On this day in 1968…

Darling of the Day opened at the George Abbott Theatre in New York City. The musical by Jule Styne and Yip Harburg was based on the Arnold Bennett novel Buried Alive, a decidedly Anglophilic romp in which a nobleman artist assumes the identity of his deceased manservant “to get out of the world alive.” In doing so, he also takes up the deceased’s correspondence with a widow from Putney, named Alice Challice. Anyway, a convoluted farce ensues where he paints under his pseudonym and is found out by snobbish art dealers. This leads to a courtroom climax that brings about a conclusion with a decidedly Gilbert & Sullivan-esque flair.
The show’s creative process was less than happy. Darling of the Day went through various directors (4), choreographers (2), book writers (5) and titles (2) and the show opening in NY without a credited librettist (a death knell for a musical; Nunnally Johnson insisted his name be taken off the show). The revolving door also included Peter Wood, S.N. Behrman, Albert Marre, Stephen Vinaver (who was hired and fired twice) and Peter Gennaro among others. In spite of the mess created by such a tumultuous tryout period, the show managed to allow the effervescent Patricia Routledge to shine in the role of the spirited widow. The cast album is a marvel for the strength of Styne’s music and the cleverness of Harburg’s lyrics, with Routledge getting the best of the material. Every one of her numbers in the show is worth hearing: “It’s Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love,” “A Gentleman’s Gentleman,” the devastatingly beautiful waltz “Let’s See What Happens,” a lost gem of a ballad “That Extra Something Special,” and her rousing piece d’resistance, her eleven o’clocker “Not on Your Nellie.”
Routledge stole the show from the non-singing Vincent Price and won the show’s general acclaim. Darling couldn’t withstand the initial critical drubbing it received and shuttered after 32 performances. The show would (fortunately for all) record a cast album; Routledge would win the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical, tying with Leslie Uggams who appeared in Jule Styne’s hit-flop/flop-hit Hallelujah, Baby! (Talk about book trouble).

As per Walter Kerr: [Routledge gives] “the most spectacular, most scrumptious, most embraceable musical comedy debut since Beatrice Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence came to this country … I understand there are some insane people going around this town saying that they didn’t care all that much for Darling of the Day. I’d stay away from them if I were you. I warn you: if you don’t catch her act now, you’ll someday want to kill yourself.”

Talk about a notice.

The original cast album is now woefully out of print, though it was issued on CD by RCA Victor in the late 1990s. There are copies available used on amazon and also through Arkiv Music (a CD-R with reproductions of original liner notes). The show plays on record as a hit, as many flops scores do. (I forgot to mention that Ralph Burns was the orchestrator). There is also a rare recording of the opening night performance, muddied and poor quality, but you’d never believe the show was a disaster from the way the audience responds, particularly to Routledge. (Her ovation for “Not on Your Nellie” went on so long, she had to plead with the audience to let the show continue).

And now, my new favorite flop is 40 years old. It’s not often revived; though there were recent attempts at revisions, including the version presented at Musicals in Mufti a few year’s back (featuring Rebecca Luker). If we’re lucky, Encores! will present this delightful obscurity as part of their series starring Victoria Clark as Alice.

Of course, an ideal season would also include the long forgotten A Time for Singing and Donnybrook! (How about it, Encores?)

‘What the eye arranges is what is beautiful…"

It took me years to warm up to Sunday in the Park with George. There I admit it; in fact the first time I saw the taping of the original Broadway production, aside from Bernadette Peters and the end of the first act, I was bored. The jaunty atonal score was initially unmemorable; leaving little to no impression on me. Plus, I have never been a big fan of Mandy Patinkin, so that didn’t help any.

However, the more I matured, the more I kept pushing myself back to the score; I always felt like I was missing something important about it; and was intrigued. It took years of listening, and several attempts at viewing the production; reading about it plus reading the libretto that started the thawing process. Not that every musical should have that laborious nature (indeed, while I have come to respect and admire Passion, I will never love it).

