Monday, May 4, 2009

Everyday Rapture


By Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott. Music supervision by Tom Kitt. Directed by Michael Mayer. Chor. Michele Lynch. Second Stage Theater. (CLOSED)

With grades that range from B+ to A+ (until David Cote's review for TONY), it's pretty safe to say that critics are crazy about Sherie Rene Scott, both the actress and the slightly fictionalized version of herself she plays in Everyday Rapture. Critics gush about her ability to interpret a wide range of songs, from Judy Garland standards to Mister Rogers. Though most of the reviews are dedicated to Scott, critics also note the positive contributions of Christine Jones's sets and Kevin Adams's lighting in creating the appropriate atmosphere.

The New York Times A+
(Ben Brantley) Las Vegas may now have Bette Midler. But New York has Sherie Rene Scott, who is putting on the kind of sensational diva-as-trash-goddess show this city hasn’t seen since Ms. Midler last played Radio City Musical Hall. It is called “Everyday Rapture.” And while this singing pseudo-memoir, which opened on Sunday night at Second Stage Theater, is tiny by Broadway standards, it easily qualifies as one of the year’s most extravagantly entertaining new musicals. Like Ms. Midler, who came to fame singing in gay clubs and bath houses three decades ago, Ms. Scott is a brass-and-butter chanteuse with an out-there alter-ego, a couple of trampy but precision-tooled backup singers and a song list of inventively rejiggered standards and oddities. She is also one of those rare, wry and passionate performers who bring out the inner show queen in people, even folks who didn’t know they had one.

Variety A+
(David Rooney) Scott's skill as an actress shows in her seamless turns from sly humor to break-your-heart honesty. Her account of being a Kansas girl in Manhattan for the first time is so vivid and joyous, it makes you relive your own first taste of the city. And her personal revelations -- losing her virginity to a Times Square street magician; a subsequent abortion -- are touching because they are remarkably unsentimental... Scott's gentle mockery of her own celebrity takes the edge off the inherent self-absorption of any solo (or quasi-solo) show. Much of the quest for knowledge of herself and the universe is built around advice from a sage old rabbi ("could have been a Muslim") who told her to carry two pieces of paper -- one that says "I am a speck of dust," and another saying "The world was created for me."

Associated Press A+
(Michael Kuchwara) The show, on view at off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre, is a touching, tuneful and often hilarious tale, told by Scott in six scenes and punctuated by more than a dozen songs written by the likes of Elton John, Harold Arlen, George Harrison, Harry Warren and more. That should give you some clue to the scope of Scott's considerable talent, which is tailor-made for musical theater. Scott, in possession of not only a big, belty singing voice but a delicious sense of comic timing, owns the stage.

The Daily News A+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) How fitting that a show with music called "Everyday Rapture" features a song urging us to "go up the ladder to the roof, where we can see heaven much better." For the 90 minutes that Sherie Rene Scott is on stage performing at Second Stage, audiences have an unobstructed view of paradise personified... Scott's pursuit is particularly fascinating, what with her Mennonite past and Broadway present (she's known for "Aida," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The Little Mermaid"). What also makes it special is her sexy smarts, manic energy, salty-sweet humor and, especially, her hypnotic voice — a divine blend that recalls Bette Midler.

Lighting & Sound America A+
(David Barbour) It's our great good luck that that Scott and her co-writer, Dick Scanlan, are aware that her dilemma is ludicrous in its particulars, yet universal in its overall dimensions. Thus, her odyssey, from a childhood afflicted with "acute mennonitis" to a career spent stealing Broadway shows -- an earlier title for this piece was You May Now Worship Me -- is presented in delightfully self-spoofing fashion. At the same time, there's an undertone of real feeling, driven by the star's determination to discover what life is all about. Everyday Rapture amounts to a kind of metaphysical cabaret -- and that's something you don't see every day... Thanks to Michael Mayer's pitch-perfect direction, Everyday Rapture seamlessly blends priceless show-business wisecracks with thoughtful ruminations on the nature of God and the meaning of life. Adding extra emotional heft to the comedy are Scott's lively and touching readings of a songlist that includes U-2's "Elevation," "The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe," the Fred Rogers classic, "It's You I Like," and "Up the Ladder to the Roof." I must add that the lady has never been in better voice, which is really saying something.

