Scary Good, Scary Bad

Cristian Ortega and Rebecca Benson in “Let the Right One In,” at St. Ann’s Warehouse through March 8. | PAVEL ANTONOV

Cristian Ortega and Rebecca Benson in “Let the Right One In,” at St. Ann’s Warehouse through March 8. | PAVEL ANTONOV

Let the Right One In,” the stage adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and screenplay is perfectly horrible — and that’s meant as the highest praise. The contemporary vampire tale manages to have an enormous heart, while delivering delicious chills. Beautifully staged by John Tiffany, it is a mix of vampire lore and teenage angst. Oskar is a lonely boy who is bullied at school. When the strange, apparently teenage Eli moves in next door, a friendship develops between the two lost souls.

The staging is poetic and lyrical, even given all of Eli’s violence and the fear it instills in a small town. Oskar’s search for love and connection is heartbreaking, as is Eli’s grief at being trapped as a teenager for eternity. Despite the story’s ghastly nature, the real conflict is within the characters, which gives the piece an immediacy and tension that touches us and never flags. Cristian Ortega as Oskar is a superb mix of innocence and desperation that ultimately leads him to make a risky, grown up, but ultimately doomed choice. Rebecca Benson is simply amazing as Eli, with a ferocious economy in her performance that makes it impossible to take one’s eyes off her.

This is theatrical storytelling at its finest with a cinematic sensibility and a spare, focused production that manages to be both chilling and heartwarming.

Wonderful vampires, low stakes Vegas, dismal Sondheim

“Honeymoon in Vegas” achieves the surprising feat of being both shiny and dull. Jack loves Besty, but he’s an ordinary guy who promised his mother on her deathbed he wouldn’t marry. Determined to overcome this “curse,” especially since mom’s nagging ghost is apt to show up at inopportune moments, Jack and Betsy flee to Vegas to wed. There, they meet Tommy who is still in mourning for his dead wife. Betsy is the spitting image of the dead wife, and Tommy seeks to replace her by beating the naïve Jack at poker and winning a weekend with Betsy. This is the set up for comedic scenes as Jack grows a pair and determines to win back Betsy. Throw in some Hawaiian idols, skydiving Elvises, and cute gangsters, and you’ve got exactly the kind of show that “The Drowsy Chaperone” lampooned.

It’s all in good fun, and any weightier concerns or moral questions are skated over in the service of entertainment. The shallow, plot-driven book by Andrew Bergman and perfectly pallid score by Jason Robert Brown are the essence of Vegas entertainment, where substance is to be avoided at all costs. There’s a reason that Broadway musicals are cut down to 90 minutes with no intermission out there.

Tony Danza and Rob McClure in “Honeymoon in Vegas,” at the Nederlander Theatre. | JOAN MARCUS

Tony Danza and Rob McClure in “Honeymoon in Vegas,” at the Nederlander Theatre. | JOAN MARCUS

Fortunately, there are pleasures to be had. Denis Jones’ choreography is outstanding, combining traditional Vegas-style movement with contemporary athleticism. Anna Louizos’ high-tech sets are fun. Then there’s the cast. Brynn O’Malley is terrific as Betsy, an ingénue with an edge. Tony Danza does his best song-and-dance routines and perfectly embodies classic Vegas charm with just a touch of sleaze. Nancy Opel does a suitably over-the-top turn as the ghost of Jack’s mother. Rob McClure as Jack, however, steals the show. With his great comic timing, terrific physical comedy, and slightly nerdy sex appeal, he gives the show what heart it has.

This really is a throwback to the 1960s in many ways, not least in that it’s another diverting musical that won’t make history but may create some pleasant memories.

When a production concept overwhelms and obscures the material — particularly in staging a much beloved show — disappointment is the result. So it is with the messy, largely inept production of “Into the Woods” now at Roundabout. This production seems even more pointless given that, for a fraction of the cost, one can see the excellent movie version currently in release.

The show is a collection of classic fairytales and characters who get what they want but then get a rude awakening when happily ever after collides with reality. Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, who cast themselves in leading roles, the aptly named Fiasco Theater production is a confusing collection of elements lifted from the more talented Alex Timbers (who helmed “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and is known for his artistic chaos and contemporary wit) and John Doyle (whose spare Sondheim productions with actors playing instruments have been revelatory). The directors here have neither the insight nor musicality of Doyle or Timbers, and what emerges is a gimmicky, juvenile, and excruciatingly tedious production.

For some reason, the show seems set inside a piano; at least that’s what Derek McLane’s rope and found object set implies. Like any number of myriad ideas in this production, this seems to have no coherent rationale other than to promote the directors’ purported cleverness. What becomes a series of disjointed set pieces robs the show of emotional heft and its deeper themes. Why is the wolf a taxidermy wolf head used as a puppet? After the initial laugh, the trope can’t sustain itself and, worse, robs the role of its sexuality and Jungian themes.

All of this might be tolerable were the music well done. It’s not. The amateurish musicality is as painful as it is frustrating. The plinky piano reduction of the score by orchestrators Frank Galgano and Matt Castle is augmented by actors at the sides playing instruments. Worse yet, the actors for the most part can’t sing very well, and while Sondheim’s music is not about bel canto, it does require technique and musicality.

Brody as the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince had horrible pitch problems at the performance I saw; his reedy voice is unsupported and unable to hold the longer notes. Jennifer Mudge as the Witch is so emotionally disconnected from the music that she might as well be in a third-rate nightclub.

Only Patrick Mulryan offers respite. He can sing and, as Jack, he is the one cast member who seems invested in his character. His “Giants in the Sky” is one of the production’s few bright spots.

The fact that the final moments of the show — when the cast is simply standing downstage and doing the material — are so affecting is a tribute to the power of the original material. The rest of this annoying, ego-saturated “Woods,” however, should be clear cut and burnt.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN | St. Ann’s Warehouse, 29 Jay St. at John St., DUMBO | Through Mar. 8; schedule varies | $40-75 at stannswarehouse.org or 718-254-8779 | Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS | Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St. | Tue., Thu. at 7 p.m.; Wed., Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $69-$199 at ticketmaster.com or 800-653-800 | Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission

INTO THE WOODS | Roundabout at the Laura Pels Theatre | 111 W. 46th St. | Tue.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m. | $99 at roundabouthteatre.org or 212-719-1300 | Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission

 

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