The Best of 2013 (Part I)

best-of-2013

Do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Have your own favorites? Lemme know.

Best 2013 Broadway Musicals

Matilda the Musical: Thanks to Tim Minchin’s cheeky lyrics, Matthew Warchus’ energetic and innovative staging, and the revolting children singing, dancing, jumping, and tumbling their way across the stage, this show was the high point of 2013 New York City musical theatre. (It should have won the Tony for Best Musical). The cast was also swell—Bertie Carvel (Tony nom), Gabriel Ebert (Tony Award), Lauren Ward (Tony nom), and Lesli Margherita. I’m hoping to see this one again if I can swing it.

Pippin: Helmed by Diane Paulus, one of the most talented directors working on Broadway today, this revival of the 1972 hit show does what art is supposed to do: it reenvisions something and takes it to another level entirely. That’s certainly what Paulus does in the show’s stunning first act. The opening number, “Magic to Do,” is a mind blower. There is so much marvelous business going on all at once that one doesn’t know where to look. Patina Miller is a goddess and Andrea Martin stops the show with her “No Time at All” (performed on a trapeze). Act 2? Not so amazing, but that’s OK. The show, Martin, and Miller deserved their Tonys

Cinderella: Technically the title of this show is “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” I was reminded of the importance of those names above the title the moment the full orchestra started playing the overture. The music is so lush and gorgeous, and it’s of a quality and scope one doesn’t hear very often in today’s theatres. Here’s the other thing about this production: the stagecraft is absolultely magical. There are onstage costume changes where you literally cannot believe your eyes. And the original cast, Laura Osnes, Santino Fontana, Victoria Clark, and Harriet Harris—all Broadway pros—was pretty much perfect.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder: An evening of nonstop delightful, manic musical mayhem, thanks in large measure to Jefferson Mays’s artful, indefatigable portrayal of 8 doomed members of the D’Ysquith family. Bryce Pinkham also shines as Monty, the lost D’Ysquith who sets out to eradicate the 8 family members standing between him and the throne of England. Can we love such a scoundrel who has “Poison in his Pocket?” Absolutely.

**Special Note** What’s that you say?  Did I accidentally leave Kinky Boots off the list? No accident, dear readers. Yes, the show had a couple of terrific numbers (Everybody Say Yeah and Raise You Up) but overall, the lyrics and music didn’t measure up, especially when compared with Tim Minchin’s really witty and terrific work in Matilda. And yes, Billy Porter did a fine job and the costumes were wonderful. But that’s about it. A disappointment. And it’s not on my list. But with all those Tonys, I’m sure it will survive.

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Pippin

Pippin

With the fabulously talented Patina Miller

Date:                 May 8, 2013

Theatre:         The Music Box

Shari on the Aisle Rating: * * * *

Lead Cast:     Patina Miller, Charlotte d’Amboise, Terrence Mann, Andrea Martin, Matthew James Thomas, Rachel Bay Jones.

Background:  The original Broadway production premiered at the Imperial Theater on October 23, 1972, and ran for 1,944 performances before closing on June 12, 1977. It was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. That cast included Ben Vereen, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Leading Player, John Rubenstein as Pippin, and Jill Clayburgh as Catherine, Pippin’s love interest.

The show has not been revived on Broadway until now. The current production (opening night: April 25, 2013) is directed by one of the most talented directors working on Broadway today, Diane Paulus. Paulus won Tonys for her recent imaginative re-stagings of Hair and Porgy and Bess. The production was originally staged by the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Pippin garnered 10 Tony noms: including Best Musical Revival, Best Direction of a Musical (Paulus), Best Lead Actress in a Musical (Patina Miller), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Andrea Martin), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Terrence Mann), and Best Choreography (Chet Walker, who appeared in the original Fosse-directed production).

Quick Take:   The opening number, “Magic to Do,” will blow you away and live in your memory forever. Likewise, Andrea Martin’s show-stopping “No Time at All.” The second act, not so much.

Take Note: It’s no secret that Pippin is a show that’s very thin on plot. Here, it’s not “the play’s the thing,” but rather the music and unique Fosse-created dancing. Basically, it’s a somewhat meandering coming of age story dressed up in the “razzle dazzle” Fosse did so well.

Pippin, Charlemagne’s son, seeks his place in the world (his “Corner of the Sky” in the words of the show’s most famous song) and the meaning of life. Paulus’s version transposes the commedia dell’arte players of the original to a circus troupe, with the help of the awe-inspiring gymnastics of the Montreal group Les 7 Doigts de la Main. But she doesn’t stop there—even the lead actors get into the circus act. The always brilliant Andrea Martin can now add circus performer to her extensive résumé. As Pippin’s grandmother Berthe, the, 66-year-old Martin simply amazes as she performs the touching “No Time at All” while swinging from a trapeze like a born carny. Few numbers in recent history can truly be called “show stoppers,” but trust me, this one is. I’m pretty sure there’s another Tony in her near future.

In Addition: The astounding opening number “Magic to Do” is a mind blower. Paulus doesn’t reprise the famous original where the performers’ “jazz hands” appeared to float in space. Instead, all of the players perform feats of daring-do all at once. I didn’t know where to look first. And I loved Patina Miller’s performance. She’s strong and talented (check out those arms!) and takes a role that is very strongly associated with Ben Vereen and makes it her own. I know Fosse would approve her perfect execution of the famous “Manson trio” number, faithfully recreated by choreographer Chet Walker.

I lost some patience with the second act, as Pippin continued his search for self. But all was forgiven in the finale, which includes lots of acrobatics and pyrotechnics.

Trivia: Veteran performers Terrence Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise, who play Charles and his scheming wife Fastrada, are real-life husband and wife. I chatted with them briefly after the show and they seem delighted to be working together.

Should You Go? Absolutely. Both Fosse and Paulus are geniuses of the theatre. If you missed the original production 40 years ago, you definitely need to see the current show. We may have to wait another 40 years for the next Broadway revival—and who knows if that version will have a genius behind it?

Ticket Tip: Pippin has a daily general rush—$37 tix are available when the box office opens at 10:00 a.m. Also check out the Playbill.com website. I bought tix there for $99 each.