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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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!

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.