Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed on Broadway

Eclipsed

Eclipsed, Danai Gurira’s seering play about 4 women living in captivity during Liberia’s second civil war, is ultimately about power: those who have it, those who don’t, and those who will do anything to get it. It’s a brilliantly written and acted ensemble production that shines a light on important international human rights issues—well worth checking out before it ends its Broadway run on June 19 at the Golden Theatre on 45th Street. The 5-woman cast, performing together in productions both Off-and on Broadway, are a seamless unit of talent, power, and grace.

When the play begins we find 2 women living in squalor in a barely furnished, bullet-riddled hut. We learn they have been kept in captivity, as sexual and domestic slaves, for so long that the maternal older woman known simply as “Wife #1” (Saycon Sengbloh), has no idea how long she’s been there or exactly how old she is. Wife #3 (Pascale Armand), heavily pregnant, is clearly the second banana in this circumscribed world—the less powerful among the powerless. Then, a surprise: a third woman (understudy Ayesha Jordan, at the performance I saw, in for the Tony-nominated, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o) appears from under a large wash tub. She is a gangly 15-year-old girl, kept hidden by the other women to prevent her from falling victim to their fate of sexual servitude to the (offstage) man they refer to as the “C.O.” However, their efforts prove futile: once the girl steps outside the safety of the hut to urinate, she is immediately grabbed and raped by the C.O., becoming Wife #4. The Girl, who grew up in the city, is different from the other women. She has had the benefit of an education and knows how to read and write. Having been forced from her home only recently, she is still able to dream of a life as a constitutional lawyer.

Anyone paying attention will wonder what became of Wife #2. Where is she? Wife #1 speaks of her scornfully. Wife #3 defends her as much as she dares. Our questions are answered when Wife #2 (Zainab Jah) shows up at the hut with an offering: a huge bag of rice for the women. Despite Wife #3’s entreaties, Wife #1 wants no part of either Wife #2 or the rice. We learn that Wife #2 has chosen the only available route out of her sexual enslavement: she has become a fighter in the rebel army. Taut, jittery, and wiry, dressed in fashionable jeans, a machine gun slung across her body, she is all swagger and tough-girl posturing.

As the action unfolds, we see that each character has her own definition of power. For Wife #1, power means being top dog in the small compound, where she rules the roost (or at least Wife #3). Wife #3 gains power by being the C.O.’s favorite sexual plaything and by carrying his unborn child. Wife #2, who now uses the fighter name “Disgruntled,” finds her power by acting like the brutal men who captured and abused her. She convinces The Girl to reclaim her own power by joining her in battle. The Girl realizes too late that to avoid being a victim, she must now become the victimizer, capturing other young girls for the rebel men to use and abuse. Wife #2 rationalizes the brutality, telling her: “The men are beasts and beasts demand to be fed. It’s either you or them.” At the play’s end, The Girl stands frozen, bearing two radically different symbols of power: a gun in one hand, a book in the other. Which will she choose?

A fifth woman, Rita (Akosua Busia), makes occasional visits to the rebel compound. She is a cultured, educated women dressed all in white who is part of a group of women peace activists dedicated to ending the violence. In one of the play’s most heartbreaking scenes, Rita tries to convince Wife #1 that a better life awaits her. She asks Wife #1 about her past, but the memories of her previous life are too painful for Wife #1 to contemplate; she cannot bear even to speak her real name aloud. After much prodding, she finally whispers it to Rita, who shows the illiterate Wife #1 how to spell it out using a stick in the dirt. “Think about what you can be,” she urges. Wife #1 responds despairingly: “I don’t know who I am.” The contrast between the 2 women is striking: Rita’s power lies in her ability to envision a better future through her peacekeeping work, while Wife #1 believes her only power lies in her place within the compound hierarchy.