The New Yorker A
(John Lahr) Scott has a good voice, backed by a pair of jazzy singers called the Mennonettes, and the show is exceptional for the expertise of its collaborators: Tom Kitt’s elegant orchestrations; Christine Jones’s zany, eye-catching set; Michele Lynch’s clever choreography. Michael Mayer has directed the raffish proceedings to a T. The show won’t make Scott a star, but it goes one better: it makes you feel the miraculous in the everyday.

Talkin' Broadway A
(Matthew Murray) Scott embodies both of the qualities that bookend Sherie’s worldview, as imparted to her by a (probably Jewish) rabbi who suggested she write them down and always keep them in her pockets: “I am a speck of dust” and “The world was created for me.” The interplay between the hyperinflated ego of the up-and-coming-Broadway star and the humble introvert who never wants more than she’s earned gives some surprising depth to a script that often tends toward the familiar and slight - not least because you’re never entirely sure whether Sherie or Scott is embodying the aspect you’re seeing at any given moment. All you can tell for sure is that the two women are impressive singers and crack storytellers, capable of weaving fictional narrative and personal reflection into a bare-bones concert format without sacrificing the verities of either form of presentation. (Christine Jones’s galactic disco set, which blends vivid pastels with stylized constellations beneath Kevin Adams’s deceptively intimate lighting plot, is just right as a background for both.) Lindsey Mendez and Betsy Wolfe provide excellent support as the Mennonettes, Sherie’s now-and-then backup singers.

CurtainUp A
(Elyse Sommer) Though Ms. Scott has been quoted as saying that this is a show with four performers, it is basically a solo showcase for her beauty and likeability, very personal style of song interpretation and delivery, not to mention her gifts as a story teller. Her two almost constant sidekicks, Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe, are excellent, though their "Mennonites" are not very different from other groups of backup singers. The other performer listed in the program, Eamon Foley, is a genuinely surprising and enjoyable surprise guest star. Though he appears only briefly he adds mightily to the overall energy and fun. No matter how you classify Everyday Rapture, Ms. Scott, her colleagues, the 5-piece onstage band and the pacey and colorful staging all give this musical journey a rich, full-bodied flavor... Ultimately, this sort of stage memoir, even though disguised as fiction, does tend to be a bit narcisstic as Scott herself admits though she came to realize " I can be narcissistic, and still be nice." The lovely to look at and listen to and thoroughly endearing narcissist at the center of Everyday Rapture is not just nice but a star -- not a semi-star but a true hyphen-less, capitalized Star.

New York Post A
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) The numbers are so completely integrated into the book that the songs can get frustratingly chopped up. "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," for instance, starts all smoldering and sultry -- and boy, can Scott do smoldering and sultry! But just as you begin to melt into a blissful puddle, Scott launches into observations about Topeka churches, before segueing back into "Atchison" at a faster trot. It's all very funny, but sometimes you want a sing-all, not a tell-all. But even there, "Everyday Rapture," smoothly directed by Michael Mayer, is devious. With its minimal, light-strung set, the show looks and feels like a plain musical memoir, but Scott and co-writer Dick Scanlan ("Thoroughly Modern Millie") are open about its loose connection to facts. What interests them is what makes a performer a performer.

Theater News Online A
(Matt Windman) On one level, Everyday Rapture is a totally sincere memoir of growing up in Topeka, Kansas (where there are supposedly more churches than people), moving to New York City and eventually gaining a worldly sense of spirituality... But on a far more successful level, it is a clever parody of self-deluded and egotistical one-person shows. There is one absolutely brilliant scene where a young show queen male (Eamon Foley) creates a YouTube video where he lip-synchs to Ms. Scott's vocal performance of a hit Aida tune "My Strongest Suit." When she writes him an email to introduce herself, he accuses her of not being the real Sherie Rene Scott, leading to a heated and frustrating battle of correspondence.

