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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5 Reasons I Love Working in Times Square

  1. Shari Times Sq. ballThere’s No Business Like Show Business. You’ve gotta love a place where the Catholic Church is called “The Actors’ Chapel.” That’s St. Malachy’s on West 49th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue—right across the street from “The Book of Mormon.” But wait—that’s not even the best part. Every Wednesday at 1:45 p.m., just before matinee curtains rise throughout the neighborhood, St. Malachy’s church bells chime Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” (With a reprise at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays). It brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

P.S.: Douglas Fairbanks married Joan Crawford at St. Malachy’s. And thousands of fans jammed West 49th Street to pay final tribute to Rudolph Valentino.

P.P.S.: Jews can visit The Actors’ Temple on West 47th Street, “A place where spirituality meets creativity,” according to their Website. Sophie Tucker and the two of the Three Stooges (Moe and Curly; Larry, where were you?) were once members.

2. The Theatuh, Dahling. This one’s obvious. According to The Broadway League, there are currently 40 operating Broadway theatres. That’s a lot to choose from. There are also plenty of terrific off-Broadway options in the area (Signature, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, the New Victory) to name a few. You can save money by visiting the TKTS Booth at 47th/Broadway, where you can purchase tickets to many productions at 20-50% off. You can also take advantage of theatres’ rush, standing room, and lottery policies to save even more money. Join hundreds of theatre lovers at the Book of Mormon or Matilda lotteries where you can put your name in a hat for a chance to buy mega cheap (around $27) front row or partial view seats. Your chances are slim (I once struck out 3 times in one day), but somebody’s got to win. (Learn more about these at Playbill.com).

3. It’s the Crossroads of the World. OK, not everyone would agree, but I challenge anyone to sit at one of the sticky red tables in Duffy Square, surrounded by the flashing neon lights advertising Kinky Boots, Pippin, Phantom, Annie, Wicked, etc., and not feel a thrill. Look Downtown and see the actual tower where the ball drops every New Year’s Eve. Look Uptown and see tourists chilling on the cool new TKTS staircase. Listen and you’ll hear every language of the world. Once, I even saw Santa Claus enjoying some well-deserved R&R near McDonald’s. Who wouldn’t want to be here? And lucky me, I am.

P.S. Duffy Square is named for Father Francis P. Duffy, who served as pastor of Holy Cross Church on West 42nd Street until his death in 1932. A statue of him was erected that year and benevolently guards the North end of the Square, close by the TKTS booth.

Duffy Square

4. You Can Expect the Unexpected. A couple of weeks ago I headed up Broadway after work, enroute to City Center to see The Explorers’ Club. I got only a couple of blocks when I saw a scene that actually made me stop and pay attention—and that’s saying a lot. It was a group of naked people—men, women, old, young, fat, and thin—with intricately painted designs covering their bodies, including their most private parts. I had no idea what was going on. The people weren’t doing anything, just milling around. I later found out that they were the work of an artist, Andy Golub. But it was certainly unexpected, even in this neighborhood, where a man walks around with a cat on his head, a peevish Elmo may shove a small child, a Naked Cowboy poses for pictures, and Lena Dunham is shooting the upcoming season of “Girls.”

Santa Times Square

5. You Can Get It if You Want It. Whatever the season, you can buy what you need on the street—fake Pashminas in winter and fall, fake designer sunglasses in spring and summer. And a $5 alien head pattern scarf makes a fashion statement all year round. Hats, gloves, I Love NY sweatshirts, socks. You can put together an entire outfit, with a fake Coach handbag and $3 jewelry to accessorize. No excuse not to look sharp in this neighborhood!

JUST ONE MORE. I know I titled this post “5 Reasons I Love Working in Times Square,” but it’s hard to choose just 5. I would never forgive myself if I didn’t give a shout out to Engine Company 54 on 8th Avenue/48th Street. I love those guys for honoring their theatrical neighborhood every day. Their fire truck proudly boasts their motto: “Never Missed a Performance.” Truly, for everyone in Times Square, the show must go on.

Truck 54

2013 Tony Awards Quick Predictions

Pippin

Tomorrow night, June 9,  is the night when everyone in the theatre community holds their collective breath to see who will earn the word “win” in his or her next Playbill bio and who will have to be content with “nom.”

There’s not much time left before the big night, so I’ve got to get my Tony predictions in NOW. Because time is short, I’ll only cover the main categories. Maybe I’ll be right, maybe I’ll be wrong, but to quote Ann Richards in Holland Taylor’s snappy production of Ann: “You gotta go out on a limb, because that’s where the fruit is.”

Here goes:

Best Musical:  Kinky Boots
I haven’t yet written my Shari on the Aisle review of Kinky Boots, but let’s just say that in the 2013 battle of Matilda vs. Boots, I’m firmly in the Matilda camp. Too bad for me, because everybody else prefers Kinky Boots. (But I’d love to be surprised).

Best Revival of a Musical: Pippin
No contest, although I saw and enjoyed all of the nominated shows in this category. Annie is a delightful show and this is a great production; Drood is tons of fun, and Cinderella’s stagecraft is stunning. But Pippin is a shoo-in.

Best Play: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Christopher Durang has never won a Tony and this is his year. The Testament of Mary, a provocative play with an amazing performance by Fiona Shaw, has no chance. Even though the play won a nomination, when Tony voters skipped Shaw for a Best Actress nod, the play promptly posted a closing notice. The Assembled Parties and Lucky Guy garnered lots of praise, Parties for the actual play and Guy for Tom Hanks’ performance. But everyone loved Vanya etal., and it’s a pretty sure bet to win.

