Look at What’s Been Happening . . .

 

By Barbara & Scott Siegel

 

We have not been writing this column for awhile, due in large part to Scott’s major Citibike accident that put him in the hospital for 19 days with a six month recovery period. That is not to say, however, that we have not been getting to the theater, although it hasn’t always been easy. But it’s time to start catching up with some thoughts on what we’ve been seeing. In fact, by virtue of stepping back a bit, we have gotten a better view of the overall shape of the 2018-19 season (so far). While future columns will be more specific about certain shows, performers, etc., this column is an impressionistic view of what clearly seems to be a strong, and consistently entertaining — even smart — season. So, let’s take a look back over our collective shoulders…

 

Bernhardt/Hamlet

After a slow, hit-and-miss Summer, the Broadway season kicked into high gear in the early Fall with Bernhardt/Hamlet at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theater. Janet McTeer’s towering performance should not be forgotten come awards time. Most significantly, this richly written show told its story in a high style that was entirely engaging. While very much a political story about the power (or lack thereof) of female artists, the play never tripped over its polemics and remained, first and foremost, a story driven by character — and a love of the theater, shared by all involved both behind and in front of the footlights.

That love of the theater extended to the Off-Broadway production of On Beckett, written and performed by Bill Irwin at The Irish Rep. Smart, funny, and always charming, Irwin entertainingly explained Beckett’s influence on his own considerable art. Like Bernhardt/Hamlet, but on a more personal level, this show drives home the connections between the art of the past and art of the present.

 

Popcorn Falls

More shows about the theater/show business – Popcorn Falls at the Davenport. This high-energy comedy about community theater reveled in its love of stagecraft and the people who find solace and safety in the world of make-believe. At the other end of the spectrum, Girl From the North Country, at the Public, was a highly sophisticated form of jukebox musical, using Bob  Dylan’s music to tell a story about troubled people struggling to deal with issues of family, love, loss, and redemption. An extraordinary high-end ensemble cast meshed beautifully in a riveting piece of Americana.

Mike Birbiglia – The New One

One of the funniest evenings we’ve ever spent in a theater took place when we saw Mike Birbiglia’s The New One at The Cort Theater. While his basic subject matter: the changes in his life upon becoming a father had no inherent appeal for us, his unique way of spinning a narrative made it simply hilarious.

Speaking of comedy, getting the chance to see the legendary comedienne, Elaine May, on a Broadway stage in the Waverly Gallery (which is, of course, a poignant family story) was a treat. She gave a terrific, deeply felt (by us) performance. She was show business history, right in front of us.

The Waverly Gallery

If there was one big speed-bump among so many good and great shows, it was King Kong. While the puppeteering is impressive, and the cast is excellent, the adaptation from the movie is absolutely atrocious; it’s simply a terrible book. They took an exquisitely crafted screenplay and hacked it to pieces. We felt more sorry for Kong than the producers of this show ever intended.

Broadway was back on track with The Prom. From the people behind The Drowsy Chaperone, it has the same bitchy love of all things theater. This is MUSICAL COMEDY at its most fearsomely funny, with a cast that knows how to milk every imaginable joke. If you love the theater, you will love The Prom.

 

The Other Josh Cohen

Coming back to town in a brand new production, The Other Josh Cohen is the best Off-Broadway show we saw that year it first appeared downtown, and now that it has returned, it is the best Off Broadway musical we’ve seen this year, as well. The book is a gem, the songs are wonderful, and the acting top notch.

In other words, the season so far has been exceedingly entertaining, And we haven’t even mentioned The Cher Show yet!  We’ll get to that in the next column…

 

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