Grease, the 1972 hit musical that ran for years playing over 3,388 performances on Broadway went on to become even a better 1978 film blockbuster boasting two charismatic star turns by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John in the leading roles of Danny and Sandy. There was another revival in 1994, but the little musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey is back again this time with a smart marketing scheme geared to luring television’s young audience into the theater.
Broadway Diva Patti LuPone taking her turn as Mama Rose, the mother of all stage mothers, commands the stage like no other in the Arthur Laurents’ revival of the great American masterpiece “Gypsy,” which began life last summer as part of City Center’s Encores! Series. The musical boasts a legendary score by Jule Styne with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that includes such classic songs as “Some People,” “Small World,” ‘You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” Everything’sComing Up Roses,” and “Rose’s Turn. Add to that the first rate book by Mr. Laurents and you have what is considered to be the definitive back stage musical.
The first big musical of the new season A Tale of Two Cities based on the classic 1859 Charles Dickens novel opened at the Al Hirshfeld Theatre. The rousing pop opera, inventively designed by Tony Walton, makes a handsome showcase for some of the most gifted voices on Broadway. The staging of the compelling love story, told against the backdrop of the gritty French Revolution, is a bold attempt to recreate the heart stirring emotions of Les Miserables. If the musical is not always successful at recapturing the sweeping thrill of Les Miserables, the creators and cast have tapped into the universal appeal of the well read Dickens’ story that has sold over 200 million copies around the world.
The high concept production of Arthur Miller’s morality drama All My Sons directed by Simon McBurney is a sight to behold. Burney is one of Europe’s most innovative theater makers, and his production with a Brech-like representational style, while always arresting, does little to aid his sterling cast. Commanding performances by John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, and Patrick Wilson, along with a game Katie Holmes, making her Broadway debut, are all upstaged by McBurney’s cinematic flourishes. You will either love it or hate it.
Sam Shepard’s new play Kicking a Dead Horse, directed by the playwright himself and starring the acclaimed Irish actor Stephen Rea, is a black comedy with a grim message. The tale making its American premier at the Public Theater is a potent metaphor about our current political atmosphere and the barren existence most Americans lead in pursuit of false values. Covering familiar Shepard themes and philosophies the thought provoking story is an inventive homage to Beckett. Although beautifully acted the evening doesn’t go far enough theatrically, and is continuously upstaged by the carcass of the character in the title, a dead horse.
A. R. Gurney returns to Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters with the New York premier of his charming new comedy Buffalo Gal. Set in a regional theater where a production of “The Cherry Orchard” is about to be mounted, Gurney bows in homage to the greatness of Chekhov. He draws many amusing parallels to Chekhov’s characters and themes in this latest effort. Television star Susan Sullivan (Falcon Crest and Dharma & Greg) makes a fine presence as the fading Hollywood star at the center of his bittersweet tale, and the direction by Mark Lamos mines the backstage story for all the humor while lamenting the diminishing power of the theater and the changes wrought by the passing of time.
The plucky (title of show), which was a downtown sensation at the Vineyard Theatre over two years ago, has miraculously found its way to Broadway. The well crafted musical with only four performers and an electric piano was originally a surprise hit at the Fringe, where the little show flaunted its aspirations of taking their satire about nothing all the way to Broadway. That their dream seemed impossible added to the quirky charm of the comedy. But now here, part of the joke is missing along with the edge, and the musical feels decidedly small and self indulgent. Still you have to cheer the audacity of the show’s creators, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell.
Ian Rickson’s wonderful production of Anton Chekhov’s classic The Seagull starring a marvelous Kristin Scott Thomas as the tempestuous Russian actress Arkadina, is never less than entertaining and often much more. Working with a new modern translation by Christopher Hampton, Rickson’s Seagull originally debuted at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where it was a heralded success.
Spiegelworld 2008 returns to the South Street Seaport for its third annual carnival with the world premier of Desir, an audacious new circus experience performed in an intimate cabaret like setting on a small round stage barely twenty-five feet in diameter. Patrons in the first four or five rows are right on top of the non stop action. Inspired by the adventurers of early 20th century Paris, the seductive Desir takes us backstage to one of the greatest nightclubs in the world for a Moulin Rouge-like revue of beguiling aerial and acrobatic acts from all over the world.
The Signature Theater Company’s terrific production of Leslie Lee’s The FirstBreeze of Summer launches their 2008/2009 season dedicated to the historic Negro Ensemble Company, a fertile home for African-Americans writers and actors for decades. Nicely directed by the esteemed Ruben Santiago-Hudson the touching revival of Leslie Lee’s ambitious pot boiler features a skilled ensemble headed by the impressive Leslie Uggams. She portrays Gremmar Edwards, the matriarch at the center of the well crafted tale about three generations of a middle class African/American family living in a small suburb of Philadelphia.
Playwright Edward Albee has given us an indelible portrait of his good friend the artist Louise Nevelson in his 2001 play, Edward Albee’s Occupant, now making its delayed New York premier for the Signature Theatre Company. Starring the formidable Mercedes Ruehl, the two character play is a touching celebration of the determination (or is it destiny?) of his friend of many years, who just happened to be one of the most renowned sculptors of the 20th century.
The Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Christopher Durang’s scathingly funny The Marriage of Bette and Boo is the first New York presentation since the play debuted at the Public in 1985, when the word dysfunctional was barely a part of our vernacular. Walter Bobbie puts a solid ensemble through their paces in a consistently amusing broad staging of the playwright’s dark comedy that deals with stillborn babies, alcoholism, emotional abuse and cancer.
Film star Laura Linney is returning to the Broadway stage in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s stylish revival of Christopher Hampton’s brilliant LesLiaisons Dangereuses. The British actor Ben Daniels stars opposite her as one half of the depraved duo that will wreck havoc with others’ lives in pursuit of their own selfish pleasures. The dark comedy, a scathing dissection of the cynicism and decadence of the pre-Revolutionary French aristocracy, is handsomely staged by Rufus Norris. His solid production is an excellent reminder of the malicious delights of Hampton’s take on the decay of French society.
If you are looking for a Broadway show for the entire family, Cirque DreamsJungle Fantasy, now playing a 10-week summer engagement, may be just the ticket. The evening is a colorful collection of musical numbers, where many of the talented acrobats and gymnasts dress up like animals from the jungle. Creator/director Neil Goldberg has spawned a jungle adventure themed musical, with songs by Jill Winters that have a driving disco beat to keep things lively. Although the outstanding routines, mostly acrobatic or aerial balancing acts are more than competent, the show lacks a needed spark of inventiveness.