Scene: March '13
Hands on a Hard Body
What? From the show website: "Inspired by true events, this new musical features a book by Inspired by true events, this new musical features a book by DOUG WRIGHT (Pulitzer Prize winner, I Am My Own Wife), lyrics by AMANDA GREEN (Bring it On: The Musical) and music by TREY ANASTASIO (Phish) and AMANDA GREEN. Directed by NEIL PEPE (Speed-the-Plow) with musical staging by SERGIO TRUJILLO (Memphis, Jersey Boys), it is based on the acclaimed 1997 documentary of the same name by S.R. Bindler, produced by Kevin Morris and Bindler.
For 10 hard-luck Texans, a new lease on life is so close they can touch it. Under a scorching sun for days on end, armed with nothing but hope, humor and ambition, they'll fight to keep at least one hand on a brand-new truck in order to win it. In the hilarious, hard-fought contest that is HANDS ON A HARDBODY only one winner can drive away with the American Dream."
When? March ' 13
Where? The Brooks Atkinson Theatre
Why? Word of mouth is mostly responsible for my interest in this show. I've been hearing buzz about it for the past year.
Well? My overwhelming impression of the show, even at intermission, was the freshness of the voice. It's a musical for some audiences that may not always find what they want on Broadway. For example, the score has an appropriately country music feel, a genre not really represented currently. And unlike many musicals, there is not an ensemble of professional dancers/singers performing big production numbers. Instead, every cast member is a character in the story that we come to know. The contest at the center of the story is the perfect frame for a collage of these personal stories about their lives and their motivation for wanting to win the holy grail of vehicles. Whether they are relying on faith in God, faith in family, faith in the future or faith in love, we learn who they are in a way that makes this show more personal than many I've seen. Hunter Foster is the previous winner of the contest, back for another try (for reasons that stay unexplained for much of the show), with a chip on his shoulder, and the willingness to antagonize everyone to further his cause. Everyone except, that is, the older man with whom he allies (played by Keith Carradine), and as they grow to understand each other, they grow in understanding of themselves as well. The cast of this show are all wonderful. My two personal favorites are Connie Ray, one of the truck dealership salespeople (a longtime character actress on screen, and I loved her on Broadway in "Next Fall," several years ago), and Keala Settle, most recently a memorable featured actor in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert," who is remarkable as the devout Christian contestant.
In case you're worried that it might get boring watching 10 people try to keep their hand on a truck, never fear. The staging and choreography is so inventive and the truck, though very big, very red and very shiny, never seems to upstage the talented cast, as they push and pull it around the stage. In the end, it really is a story about the importance of love in our lives; an age-old story told in a new way.
What? From the show website: "Charlie Price (Tony nominee Stark Sands) has suddenly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, Charlie finds inspiration in the form of Lola (Billy Porter). A fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos, Lola turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man he’s meant to be. As they work to turn the factory around, this unlikely pair finds that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible… and discovers that when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.
Featuring a sensational new score, knockout dancing and a spectacularly uplifting story, KINKY BOOTS is the must-see new musical that proves that sometimes, the best way to fit in is to stand out!"
When? March '13
Where? The Al Hirschfeld Theatre
Why? Seriously? :) Cyndi Lauper & Harvey Fierstein, and a musical about a shoe factory making shoes for female impersonators?? I'm all in!
Well? I fell in love with this show (as apparently did the entire audience I saw it with) halfway through the opening number, "The Most Beautiful Thing in the World." Cyndi Lauper's score is uniformly wonderful, and more importantly, is performed by a marvelous group of performers who leave their heel prints on your heart from the start. The set is one of those two-story marvels that allows for the right amount of close-up detail, actor interaction and movement around the stage that makes it seem bigger than it actually is. I am seeing the show again from the mezzanine and am very much looking forward to that view. The unabashed trumpeting of the "love yourself and others as you/they are" is positively joyful, and eschews subtlety for a full-on embrace. The leads, Stark Sands as Charlie, the shoe factory owner, and Billy Porter as Simon/Lola, the drag queen who is the catalyst for change, have a wonderful chemistry and I rooted for both of them. But the highlight for me is Annaleigh Ashford, who I've loved since "Hair" and "Dogfight," and who plays Lauren, the shoe factory employee with an eye for Charlie. Her number about looking for love with all the wrong guys literally stopped the show with the thunderous applause it received. She is irresistible and hilarious; and somehow manages to not be upstaged by all of the high-kicking, glittery drag queens and thigh-high red boots :). Great music, great story, great cast, great set = winner of a show for me!
What? From the Musical Theatre International website: "This best loved musical by two-time Academy Award-winner Stephen Schwartz is now available in a Broadway Junior version!
Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, and featuring a sparkling score, GODSPELL JR. boasts a string of well-loved songs, led by the international hit, "Day By Day." As the cast performs "Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord," "Learn Your Lessons Well," "All For The Best," "All Good Gifts," "Turn Back, O Man" and "By My Side," the parables of Jesus Christ come humanly and hearteningly to life. Drawing from various theatrical traditions, such as clowning, pantomime, charades, acrobatics and vaudeville, GODSPELL JR. is a unique reflection on the life of Jesus, with a message of kindness, tolerance and love."
When? March '13
Where? Thornton Wilder Auditorium / Hamden CT
Why? A talented young friend of mine is performing the lead in this production of a show that's dear to me, and I can't wait to be sitting in the audience!
Well? This is the perfect show for children to perform. The playful, but meaningful style of storytelling, combined with infectious songs that lend themselves to children's voices, is a recipe for success. And the kids in this cast worked so well together, which is essential to the heart of the story of Jesus and his disciples. I loved seeing my little friend handle his big role with aplomb. Although one of the youngest members of the cast, he had a suitably big presence on stage, and a chemistry with each of the other cast members, big and small. And how wonderful seeing the older children (12-13 year olds) working so well with the younger set; especially watching out for the tiniest members of the children's chorus who appeared in some of the numbers. The set was also used well, and the 70s-inspired, wildly colorful costumes, that any child would have a blast in, accommodated all the ages in the cast and the audience.
What? From the show website: "Four-time Emmy Award winner and Tony Award nominee Edie Falco (“Nurse Jackie,” The House of Blue Leaves, “The Sopranos”) returns to the New York stage in the world premiere of THE MADRID by Liz Flahive (From Up Here).
Falco stars as Martha, a kindergarten teacher with a life many would want: a loving husband, a devoted daughter. But when she leaves it all behind, it’s up to her daughter Sarah to pick up the pieces. Two-time Obie winner, Leigh Silverman (Chinglish, From Up Here, In the Wake) directs this hilarious and heartbreaking story about motherhood, freedom, and trying to see the people in your family as they really are."
When? March '13
Where? Manhattan Theatre Club / New York City Center
Why? The cast is stellar, the story intriguing and I've enjoyed each of the MTC productions I've seen in the past.
Well? I never tire of watching talented actors on stage, despite some issues with the story here; in my opinion, it seemed to suffer from a lack of focus and a few too many arcs. I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet, subtlety of Edie Falco (Martha) and John Conlee (Michael) as a married couple with what turns out to be a long history of complications in their life together. The sparks came from Phoebe Strole as their twenty two year old daughter Sarah, through whose eyes we see much of the story; and the exquisite Frances Sternhagen as Sarah's grandmother (Martha's mother), who provides us with a unique insight into Martha, and some necessary comic relief. And Heidi Shreck as Becca, the neighbor who was a friend to Martha, was wonderful; warm and funny and relatable. I consider it a good sign if I'm still thinking about the meaning of a play several days later, and this one is like that. At intermission I heard some around me trying to figure out the whys and whats of the story. I'm afraid they were doomed to frustration. This was not a road map to a particular destination, but rather a series of windows opening and closing on different parts of the view. I've got a high tolerance for that, but not everyone does.
Hit The Wall
What? From the show website: "In Ike Holter’s new play a group of unlikely revolutionaries are thrust onto the frontline of history during the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, when a routine police raid on The Stonewall Inn, a popular underground gay bar in Greenwich Village, erupts into a full-scale riot. Violent protests and street demonstrations continued over the next several days, creating a flashpoint known as The Stonewall Riots, and igniting one of the most influential social and political movements of the 20th Century. Hit the Wall focuses on the enigmatic first night of the riots, vibrantly blending history and mythology with theatrical imagination to shine contemporary light on the legacy of Stonewall.
The world Premiere of Hit the Wall was presented by The Inconvenience and performed as part of GARAGE REP: three productions presented in rotating repertory in The Garage at Steppenwolf, Chicago, IL. Chris Chmelik, Artistic Director and Emily Reusswig, Executive Director."
When? March '13
Where? The Barrow Street Theatre
Why? I have a great deal of respect for this theatre, and this was a critical historical event in the civil rights struggle of the gay and lesbian community.
Well? There was a great deal I liked about this play. Primarily, the fearless performances by the cast. But I found it to be another play that lacked some cohesion. It was unclear how much liberty was being taken with the historical events, and how much was mere suggestion. I had certainly read about the Stonewall Riots in the past, but didn't recall particular details. After seeing the play, I went back and read a few accounts that helped me understand some of the choices made in the play. Using the limitations of space and cast size, I see the choice to represent each of the groups involved through one character; i.e., one drag queen, one lesbian, one police officer, one young man, still new to the community, etc., however, the small cast was a bit of a problem when it appeared that the bar patrons were fighting each other during the riot. For the riot scenes though, the atmospheric set allowed for the explosion of violence to achieve the proper level without assaulting the audience intrusively.
