Monday, December 8, 2008

Slava's Snowshow


Created and staged by Slava. At The Helen Hayes Theater. (CLOSED)

Master director Peter Brook famously talked about how all theatre was about context: the context of performing this particular show in this particular place at this particular time. If we're talking about Broadway, we should probably throw in at this particular price point. The few Grinches who hold out on loving Slava's Snowshow—the nearly wordless Russian winter-themed clowning spectacular that ran for more than 1,000 performances Off-Broadway—are left scratching their heads at why it has taken over a Broadway theater and why so little of it has changed while it costs so much. Most critics, however, are overjoyed to see it again, and praise its pluck, its inventiveness, and its ability to turn even cynical NY theatre critics like Charles Isherwood into little kids again.

Backstage A
(Adam R. Perlman) It's not unusual for colorful family-friendly entertainments to douse audience members or drag them on stage. This is called audience participation, though audience harassment or audienceknapping would be more accurate. Actual audience participation is far rarer, and witnessing it at Slava's Snowshow, I'm reminded it's as wonderful a sight as the most dazzling of stage magic -- which, incidentally, this terrific clown show also provides.

Associated Press A
(Peter Santilli) A large part of what makes "Snowshow" so mesmerizing to both children and adults is the cast's mastery of the art of clowning. But the show's appeal is heightened by the deft way in which this art form is blended into a unique kind of musical theater.

Theatermania A-
(Dan Balcazo) Hilarious yet haunting... everyone should still be able to appreciate the marvelous skill of the performers and revel in the most astounding holiday show I've yet to see on Broadway.

AM New York A-
(Matt Windman)A dreamlike spectacle that mixes sadness and absurdity with lighthearted playfulness. Slava Polunin, a world-recognized Russian clown (think Bill Irwin or Marcel Marceau), staged and stars in the surreal, tragicomic show. Occasionally, you feel as though you’re not watching a circus, but a Tim Burton film or Samuel Beckett play.... Slava’s Snowshow manipulates the ability of theater to send us into a fantasy-based environment of wonder by forcefully yet creatively striking our senses.

The New York Times A-
(Charles Isherwood) Delightful...Despite its worldwide success the show has retained the feel of a handmade diversion, modest in its means but powerful in its ability to induce waves of giggles and sighs of pleasure... if I were charged with the entertainment of children under 10 and had a Broadway budget at my disposal, this would be the show I’d favor. It does not stun children with spectacle but fires their imaginations and gives them a savory taste of the sensory pleasures of live entertainment without forcing too much unsettling clown intimacy on the adults in the audience.

Variety B+
(Marilyn Stasio) Crowd-pleasing... While the proliferation of adjunct clowns certainly adds to the silliness -- at which the tall and gawky Spencer Chandler excels -- Slava's original role as the scary clown master of an indifferent, even sinister universe is also diminished. Gone, too, is the heartbreaking quality of a woebegone troupe of social outcasts struggling to survive in the eternal snowstorm of a hostile world. And that loss is not something to laugh at.

Talkin' Broadway B+
(Matthew Murray) Whether you prefer sampling childlike joy through the eyes and experiences of actual children or through the hands, feet, and mouths of artists skilled in creating ironic distillations of it for more sophisticated palates, you’ll get your fill at Slava’s Snowshow. The warming spectacle that’s just opened at the Helen Hayes, where it’s running through January 4, asks only that you be open to whatever it throws at you.

New Yorker B+
A giddy, plotless exercise in havoc, the show alternates between charming if forgettable physical-comedy bits and knock-’em-sock-’em stage effects, such as a giant cobweb-like sheet that envelops the audience. But it’s the final few minutes that truly astonish: a storm of paper blasts through the theatre, topped off by a fusillade of jumbo balloon balls.

The Daily News B+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) An ingenious amusement. It alternately makes you feel like you're in a fun house, shaken snow globe and a smooth-riding clown car.

NY Observer B
(John Heilpern) I enjoyed Slava’s Snowshow, but I didn’t find—as The Times did—that it “banishes the cares of a complicated world.” I found it increased them. It seems to me that, in spite of all Slava’s red-nosed mischief and clownishness, his Russian soul is essentially one of yearning, isolation and stress. A brilliant mime, Slava has created a unique, painterly dreamscape onstage, and within its strange enchantment, anything can happen.

Philadelphia Inquirer C-
(Howard Shapiro) If I saw Slava's Snowshow - a performance by clowns that morphs into a spectacle - at the Philly Fringe Festival, I'd say omigod, this is so cool...Theater can happen anywhere, of course, but when it's on Broadway, it's a big-bucks proposition that ought to carry big-ticket weight. This show seems a better fit for Off-Broadway - say, the Union Square Theatre, where it ran for 1,004 performances at half the Broadway price before closing last year as that theater's highest grosser.

New York Post D+
(Barbara Hoffman) Do you like to cheer and laugh on cue? Get spritzed with water or blanketed in synthetic cobwebs? If so, go and enjoy. If not, a stiff drink (and an asthma inhaler, if you have one) may help prepare you for the wordless mayhem to come.

Time Out NY C-
(David Cote) With a top ticket price of $111, this incarnation of the Off Broadway too little bang for your buck. There’s essentially one hour of material (a 20-minute intermission is sheer padding), and that consists of mildly amusing routines using battered, worn-looking props, accompanied by cheesy electronic music. No one expects clowning to be classy, but for the Broadway run, couldn’t you kick it up a notch?

AP A 13; Backstage A 13; AMNY A- 12; TM A- 12; NYTimes A- 12; Variety B+ 11; TB B+ 11; DN B+ 11; New Yorker B+ 11; NY Observer B 10; Philly Inquirer C- 6; TONY C- 6; NYPost D+ 5; ; 133 / 13 = 10.23 (B)

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