Anyway, the clincher was in 2004 when I was asked to work on my college’s production as dramaturge. I immersed myself in the information around the show: I read all I could on Sondheim and Sunday from varying texts and sources. Reviews, biographies, intricate analyses, you name it. I also auditioned for the show, merely for fun, since I knew that as an outsider who wasn’t a major in the theatre department, I would never be seriously considered for any roles. My audition went very well. I sang the patter section of “It Would Have Been Wonderful” and the last A section of “Love Can’t Happen” (in the show key, to toot my own horn) and did a Nicky Silver monologue. It went much better than I (and I think they) expected. I got a callback. Well, that didn’t go very well. (The confidence I had at the initial audition was thoroughly depleted when met by the condescending glares of the other actors). And I wasn’t cast. So we set about working on the show; I was rarely utilized by the cast and crew for questions throughout the rehearsal period, but was ready to be a source if necessary.

Then I got put into the show (the person playing “Man with Bicycle” and “Man on Shore” opted not to accept his part); mostly to add my voice to the choral numbers, an extra person to hit the high G’s in “Sunday.” However, getting involved in table work and talking about the productions; and even seeing things in the Lincoln Center TOFT archive (which included the original Playwrights Horizons workshop), my eyes were opened to the artistic genius at work. Anyway, I’ve experienced this feeling of protectiveness whenever I’ve been involved with a show where I develop a sort of unconditional love for the work; even if it be a red-headed step child of the theatre.

I came to love Sunday in the Park with George.

And I saw it live as an audience member for the first time last night at the first preview of the Broadway revival playing at Studio 54. It’s an import of the British production that played the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2006 and contains the Olivier-winning stars of that production; Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell (the latter making her Broadway debut). Supporting the two superlative stars are the superb Broadway veterans Michael Cumpsty, Jessica Molaskey, Anne L. Nathan, Ed Dixon and the delightful Mary Beth Peil.

The production affected me in many ways. I was mesmerized by the animation of the scenic design which cleverly altered itself to show a flash of a figure of the painting here and there or even the subtle encroachment of autumn during “Beautiful.” (They even used the animated projections for the multiple George sequence in “Putting it Together”). The twilight effect of the streetlamps on La Grand Jatte 1984 during “Lesson #8 was a sheer marvel of subtlety and of scenography complementing the onstage action.

Evans is particularly stunning as George. Though Mandy has his teeth firmly embedded into the role (which was also aided by the original Broadway cast recording being the only album of the score for 22 years), for the first time I felt I understood George. I saw an artist so dedicated to his work and so close to a breakthrough that he shuns the world and eventually loses the great love of his life as a result. His George wasn’t a cryptic brooding mess of nerves; there was a heart to Evans’ George that took on new and refreshing dynamics, especially driving home “Finishing the Hat” (which received the Peter Filichia applause: the audience response was huge; it started to dissipate only to re-emerge louder and more pronounced than before). The song “Beautiful” is one of the most quietly poignant moments Mr. Sondheim has created; you have juxtaposing opinions of perspective and change between George and his somewhat senile mother. George finds such promise in change; “Pretty is what changes…” while nostalgia and a dislike of change gets the best of her “How I long for the old view.” It’s a moment of remarkable depth; especially hearing George find beauty in all that he sees, whether it be old or new, and his commitment to capturing it as an artist. Russell founds ways of both reinventing Dot and yet at times, coming so close to reminding me of Bernadette. She’s beautiful, she gets the laughs and while she may not be as warm as the famed originator of the part, she does manage to give Dot a loving heart. She scored especially well as Marie in the second act with a devastating “Children and Art.”

What was most surprising was the amount of polish since it was their first performance in front of an audience. The lighting cues are many (the tech rehearsal must have been hell) and so much of the production revolves around the lighting and projections for its full effect. While there could be a little tightening in spots (particularly “Putting it Together” which has always been too long), they have a rich foundation on which they will continue to grow throughout the run.

Speaking of quibbles… the pit. Five pieces, are you kidding me? Why don’t you just get Dick Van Dyke to reprise his one-man band Bert from Mary Poppins and save even more money. The loss of the French horn is the most mournful in the instrumentation; the sax substitute is lackluster. This is not Sunday in the Park with Kenny G. Others had quibbled with the use of British accents in the first act, but I was strangely okay with that; which also got me wondering how well the show would translate to French… Another weak spot: Alexander Gemignani is rather annoying onstage. Didn’t love him in Sweeney Todd and didn’t care for him here as the Boatman.

