Glengarry Glen Ross – A Broadway Review

This afternoon, Katie and I went to a matinee of the new version of David Mamet’s *Glengarry Glen Ross*. We sat in the Orchestra section. This review contains no spoilers.

For those not familiar with the Pultizer winning play, I’ll quote the [official site](’s synopsis:

> GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is a riveting account of the competing personalities in a seedy Chicago real estate office, where it’s business as usual until a high-stakes sales contest takes a shocking turn. Welcome to the fast and furious world of American entrepreneurship, where lying, cheating and stealing are all in a day’s work… and where the salesman will stop at nothing to close a deal.

It was made into a [popular movie]( in 1992 with an amazing ensemble cast: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce, and Jude Ciccolella. The play includes all of these parts save Alec Baldwin’s. The three most notable cast members for the stage version are Alan Alda (playing Jack Lemmon’s character of Shelley Levene), Liev Schreiber (playing Pacino’s firey Ricky Roma), and Jeffrey Tambor (picking up Alan Arkin’s George Aaronow).

Over the past 6 years or so – I saw the movie first when I was in college, long after its release – I’ve grown a huge appreciation for the movie, with its classic roles, relentless dialog, and tense pacing. I had high hopes for the stage version, and it mostly met my expectations. I apologize in advance about what follows, as all my thoughts on the play largely revolve around comparisons to the film. A point by point breakdown in no particular order:

**+ Liev Schreiber and Jeffrey Tambor were excellent.**

I never got much of a handle on the character of George in the movie – I had always considered him the weakest of the bunch in the movie. But Tambor poured a hell of a lot into the character, giving him a real personality that was unique to the play, even despite what would seem like similarities in manner to Shelley. I was a big fan of Jeffrey coming into this from his work on *Arrested Development*, and this only cemented it further.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Liev Schreiber; I had my doubts at first at his ability to fill in the shoes of a character I have such a strong connotation with Al Pacino for, but he did it admirably. I’ve previously only seen Liev in *The Manchurian Candidate*, and my impression of him coming in was favorable – his take on the role was unique and powerful in its own way.

**= Alan Alda and Gordon Clapp were decent.**

I should preface this by saying I’ve never seen the play before today, only the film, and so perhaps Alda nailed the part – but compared to the Shelley Levine character I’ve known, it felt like Alda was forcing it a bit, rambling a bit too much and just going too broad. He didn’t ruin the play by any stretch – his acting was still good – but I just felt he was too overzealous at times. Perhaps it was because he was laying the accent on too thick.

Gordon Clapp, taking up Ed Harris’ role of Dave Moss, was great in his interactions with Jeffrey Tambor but lacked the punch needed when facing off against Liev. Not bad, just not great.

(Ironically, both of these men, along with Liev, are the ones nominated for Tony’s. I’m pulling for Liev.)

**- Fred Weller and Tom Wopat were forgettable.**

Fred Weller, picking up Kevin Spacey’s role, spent a lot of his time on stage not saying anything, and his body language didn’t convey anything. Spacey had a real edge in the role, and Mr. Weller was just lacking it.

Tom “Luke Duke” Wopat was showing the wrong sort of desperation as James Lingk; while Jonathan Pryce had nailed down a man who is backed into a corner by everyone he deals with, Wopat came across as wishy washy and didn’t leave much of an impression on me by the end of the play.

**+ The set design was amazing.**

If you go to see this play after reading my review, you may sit through Act I wondering what the hell I was thinking. But the second Act II starts, there is an audible gasp in the audience when you see the set. It’s one of the most detailed, functional sets I’ve seen yet, and it’s mighty impressive. I find myself crossing my fingers for Santo Loquasto – he deserves the set design Tony.

**= The first act was sort of blah.**

This is Mamet’s fault, not anyone in this cast; the structure of the first act requires too much piecing bits together through snippets of dialog, too much trying to connect people through disjoint scenes, and a real lack of flow. Luckily, it’s different enough from the film where people who have seen the movie aren’t going to be bored out of their skulls.

**+ The second act was electric.**

This also falls on Mamet’s shoulders, thankfully. There are no breaks in the second act, and it all flows beautifully. At the intermission, I was wondering if the play was worth seeing – the second act sealed the deal completely.

**? It’s very weird to be in the audience.**

The movie doesn’t come across as funny at all, just suspenseful and tense. While the play certainly has some intentional humor written into it, there were lots of instances where there’d be laughter just at swearing or cuts at other actors. The audience was also predominantly old, presumably because they all wanted to see Alan Alda. Not a good or bad thing, just strange.


In conclusion: The cast is above average and works well together, and while the first act is a little weak, the second act is more than worth the cost of admission. I recommend catching this in matinee whether you’ve seen the movie a thousand times or not seen it at all.

Glengarry Glen Ross runs through August 28th at the Royale Theatre on West 45th St.


Review: Spamalot

Last night, Katie and I joined my parents at the fourth NYC preview showing of Spamalot, “a new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail'”, at the Shubert Theatre. This is my best attempt as a full-fledged review.

