Jonathan Groff, Transport and Love and Information

Groff soars in concert, but the Irish Rep and NYTW sink!
February 27, 2014

 

Jonathan Groff @ American Songbook: 4.5/5 Stars 
Transport: 0.5/5 Stars 
Love and Information: 1/5 Stars

Adorable, charming and talented, Jonathan Groff is on a roll. Fresh off his new starring turns in HBO’s Looking, Disney’s Frozen and HBO’s soon-to-be released The Normal Heart (in which he plays Craig Donner), Groff returned to his musical theater roots February 15 for two shows at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series in The Allen Room at the Time Warner Center. With snowfall visible in the window behind him and accompanied by a crack-shot trio of musicians led by Mary-Mitchell Campbell at the piano, Groff essayed his way through an eclectic program of Broadway and pop fare with an ease that belied the fact that this was his debut cabaret performance. The highlights included a raucous “Moving Too Fast” from The Last Five Years, a heartbreaking “I Got Lost in His Arms” from Annie Get Your Gun, “Imagine My Surprise” from Personals, “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George, and finally, a stirring “Left Behind” from Spring Awakening.

Groff, who has superb comic timing, also scored laughs with a hilarious “musical apology” by Christine Lavin, as well as a medley that interwove the works of Stephen Sondheim and Britney Spears—believe it! But it was Groff’s encore of “Goodnight, My Someone” from The Music Man that encapsulated why his winning combination of honesty and open-heartedness make him so loveable.

Though the Irish Rep’s productions aren’t always stellar, audiences can usually count on their shows being at least competent and professional in quality. Unfortunately, they have a serious misfire on their hands with Transport, which may be the worst show I’ve ever seen at this venerable and invaluable Off-Broadway mainstay. A tedious (if true) story of Irish women convicted of petty crimes who are transported to Australia in the 1830s, Transport’s well-meaning creators, Thomas Keneally (book) and Larry Kirwan (music and lyrics), have crafted a musical that’s amateurish and embarrassing. Directed and designed with a drab, leaden hand by veteran theater pro Tony Walton, Transport features melodies that are barely rudimentary while the lyrics are shockingly awful. In order to create rhymes, Kirwan constantly places the emphasis on the wrong syllable of a word (for example, coun-try instead of coun-try) and invents whole new ways to pronounce words in order to make a rhyme. As for Keneally’s book, it’s just ridiculous. Despite the presence of handsome leading men like Patrick Cummings (who was terrific in the Irish Rep’s Donnybrook! and New Girl in Town) and Edward Watts (Scandalous, It’s a Bird…), Transport revolves around the women. Unfortunately, with the exception of Jessica Grové, the singing—like most of Transport—is wince-inducing. I fled at the intermission and urge you to skip it altogether.

Equally repellent is Caryl Churchill’s pretentious Love and Information, now playing at the Minetta Lane courtesy of New York Theater Workshop. The show is an endless series of short vignettes or scenes, most of which are only 15 to 30 seconds, that are unrelated and, much to the audience’s dismay, utterly pointless. Set in a frame of blinding white light, Churchill and director James MacDonald subject us to dozens and dozens of snippets of conversation or “life,” each bookended by ear-splitting sound effects and music. Is this really the gifted playwright who gave us Cloud Nine, Top Girls and Serious Money? After 20 or 30 minutes of Love and Information, you’ll have had enough. Sadly, unless you’re sitting on an aisle, you’ll be trapped for an hour and 50 minutes of this self-indulgent twaddle.  

American Songbook plays through Jun 12 at various locations, AmericanSongbook.org. Transport plays through Apr 6 at Irish Rep (132 W 22nd St), IrishRep.org. Love and Information plays through Mar 23 at the Minetta Lane (18 Minetta Lane), NYTW.org.

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