During her time as a soldier, The Girl takes the name “Mother’s Blessing,” in memory of her own mother—ironic since she is now responsible for wrenching daughters away from their mothers, condemning them to live under unspeakable tyranny. The significance and importance of one’s name is a recurring theme in Eclipsed. As Rita tells Wife #1: “You must never lose your name.” To illustrate the power of names, the cast dedicates each performance to the abducted schoolgirls in Northern Nigeria and to all abducted girls around the world (#knowhername). At the end of the show cast members (and sometimes guests, who have included Nancy Pelosi and Gloria Steinem) announce the names of 2 missing girls and ask the audience to repeat the names out loud. It is a powerful and chilling moment that brings home the reality that the events depicted in Eclipsed continue today, even as the audience sits comfortably in their seats at the Golden Theatre. It is a prime example of how theatre can not only entertain, but be a call to action.

Zimbabwean playwright (Familiar, In the Continuum) and actress (known for her role on AMC’s “The Walking Dead”) Gurira developed Eclipsed at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC. The play was later staged at New York’s Public Theater in 2015 before moving to Broadway. The production will move to the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, California for a limited engagement in Spring 2017. With powerful direction by award-winning South African Liesl Tommy, Eclipsed is the first Broadway production with an all-female cast, director, writer, and production team (except for set & costume designer Clint Ramos).

Eclipsed was nominated for 6 Tony Awards, including Best Play. On June 12, 2016, Clint Ramos won the Tony for Best Costume Design for his work on the play.

Eclipsed continues at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St. through June 19.
Opening night: March 6, 2016; first preview: February 23, 2016.

For more information: http://www.eclipsedbroadway.com/

Backstage after the show!

Eclipsed & Shari

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS

Honeymoon in Vegas

Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.

The Honeymoon has just begun, in this big, brash, winning new musical starring Tony Danza and Rob McClure.

Lead Cast: Rob McClure (Jack Singer), Tony Danza (Tommy Korman), Brynn O’Malley (Betsy Nolan), David Josefsberg (Buddy Rocky/Roy Bacon, Nancy Opel (Bea Singer), Catherine Ricafort (Mahi)

Music & Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown

Book: Andrew Bergman

Director: Gary Griffin

Choreography: Denis Jones

Hooray for Rob McClure

When I chatted with Rob McClure after an early preview performance of Honeymoon in Vegas, I told him, “I’m so happy that you’re going to be in a hit!” Now that the show has finally opened (after nearly 2 months of previews), that prediction has become a reality.

The brilliantly talented 32-year-old actor has appeared on Broadway before, most notably in the title role in Chaplin: the Musical in 2012. He received raves for his performance, along with Tony, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle nominations. Unfortunately, the show itself wasn’t so well received, and despite McClure’s wonderful turn as Chaplin, it closed after only 4 months. Now, 3 years later, his time has arrived.

Shari & Rob McClure

The Plot

The Broadway musical Honeymoon in Vegas is based on the 1992 film directed by Andrew Bergman (who wrote the musical’s book) that starred Nicolas Cage, James Caan, and Sarah Jessica Parker. The plot involves a love triangle between Jack Singer (McClure), his long-time fiancée Betsy Nolan (O’Malley), and a Vegas high roller, Tommy Korman (Danza). Jack has delayed marriage to his beloved Betsy because his mother, Bea (a hilarious Nancy Opel), cursed him from her deathbed, decreeing that he must never marry. When Betsy finally puts her foot down, the couple heads to Vegas to defy the curse. Here’s the twist: it turns out that the lovely Betsy is a dead ringer for Korman’s dearly departed wife Donna, who died of skin cancer after a lifetime of basking in the Vegas sun. A tough guy who is used to getting what he wants, Tommy sets out to make Betsy his own.

Singer embarks on a hero’s journey, traveling from New York to Las Vegas and Hawaii to conquer his demons (i.e., his mother and Tommy Korman), claim his manhood, and win his lady love. Along the way he receives help from a diverse group of characters, including Mahi (Ricafort) a Hawaiian temptress who takes him to the “Garden of Disappointed Mothers” to face his fears, and the performance troupe the Flying Elvises, who take him back to Vegas to reclaim his bride.