The show has always been plagued by its second act which is necessary to the authors’ intent, but doesn’t live up to the magic of the first (one review of the original production said act one was the best new musical in town; act two the worst). I have never seen the problematic second act run as smoothly and enjoyably as it did last night. Moment to moment, I was continually impressed; particularly the final 20-30 minutes; rich are the songs “Children and Art” (the lyrics in this song alone are enough to warrant its Pulitzer Prize win, followed by “Lesson #8” and the long-awaited musical release in “Move On” (which no doubt would have brought the house in on itself had it not been directed to move directly into dialogue and leave us without the opportunity to applaud; I’ll be quicker next time). It was ethereal.

The moment that has haunted me through the day the most and will likely continue to do so for a long time was the final moment of the show. There is the reprise of the “Sunday” anthem with 1984 George connecting with Dot and the characters of the painting. In the moment following the exit of the characters from the stage, the projections have reversed themselves and gone back to a pure white stage.

George reads: “White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities…”

My breath was drawn and my heart exploded with emotion when he turned upstage and made his breakthrough; gasping with rapture and openness at the white canvas that lay ahead for him as an artist. The words that I have just written can’t even begin to explain just how stunning this final flourish was as the lights went out. All I know is that it will stay with me always.

The ovation was extraordinary. As the house lights came up, the audience only increased its roar of approval; and it was clear no one was going anywhere until the cast came out one more time, which they did. Both Evans and Russell were visibly overwhelmed by the reception. I love impromptu moments like that.

Not everyone I was with shared my enthusiastic view, but Sondheim interpretations generally tend to polarize than unite. It’s the nature of the beast and that’s all right with me. It was just enough to share the night with a slew of classy friends and acquaintances.

I’m already going back. It can’t be soon enough for me.

Side note: Miles said observed that Sunday is the MILF of musicals; it gets better with age. Not the classiest observation I’ve heard, but he’s actually not far from the truth (though in his favor, he also referred to it as a fine wine, but I found this reference more amusing). Sweeney Todd is the masterpiece, Follies the cult favorite, and Pacific Overtures the most intriguing; Sunday in the Park With George is probably Sondheim’s most fascinating score.

Second side note: I apparently bear a striking resemblance to Georges Seurat (at least the onstage version) as was pointed out to me by two strangers in the lobby at intermission.

The First Meeting of the Patricia Routledge Appreciation Society

It’s pretty well-established among my friends that I adore Patricia Routledge. Her comic timing is a marvel, plus she has a singing voice blessed by the musical theatre gods. Her Tony win came for her portrayal of Alice Challice in the flop Darling of the Day, in which she sang the forgotten Jule Styne gems “It’s Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love,” “Let’s See What Happens” and the rousing barroom eleven o’clock number “Not on Your Nellie.” At 31 performances, this was the peak of her Broadway musical career. Two other flops (Love Match and Say Hello to Harvey) both closed out of town; and her last main-stem credit, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ran a whopping 7 performances.

However, she originated the role of Ruth in the Joe Papp revision of The Pirates of Penzance Central Park that proved overwhelmingly popular on Broadway in the early 80s. Unfortunately for theatregoers and cast album aficionados, she didn’t make the jump from the Central Park run to the official main-stem run at the Uris Theatre. Replacing her in the role was Estelle Parsons, who was recorded on the album. The 1983 film featured Angela Lansbury. Anyway, Kultur DVD released the archive video recording of the show live in its original outdoor run at the Delacorte. Here is a taste of the Routledge (with Kevin Kline, who would win a Tony for his performance when the show made its transfer and Rex Smith):

Stream of Consciousness: Tidbits & "Sweeney Todd" the Movie Musical

Okay, so I haven’t written in a spell. (SarahB was quick to remind me of that this afternoon, in a strange psychic moment where I had been thinking it myself). Anyway, the holidays were as mindblowingly mediocre as always but at least work didn’t get to me this year. Customers were actually nice for a change (I’m a Barnes & Noble head cashier for those not in the know). It amazes me to see people smiling and accommodating and not being complete morons insipidly worrying more about the shopping aspect of Christmas (which overshadows everything else; and is likely to remain so). Plus New Year’s. I don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve. I haven’t as a rule. However, I did watch the new documentary Words and Music by Jerry Herman on PBS. While it doesn’t present us with any sort of information that isn’t already known, it was fascinating to see all the footage of the original productions of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel, The Grand Tour and La Cage. Wow, the only one lacking footage was Milk and Honey (represented in still photos).

