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Home > To See or Not To See > TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: The Normal Heart, War Horse and Anything Goes

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: The Normal Heart, War Horse and Anything Goes

May 6th, 2011

The May reviewapalooza continues today with a look at three shows that are pulling out the big guns and taking Broadway by storm.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

THE NORMAL HEART

Larry Kramer’s flame-throwing, autobiographical play about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City gets a starry revival directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe.

“More than a quarter of a century after it first scorched New York, “The Normal Heart” is breathing fire again.” New York Times

“It’s a snapshot of a city and era that feel long gone, and this production, co-directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe, gives it a worthy frame.” New York Post

“…this is a spectacularly well-cast production in which every role has found its ideal interpreter.” Hollywood Reporter

“How does it hold up? Better than I expected, but not as well as I’d hoped.” Wall Street Journal

Mizer’s Two Cents: This is passionate, essential theater brought to life by top-tier actors working as a perfect ensemble. Larry Kramer can be a real pill and Joe Mantello’s central performance as Kramer’s stand-in Ned Weeks doesn’t shy away from the loud and off-putting aspects of the character, but he also manages to let us see the insecure, romantic beneath. John Benjamin Hickey is the key, allowing us to fall in love with Larry through his smart, unsentimental eyes. Yes, the play is political, lopsided and “sad;” but it is also timely, scathingly funny and stuffed with spoken arias that ring show-stopping applause from the audience. Plus, you walk out of the theater feeling like you want to kick some butt. It is unmissable for all serious, adult theatergoers.

Photo by Simon Annand.

WAR HORSE

The British import about a boy and his horse facing the horrors of WWI gallops onto the stage at Lincoln Center through the magic of the most complex and magical puppetry ever brought to Broadway.

“…much of “War Horse” evaporates not long after it ends. But I would wager that for a good while, you’ll continue to see Joey in your dreams.” New York Times

“But if “War Horse” is theater as epic spectacle, it’s also theater as shared, intimate emotion.” New York Post

“…awe-inspiring both as a blast of pure theatrical imagination and as a deep gut-kick about lost innocence in war.” Newsday

“…the telling of this age-old tale is pure theatrical magic in this story-theater-like production.” Variety

Mizer’s Two Cents: This was one of my must-sees of the Spring and it largely did not disappoint. The puppetry by Handspring is nothing short of miraculous; alive, tactile and completely transporting. What surprised me was that the other theatrical elements–staging, lighting and design–were equally fluid and gasp-inducing. The story is told about as well as any tale I’ve seen presented on a stage; that alone is worth the price of admission. Any warnings I have are merely based on the fact that the script and acting are melodramatic, equal parts All Quiet on the Western Front, Old Yeller and some silent movie with a bound, gagged and (just for good measure) blinded damsel tied to the tracks. The vast majority of people I know find it to be a transporting and emotional experience, but theatergoers with extremely low manipulation thresholds or high degrees of  PTSD related to combat and/or a lost pet, consider yourself warned.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

ANYTHING GOES

Tony-nominee Sutton Foster headlines this tap-happy, sea-worthy revival, featuring a Titanic-load of Cole Porter hits.

“…in the zesty new revival…Ms. Foster has the voice of a trumpet and a big, gleaming presence that floods the house.” New York Times

“You don’t really buy it, but the star’s still fun to watch.” New York Post

“…a merry, sparkling 2011 production from the Roundabout Theatre Company.” Entertainment Weekly

“By-the-numbers revival, but the numbers are prime.” Newsday

Mizer’s Two Cents: Sutton Foster is the real deal; has there ever been a Broadway performer that exudes such joyful professionalism? That may sound like a back-handed compliment (suggesting personality-less competence) but it isn’t. I mean that whenever she’s on stage she is fully present and fully armed with the highest-caliber comedy, vocal and dance chops–so much so that you feel completely at ease in her charming hands. Yes, the role of tough dame Reno Sweeney might not be a perfect match for her gangly clowning and scrubbed openness, but I didn’t really care when she was up there sounding fabulous, finding laughs in lyrics I’ve heard a thousand times and holding more than her own in epic dance numbers. And the show is more than just a Foster baby, there are some other noteworthy things going on including creamy period-ready work from leading man Colin Donnell and an unexpectedly hysterical take on the classic (ok, more like cliche) lecherous drunk from a spot-on John McMartin. That being said, do know that this is an old-fashioned, sometimes groan-inducing musical comedy, the kind that not even a good production can totally pull off with seamless, frothy ease. But, holy hot 100, is this show stuffed from fore to aft with one certifiable American Songbook standard after another.

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