Broadway’s April Avalanche: 14 Play and Musical Openings
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So many Broadway plays and musicals opened between mid-March and April 26th, the Tony cut-off date that it was hard to keep up. Here are summaries of my reviews, with links to my full take, organized chronologically by opening date:
My review of Death of A Salesman (opened 3/15/12)
The fifth Broadway production of “Death of A Salesman,” with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, has opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in the same month when “Mad Men” begins its fifth season. Both focus on a morally challenged salesman (albeit different kinds of salesmen), and explore the dark side of the business world.
But for all the cult-like popularity of the television series, and its influence on fashion and popular culture and even theater … the viewer is meant to feel an ironic distance from its characters…There is no such distance in “Death of A Salesman.” Arthur Miller’s play certainly speaks more to our tough times with its tale of an average man who fights off disillusion and defeat with spirited American delusion. But even if it were not so timely, the play derives its continued power because the audience identifies with the authenticity and intensity of the relationships …It is the strength of the supporting cast, however, that turns this “Death of A Salesman” into a must-see production…In the little-remembered moments, as in better-known scenes, “Death of A Salesman” is breathtaking.
Full review of Death of A Salesman
Buy tickets to Death of a Salesman
My review of Once (opened 3/18/12)
They meet on a Dublin street, he a street musician about to abandon his guitar, she a Czech pianist without a piano. In “Once” the Broadway musical, as in “Once” the small hit film, love begins with a broken vacuum cleaner…..
“Once” stays homey, charming, and inviting; on a smaller scale than usual for a Broadway musical, which turns out to be a good thing. It is also slow moving and slight. It requires patience, or at least the right mind-set, to fall for this show (Falling slowly, indeed.)
Full review of Once
Buy tickets to Once
My review of Jesus Christ Superstar (opened 3/22/12)
There are several good things to say about this “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The sound is unusually clear, which makes you wonder why the sound can’t be better at better shows.
The highlight of the production is “King Herod’s Song,” a kind of burlesque featuring Bruce Dow as the king, singing in front of light bulbs formed into an enormous H, with a garishness that comes off as intentional (self)parody, enhanced by winning choreography for an ensemble dressed in outfits that seem somewhere between Madonna and Monty Python. The rest of the show seems far closer to unintentional parody, especially the scene where Jesus chases the money-lending go-go girls and boys in gold hotpants out of the discotheque, and then the several scenes that together make up the crucifixion, which seems to owe more to Howell Binkley’s lighting than McAnuff’s directing
Full review of Jesus Christ Superstar
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My review of Newsies (opened 3/29/12)
Wider than the gap between the one percent and the 99 percent, or between labor and management, is the one between those who grew up adoring the film “Newsies” and those who found it unwatchable.
…The good news about “Newsies” is that the musical works far better on a stage….Menken’s dozen songs, spiced with some undeniably catchy tunes, get the treatment they deserve, backed by a live 12-piece band and put forth by a splendid cast (of young-looking adults playing children) that is not only as attractive as those in the movie; these performers can actually sing.And dance. The choreography by Christopher Gattelli is dazzling…“Newsies” may be based on a true story, but the story here feels largely synthetic. Full review of Newsies
Buy tickets to Newsies
My review of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (opened 4/1/12)
With its talk of sex in the White House and God on the campaign stump, “The Best Man,” which debuted in 1960, long has seemed prophetic. But the references to the 2012 campaign are downright eerie. Candice Bergen or Angela Lansbury or Eric McCormack of “Will and Grace” or one of the other celebrated cast members may lure in an audience for this production of the (now-renamed) “Gore Vidal’s the Best Man,” but, once the action gets going, theatergoers are just as likely to recognize Mitt or Rick or Newt:
*Catholics are “the big thing this year,” one character says. Both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are Catholics.
*A candidate with working class roots says to the one with an Ivy League pedigree that the American public does not want somebody that’s part of the “Groton Harvard Wall Street set.”
*There is even a debate over the political ramifications of supporting birth control.
Nearly every role is cast with thespian royalty…. Most of the actors deliver.
