Broadway is heading down the finish line of yet another season. There is a glut of shows opening this month before the Tony cut-off on April 29 (the tally is eleven for the month). However, as the Tony committee and voters get lost in this whirling dervish of new productions, I figure it’s time to give some love to a superlative fall season which can often be easily forgotten. So… for the consideration of the Tony committee – as well as the Drama Desk, Outer Critics’ Circle, etc. (and to jog their fickle memories), here are some of the shows that came and went this fall:
Finian’s Rainbow – The unfortunate casualty of a star-driven fall season and the desire to import American Idiot as soon as possible, this seemingly ill-advised revival of a seemingly unrevivable classic took the critics and audiences by storm and is one of, if not the, best reviewed productions of the entire season. From its lovely direction and spirited choreography by Warren Carlyle, to the enchanting breakthrough performance of leading lady Kate Baldwin, this one was a winner from start to finish, a genuine crowd pleaser. Also worth mentioning: Jim Norton and Christopher Fitzgerald’s impish comic charms as, respectively, Finian and Og. There’s also the divine Terri White, who took “Necessity” and belted it into oblivion (and whose overall presence was more of a supporting role here than the cameo it was at Encores).
Oleanna – This David Mamet revival was volatile, divisive and short-lived. However, it was a spirited thought-provoking production that got the audience talking. For those fortunate enough to have seen the show during previews, the post-show talk backs offered release for the explosive tension that builds in the mere 80 minutes of play time. It also was interesting to me personally because my beloved SarahB and I found ourselves at odds with each other afterward; the conversation was vibrant, spirited and very involving. It raised many questions about ourselves, the filters through which we see the world and the overall idea of gender roles in society.
Ragtime – A sublime, intimate revival that closed far too soon for my liking, and seemingly a similar response for many in the theatre community. Moving away from the epic nature of the original production, director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge emphasized the humanity of its characters, especially in Christiane Noll’s fully realized portrait of emerging feminism as Mother as well as in Bobby Steggart’s thrilling turn as Mother’s Younger Brother. I know that critically, reviews were divided, but I don’t think I’ve ever been part of such vociferous audiences – the reactions were overwhelming and spontaneous in the three times I saw the show.
The Royal Family – MTC gave us this sublime revival of the classic Kaufman & Ferber comedy about an eccentric acting dynasty a la the Barrymores. Doug Hughes’ direction was superb and succinct, managing to introduce the show to an entire generation of younger theatregoers, and a lovely revisit for those who recall the last revival directed by Ellis Rabb starring Rosemary Harris. Harris was on board as the matriarch this time around, offering one of the most haunting moments of the entire year. Jan Maxwell, now tearing it up in Lend Me a Tenor was nothing short of breathtaking, particularly in that showstopping second act monologue, culminating in a face plant on the lip of the stage.
Superior Donuts – It would have been lovely to see Tracy Letts replicated the success of August: Osage County, but ’twas not to be. His second play, a decidedly lighter and less scathing look at an awkward but warm father-son relationship between a jaded hippie and his young, idealistic black assistant was a charmer. Michael McKean was excellent and anchored the production, but it was Broadway newcomer Jon Michael Hill who walked away with the show and the audiences’ hearts in his pocket.
It appears that due to its fast closure, Brighton Beach Memoirs is ineligible, depriving its heart and soul – Laurie Metcalf – of deserved consideration. (Even more criminal is the brilliant tour de force that was never to be in Broadway Bound, where Metcalf would have taken center stage). There were a couple of limited runs I didn’t get into – A Steady Rain, In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) and After Miss Julie so I can’t comment there.
Since the Tony committee foolishly eliminated the Best Theatrical Event award (they say “retired”; I say they’re “stupid”) it forces unique presentations such as Burn the Floor, Wishful Drinking, All About Me, and Come Fly Away into competition with more traditional plays and musicals (and the actors involved).
Oh, and remember Bye Bye Birdie? By all means, don’t.