10 Broadway Shows: What to See & What to Skip
Michael Musto recaps this season's current crop of shows.
May 12 2015 1:30 PM EST
December 08 2017 12:21 AM EST
Michael Musto recaps this season's current crop of shows.
Pictured: 'Finding Neverland' on Broadway, starring Matthew Morrison | Photo by Carol Rosegg
Lisa D'Amour's ambient play has an aging stripper throwing a funeral for herself while she's alive, in the parking lot of a New Orleans motel. The result is meandering, with some choppy directing and a few performances that don't soar, but it's nice to have a character-driven lovefest, and Julie White and K. Todd Freeman (as a memorable drag star) help drive it home.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
This musical might lack some of the movie's star quality -- what wouldn't? -- but in director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's hands, it's a swirling adaptation that's cleverly conceived instead of being either too revisionist or too slavish. Taking off from the 1951 movie set in post-war France, the Craig Lucas-scripted show juggles three men (an artist, played by Robert Fairchild, composer Brandon Uranowitz, and performer Max von Essen) as they vie for lilting ballerina Leanne Cope. Amid a whirl of sturdy Gershwin classics and exquisite explosions into dance, they play out their dramas flanked by Bob Crowley's sets, which mix scrims, frames, and monuments for an effect that's anything but banal or obvious. While effectively building a stairway to paradise, this show really earns its Eiffel Tower.
If Sondheim had written Finding Neverland, the Broadway musical adaptation of the 2004 movie (and play before it), it would be a dark, cerebral look at the creative process, with lots of analytical sprecht-singing. Instead, we have an alternately chirpy and heart tugging show that's aimed squarely at the panting crowd, who totally eat it up. In the handsomely produced production, directed by Diane Paulus, Glee's Matthew Morrison plays J.M. Barrie, the author who, traumatized by the early death of his brother, becomes obsessed with the fantasy theme of not growing up. He comes to develop Peter Pan thanks to his association with widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly, who has a terrific voice and breathes humanity into her role) and her four sons. A funny Kelsey Grammer is aboard as a potential antagonist, and along the way there's a joke about Cheers, a Barrie comment about what he might have called Tinkerbell, and even a fairy crack. (Asked if he believes in fairies, an effeminate actor responds, "My good man, I work in the theater. I see them every day!") A real feeling for Barrie doesn't really filter through the presentation, but it's entertaining and goes down easily--and Broadway needs hits!
Based on Alison Bechdel's autobiographical graphic novel about Bechdel's coming of age as a lesbian as her closeted funeral director father enters a personal crisis, this is an organic, dark, original musical of the type Broadway should foster more. (It traveled there from off-Broadway's Public Theater.) The cast, which includes Michael Cerveris, Sydney Lucas, Beth Malone, and Judy Kuhn, is expert, with interesting scripting/scoring by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, all playing out well in Sam Gold's staging in the round.
Based on the 1958 movie adapted from Colette's novella about a lovely, feisty girl advancing into turn-of-the-century adulthood, amidst the misty remembrances and attempted tutoring of some old folk, Gigi was always a gossamer story--crepe-thin, as it were--that depended on the charm of the environs, the lilt of the Lerner and Loewe score, and the star quality of the key performers. Without the extra magic the movie provided, it could have just come off like the tale of Parisians who like to dance around and sing about their home town a lot. A 1973 Broadway version flopped, even though Endora from Bewitched (Agnes Moorehead) was in it! And now, director Eric Schaeffer tries again, serving a proficient (if tweaked for political correctness) production that's nice enough, but unfortunately becomes a bit dullish because magnetically quirky personalities are supplanted by earnest professionalism.
Making her Broadway debut, ex-High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens can certainly sing, but she's been directed to speak in a mannered sounding attempt at high class that doesn't click. Meanwhile, "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" doesn't soar as done by the two older women, and while "The Night They Invented Champagne" has a kick, the whole production doesn't quite sustain it. Still, the songs, costumes, and sweeping stairway might keep your senses buzzed.
HAND TO GOD
Religion and homophobia are lampooned in Robert Askins' dark comedy in which an awkward Texas teen named Jason, disturbed by the death of his dad, joins in his mom's Christian Puppet Ministry, only to find that his puppet Tyrone has become his vicious half, showing signs of being aggressively possessed by Satan. We've seen puppets saying and doing dirty things before (Avenue Q) and also puppets taking sinister control of their masters (Twilight Zone, Magic), but that's not all that's going on in this at times hilarious play. In all his devilish fury, the grey sock known as Tyrone happens to say a lot of true things, blurting harsh realities about Jason's romantic attractions, his mood swings, and his mom's sexual doings. (Fed up with being good and waiting for Jesus's love to shower back on her, she has dirty sex with a minor who happens to be in her puppet group--the same one the cool girl in the group says is positioned "so back in the closet, you're in Narnia.") Tyrone can be mean and even violent, but he cuts through a lot of hypocrisies, telling us that the self-punishing "puppet show" surrounding Jesus needs to end. The resulting play gets too screechy and hysterical for its own good, but there are classic moments like the sight of the church's rec room as redone by Tyrone to feature Satanic imagery, slogans ("God Listens--To Slayer"), and burned out toys; the first time I've ever seen a set get a sustained minute of laughter. The message is that a person only gets to have one voice, and he has to be responsible for that voice. And driving it home is Steven Boyer in a knockout performance as the troubled schizo who ends up biting the hand that feeds--but only after it bites the homophobe.
David Hyde Pierce directed this champagne-light wedding musical with book and lyrics by his husband, Brian Hargrove, and score by the show's conceiver, Barbara Anselmi. It's entertaining enough, but insubstantial and not exactly thought provoking, despite the gay twist at the heart of it. Lisa Howard, Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, David Burtka, and Edward Hibbert give it their Broadway best.
THE KING AND I
Bartlett Sher turns Rodgers and Hammerstein musical set in 1860s Bangkok into a sweeping pageant with lovely costumes, sets, and staging, down to every last sash and twirl. Ken Watanabe is pouty, spouting fire as the petulant king, while Kelli O'Hara is her usual solid self as the strong willed British lady who comes to educate everyone. Will Kelli finally nab a Tony after her sixth nomination? Yes! I mean maybe! I mean I don't know. I mean I think so!
John Kander and the late Fred Ebb wrote classics like Cabaret and Chicago, as well as some fascinating curios that were not blockbusters but deserve evaluation. This show falls into the latter category. A musical adaptation of the Durrenmatt pay about a woman bent on vengeance as she returns to her corrupt town, this has sleek staging by John Doyle and a glowering central performance by legendary Chita Rivera, but the result is often fascinating rather than thrilling.
A big hand to the Royal Shakespeare Company's two-part epic Wolf Hall, which comprises approximately five-and-a-half hours of splendid pageantry and theatrics as it plumbs Tudor Court doings from the vantage point of power-titillated lawyer Thomas Cromwell. As adapted by Mike Poulton from Hilary Mantel novels, this isn't avant garde theater that reinvents the wheel; it's presentational and mostly straightforward, spanning soap opera, history lesson, and even some dark comedy. Jeremy Herrin directed on a gray-and-black geometric set complete with hanging metal cages, where his strong cast works out their intricate historical hijinks. Headed by Ben Miles as Cromwell and Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VIII, they're giving Helen Mirren (playing Queen Elizabeth in The Audience a few blocks away) a run for her pound.