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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Arcadia and Priscilla Queen of the Desert

April 6th, 2011

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up on what’s new on stage with a review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents.

First, one quick note: there are so many shows that have opened in the last month that I’m splitting my round-up into two parts to save us all from one eye-straining, mammoth post. Even I don’t want to hear myself talk that much. We’ll discuss the subtly linked (oh, such a tease)  How to Succeed and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo tomorrow.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.


Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece about the dramatic goings on at an English country estate (and the researchers attempting to make sense of those events almost two centuries later) returns to Broadway in a production directed by David Leveaux.

“…a half-terrific revival of Mr. Stoppard’s entirely terrific Arcadia.” New York Times

“It’s easy to admire, but hard to love.” New York Post

Arcadia offers as thrilling and fulfilling a theatergoing experience as you’ll likely have this season.” USA Today

“Despite the mashup of Brit/Yank acting styles, helmer David Leveaux delivers a ravishing revival…” Variety

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Mizer’s Two Cents:  I saw the original Lincoln Center production (when I was five…cough, cough) and it was one of the highlights of my theatergoing life. This production can’t compete against those glowing, though perhaps suspect, memories but it is a lovely and transporting mounting of a true work of genius. The stage crackles with wit and heart, keeping the focus clean and the momentum rushing forward. Though I agree with reviewers that some performances are not quite fully realized, Billy Crudup’s wickedly exuberant Nightingale and Lia Williams’ fierce and compassionate Hannah are revelations.

Now let’s confront the elephant (or better yet, the second law of thermodynamics) in the room. People say that they are intimidated by the erudition of Stoppard’s plays but Arcadia is not a physics/history/math lesson. It’s not a test and you will not need to bring your number 2 pencils. Yes, the characters talk about theories that are beyond the average theatergoer (and perhaps beyond the average Nobel Laureate) but that’s because they are highly specific and specialized characters. The point is not the minutiae of what they are saying but how and why they are saying it. Relax, roll with the characters’ enthusiasm and trust that Stoppard is smart enough to highlight what you really need to understand (and, the thing is, you will understand enough by the end to impress your friends at math parties.) All that truly matters in this achingly human play is that we are all searching, always needing to know what we can never know.

Photo by Joan Marcus.


It’s Arcadia but with disco songs. OK, not really. The gay, indie-film classic from Australia rolls onto Broadway with a tale of drag queens in the outback and a jukebox full of dance anthems.

“…this hyperactively splashy show wants so desperately to give audiences a gaudy good time that the results are oddly enervating.” New York Times

“It may look a bit ramshackle at times, but “Priscilla” has a big, joyous heart.” New York Post

“A lip sync of a lip sync of a lip sync, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical arrives on Broadway in a flurry of pink feathers, delivering more or less exactly what you’d expect…” New York Magazine

“Needless to say, the show is campier than a tentful of Boy Scouts (working on their choreography merit badge).” Entertainment Weekly

Mizer’s Two Cents:  Look at the picture above. If it makes you smile or want to shake your groove thang, then grab a cocktail and see the show; it delivers the goods. If you recoil in horror or feel a tad unclean, then move along; there’s nothing for someone like you to see here. I’ll admit it, I had a grin on my face for most of the musical; there is joy to be found in the over-the-top costumes, well-sung pop hits and the not nearly as sanitized as one would expect raunchy jokes. Praising Tony Sheldon’s performance as Bernadette requires no equivocation; he is graceful, funny and able to find some of the real hurt that lies beneath many a drag queen’s wig.

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