BROADWAY SPRING PREVIEW, Part II (Musicals)

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

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SIDE SHOW

Side Show

St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

Unless you act soon—and by soon, I mean within the next 2 weeks, Side Show will be the best show you’ve never seen. And that’s just sad. I had the privilege of seeing this excellent production several days ago, and its poignant spell is still with me.

Lead Cast: Erin Davie (Violet Hilton), Emily Padgett (Daisy Hilton), David St. Louis (Jake), Ryan Silverman (Terry Connor), Matthew Hydzik (Buddy Foster), Robert Joy (Sir)

Director: Bill Condon

Music: Henry Krieger

Book and Lyrics: Bill Russell

Additional Book Material: Bill Condon

Background:  The current Broadway production of Side Show is a revamped version of the original, which opened 17 years ago, on October 16, 1997. The show is based on a true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who rose from exploitation as freaks in a seamy side show to become Vaudeville stars. Although the original show received many positive reviews (New York Times critic Ben Brantley called it a “daring, enthralling production”), it closed on January 3, 1998, after only 31 previews and 91 regular performances. Sadly, history will repeat itself when the new Side Show closes on January 4, 2015, just 7 weeks after opening night.

I didn’t see the 1997 Broadway production, but I’m told by people who did that the new version adds several new songs and cuts others, and that the book has been reworked to include more exposition about the Hilton twins’ childhood in England.

The Production

I found this show absolutely riveting from beginning to end. The opening number “Come Look at the Freaks,” sets the mood: the sets (by David Rockwell) are spare, often only suggesting the actual physical surroundings. The lighting (Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer) effortlessly guides your eye to focus on what’s important in any given scene. There are some special effects—as when a costume change appears to happen by magic—that are amazing.

But it is the performances take your breath away. Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, actresses who offstage don’t really look alike, convince us that they are physically identical—literally joined at the hip. In addition to the physical transformation, they also convey the twins’ very different personalities. Daisy (Ms. Padgett) is brash and flirtatious and dreams of stardom. Violet is more reserved. Their contrasting personas are illustrated in the song “Like Everyone Else:”

Violet sings, “I want to be like everybody else; to walk down the street not attracting attention.” Daisy yearns for fame: “I want to be like everyone else, but richer and more acclaimed. Worshiped and celebrated.” The stunning costume designs (by Paul Tazewell) underscore the idea of sameness vs. difference: Daisy and Violet dress alike, but in dresses that are mirror images of each other.

Because a “normal” life is impossible for the sisters, who have always been made to feel they are “freaks of nature,” only Daisy will get her wish. Once rescued from the exploitation of the side show by the handsome, smooth-talking Terry O’Connor, the girls achieve fame and fortune as Vaudeville stars. (Of course they are still being exploited, but with a higher standard of living).

I want to give a shout out to David St. Louis, who as Jake, the girls’ protector and champion (and who suffers unrequited love for Violet), is simply stunning in every scene he plays and every song he sings. I’m hoping that he’ll be recognized, along with Davie and Padgett, with a Tony nomination

Heartbreaking Moments

Side Show is ultimately a love story. Despite an often cruel and exploitive world, Daisy and Violet know that they will always have each other. While they do consider separation surgery, they are told that it is risky—that one or both might not survive. They realize that it is their connectedness that truly defines them and makes them special; that in a world where they are viewed as freaks, they are never alone. They are bound together in body and soul, by love.

Two emotional duets underscore the touching and profound love between Daisy and Violet: the first act closer, “Who Will Love Me as I Am?” and the last song in Act 2 (before a reprise of “Come Look at the Freaks”), “I Will Never Leave You.” If these plaintive songs don’t bring a tear to your eye, you have no heart.

From “Who Will Love Me as I Am?”:

Who will ever call to say I love you? Send me flowers or a telegram?

Who could proudly stand beside me? Who will love me as I am?

From “I Will Never Leave You”:

I will never leave you; I will never go away

We were meant to share each moment; Beside you is where I will stay

Evermore and always; We’ll be one though we’re two

For I will never leave you

Why the Side Show Must End

Why can’t this thrilling and touching show make it on Broadway? Part of the problem stems from the subject matter. When people hear the words “Siamese twins” and “freaks” they may mistakenly assume the show is somehow distasteful or upsetting. Other reasons are more mundane, having to do with the “business” part of show business. While the orchestra section was full for the matinee I attended, theatre staff they told me that ticket sales for the mezzanine were generally poor. When St. James Theatre owner Jujamcyn saw an opportunity to book a potential blockbuster new musical, Something Rotten (directed by Book of Mormon’s Casey Nicholaw), it turned its back on Side Show. As Side Show producer Darren Bagert told The New York Times: “We were persuaded to post a notice prematurely, in the middle of a holiday season ticket upswing. If there weren’t another show clawing at the door, I think we’d still be at the theater.”

When I spoke to several cast members after the performance, they were understandably disappointed that this high-quality, audience-pleasing production was ending too soon. Like Daisy and Violet, both the 1997 and 2014 productions of Side Show beseech us: “Who will love me as I am?”

So, in the words of Side Show’s opening number, “Come Look at the Freaks”:

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up! Right this way!

See the freaks! They are here! They are real!

They are all alive! Inside!

(But only until January 4).

Trivia: January 4, the date the current Broadway production will close, is the same date the Hilton sisters died (in 1969, at age 60).

Ticket Info: Discounted tickets are available on Playbill.com and at TKTS in Times Square. You can find detailed information about Side Show and other Broadway shows at BroadwayHelper.com

I urge you to see this amazing show before it’s too late. While the show’s website doesn’t specify any age recommendation, due to the mature subject matter, I would say leave the kids under 15 at home.

Show Website.

With Erin Davie.

Erin Davie