I’ve not been to NY since I saw the revival of Pygmalion last month (stellar presentation; Claire Danes was good, if shrill; Jefferson Mays, Boyd Gaines and Jay O. Sanders were absolutely brilliant); however, I’m attending my first opera at the Met this Tuesday. The Barber of Seville. I am incredibly psyched for it and will try not to go nuts. To add to the excitement, I will be at the first preview of Sunday in the Park With George on Friday. Oh, let the good times roll.

I saw the film version of Sweeney Todd. As it ranks as one of my favorite musicals, I was incredibly wary of a Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration of the project. However, as production stills were made available and then clips leaked online – and then that trailer. I knew it was going to be something special. In spite of those purists I know who lamented the vocal quality, the cuts and adaptations between stage and screen; I was completely devastated by the piece. That in itself is mind blowing as I’m usually the purist who cannot concede to change especially in a piece that’s especially close to my heart. I think, too, that part of my enjoyment of the film came from having accepted prior that it was not going to be the stage show but the film version of the stage show. That makes a world of difference from a fan perspective. From the opening Dies Irae on organ to the jovial “A Little Priest” that played out the end of the credits, I was mesmerized and captivated by the stylized direction of Burton and the acting. Depp and Helena Bonham aren’t exactly the sturdiest singers I’ve heard (especially tackling this difficult material). Okay, that’s been established. However, both characterizations impressed me. Depp’s brooding Sweeney made the more operatic moments especially chilling with a gravelly understatement of his delivery; his singing worked, as the lyrics were from a character perspective; carefully prepared and thoughtfully delivered. Carter has come under considerably scrutiny for her vocal performance and her characterization. I am in the belief that she created a wholly original Mrs. Lovett for the screen, understated as well, but also finding something more realistic and human inside; this was made especially evident in her relationship with Tobias (raising the stakes by being portrayed by an actual boy). Her Lovett is less a Dickensian caricature (which is sure a helluva lot of fun onstage) and more a woman who is indeed tempered by desperate times and desperate emotions. I don’t think a performance akin to Angela Lansbury, Dorothy Loudon or Sheila Hancock in the original New York and London companies would transfer well onscreen without some sort of concept or satiric take on the material. Treading new ground, Carter found what little there is of Lovett’s heart; though still a manipulative monster who is essentially the true villain of the piece. As for the violence? I loved it. I’m not big on graphic scenes of people getting chopped up or blown up or slashed away or tortured. I don’t do the “torture porn” movies like Saw or Hostel (besides, the scariest are the ones like Don’t Look Now and Halloween where the director creates sensations of unease and suspense in every shot. Anyway, I digress. The sensationally impressionistic bloodletting had me giggling like a horror fanboy. And though I cringed, I have to say I admired the revision on how the chair disposes the bodies. I sat in the theatre numb after the credits rolled. (An added bonus, the woman behind me got so involved in the story, she gasped an incredibly audible “Oh, no!” when Sweeney threw Johanna into his chair. Anyway, it’s a marvel in its production design (particularly the makeup and costumes); for the first time Sweeney has, for me, genuinely looked like something out of mid-Victorian England. I was okay with the cuts; I was okay with the changes. It’s an adaptation; not a taping of the original Broadway production. Since we already have that available with the national tour of Lansbury and George Hearn, why would we want that replicated on screen? With its judicious and carefully approached preparations, the director, screenwriter and entire creative team worked diligently on respecting the original while finding their own way about it. (A special kudos for the riotous montages of “By the Sea”). Would this Sweeney work onstage? Maybe in a garage in Soho. Probably not. But does it work as a film? Absolutely.

