The young Lin-Manuel Miranda's new songs for this revival outshine those of many of the theatrical heavyweights who contributed to the original.
In adapting Edna Ferber's sprawling novel of Texas cattlemen and oil barons and their families, LaChiusa has given some of the best songs to minor characters, allowing the trio at the story's center—Texas cattle baron Bick Benedict (Brian d'Arcy James), his new bride Leslie (Kate Baldwin), and his roguish hired hand Jett (P.J. Griffith)—to fade into the background.(1)
Composer Dave Malloy has created one of the most dramatically intriguing and musically daring pieces of theater you'll see this season. Part of the trio of writer-performers behind the 2010 show Three Pianos, a riff on Franz Schubert's Winterreise song cycle that also featured free alcohol (is there a pattern here?), Malloy has already demonstrated that he knows how to create a score that's varied and dynamic, recalling well-known styles while staying contemporary and cohesive.
There are local ads in every town and county in the United States, and the generation that grew up in front of the television in New York City isn't that different from any other regional in-group.(16)
The sound is unobtrusively middle-of-the-road theater pop for the most part, which is fine; the few times the composers stray too far, the results aren’t pretty.
The darkness of Hart’s lyric for “This Funny World” (“If you’re beaten, conceal it,/ There’s no pity for you”) so unnerved Belle Baker, who was to give its first performance in the show Betsy, that she commissioned a more upbeat number from Irving Berlin and sang that instead. Hart’s songs could be tender (“My Funny Valentine,” “Isn’t It Romantic?”), topical (“Zip!”), or meta (“Johnny One Note”), but it is their sadness that sticks in the mind: “Glad to Be Unhappy,” “It Never Entered My Mind.”
Between the lines of the brief debate that ensued from Sondheim’s temper tantrum, one side seemed to be arguing that the 1935 opera book written by a well-meaning white Southerner was racially insensitive by contemporary standards, and the other side that tampering with a classic text for such reasons was kowtowing to the most humdrum sort of political correctness. Nobody came out of this debate unscarred.(4)
Tokio Confidential may not have the elements of a typical Broadway musical: no sing-along show-stoppers, no feel-good happy ending. But instead of bombast and melodrama, it has human characters, a real plot, and an honest heart.
Encores! usually tries to present shows that are more or less what audiences heard during their initial runs on Broadway. It seems a shame that instead of letting us experience Sondheim's original score, we get a Merrily that's been tinkered with for 30 years. It's no surprise that the most successful production I've seen, the 2000 version at London's Donmar Warehouse, did the least tinkering.
The non-cynical musical based on a movie: 'Once' transfers effortlessly to stage (as it will to Broadway)
Hansard and Irglová's folk-rock ballads transfer effortlessly to the stage, and Enda Walsh has adapted John Carney's spare and effective screenplay without straying too far the source material. Walsh fleshes out a few of the minor characters, but it’s the Guy and the Girl who remain a little too lightly drawn. Hansard and Irglová's songs do all the heavy lifting—maybe not the worst thing in a musical.
There is something central to the work that is false, a cheat. As the critic Julian Budden says about the gnarled revision of the libretto of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, “It is like one of those mathematical games where at one point the player takes away the number he first thought of.”
The game being played in Company is “why can’t Robert commit?” The central character is a symbolically 35-year-old (i.e., exactly in midlife) single man living in Manhattan about 1970. He dates various girls casually, but he spends most of his time with one or another of the married couples who all seem to welcome him as pleasant and useful third wheel.(2)
It feels almost like it's lifted from other, better musicals by the creative team of songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray) and librettist Terrence McNally (Ragtime, The Full Monty), and given the real life of Frank Abagnale Jr., upon whom the movie Catch Me If You Can was based, lifted from pretty obvious places. Starting with Chicago.
They're the six musicians, playing a score sensitively reorchestrated by Mary-Mitchell Campbell.
But musical director Chris Haberl, who doubles as pianist, knows that this show requires more than mere technical proficiency with the score: the way this musical is built, the instruments often tell truths that the players, in their attempts to seduce each other, won't. A sustained sigh from the cello, a low wail from the clarinet, or a restless rumble from the snare are a part of the acting here.
It’s been five years since Priscilla, Queen of the Desert—a jukebox musical adaptation of the campy 1994 drag-queen road movie—premiered in Sydney. And given what it has to offer—a crowd-pleasing score of pop hits from the '70s and '80s; a gentle, sweet narrative that holds the songs together; costumes and wigs galore—it's a surprise that it took so long to get to Broadway.
Based on the 1987 American-breakthrough film by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, Women on the Verge strains for the light touch of the original. Jeffrey Lane’s dialog is laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end, but the plot skips along the surface without delving too deep. Director Bartlett Sher fills the stage with people laughing, singing, and dancing, but he can’t disguise the fact that there doesn’t seem to be much happening in this cartoon version of Madrid.