Backstage A-
(Adam R. Perlman) Scott, as she reminds us in her disarming deadpan, has played the "second lead" in several Broadway shows. Her ditzy, late-awakening Amneris was the best thing about Disney's Aida, her vaudevillian Ursula was a bright spot in Disney's dingy The Little Mermaid (Disney really should put her on retainer), and in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels she did perhaps her best work to date as a deceptively doelike American abroad. This is the first time, though, I've seen her full, dazzling range of tools. Vain and vulnerable, silly and sexy, wistful and wise, she's a mess of contradictions as riveting as Bernadette, Patti, or any of those divas who don't need three names but just one.

American Theater Web A-
(Andy Propst) The final section of "Rapture" is both the show's sweetest and its weakest. In it Scott describes her life today with her three-year old son, and some of the hopes and dreams that she has for him. There's a life-lesson in here, and it's about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary; unfortunately, though theatergoers grasp how hard-fought this revelation has been for Scott, it underwhelms as the show's climax... Scott's vocal skills – whether blasting rock or silkily gliding over standards – are superlative, and her stylings are marvelously supported by Tom Kitt's arrangements for a five piece onstage combo, set in the back of Christine Jones' handsome scenic design that looks a bit like a series of constellations that have been skewed into a honeycomb of interconnectivity. The theme of interrelationships is ultimately what's at the crux of "Rapture," and superficially Scott's journey to finding the bridge between two sides of herself. And though the revelations of the show may never be significantly profound, the piece itself is an exceptional entertainment.

The Village Voice A-
(Eric Grode) Along the way, there are a few magic tricks, several beautifully delivered songs from well outside the Broadway songbook (who knew the winsome melodies of Fred "Mr." Rogers contained such hard-earned melancholy and banked passion?), and a rather grotesque anecdote about semi-stardom in the era of YouTube fanboys, all of it staged with breathless flair by Michael Mayer. "Any song you live your life inside is a kind of hymn," Scott decides, as she struggles to reconcile her urge to praise with her need to be praised. Gifts like hers, especially when packaged and delivered this shrewdly, deserve a kind of worship.

Theatermania B+
(Dan Bacalzo) As she tells it, music was always her refuge, and a means of expressing herself. Not only does she have a gorgeous voice, Scott has an uncanny ability to interpret the songs she sings in a way that captures the emotional essence of the stories she's spinning. Perhaps most surprising is the layers of meaning she uncovers in several songs by Fred Rogers -- best known as the host of the children's program, Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Her breathy rendition of Rogers' "I Like to Be Told" is sung as a kind of sexual awakening, while her understated cover of his "It's You I Like" is a quiet moment of self-discovery and acceptance... Admittedly, there are moments when the writing of the piece feels strained. Moreover, the show's major drawback is that in trying to create a clear emotional arc from Scott's disparate narratives, it ends up with a rather pithy summation that is too forced to be meaningful. But if you focus on the journey, rather than the destination, there's much to enjoy in Everyday Rapture.

Bloomberg News B+
(Jeremy Gerard) Co-written with Dick Scanlan, “Everyday Rapture” rambles and ambles and never gets overly concerned with connecting one scene to the next. Even at 90 intermissionless minutes, it feels a little padded. One sequence involving YouTube and an extremely talented audience plant (Eamon Foley) goes on way too long. Still, it’s hard not to like such a likable star and the equally likable personality she creates with help from director Michael Mayer, the game back-up “Mennonettes,” Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe, and a crack quintet.

Time Out New York C-
(David Cote) Honestly, you wish Scott would stick to the bawdy, satirical routine. When she plucks at our social conscience—hatemongering zealots are sad, we know—her vehicle loses steam. Even a brief, frank report about an abortion feels both discomfitingly confessional and cliché. Michael Mayer's frisky production works well for the comic bits and the brassy musical numbers (Scott gets backup from the sturdy Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe), but there's not enough dramatic architecture to support the star's thematic ambitions. There's fun here, but rapture? Heaven must wait.

The New York Times A+ 14; Variety A+ 14; Associated Press A+ 14; The Daily News A+ 14; Lighting & Sound America A+ 14; The New Yorker A 13; Talkin' Broadway A 13; CurtainUp A 13; New York Post A 13; Theater News Online A 13; Backstage A- 12; American Theater Web A- 12; The Village Voice A- 12; Theatermania B+ 11; Bloomberg News B+ 11; TONY C- 6; TOTAL: 199/16 = 12.44 (A-)

No comments: