Every Brilliant Thing

Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing

In my two most recent posts I’ve presented a sneak peak at some Broadway plays and musicals that are on the horizon. While we’re waiting for Spring to arrive—both inside and outside the theatre—here are four terrific plays, (2 on Broadway and 2 off Broadway) that are currently playing and are highly recommended. Go see them now, before they’re gone.

Every Brilliant Thing. Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St.

This is a show with a simple message: Life, despite its challenges and disappointments, is a beautiful thing, if you just take the time to notice the small joys all around you. British actor/writer/comedian Jonny Donahoe stars as a man who, as a young boy and continuing throughout his life, creates a list of “every brilliant thing” in the world to convince his suicidal mother to keep on living. Sounds depressing, right? It is anything but. The show is both inspiring and fun, as Donahoe (who also co-wrote with Duncan Macmillan) enlists the participation of the audience in enumerating life’s small pleasures. He hands out numbered slips of paper before the show begins, asking audience members to read each paper aloud when he mentions its number. For example: 1. Ice cream, 2. Water fights, 3. Things with stripes, 4. Christopher Walken’s voice. As the boy matures into a man, the brilliant things evolve into more adult choices: Starting a new book; Falling in love. At 65 minutes with no intermission, the show is a short, sweet, and thoroughly satisfying brilliant thing, well worth the trip down to Barrow Street.

Every Brilliant Thing continues through March 29.

Disgraced. Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

The mise en scene in Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a familiar one: the dinner party. Amir, an up-and-coming attorney, and his artist wife Emily are hosts to Emily’s art dealer, Isaac and his wife Jory, a colleague at Amir’s law firm. They are of diverse ethnic backgrounds: Amir is a lapsed (some might say, self-loathing) Muslim, Isaac is Jewish, and Jory is African American. It’s been said that to keep the peace at social gatherings, two potential powder keg topics should be avoided: politics and religion. Unfortunately for Amir (but fortunately for the dramatic tension of the play), the play’s characters ignore that advice—and by the end of the evening, no one emerges unscathed. This is a thought-provoking, engaging evening at the theatre that will provide ample material for your own post-theatre dinner conversation.

Read the complete Shari on the Aisle review.

Disgraced continues through March 1.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

Olivier Award-winning British playwright Simon Stephens has adapted Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel about an autistic boy’s investigation into the murder of a neighborhood dog into an incredibly moving and dazzling work of theatre. What makes the play so remarkable is how, through innovative stagecraft that includes grid-like projections, lighting, and audio, we experience what it’s like to be Christopher, the play’s young protagonist. We feel the almost unbearable pain of sensory overload that afflicts an autistic child. The brilliant staging, along with a remarkable performance by Alex Sharp (a recent Julliard grad wowing audiences in his Broadway debut) in the lead role, creates a theatrical experience that is incredibly moving and unique. Sharp, along with the play, are sure to be on the list of 2014/15 Tony nominees.

Performances of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are ongoing.

Between Riverside and Crazy. Second Stage, Tony Kiser Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St.

On the surface, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy looks like another play about a dysfunctional family. Pops (veteran actor Stephen McKinley Henderson) is a 60-something cop who was shot while off duty a few years back. A recent widower, he shares his rent controlled Riverside Drive apartment with an assortment of younger, troubled characters—all of whom call him Pops or Dad (whether related to him or not). His son Junior, fresh from jail, is selling hot merchandise out of his bedroom. Junior’s friend Oswaldo is struggling to stay clean. And Junior’s girlfriend announces she’s pregnant. Pops, who refuses to settle his lawsuit against the NYPD, may lose the apartment. But look beneath the surface, and nothing is as it seems. The ensemble, especially Henderson, does a fine job in this restaging of an Atlantic Theatre production.

Between Riverside and Crazy continues through March 22.

Curious Incident

With Curious Incident’s Alex Sharp

For ticket information on all of these shows, check out the show’s websites, playbill.com, TKTS, and Broadway Helper.com


Twentieth Century

Baby, it’s cold outside! But here’s a happy thought to warm a theatre lover’s heart: Warmer weather and the new Spring Broadway season will be here before you know it, with some shows beginning previews in February.

Here are a few musicals that are coming up soon—two revivals and one new work. (Keep in mind that dates are subject to change). For a look at the season’s upcoming plays, read my previous post, Broadway Spring Preview Part I: Plays.

On the Twentieth Century

First Preview: February 13; Opening: March 12 (20-week limited run);

Theatre: American Airlines (Roundabout), 227 W. 42nd St.

Broadway/TV darling and Tony/Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked, Promises, Promises, “The West Wing,” “Glee”) will costar with Golden Globe winner Peter Gallagher (Guys and Dolls, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “The O.C.”), in this revival. Music and lyrics are by Broadway legends Cy Coleman and Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Six-time Tony nominee Scott Ellis will direct. Although the original 1978 Broadway production (directed by Hal Prince) won Tony awards for best original score and best book, it has not been revived on Broadway until now.

The action takes place on a luxury train (the Twentieth Century Limited) en route from Chicago to New York, as bankrupt theater producer Oscar Jaffe (Gallagher) tries to cajole his former lover, the glamorous Hollywood starlet Lily Garland (Chenoweth), into playing the lead in his new (but non-existent) drama.

The terrifically talented Andy Karl, Tony nominated for the title role in Rocky, also stars. On the Twentieth Century is a big, splashy, crowd-pleasing show. Everyone involved in Roundabout’s revival, from the actors to the set and costume designers, are top-notch. Hopefully they have what it takes to put the show on the track to success.

The King and I

First Preview: March 12; Opening: April 16

Theatre: Vivian Beaumont (Lincoln Center), 160 W. 65th St.

To quote Saturday Night Live’s Stefon, “This show has it all.” The new Lincoln Center revival of this beloved, historic American musical boasts a lush Rogers and Hammerstein score, choreography based on Jerome Robbins’ original, a cast of 50, and most importantly, in the role of Anna, the glorious 5-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara. Seen most recently on Broadway in The Bridges of Madison County, O’Hara has one of the most angelic voices in the American theatre, and she never fails to delight audiences. (Television viewers may have seen her as Mrs. Darling, the highlight of NBC’s telecast of “Peter Pan Live”).

The King and I is the tale of Anna, a British schoolteacher, and her unexpected relationship with the imperious King of Siam, played in the revival by Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai.”) The original, multi-Tony Award-winning production, which opened on Broadway in 1951, starred Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner. It has not been revived on Broadway since 1996.

Lincoln Center knows how to put on a show. They’ve put together a winning cast and crew (under the direction of Bartlett Sher, who won a Tony for directing Lincoln Center’s South Pacific, also starring O’Hara). This King and I is sure to have audiences leaving the theatre “whistling a happy tune.”

Finding Neverland

First Preview: March 15; Opening: April 15

Theatre: Lunt-Fontanne, 205 W. 46th St.

Billed as “The story of how Peter Pan Became Peter Pan,” this highly anticipated new musical is based on the 2004 Johnny Depp film of the same name. The key players include one of Broadway’s hottest directors, Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair), an original score by Gary Barlow and Grammy winner Eliot Kennedy, book by James Graham, and choreography by three-time Emmy winner Mia Michaels (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Cirque de Soleil’s “Delirium”). Starring will be Matthew Morrison (Glee, South Pacific), Kelsey Grammer, and Laura Michelle Kelly.

The plot focuses on how a young widow and her four young sons became the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s beloved “Peter Pan” stories.

Some notes on casting: Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan (Newsies, “Smash”) starred as Barrie in the 2014 American Repertory Theatre production, but Morrison, who played Barrie in an earlier, developmental workshop, will star on Broadway. Grammer replaces Tony winner Michael McGrath in the role of Charles Frohman, Barrie’s producer/Captain Hook. (You can see McGrath over at Roundabout, in the revival of On the Twentieth Century).

Finding Neverland has been plagued by negative word of mouth throughout its two pre-Broadway out of town trials (in Leicester, England and Cambridge, Massachusetts). Although extensive changes (including a new creative team) have been made along the way, the show is far from a sure-fire hit. It’s also unclear whether the show will appeal to children, adults, or—if the show is to make it on Broadway—both.

Other musicals on the horizon include two with a Parisian theme (Gigi and An American in Paris) and another where the action takes place in a family’s funeral home:

Gigi. This newly revised stage adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s 1958 movie musical is debuting out of town at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center (through February 12) prior to arriving on Broadway. Based on the novel by Colette, Gigi stars Vanessa Hudgens (best known as the star of the Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” series) in the title role, a Belle Epoque Parisian girl who is being groomed as a courtesan. The original 1973 Broadway production closed after just over 100 performances, but won the Tony for best score.

First preview: March 19; Opens April 8; Neil Simon Theatre

An American in Paris. With music by George and Ira Gershwin and a book by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza), this new show arrives on Broadway via a successful run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Classic songs in this stage adaptation of the beloved 1951 Gene Kelly film (which won 6 Academy Awards) include “I Got Rhythm” and “Swonderful.” Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Veanne Cox, and Jill Paice star.

First preview: March 13; Opens April 12; Palace Theatre

Fun Home. Fresh from its award-winning, sold out run at the Public Theatre, this Lisa Kron/Jeanine Tesori musical stars Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn. Based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel about sexual identity and family relationships, Fun Home has been dubbed “the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian.”

First preview: March 27; Opens April 19; Circle in the Square

Fun Home