Okay. So here is my long-overdue theater update from the past few months. I realized I hadn’t posted about any shows I’ve seen since Beautiful: The Carole King Musical… and that was back in December! I’ve seen nine plays and musicals since then, and though some of them have already closed, I thought I would still share my opinions about them (especially since Tony nominations come out soon!!). I’m typing these out in the order I saw them, starting with the earliest (from back in February).
Twelfth Night, Or What You Will – Belasco Theatre – Broadway Play – Closed
I was super bummed that Stephen Fry’s understudy was in (as Fry was in England to host the BAFTAs), but still very much enjoyed this production. I had seen Twelfth Night once before in college and read the play in my Shakespeare’s Comedies class, so I was already very familiar with the story. (For those of you who might not fancy Shakespeare, the crappy film She’s the Man is based off of this play.) While Olivia is not the main character, Mark Rylance’s performance of her was side-splittingly delightful and was the definite highlight of the show. This production was extra special because all of the parts were played by men and the audience got to see all of the performers get ready on stage before the show. There was live music and period garb… it was all very old-timey and wonderful. Seeing Shakespeare’s work performed live is (for me) preferable to reading it because even if you don’t know what all the words and phrases mean, the physicality of the actors and their relationships to each other on stage helps fill in the gaps. This was a very funny show and I expect Rylance to be among the Tony nominees.
The Bridges of Madison County – Schoenfeld Theatre – Broadway Musical – Open Run
I don’t normally cry at things, but this show had me silently weeping twice (end of Act One and the middle of Act Two). I’ve read the book, but have never seen the movie (even though I own it), and have driven past signs for the actual Bridges of Madison County when I used to travel through Iowa on my way to Kansas, so I knew what was going to happen and where the story was set. I knew I needed to see the show because its music and lyrics were done by Jason Robert Brown (of The Last 5 Years fame) and because of its stars (Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale). I was fortunate enough to get a third row seat (bless you, rush tickets), so I was up close and personal to the visually stunning production. The lighting design was beautiful, the ensemble was solid, the leads oozed chemistry and the music was gorgeous. Some of the songs were similar in theme and melody to songs from The Last 5 Years, which is why I completely lost it during “Falling Into You” and “Before and After You/One Second & a Million Miles.” Those two songs were very reminiscent of “The Next Ten Minutes” and tears just started dripping slowly out of the corner of my eyes. I wasn’t the only one in tears, as I could hear people all around me weeping (or sobbing, like the guy in front of me) as the musical pressed on. It’s a happy show because it celebrates love (okay… it celebrates adultery, which is terrible, but you totally want Francesca and Robert to be together), but it’s a sad show because it exposes the realities of just how fragile love and relationships can be. Even a forever kind of love can’t last forever because eventually time pulls people apart. (The time aspect of it all killed me – I have a thing for schedules and planning and whatnot.) This was a beautiful, beautiful show and I highly recommend this. I expected O’Hara to be amazing and she was, but I was wholly impressed with Pasquale. I only knew him from Rescue Me and his couple episodes of Six Feet Under, but the man is a serious musical theater star.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder – Walter Kerr Theatre – Broadway Musical – Open Run
I had absolutely no idea what this show was about before I saw it; all I knew was it was getting great reviews and was supposed to be really funny. Holy hell, this was delightful. It’s about this guy named Monty Navarro who finds out he’s ninth in line to be the head of the D’Ysquith family (a noble family) and decides to off everyone ahead of him. Monty is a fairly harmless guy until he starts murdering everyone, and yet you still are cheering for him because the members of the D’Ysquith family are all ridiculous. And every member of the D’Ysquith family (even the ladies) is played by Jefferson Mays. If Mays is not nominated for a Tony, I will eat my Playbill because the man was all over that musical and played such a wide variety of characters with such ease. (Although it was hard work… I had a front row seat and the amount of sweat that poured off that man was crazy.) The songs weren’t super catchy (though “Better With a Man” is in rotation on my Playlist I listen to every day), but they were enjoyable. This was just a really fun show and the cast was really enjoyable to watch.
Violet – American Airlines Theatre – Broadway Musical – Closes August 10, 2014
When Sutton Foster is in a musical on Broadway, you go and see the musical. I was sad I missed a staged version of this last year at NYCC’s Encores, so I was super happy that it came to Broadway. The plot is that a woman with a badly scarred face (Foster as the title character) takes a bus from North Caroline to some evangelical church in Oklahoma so that the preacher and God can help her face become healed. Set in the 60s, Violet befriends two soldiers (one black, one white) and they convince her to hang with them on the journey. Racial issues are prevalent throughout the show, as is the commercial factor of mega churches. The show is performed without intermission and is paced fairly well. There are some really great songs interspersed throughout the score and I am very much looking forward to the cast album. This was the second time I’ve seen Foster on stage and I think she is the bee’s knees.
