I know how I had griped about how I hated Shakeapeare’s play, “All’s well that ends well”, as it has very less value and is male chauvinistic as far as Bertram, the hero is concerned. But I decided to watch the University of Michigan’s Musical theater Department’s version again as many critics say that for this particularly complex play, the interpretation (and of course, the acting) is what makes or breaks the play.
Set in the nice spacious and quaint Arthur Miller Theatre, the cast and crew changed the time period from the 1600s to a more modern setting in the 1950s and somehow, Helena spouting dialogues from the 1600s in a black evening gown instead of in a Elizabethan Costume somehow didn’t seem out of place at all. The set was very minimalistic and it was all ok for the low-cost production which thus paved way for the actors to show off their skills.
The first half started off nicely but the pace was kind of slow with only a few moments of brilliance- Parolles’ monologue on virginity(“To speak on the part of virginity is to accuse your mothers, which is most infallible disobedience”), the scene with the boring King and his even more bored counts and the banter between the Countess of Rousillon and Lavatch, a fool in her pay. When I stepped out for intermission, there was a long line for the free show at the Basement Arts and I felt that I could have gone there instead. But I prevailed and the second half was not so bad.
The pace picked up and there were lots of interesting happenings- the soldiers having fun at Parolles’ expense and the scene where a head-over-heels-in-love Bertram woos Diana, the “bed trick” and the building up of events for the climax. The beautiful actress who played Helena (Laura Reed, a sophomore) did a remarkable job. Lavatch the fool was brilliant as well.
Laura Reed as Helena
Then the end came and well, this wasn’t as great. When the young, chocolate boy faced Bertram (played by Tyler Jones who was very convincing as a naive dandy till then) promises to be a faithful husband to Helena and “love her dearly, ever, ever dearly, you are like “What, how did that happen now?”.
In “All’s well that ends well”, Bertram can be intrepreted as a man who truly falls in love with his wife or as a man who matures into a more responsible person. In this version, it felt like a man who was more resigned to his fate. I didn’t quite like the way it ended and no offense to the actors, the end could have done better.
But I won’t blame it on the actors as then again, “All’s well that ends well” was not a very popular play even in the Bard of Avon’s days. The play lacks finality unlike the other plays and you don’t find the spectacular twists as in other plays of Shakespeare. Is it a comedy or a tragedy? Marriage is described as a contract and there is no clarity in the purpose of the play. It is a tough play to choose and the actors’ efforts were definitely commendable.
I had seen “All’s well that ends well” performed by London’s NAtional Theatre and broadcast telecast live at the Michigan Theater in partnership with UMS as part of the “National theatre Live” series. In that version, the actress who played Helena was flawless and Parolles stole the show with his bravado and superb comic timing. As for Bertram, he was a superb actor and when he delivered that last lone line, it was not so bad.
Overall, in the university of michigan musical theater department’s version, there was a continuity in the play and the transitions were smoothly done. The sound and stage effects were good too. This was a brave attempt and one well done.
University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama
The thing that struck me most as the play started in the archaic Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre was the simplicity of the props and the lack of a set and how close to reality and a make-believe world this was. The theatre was filled with a lot of elderly people, as if to reminisce an age gone by. How would the young people of today fit into a play from the 1900s? That’s what I was curious about.
There were two sets of tables with three chairs each separated by a lone street lamp. Two staircases,one each at the far end of the stage represent the rest of the houses of the two families, the Gibbs’ and the Webbs. The play started with the Stage Manager walking in and addressing the audience directly. This was a nice twist and it felt so right!
Here’s a brief synopsis of the plot for the uninitiated. Dr.Gibbs and Editor Webb are neighbors in a fictional town with one street that could actually be anywhere in America. But we are told that it is a town named Grover’s Corners, in New Hampshire. Their wives are friends and go to the Choir together. Their children go to the same school. George Gibbs falls in love with Emily Webb and they marry. The plot involves around their lives as well as other characters like Howie the milkman who are present in order to show the continuity of life in the quaint little town. In three acts, we see the lives of these characters as they go from life to death. So what is special about this play?
Everything! The lack of the set, makes it necessary for the actors to set the scene by their actions while leaving no room for errors in interpretation. Mrs.Webb stringing beans, the two wives setting the breakfast table, the young ones falling in love, standing ladders used to represent their houses- these are all poignant scenes where we are made to focus on the characters on stage. Every action and every line spoken by the actor thus becomes important for the success of the play.
