Off Broadway Favorites of 2013

ImageI’m not calling this post the “Best of” Off Broadway 2013, because there is so much to see and so much that I didn’t see (i.e., Fun Home, Here Lies Love, Buyer & Seller, etc.).

However, here are a few words about some of my favorites.

Tally’s Folly (Roundabout): Two people (Matt Friedman and Sally Talley), one setting (An old boathouse on the Talley place, a farm near Lebanon, Missouri). Fortunately, the actors playing Matt & Sally in Roundabout’s revival of this 1979 Lanford Wilson Pulitzer-prize winning play were Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson. Their performances, along with the simplicity and truth of the play, wove a 97-minute spell over the audience as we watched two disparate people find love, in spite of their differences and the turbulent world around them. Every minute was glorious.

The Whale (Playwrights Horizons): Two words: Shuler Hensley. He plays Charlie, a 600-pound apartment-bound man whose deep unhappiness is causing him to slowly eat himself to death. Hensley, a Tony winner for his portrayal of Jed in the revival of Oklahoma, is one of our best stage actors. Wearing an enormous fat suit and breathing laboriously, he still manages to show us the humanity and beauty inside his character. It’s a performance I’ll never forget.

Nothing to Hide (Werner Entertainment/Ostar Productions at Signature): Starring Helder Guimarães and Derek DelGaudio. Using nothing more than decks of playing cards (and a cameo appearance by a sock monkey) these two masters of distraction and sleight of hand amuse and amaze audiences. Direction is by Renaissance man Neal Patrick Harris, who is President of the Academy of Magical Arts and—who knew?—a bona fide “magic geek”. DelGaudio is a Los Angeles-based magician who consults for Walt Disney Imagineering and has been named Close-up Magician of the Year for 2012 and 2013. Guimarães, a Portuguese now based in California, became the youngest ever World Champion of Card magic in 2006 at the age of 23. The show came to NYC from a record-breaking run at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. These charming performers make it look easy, but they will amaze you.

What’s It All About? (New York Theatre Workshop): It’s all about talent and creativity. Subtitled “Bacharach Reimagined,” this innovative production was conceived by Kyle Riabko, who has appeared on Broadway in Spring Awakening and Hair. Riabko, along with an energetic young cast of singers (who also play all of the instruments in the production) perform Riabko’s new arrangements of all those Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs that are etched into your brain: “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” “Alfie,” “Always Something There to Remind Me,” and many more. The songs are all about love and loss, and here the emphasis is on the lyrics, which are often very touching. There are several sofas on both sides of the stage where some members of the audience are seated. I was lucky to be seated there, practically on the set. It brought back memories of long evenings spent in friends’ basements, hanging out listening to records. Riabko and the other 20-somethings in the show allow the audience to hear these old standards in new, exciting ways. I’m hoping for a move to Broadway.

Old Hats (Signature): There’s a lot of angst and sturm und drang Off Broadway, and it can get depressing. What a joy then, to experience an evening of pure delight with three comedic pros (Bill Irwin, David Shiner, and Nellie McKay). Irwin, a Tony Award-winning actor and original member of the Pickle Family Circus, and Shiner, a former street performer who later starred with Cirque du Soleil, have performed together before, in Fool Moon on Broadway. That production won a Tony for Unique Theatrical Experience. The effervescent Nellie McKay serves as Old Hats’ musical director and performs vocals, piano, and ukulele (an instrument in short supply in today’s theater). Irwin and Shine mix it up, alternating old Vaudeville routines with really creative new bits, especially one involving the use of an iPad. So much fun, I smiled throughout the entire performance.

The Explorers Club (Manhattan Theatre Club). Speaking of smiling throughout a performance…here’s what I wrote about The Explorers Club in a previous Shari on the Aisle post:

Written by Nell Benjamin (Tony and Drama Desk-nominated playwright of Legally Blonde), it is an hour and 45 minutes of madcap delight. When you’re not chuckling you will at least have a smile on your face. (If not, sorry—you are a hopeless curmudgeon). The entire cast is top notch, and the incredibly detailed set by Donyale Werle, crammed with clubby details, is practically worth the price of admission. Delightful, silly fun.

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