By Karen Isaacs
Of the 40 or so shows I saw in NYC in 2017, which were my favorites
Come from Away
In 2017, I needed a show that reminded me of people’s goodness and caring. Come from Away did just that without being manipulative nor saccharine. The show combined extraordinary direction by Christopher Ashley, fine cast with Jenn Colella as a standout and a enjoyable score by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. I was delighted it was a hit.
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
I had missed the various off-Broadway incarnations of this show, but the one at the Imperial Theater was amazing. I loved how the theater was totally transformed into a Russian café and the cast was all around me. I thoroughly enjoyed the mixture of musical genres and was delighted with Josh Groban’s performance as the depressed and lonely Pierre. I only regretted the limited awards it won and the producers’ missteps that led to its early departure.
The Band’s Visit
David Yazbek’s score and this sweet, gentle story—though occasionally slow – again reminds us of people’s innate kindness. Plus it featured an astounding performance by Katrina Lenk.
I won’t say this is a definitive production of this classic musical, and Bette Midler may not be the perfect Dolly, but what a show it was. She is an amazing performer and the rest of the cast was able to hold own against her star power. Brava!
My runner-up Musicals
Of, the Broadway musicals that opened or were revived, I enjoyed War Paint the best. To see Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole together was wonderful. Plus I found the score delightful.
Off-Broadway, John Kander (with new partner Greg Pierce) tackled a tough subject in Kid Victory. The return of a teen boy who was abducted and held captive by a predator before being returned to his conservative, religious family. Karen Ziemba as the mother and Jeffrey Denham as the predator were terrific.
My Top Plays
The back story of the Israeli-Palestine Peace Accords signed in 1993 might not seem made for theater, but playwright J. R. Rogers, director Barlett Sher and a top notch cast led by Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle turned this into a fascinating and suspenseful drama.
I saw this play at Yale Rep and was entranced; the magic continued on Broadway with this spectacular ensemble cast and a fascinating look at a piece of forgotten American theater history.
Lynn Nottage play about blue collar workers losing their economic footing in 21st century America made me want to cry. It was real, it touched the economic issues and the personal ones. It featured another terrific ensemble cast.
A strong ensemble cast led by John Douglas Thompson and Brandon J. Dirden plus superb direction by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and a great set by David Gallo brought out all the strengths in this August Wilson play.
This revival of William Nicholson’s play about the unlikely love story between C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham was intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving. It also featured a fine cast and set – that easily would have garnered praise on Broadway.
The Little Foxes
I saw Laura Linney as Regina and Cynthia Nixon as Birdie and wished I had also seen them in the opposite roles. They were terrific as were the entire cast including Richard Thomas as Horace. The production was both chilling in its depiction of greed and spell binding.
In the runner-up category, I’d include
Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht were all terrific in this revival of Arthur Miller’s play, directed by Terry Kinney. I found that Danny DeVito was over-the-top as the antique dealer, detracting from the piece.
Kevin Kline made this revival a must see. He WAS the perfect actor to play Gary Essendine. Of course, the fabulous set and the strong performances by Kate Burton, Kristine Nielsen, Cobie Smulders and Bhavesh Patel added to the fun.
The Home Place
It isn’t Brian Friel’s best play, but this production at the Irish Rep was so good and focused on such interesting topics that any failings of the play were easily overlooked.
The Man from Nebraska
Pitch perfect performances by Reed Birney and Annett O’Toole as a conventional man who loses his faith and his wife, made this Tracy Lett’s play at Second Stage riveting. Lett shows us what happens when those who always follow the rules, stop doing so, but he doesn’t provide easy answers. Birney and O’Toole also did not take the easy road in their performances.
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
A Dangerous Title: Calling a show a “turkey” usually means that it is a total flop, but the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus is taking a chance with the title of its next show. An Absolute Turkey is by Georges Feydeau, one of the masters of French farce. This version is translated/adapted by Nicki Frei and Peter Hall and won raves in London. It’s all about a man who lusts after his friend’s wife triggering a revenge plot and a dizzying spell of complications. It runs from Thursday, Dec. 1 to Saturday, Dec. 10. For tickets call 896-486-2113 or visit CRT.
New Musical: The Yale School of Drama is presenting a new musical Bulgaria! Revolt! Created by third year Drama School student Elizabeth Dinkova who is also directing. It runs Friday, Dec. 9 to Thursday, Dec. 15 at the smaller Iseman Theater on Chapel Street. The press materials asks if one small person or nation can change the tide of history. “ From a Bulgarian village on the eve of revolution to the fantastical capitalist paradise of America, a condemned poet travels through time and space in this tragicomic new musical inspired by Geo Milev’s epic poem, September.” For tickets go to Yale Drama School or call 203-432-1234.