The stage manager (the narrator who did a marvellous job) weaves in and out informing us about the characters and also acting as one (like a grandma hit by George’s baseball or the preacher) in some cases.
Act One centers on the daily lives of the people in the town. Each character tells us something about the dreary reality of human existence and questions its eternity. For instance, Mr. Stimson, the drunken organist who is the center of attention of the town’s gossipmongers, reflects a darker side of ourselves. Howie the milkman represents a laborer who is happy with his lot. Mrs.Soames lends some comedy.
Act two aptly titled”Love and Marriage” precisely is that. George falls in love with a bright Emily when she tries to help him with his math homework. They resolve to be together over ice cream sodas. The innocent young love is so touching. When they get married, they have their whole youth in front of them and look so fragile but hopeful to face the world. And so what happens in Act three comes as a shock.
In Act three, Emily dies in childbirth and she joins her relatives (the now departed Mrs. Gibbs and her brother Wally Webb) and her fellow townsfolk in the cemetery. This scene was really well done. There were white chairs and each “dead” character sat still in clothes that they would be most remembered in. This scene was so poignant and full of questions- a reminder of the transience of the human state.
Emily doesn’t want to forget the life she lived and despite the warnings from the dead, she decides to visit her past life. She decides to pick a day and Mrs.Gibbs says, “Take the least important day in your life,that will be important enough.”
Emily’s ghost returns to Earth to re-live just one day, her 12th birthday, and realizes just how much life should be valued, “every, every minute.” Poignantly, she asks the Stage Manager whether anyone realizes life while they live it, and is told, “No. Saints and poets, maybe. They do some.” She then returns to her grave. The Stage Manager concludes the play with a soliloquy and wishes the audience a good night.
The play is a wake up call focusing on the “stop to smell the roses” theme. But when it came out, I am sure it was considered to be way ahead of its times.
I was worried about the relevance of such a play in today’s times. But under Jerry Schwiebert’s superb directing, today’s teenagers with their iphones and ipods and short attention span, did such a superb job. In the Q & A session that followed, they said that it was very easy to slip into the character once they knew what the character did. Not for a single moment did any one of the characters feel out of place or time.
The walk back home was slow as I enjoyed the lovely winter night and took it all in.
In deference to Thornton Wilder, no pictures to distract attention from the writing.
You can never get enough of Shakespeare. I caught a part of a soap the other day at the airport and suddenly it struck me as to how many of the twists were taken straight out of a Shakespearen play. We owe so much to the Bard of Avon- for his immense contributions to the English language, his insight into human nature, his amusing and wise quotes and so much more!
This week, University of Michigan’s Musical Theater Department, presents “All’s well that ends well“. Much as I adore Shakespeare, the play “All’s well that ends well” leaves me a bit unhappy as there are parts of it that I just don’t get.
“All’s well that ends well” is about a lowborn beauty Helena who falls in love with a foppish count, Bertram. Due to a set of circumstances, Bertram ends up marrying Helena but he “hates” her. Bertram lays down certain conditions that need to be fulfilled for Helena to become his true wife and goes out to the battlefield. The rest of the play is about how Helena tricks Bertram into accepting her after fulfilling all his ridiculous conditions.
Well, what I can’t get about this play is why a smart woman would go behind an apparently foolish guy who doesn’t see the value in her? Maybe it was so in Shakespearen times!
Ok, so if I don’t like the play that much, why am I going? Well, on paper, it is very tough to understand why Bertram would refuse Helena or why Helena would still want Bertram. But on stage, this confusion can be sorted out by the acting of the performers (which I will tell you in my review!). Will director Malcolm Tulip help smooth the hate-to-love transition convincingly and make it believable? That is what I am looking forward to!
On a certain level, it does show a smarter woman who knows what she wants (why is not ours to question) and gets it and I do love that part. As is typical of Shakespearen comedies, there is a lot of laughs and double entendres in this play. So, do come to the play and may it all end well!
What: Play “All’s well that ends well”
Where: Arthur Miller Theatre at U-M’s Walgreen Drama Center, 1226 Murfin Avenue
Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Our Town” is being staged by the University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama, under the direction of Jerry Schwiebert, between Feb 18-Feb 21.
