The score consists of inconclusive cocktail-piano studies fitted out with bland lyrics.

small>TONY C+ 8; Theatermania C 7; Backstage D+ 5; VV D 4; CurtainUp F+ 2; Variety F+ 2; New York Post F 1; LS&A F 1; TOTAL: 30/8=3.75 (D)


Unknown said...

I think the show, as a tribute to the popularity and iconic status of such a graceful powerful woman, is a wonderful trip through the fantastical mind of someone unwilling to let go of her obsession and desire to live beyond the reality she is thrust into having.,Hats off to the lead,no one can be "audrey",but in this portrayal I buy everything she is selling.....BRAVO!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I think the reviewer who asks,'who enabled this production?' may be onto something. Who is from PA, married-well, lives in NY and hopes spouses money can buy talent? It certainly can buy a seat on a board. Very disappointing production, especially in this economy. Why spend money needlessly?