Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE, coming to you again from New York, from where I return to the UK overnight tonight (Monday). Today is going to be a bittersweet day: we complete (or close, as they say here) on the sale of the apartment we’ve owned here for the last ten years, which is also the anniversary of our New York wedding (we moved in on the day before the ceremony, two months after buying it after it had been entirely refurbished!)
As regular readers of this newsletter will know, New York has been (literally) a home from home during this time, but this doesn’t mean I won’t still be a regular visitor, as I have been since my first-ever trip to NYC at the end of my first year at University, 39 summers ago.
A final weekend in New York on west 50th Street
My apartment is on 50th Street, between 10th and 11th — just two and a bit blocks to Broadway’s Gershwin Theatre and the Circle in the Square below it. My final matinee yesterday was, appropriately, at the Circle in the Square, so literally on my street, to see the revival of David Mamet’s AMERICAN BUFFALO.
Neil Pepe’s production features a phenomenal trio of star actors — Laurence Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss — each of whom have substantial theatre credits — and it shows. They have proper stage presence and authority.
There’s also an incredible supporting performance — one that nearly steals the show from them —from designer Scott Pask’s incredibly rich and detailed set of the overflowing junk shop in which it the action is located.
And the night before I was even closer to home, at New World Stages — the Off-Broadway theatre complex converted out of a former movie multiplex, also on 50th between 8th and 9th — to see ¡Americano!, a new musical based on the true life story of Tony Valdovinos, a “DREAMer” who was brought to America as a two-year-old as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, who only found this out when he sought to sign up for the miltary. He has since served the country he was brought up in as a community activist for people like himself.
On Thursday, as it happens, I had dinner with Tony, at a restaurant in the plaza behind the theatre, so I heard his story first-hand.
It’s a powerful and resonant story, and though the musical tells it a bit clunkily in its dramatic shaping, there are vibrant explosions of Latin-influenced song and dance along the way.
On the weekend, I also caught two more extraordinary shows: Tracy Letts’s THE MINUTES, at Studio 54, on Friday evening, transferred from Chicago’s Steppenwolf, which plays out a discomforting picture of how history is rewritten to exclude the truth in the apparently innocuous world of a local council meeting. This fine, fierce play is about the culture wars of today.
Directed by Anna D.Shapiro, a brilliant ensemble cast features the playwright Tracy Letts himself as the town mayor, with spellbinding contributions from such thrilling actors as Schitt’s Creek star Noah Reid (above left with Letts), Austin Pendleton and Blair Brown (above top right) and Jessie Mueller (with Reid, above bottom right).
And Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 musical INTO THE WOODS returned to New York as a spring treat palette cleanser, forging a familiar set of fairytale characters into collision with each other as examples of dysfunctional family relationships.
As stunningly rendered by an all-star cast of powerhouse actor-singers at New York City Center for a two-week run only as part of its annual Encores! season, the central trio — Neil Patrick Harris as the baker, Sara Bareilles as the baker’s wife and Heather Headley as the witch who cast a spell of retribution on them that rendered them childless — are as good as I’ve ever seen any of them, and combined are spectacular.
Encores! has had a rough ride this post-covid return season, with misfiring revivals of THE TAP DANCE KID and THE LIFE, but INTO THE WOODS restores theatre magic to CIty Center at last.
And finally: while COVID disrupted two of the shows I was hoping to see on the weekend — SUFFS, the new musical at the Public, and WHICH WAY TO THE STAGE (at MCC’s new purpose-built home on w52nd and 10th — just two blocks from my soon-to-be-former apartment), it did mean that I was able to go out with one final treat last night, catching Jason Robert Brown in a cabaret concert, mostly showcasing new work from four shows he has written during the lockdown, for which he was accompanied by a big, brassy band of eight players and two backing singers at 54 Below.
While Brown has, since his Tony winning Broadway debut as a composer/lyricist with PARADE in 1998, , had four more musicals open on Broadway — including a current entry MR SATURDAY NIGHT, with lyrics by Amanda Green — only one to date has managed to run for 100 performances (The Bridges of Madison County, which closed on its 100th performance, from which he performed possibly my favourite of any of his songs, “It All Fades Away”).
But as a concert artist, he is simply sensational: not just that he’s a deeply charismatic performer of his own work, but that his songs absolutely soar in performance. No wonder they are much beloved by those that perform his work regularly in cabaret.
It was one of the best nights I spent in a performance space all week.
PREVIEWING THIS WEEK IN LONDON AND BEYOND…..
My weekly updated list of shows opening in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-may-16-onwards/.
I’ll be marking my return to London by revisiting two exceptional Broadway revivals of classic Broadway titles: OKLAHOMA! at the Young Vic on Wednesday afternoon, then the opening of Lincoln Center Theatre’s thrilling 2018 revival of MY FAIR LADY at the London Coliseum that evening.
This week also brings the return of GREASE, another American stage classic that began its life Off-Broadway and is now more celebrated for its film version, to the Dominion (which I’m seeing on Saturday matinee) ; and I’ll also be in Chichester this Friday for the opening of its new production of Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS on Friday.
SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY
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).