All serious theatrical works go through many stages on the road to a full-fledged production. Opening night audiences have it easy: They just sit back, watch, and listen. Prior to the first notes of the overture and that moment of “curtain up,” a production team has worked intensely hard, with many tryouts for audience response, presentations for backers, a myriad of rewrites and adjustments applied to the score, dialog, and blocking over many months (and, not uncommonly, a number of years). I kept this in mind while viewing the premiere of the first act of Coffee, the Musical, an engaging and tuneful work-in-progress presented this past February at the NYC Coffee and Tea Festival.
Avid fans of Broadway musicals love nothing more than a thrilling, exhilarating show, but we also realize that isn't going to be the case all that often. While we love it when a musical strives for and achieves brilliance, sometimes we know going in that a show is not going to redefine the genre. In those cases, we can often be content with an evening of good entertainment. We can still analyze what was good and what wasn't, but if the show ultimately works for you, it would have succeeded. It is the Broadway equivalent of a popular popcorn movie or a good summer beach read. That was the case when I saw Ghost, the new Broadway musical, adapted from the hugely successful 1990 movie that starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Writing a prequel/sequel to Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun sounds like a chancy and potentially gimmicky proposition, bordering on infringing upon the merits of another author, but playwright Bruce Norris has cleared the inherent hurdles and written a masterpiece with Clybourne Park. Making its Broadway début at the Walter Kerr with a cast and production that do it every bit of justice, this is easily one of the greatest original plays to hit New York City in the last decade.
Despite solid performances from Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa, The Lyons is a lost cause before the curtain closes on the first act, and there's no improvement thereafter. A fumbling and confused script by Nicky Silver is the production's greatest weakness, but some forced and postured performances don't help matters.
Directed and Conceived by Zvi Sahar
Produced by Ali Sky Bennett
April 6 through 8, 2012 (Closed)
A new sub-genre of puppetry called Puppet Cinema by its creator, Zvi Sahar, took the stage, or rather the stage and screen, on Easter Weekend: a work entitled Planet Egg. This is puppetry in the mode of video-projected microsurgery. Its workings will take some explaining (so all those suffering from ADD please take an extra pill before reading further).
Once more into the nostalgic sports bio-play breach, dear friend, once more. Following up his portrayal of legendary coach Vincent Lombardi, playwright Eric Simonson digs back into the annals of epic NBA rivalries to lend his hand to the story of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the bluntly titled Magic/Bird. This play offers about what you would expect of it, provided you're not looking for actual athletic action on the stage or any deep, meaningful insight about the two title figures.
The roaring applause and cheers at the close of The Collegiate Chorale's concert presentation of The Mikado made it abundantly clear that the audience was utterly pleased. Gilbert and Sullivan's once most-frequently performed creation rarely gets an airing in New York, and to hear and see it in this concert version, with a full orchestra, a huge chorus, and guest principals, is certainly a welcome event.
Just about everyone knows the Peter Pan story. But how did Peter, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook happen to end up in Neverland? That story is told in Peter and the Starcatcher, a new play that gives us the Peter Pan back story and is opening on Broadway. The show, which is based on a 2004 best-selling children's novel, had a successful and highly praised two-month run off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop a year ago. I wish I could share the enthusiasm that was expressed about the off-Broadway run. While Peter has its assets, including an imaginative production and a good deal of theatricality, much of it, unfortunately, played out in a manner that seemed more tedious than enchanting.
Great theater is not always a comfortable experience -- indeed, a measure of unease might be a requirement for compelling drama. The Soap Myth, a superbly written, acted, and directed play, richly compensates the audience for whatever discomfort they might experience along the way to this play's conclusion. The action of this chamber drama is carried forward by a series of amazingly crisp, powerful, and natural conversations among the four-person cast. There are various pairings and groupings of the four, with two players portraying additional characters. The topic is one man’s passionate and relentless quest to conclusively answer what has become a lingering question: Did the Nazis actually manufacture soap from the body fat of their Jewish victims?
The new Disney Broadway musical Newsies, adapted from the 1992 movie of the same name, tells a fictionalized story, but it is based on real events: the 1899 strike by New York newsboys against publishers including Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. The 1992 movie, which starred Christian Bale, was a flop, grossing less than $3 million, but it developed a cult following. The show arrived on Broadway after a successful Fall run, at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, that received rave reviews.