Will Jack and Betsy ever have that honeymoon in Vegas? What do you think? (This is a Broadway musical, not King Lear)!

The Performances

Honeymoon in Vegas is a big, colorful show that is engaging and fun from beginning to end. It will win you over from the first moment, when McClure takes the stage to sing “I Love Betsy.” His performance is charming and effortless, bringing to mind Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain.” Sure, Jack is a bit of a wuss, but as portrayed by McClure, he’s so appealing and sincere that root for him to succeed.

Tony Danza is perhaps the show’s biggest surprise. Best known to television viewers for his roles in “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” the 63-year-old actor is in incredible shape, trim and light on his feet, evidenced by Danza’s impressive soft shoe styling in the show. While no natural singer (other cast members usually join in to help provide a bigger finish for many of his songs), what he lacks in vocal power he more than makes up for in easy charm. For example, he totally sells the touching/funny elegy to his sun worshipping wife, “Out of the Sun:” I never knew, I never guessed, that what could kill you is the thing you love the best. I should have gotten her out of the sun.” Danza shows us that even a bad guy has a heart and deserves another shot at love.

O’Malley is a Broadway pro with a gorgeous voice who has appeared in Annie, Wicked, Sunday in the Park with George, and Hairspray. She is a winning Betsy, although the role is really secondary to the male leads. Two supporting characters are standouts: Nancy Opel, as Jack’s dead gorgon of a mother, and David Josefsberg as the ultra smooth, Sinatra-like Vegas crooner Buddy Rocky (and a second role as Roy Bacon, leader of the Singing Elvises). Opel’s show-stealing number “Never Get Married” should win her a Tony nomination for best Supporting Actress in a Musical.

A Note on the Score

The music and lyrics, by critical darling and 3-time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown (Bridges of Madison County, The Last Five Years, Parade) are a huge part of the show’s appeal. The tunes are upbeat and original and the lyrics advance the story line in clever ways, from the romantic ballad “You Made the Wait Worthwhile” (A thousand dreams that never came true and pipers I had to pay, and all at once I’m standing with you and everything fades away) to the big production number “When You Say Vegas” (London’s too old and Cleveland ain’t pretty, and we got nicer hookers than Jersey City) and the heartfelt “Isn’t That Enough?” when Jack lists Betsy’s many fine attributes in an effort to convince his mother to lift the curse: She went to Vassar, she’s got a cat and no tattoos. She’s not a smoker, she’s not a snob. She loves her family and her job. Isn’t that enough?

Having seen the recent production of the somewhat disappointing and overly somber Bridges of Madison County, I found it hard to believe that Honeymoon’s tunes flowed from the same pen.

Trivia

The Paper Mill connection: New Jersey native Rob McClure won Paper Mill Playhouse’s (in Millburn, NJ) “Rising Star Scholarship” when he was a senior at New Milford High School. Soon after graduating, he played his first professional role at Paper Mill in Carousel. Honeymoon in Vegas had its pre-Broadway run at Paper Mill in 2013.

Should You Go? Absolutely. Honeymoon is a guaranteed good time. It’s silly and fun (while surprisingly touching at times), and has a terrific score, gorgeous sets, (and gorgeous showgirls), and top notch performances. The sets create a retro feeling that is more reminiscent of Vegas’s Rat Pack days than the present, but that just adds to the fun. According to the show’s Website, Honeymoon in Vegas is suitable for all ages, but I doubt any child under the age of 8 would find it very interesting. Run time is 2 hours, 35 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Ticket Info: Because of its long preview period, discounted tickets for Honeymoon in Vegas have been readily available on TKTS and TDF. However, now that the show has opened to rave reviews, discounts may be scarce. Additionally, because many Broadway shows have closed or will close in January (Pippin, Cinderella, Side Show, Once, The Last Ship, Motown, among others), theatre goers don’t have much to choose from, so competition for Honeymoon tickets could heat up (at least until the Spring season gets under way). There is no current offer for the show listed on Playbill.com

You can find additional ticket info about Honeymoon in Vegas and other Broadway shows on Broadway Helper.

Show Website

A LOOK BACK AT SOME FAVORITE 2014 BROADWAY SHOWS

Shari HedwigHedwig and the Angry Inch: This show has become a cult favorite, with many fans returning to see the show time after time, despite (or perhaps because of) the rotating cast of Hedwigs. I admit that I am somewhat obsessed with the show, a condition precipitated by Neil Patrick Harris’s memorably heart-breaking performance as the original Broadway Hedwig. (I called it “the performance of a lifetime”). I saw the show a second time, with the talented Andrew Rannells (Tony nominated for The Book of Mormon) who created an angrier, less vulnerable, Hedwig. And yes, I have my ticket for an upcoming third performance, when John Cameron Mitchell (who starred in the original off-Broadway and film versions of Hedwig and wrote the show’s book), will once again don gold platform boots and step into the role. (Stay tuned). Lena Hall, a Tony winner for her role as Hedwig’s husband Yitzhak, remains in the show.

Disgraced: This is probably the best new play I saw in 2014, and fortunately for theatre-goers, it still graces the stage of the Lyceum Theatre. Ayad Ahktar’s tale of an upwardly mobile Pakistani/American attorney’s rapid fall deservedly won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 5-person cast that includes Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, and “How I Met Your Mother’s” Josh Radnor, does a splendid job, but here, “the play’s the thing.” Ahktar’s daring and insightful writing creates moments that both illuminate and shock, providing much food for thought and post-performance discussion.

Side Show PlaybillSide Show: Critics adored this revamped production of the 1997 original. Yet somehow it just never found its audience (or enough of an audience to satisfy the Jujamcyn organization). Like its predecessor, Side Show closed too soon, giving its final performance on January 4, just 7 weeks after opening night. I thought it was brilliant, touching, and riveting, with amazing performances by Erin Davie and Emily Padgett as the Hilton sisters. I called it “the best show you’ve never seen,” and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see it.

A Raisin in the Sun: The 2014 Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s much-reprised and greatly admired play was as fine a staging as we’ll ever see. Although the cast member with the most star power was Denzel Washington (as Walter Lee Younger), it was the women (LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, and Anika Noni Rose) who shined the brightest. All three were nominated for Tonys, and when I saw the play, my feeling was, “Give LaTanya the Tony right now!” (But who can compete with the genius Audra McDonald? (See below).

Lady DayLady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill: While Lanie Robertson’s play depicts jazz legend Billie Holiday at a low point in her career, Audra McDonald’s performance in Lady Day shows us a great talent at the height of her powers. McDonald won a record-setting sixth Tony Award (for Best Actress in a Play) for her unforgettable performance in this show, where, in contrast to the performance she reenacts, she played to sold-out audiences night after night. It was painful to witness the portrayal of decline and despair of a singular talent like the Billie Holiday at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, but at the same time it was uplifting to witness the brilliance of the gifted performer Audra McDonald in remembering and honoring the late great Lady Day.

Also Memorable: All the Way, Casa Valentina, Cabaret, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Love Letters, Rocky, Honeymoon in Vegas (Opens January 15)

Worst Shows of the Year: The Realistic Joneses, Bullets Over Broadway, Somewhere Fun (Off-Broadway)

See you on the Aisle in 2015!

Erin Davie

HEDWIG REDUX

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.

AR Hedwig

Last night I had the privilege of seeing Andrew Rannells’ final performance as our favorite internationally ignored singer, Hedwig.

Here are some random thoughts about the performance(s).

