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

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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.

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 Couple of Random Thoughts About the Tony Noms

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What I’m Happy About: 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch. No reason to be angry here! Both Neil Patrick Harris (Best Actor in a Musical) and Lena Hall (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) scored well-deserved nominations.  And although Hedwig is not technically a revival (because it has only been produced off-Broadway, not on), the Tony committee decided to nominate the show in the Best Revival of a Musical category. As for the two other shows nominated in the category, I saw Violet, which was off beat and pretty wonderful, but I haven’t seen Les Miz (because, really, how many times can you see it)? I’m betting on Hedwig, and hopefully, NPH to win. The show, and his performance in particular, is just over the top amazing―an unforgettable night at the theatre. Lena Hall is up against some very tough competition in her category (Linda Emond (Cabaret), Anika Larsen (Beautiful), Adriane Lenox (After Midnight), and Lauren Worsham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder), and I’m betting the Tony folks probably won’t want to give everything to Hedwig. But I am so happy that the committee recognized the lovely and talented Ms. Hall.

What I’m Not Happy About:

They dissed Zachary Quinto! The Glass Menagerie is a play with just 4 characters: The Wingfields―Amanda (Cherry Jones), Tom (Zachary Quinto), Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger)―and Jim, the Gentleman Caller (Brian J. Smith). The recent revival was absolutely wonderful in every way (except for the bit where Laura entered and exited via the sofa, but I won’t go into that here). The cast was stellar, but I was especially touched by Zachary Quinto’s performance. I can still see him, standing downstage left, starkly lit, reciting the play’s opening monologue: “Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” He was mesmerizing. So tell me why, Tony people, why did you nominate everyone in the cast except Mr. Quinto? I truly believe that Cherry Jones is our best living stage actress, but I’m too upset about the dissing of Zachary Quinto to get excited about Menagerie’s other nominations. Interestingly, this is the first time Menagerie, one of the great American plays, has been nominated (Best Play Revival).

More to come…

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH

ImageShari Hedwig

Belasco Theatre, April 24, 2014

Lead Cast: Neil Patrick Harris (Hedwig), Lena Hall (Yitzhak)

Book: John Cameron Mitchell

Music and Lyrics: Stephen Trask

Director: Michael Mayer

Cut to the Chase: If you don’t feel like reading this entire post, here’s the take away: Neil Patrick Harris gives the performance of a lifetime in this first-ever Broadway production of Hedwig. He knows it and the audience knows it. And his joy in giving this performance to us comes across. Although NPH is fully immersed in the complex character of Hedwig, every so often, he seems to look out at us as if to say, “Isn’t it amazing to share this together?”

The Plot: Hedwig (formerly Hansel) is the product of a botched sex change operation in her native East Germany. The surgery has left her with only an “angry inch” of her manhood.

Hedwig is appearing at the Belasco “for one night only” with her backup band The Angry Inch (which includes her husband Yitzhak, who is played by a woman, Lena Hall. (Got that?). The show is made up of Hedwig’s autobiographical reminiscences interspersed with original songs that range from touching love ballads to raw punk rants.

 Background: Hedwig first trod the boards in a 1998 Obie-winning off-Broadway production at the Jane Street Theatre. (No “legitimate” theatre would go near it). John Cameron Mitchell, a former drag performer who wrote the show’s book, played the title role.

According to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, Trask described the off-Broadway show’s reception this way: “We slowly built a coalition of the sliver of theatergoers who didn’t mind the drag and the punk rock, the rockers who didn’t mind the drag and the theater, the gay audiences who didn’t mind the rock music.” A film version of the show (a cult classic) was released in 2001, starring and directed by Mitchell.

The Broadway Production: The show is flashy, trashy, energizing, and mesmerizing, from its first moment to its last. Hedwig makes her entrance by parachuting onto the stage in full wigalia, trashtastic gold high-heeled boots, and a costume that I can’t begin to describe. Her introduction: “Here she is, whether you want her or not, the internationally ignored song stylist…” Harris then further reels the audience in with a monologue (new for the Broadway production) about how Hedwig has finally landed on Broadway—well, actually not exactly ON Broadway—more like East of Broadway, or “Ebra.”

The set, composed of a junked car and bombed out debris, is left over from the failed fictional production Hurt Locker, the Musical, recently opened, then closed at intermission. Harris struts his stuff all over the stage, exhibiting a physicality that is impressive and unending. (He remains on stage for the entire 95 minutes).

The Angry Inch band rocks, and although Hedwig is intent on keeping Yitzhak’s voice under wraps, Ms. Hall (an original Kinky Boots cast member who also headlines the rock band The Deafening) does manage to show off her impressive voice, especially in a gorgeous solo late in the show (giving Mr. Harris a much-needed rest).

By the end of the show, the Hurt Locker set is gone and Hedwig has shed her wigs and drag costumes. She stands before us as herself, nearly naked, without artifice. She has accepted herself, and we can decide for ourselves to take her or leave her. Judging by the screams in the Belasco Theatre, New York has embraced Hedwig as our own.

 Trivia: Hedwig’s cult fans are known as “Hedheads.”

Mitchell has said the Hedwig character is based on his childhood babysitter, a woman named Helga, whom he describes as “A German army wife and also a prostitute.”

Arianne Phillips (Costume Design), Kevin Adams (Lighting Design), and Mike Potter (Wigs and Makeup Design) all come to the Broadway production having worked on the original off-Broadway and/or film productions of Hedwig with Mitchell and Trask.

Should You Go? People are going to be talking about NPH’s performance and this production forever. If you miss it, you miss out, and boohoo for you. So, “Put on some makeup; turn on the eight track” and get over to the Belasco, before it’s too late.

Ticket Tips: Because this show is blessed with a double-cult following (Hedwig + NPH), you’re not going to find it on TKTS or TDF. I tried using a Playbill.com offer a couple of days before opening, but, too late. So, what do you do if you don’t want to spend $139 or more? I suggest going to the box office and rolling the dice. There are tickets available. I originally asked for dates in mid-May, but balked at the prices they quoted me for mediocre seats. Finally, the box office woman inexplicably asked, “How about a $79 ticket this Thursday?” I was suspicious, but it was Row G of the mezzanine, center aisle—an excellent seat. So, persistence pays off. (Frankly, I have no idea why the seat was $79. I just gave her my Amex before she could change her mind). There is also a standing room line that forms many hours before curtain ($29). I would suggest getting there by 1:00 for an 8:00 curtain (no fun, but desperate times…). There is also a Lottery Rush ($37) for around 20 tickets that begins 2-1/2 hours before curtain.

A Helpful Hint: If you are not familiar with the songs, I strongly suggest you go on YouTube and watch a few of the numbers from the film (“Tear Me Down,” “Wig in a Box,” “Wicked Little Town,” and “Midnight Radio,” and probably others, are available). You will definitely enjoy the performance more if you’re already somewhat familiar with the lyrics.