'The Landing' review: John Kander returns
The American musical has a beguiling, risk-taking, even a bit nutty new writing team at the Vineyard Theatre these days.
The composer, John Kander, is 86 and, in the 40 years before lyricist Fred Ebb died in 2004, the two gave the world "Cabaret," "Chicago" and other big-time Broadway masterworks. Kander's new writer-lyricist, Greg Pierce, 35, is known almost entirely for a sensitive two-character play, "Slowgirl," which opened Lincoln Center Theater's tiny Tow Theater in 2012.
The result of this unlikely pairing is "The Landing," three miniature musicals directed by Walter Bobbie ("Chicago") with a fine acting quartet and John Lee Beatty's flexible, simple set. Even if the evening did not feature the writer's uncle David Hyde Pierce in all three, this would be notable.
OK, two of the three could easily stand on their own without the empathetic humanity and sublime timing of Hyde Pierce. The other piece, the long and silly one that plops down in the middle of the 100-minute, intermissionless show, is probably not producible without the chance to see the star in a '30s zoot suit spouting gangster lingo and sharing a dream ballet. He is playing a brick, yes a brick, from the St. Valentine's Day massacre that an adventure-craving wife bought off an ad on late-night TV. Enough said.
All three are short stories that clutch at fantasy, even the dark and hungry kind beneath smooth surfaces. In the opening work, the sweet-then-melancholy "Andra," Hyde Pierce is the narrator for a poignant relationship between a science-genius boy and a carpenter. He comes to make kitchen cabinets but opens the bullied kid's mind to stars in the sky and sadness in the house.
All four excellent actors -- Hyde Pierce, Julia Murney, the young Frankie Seratch and quick-change chameleon Paul Anthony Stewart -- return for the final, best play. "The Landing" begins with a gay couple's adoption of what may well be the perfect boy, and concludes with a haunting image that will be hard to forget.
Throughout all three, Kander's music mixes his street-smart show-biz signature with yearning romantic ballads and, here's the surprise, snatches of rhythmic colors that suggest Sondheim. Pierce's characters all have detailed, original specificity beneath their everyday lives. Kander recently described his new collaborator as "a present someone gave me." It appears the gift, in this small package, was also given to us.
WHAT "The Landing"
WHERE Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.
INFO $80; 212-353-0303; vineyardtheatre.org
BOTTOM LINE Two (out of three) haunting miniatures by Kander and Pierce.
CORRECTION: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this review incorrectly identified the play’s writer.