I’ve also since discovered what I adore most about the Hal Prince staging: the very last moment where everyone is robotically exiting the stage during the final ballad reprise and Sweeney goes upstage and slams that door. What a way to end it!

Anyway, kids, go see Sweeney Todd.

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve. A glorious night of the year, where it feels as if things in the world are, albeit briefly, alright. This year, I am home alone for the holidays as my parents are in Malaysia with my brothers. Never fear, I muddle on through. I have continued my wondrous Christmas Eve tradition of listening to the original cast album of She Loves Me, not only one of the most glorious musical comedies written, but a show that finds its incredibly touching finale take place on Christmas Eve. As I type, the “Ice Cream” reprise scene between Daniel Massey and Barbara Cook is playing out, one of those zen moments when you know that a musical can be salve for a weary soul.

Merry Christmas, kids.

The most played songs on my iPod.

It’s very late and I’m waiting for my laundry to dry and since I have not yet seen Sweeney Todd (curses), I needed something to fill the void, so I decided to play around with my iPod/itunes. I was curious to see what my top 25 playlist consisted of, so I thought I’d share:

1. “Not on Your Nellie,” Darling of the Day, OBCR (Jule Styne-Yip Harburg). Patricia Routledge‘s rousing music-hall eleven o’clock showstopper. It’s a sheer delight from start to finish. In part because of this, and also the next entry, Routledge has become a heroine of mine. And a master class in musical comedy genius. I highly recommend the rest of the cast album. 109 plays (yeah, I’ve listened to it a lot…).

2. “Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land),” 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (Leonard Bernstein-Alan Jay Lerner). Patricia Routledge once again snags this spot with her spirited rendition of this nine minute showstopper in which she portrays both Julia Grant and Lucy Hayes while discoursing on the election controversy that led to the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. A complete marvel of craft in both performance and writing. 60 plays.

3. “You’ve Got Possibilities,” It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman, OBCR (Charles Strouse-Lee Adams). Linda Lavin stopped the show with this cleverly written song in which her character tries to seduce Clark Kent. 46 plays.

4. “Sez I/If It Isn’t Everything,” Donnybrook, OBCR (Johnny Burke). Peter Filichia referred to this in an article as the greatest opening number you’ve never heard. I will not disagree. The only fitting description I can use would be to consider it a feisty Irish cousin to “Waitin’ for My Dearie” and “Many a New Day,” Joan Fagan nails this energetic number out of the ballpark. Now if we could only get a CD release. 44 plays.

5. “The Golden Ram,” Two by Two, OBCR (Richard Rodgers-Martin Charnin). Okay, so I’m a huge fan of Madeline Kahn. Extraordinarily huge. This brief exercise in coloratura hysterics is the only cast album which showcases Kahn’s soprano at its peak (she had vocal problems the day On the Twentieth Century was recorded, though apparently no one in the production team cared). She caps the number with a full-out high C. 44 plays.

6. “Another Hundred People,” Company, OBCR (Stephen Sondheim). One of the most ingenious orchestrations ever given a theatre song, Pamela Myers‘ definitive rendition is always something I listen to with earnestness and appreciation. From the melody, to the lyric, to the context, it is one of the most satisfying moments in a musical (and subsequent album) that Sondheim has given us. 44 plays.

7. “Come You Men,” A Time for Singing, OBCR (John Morris-Gerald Freedman). Granted the running time is brief (1:20), which probably led to numerous plays over the previous months; but the song itself is the stirring opening to the cast album of this devastatingly short-lived musical adaptation of How Green Was My Valley. This track is an a capella chorale in the Welsh tradition that is incredibly stirring and melodically gorgeous. 44 plays.

8. “A Time for Singing,” A Time for Singing, OBCR. Tessie O’Shea gets great material in this show, but her rousing and spirited rendition of the title song will send you to hit the repeat button again and again. A jubilant waltz, the song also takes on for me, a personal philosophy of what the singing in a musical can do. Hear the words of the first verse, and you’ll understand. Another LP album that needs a remastered CD release. 38 plays.

