Saturday, 9 November 2013

THE LANDING by Greg Pierce and John Kander at the Vineyard Theatre

     THE LANDING is a charming, if insubstantial chamber musical from playwright Greg Pierce, whose SLOWGIRL was the first production at the Lincoln Center Theatre's new Claire Tow Theatre, and octogenarian songwriter John Kander of Kander and Ebb fame. Perhaps I should say three musicals; for this 105 minute show is comprised of three one-act musicals, all about the relationship of a boy to the grown up world. In the first, ANDRA, a lonely, nerdy boy is befriended and, he thinks, betrayed by the astronomy-loving carpenter who is redoing his family's kitchen. With a father who is always traveling and an obsessive-compulsive mother, the carpenter becomes, briefly, a surrogate father figure. In the second mini-musical, THE BRICK, very odd things happen when a boy visits his eccentric aunt and uncle. Finally, in THE LANDING, a gay couple think they have adopted the perfect son, but the boy turns out to be too perfect to be real. All three mini-musicals are performed by a cast of four, headed by David Hyde Pierce, who always seems totally at home on stage, so at home that he doesn't have to work very hard.
     Pierce's little dramas all veer toward the surreal. The first and third are quite moving while the joke of the second wears a bit thin. Kander's music sounds like John Kander -- a bit old fashioned for these contemporary stories -- Kander's music was always more convincing in show set in the 1920s. It's catchy, as always, but not always convincingly in character.
     The shows are played basically on a bare stage with only necessary furniture. Walter Bobbie has staged them effectively and the members of the talented cast get to demonstrate their versatility. If I had to rank them in order of impressiveness of performance, I would start with Paul Anthony Stewart, convincingly complex and enigmatic in Andra, hilarious in multiple male and female roles in THE BRICK and appropriately overwhelmed with his new role as parent in THE LANDING. New York theatre is now filled with child performers, but young Frankie Seratch is a special case. This kid is really a good actor with a different personality for each of the boys he plays. David Hyde Pierce doesn't have much to do in ANDRA, but he is an excellent, funny song and dance man in THE BRICK. I wish he had brought more range to THE LANDING. Julia Murney is appropriately zany in THE BRICK, but has lesser roles in the other two musicals. There's a four piece band that seems perfect for this little show.
     THE LANDING isn't going to go down in musical history. It's nowhere near as good as FUN HOME, a few blocks south at the Public. However, as a Vineyard Theatre member, I paid only $25 to see it. At those bargain prices, it offered a delightful afternoon and, on occasion, a bit more than that.
THE LANDING. Book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, Music by John Kander. Vineyard Theatre. November 9, 2013.

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