Before there was Andrew, there was of course, Neil Patrick Harris. When I saw NPH in a preview performance of the show, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was somewhat familiar with the show and had already listened to many of the songs. But his performance simply blew me away. The already slender Mr. Harris reportedly lost 20 pounds to become Hedwig, which gave him a very vulnerable physical presence. His Hedwig was all angular, raw emotion, and absolutely heartbreaking. She was a tragic figure who wanted nothing more than to be loved for who she is. It was a performance that moved me so deeply that I will never forget it. Although I’m sure the multi-talented Harris will have many more successes, I really think this may have been the performance of a lifetime. NPH won the Tony, as did Lena Hall as Hedwig’s husband, Yitzhak (she is still in the show, happily). The show also won the Tony for Best Musical Revival.

Now, on to Andrew Rannells. I’m a huge AR fan (loved him as Elder Price belting “I Believe” in Book of Mormon; loved him in Hairspray and The New Normal; love him on Girls). We know Rannells is talented. We know he can sing. We know he always has a twinkle in his eye. But we wondered: could he fill NPH’s gold Hedwig platform boots?

Watching Mr. Rannells as Hedwig is a radically different experience from watching Mr. Harris in the role. The main distinction stems from their contrasting physical presences. Where NPH’s Hedwig was slight, vulnerable, and desperate for our love, AR is much larger, more aggressive, and angrier. He swears a lot. You don’t like him? Well, then fuck you! He’s big, with big muscles, and you get the feeling that if anybody gives him any grief, he would deck the poor sucker with one punch (or perhaps a well-placed kick of those gold boots). Andrew Rannells’ Hedwig has suffered, but it’s made her tougher and angrier, not sad and vulnerable. She’s pretty damn fierce (until her epiphany at the end of the show, anyway).

So, which actor is better in the role? It’s a matter of personal preference. It’s also a moot point, because if you missed both of these terrific actors in the part, it’s too late now!

But, chin up: there’s still time to get that wig out of the box. After a 3-day hiatus, the show reboots on Thursday, October 16 with Michael C. Hall (best known as TV’s “Dexter”) putting on some makeup and turning up the 8 track. (Through January 4, 2015).

What will Mr. Hall bring to the role? We’ll see. One thing is certain: Hedwig is one of musical theatre’s most demanding characters. John Cameron Mitchell, who wrote the show’s book and played Hedwig in the original off-Broadway production and in the film, says it’s the reason he gave up acting!

You can read my original review of Hedwig and the Angry Inch here.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch show website.

IF/THEN

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Richard Rodgers Theatre

226 W. 46th St. (Broadway/8th Ave.)

Lead Cast:  Idina Menzel (Elizabeth), LaChanze (Kate), Anthony Rapp (Lucas), James Snyder (Josh), Jenn Colella (Anne), Jason Tam (David)

In a Nutshell: Neither the critics nor the Tony nominating committee were kind to If/Then. Variety called it a “smaller-than-life show” with “flaccid” music. The NY Daily News deemed it a “platitude- and cliché-clogged work.” And the show was nominated for only 2 Tonys (Best Actress in a Musical and Best Original Score; it didn’t win either. It was overlooked for Best Musical). The only aspect of the show that was universally praised was Broadway powerhouse Idina Menzel’s performance.

So, when I settled into my seat at the Richard Rodgers Theatre I wasn’t expecting much. I figured the show would be mediocre at best, but that the price of my discounted TDF ticket would be worth the opportunity to hear the magnificent Ms. Menzel. Imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying the show from the very beginning!

From the moment Idina Menzel takes the stage, until almost the end, the show is engaging and beautifully staged. Menzel’s first line, spoken on the telephone, but seemingly directed at her many fans in the audience) is, “Hi, it’s me.” While the show is overly long at 2 hours, 35 minutes, and while the plot is sometimes confusing, the bottom line is that If/Then is a very enjoyable, original, interesting modern musical with excellent performances by the entire cast (not just Idina; LaChanze, a former Tony winner, is exuberant as Elizabeth’s lesbian friend Kate).

