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The Broadway Blog’s Best and Worst of 2014

December 30th, 2014 Comments off

The Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler rounds up what we loved and loathed in 2014.

We witnessed standing ovations as well as patrons storming out of the theater (sometimes at the same show)! It was a polarizing year on Broadway and beyond—packed with enough theatrics and star turns to keep the Great White Way blazing through the season. We’ve highlighted our favorite moments: the good, the bad, and the ugly. One thing is for certain, though. There’s nothing like that moment when the house lights dim. And what happens next? Well… that’s the magic of the theater.

Neil Patrick Harris and the cast of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Neil Patrick Harris and the cast of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

When Life’s a Drag
Neil Patrick Harris’s star turn in John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s glam-punk musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch took Broadway by storm and with good reason. Based on his previous Broadway experience (Cabaret, Assassins and Proof) and four years as an Emmy-Award winning Tony Awards host, Harris clearly had the mastery and precision to make this character into even more of an icon than she already is, and that is no small feat. From head to toe, Harris was all Hedwig. The reimagining by director Michael Mayer introduced the show to a new generation, but for those with nostalgia, Mitchell returns to the role he originated January 21.

 

Terence Archie and Andy Karl in "Rocky" (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.

Terence Archie and Andy Karl in “Rocky” (photo: Matthew Murphy) via The Broadway Blog.

Sucker Punch
It takes a lot for a down-on-his-luck guy from Philly to pull off a $16.5 million musical. True, Rocky had heart, but it wasn’t nearly enough to have us believe why he’d break out into a song titled, “My Nose Ain’t Broken.” Speaking of which, the troubled book and score couldn’t be saved by director Alex Timbers or the monstrous sets by Chris Barreca. Rocky was a knockout; unfortunately it was the audience who was left with a concussion.

 

Steven Reineke and Stephanie J. Block (photo: Richard Termine) via The Broadway Blog.

Steven Reineke and Stephanie J. Block (photo: Richard Termine) via The Broadway Blog.

Defying Gravity
The Broadway Blog was privileged to interview some of today’s greatest talent, including Betty Buckley and Andrew Lippa, but none touched us as deeply as Stephanie J. Block on the brink of her performance with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall. The California native now has a handful of Broadway credits under her belt due to her consistently grounded performances and a powerhouse voice that shakes the rafters. “I was a waitress for four months, and I was hideous at it! I’ve supported myself through the arts, sometimes many jobs at a time,” says Block. “I needed to respect and take nothing for granted. It served me well—people can get jaded and over it quickly. But I’m still in awe to be in the position to do the things I love.”

Ruthie Ann Miles in "Here Lies Love" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Ruthie Ann Miles in “Here Lies Love” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Papp Lives On
Joseph Papp conceived of the Public Theater nearly 60 years ago and through the decades it has established itself as home to an array of culturally diverse artists that push the boundaries of storytelling. Two of our favorite shows of the year appeared at the Public: Here Lies Love and The Fortress of Solitude. The former was an unconventional telling of Imelda Marcos’s life that relied on live video feed as well as archival footage—all seamlessly integrated into palpitating performances, a mobile set, and a catchy score by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (with additional music by Tom Gandy and J Pardo). The latter, as described by the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis, embodied “the things The Public Theater strives to achieve: it is a tremendously personal story that takes place within a larger social context, and a story that reveals how our most intimate relationships are shaped by history, class and race.” We can’t wait for Fun Home to arrive on Broadway this spring.

 

"Bullets Over Broadway," set design by Santo Loquasto. (photo: Paul Kolnik via The Broadway Blog)

“Bullets Over Broadway,” set design by Santo Loquasto. (photo: Paul Kolnik via The Broadway Blog)

Bum Deal
We admit it. We were one of the few who enjoyed Susan Stroman’s staging of Bullets Over Broadway. The flashy spectacle received mediocre reviews but we felt the director/choreographer nailed the style and humor of 1920s New York City with some flashy help from costume designer William Ivey Long and set designer Santo Loquasto, who collectively delivered some of the most lush and period-perfect designs of the season.

 

"Allegro" at Classic Stage Company (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

“Allegro” at Classic Stage Company (photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Shades of Grey
No, we’re not talking about the “erotic” novel by E.L. James, but rather the conflicted season at Classic Stage Company. While we were bewildered by Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s Man, easily one of the snooziest and poorly staged productions of the year, the off Broadway company bounced back with a stellar revival of Allegro, proving that a little faith goes a long way. We have high hopes for the upcoming production of A Month in the Country starring Peter Dinklage and Peter Sarsgaard’s take on Hamlet.

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Review: It’s Only a Play

October 18th, 2014 Comments off
The cast of 'It's Only a Play' (photo: F. Scott Schafer via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘It’s Only a Play’ (photo: F. Scott Schafer via The Broadway Blog.)