The play is quoted to be “the quintessential American play on life, love and death”. When it made its debut in 1938, it created a buzz for its minimal props, no sets and even lesser scenery. The plot revolves around the everyday lives of two young people, George and Emily who fall in love with each other. The complex script takes us through their lives alongwith those of the other townsfolk. Hence, it’s also the character portrait of a typical American town with other supporting characters depicting the typical routines and life in a town.
Without the help of a set,scenery, etc., the complex script relies on superb acting skills of the performers. It will be interesting to see the director’s take on the play and it’s relevance to today’s life.
Where: Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m.;
Feb. 19 & 20 at 8 p.m.;
Feb. 21 at 2 p.m.
Tickets at the League Ticket Office ($9 with student ID).
‘Macbeth’ is Shakespeare’s most intriguing and bloody tragedies ever. It has all the elements for a perfect thriller. We have sinister witches with their equivocal prophecies, a power- hungry wife who eggs her husband on to get a crown that doesn’t rightfully belong to him, a war-hardened man who kills his way to the throne, visits from ghosts, lots of bloodshed (like in Tarantino’s “Inglorious basterds’- this one’s not for the queasy too!), cunning plots and then of course, the tragic and dramatic climax. Though it was Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, it was one that left the readers/viewers with shudders. No one can forget Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and lamenting thus- “Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!”
The U of M production of ‘Macbeth’ by the Department of Theatre & Drama and directed by Philip Kerr, is set in a military hospital during the early 20th century. ‘Macbeth’ is about the erosion of the soul by guilt and how one’s deeds will catch up with them eventually. War also ravages the soul quite a bit, often leaving everybody involved with a question as to its point (if not convinced, see “Saving Private Ryan”, my personal favorite among war movies) . All things are fair in love and war – and in politics and in gaining power! So it will be extremely interesting to see how Philip Kerr’s production is staged and how they portray the story as this play has so much of potential for the actors to really bring out their talents.
They say that Shakespeare had used real witch spells and that “the Bard’s play” brings bad luck to actors and the theatres, so much so that actors and other theatre people often consider it bad luck to mention Macbeth by name while inside a theatre. So people, don’t mention “Macbeth” inside th Power Center and bring a horseshoe for some extra good luck, ok?
Dec 10th @ 7.30 pm; Dec 11th & 12th @ 8 pm; Dec 13th @ 2 pm- Power Center
Tickets @ the Michigan League Ticket Office (Students $9)
Krithika for [art]seen
P.S. Hmmm… did the weather in Ann Arbor get so bad because ‘Macbeth’ is playing and there was “Double, double toil and trouble;fire burn and cauldron bubble”?
Patti LuPone’s “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda” at the Hill Auditorium on Nov 20, 09
You gotta love a woman who starts a show with “Go Blue” and “Buckeyes suck”. To those of you who don’t know Patti Lupone (come on now, really? 😉 ), she’s one of the divas of Broadway whom you just gotta see. If you love musicals, then you would have definitely come across her.
The list of her awards- including Tonys, Best Actress in a Musical, etc. – is almost as long as her list of stage credits. She is one of the most illustrious stars of Broadway. Her critically acclaimed roles include Evita (she was the original Evita!), Sweeney Todd, “Fantine” in Les Miserables, Rose in Gypsy, just to name a wee few.
Patti LuPone was in town yesterday for her one-woman show “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda”. This show is about the roles and songs that she could have, should have and would have done “had she been asked or had she been around or had she been a guy” (I faithfully quote her). She also delighted us with the roles she did play (oh yeah, she has had a great run).
Now, in concerts, the relationship between an audience and the artist is so different. Some artists are so god-like (and hence so cool and aloof) that the listeners, with a mingled feeling of respect and awe, sit up straight in their chairs, afraid to shift their bulk around. You can compare this to watching Zeus in heaven use his thunderbolts or the Berliner Philharmoniker perform, for instance.
Some other artists are so down-to-earth and warm that you feel as if you have been invited to a party in the artist’s very own living room and you kick off your shoes and swing your legs up on the chair in front of you. This would be like going to a party that playful musically-gifted Hermes throws or watching Patti (see, she made us feel so at home that I feel like I have known her for a really long time and I want to call her by her first name instead of the socially appropriate Ms. LuPone) perform.
Now about the show.
There was only Ms. Lupone’s magnificent brassy (and unique) voice and Mr. i-never-miss-a-beat-or-tune Joseph Thalken’ s piano sounds on stage.
