Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anyone Can Whistle and Inner Voices

I find it easy to agree with professional arts reviews and hard to take the opposing view. Perhaps it's my aversion to conflict and confrontation, perhaps a lack of confidence in the wake of people with more years of thinking critically from red velvet seats. But I found myself slightly at odds with a certain highly regarded local publication with respect to two recent shows.

"Anyone Can Whistle," playing through Sunday as part of City Center's Encores series, confirmed, as opposed to questioned, the collective decision of the original audience. (Other shows, particularly some by Sondheim, have shone in revival after flopping in debut.) The book by Arthur Laurents is still a mess, but several of the songs are worthy to be appreciated as individual works apart from the one for which they were created. And the best presenters of those pieces on Thursday night were Sutton Foster and Raul Esparza. I was underwhelmed by the performance of Donna Murphy. She seemed to shine more as a dancer than a singer, which worked well as part of dance sequences that added some much needed kick to the cheesy plot. (I couldn't help thinking of the less successful Off-Broadway musicals I've seen at New World Stages during certain moments.)

I was excited to see the second installment of Inner Voices, running through April 24 at 59E59, after really enjoying the previous three-parter two years ago at the now-closed Zipper Factory. I think the "solo musical" is a fascinating form that deserves to have a broader repertoire. I loved "Mosaic," the first of two pieces. I also knew Heidi Blickenstaff's work in [title of show], so I was happy to see her perform again. It gently morphed from a digitally aided childhood reminiscence to an adult crossroads imbued with contemporary concerns about legacy. The interaction with the her laptop worked really well and didn't feel as forced as it might have. It felt very true to life since so much of our milestones and conflicts are happening with a computer as intermediary or confidant these days. The music was beautiful as well.

The second act, “Whida Peru: Resurrection Tangle,” seems to be more the popular of the two among professional reviewers, but I found it disappointing. After the initial confusion of the quirky scenario settled down, it became rather thin, trying and repetitive. I also don't think the piano player acting as the voice of the spirit world really worked that well, and didn't understand how the main character's sex change was vital to the story. She seemed overstuffed with werid character traits, quirky for quirks' sake. Maybe I'm becoming less appreciative of work that is good fodder for cerebral description but doesn't produce an emotional impact. That's one of the reasons I love going to the theater. Isn't it why a lot of people do?