Top Hat is the very definition of a big, classic, splashy feast of dance and music. One of Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger's most enjoyable films together (nominated for four Academy Awards), it is chock full of irresistible tunes from Irving Berlin, and masterful tap choreography that will, I maintain, convert even a non-dance fan.
The humor is broad and slapstick, and the production (and talented cast) completely own the show's spirit, an essential element to its success. I've seen the show twice now (once during its West End run), with a huge grin on my face through each performance. Last evening, the lady to my right was moved to softly sing along a few times, something that would normally raise my ire, but as it happened, she had a lovely voice, and was so enjoying the show, that I couldn't hold it against her. And the young woman in front of her was full-on dancing in her seat from the first notes of the overture. Alan's co-lead, Charlotte Gooch, is wonderful as Dale Tremont, and the sustained applause after Cheek to Cheek, was a testament to the charming chemistry of the pair.
The tour has, thankfully, brought along two of my favorite featured actors from the West End, Clive Hayward as Horace Hardwick, Jerry's London producer, and John Conroy as Bates, Hardwick's long-suffering, dry humored, primly genius valet.
The very modern Bord Gáis sits in the Docklands neighborhood of Dublin, right on the River Liffey; and their upcoming season of shows, is quite appealing (Carousel, The Sound of Music and others)...enough so that I find myself wishing I lived just a bit closer! On a practical note, the seats were comfortable and the sight lines seemed good overall. As for Top Hat, the tour runs through July in the UK, and may even visit Japan in October. If you happen to be in one of the neighborhoods, go see it! And if you meet up with Alan, tell him I said "hi." :)
In fact, I had such fun last night, that I think I may just pop over and see the show again before I leave Dublin...:). See why, below...
So the Tony Awards are approaching, and thankfully, it's not my job to hand down weighty analysis of a fragile art form like theater. But I love talking about it, and because I know how personal this art is for those who make it, I'm happy when there's a chance to recognize the work.
My picks are not about who will win, or even who should win. My "wins" could just as easily be someone else's lost 2.5 hours of their life, never to be regained. My "eh" reaction might be someone else's ecstatic delight. Certainly I appreciate the "winning" for what it can do for a show in terms of nourishment; awards can be powerful fuel that allow artists to continue working and giving us more art. But awards are not the measure of your own relationship with a show, which is deeply personal, whether good, bad or "eh."
By my count, there were 35 shows (not counting the special events) that opened during the 2014-15 season, and I've seen, to date, 27 of them. I will see a 28th show on the day of the Tony Awards (The Visit), so haven't considered that one in this list, for fairness. Here are the shows I didn't see, almost all due to shortened runs: This Is Our Youth, Holler if Ya Hear Me, Disgraced, Living on Love and Doctor Zhivago, .
Like last year, I'm giving myself ten seconds to see what shows bubble to the top of my consciousness as special...those are the shows that get my "Ten-Second Tony" awards. This is my post, so (1) I decree two honorees per category (a 10-second and a 15-second choice); (2) I'm adding back the Sound Design category, and (3) I'm adding in Best Ensemble and Best Book of a Play categories. I know that the Best Play category officially recognizes the playwright, but I think of that category as referencing the entire production as a whole, and the discussions I have with friends about Best Play and Best Musical categories, we are usually talking about it holistically, not just the playwright.
With the exception of Fun Home, which I have seen in various incarnations over the past 2.5 years, I saw most of these shows just once. But if I saw a show more than once, I've gone by my reaction on my first visit. And when I look at my choices, it's interesting to me, how many of them are shows that I knew very little about, and walked in relatively free of preconceptions. There's a lesson in there, I think.
In the end, my picks are really just a reflection of what I truly enjoyed seeing on stage this past season. And just because I didn't pick a show as a top choice in my Ten-Second Tonys, doesn't mean I wouldn't have given it an official Tony nomination. For the record, the omissions that most offended me in the official nominations were Side Show and Finding Neverland, not just in the Best Show categories, but other categories as well. Luckily, I get to remedy that here.
As Helen Mirren knows, it's good to be queen.
Note: For better or worse, all photos are by me.
Seeing a brand, spanking new show in its world premiere is like getting first choice of an untouched box of chocolates...it makes you feel almost reverent-knowing the flavor you will get remains a mystery, but oh, the possibilities!!
Last night, I was so very fortunate to attend Opening Night of the world premiere of Katori Hall's The Blood Quilt at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Hall is an award-winning playwright who has made it her business to bring the voices of African-American women to the stage.
I particularly love when a title is so apt, you could spend a good deal of discussion just on the rich meaning therein...this is one of those titles. The Blood Quilt is a literal, and figurative, sewing together of family and history and lore. Four sisters and a daughter/niece from the next generation come together on an island off the coast of Georgia, where generations of their family have resided. They are there to finish a final quilt for their recently-passed mother, for whom quilting was an art and the air she breathed. But Rendell Jernigan has left a deep, lasting and yes, painful, impact on each of her four daughters, and that pain and strength is waiting just around every corner in the house where they've gathered.
The Blood Quilt cast is exquisite, their chemistry palpable and electric. The set, lighting and sound design are almost a character unto themselves; transporting the audience far away from the DC waterfront to another, otherworldly waterfront at which souls are in play. And I was never wanting for a piece of the story to latch onto and ponder. The network of feelings and relationships seems almost infinite; wanting to break the confines of a two-act play and making me want to continue knowing these women beyond that stage.
I interviewed two of the actors in the cast, Nikiya Mathis and Afi Bijou, while the show was just starting preview week. You can read the interview on BroadwayWorld.com, and then get yourself down to Arena Stage to be part of some pretty magical theater.