NEW YORK ROUND UP; Spring 2009

Hazel Kyte’s further bites into Big Apple theatre.
Before my visit to check out the On and Off Broadway scene, I was very disturbed at what appeared to be the dire state of New York theatre as depicted in articles saying how many hit shows had closed post Christmas.

On my arrival I found the theatres full, the closures merely being the pruning of dead wood to make room for the new season. My friend on TKTS (the half price booth in Time Square) said they had never been busier, so maybe the ‘crunch’ has meant the locals trying to save on the high prices, but not deserting the Great White Way.

Among current big musicals, Pal Joey (a ‘Roundabout’ production at Studio 54), original Rogers and Hart score but with new book by Richard Greenberg starring Stockard Channing, is due to close shortly, Shrek a bigger than big production, (Broadway Theatre) had the kids shrieking for more, whilst tickets for last year’s TONY best revival winner, South Pacific, the classic Rogers and Hammerstein at Vivian Beaumont Theatre, is a sell out with a daily line awaiting returns.

Long time survivors include Chicago, Avenue Q, Jersey Boys, Wicked, Phantom, Mamma Mia, In The Heights and all the Disney favourites – The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins. Billy Elliot is still packing them in. Mid-March a new revival of Guys and Dolls opened, unfortunately greeted by the critics as ‘Guys and Dulls’, with West Side Story celebrating 50 years on stage by coming to the Palace.

New musical The Story of My Life (Booth Theatre) is a two hander about childhood friends, and how people drift apart. It has a pleasant score, with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill. Will Chase and Malcolm Gets have good voices and depict how the choices made at salient points affect your life. This is directed by Richard Maltby Jr. in rather a static production, and certainly not the ‘all singing – all dancing hullabaloo’ that New Yorkers look to for their big entertainments.

The big white hope of the season is 9 to 5, with book by Patricia Resnick and music and lyrics by Dolly Parton – previews beginning 7 April.

With regard to plays, I managed to see Richard Greenberg’s latest, The American Plan, directed by David Grindley at the Friedman Theatre. This is set mainly in the Catskill Mountains during the summer of l960, with a final scene in a New York Upper West Side apartment ten years later. It is about a mother and daughter relationship, and whether the young man who ‘courts’ the unstable daughter is genuine or a fortune hunter,

Starring Mercedes Ruehl and Lily Rabe, it is certainly a provocative piece, the third act being the discussion home in the car, according to its writer. Another new play 33 Variations (Eugene O’Neill Theatre) written and directed by Moises Kaufman, stars Jane Fonda. It’s a fascinating piece in which a musicologist visits Bonn to research how Beethoven came to write 33 variations on what was regarded as a very ‘slight’ tune. Again you have a mother/daughter relationship in present-time New York, Bonn and Vienna, with music and appearances by Beethoven. The musical director and pianist is Diane Walsh.

Off Broadway, Roundabout present Distracted by Lisa Bloomer at the Laura Pels Theatre. This stars Cynthia Nixon as the mother of a son suffering from attention deficit syndrome, showing the pressure she is to put her son on drugs, and how it affects her marriage.

Also Off Broadway there’s Becky Shaw (Second Stage Theatre). This is a subscription house with a very high standard, and the play again relates to a manipulative woman. Although said to be a comedy, and with some very funny lines by Gina Cionfriddo, Peter Debois’ direction skates on very thin ice in a drama about relationships and how old friends and marriage do not always mix.

The York Theatre Company specialize in very old revivals as well as new pieces, and Enter Laughing, book Joseph Stein, music and lyrics Stan Daniels, is set in the l930s. It’s based on Stein’s play Enter Laughing from a Carl Reiner novel, so has a vintage class history. It’s a wonderful zany comedy about a non-talented young man who dreams of being a star (now where in this day of reality television have we heard that before?) – but with songs like ‘David Kolowitz, the Actor’, ‘Boy oh Boy’, and ‘My son the Druggist ‘ (American for Pharmacist), I must admit I loved it.

YTC also have a development reading series, and I was lucky enough to be in town for The Road to Qatar – book and lyrics by Stephen Cole and music by David Krane, who tell of their true (almost to life) experience of writing a new musical for the Emirates. These readings are free to the public, and usually run once a month.

For nostalgia fans, it is also well worth looking out for Scott Segal’s ‘Monday Nights at The Town Hall’, where Broadway performers take on a particular year (for instance l925), offering a lively night of show tunes that hit Broadway just then. Revivals with only a few performances (like London’s Lost Musicals series) will include Finian’s Rainbow, opening at the City Centre on 26 March.

Coming-up too within the next month are Blithe Spirit (Shubert Theatre) starring Angela Lansbury, Christine Ebersole and Rupert Everett – (over thirty five years since Coward’s death and he can still be a Broadway hit) and Impressionism (Gerald Schoenfield Theatre). Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen lead the cast of Michael Jacobs’ world premiere about a globe-trotting photojournalist and a gallery owner who discover there might be a certain science to repairing lives.

During my last visit in November I caught Irena’s Vow Off Broadway, with the ever popular Tovah Feldshuh playing a righteous Christian who saves the lives of a number of Jews during the Holocaust. Opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 29 March, it’s well worth seeing.

My last delight was at E59 – a jewel of an off Broadway theatre and subscription house where I saw Shipwrecked – an Entertainment. The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont,as told by himself. New York’s answer to The 39 Steps, this is a piece of fun, wonderfully executed. Narrator, Michael Countryman, and Players l and 2, Donetta Lavinia Grays and Jeremy Bobb, playing all the other multiple parts – including sea captains, natives and a dog – also providing all sound effects. Written by Donald Marguiles, and quite unlike any of his previous work, I do hope this makes it over ‘the pond’, as it would be an ideal Christmas entertainment for all ages.

This was just tipping the toe in the water of New York Theatre this season, so be assured, the lights are still twinkling and many a star waiting to be discovered.

2009-04-12 19:54:05

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