I think I would have edited/streamlined some of the background exposition in favor of more focus on the night of the riots. It was a bit jarring to go from the bitterness and antagonism within the community towards each other, to the unity of the resistance that night. But each cast member poured his/her heart and soul into their performance, with the standouts for me being, in part I suspect because their parts allowed for more focus, Nathan Lee Graham as the drag queen, and Rania Manganaro as the lesbian who incites the physical resistance. Each was heartbreakingly raw and vulnerable, and provided necessary centering for the action-I feel fortunate to have seen their performances.
What? From the Playbill.com show page: "The gifted child Matilda, unloved at home but supported by her teacher, tries to rid her school of its evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Based on the Roald Dahl children's book, the hit London production won seven Olivier Awards.
Matilda is a little girl with astonishing wit, intelligence and psychokinetic powers. She's unloved by her parents but impresses her schoolteacher and, over the course of her first term at school, teacher and pupil have a profound effect on each other's lives."
When? March '13
Where? The Shubert Theatre
Why? I've been aware of this show ever since it opened in London in 2011; and have been anxiously awaiting its arrival on Broadway. I am a Roald Dahl fan, and generally enjoy fantastical shows with a childish heart :).
Well? This is truly a magical show! The set is charming and whimsical, with a multitude of surprises that delight throughout the show. But really, it's the cast and the story that make Matilda so special. I can say, without hesitation, that the children in the cast are among the most talented I've ever seen on Broadway. And they're not alone; the adults are each winning in their roles~Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull is a true marvel in all the best kinds of distasteful ways! I also loved Lauren Ward as the teacher, Miss Honey. Lauren has a lovely voice and a sweetness that perfectly balances Carvel's careening madness. The ensemble is strong, and features some favorites of mine from other shows (Ryan Steele and Thayne Jasperson from "Newsies") and Taylor Trensch, recently seen as one of the leads in "Bare," is Michael, Matilda's hapless older brother. Speaking of Matilda, Bailey Ryon played her the night I was there and I could not have asked for a more perfect performance. I think it would be fun to see the show again with one of the other young actresses who share the role (there are four), but Bailey is fantastic!
Breakfast at Tiffany's
What? From the show website: "Emilia Clarke ("Game of Thrones") takes on the iconic role of the self-invented Holly Golightly, a character played memorably by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie version.
In New York City in 1943, Fred, a young writer from Louisiana, meets Holly Golightly, a charming, vivacious and elusive good-time girl. Everyone falls in love with Holly — including Fred. But he is poor, and Holly's other suitors include a playboy millionaire and the future president of Brazil. As war rages on in Europe, Holly begins to fall in love with Fred — just as her past catches up with her."
When? March '13
Where? The Cort Theatre
Why? I loved the film and it seems like a story that will work well on stage.
Well? I will always be happy to have seen Emilia Clarke in the role of Holly Golightly. I couldn't take my eyes off of her when she was on stage. I believed the almost hypnotic effect she has on the men in her life. And I enjoyed Cory Michael Smith quite a bit as Fred. But I don't think this production captures the winsomeness that I remember from the film. The story seems a bit disjointed, and the chemistry between the two leads doesn't carry over to the rest of the cast. The cat got rousing applause though :)!
Motown The Musical
What? From the show website: "...The real story of the one-of-a-kind sound that hit the airwaves in 1959 and changed our culture forever. This exhilarating show charts Motown founder Berry Gordy's incredible journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and so many more.
Featuring all the classics you love, MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL tells the story behind the hits as Diana, Smokey, Berry and the whole Motown family fight against the odds to create the soundtrack that changed America. Motown shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat. Now, it finally comes to Broadway in the season's most anticipated world-premiere event, MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL... Get ready, 'cause here we come!"
When? March '13
Where? The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
Why? One of my favorite genres of music, and the music I grew up on; and one of my favorite true-life stories....I'm thinking I'm going to like this!
Well? When they coined the term "jukebox musical" to refer to a show that revolves around a catalogue of an artist's (or artists') music, they must have known this show would come along. There's definitely a story (in this case based on fact, i.e., Berry Gordy Jr.'s creation of Hitsville USA, which became Motown Records) stringing the songs logically together, based on chronology. The actors playing Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson are both wonderful. I loved them together as friends and business associates. The renditions of the beloved songs by the actors in the cast are spot on, and you'd have to try hard not to be happy when the first few notes of "Tears of a Clown" or "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" start to play. Personally, Motown music is some of my favorite music of all time, so it was enjoyable to experience them in this live setting.