9. “The Girl Who Has Everything,” Grey Gardens, OBCR (Scott Frankel-Michael Korie). When I first saw this musical, it was on Broadway, where this number had replaced the song “Toyland” featured on the original cast recording from Playwrights Horizons. When the new album came out, this soaring operetta waltz, which took on considerable gravity within the show’s context, was oft repeated, especially for the stunning vocal flourish with which Christine Ebersole ended the number. 37 plays.

10. “The Revolutionary Costume for Today,” Grey Gardens, OBCR. I would consider this the finest list song Broadway has had in years, if not decades. The list espoused by Little Edie in this act two opening showstopper is a feat of expository writing in an opening number. (I consider GG two linked one-act musicals, since the styles are so very different). You receive so much about setting, time and character in just the words, and even the amusing “Da-da-da-DA-dummm.” which fills the pauses between songs. Genius. 37 plays.

The rest of the top 25: “We Need a Little Christmas,” Mame OBCR (Jerry Herman); “Turkey Lurkey Time,” Promises, Promises OBCR (Bacharach-Hal David); “I Was a Shoo-In,” Subways Are for Sleeping OBCR (Styne-Comden & Green); “It’s Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love,” Darling of the Day OBCR; “Mame,” Mame OBCR; “Home Sweet Heaven,” High Spirits OBCR (Hugh Martin-Timothy Gray); “Raunchy,” 110 in the Shade, New BCR (Harvey Schmidt-Tom Jones); “Let’s See What Happens,” Darling of the Day, OBCR; “Rehab,” Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (not everything is theatre 24/7…); “Ice Cream,” She Loves Me, OBCR (Bock & Harnick); “Carnegie Hall (Do-Do-Re-Do)” On the Town, 1960 studio cast (Bernstein-Comden & Green; God, that ride-out!); “Thank God I’m Old, Barnum, OLCR (Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart); “Fable,” The Light in the Piazza (Adam Guettel); “For Once in My Life,” Stevie Wonder (see Winehouse); “And This is My Beloved,” Kismet, Lincoln Center revival CR (Borodin; Wright & Forrest).

Theatrical Highlights of the Year

1. Follies. February 12, 2007 @ the City Center. A star-studded, riveting performance of a landmark musical; possibly the ultimate in cult status. Donna Murphy and Victoria Clark were at the top of their game. The rest of cast rose to the occasion, save for Christine Baranski‘s psychotic and off-key rendition of “I’m Still Here” which still stopped the show. It was a real treat to hear the score unadulterated and with its complete original orchestration. An event that was not to be missed and woefully went unrecorded. Saddest part? The rumored transfer never came to fruition.

2. Coram Boy. May 17, 2007 @ the Imperial Theatre. A delightfully and unapologetically Dickensian romp through plot machinations and melodrama that made for an inventive evening at the theatre. British actress Xanthe Elbrick successfully played an aristocratic adolescent male in the first act and a cockney orphan of 8 in the second, earning the Theatre World award and nominations from all the awards committees. Jan Maxwell, as a self-preserving feministic accomplice to the villain, delivered a fully layered and realized performance, also worthy of much praise. Ran for 30 performances, becoming one of the most expensive flop plays in history. Deserved better reviews and audience for its theatrical inventions and concept.

3. Deuce. May 22, 2007 @ the Music Box Theatre. Terrence McNally‘s second rate play wouldn’t have made my list save for one exception: it brought Angela Lansbury back to Broadway. For that reason alone it deserves much praise in spite of the inherent weakness of the work itself. Lansbury and co-star Marian Seldes were a marvel of technique (with 110 years of Broadway between them) and a chance to see Lansbury back on Broadway (the last time she was in NY was a flop revival of Mame in 1983 that closed when I was 6 weeks old) was worth the price of admission alone.

4. Journey’s End. June 5, 2007 @ the Belasco Theatre. Admittedly, I was severely disengaged with the first act; even to the point of nodding off (though that may have been the free wine from the Theatre World award reception I attended that afternoon). However, the second act put everything into perspective and the last five or ten minutes of the show were among the most harrowing spent in a theatre. The audience was so numb they forgot to applaud. Remarkable work by the ensemble; most notably Boyd Gaines and Stark Sands. Truly an event that should have been seen by more, especially given the inescapable relevance of an 80 year old anti-war play.