Of Mice and Men – Longacre Theatre – Broadway Play – Closes July 27, 2014
I had really high hopes for this show. Most of said hopes were dashed. Unlike everyone and their mom, I had actually never read Of Mice and Men, so all I knew headed into this was there was two guys and one of them was a bit slow in the head. I admit to seeing the show because of James Franco and Chris O’Dowd. I was very, very impressed with O’Dowd. He played Lennie, the slow guy, and easily stood out in every scene he was in because of his body language and all-around stage presence. Franco kinda just shouted most of his lines. While that worked in some scenes, it didn’t work in all of them. (I should point out that I saw the show just a couple days after his Instagram scandal and it obviously colored his performance. He vaguely referred to the incident after the show when the cast was raising money for BCEFA.) The biggest let down of the play, with regards to the cast, was Leighton Meester as Curley’s Wife. She was so one-dimensional and the opposite of charismatic. I was grateful any time she wasn’t on stage and was actually really happy when what happened to her character happened to her character. I know that’s mean, but I’m not going to apologize. She was not the right person for that part. The play itself was terribly paced and definitely dragged in spots. I was glad that I saw this because it was fun to see Franco and O’Dowd on stage, and O’Dowd’s performance was really great. But, on a whole, I was disappointed.
The Most Happy Fella – New York City Center – Encores! Musical – Closed
I’m a Frank Loesser fan but had honestly never heard any songs from this show before in my entire life. I wanted to see this because of the cast – Laura Benanti, Shuler Hensley and Cheyenne Jackson were the three leads and good god, are they talented people. Though the songs weren’t really all that memorable and the plot was cheesetastic and predictable, I still very much enjoyed this production. The whole cast was great and it was fun to see Clay Thomson in the Ensemble. (I follow him on his social media platforms and he always seems to like a bunch of my theater pictures on Instagram. Plus, he wore glasses and suspenders and is adorable as all get-out when he dances.) If you’ve never seen an Encores! Production, I highly recommend it. This was the second show I’ve seen there – it’s a great venue and the productions are wonderfully staged and orchestrated even though they only usually play from 1-7 times. I saw The Cradle Will Rock here last year and will see tick… tick… BOOM there in June. Tickets are usually very reasonable and it’s just a lot of fun to see a show there.
Jasper in Deadland – West End Theater – Prospect Theater Company – Closed
Oh, Matt Doyle. Swoon. So, my favorite theater buddy and I had front row tickets to this really charming musical about a high school boy who forces his way into the underworld to bring back his best friend, Agnes (who is dead). For such a tiny venue, this show packed in a lot of punch and had great visuals to go along with the plot. The whole cast was really strong, led by Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti. Since we were in the front row, we had a really great view of everything (like, down the front of Matt Doyle’s pants when his character was splayed out on the stage in front of us… we could only see the V and the band of his underwear so maybe we didn’t see everything, okay?). I really loved the music, especially “Hello, Jasper!,” “Jasper in Deadland,” and “Stroke by Stroke.” I wish there was a cast album because I need more Matt Doyle vocals in my life. (Side note – favorite theater buddy and I are seeing Matt Doyle’s show at 54 Below next month!) I am very grateful I got to see this before it closed. I love seeing shows in tiny venues because it really heightens the theater-going experience.
The Cripple of Inishmaan – Cort Theatre – Broadway Play – Closes July 20, 2014.
Go see this play. Just, go see it. Written by one of my favorite playwrights (Martin McDonagh), The Cripple of Inishmaan is about this crippled boy named Billy who gets picked on by everyone in his little Irish town because of his cripple-ness, and he decides he wants to get out of there (and the way he does that is convinces a friend to take him to a film set that is shooting nearby, because the casting people are looking for people from the area to be in their movie). Billy is played by Daniel Radcliffe whose physicality is so amazing that it is painful to watch him because of how contorted his leg and arm are during the show. (He’s not in every scene, but the scenes he is in definitely prove that Radcliffe has legit acting chops and is wholly capable of a career post-Potter. People who only think he is Harry Potter are sorely mistaken. The man is an actor, and a bloody good one at that. Jesus.) The play is rife with curse words and heavy Irish accents by all. It’s wickedly funny and downright sad/moving at the same time. This is the second McDonagh play I’ve seen on Broadway and I would see anything and everything he’s written because I love his writing so much. He always manages to weave twisted humor into often harrowing stories – he’s a genius. I saw this play the first day of previews and was lucky enough to get my Playbill signed by Radcliffe. (Stage door was a fucking nightmare, just so you know.) See this play. Trust me.
The Realistic Joneses – Lyceum Theatre – Broadway Play – Open Run
Skip this play. In fact, I bet this is going to close sooner than later because it just really wasn’t that great. While it stars four very, very talented actors (Michael C. Hall, Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei and Tracy Letts), the play itself is choppy and lacks flow. There were some very funny lines of dialogue interspersed throughout the show, but even those one-liners could not help the overall quality of the play. I found myself wishing it would end soon after it started even though some of my favorite actors were right there on stage in front of me. The play was about two sets of neighbors and how they shared (or didn’t share) aspects of their lives with each other. Four characters meant scenes with any number of combinations of actors on stage at once. I found myself paying more attention when Hall and Collette were on stage, but only because I favored them to begin with. I am glad I saw the show because I like the cast and have no idea when I’ll ever get a chance to see them on stage again, but I have zero will to ever see this play or read it. I was wholly unimpressed and walked out of that theater hugely disappointed. I don’t understand how such a lackluster production gets an open-ended Broadway run. I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t moved. I wasn’t challenged. I laughed at cheap jokes and silly observations. I guess I should just be happy that at least I did laugh at some parts of the play.
So, yeah… that’s what I’ve seen on stage the past few months. I have tickets to see The Cradle Will Rock and Hedwig and the Angry Inch in May, as well as the aforementioned tick… tick… BOOM in June. I’m sure I’ll see some other stuff along the way!
Have a good one 🙂