While I have seen my fair share of theatre in 2013, work and life managed to get in the way of my blogging. These are three productions that meant a great deal to me, and I felt compelled in these waning days of December (now that work is on the back-burner for a spell) to write about them.
She Loves Me (6/23/13, Caramoor). One of the most charming musicals ever written turned 50 this year. Ideally, this landmark event would have meant a full-scale Broadway revival, but instead it was the classy Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah who did the honors. The celebrated concert venue, which I had never been to before, presented a semi-staged concert of the original ’63 version, with an ideal cast, glorious musicianship and charm to spare. Joe Masteroff’s libretto is a model of economy, taste and charm, and Bock and Harnick’s score is tops – particular the string of second act showstoppers that I call the “eleven o’clock stretch.” Santino Fontana and Alexandra Silber, whom I had seen previously this year in the Collegiate Chorale’s classy concert of the ludicrous Song of Norway, were ideally cast. Silber brings extraordinary intelligence to her acting, which complements and informs her lovely singing. Fontana should top any and all casting lists if a Broadway revival of this show were to happen; his performance was practically perfect. The twosome were assisted by all-stars: John Cullum, Ryan Silverman, Brad Oscar, and Jonathan Freeman (reprising his Tony-nominated turn as the droll waiter), to name a few. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s played Don Walker’s delectable period arrangements. It was heaven on earth for 2 1/2 hours. I hope we can expect future delights at Caramoor.
The Assembled Parties (7/23/13, Friedman Theatre). Richard Greenberg’s strong, compelling play about an affluent Jewish family on decline left me with much to contemplate and several performances to savor. We were introduced to a troubled family with many secrets, led by the kind, open-hearted Julie (an astonishing Jessica Hecht) in the first act. Act two fast forwards 20 years with the many family members since deceased, and the matriarch approaching death. Nothing particularly earth-shattering or flashy happens over the course of the play, but the characters are compelling, and Greenberg leaves many questions raised by the first act left unanswered in the second – which adds to the complexity of the family and its members. One of the most striking aspects of the play was the relationship between Julie and her lovably gruff sister-in-law Faye (Tony-winning Judith Light). It feels rare in a contemporary play to see two female characters who share a deep loving bond and genuinely enjoy each other’s company – without feeling cloying, overly sentimental or saccharine.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (7.25 & 8.23.13, Golden Theatre). Hilarious, unexpectedly moving and surprising, this Christopher Durang play contained many delectable references and parallels to Chekhov, but was its own play, brought to life in a vibrant production. I saw this Tony winner twice. The first time with Sigourney Weaver and the second time with her replacement Julie White. Camps have been divided on the two portrayals of narcissistic movie star Masha, and the two performances couldn’t possibly have been more different. I liked both quite a bit. Weaver played her with a madcap Durang-ian sensibility, but grounded her affectingly in the final minutes of the play. White was more naturalistic throughout, with some killer line deliveries. David Hyde Pierce was exceptional as droll, peace-keeping Vanya, who tored the house down with his nostalgia-tinged Chekhovian meltdown in Act Two. Billy Magnussen was fearless as Masha’s dim boy-toy Spike, a would-be actor who is simultaneously endearing and repellent. Shalita Grant stole every scene as pseudo-psychic cleaning lady Cassandra.
However, the best performance in the play and quite possibly of my theatergoing year, was Kristine Nielsen as Sonia, the frumpy, self-pitying adopted sister who is prone to mood swings. Nielsen’s uproarious Maggie Smith impression would have been worth the price of admission were it not for her stunning phone call in the second act. After having spent most of the evening leaving us from laughter, Nielsen brought about pin-drop silence as she took a phone call from a would-be suitor asking her on a date. We held our collective breath as Sonia awkwardly stumbled through the call; reluctant but eager, trying to say the right thing and working up the courage to say yes, when it would be so characteristic of her to say no. I wish Vanya had been open-ended; I would have been in and out of the Golden many, many more times.