5. Grey Gardens. June 12, 2007 @ the Walter Kerr Theatre. Though I’d seen this musical in 2006, this particular performance was the most memorable I attended. It was the first performance following the Tony awards at which Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson took home the Best Actress and Best Featured Actress in the Musical Tony’s. The house was abuzz with fans and newcomers; creating that certain palpable energy that comes oh so rarely in the theatre. Never have I witnessed a star receive a standing-ovation on a second act entrance. I doubt we may ever have cause for that again.

6. 110 in the Shade. July 23, 2007 @ Studio 54. Christine Ebersole’s greatest competition for the Tony award came from star Audra McDonald‘s nuanced portrayal of the love-lorn, insecure spinster Lizzie Curry in this 1963 musical adaptation of Nash’s The Rainmaker (memorably filmed with Katharine Hepburn in 1956). The score by Jones & Schmidt shone, the cast was outstanding and Audra made your heart feel light from the moment she entered to the moment the inevitable rains came. It’s very rare to see a matinee crowd respond with such vigor to a stage musical revival such as I did on this hot July day; but when McDonald finished “Raunchy”, the house erupted as though we were attending a rock concert. It was also a treat to see John Cullum performing as Lizzie’s father and Bobby Steggert‘s comic impression as Lizzie’s not-so-bright yet tender-hearted little brother.

7. Gypsy. July 25, 2007 @ the City Center. Patti LuPone finally got to tear it up as Rose in NY. In spite of the lack of a complete scenic design and a rather bizarre lamb puppet, the production was everything you would hope for in your presentation of this musical; a stellar Rose, a solid Herbie and a heart-breaking Louise. LuPone maneuvered her way through the role with fiery conviction, earthiness and a determination that could put the fear of God into Patton. Her “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” not only foreshadowed the second act “Turn,” but could very well be the most definitive delivery of that song. Laura Benanti was the greatest Louise I have ever seen. Someone so attractive could play awkward teen so well – and have a transformation into Gypsy Rose Lee that was nuanced and damn sexy. Boyd Gaines went above and beyond the call for what is required of Herbie. Tony Yazbeck was a most convincing Tulsa; and one you would think could elope with June without requiring a true stretch of our willing suspension of disbelief. Excited for the Broadway transfer this spring.

8. August: Osage County. December 4, 2007 @ the Imperial Theatre. Tracy Letts‘ new drama is one of the most riveting and enjoyable pieces of theatre to open on Broadway in a few years. A spectacular return to the old-school three-acter, the play explores the dormant volcano that is the Weston family and their myriad of dysfunction. Ferocious performances from Deanna Dunagan as Violet, the combination Mary Tyrone, Regina Giddens and Martha and Amy Morton as her equally volatile daughter anchor this brilliant work. There have been some people who’ve dismissed the critical plaudits and claim the work is an overrated variation on Mama’s Family. Those people are missing the subtextual boat here, especially when you view the dynamite second act; which has some of the best contemporary writing ever presented on a NY stage. Never mind the naysayers, see this play before it closes.

What I want to see next year: Come Back, Little Sheba, Sunday in the Park With George, The 39 Steps, Les Liaisones Dangereuxes, The Country Girl, November, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In the Heights, A Catered Affair, South Pacific, Gypsy, Show Boat at Carnegie Hall, Billy Elliot, and also Saved! at Playwrights Horizons.

A Snowy-Blowy Christmas

Donna McKechnie leads the original cast of Promises Promises in the act one showstopper “Turkey Lurkey Time” on the 1969 Tony awards. The other two lead dancers are Baayork Lee and Margo Sappington. Choreography by Michael Bennett. Yes the lyrics are rather outrageous and the melody is infectiously 60s, but that’s part of the fun (thank you Bacharach and David). And technically, it’s a Christmas song. So in the spirit of the season and with the snow coming tomorrow, sit back and enjoy.

