Sienna Miller, despite some truly sublime film performances, is still primarily known for her outré fashion sense. Following her line of thinking in accepting a role in Patrick Marber’s adaptation of Miss Julie isn’t hard: a one-act set in 1945, in which her upper-class character dallies with a servant and runs the gamut from flirty to deranged? Perfect for showcasing her skills!
Except even the best laid plans fall apart, as Mark Brokaw proves with his lugubrious staging for the Roundabout. Unable to reconcile Marber’s sudden shifts in emotional temperature, Brokaw’s solution is to stage everything as realistically as possible. When Julie and her father’s chauffeur John (Jonny Lee Miller) dance together, we wait in real time with John’s fiancée Christine (Marin Ireland). And wait. And wait. Christine has the luxury of performing odd chores while the two dance; the audience must content itself with either a quick nap or watching Christine wring out a dish rag.
No one gets off entirely scot-free in this fizzling production of desire and danger. Miller turns in a dazzling performance by evening’s end, but is too ready to reveal her character’s neuroses in earlier scenes. Jonny Lee Miller is mean and tough and obsequious by turn, but he never projects the smoldering sexual allure to drive women mad. And Ireland proves herself no match for a sustained British dialect, swooping and swirling over her vowels with abandon. After seeing this inert production, Sienna Miller seems as self-defeating in her choices as Miss Julie herself.
Dear Roundabout Theater Company:
My name is Mark Peikert, and I’m interested in becoming one of your director-choreographers. I was a little leery about applying because I can’t sing or dance. But then I saw that Bye Bye Birdie director Robert Longbottom had a wonderful way around those two drawbacks: hire non-dancing and non-singing stars! Putting John Stamos and Gina Gershon in roles made famous by rubber-limbed Dick van Dyke and iconic Broadway dancer Chita Rivera was a stroke of genius. Why should an audience sit in their seats, feeling as if they couldn’t do what the actors are doing? That makes people feel bad, and as your production of Birdie suggests, feeling bad is, well, bad! Why else would everything about the musical be so relentlessly candy-colored and chipper?
I must admit that had I directed, I would have asked my actors to be funny, but I guess Longbottom’s idea was that if audiences wanted a funny Birdie, they could always watch the film version. Why else would he stage “How Lovely to be a Woman” with Allie Trimm sitting on her bed, instead of dressing up in tomboy clothes like Ann-Margret? Or allow Bill Irwin to gargle his comedy numbers in the back of his throat instead of hitting the punchlines as Paul Lynde so famously did? I don’t really understand why Longbottom added blow job choreography to Conrad Birdie’s “Sincere,” or the preponderance of teenage camel toe during “The Telephone Hour,” but those are things I’m sure I’ll pick up on the job.
Hope to hear from you soon!
After Miss Julie. Through Dec. 6, American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St. (betw. Broadway & 8th Ave.), 212-719-1300; times vary, $66.50–$111.50.
Bye Bye Birdie. Through April 25, Henry Miller’s Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St. (betw. 6th & 7th Aves.), 212-719-1300; times vary, $86.50–$141.50.
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