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.
With the spring season about to ramp up, I thought I’d offer a sneak peek edition of “To See or Not to See” featuring a critical look at two shows that are up and running (or tumbling into the pit) and a tease for the three shows I’m most excited to catch in the months ahead.
Following multiple delays and bruised bodies (as well as egos), the bank-busting, comic book musical—directed by The Lion King‘s Julie Taymor and with music by U2’s Bono and The Edge—still hasn’t officially opened. But that hasn’t stopped most major critics from piling on like a spandex sale at the Justice League.
“Spider-Man is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst.” New York Times
“An inconsistent, maddening show that’s equal parts exciting and atrocious.” New York Post
“It’s by turns hyperstimulated, vivid, lurid, overeducated, underbaked, terrifying, confusing, distracted, ridiculously slick, shockingly clumsy, unmistakably monomaniacal and clinically bipolar. But never, ever boring.” New York Magazine
“Beyond the offstage drama and lavish budget, and all the feats and flash accompanying them, lies an endearingly old-fashioned musical.” USA Today
Mizer’s Two Cents: If you love stagecraft, go for the jaw-dropping mixture of high tech wizardry and classic theater/puppetry techniques. And now with reports spreading that major reworking is about to happen (with script and music doctors), this could be a truly fascinating chance to see a new show being built before our eyes. But, at Broadway ticket prices, this graduate level theater class won’t come cheap. All that being said, I do hope folks can take a step back from some of the more sensational talk about the working conditions. One of the guys in charge of the flying harnesses actually flew me for a year when I was on tour and he would have thrown himself in front of a two ton set piece to protect me. Whatever stories have been spread, I’d wager my life savings that the crew of this show is doing everything humanly possible to ensure the safety of the performers.
UPDATE: NY1 is reporting that Julie Taymor is out as director. What a tangled web, indeed.
“This gleefully twisted tale of the secret lives of nuns — in which the playwright doubles as leading lady — is Mr. Busch’s freshest, funniest work in years, perhaps decades.” New York Times
“The show won’t win prizes for sophistication, but it sure could be habit-forming.” New York Post
“For the once and future queen of downtown, it’s a drag-draped, gag-packed return to form…” New York Magazine
“This inspired parody has all the joyful exuberance of early Busch classics and features stalwart performers from the beloved old troupe…” Variety
Mizer’s Two Cents: I laughed so hard at this show my cheeks hurt for the next 24 hours. (Mr. Busch would surely ask, “Which cheeks?”) This is how you perform camp: with affection, craft, balls out energy and not a drop of ironic distance. Sure, this ain’t Shakespeare but I will never forget Alison Fraser’s pinched German accent, Julie Halston’s sequin clad breakdown and the way the “dumb” script smartly builds and builds momentum. And can someone please tell me how Charles Busch, in full habit, doing a rat-a-tat Rosalind Russell, standing under a chandelier made of kitchen cutlery, can still wring out tiny, jewel-like moments of emotional honesty? That’s a true theatrical special effect.
AND 3 TO GROW ON
WAR HORSE: With the return of my favorite play, Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, and the Broadway transfer of Mark Rylance’s much-lauded performance in Jerusalem, this Spring is a treasure trove for play lovers. But deep down in my Black Stallion-loving heart, I’m most excited to see this West End smash about a boy and his horse in World War I. Come on, it features 7 foot tall horses designed by the Handspring Puppet Company. In London last Fall, I was overwhelmed by Handspring’s Or You Could Kiss Me, a tender, miniaturist drama about a long-term gay relationship told through movingly expressive puppets; I can only imagine what they’ll do on such an epic scale. Lincoln Center, Beaumont Theater. Previews begin March 15, opens April 14.
The Book of Mormon: Let the picket lines form now. South Park‘s Matt Stone and Trey Parker join composer Bobby Lopez (half of the Avenue Q team) for an original musical about Mormon missionaries in Africa. At a workshop last year, people were gasping and heaving with laughter—forget 127 Hours, I’m afraid audiences will pass out when they watch this. Deeply offensive yet shockingly traditional, the show has had a year to work through any kinks and it has a creative team that knows their music theater. Eugene O’Neill Theatre. Previews begin February 24, opens March 24.
A Minister’s Wife: OK, accuse me of shilling for Lincoln Center but I can’t help it that they’ve got two potential classics in the house. Even with raves coming out of Chicago, this one is a bit more of a gamble,—a musical adaptation of Candida, George Bernard Shaw’s love triangle, with lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen and score by the jubilantly praised Joshua Schmidt (Adding Machine…so don’t expect toe-tapping show tunes). But the real selling point is a personal one—they’ve brought the lead actress from the original production, Kate Fry. A luminously honest presence in show after show on the Chicago theater scene, Kate is the real deal. I’ve known it since I first saw her in a play at Northwestern. (Heck, I angled to play a tiny character in one show just so I could be in a scene with her and it remains one of the most satisfying moments in my acting “career.”) I promise, you’re about to know it, too. Lincoln Center, Newhouse. Previews begin April 7.