1. Lend Me a Tenor. April 13, @ the Music Box Theatre. Don’t you love farce? I do. But it’s a genre that is very difficult to pull off successfully. Ken Ludwig’s 80s comedy isn’t particularly funny on the page, but first-time Broadway director Stanley Tucci did a marvelous job bringing out the laughs. The ensemble was mostly terrific: Anthony LaPaglia as the opera singer, Tony Shalhoub as the harried producer, Mary Catherine Garrison as the virginal but hormonal ingenue and Jennifer Laura Thompson as the resident diva were all quite fun. Justin Bartha made an amusing Broadway debut as the sad-sack mistaken for the great divo (even if his vocal prowess brought Ohio’s taste into question). But it was Jan Maxwell as the fiery wife of the opera singer who walked away with the evening, in a hilarious performance.
2. Anyone Can Whistle. April 11 @ the City Center. One of the biggest flop musicals in Broadway history was given a rare NYC revival courtesy of Encores for Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday. I doubt it could be any better than this production. The book is a hot box of crazy, with ideas and satire swirling around a wonderful score. It was superlatively cast with Sutton Foster and Raul Esparza, but it was Donna Murphy in an inspired performance who put the show in her pocket and took it home. Casey Nicholaw directed and choreographed with great ease. Original cast member Harvey Evans helped Nicholaw to reconstruct the Cookie Chase and the lunacy was inspired.
3. A Little Night Music. July 31 @ the Walter Kerr Theatre. While I love the musical itself, this production didn’t do very much for me when it opened a year ago and didn’t make the cut for ’09. I don’t generally put revisits on the list, but this is one exception that I’m more than willing to make. Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch joined the cast during the summer and the maudlin evening was transformed into something far more pleasant. I’ll never love the production with its drab sets and costumes, anemic orchestrations and glacial pacing, but Bernadette is a sparkplug that the production needed from the very beginning.
4. I Do! I Do! August 21 @ the Westport Country Playhouse. This pleasant production was so charming and so polished, I was hoping someone would bring it to NY for a nice off-Broadway run. Kate Baldwin and Lewis Cleale starred as Agnes and Michael, a couple whose marriage is explored during the musical’s two hour running time. The show was an unusual Broadway property in the 60s: a two-hander musical with full orchestra. Gower Champion created a wonderful period piece (based on de Hartog’s The Four Poster) which holds up surprisingly well. Elements may have dated, but marriage – and the good, bad and ugly that go with it – remain the same. Baldwin was enchanting and Cleale was delightful.
5. Our Town. August 27 @ the Barrow Street Theatre. I was a bit late to this party, but I greatly admired David Cromer’s spare, bare bones production of the Thornton Wilder classic. I have to confess that until I saw this, I had never read nor seen the play before. Sitting in the front row, I was privileged almost immediately to Cromer’s performance as the Stage Manager (which was a brilliant, non actory showing). He opened up the audience’s imagination, making us work to get into the world of Grover’s Corners. What he was preparing us for was the startling and unbelievably moving display of theatrical realism in the third act. It was a coup de théâtre of the highest order.
6. Brief Encounter. September 25 @ Studio 54. Imaginative, witty and ever-so-British, this import from the Kneehigh in UK made a stop in Brooklyn and the Guthrie before finding its Broadway berth via Roundabout – and with much of its original cast intact. Better late than never. This charming adaptation of the David Lean film of the same name, based on Noel Coward’s Still Life uses theatrical imagery, imagination and Coward’s music to tell the story of an unrequited affair between a British housewife and doctor. A swell cast, esp. Annette McLaughlin in a choice supporting role as Beryl and one of the best bands on Broadway made this one a real treasure. Wish they had recorded a cast album.
7. The Scottsboro Boys. October 7 @ the Lyceum Theatre. One of the best musicals I’ve seen in the last five years. A horrible chapter in our nation’s history is given life through an archaic and racist form of entertainment. Kander and Ebb’s score – their final collaboration – is as rich and fulfilling as their classics of the 60s and 70s. The musical pushed envelopes in storytelling and was not without controversy over its use of minstrelsy to tell the story, but it was a story of empowerment and abandonment. Director/choreographer Susan Stroman returned to top form with some of the best work of her career. The brilliant ensemble was led by John Cullum as the Interlocutor and Joshua Henry as Haywood Patterson, in what should be a break out role for the young actor.