Finance is an industry, and, I admit in all honesty, I don’t understand it. Ninety-five minutes of incomprehensible torture at the Public Theater called Dry Powder, the title of which is a term understood only by hedge fund managers, is about finance. I didn’t understand it, either. It seems much longer than 95 minutes without a bathroom break or a shred of narrative thrust, only a modicum of humor and two film stars spouting a colossal load of indecipherable double talk. I have never comprehended anything less, or hated anything more.
The setting is KKK Capital Investment Management, one of those private equity investment firms most normal, sane and rational people avoid at all costs. Brimming with internal agita, its two stars are adversarial rivals who devote their lives to controlling and then screwing the world of capitalism. John Krasinski plays Seth, a brilliant investment adviser who has masterminded a deal to buy a company (furniture, I think) owned by a friend (Sanjit De Silva), then unload it for a profit without screwing him over. Claire Danes plays Jenny, who has other ideas, although it is never clear just what they are because they change at the beginning of each new scene. Hank Azaria plays their boss, who shifts from one to the other without loyalty or respect, depending on how many percentage points they can earn for the company, which is having a cash-flow crisis. They all claim to have years of experience in finance without sharing any of their knowledge with the audience. What they really know is that they live to buy up companies and liquidate them without any human emotion.
For a set, Rachel Hauck has plopped down seven bright blue boxes the four actors are forced to sit on, stare at and walk around in circles. The squares play desks, tables and barstools, while the actors talk nonstop about increasing revenue, 80 percent leverage, deal sourcing skills, dividend recaps, buy-outs and liquidations. Seth is fair. Jenny is ruthless, cold and robotic, without any sense of humanity. Her goal is to relieve companies of their assets and then move on, before they go bankrupt. After what seems like an eternity, the friend he’s trying to help sells out for a bonus, and Seth, the one with the ethics, is the one who gets screwed. There is no ending. The blue boxes just fade to black.
The play is by Sarah Burgess, but it seems more the product of a computer than an actual writer. The four actors, whom I’ve seen under better circumstances elsewhere, try hard to bring some kind of balance to a surfeit of baffling posturing with deadly results. Claire Danes hasn’t got much color or gravity in her voice. Mr. Krasinski has a slight edge on vocal diversity, but his body language is wooden. They’re in Dry Powder as a temporary escape from their high-paying jobs in Hollywood movies and television shows for the same reason the Public Theater produced this awful bore in the first place—because the director is Thomas Kail, the man responsible for Hamilton. I get it. If you’ve got a bandwagon, might as well jump on it while it’s still moving. Playing wackjobs who know the price of all things and the value of nothing at all, there ought to be a payoff, but Dry Powder fails to provide any. I don’t know how they even learned the lines, much less how they manage to say them so fast they sound like they’re reading recipes.
The ongoing entertainment narrative called Broadway is cluttered with so much junk these days that on the rare occasion when real perfection arrives, we don’t always recognize it. I’m delighted to learn the Roundabout revival of the fabulous Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock-Joe Masteroff 1963 musical She Loves Me—a work of art with unimpeachable credentials—is a bona fide blue-ribbon smash. Roundabout’s new production of this timeless gem at Studio 54 is just sensational.
In its many happy incarnations, from the Jimmy Stewart-Margaret Sullivan movie The Shop Around the Corner, to the Judy Garland musical In the Good Old Summertime, and including Nora Ephron’s updated computer-age comedy You’ve Got Mail, this delicious chunk of Hungarian strudel by Miklos Laszlo has been delighting audiences since 1937. While it would not be chivalrous to compare the current production with Harold Prince’s sparkling jewel that enhanced the 1963 season, or reflect lovingly on that perfect cast (we all know there will never be another show in history with the likes of Barbara Cook, Barbara Baxley, Jack Cassidy, Daniel Massey and Ludwig Donath), I am overjoyed to report the new production directed by Scott Ellis lives up to every bar raised by what has gone before. Maraczek’s Parfumerie, newly designed by David Rockwell, is still a marvel of glass display cases dazzled with scents, creams and lotions every color of the rainbow palette. As Budapest says farewell to summer, sweeps away the autumn leaves and prepares for Christmas in the pre-war year 1934, carefree shoppers enter to the welcome refrains of the cheerful staff chirping “Good Morning, Good Day” and the witty “Sounds While Selling.” The owner (dashing Byron Jennings) reflects on his youth with “Days Gone By” (a song later adopted by Mabel Mercer in her reign as New York cabaret queen) while the shop’s beautiful Ilona Ritter (now a luscious Jane Krakowski) is betrayed once again by flirty, unreliable, amorous heel Steven Kodaly (a stupendous Gavin Creel, and where has he been hiding that great, resonant singing voice?), while newcomer Amalia Balash (Laura Benanti with a voice like sterling silver in the moonlight) and the antagonistic shop manager, Georg Nowack (Zachary Levi), a man she hates, conceal the fact that they’re both writing anonymous love letters to secret admirers they’ve never met, unaware that they are sending their valentines to each other.
Every character has a distinct role in the shop and a purpose in each other’s lives; the cast performs sincerely, lavishly and with a panache that enthralls. Vibrantly directed by Scott Ellis, this is a show with so many highlights it’s impossible to list them all, but if you thought Barbara Cook’s hair-raising coloratura aria “Vanilla Ice Cream” sealed its possibilities forever, wait until you hear Ms. Benanti carry the song aloft on her shapely shoulders. “Will He Like Me,” “Tonight at Eight,” “She Loves Me,” the enchanting “A Trip to the Library”—there’s not a losing Sheldon Harnick melody in the score.
When Christmas Eve arrives, love reigns supreme, and everyone gets what they’ve been wishing for before the music boxes play magic melodies before midnight. It’s a show to make you cheer, which is exactly what everyone around me did with brio the night I saw She Loves Me. Don’t even think about missing this one. It’s the epitome of what Broadway should always be, when everything goes right, just the way you dreamed it could. You go away richer and merrier for the experience. I’d like to explain in more detail why She Loves Me is the show of the season. Just go, as fast as your feet will carry you, and see for yourself what perfection is.