Broadway and the Bard: Theater review by David Cote
Canadian-born actor and singer Len Cariou has long enjoyed a niche in the Broadway pantheon. Generations have shivered to his crisp, creamy baritone on original cast albums for Applause, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd. Since the ’80s, he has been a fixture on hit TV shows. You can even catch his Cardinal Law suavely intimidating Liev Schreiber in the Oscar-magnet Spotlight. What more could the 76-year-old legend want? The answer’s there in Broadway and the Bard’s second number: “Applause.” Once an ovation addict, always an ovation addict. Trouble is, Cariou may be getting more out of us than we him.
First, what you won’t hear in this 80-minute juxtaposition of classic show tunes and Shakespeare speeches: dirt on collaborating with Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince or Lauren Bacall; insight into how Broadway has changed over the past 40-odd years; or how the Bard illuminates Rodgers & Hart. Instead, Cariou generates small sparks of amusement by seguing dryly from Richard II’s “Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings,” to “If I Ruled the World” from the Dickens-based flop musical Pickwick. Or a diabolical speech by Iago gives way to “Down with Love.”
Other times, piano accompanist Mark Janas’s underscoring adds surprising texture, like the sinister, undulating chords from “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” under Prospero’s pledge to abandon his “rough magic.” While the narration between sections is crusty and halting, Cariou’s sonorous recitation of Shakespeare finds music in the verse. His singing, however, is not what it once was. With the exception of a spare, intimate “September Song,” Cariou’s vocal delivery is sadly underpowered. Broadway or the Bard? I’ll take the latter.—David Cote
Lion Theatre (Off Broadway). Text by Shakespeare. Music and lyrics by various. Directed by Barry Kleinbort. With Len Cariou. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
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