In the latter half of the eighties, a very hip theatrical company named Naked Angels came to be. Some of the members were/are Rob Morrow, Gina Gershon, Fisher Stevens, Merrill Holtzman/Jack Merrill (he changed his name between then and now), Kristen Johnston, Matthew Broderick, Marisa Tomei, Joe Mantello, a mess o’ Parkers (Pippin,
Sarah Jessica, Timothy Britten), Ron Rifkin, Lili Taylor, Nancy Travis, Jon Robin Baitz, Patrick Breen…
They garnered their first bit of infamy because another member of their troop was JFK, Jr., whose desire for a theatrical career was as well known as his mom Jackie’s aversion to it. Though Jackie won, John John fed his thwarted ambition by being the MC at the many Naked Angels benefits. In fact, the first time I ever saw Kennedy’s future Mrs. was at one of those splashy benefits, where she was planted on his lap during much of the evening.
Those benefits were REALLY something. However, the big joke was that those benefits seemed to serve no other purpose than to fund future benefits. Looking through their history on their web site, I see that they, in fact, did produce theatrical ventures, though the perception was quite the contrary. I absolutely owe them an apology for the many laughs I shared at their expense. Of course, our questioning of their motives and the seriousness of their theatrical pursuits never deterred us from begging for free tickets to those wonderful soirees. We were/are such shameless hypocrites!
Now, nearly a quarter of a century after they were first formed, I was VERY surprised to see that dear old Naked Angels was behind the current big buzz on Broadway, “Next Fall”. I had actually thought they had disappeared. That’s obviously more to do with my ignorance than their efforts (slap slap). I had to read the Playbill to notice their involvement because the only two names publicized in regards to producing this play have been Elton John and David Furnish. I only know that my dear pal and BOSS, Patrick McMullan, is another producer because, well, he’s my dear friend and BOSS. In fact, if you stand just outside the theater’s entrance, there’s a recorded voice that continually extols the virtues of the play, quotes from the great reviews and namedrops Elton and Furnish. So…where’s any mention of Naked Angels? Or Patrick? What are they…chopped liver?
Actually, it’s damned lucky for this play and this cast that such notables came aboard because the attention garnered from such well-known and well-regarded angels is priceless and, in this case, well-deserved. Considering how difficult it is to have a hit these days on Broadway with a play that has neither tunes nor splashy special effects nor a big name star doing a limited run, any help is a godsend.
Even though Patrick has a financial stake in this and is my good pal and BOSS, I can honestly recommend “Next Fall” as a fabulous way to spend an evening. Not only is this a boffo night at the theater, but you will certainly get a lot of bang for your buck. Not only are the acting and writing first-rate but, unlike so many non-musicals that are merely one act in length, “Next Fall” is a full two hours long with a fifteen minute intermission in between. Such a deal!
I HATE it when reviewers give away stories and plotlines, so I’m going to be intentionally vague. In essence, “Next Fall” is a non-linear love story fraught with some traditional stumbling blocks, both Gay (coming out to parents, religion) and non-Gay (career issues, self esteem issues, age differences). The play opens in a hospital waiting room and goes back and forth between what’s happening in the hospital and the back-story of the patient, Luke (Patrick Heusinger), and his lover, Adam (Patrick Breen).
Despite the underlying theme’s potential for being maudlin and manipulatively sentimental, the first half of the play is adorable and extremely witty. However, for the first 15 minutes of the performance, I was really put off by the hearty laughter (the guy to my right had the most annoyingly BOOMING theatrical laugh imaginable) emanating from certain pockets of the audience. It sounded suspiciously like plants since the hysteria didn’t seem to match what was going on onstage and the bursts appeared to be VERY coordinated. It didn’t help that I had spent the night before at a critic-heavy preview of Twyla Tharp’s new Sinatra dance piece “Come Fly Away”, where we were assaulted from beginning to end by a continuous barrage of fake hilarity from the “audience” whenever something remotely amusing happened on stage. One of the loudest laughers was, naturally, right next to me. After one straight hour of “HAHAHA!” over and over, I finally just turned and glared at the buffoon, hoping to make eye contact. However, he only made eye contact with the man to his right who echoed his “HAHAHA!” with his own “HAHAHA!” So, therein lay my paranoia. HATE laugh tracks!
Though it took me a while to warm up, I soon found myself smiling and, eventually, actually began chuckling! That happens VERY seldom to me. The dialog was VERY clever and funny and was written and performed in a very natural way that rang true. It never came off as forced. That alone is a gift.
The cast is superb. There is no weak link. Longtime Angels company member Patrick Breen is priceless in a role that might have suffered from a lesser actor because it just begs for hamming and scenery chewing. Happily, he avoids such excesses. The same can be said for Patrick Heusinger’s Luke, because Heusinger’s charm and chops make his character’s innocence and struggles endearing and poignant enough to excuse that Luke’s confusion and fears often border on ignorance or stupidity. Both Connie Ray, as Luke’s mom Arlene, and Maddie Corman, as self-described “Fag Hag” Holly, play their sassy woman characters note perfect because they each have the talent and astute timing to make such females appear to be real women rather than drag queens. Believe me, that is an art. Cotter Smith, as Luke’s father Butch, gives such depth to someone you’d be predisposed to hate that you just can’t. Sean Dugan should also be mentioned because he did the best he could with Brandon, the most minor character and thankless role of the bunch. I mentioned “charm and chops” in relation to Heusinger, but those qualities really apply to everyone in this cast. Of course, it helps that they have the material they have, so compliments to Geoffrey Nauffts another longtime Angel. And Sheryl Kaller’s direction obviously helped meld the material and vessels so seamlessly.
Though the first act of the play is a comedy, the second half is not. Therefore, be prepared for all of your emotions to be tapped. The intimate and beautiful Helen Hayes Theatre (the smallest theater on Broadway!) is the perfect place to hunker down for such a ride. And the theater’s size makes it easy to discover the celebrities in the house. When something has this level of buzz, celebrities are a sure thing. When I was leaving, I spied Philip Seymour Hoffman making his way up the aisle while texting non-stop. He was probably alerting his agent or production company to grab up the rights for film (he could definitely do a great Adam).
As I left the theater, I had to maneuver around a huge crowd of very young people gathered in front of Sardi’s, which is next door. They kept screaming and shouting, while looking up. I followed their gazes and saw two scruffy guys lifting their shirts and sweaters, while pressing their hairy bodies against the second floor’s inside windowpanes. “Who is that?” I asked on a girl on the fringes of the crowd. She looked at me with crazy wild eyes. “Green Day!” She gasped, then her eyes filled with tears and she began sobbing. Jesus!
What I can’t understand is what these latest Broadway Babies were celebrating? Their splashy musical, “American Idiot”, had its first preview that night, but I’ve never heard of anyone having an after party for a PREVIEW. Don’t these guys know how superstitious THE THEATRE is? Aren’t they tempting FATE? Next thing we know, someone in their group will say the name of “The Scottish Play”! Talismen for everyone!
and Geoffrey Nauffts
and Patrick Heusinger
and Patrick McMullan
and Maddie Corman
, Connie Ray
, Patrick Heusinger
, Maddie Corman
, Patrick Breen
and Sean Dugan
and Sheryl Kaller
and Sir Elton John