Ms. Lupone, started off with a lovely opening melody followed by “An English Teacher” from “Bye, Bye, Birdie”. She then regaled us with tales about her own career in between the songs. She was just so hilarious that you gotta see it. There was never a dull moment to the show. Her choice of songs was great and that is very important for any artist. Had Patti played those roles, she would have definitely owned these too. Throughout her show that night, you could see the stamina, the mannerisms and the unmatchable multi-tasking ability of a true Broadway actress. Only an actress from Broadway can sing, act, pose, mimic, dance and look fabulous while doing it all.
Here’s a list of songs that she performed and my comments about them. I wish they had posted the list in the program notes. But then again, it would have ruined the surprise. I am giving this list as I want people to go check these out. They are the perfect songs for a gloomy winter day (sigh, we will be having so many of those soon).
An English Teacher- Bye Bye Birdie (hilarious!)
A Wonderful Guy- South Pacific
Don’t rain on my parade- Barbra Streisand (Oh, this was so power-packed and she rocked this song)
Easy to be hard- Hair (the high notes she hit in these were just mind-blowing)
Everything’s coming up Roses- Gypsy
She won a Tony award for her performance in this musical. You will know why when you listen to her.
You mustn’t be discouraged- Fade out Fade in (my second favorite)
This was her audition song for Juilliard. This song is set in one of those make-you-feel-good tunes…until you hear the lyrics.
“When you think you’ve hit the bottom
And you’re feeling mighty low,
You mustn’t feel discouraged –
There’s always one step further down you can go.”
The song only gets better and everybody was cracking up and I was laughing so hard that I almost fell off my seat (the guy sitting next to me didn’t notice as he was busy guffawing too).
Meadowlark- The Baker’s Wife
A boy Like that/ I have a love- West side story
Oh, this was so good- like eating fresh Creme Brulee at La Dolce Vita (hey, i just LOVE their desserts and am not advertising for them, ok).
A quiet thing- Flora the Red Menace (Originally sung by Liza Minelli)
Never Never Land- Peter Pan
This song is from the 1960 production of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, with Mary Martin as Peter. Aww…this was so good. I would love to be in a place where time is never planned. Wouldn’t we all?
Don’t Cry for me Argentina- Evita
My first favorite. This was so awesome. This is “her” song and she owns it. It doesn’t get better than this. You could see her transform into Evita (or Evita as we know her from musicals) almost instantly. The humor was gone and was replaced with the pleading in her voice that also conveyed power and charisma. I had to see it to believe it. This alone was worth going to the show.
Oh what a beautiful morning- Frank Sinatra (It was definitely a very beautiful evening for me.)
You just gotta listen to this song. Patti never missed a beat and it just suited her voice so well. She just fired all her guns and sang it at a faster pace than Robert Preston. I love Patti’s version better now. Wish she would release a recording of that. Sigh! Patti, are you listening?
How to handle a woman- King Arthur’s lament from Camelot
This “duet” was awesome. Mr.Thalken did the background vocals while flipping the pages of the sheet music while continuing his smooth playing of course. I just love it when a person multi-tasks. 🙂
As long as he needs me- Oliver!
She then did a Sondheim Set. What a great composer Stephen Sondheim is!
I never do anything twice (the Madam’s song)– from the film The Seven-per-cent solution
Anyone can whistle-Anyone can whistle
As per the lyrics: “What’s hard is simple. What’s natural comes hard. ” What ??? I think will have to see the original musical to understand.
Send in the clowns– A Little Night Music
My Way- Frank Sinatra (loved this). With this perfectly apt song, Patti ended the absolutely beautiful evening.
Did you think that we let her go so easily? We begged for more. She sang Sondheim’s “Ladies who lunch” from the musical “Company”, Kurt Wiell’s “September Song” and a classic Sinatra “The way you look tonight” (she sang this without the mike and it was just so beautiful).
We were greedy and still wouldn’t let her go. The evening ended with the entire audience standing and Patti singing Sinatra’s “A 100 years from today” sans the piano and sans the microphone. The air was electrifying and there was complete silence except for Patti’s golden voice. The scene is still etched in my mind and that I feel is what every artist strives for- the undying adoration of a devout audience.
Still enchanted, Krithika, for [art]seen
Krithika is learning to whistle and if you hear sounds like the squeak of a trapped mouse or a horribly out-of-tune piccolo on campus, just ignore.
Disclaimer: If I have left out any song from the night’s performance or cited the wrong song, do lemme know. Folks, I am striving to be politically correct here, ok. 😉