Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Broadway: Macbeth

Alan Cumming in MACBETH.

What Shakespeare had to say about life itself might just as well have been said of the entire production of Macbeth currently being staged on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre:

“[It] is…a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

To be sure, the show is a hit, as attested to by the multitude of well-deserved curtain calls that the audience’s standing ovation demanded of Alan Cumming, the play’s star.  Mr. Cumming is undeniably an extraordinary actor who does a brilliant job playing the role of a mental patient who, in turn, acts out the entirety of Macbeth, playing virtually all of its roles himself.  It is a truly bravura performance and Cumming deserves all the praise he has received.  But the gnawing question remains: What was the point?

It’s as if a great ballerina were to perform a series of acrobatic stunts on stage or an opera star were to spend an evening mimicking the voices of pop singers.  It might be fun to watch, it might even represent an exhibition of considerable talent.  But it wouldn’t be ballet or opera.
  
And so it is here.  This show is, in essence, a wonderful entertainment and a splendid example of Mr. Cumming’s considerable talent, but it is not a great production of Macbeth.  So if you’re just out for an evening of fun and are turned on by unusual schticks, this show may be just what you’re looking for.  But if, like me, you prefer your Shakespeare straight, it might not be your cup of tea.

All of which has prompted me to pen this bit of doggerel:

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…
But watching Alan Cumming consumes hours….

The Scottish play
Now on Broadway
And starring Alan Cumming
Is a tour de force
Of Macbeth, of course -
And is totally mind-numbing

‘Twas not enough
He played Macduff,
Macbeth and Duncan too.
He played the witches
(And dropped his britches)
Just for me and you.

Now I must admit
The show’s a hit
And Cumming is the reason.
His acting’s great,
He’s just first-rate –
A man for every season.

He’s here, he’s there,
He’s everywhere…
In back, and now in front.
Yes, it is fun
But when it’s done,
It still seems just a stunt.

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