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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
There’s more! Take the leap…
The Other “Rockwell”
Unless you’ve been going to theater in a cave, you’ve likely seen the work of David Rockwell, currently represented on Broadway for his set designs for Kinky Boots and You Can’t Take It With You. But there’s another Rockwell that you should keep an eye out for: Rachel Rockwell, the triumphant Chicago director whose reimagining of Brigadoon at The Goodman Theatre was our out-of-town highlight of the year. Rockwell has made her mark in the Chicago theater scene with critically acclaimed productions of Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, In the Heights, Miss Saigon and countless others. For this production, she was granted permission from the Lerner and Loewe estates to reexamine the work to make it more palatable for 21st century audiences. The results left us breathless and in eager anticipation of when New York producers will snatch her up for her Broadway directorial debut.
It’s Not Only a Play
True, It’s Only a Play is breaking box office records, but we’re not exactly sure why. Save Nathan Lane’s star turn, the rest of the cast was mostly serviceable while Harry Potter star Rupert Grint made a debilitating Broadway debut that nearly had us running from the theater. But our faith was restored with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a breathtaking adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel that offered one of those rare evenings of theater that is both joyous as well as heartbreaking. We hope Alex Sharp is practicing his Tony Award acceptance speech.
Foul-mouthed and Fabulous
Bridget Everett returned to Joe’s Pub with a new show, Rock Bottom, which paired her with creative heavyweights Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman. Everett’s Rock Bottom rants didn’t necessarily follow a linear plot, but her recurring themes of body empowerment, the class system (she mentioned her “slave job” several times throughout the evening) and dysfunctional relationships simmered like a batch of crystal meth in a trailer park kitchen. Her fans come to laugh and surprisingly, sometimes cry. Most have them have probably hit rock bottom at some point or another. And rising like a phoenix, Bridget Everett is there for them—inevitably with a glass of chardonnay.