The Plot: OK, this isn’t easy to explain. Basically, it’s the idea of “the road not taken.” If you’ve seen the film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow, you’ll have an easier time figuring it out. (That film explores the 2 possible life paths determined by whether Gwyneth’s character gets on a train or misses it).  Elizabeth (Ms. Menzel) is a newly divorced urban planner who has left her unfulfilling life in Phoenix behind to explore her next chapter in New York City. But what will that new life be? Will it be as Liz, a down to earth woman who marries and has 2 children with a handsome Army doctor named Josh? Or will she become Beth, a single, ambitious career woman who becomes pregnant by her best friend Lucas (who is gay), and has an abortion?

As the play progresses, we see both potential lives played out, side by side, with Liz/Beth surrounded by the same group of friends in both scenarios. To help us differentiate between the two sides of Elizabeth, Liz wears glasses. Sometimes it’s not clear who is who. But really, it doesn’t matter. I just sat back and enjoyed the music, lyrics, performances, and interesting set design. If you overthink If/Then you’ll wear yourself out.

In the prologue, Elizabeth sings “What If?” which outlines the idea of the multiple possibilities. Other musical standouts are the touching “You Learn to Live Without” and Menzel’s 11:00 belter, “Always Starting Over.”

Should You Go? Yes! We don’t have many really original musicals on Broadway, and I think this show has been underappreciated. I believed all of the bad news about it and may skipped it had I not been able to snag a discounted ticket (thank you, TDF). The show is frequently available at the Times Square TKTS booth.

Idina Menzel is a sensational, one-of-a-kind Broadway star. I have seen all of the Tony-nominated Best Actress performances this season, except for Jessie Mueller’s (she won for her performance in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, beating out Menzel). So, I can’t judge, but I have a feeling Menzel was robbed. The Rodgers is a large theatre (with over 1300 seats) and nearly every one was filled at the Tuesday evening performance I attended. If/Then is definitely a hit with the public, if not the critics.

Trivia: If/Then reunites Menzel with her director (Michael Greif) and co-star (Anthony Rapp) from the original 1996 Broadway production of Rent.

Menzel already has a Tony for her performance as the green, misunderstood Elphaba in Wicked.

Parents of young children have probably heard Menzel’s stunning rendition of “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen more times than they can comfortably admit.

Menzel received worldwide publicity when John Travolta hysterically mangled her name on the Oscar telecast, famously introducing her as “Adele Dazeem.”

If/Then music, lyrics, and book are by the Pulitzer Prize-winning team from Next to Normal, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.

If/Then Show Website

 

2014 TONY PREDICTIONS

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Well, the Tony Awards are tomorrow evening, so if I don’t get my picks down on virtual paper right now, it’ll be too late!

It’s been a really terrific theatre season, with many memorable performances. For the most part, the 2014 nominations are spot on, with just a couple of oversights on the part of the nominating committee. For example, as I wrote in a previous post, I feel that nominating 3 of the 4 performers in The Glass Menagerie (as deserving as they are), while omitting the amazing Zachary Quinto, is just wrong. And many theatre people feel that Bridges of Madison County should have been nominated for Best Musical, especially since the committee chose only 4 shows instead of a maximum of 5. Although Bridges (which closed early) was mostly underwhelming, despite some lovely tunes, both Kelli and her co-star Steven Pasquale (also overlooked) gave touching, vocally gorgeous performances.

I have seen all 5 nominated plays and many of the 7 nominated musicals/musical revivals. (I’ll be seeing If/Then 2 days after the Tonys, so I’ll report back on that one).

So let’s get to my picks for the top categories:

Best Play:  All the Way

The critics loved it, it’s a well-crafted (albeit too long) play covering an important event in American history (the passage of the Civil Rights Act), with an all-pro cast led by a TV star. Bam, done.

Best Play Revival: Twelfth Night

This Globe Theatre production (done in repertory with Richard III) was a groundbreaker and received lots of critical acclaim. Although The Glass Menagerie was a brilliant production all around (and it has never won the Tony), I don’t see its standing up against Twelfth Night.