Where Does He Find the Time? I’m referring to Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak. In the next few months he is not only directing Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors at Hartford but is also preparing the musical Anastasia, which had its world premiere in Hartford last spring, for a Broadway opening with previews beginning in March. Now it’s been announced that he will direct the Broadway production of Rear Window, an adaptation of the short story that led to the classic Hitchcock film. It is planned for some time in 2017. The production premiere in Hartford in 2015.
Be at Your Computer on Dec. 6: That’s when tickets go on sale for the annual Kids’ Night on Broadway. Many Broadway shows offer a free ticket for children 18 and young with the purchase of a full-price ticket. A 50% discount. Kids’ Night this year is Tuesday, Feb. 28 and many shows have 7 p.m. curtains. Other events are also scheduled on that day as well such as discounts on parking and food. It’s great time to introduce kids to theater but tickets for the most popular shows are snapped up fast. Don’t count on Hamilton or any other smash hit to be included. To find out more about the shows which will participate and the ways to get tickets, visit Kids Night on Broadway
New York Notes: Tickets are now on sale for the musical Groundhog Day based on the popular film. It won raves in London and stars Andy Karl. It begins previews March 16. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.. It’s a show many insiders are excited about.
Tickets are also on sale for the Manhattan Theater Club’s revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. It stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon who will alternate in two of the main roles: Regina Hubbard Giddens and Birdie Hubbard. It begins performances March 29. Tickets are through Telecharge.
Oscar winner Cate Blanchett has a long history of stage performances but mostly in her native Australia. She’s making her Broadway debut in the Sydney Theater Company production of The Present. It’s an adaptation of Chekhov’s first play, Platonov and starts performances Saturday, Dec. 17. Tickets are available through Telecharge.
Tickets are on sale for the limited engagement of the musical Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close (the original Broadway Norma Desmond in 1994). It begins performances in February for just 16 weeks. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.
Previews are underway for A Bronx Tale, a new musical based on the Chazz Palminteri’s book and film. Interestingly, two people are being billed as the director: Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks and Oscar winning actor Robert De Niro. Tickets are available at Telecharge..
Honor for Lamos: Mark Lamos, artistic director of Westport Country Playhouse, received the John Houseman Award presented by off-Broadway’s The Acting Company at a Gala in New York. Houseman, a well-known director and actor, was the co-founder of The Acting Company. Lamos who also served as artistic director of Hartford Stage has frequently directed productions for The Acting Company. It’s a well-deserved honor.
Another Wilson Drama: Following the fine production of The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage, Yale Rep is presenting August Wilson’s Seven Guitars from Friday, Nov. 25 to Saturday, Dec. 17. The play is set in Pittsburgh in 1948 following the death of a local blues guitarist on the verge of stardom. Andre de Shields plays Hedley. For tickets, call 203-432-1234 or visit Yale Rep.
Business Takeover Comedy: Next up at Long Wharf is the comedy-drama Other People’s Money which began its life in 1988 at Hartford Stage. The show is about a greedy Wall Street businessman who buys a family owned New England factory and the young, attractive lawyer who tries to stop him from closing the company. It runs Wednesday, Nov. 23 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets, visitLong Wharf or call 203-787-4282.
Homecoming: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder made a triumphant return to Hartford in October when the national tour made a stop at the Bushnell. The show began its life at Hartford Stage before going on to Broadway and winning the Tony for best musical and Darko Tresnjak, the Tony for best musical direction. To make the visit to Hartford even more special, the touring production recouped its investment with its Hartford engagement.
More New York Notes: Indecent which began life at Yale Rep and won the CT. Critics Circle award for outstanding production last year is heading to Broadway with an opening scheduled for this Spring. Surprisingly, it will be the first play by Paula Vogel to appear on Broadway; her other shows have all run off-Broadway, including her Pulitzer Prize winner, How I Learned to Drive.
Theater on Screen: Since the success of the Metropolitan Opera productions on local film screens, theaters have followed suit including Britain’s National Theater Live productions, the Royal Shakespeare Company and an occasional Broadway show. Fathom Events will present a one-night only screening of the Broadway musical, Allegiance which stars George Takei and tells the story of the Japanese-American relocation. The broadcast will be Tuesday, Dec. 13. For information about local theaters, visit Fathom Events.