Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE, coming to you live from New York all week!
PREVIEWS AND REVIEWS
I’m seeing a combination of shows that are opening or already open, plus a bundle that are only in previews (and therefore not officially available for review).
In the case of the latter, I have bought my own tickets, rather than obtained a press ticket, so I am free to comment, as those on the Broadway bulletin boards, on what I’m seeing, as we are all paying punters (and tickets are full price, not reduced for previews, either, over here). But I’m respectful of the process of what previews are for, and will not offer full reviews yet.
And of course previews can, inevitably, have teething technical problems too (not that shows deep into their runs can’t have these either). At Saturday’s matinee of PARADISE SQUARE, for instance, a belt on the turntable broke before the show, causing a 15 minute delay in the performance starting, and an interval announcement told the audience it was still not fully functioning.
All the more reason, therefore, to be able to celebrate the musical’s achievements in spite of those challenges. Though there are still some more musicals with original scores yet to arrive on Broadway this season — notably the Jason Robert Brown scored adaptation of the Billy Crystal film MR SATURDAY NIGHT (opening April 27 at the Nederlander Theatre) and the transfer of A STRANGE LOOP from Off-Broadway (opening April 26 at the Lyceum) — I’m not sure there will be a more powerful new score on Broadway this season!
With music by Jason Howland (who was also conducting on Saturday afternoon, and has also orchestrated his own music), and lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare, it’s a sweeping, full-bodied and evocative period show. In an age of jukebox shows and film-to-stage musicals, PARADISE SQUARE is an original in every sense. And a big, beautiful cast gives its kaleidoscopic portrait of a community in Lower Manhattan at the time of the Civil War thrilling life. I can’t wait to see (and hear) it again when it is ready to review.
There’s also a separate, but not entirely unrelated, story to be told about the pathway that has brought it to Broadway, as the comeback production for the disgraced former titan producer Garth Drabinksy, who in the 90s and 00s presided over the publicly-traded Canadian-based entertainment company Livent, who brought several major musicals from Canada to Broadway including RAGTIME, KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN and a revival of Kern and Hammerstein’s SHOW BOAT.
But he famously did a Bialystock and Bloom, keeping two sets of books — one for the shareholders of his publicly traded company, another of the real accounts — to keep his over-stretched empire afloat. He would go on to become a fugitive from American justice, but surrendered to Canadian authorities instead, and spent time in a Canadian prison after his conviction for fraud.
As with RAGTIME, he’s managed to put together a massive, epic historical musical, I know he’s done bad things — not just bilking investors but also gaslighting actors, like Rebecca Caine who worked for him in their native Canada on the original production there of The Phantom of the Opera that doesn’t make edifying reading.
Do we separate the man from the work, though? Right now he is providing employment for dozens of actors and creatives; and has brought a serious (and to my mind, seriously good) new musical to town. I don’t know what the answer to that conundrum is; of course there SHOULD be accountability. At the same time, we need passionate producers prepared to take risks like this.
It will open officially on April 3. I hope to see it again after that (though not on my current trip, as I will be back home before press performances begin for it).
The next night, on April 4, a revival of Richard Greenberg’s 1992 play TAKE ME OUT opens officially at Broadway’s Hayes Theatre, that I also saw in preview yesterday afternoon.
The play originally premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in 2002, before transferring to the Public in New York, then Broadway; twenty years on, this play about a gay baseball player coming out still packs a powerful punch.
An interesting sidenote: given the extensive scenes of male nudity, the theatre provides Yondr sealed pouches for audience members to store their mobile phones in, “out of respect for the Company.” But it also means that for once we are not disturbed during the show by mobiles going off, either.
A NEW LIFE FOR THE LIFE?
Last night I saw the concluding performance of a short run of THE LIFE, a 1997 musical with a score by the great Cy Coleman (music) and Ira Gasman (lyrics), presented as part of Encores! atNew York City Center.
I saw the original Broadway production; and since then, I’ve seen a student production at ArtsEd (with a cast that included Miriam Teak-Lee, now in the West End in & JULIET, for which she won an Olivier Award), and the London professional premiere at Southwark Playhouse.
There are some major and some minor miscalculations in director BIlly Porter’s attempt to re-contextualise and update the show — originally set in a pre-gentrified Times Square of gritty sex workers and the men who enslave and abuse them — against the changes to the New York of today. But there are also pleasures to be had. If viewed (and heard) mainly as a concert version of a great but mostly neglected Cy Coleman score at his often brassiest best, this cast and onstage band deliver it with blazing power and electrifying style.
The principals are variously creepy and insinuating, heartbreaking and heartfelt. Ledisi and Alexandra Grey both have show-stopping numbers that are just stunning, and a duet together (“My Friend”) that is simply gorgeous. Antwayn Hopper is also a fiercely villainous pimp.
MASK WEARING IN NEW YORK: NOT LEGISLATED ANYMORE, BUT STILL STRICTLY ENFORCED AT THEATRES
It was pleasing to be able to sit in New York theatres and other indoor venues over the weekend and feel safe: as Telecharge emailed me in advance about one of the shows I’d bought a ticket for through them,
Although the city has relaxed its policies, Broadway and other theatres are still requiring masks and proof of vaccination.
Everyone in the theatre must wear acceptable face coverings at all times, including during the show, except while eating or drinking in designated locations. All face coverings must cover the nose and mouth and comply with the CDC guidelines for acceptable face coverings.
And a programme slip also reminded audiences:
In London, by contrast, mask wearing has virtually vanished again; as mask wearing mandates have been dropped nationally, theatres are not enforcing the requirement again. Whereas in New York, the theatre owners realise it is in their OWN interest to continue to insist on it.
SEE YOU TOMORROW
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