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.

Angela Lansbury is Rose

Here is Miss Angela Lansbury in some incredibly rare footage from her revival of Gypsy from the mid-70s. Often considered the best to interpret the character, Angie here gives us a taste of “Some People,” some rather impressive choreography in “Together” (those kicks!) and the final half of her “Turn.”

Though a question lingers in my mind… If we have these highlights, is there a complete video of her performance out there somewhere….? Something to think about.


IT’S OVER…and other important miscellany

Thank God. It’s over. Finally sometime this evening it was announced (officially) after 19 days that the strike has ended. The producers and stagehands have come to terms that apparently seem fair to everyone. While the pact awaits a ratification in several weeks’ time, all shows on Broadway shall be on tomorrow evening. I reiterate: Thank God. Now I can finally see August: Osage County, among everything else I’d been thinking about seeing this holiday season. Be sure check for discounts if there’s anything you want to see. The megahits have nothing to worry about, but the underdogs, especially the plays, need as much support as we can give them at this time. I’m sure we’ll soon get a notification of new opening dates for August, The Seafarer and The Farnsworth Invention.

In other major news, it’s official. Patti LuPone is going to reprise her performance as Rose in Gypsy for the Tony voters this season. Musically, it’s shaping up to be spectacularly promising; what with Jenna Russell in Sunday in the Park With George (for which she won the Olivier award), Kelli O’Hara in LCT’s South Pacific, Faith Prince in A Catered Affair, among others that I’m sure I’m leaving out at this godawful early morning hour. The entire cast has been offered the opportunity to reprise their roles. Hopefully Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines will also come back aboard. For more opinions on the revival, please see my previously posted open letter to Mr. Laurents, who will once again repeat his direction.

There are clips of Sweeney Todd online. This has done nothing to assuage my anticipation for the upcoming film. The more I see and hear bits and pieces the more I want to plan an elaborate heist to get an early copy. Well, I settled for a mild-mannered countdown on my facebook. What is fascinating are those who are already criticizing the film. The singing is mediocre. It looks like a Tim Burton movie and not Sweeney Todd. Where is that harmony? What about this line? I’ve accepted that this won’t be the Hal Prince Sweeney Todd with which we are so readily familiar while others haven’t. It’s a film adaptation that actually looks to be a promising entry in the year’s films. December 21 cannot come soon enough for me.

To hear some of the score:


An Open Letter to Arthur Laurents

Dear Mr. Laurents,

It comes to my understanding via Michael Riedel of the New York Post that you wish to see another Gypsy on Broadway within the remainder of your lifetime that will vanquish memories of the 2003 Sam Mendes production. Now, I myself enjoyed that particular production, especially since I had never seen the show live in a theatre before. (You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Laurents, at 24, I’ve missed the Merman, Lansbury and Daly productions that left such indelible marks on theatrical lore). I was in the camp that thought Bernadette Peters was a thrilling Rose, who acted and sang the part with deft aplomb. At the closing performance, I was stunned to see the legendary overture get a standing ovation, thrilled when the audience rose en masse when Ms. Peters made her entrance, and scintillated by the moments which followed, which made for a delightful time at the theatre.

Now, I also became aware of Patti LuPone and her desire to play Rose, but that a begrudged feud between the two of you prevented her from playing any of your roles in New York, where you bear great weight in the casting of your productions. It was gratifying to hear that she was finally have her wish granted at the Ravinia Festival, which sparked enough interest for you to grant her the inestimable privilege of portraying Rose on the New York stage (specifically at the City Center).

It was a wonderful production. Filled with electricity from beginning to end, Patti gave Rose a down-to-earth determination and ferocity that exploded off the stage, particularly in her two showstoppers. (The gutteral scream at the end of the ‘Turn’ left an indelible mark on my experiences as your average theatregoer).

I worry though, that a rush to remount this production at the St. James Theatre in the spring may lead to a less-than-stellar run. In order for this to be successful, perhaps you can allow the entire script and score to be performed. The Kringelein sequence is hilarious and is what makes everything leading into “Mr. Goldstone” memorable. Not only is it a funny bit, but it also is shows how Rose can think and act on her feet. Also, reconsider the reprise of “Small World” in the second act. Rose deserves that brief moment to absorb the loss of Herbie; then bury her emotions. It was sorely missed. And lastly among these minor quibbles. Don’t tamper with the Turn. It’s one of, if not, the greatest eleven o’clock numbers in the history of the musical theatre genre. Cutting even a few bars like you did was jarring to the ear, b/c one expects the full piece. Fortunately it didn’t diminish the impact the number had, but still, Mr. Laurents, was cutting it that necessary?

I know you wouldn’t agree as your opinions and attititudes over the years have remained self-serving and well, megalomaniacal. I figure since Gypsy is the last impressive work you’ve ever written for the theatre, you would want it presented it with the originality and with every word intact. Let’s face it, your books for Gypsy and West Side Story are among the most regarded in the canon, with My Fair Lady and Guys and Dolls being only other examples who are as well regarded. Hell, given the reception the show receives every time it is staged, it’s regarded with a reverence generally provided only for Shakespeare.

So put those generous moments back into the show. Regardless of what you may think, Patti is a big girl and knows her stuff and she will acquit every word with eager discipline and creativity. While we’re at it. Don’t think of casting anyone else as Herbie and Louise, as Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti may well be the definitive interpreters of their respective roles.

And while you’re at it, record a cast album. Spring for sets. Costumes. Fill the space. Use the space. If we’re getting a full production, make it worth the $120 a person will pay. And make sure it’s good.

Best of luck to you in this and all other future endeavors (especially your revival of West Side Story).

Theatre Aficionado (At Large)

PS – While we’re on the subject, when may we expect a revival of Nick & Nora?