Last fall, I planned a solo Broadway Extravaganza Weekend. At first, I was only going to New York to see Cabaret on my birthday, but when I moved the trip to October, all the stars aligned and descended on Broadway. So, I couldn't help tacking on three more shows. This whirlwind of entertainment brought out my love for theatre in full force. (The 2015 Tony Award nominations were announced this week, so I'm very timely, just seven months after the fact.) Here's the rundown.
The River, Royal Court Theatre Production, Circle on the Square, October 31, 2014
I fell pretty hard for Hugh Jackman after seeing him in his Tony-winning performance as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz in 2004. Who knew Wolverine could be charming, sing, and dance? I next saw him on Broadway in 2009 in A Steady Rain, a gritty drama costarring Daniel Craig. When I read that Hugh Jackman planned to return to Broadway in another drama last year, I bought my ticket without reading much about the plot.
The River, a new one-act play by Jez Butterworth, is about a guy who loves to fish and his two girlfriends. It takes place in the man's cabin, close to where the fishing is good. After the play was over, I heard a few people exclaim how amazing it was, but most of the people around me were bewildered. As we exited the theatre, a lady in front of me turned around and asked anyone who would listen, "Who was the woman with the scratched out face? What did it mean? Do you know?"
This play seemed purposefully confusing to spark this kind of conversation afterward. For example, Hugh Jackman's character (The Man) started one scene with Cush Jumbo (The Woman), who then walked into the bedroom off stage. Then, Laura Donnelly (The Other Woman) came out of the supposed bedroom, continuing the conversation but within a different context. They were actually talking about something else at a different time. Although nothing was ever quite clear, the play was cleverly written and entertaining. During the show, I kept making up scenarios that explained what it all meant. Maybe the first woman represents a new relationship and the other one represents a past one. Maybe he killed one of them, and her scenes are memories. I kept waiting for something sinister to happen that never did.
|Cush Jumbo and Hugh Jackman|
Someone responded to the frustrated lady's questions with what she thought everything meant, clearing it up for us with an explanation that never occurred to me: Hugh Jackman's character is a sleazy, shallow guy with commitment issues. Have I mentioned that Hugh Jackman is a really great actor?
Cabaret, Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54, November 1, 2014
1972 movie version of Cabaret, starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, so many times that I've hesitated seeing it live on stage, directed and performed by other people. This production, however, excited me with director Sam Mendes, co-director and choreographer Rob Marshall, and stars Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams. (This revival was a close copy of the 1998 Broadway production, which also starred Alan Cumming as the Kit Kat Club's emcee.)
Cabaret is based on a book by Christopher Isherwood about the Nazis' rise to power in Berlin in 1931. The story involves Kit Kat Club cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Michelle Williams) and her relationship with a young writer (Bill Heck). In a side story, their landlady and her Jewish beau share a doomed romance. The actors who played these roles, Linda Emond and Danny Berstein, were the only cast members to earn Tony nominations last year, and they deserved them! The best thing about Cabaret, though, is the musical numbers and atmospheric staging that made this show a true cabaret-going experience. I sat in the balcony, where each two seats shared a connected table and lamp that had a red shade with fringe. Ushers, dressed as waiters, walked around offering food and drinks. If you were rich enough for floor seats, you could sit at tables, as if you were really in the Kit Kat Club. Twenty minutes before the show started, dancers roamed on to the stage, stretching, posing, and chatting with audience members. We were all in it!
|Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming|
Any story about Nazis is depressing, but the Kit Kat Club will cheer you up with its nightly performances and fantastic live band. You'll get your chance to come to the cabaret when this show tours in 2016. Find more information here.
The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre, November 1, 2014, and January 10, 2015
The Last Ship was the one I thought about the least. Sting spent at least five years working on developing this musical, a story written by Tony winners John Logan and Brian Yorkey (Red) and based in Sting's hometown and on its working-class citizens. I knew I had to see The Last Ship, and that I'd have a good time, but I didn't expect how much I'd absolutely love everything about it and how delirious and emotional I'd feel by its end.
The story, which takes place in the ship-building town of Wallsend, begins with Gideon (Michael Esper) skipping town to escape his abusive father (Jamie Jackson) and the fate of taking over his job in the shipyards. He leaves behind his girlfriend Meg (Rachel Tucker) but promises to return for her once he's settled. Fifteen years later, he returns when he hears of his father's death, discovers that the shipyards are on the verge of closing down, and finds his girlfriend in new life with another man (Aaron Lazar) and teenage son (Collin Kelly-Sordelet). Encouraged by the town's likable priest Father O'Brien (Fred Applegate), the shipbuilders decide to build one last ship for pride's sake. Although Gideon fought against that way of life, he finds purpose in helping them, gains a sense of community he's missed, and struggles to come to terms with his past.
album inspired by The Last Ship, and all of the songs are from this story's characters' points of view. I loved how this show incorporated those songs so seamlessly. The cast members sang them in character, making them entirely their own. (Lucky for us, an original Broadway cast recording is available!) The lyrics swiftly move the story along, and it was exciting to hear them make sense in this context. The show included some new songs I'd never heard before as well as some of Sting's old songs, including "Island of Souls," "All This Time," "Ghost Story," and "When We Dance." (For this show, the lyrics were changed only slightly to fit into the story and they work!) It's true that I love nearly all of Sting's music, but I think these latest songs that he wrote for The Last Ship are his best yet.
|Ship-buider solidarity in the rain... Photo © unknown|
|Rachel Tucker and Aaron Lazar|
|Sting! (with Fred Applegate in the background)|
On The Town, Lyric Theatre, November 2, 2014
I was still so delirious about The Last Ship that I watched On the Town the following day in a blur. On the Town is one of my favorite Gene Kelly movie musicals, which I know by heart. Like the movie musical, this Broadway revival is G-rated and family friendly. On the Town originally hit Broadway in 1944, but the story is universal. It follows three sailors on 24-hour leave in New York City. They soon fall for three lovely ladies, take them on the town, and have an adventure in the big city. This funny, entertaining show, written by the great Betty Comden and Aldolph Green with wonderful music by Leonard Bernstein, is a classic that I'd never seen on stage.
What I love about this production is that the abstract sets reminded me of the backdrops of my favorite old Warner Brothers cartoons, as did some of the exaggerated performances. Jackie Hoffman as music instructor Madam Dilly and Jackie Hoffman as Lucy Schmeeler, for example, offered some broad, slapstick comedy, making us laugh just the way they walked or reacted to situations. The highlight of this show, of course, was Leonard Bernstein's score and Jerome Robbins inspired dancing (choreographed by Joshua Bergasse). The beautiful Pas de Deux performed by stars Tony Yazbeck as Gabey and Megan Fairchild as Ivy too everyone's breath away.
official website to learn more and plan a trip to see it.
You can catch the Tonys on Sunday, June 7, 2015, on CBS. Here's a full list of this year's nominees.
Production photo credits: The River – © Sarah Krulwich/New York Times; Cabaret – © Joan Marcus; The Last Ship – first two photo © unknown, photo with Sting © Photo Art; On the Town – © Joan Marcus