Best Actor in a Play: Bryan Cranston (All the Way)

Best Featured Actor in a Play: Mark Rylance (Twelfth Night)

I’m bundling these together, as critics’ darling Mark Rylance is nominated in both categories. I predict Tony voters will honor him with the Best Featured Actor Tony for his celebrated drag performance in Twelfth Night instead of his star turn in Richard III. Cranston won the Drama Critics Award for Best Actor and I think he’ll take home the Tony as well.

Best Actress in a Play: Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill)

I haven’t yet seen Ms. Audra’s performance. And I think it’s odd that a performance that includes a dozen songs is considered a play instead of musical. Personally, I wanted to give LaTanya Richardson Jackson the Tony for Best Actress when the curtain came down on A Raisin in the Sun—she deserves it. But my Ouija board tells me that Audra, who already has 5 Tonys (also well-deserved) will soon need additional space on her mantle.

Best Featured Actress in a Play: Celia Keenan-Bolger (The Glass Menagerie)

All of the nominated actresses gave very strong, critically acclaimed performances. Both Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose were really fine in A Raisin in the Sun, but how to choose one over the other? They will cancel each other out. I’m going with another critics’ darling, Celia Keenan-Bolger. Who doesn’t just love her?

Best Musical: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder

GGLAM leads with 10 nominations and it’s going to win a few, including the big one. It’s a clever, delightful, entirely unique show which is also a critics’ favorite.

Best Musical Revival: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

No contest. Take this one to the bank. (If we want to nitpick, which of course we do, we should mention that 2 of the 3 musicals nominated in this category, Hedwig and Violet, are not technically revivals, as they have never been staged on Broadway). So, GGLAM, say thank you to the Tony nominating committee.

Best Actor in a Musical: Neil Patrick Harris (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

The performance of the season. Maybe the performance of NPH’s lifetime, in its astonishing divineness. No contest, even in this especially outstanding group of actors. Sorry, Jefferson Mays; bad luck that your show opened in the same season as Hedwig, because otherwise the Tony would be yours! (Unless there’s a tie. That would be lovely!).

Best Featured Actor in a Musical: James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin)

Another sure thing. Iglehart stops the show 8 times a week with his high energy performance of “A Friend Like Me.”

Best Actress in a Musical: Jessie Mueller (Beautiful—The Carole King Musical)

I’ve only seen a couple of numbers from this show, but word is that although the show isn’t fabulous, Mueller is. However, many Tony voters feel that although Bridges didn’t live up to its potential given the talent involved, Kelli O’Hara was, as always, just breathtaking to listen to and watch. (And I agree). This could be the one big upset (and there is always one) of this year’s Awards. And although the angelic-voiced Ms. O’Hara has been nominated 5 times, she hasn’t won, yet.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Lauren Worsham (A Gentleman’s Guide)

I’m not 100% sure about this one. I’d love Lena Hall to win, but there’s only so much Hedwig love to go around. So I’m betting on the delightful Lauren Worsham in A Gentleman’s Guide.

And finally, the Tonys for Best Director:

Best Direction of a Play: Tim Carroll (Twelfth Night)

Best Direction of a Musical: Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder)

Both of these productions presented unique theatrical visions, in the case of Twelfth Night, a creative take on Shakespeare, and for GGLAM, a brilliant staging of a new complicated work.

Congratulations to all the nominees (and everyone who brought so much pleasure to the theatre-going public this year)! We can’t wait to see what you do next.

A Raisin in the Sun

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Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th St.

In a Nutshell: If you grew up in the United States, chances are you read this play in school. The current Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry’s much-reprised and greatly admired play is as fine a staging as you’re going to see. So don’t delay: the show closes on June 15.

5 Tony Nominations: Best Play Revival, Best Actress in a Play (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Sophie Okonedo, Anika Noni Rose), Best Director (Kenny Leon)

Lead Cast: Denzel Washington (Walter Lee Younger), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Lena Younger), Sophie Okonedo (Ruth Younger), Anika Noni Rose (Beneatha Younger).