There are light spoilers below, so don’t read on if you want to be completely surprised when you see the show.

General Information

The story runs very much parallel to that of the movie, although with a fair number of changes. The introduction of the knights are consolidated into characters from other bits, thus streamlining the first act. There are a number of bits removed from the story just because it’d be difficult to cram it all in *and* add musical numbers – more on this later. Finally, as there is a large amount of riffing off musicals in general, there is a subplot involving…well, Broadway.

Tim Curry plays King Arthur; David Hyde Pierce takes on the role of Sir Robin and some ancillary characters; Hank Azaria (in his Broadway debut) plays Sir Lancelot, Tim the Enchanter, the primary Knight of Ni, and the French Taunter. There are five other primary cast members, most noticably the newly-added Lady Of The Lake, played by Sara Ramirez. There are sixteen ensemble members in a variety of roles. The only Python member actually used in the musical is John Cleese, who provides the voice of God (admittedly, not live).

The show runs just over two hours, including a fifteen minute intermission. Tickets are currently ranging from $35 (back of the upper balcony) to over $100 for orchestra.

Repeating Material – The Purist Problem

There are very few people who only merely like Monty Python. Most every fan can quote excessively from the shows and/or the movies. A large number of the purists will, by this point in their lives, know Holy Grail by heart and frequently bother their co-workers by quoting it at great lengths. I am a moderate purist, able to riff on most sketches and movies and even some of the CD material. I feel I have a good grounding in Python.

A lot of purists will be confused by this show, because a number of very famous bits from the movie have been cut out. Here’s a quick breakdown:

In The Musical: The Opening Credits (see next section), You’ve Just Got Two Coconuts, The Monks With Boards, Bring Out Your Dead, Dennis the Peasant, The Historian, Camelot, A Blessing From The Lord, The French Castle / Wooden Rabbit, Sir Robin and his Minstrels, The Black Knight, The Knights Who Say Ni, Prince Herbert, Tim The Enchanter/The Killer Rabbit

Not In The Musical: She’s A Witch, The Three Headed Knight, The Castle Anthrax, The Old Man In Scene 12, The Bridge Of Death, The Great Black Beast Of Aaauugh, The Castle Aaaagh

Note that a handful of those bits listed as still being in the musical have been modified from what you remember, especially Camelot and Prince Herbert, but also The Knights Who Say Ni, The French Castle, and much of Sir Robin’s material.

Of also questionable effect to the purists is that a number of portions of other Python bits have been inserted into the musical. There are a variety of references to The Parrot Sketch, Silly Elections, The Fish Slapping Dance, The Lumberjack Song, and plenty of others I’ve probably forgotten by now. And strangest of all, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life makes not only an appearance but also gets a karaoke-sing-along reprise. (Having never really been a fan of the original song, I don’t think it’s a great choice here, but all the other references made me snicker at the least.

So the issue is this – if you are a hardcore Python nerd, you will likely hate this show, as many things you know and love have been changed or left on the cutting board floor. Your enjoyment of this show may hinge on one or two bits being exactly the way you remember them, or at least being in the show – please use the guide above and save yourself potential pain if you’re the sort of person I’ve been describing. Personally, I thought the changes were fine.

If you’re not familiar with Holy Grail or haven’t seen it in a while, there’s a good chance you will greatly enjoy the content of the show.

One final issue: There’s a lot of audience cheering in recognition of certain bits.

About Finland

This is a spoiler: There’s a great fakeout at the beginning where the cast misheard “England” as “Finland” and the opening scene is a full Finnish fish-slapping song (complete with appropriate dance), followed by some singing from Finland, Finland, Finland. There’s also a good four pages in the playbill written by Michael Palin about the show you’re seeing – “Dik Od Triaanenen Fol (Finns Ain’t What They Used To Be)”. In fact, there’s a lot of comedy scattered around the playbill – read it cover to cover.

The Cast

When I had originally heard the casting, I was strangely curious, as I couldn’t picture David Hyde Pierce fitting in with Tim Curry or Hank Azaria to mesh into a Python show. But as it turns out, the three of them are perfectly cast, and not because they’re all fine actors. The reason this show clicks so well is that each adapts into the roles of existing Python players seemlessly. Tim Curry perfectly captures the slightly arrogent royality that Graham Chapman played in the movie. David Hyde Pierce picked up the Eric Idle portions, and his mannerisms are spot on. Hank Azaria sort of draws a double duty, getting both Michael Palin and John Cleese’s parts, and as a guy with a huge range of voice talent, he swings through it all perfectly.

In fact, I’m going to throw an extra shout out to Hank Azaria, because for someone who’s entirely new to Broadway as of this show, he could’ve fooled anyone in the audience. He truly looked like this was old hat, and seemed to really be enjoying himself. He even threw in a “glaiven” at one point, much to the delight of the Simpsons fans. I will admit that occasionally the voices sounded a bit close to Moe, but that’s not the end of the world.