August: Osage County, or the greatest play ever

Okay, maybe not ever, but one of the most extraordinary in recent memory. Last Tuesday night I had the privilege of attending my second Broadway opening night, special thanks to Noah. It was thrilling to be able to attend; especially given the precarious situation the stagehand’s strike thrust upon this unknown play, without a name cast and a recognizable creative team. Thank God, the show is here. And unlikely to ever go away and for that we should be incredibly thankful.

My first ordeal came with the question, “what do I wear?” That was easily assuaged by a trip to the mall, abandoning my usual earth tones for a classier black and charcoal grey combination. Second of all, I had a trimming accident, so off came my beard of four years. Well, regardless, I looked like sex on legs. (Seriously).

Anyway, my point. The opening night was star-studded, much more than I think anyone would have realized: Angela Lansbury, Elaine Stritch, Marian Seldes, Alan Rickman, David Schwimmer, John Krasinski, Anthony Edwards, Christine Ebersole, Tim Daly, Zeljko Ivanek, Duncan Sheik, Ana Gasteyer, Laurie Metcalf, Melina Kanakaredes, Gary Sinise, Kate Walsh, Tom Hulce, Tamara Tunie, Kelli O’Hara, Penny Fuller, Lois Smith, Bobby Cannavale, Marsha Mason, among a slew of others that I’m probably forgetting at this point. Anyway, as exhilarating as it was being a King of the Hill wallflower in the lobby watching the glitterati arrive, the opening night experience itself was overshadowed by the masterwork onstage at the Imperial.

It’s hard to describe what is destined to be a contemporary classic. To see a play that returns to an older form (the first original three act play on Broadway in how long?) yet managed to infuse the drama with such a sense of humor and relatability. Every family has its dysfunctions, yet this one manages to pinpoint them all without ever becoming too absurd for its own good. The plot revolves around a family returning to its homestead in Oklahoma after the patriarch goes missing. The reunion unearths a slew of dirty laundry, grudges and secrets, led by the matriarch Violet, suffering from cancer of the mouth (oh how fitting), and in a stunning breakthrough performance (for a grandmother) by the Chicago-based actress Deanna Dunagan. Violet is constantly shifting between her natural no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is persona and her drug-addled incoherence; a volatile combination that helps her to force out family skeletons and lead them in a rousing cakewalk through the second and third act. It’s hard to describe what it is about her performance; the command of the stage, the ease at which she’s created her character or the fact that Vi is a cross between Mary Tyrone and Martha, with a dash of Regina Giddens thrown in for good measure. Also standing out is Amy Morton as her mother’s daughter, Barbara, who ends up trying to strangle her mother when things get out of hand and is slowly turning into her. Watching the two pitted against each other is one of the theatrical highlights of the year. Dunagan dominated the second; Morton, the third. It really feels though, that Barbara is the lead, but boy is Violet a good time. And in that one wonders if they’ll compete against each other for the Best Actress awards this season. I think Dunagan’s Theatre World award should be engraved today to save the time.

For what it’s worth, the entire ensemble is extraordinary. Never once do you question these actors as a family (all but two veterans of the Steppenwolf production that played earlier this year in Chicago). I don’t want to give plot points away because the entire arc of the play is filled with little surprises and unexpected revelations. (And hell, if you want to know, see the damned thing). I will say this: the second act possesses some of the finest contemporary writing I’ve ever seen. The final line of the second act had a reaction unlike any I’ve ever witnessed at a drama; the audience was still cheering after the lights had come up for intermission. Think of the play as though Eugene O’Neill had been asked to write Arrested Development. (The midwestern setting is more reminiscent of Bill Inge than O’Neill, but that’s besides the point). The put-downs and family arguments and incredibly awkward situations that arise are incredibly humorous, but the work ends with an incredibly sobering punch. There is talk of the awards Pulitzer and Antoinette Perry for this esteemed production (which received practically unanimous raves; the lone hold-out was that out of step Jacques Le Sourd from the Journal News), and is currently only scheduled to run through March 9. If you have brains, get your hands on tickets immediately as you will not want to miss this landmark achievement.

I know I probably should have written some brilliant critical commentary on the piece, but we have eternity to judge the piece with that ethereal lens. For now, just see this magnanimous opus. (The fastest three hours and 20 minutes I’ve spent at a play).