Background: A Raisin in the Sun is an “important” American play. It was the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. At 29, Hansberry was also the youngest American playwright, the first black playwright, and only the fifth woman to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

The Production: Before the curtain goes up, we see the following text projected on a scrim:

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Those lines, from the poem Harlem (Dream Deferred) by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, serve as a wonderful introduction to the play. They give us a framework in which to place the action that will unfold over the next 2 and 3/4 hours. Hughes wrote the poem in 1951, 8 years before A Raisin in the Sun first opened on Broadway. Reading the poem before the actors take the stage helps us understand why Hansberry used one of its lines as the title of her play, because A Raisin in the Sun is all about dreams (mostly unfilled)—along with family ties and the enduring, redemptive power of love.

The Plot: Three generations of the Younger family live in cramped conditions in a South Chicago apartment, “sometime between World War II and 1960.” The youngest member of the family, Travis, sleeps on a pullout couch in the living room. The action revolves around the imminent arrival of a large insurance check payable to the family matriarch, Lena Younger. Her son Walter Lee has big plans for the money. Tired of working as a chauffeur for a rich white man, he dreams of investing the money in a liquor store and becoming rich. His younger sister Beneatha dreams of attending medical school. His wife Ruth, who discovers she is pregnant with their second child, just wants Walter to drink less and become a better husband and father. It’s up to Mama Lena to decide how to use the money in a way that will best serve her family. At the end of the play, Walter, whom Lena has entrusted with most of the money, loses it to a swindler. Mama takes what’s left and buys a home for the family in a white neighborhood. So some dreams are fulfilled, others are not.

The Performances: In addition to its grand pedigree, Raisin is a very fine and enjoyable theatrical experience. (These two characteristics don’t always come together in a single work).

Each member of the cast turns in a fine performance. Although Denzel Washington comes to the play with the most star power, it’s the women who shine the brightest. All three of the female leads are nominated for Tonys, while Mr. Washington, who gives a good ensemble performance devoid of “star” showboating, was overlooked.

LaTanya Richardson Jackson does an especially terrific job. When I saw the production my feeling was, “Give LaTanya the Tony right now!” (We’ll find out if the Tony voters agree on June 8). She commanded the stage and touched my heart with her moving portrayal of a strong woman who has survived injustice and the death of her husband and who is determined to give the next generations a shot at a better life. British actress Sophie Okonedo and Tony winner Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, or Change) also give affecting performances as Ruth and Beneatha Younger, respectively. You can feel the weariness in Okonedo’s movements, as she tends to housekeeping chores and tries to just get through another hard day. And Rose brings Beneatha’s youthful exuberance, ambition, and self-centeredness to life.

However, Mr. Washington, 59 years old, is a bit long in the tooth to play Walter (who is supposed to be in his mid-30’s). And at 41, Anika Noni Rose (18 years younger than Washington) is also a bit old for her role of a young student, although she pulls it off pretty credibly. I sometimes found myself thinking that she was Walter’s daughter instead of his younger sister. But theatre is above all, a suspension of disbelief: Keep in mind that Ms. Richardson Jackson (aged 64) is in real life only 5 years older than her theatrical “son!”

Trivia:

  • The original production of A Raisin in the Sun opened 55 years ago at the Barrymore, the same theatre as the current production.
  • Although Lorraine Hansberry did not win a Pulitzer Prize for her groundbreaking play, a 2010 play by Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park, did. That play imagines events before and 50 years after the Younger family’s move to the predominately white neighborhood of Clybourne Park.
  • A musical version of the play, Raisin, premiered on Broadway in 1973. The production won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Virginia Capers).
  • LaTanya Richardson Jackson is married to actor Samuel L. Jackson. She stepped into the role of Lena Younger when Tony Award-winning actress Diahann Carroll withdrew from the production.

Ticket Info: You probably won’t find discount tickets for this show. According to the TKTS website, the show “never” appears at its discount ticket booth. There is no current offer listed at Playbill.com and there is no rush policy for this show. I would suggest going to the Barrymore box office and seeing what’s available.  A Raisin in the Sun