My review of End of the Rainbow (opened 4/2/12)
It is not until the very end of “End of the Rainbow,” after Judy Garland’s pianist tells us how she died from an overdose, that we feel free to be entertained: Tracie Bennett comes back from the dead to sing two more songs, one of them “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Before that, it feels more appropriate to be appalled, or at least embarrassed….“End of the Rainbow” is a portrait of pathetic decline
…Judy Garland has been dead almost as long as she was alive, but there is clearly no statute of limitation on backstage dramas about self-destructive entertainers – see Monroe, Marilyn. “End of the Rainbow” follows the formula, with no apparent interest in widening our perceptions of the fallen star…What distinguishes “End of the Rainbow” begins and ends with Tracie Bennett’s performance. Bennett is an undeniably Olympic athlete of dysfunction.
Full review of End of the Rainbow
Buy tickets to End of the Rainbow
My review of Evita (opened April 5)
Six decades after her death, three decades after her canonization on Broadway, Evita is back, as immense as a Cathedral, as intimidating as a fascist rally….Michael Grandage’s revival of “Evita,” the first on Broadway since its original four-year run, inspires reactions of awe, ambivalence, disappointment and helplessness in almost equal measure. The awe comes from the design…Whether you see the performances as an argument for or against this production seems to depend on what you are looking for. Exhibit A is Ricky Martin…
Full review of Evita
Buy tickets to Evita
My review of Magic/Bird (opened April 11)
The most powerful moment for me in “Magic/Bird,” a play about the rivalry and then friendship between basketball stars Magic Earvin Johnson and Larry Bird, occurs after Johnson announces that he has HIV, retires, and then returns to play the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. There is so much emotion in Larry Bird’s normally stoic face during the game that I nearly burst into tears.
But there is a catch. It is Larry Bird’s actual face up on a screen, one of many video snippets that are used in “Magic/Bird.”
Virtually nothing that the live performers do on the stage at the Longacre Theater has anywhere near the impact…
Full review of Magic/Bird
Buy tickets to Magic/Bird
Update May 1: Magic/Bird announced it would close on May 12, 2012
My review of Peter and the Starcatcher (opened, April 15)
The story of “Peter and the Starcatcher” is improbable enough – a sprawling adventure involving orphans and pirates, mermaids and deadly mollusks that has landed on Broadway with inventive use of ropes and ladders instead of video projections or hydraulic lifts. But the transfer of this deliberately low-tech charmer from the main stage of the New York Theatre Workshop (with its 198 seats) to the Brooks Atkinson on Broadway (with its 1,069 seats) achieves the near-impossible: It actually has gotten better…The story itself is much clearer…“Peter and the Starcatcher” is also still, for my taste, too long and busy for what it is; it is still a struggle to stay engaged throughout.
My review of One Man, Two Guvnors: April 18
“One Man, Two Guvnors” asks us some tough questions: Is it funny to see an old waiter repeatedly knocked down a flight of stairs? A fat man eat an envelope? A member of the audience humiliated?
The answers, it turns out, are easy: YES!
This weirdly-named British import, based on an 18th century Italian comedy, is hilarious in so many ways, from pratfalls to word-play to pointed commentary, that you could write a thesis about it – but, in keeping with the tone of the show, you would then have to eat the thesis
Full review of One Man, Two Guvnors
My review of Clybourne Park: April 19
The most breathtaking of the ironies connected to “Clybourne Park” is not one playwright Bruce Norris presents in the comedy itself, which is a clever update of “A Raisin in the Sun,” the classic drama about a black family moving into a white neighborhood. “Clybourne Park,” which has now opened on Broadway, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama last year. The drama on which it is based never did….
On the whole well-acted, and wonderfully directed by Pam MacKinnon making her own Broadway debut, “Clybourne Park” has provocative things to say about race relations, about community, about our failures at communication, about whether generational change is real change. It says them with humor and with insight. There are also some moving moments, and eerie moments that can pass for moving. The play is without question worth seeing, the reward of doing so the satisfaction not only of crackling theater but of keeping up with what’s happening in the culture.
But will “Clybourne Park” endure the way “A Raisin in the Sun” has? Will it stir people 50 years from now?
