Broadway Vacay Staycay
Wow, what a week! Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, music, magic, spectacle, and a “Who knew?” performance by Andrea Martin.
I had a great time on my Broadway Vacay Staycay! Saw a whirlwind of Broadway shows plus a special tribute to Eliza Doolittle.
Last month, I announced my plans to take a week of vacation time and do nothing but see Broadway shows. As W would say, mission accomplished!
In the course of one week I saw Pippin, The Book of Mormon, The Nance, Macbeth, and a private reading of My Fair Lady that knocked my socks off. For a theater fan it doesn’t get much better than that.
Part musical, part circus, plus Bob Fosse choreography, Pippin’s a winner.
I had never seen Pippin before in any incarnation, so it’s always been on my “must see” list. Pippin first opened on Broadway in 1972, with Ben Vereen winning a Tony for his portrayal of the Leading Player. Oh how I wish I had seen that production!
In this revival, Patina Miller is the Leading Player and she’s terrific, jazz hands and all. The basic story is a play within a play about Pippin, the son of King Charles (Charlemagne), and his quest to find meaning in life. This new version is greatly enhanced with the addition of circus characters and magic performances. Those extras brilliantly transform the show into a spectacle. I haven’t oohed and ahhed so much since watching Cirque du Soleil or Steve Cohen, The Millionaire’s Magician.
And Andrea Martin! Wow. She’s nominated for a Tony and deserves to win. We all know this lady is funny. Remember her as the silly aunt in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or on SCTV? Well she goes the extra mile in Pippin. She brings so much humor and warmth to her part and even does her own acrobatics!
Highly recommend Pippin to all ages who just want to have a good time out at the theater.
The Book of Mormon
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, The Book of Mormon was never on my playlist. I figured, eh, I’ll wait ’till the movie comes out or PBS does a Great Performance. But then Matt Doyle took over the lead as Elder Price, so I had to go see it. I’ve been following Matt’s career since he starred on Broadway in Spring Awakening. When he was in War Horse, he graciously invited me back stage at Lincoln Center. So he’s a good actor and a nice guy to boot.
The audience loved this show about a pair of non-wild and non-crazy Mormons who meet their match in Uganda. The crowd was eating it up. Clapping wildly, laughing, and giving ovations. I was smiling more than laughing. I would call the show “Musical Lite.” Yes, it’s a bona fide musical with singing, dancing, and a fun quickflash costume switch, but overall the book lacks depth.
My idea of a real musical is along the lines of The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, South Pacific, Hello, Dolly!, and most recently Urinetown. Mormon is not in the same church or pew. It’s like an overlong episode of South Park with a few catchy tunes, much like the South Park movie.
Wildly popular, Mormon won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical and one for Nikki M. James as best featured actress for her role as Nabalungi. Nikki’s in the current show so if you want to see her, go! But beware. Mormon has been sold out forever. Last week it sold 102.6% of its seats. It sold more than 100% because it also sold Standing Room Only tickets which accounted for the additional 2.6%. If you want tickets, plan well ahead and buy them. I was able to snag a single ticket by luck at the box office.
This was a pleasant surprise! I expected to like Nathan Lane, but reviews for the show were mixed and my last experience with The Nance’s playwright Douglas Carter Beane was not a pleasant one. So my fingers were crossed.
Nathan Lane was wonderful as Chauncey Miles, an over the top gay burlesque “Nance” performer who struggles offstage with his homosexuality. Lane really soared, hamming up funny burlesque numbers and then plunging into despair. Kudos to an AMAZING revolving set, and to featured actor Johnny Orsini. He doesn’t seem like an actor. He’s very natural and somewhat gawky. He’s also not a pretty boy, which is how the part could have been cast. Keep an eye out for him.
As for playwright Douglas Carter Beane, it was redemption time. I loved his play As Bees in Honey Drown. But then he wrote that awful play Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, starring one of my favorite actors, John Lithgow. How dare he make John Lithgow look bad? There aren’t enough profanities to properly express how bad that play was, so I’ll just call it dreck. While The Nance is not a perfect play, it was perfectly enjoyable, with a perfect Nathan Lane. And it certainly wasn’t dreck. So good job Mr. Beane.
For fun, have a listen to my favorite Nance, Frank Nelson. He made audiences laugh their heads off just by uttering one single word.
I was really looking forward to this modernized Macbeth starring Alan Cumming. In fact it was the reason I decided to go all out and spend a week on the Great White Way. The moment I heard about Macbeth I bought tickets. Everyone knows I’m a bargain hunter (some might say cheap yankee), but Macbeth had a limited engagement and I didn’t want to get closed out, so full price it was.
Overall, this production was a mixed bag and a bit disappointing. Alan Cumming was amazing, as a virtual one-man Macbeth (there are two other actors, very minor). He vacillated from Macbeth to Lady Macbeth to Duncan and Banquo smoothly and beautifully. It was a pleasure to watch his tour de force performance.
But something was lost in the translation. Not the translation of Shakespearean English into American English. But something was lost in the translation of a heavy drama where interactions between characters are so important, wrapped all into one Alan Cumming. I don’t think Macbeth works as a solo number. I do, however, admire the intention to put a new spin on an old classic. And I would love to see more experimental works of this nature. After all, the play’s the thing, and Shakespeare has a lot of things dangling out there.
My Fair Lady
On May 20, also known as Eliza Doolittle Day, I had SO much fun! I got to watch a group of performers do a reading of My Fair Lady at a Broadway studio. Accompanied by piano and bass, the group performed the entire Lerner and Loewe musical.
Now this meets my definition of a musical! First – the book. It’s a wonderful story based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, about a Cockney flower girl and the uppity professor who bets he can pass her off as a well-born lady. Second – the music. Hummable tunes? A treasure trove! Great songs such as Why Can’t the English, Wouldn’t it be Loverly, With a Little Bit of Luck, Just You Wait, The Rain in Spain, On the Street Where You Live, Get me to the Church on Time, and I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face.
The talent at this reading, yikes! Their singing knocked my socks off, and their comedic interaction was spot on. I understand that My Fair Lady is coming back to Broadway, possibly starring Colin Firth as Henry Higgins. I CAN NOT WAIT! Yes, this is another show where I would gladly pay full price just to get good seats.
The revival is being directed by Bartlett Sher who also directed the recent revival of South Pacific. Talk about the right man for the job! While Mr. Firth and other well-known actors are being considered for the leads, I hope Mr. Sher will look into Broadway’s backyard for standbys and other roles. In particular, perhaps he could consider journeyman actor and singer Miles Phillips, who was wonderful at the reading, as a standby for Henry Higgins. His voice is rich, he can hit the high notes, and he brings warmth and humor to the part. Plus it’s his dream to play Higgins. With a little bit of luck, it could happen.
Having rested and recovered from my Broadway Vacay Staycay, I’m already a bit sad. I didn’t make it to The Assembled Parties or Lucky Guy starring Tom Hanks. Didn’t get to Sleep No More off Broadway, Kinky Boots, or Cinderella which I bet is good because it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein. Next time, Broadway, next time.