Best Revival of a Play: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
This is probably the toughest category to call, the one where I’m really do have to go out on a limb. My first instinct is to predict Golden Boy, a really top rate production that everyone loved. But it’s no longer playing, which works against it. Of course Virginia Woolf has also closed, but it’s considered the best production of the play in a long time, possibly ever. The performances were just sizzling. Orphans, which I enjoyed (especially Tom Sturridge’s feral performance), has no shot. I also loved every minute of Trip to Bountiful, but Tony voters will most likely honor Cicely Tyson, but not the play, which is OK by me.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play: Tom Hanks
Everybody loves both him personally and his performance. And although the play is no masterpiece, Tom is raking in the bucks for the production. Give the man a Tony.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Cicely Tyson
Kristine Nielsen, a theatre veteran and Durang favorite, is positively delicious in Vanya, etal. The producers tried to nominate her for best actress in a featured role, but the Tony committee (rightly) refused. Laurie Metcalf’s performance in her angst-ridden role in The Other Place was excellent, Amy Morton was fierce in Virginia Woolf, and Holland Taylor nailed the sass and wit of Ann Richards. But I will never forget the scene where the ethereal Ms. Tyson stood up, raised her arms to the heavens, and sang the hymn “Blessed Assurance.” The audience spontaneously joined in. It was a moment, let me tell you. She deserves that Tony and I can’t wait to see her accept it.

Almost done. On to the Best Performances by an Actor and Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical:

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Billy Porter
The Battle of the Cross-dressers. This one truly causes me pain. Bertie Carvel won the Olivier Award for his Miss Trunchbull in the original West End production of Matilda. I thought he was a shoo-in for this award, but all the buzz is about Billy Porter. He’s brilliantly talented, but I just adore Bertie. Surprise me, Tony voters.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical: Patina Miller
I’m hearing rumors about Laura Osnes taking this one for her delightful turn in Cinderella. But seriously, Patina sings while on a trapeze. And her impeccable performance of the Fosse choreography in the Manson Trio number is just stellar. Plus, I’d give her an award for the buffest arms I’ve ever seen.

Before I sign off: While I’m writing about Pippin, I fully expect to see Andrea Martin accept her award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical. I also predict she’ll bring down the house, as she does 8 times a week on stage at The Music Box. I’ve loved her since her days as Edith Prickly on SCTV. And she’s the hottest 67 year old anywhere.

I’ll be watching with Glenn, having a cocktail, eating leftovers, and keeping score tomorrow evening. Enjoy!

Broadway Babies

Broadway Babies

The life of a child actor on Broadway isn’t all curtain calls, adulation, and lunch at Sardi’s. In this Sunday’s NY Times Arts & Leisure section Robin Pogrebin presents a sensitive, inside look at child actors currently working on Broadway, from the 4 Matildas to Annie, young Michael Jackson in Motown, and the child version of Kinky Boots’ drag queen.

http://theater.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/theater/nine-broadway-shows-feature-child-actors.html?ref=arts&_r=0

Matilda

Matilda

Show: Matilda

Date: May 1, 2013

Theatre: Shubert

Shari on the Aisle Rating: * * * * *

Lead Cast: Bertie Carvel, Gabriel Ebert, Lesli Margherita, Lauren Ward, rotating cast of 4 young actresses playing “Matilda.”

Background: Based on Roald Dahl’s beloved 1988 children’s book, the original Royal Shakespeare Company version of this musical won a record-breaking 7 Olivier awards (the British version of the Tony) in 2012. The Broadway production is currently nominated for 12 Tony awards, in a neck-and-neck race with “Kinky Boots” (13 noms). If life is fair, “Matlida” will win Best Musical. But as we know, life isn’t always fair. My money is, however, on Bertie Carvel to snag a Tony to share space on his mantle with his Olivier.

Quick Take: This is one show that actually lives up to the hype.

Take Note: Each performer is just stellar (especially Gabriel Ebert as Matilda’s sleazy father and Bertie Carvel as the monstrous Miss Trunchbull), and the creative team does an excellent job of preserving Dahl’s off-kilter creepiness. After the performance I thought about calling Child Protective Services—that’s how hard these talented kids work during this long, complicated show. They sing, dance, climb, and tumble.
In Addition: I especially enjoyed Tim Minchin’s clever lyrics. They are never predictable and always advance the story. The lyrics from “When I Grow Up” may cause even the most jaded grown up to become misty:
“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change.
Just because I find myself in this story,
It doesn’t mean that everything is written for me.
If I think the ending is fixed already,
I might as well be saying I think that it’s OK,
And that’s not right!”

Another Highlight: The superb closing number, “Revolting Children:”
We are revolting children…
Living in revolting times…
We sing revolting songs
Using revolting rhymes.
We’ll be revolting children,
‘Til our revolting’s done,
And we’ll have the Trunchbull vaulting.
We’re revolting!

Should you go? Absolutely, this is a must-see show. But good luck getting tickets to this one, unless you’re willing to pay top dollar. For those in the NYC area, try the lottery—$27—register 2-1/2 hours before curtain. Not recommended for very young children—it’s over 2-1/2 hours long, and it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of familial life. The money would be better spent on a baby sitter.