Small World at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St.
Reviewed by EUGENE PAUL
Theater going is a joy unto itself, ramified by the thread of “Is this the one?” constantly running behind every visit even as each theater work has its separate world of creativity displayed for us to weigh, part of the unspoken constant tremor saying “Is this the one?”, “Is this the one?” And the lump in the throat and the gulp when you find yourself saying halfway through, “Is this the one, will it keep on putting out that thrill?” And then it’s over and you burst with the accumulation. You’re going to declare. “Yes!” And then you quake. It isn’t as if you haven’t done this before…
Andrew Horn and Joe Brancato have been producing theater in Rockland at the Penguin, their barn theater for forty years, growing in stature and accolades, sending their productions to Off-Broadway and around the country’s regional theaters from time to time, building, building. If ever there were a solid foundation for a Broadway launch, they have it. And now, to paraphrase a Lerner lyric, I think they’ve got it, I think they’ve got it. Playwright Frederick Stroppel’s fantasia, Small World, in which towering composer Igor Stravinsky butts heads and egos with unbeatable Walt Disney is simply a delight.
Well, not so simply. If, somehow, you’ve managed to live in this world without getting to know or at least hear of Walt Disney and Igor Stravinsky – yes, most of what happens falls between 1939 and thirty years later – and even later than that, in the Hereafter -- you’re might miss lots of byplay and overtones but if you have constantly bumped up against these two incredibly famous figures, in print, in gossip, been exposed, indeed, enveloped in their works, you are going to have a ball. Because playwright Stroppel is having a wowser.
He’s envisaged arrogant, polished elitist, towering composer Stravinsky artist to the bone, ego without parallel, forced to meet with enthusiastically confident vulgarian cartoon movie maker Disney --“ I’d rather be called an animator”—to discuss the fate of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” ballet music which Disney has bought for use in his upcoming crowning work, “Fantasia”. Disney (effervescently delightful Mark Shanahan) wryly, gently comments that he paid $6000 for the privilege even though the composition was already in the public domain and , of course, he really didn’t have to pay. Just one little galling jab setting the parameters of their sparring. Now he wants to explain how the music is to be used. Igor is going to love it. Then, he’ll show him the rough cut.
No, Mr. Stravinsky (equally delightful, appalled Stephen D’Ambrose) does not love it at all, not Disney’s beamingly assured enactment ( I loved his dinosaur impersonation) and absolutely not the rough cut. He is prepared to go off in a handsome huff but someone has stolen his fur coat. Try high dudgeon.
All takes place in the marvelous Limbo of designer James J. Fenton’s highly imaginative, highly practical setting, its enveloping walls covered with sketches and sketches and sketches of Disney preparatory drawings plotting Disney movies, a setting charged with surprises. Director Brancato handles his star quality cast with kid gloves in this uncanny environment, smoothly guiding lighting designer Christina Watanabe’s palette from one unreality to the next, seamlessly making them real for us. The same sensibility of the related real and unreal is lavished by costume designer Patricia E. Doherty on her stars, Stravinsky in elegant, dapper vintage, Disney almost klutzy vintage ordinary. And the bare feet? Genius. William Neal provides the vital sound.
But, of course, it’s playwright Stroppel’s words and thoughts, wit and sensibilities that matter most. I wish there were more, more. I could have danced all night.
Small World. At 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street, near Park Avenue. Tickets: $25-$35.212-279-4200. 85 min. thru Oct 7
The first hit of the new season? Broadway bound? Why not…Funny, witty, insightful. Beautifully produced. Go.