Theater: “Cornelia Street” starring Norbert Leo Butz
Norbert Leo Butz used to be big. Theatergoers may remember him as the FBI agent in “Catch Me If You Can,” the musical version of the Spielberg film. Then he wowed critics and theater lovers as Alfred Doolittle in the 2018 Lincoln Center production of “My Fair Lady.”
Then Butz chose to star in “Cornelia Street,” a new off-Broadway play at Atlantic with a book by Simon Stephens. Oops.
But wait! Simon Stephens was big too. He wrote the book for “Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight,” one of the most clever, imaginative pieces of theater to grace Broadway. It won every theatrical award in the book, including best play at the 2015 Tony’s.
Then he chose to write the book for “Cornelia Street.” Is this what they mean by making bad life choices?
How much did I loathe “Cornelia Street?” Let us count the ways. First of all there’s the story. Surprise! There really isn’t any to speak of. Butz plays Jacob, a chef at a dive on Greenwich Village’s Cornelia Street where he cooks great food but makes no money. He employs a crazy gay actor-waiter (Esteban Andres Cruz), has a grown mouthy daughter (Lena Pepe) from a previous marriage, and a step-daughter named Misty (Gizel Jimenez) who turns up unannounced, dunning him for money.
Jacob’s dream is to transform the joint into a destination restaurant. But what he needs is an investor, like his old pal Danny (Jordan Lage). Meanwhile, personally desperate for money, he makes a deal with the devil, a sleazy cabbie (George Abud from “The Band’s Visit”). From there, the play goes into a tailspin, interweaving several other plot lines that do not engage or elucidate.
All this might have been tolerable if this self-described “musical” had musical numbers you didn’t wish were over as soon as they started. This was a feeling of dread I had not experienced since I had the misfortune to see “Spiderman” on Broadway 13 years ago.
Talented actors, lousy play. But why trust only my judgment? The audience hated “Cornelia Street” so much, they not only bolted for the exit after the curtain fell, they chose to climb six flights of stairs rather than wait for the elevator. Those of us who did wait for the elevator experienced an atmosphere reminiscent of Frank Campbell. You know, the famous Manhattan funeral home. Requiescat in pacem.