What? From the show website: "David arrives in Poland with a crippling case of writer’s block and a desire to be left alone. His 75-year-old second cousin Maria welcomes him with a fervent need to connect with her distant American family. As their tenuous relationship develops, she reveals details about her complicated post-war past that test their ideas of what it means to be a family."
When? March '13
Where? The Cherry Lane Theatre / Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Why? Vanessa Redgrave and Jesse Eisenberg starring in a play by Jesse Eisenberg is impossible to resist. I saw Jesse in his play "Asuncion" in Nov '11 and he is charismatic on stage. I last saw Vanessa Redgrave in "The Year of Magical Thinking," and was, quite simply, blown away.
Well? Watching a true master of her craft at work is a privilege. The raw, naked vulnerability that Vanessa Redgrave brings to this role is so humbling; and the intimate theatre space is an embarrassment of riches. She and Jesse Eisenberg live together on the stage as if they've been doing it for years as a pair. The story of this Polish survivor of the Nazis, and the sacred lifeline that family represents to her, is heartbreaking and unexpected. I so enjoyed not knowing what was going to come out of the characters' mouths next. The visit to Poland of the young writer trying to overcome insecurities and writer's block, has humor and pathos, each in the right measure. I often say that if I am left wanting to know more about what happens to these people, the playwright has done well by me, and this play succeeded.
The Last Five Years
What? From the show website: "Jason Robert Brown’s contemporary musical The Last Five Years tells the emotionally powerful story of two twenty-something New Yorkers who dive head first into a marriage fueled by the optimism that comes with finding “the one.” But in a city where professional and personal passions collide and only the strongest relationships survive, navigating the waters of love and matrimony can sometimes prove too much. Funny, honest and intimate, with an exuberantly romantic score, The Last Five Years takes a bold look at one young couple's hope that love endures the test of time.
The Last Five Years premiered off-Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theatre in 2002 in a production starring Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott, directed by Daisy Prince. The musical received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics, and was nominated for five additional Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical. The Last Five Years was also nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award and the Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical."
When? March '13
Where? Second Stage Theatre
Why? I follow many theatre professionals and theatres on various social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and often hear about upcoming shows through buzz on those sites. This was a show that some people whose opinions I respect were very excited about coming to NYC, so I'm looking forward to seeing it!
Well? I am ashamed that I did not know about this show earlier. Jason Robert Brown has written a beautiful, semi-autobiographical show about love and loss. It is the story of a couple finding each other, falling in love and then slowly breaking apart. The music is lovely, and Betsy Wolfe is a true gift of a performer. As the struggling actress, Cathy, she is luminous on stage, making us ache for her with just a wistful gaze; and her voice is gorgeous. I loved her in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," and was thrilled to see her in such a different role. Adam Kantor is Jamie and, while he is not as strong a singer as Betsy, his performance (especially in the Christmas scene where he is encouraging Cathy to pursue her dreams) is so satisfying and emotionally accessible. The spare set, with the orchestra on various platforms rising against the back wall of the stage, is appropriately minimal, allowing us to focus on the music and what Jamie and Cathy are feeling. I am seeing this show again in DC at Signature Theatre in just a few weeks; it will be fascinating to see another take on the story!
What? This was Nora Ephron's last play before her death from cancer in June '12.
From the show website: "Two-time Academy Award® winner TOM HANKS will make his much anticipated Broadway debut in the world premiere of three-time Academy Award nominee NORA EPHRON's play LUCKY GUY, to be directed by two-time Tony Award® winner GEORGE C. WOLFE.
LUCKY GUY marks a return to Ephron's journalistic roots in a new play about the scandal- and graffiti-ridden New York of the 1980s, as told through the story of the charismatic and controversial tabloid columnist Mike McAlary, who won the Pulitzer Prize shortly before his untimely death on Christmas Day, 1998."
When? March '13
Where? The Broadhurst Theatre
Why? Tom Hanks. Nora Ephron. I would have jumped through any number of hoops to see this one. I love them both.
Well? Tom Hanks is just a master; truly a master. It was a thrill to see him on stage. His portrayal of this complicated man is fascinating and wonderful to watch. But it's his chemistry with his co-star, Courtney B. Vance, that brings the heart to the story. The two of them are clearly enjoying being on stage together; and the scene where they are each battling pain in the hospital and discovering how to increase their morphine dosage was a highlight for me. This is a large cast, and very male-dominated (appropriate to the story). Deirdre Lovejoy, in several female reporter roles, held her own with the crowd of men on stage with her. I don't think Maura Tierney, as McAlary's wife, was quite as successful. I was really looking forward to seeing her on stage, but I found her energy to be low, and wasn't completely taken in by the chemistry between her and Hanks. That's a small complaint though! I so enjoy Nora Ephron's powerful writing, and her ability to find the comedy in otherwise dark situations.
And here's a Stage Door Tale about after the show :).