My review of A Streetcar Named Desire: April 22
Tennessee William long wanted to see “A Streetcar Named Desire” cast with African-American actors, according to the director who now has brought a multi-racial production to Broadway: “He’d always known, as someone who knows New Orleans, how right this is,” director Emily Mann, who was personally acquainted with the playwright, said recently…There are two main aesthetic reasons I can think of to justify Mann’s reinterpretation of “A Streetcar Named Desire” through multi-racial casting – – to have the audience look at a classic work in a fresh light, thereby adding to our understanding of it; and to give us the chance to see great actors in roles normally closed to them. The director clearly achieves the first aim. She is only partially successful in the second. Blair Underwood, who is known primarily for his button-down roles on television – an idealistic lawyer in L.A. Law, the president of the United States in The Event – here lets loose as Stanley, the role that made Marlon Brando a star, and that must be intimidating for any actor…Less convincing for me is Nicole Ari Parker as Blanche….Her Blanche is capable and forceful, not fragile; aggressive, not passive-aggressive.
My review of Ghost The Musical: April 23
Ghost grossed half a billion dollars and won an Academy Award for Whoopi Goldberg and for its screenplay, so perhaps it was inevitable the 1990 film would eventually be made into a musical. What was not inevitable is how spectacular Ghost the Musical is….Ghost the Musical is a literally spectacular stage show. It makes better use of video projections than any previous show on Broadway…No other current Broadway show – and, I would wager, no Broadway show ever – has had an illusionist as part of the design team…
Full review of Ghost
Buy tickets to Ghost The Musical
My review of The Lyons: April 23
On second viewing now that it has transferred to Broadway, I find the performances broader and the play slighter. But it is still entertaining to spend two hours with the unhappy, unpleasant Lyons family…One can suspect these changes were effected to accommodate the more mainstream theatergoers of Broadway, but, even if so, I am not scandalized. What worked in “The Lyons” downtown still works. The acting still could not be better. Linda Lavin gives a nuanced (if louder) performance that should not be missed. She may initially seem little more than a quirky caricature but she winds up something more, different, thought-provoking
My review of Nice Work If You Can Get It: April 24
Given the talent assembled to fashion a new musical out of 21 of George and Ira Gershwin’s durably tuneful and witty songs, it should come as no surprise how entertaining “Nice Work If You Can Get It” can be. What’s surprising is how bad it gets.
More surprising is the main reason it gets bad: the performance by Matthew Broderick.
Full review of Nice Work If You Can Get It
Buy tickets to Nice Work If You Can Get It
My review of The Columnist: April 25
He was one of the nation’s most influential newspaper columnists for decades, a cousin of Eleanor Roosevelt, close friends with President Kennedy and even closer with Jackie. But Joseph Alsop is in bed with a young man…in Moscow…in 1954….when we first see him in “The Columnist,” an intelligent and intriguing play by David Auburn. Marking Auburn’s first return to Broadway since his impressive debut with “Proof,” which won both the Pulitzer and the Tony for best play, “The Columnist” is impressive in its own more modest way. Superbly directed by Daniel Sullivan, it features a seven-member dream cast that includes John Lithgow and Boyd Gaines.
Full review of The Columnist
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My review of Don’t Dress For Dinner: April 26
Timing is everything in farce, but it isn’t the fault of the people behind “Don’t Dress For Dinner,” that it has the bad timing to be arriving at the very end of the Broadway season shortly after “One Man, Two Guvnors,” the far less elegant farce that is actually funny.
…I don’t know where they have kept Spencer Kayden locked up since her Broadway debut as Little Sally in “Urinetown” 11 years ago, but they need to build a show around her – a different show, not an ancient farce like “Don’t Dress for Dinner.”
Full review of Don’t Dress for Dinner
Buy tickets to Don’t Dress for Dinner
My review of Leap of Faith: April 26
“Leap of the Faith” is the latest of three Broadway musicals with Alan Menken’s songs; one of five shows featuring religion; one of seven that were originally movies, and one of countless past and present with some fine performances but little point nor purpose. Even the cast recording of the show, when it’s released, will be one of dozens of albums entitled “Leap of Faith.”
Based on the 1992 movie starring Steve Martin as Jonas Nightingale, a fake faith healer who sees the light, this musical version replaces Martin with Raul Esparza, turns the sheriff into a woman played by Jessica Phillips, and strips away the occasionally satirical tone the film had, replacing it with some odd humor and odder earnestness. The result is a rousing gospel songfest and a story with holes even the faithful cannot leap.
Full review of Leap of Faith
Buy tickets to Leap of Faith
For details on these shows and a complete rundown on what else is on Broadway, go to: What’s On Broadway 2012
Which one are you most looking forward to? Take the poll
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