Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily. I got back to London yesterday morning, after a 9-day stay in New York — during which I saw 15 Shows — six of them on Broadway, four off-Broadway musicals, three cabarets, a musical at City Center and an opera at the Met.
I already reported on some of these here this time last week.
In the midst of the theme park that Broadway has become, by default if not design— roll up, roll up, for the musicals based on K-pop and the back catalogues of Swedish pop maker Max Martin (& JULIET, transferring from London) and Neil Diamond i(A BEAUTIFUL NOISE) n the next few weeks —it’s also a relief how it still allows for room for innovation and daring, heart and truthful, original storytelling.
Last season’s entry, of course, was the Pulitzer and Tony winning A STRANGE LOOP (though it actually closes in January, proving that the market for it has been limited despite the accolades); last Thursday saw the transfer of the Jeanine Tesori scored adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s quirky play KIMBERLEY AKIMBO.
As Jesse Green declared in his review for the New York Times, “Broadway reliably churns out several tourist-bait extravaganzas a year, the kind that feature sequins, singalongs and profits. Smallish, thoughtful, more narrowcast new musicals — let’s call them nerdicals — are rarer: one per season, if we’re lucky. Some, like Fun Home, Dear Evan Hansen and The Band’s Visit, win top Tony Awards; A Strange Loop even won the Pulitzer Prize. If they rarely last as long as, say, Six or Moulin Rouge seem likely to, these shows prove their immense value in the time they’ve got.”
And he perceptively speculates aloud, “That may well be the fate of Kimberly Akimbo, the profoundly funny and heartbreaking new nerdical that opened at the Booth Theatre In any case, it’s the plot.”
Making the most of the time we have on the planet — and celebrating life’s outsiders — is a regular theme of musicals, of course, from PIPPIN to DEAR EVAN HANSEN, and Jeanine Tesoro’s gorgeous musicalization of a 2001 play about premature ageing and bad parenting is this season’s most irresistible charmer.
Victoria Clark has long been a favourite performer of mine on Broadway, since she played the mother in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. Now she plays a daughter, ageing long ahead of her time, and she is just spellbinding: utterly unforced, natural and heart-breaking. So is the show.
The same is true of another utterly delightful revival I saw Off-Broadway, of Ahrens and Flaherty’s A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE, a 2002 musical based on the 1994 film, a tenderly beautiful affirmation of the power of theatre and community. It has been given an intimate, heartfelt staging in John Doyle’s last production as artistic director at Classic Stage Company on East 13th Street.
A wonderful cast is led by Jim Parsons as the Dublin bus conductor with dramatic aspirations, and A.J. Shively as his gorgeously voiced driver. There’s also lovely work from an ensemble that includes the ever-valuable Mary Beth Peil.
While Broadway routinely draws on pop star talents from Elton John to Cyndi Lauper to provide new scores for Broadway musicals, we’re also seeing more off-Broadway efforts by more individual singer-songwriters. Last week I saw two.
Fuckthe7thGrade, at the East Village’s Wild Project, has Jill Sobule (above, centre) starring in her own autobiographical coming-of-age musical about growing up lesbian; it includes her 1995 hit song “I Kissed A Girl”, but there’s also a lot more original material in this piece of gig theatre that has her supported by a sublime trio of muiscians led by musical director Kate Wolf (above left, who is the reason I went, as I know her from my regular trips to Provincetown).
Meanwhile, at MCC in Hell’s Kitchen, British singer-songwriter Kate Nash makes her musical theatre debut providing the live musical accompaniment to director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler’s ‘dansical’ ONLY GOLD (pictured above). The movement (from the choreographer of HAMILTON) is considerably more dynamic and propulsive than either Nash’s songs or her underpowered rendition of them; it has been very handsomely packaged in an expensive-looking production, but I can’t see it having an extended life after MCC.
On Broadway, the troubled production of FUNNY GIRL — transferred there in a revamp of a staging originally seen at the Menier Chocolate Factory — has been rescued by Lea Michele taking over as Fanny Brice, a role she has been angling to play ever since she did numbers from it on TV’s Glee that had made her a star.
Hers is a real star turn — but it only accentuates how underwhelming this revival is: like a poor man’s FOLLIES, without the proper grit or psychological undercurrents. Ghosts drift around the stage in this version of the Follies — with Ziegfeld orchestrating proceedings — but the biggest ghost, of course, is that of Barbra Streisand who originated the role on stage (on Broadway in 1964 and the West End two years later), before immortalising it on screen in an Oscar-winning performance in 1968. Michele doesn’t banish it, but harnesses it.
There’s no doubt a jukebox musical yet to be made around the career of Streisand; in her storied career, her many collaborators included Neil Diamond, with whom she had gone to High School in their native Brooklyn. They would later have a joint hit with ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’, a song that duly features in A BEAUTIFUL NOISE, the Neil Diamond jukebox currently previewing at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre. I saw it last week in New York, but it doesn’t open officially until December 4, so I will refrain from further comment.
FUTURE SHOWS IN LONDON AND BEYOND
My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-november-14/
See you here on Thursday…
If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)