Azaria isn’t the only one in the cast who seemed to be enjoying himself – Tim Curry looked very close to breaking into laughter at least three times during the show, and David Hyde Pierce’s portions involved a heavy bout of hamming it up. So again, I have no quarrel with the three leads.

Another huge bout of respect goes to the one new part for the show – the Lady Of The Lake, played by Sara Ramirez. The woman has a simply amazing vocal range, great comedic timing, and fit in perfectly for her part. Cheers, huge cheers to Sara.

The ensemble cast all fit in well; the choreography was consistent, the voices were in key, and they flew from one scene to another without trouble.

The New Material

There are fifteen new songs for the show; one of them is a much revamped version of “Knights Of The Round Table”. There are also four reprises. A few of the songs are on the short side, but they all work well.
Three of the songs tie into a strong subplot that mocks the Broadway formula; “The Song That Goes Like This” mocks the Andrew Lloyd Webber-esqe sweeping balads that are staples of far too many musicals. Later, the Lady Of The Lake tells King Arthur that to find the grail, he’ll have to open a musical on Broadway. This is followed by the funniest number, “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” has Sir Robin (DHP) singing to King Arthur about how there is no way they can succeed on Broadway without any Jews. The song spirals out of control with more and more Jewish imagery – jewish dancing girls give way to a jewish line dance which gives way to a giant lit-up Star of David that comes from the top of the stage. I’m not kidding. Finally, Lady Of The Lake makes her return in Act Two with “The Diva’s Lament”, where she loudly complains that she’s been offstage for far too long and inquires where her part went.

This subplot can be a little too inside-jokey at times (I don’t follow a lot of Broadway shows, so there were musical references I missed), but is routinely hilarious and doesn’t falter.

The Prince Herbert sequence has been radically changed with a massive twist which leads to a song and dance number; I refuse to spoil this. Trust me, if you see the show, the sudden change in direction of the scene will have you laughing pretty hard.


If you’re the sort of person who liked Avenue Q, who digs Python, or just enjoys some Broadway stylings that doesn’t take itself even close to seriously, go see Spamalot. It’s a good time for all.



Last weekend was quite busy in terms of arts consumption. Having taken in one movie, one broadway show, and one concert – all excellent in their own ways – I felt stuffed and incapable of ingesting more culture into my already full content-hole. But behold, it’s all digested and now ready to come shooting back out of me in the form of reviews.

The movie? Quentin’s latest, Kill Bill Volume 2. After being mildly disappointed with the first, I came into the second with my expectations lower. This quickly became needless because the movie destroyed my notions of what QT could achieve and constructed new, loftier expectations for all future movies. The only bad thing I can find to say about this movie is that some of the scenes ran long. Outside of that, it was gravy. Particularly standout was Michael Madsen’s performance as Budd, both absofuckinglutely brilliant and nuianced. Go seee it now, and if you skipped the first part, rent (don’t buy) the DVD first so you aren’t lost.

The show? Avenue Q, which we were fortunate enough to see thanks to my parents. The phrase “Sesame Street On Crack” seemed apt after we left; it was brilliant and hilarious and still somehow touching. Standout songs include “What Do You Do With A BA In English / It Sucks To Be Me”, “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”, and “Schadenfreude”. John Tartaglia and Stephanie D’Abruzzo were both excellent in every role they handled. If you ever come to the city on tourism and want to go to a show, this is the one to see.

The concert? The previously mentioned causing-the-shitting-of-bricks Quannum World Tour. Now, I’ll come right out and say this wasn’t as fantastic as I had hoped. The problems with the show were, in my eyes, represented in three seperate “artists”. DJ D-Sharp, while amusing at first, mugged too much and merely added annoyance to the show. The Lifesavas Movement, while decent, were in the end forgettable, and since they were out almost as much as anyone else, it deadened parts of the show. Finally, Gift Of Gab (on his own or as half of Blackalicious) is certainly a gifted rapper, but his delivery was crap live. There were times when he just didn’t seem to be paying attention to the beat and was just spitting the lyrics out as fast as possible.

So what saved the show? Obviously, part of it was DJ Shadow. Shadow’s set was nothing to write home about, as it was good but short. The primary reason he brought it all together for me is because he’s so goddamned focused. Even with 5 MCs and 2 other DJs sharing the stage, he’s got his head to the vinyl, very serious, never mugging for the crowd. He is the eye of the hurricane. (Also, his use of a dvd turntable – surely to be widespread by next year – was a huge bonus.)

But equally stunning was Lyrics Born. Not only did he have the crowd eating out of his hand most of the night, but his vocal range and talent is astounding. I’m going to actively seek out his solo cd because he is just incredible. Do yourself a favor – go to the Quannum website, flip through the records at the bottom of the page till you find the I Changed My Mind single, and play the album version. It’s one of the best hip-hop songs I’ve ever heard.

This weekend, Katie is back in Maryland, so I’m all alone for a few days. I’m planning on playing Beatmania to-de-excess, hitting up the MTR again to finish the programs from last week, and maybe getting some UT2k4 in. We will see.