Broadway is going meta and I wonder if producers are interested in plot lines that don’t involve a life in the theater. Earlier this month we saw the opening of The Country House by Donald Margulies, a new play about a family of actors ensconced in the Berkshires. This week Michael C. Hall stepped into the role of Hedwig, a star-turn performance about a gender-bending performance artist. And of course, we’ve still got Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams traipsing along in the revival of the revival of Cabaret. But none of them tackle the theme of a life on the boards with such biting humor as Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play. Dating back to 1978 and originally titled Broadway Broadway, the script has gotten a 21 century makeover with no additional writing credits, but I would guess that the playwright had some keen millennial eyes on the prize, as this latest version is peppered with references to Lady Gaga, One Direction and other chart-toppers.

Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane in 'It's Only a Play' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane in ‘It’s Only a Play’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

The play centers on the opening night of Peter Austin’s (Matthew Broderick) new play as he and others gather at the home of lead producer Julia Budder (Megan Mullally) to await the reviews. Along for the ride are his longtime friend, James Wiker (Nathan Lane), who has returned from L.A. and a long TV stint to see his best friend’s work; leading lady Virginia Noyes (Stockard Channing); critic Ira Drew (F. Murray Abraham), who has another agenda on his mind; British Wunderkind director Frank Finger (Rupert Grint) and a fresh-of-the-bus coat attendee, Micah Stock.

Together, the cast rattles through McNally’s script, which is packed with one-liners and smart commentary about the business. The audience seemed revved up for a Lane-Broderick reunion, as the team appeared so famously together in The Producers. Mr. Broderick also appeared opposite Ms. Mullally in the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. There’s a lot of history on that stage and when Mr. Lane entered for the first time, the audience burst into applause as if he was theater royalty. By the final curtain call (yes, there’s an actual curtain, along with a lux set by Scott Pask), he’s earned every last clap.

The supporting cast for the most part keeps up. Mr. Stock makes a charming Broadway debut as a naïve actor who has stepped into the world he’s dreamt about. Ms. Channing captures both the humor and gravitas of an actress of a certain age who can no longer rely on “pretty.” But Mr. Grint’s stomping and hair-pulling turn as the director desperate for a bad review is somewhat of a self-prophecy. It is an unwieldy performance untamed by director Jack O’Brien’s otherwise deft hand.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted night at the theater—about the theater—then head to the Gerald Schoenfeld where this cast of Broadway vets and their up-and-coming counterparts offer laughs, perhaps a swelling tear or two, and a gentle reminder that a play (even though it’s only a play) is a beautiful thing.

It’s Only a Play
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Through January 4

Rupert Grint, Megan Mullally, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and Stockard Channing in a scene from 'It's Only a Play' (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Rupert Grint, Megan Mullally, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, and Stockard Channing in a scene from ‘It’s Only a Play’ (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Three to See: October

October 2nd, 2014 Comments off

Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler offers his monthly picks of what’s hot on The Great White Way and beyond. 

The 2014-15 Broadway season is in full force with revivals, new plays and musicals, and plenty of star turns to clog the streets of the theater district as patrons clamor for selfies with some of Broadway’s best. Here are our three picks for the month, but why limit yourself?

The cast of 'It's Only A Play' (photo: F. Scott Schafer via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘It’s Only A Play’ (photo: F. Scott Schafer via The Broadway Blog.)

It’s Only a Play
Terrence McNally was on the boards last season with his gay marriage drama, Mothers and Sons, but this fall sees a revival of one of his quirkier works, It’s Only A Play. His homage to the wild world of commercial theater dates back to 1982 and follows the exploits of opening night and features an all-star cast including Matthew Broderick as the panicked playwright, Nathan Lane as his best friend, Stockard Channing as the doped-up diva and F. Murray Abraham as the lethal critic—and that’s just for starts.

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Opening night: October 9


onthetown
On The Town
There may be no other show that embraces New York City quite as ebulliently as Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolf Green and Jerome Robbin’s On The Town.

Boasting the biggest orchestra on Broadway, the show follows the escapades of three sailors on shore leave. The show’s last revival lasted a dismal 69 performances (and also featured the now-famous Jesse Tyler Ferguson of Modern Family.) But this latest incarnation boasts a stellar cast including Broadway vets Tony Yazbeck, Jackie Hoffman, Michael Rupert and what is sure to be knockout vocals from Alysha Umphress.

The Lyric Theatre
213 West 42nd Street
Opening night: October 16

 

lastshipThe Last Ship
Grammy Award winner Sting tries his hand at crafting a Broadway score inspired by the English seafaring town of Wallsend. While you may not recognize many names of the 29-member cast (except perhaps hunky Aaron Lazar), the A-list creative team is a producer’s dream, including director Joe Mantello (Wicked) and choreographer Steven Hoggett (Once). The jury is still out on whether Sting can pull off an award-winning score as Cyndi Lauper did two seasons ago with the mega-hit Kinky Boots. Will this ship sink or sail?

The Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Opening night: October 26

Take the leap for other Broadway openings this month…

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