Tag Archives: broadway


Listening to the musical soundtrack from a show evokes vivid memories of the show, sometimes more than expected.  That is why, after my trip to various US destinations this spring, I was sitting on a full airplane back to Edmonton, but I feel like I’m sitting in a theatre, specifically the Kit Kat Club Studio 54, swept into the world of Cabaret, and the nightclub in 1930s Berlin while the prospect of Nazi power loomed like the Nightwatch on Babylon 5.   This was not the most comfortable mood to be in on an airplane, but it was a wonderful show and I wanted to remember it as fully as I could.

The musical Cabaret was the last show I saw on my trip to New York City.  it opened recently with Alan Cumming (currently in the TV drama The Good Wife) as the Emcee, Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, and Bill Heck as the viewpoint character American novelist Cliff Bradshaw.  The poignant and tragic glimpses of ordinary people going about their lives ignoring or worrying about or unaware of the political and social shifts during what we know is the time immediately before World War II create a compelling story.  You can’t raise the narrative stakes much higher.  The plot line about Fraulein Schneider, the landlady, and about her late-in-life suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit seller, was particularly heartbreaking.  The Emcee’s speeches and songs addressing the imaginary cabaret audience give an impression of self-conscious parody of depravity, but the other narrative between the songs, like Sally Bowles’ matter-of-fact acknowledgement that various members of the chorus had male and female lovers, just felt like a way of illustrating that the culture of that time and place wasn’t very different from our own.

The front rows of the orchestra and balcony sections in the theatre were all set up like little cabaret tables, with candle lights.  In the parts of the musical set during cabaret performances, the little table lights lit up, so that even though I was sitting in a cheaper seat I felt part of an intimate live performance.  The Club space at the Citadel feels similar, so I imagine I’ll recall Cabaret the next time I go to a show there.  The male ushers for the performance were not entirely clothed, adding to the impression of arriving somewhere exotic and slightly daring.   Before the show started, the orchestra musicians were wandering around and warming up on stage, before settling in to their platform above the main part of the stage.

Both Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams will be replaced by other performers for the extended run of this show.  While I loved seeing Alan Cumming in this role, the show would be good even without them.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

One of the hot tickets that I paid full price for on my Broadway excursion this spring was the new production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig and Lena Hall as Hedwig’s second husband Yitzhak.  Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) had played the role in a West End London production a few years ago, but never on Broadway.  (You might know NPH as the actor who played the title role in Doogie Howser MD, who played himself in the Harold and Kumar movies, and who was in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, or the host of last year’s Tony Awards.)  I’m probably the only one who also had him confused with the guy who plays the FBI agent on White Collar, but that’s actually Tim De Kay, who looks kind of similar and is about 10 years older.   Lena Hall also has a long Broadway resume,

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is also a movie, but having seen both I think it works better as a stage musical – and it’s definitely more fun in person.  The Belasco Theatre is an intimate setting and some of the audience members sitting near me had seen the production before.  It’s a fairly short show (95 minutes or so?) without an intermission, and the character Hedwig talks or sings for almost the whole time.  The musicians performing as the Angry Inch were Justin Craig (Skszp), Matt Duncan (Jacek), Tim Mislock (Krzyzhtoff), and Peter Yanowitz (Schlatko).  Hedwig has several dramatic costume changes and manages to climb over a car gracefully wearing platform boots.

The show uses the device of Hedwig and her band talking to the audience as they do a “one night only!” musical performance, and narrate Hedwig’s history.  They keep mentioning their more successful associate Tommy Gnosis who is supposedly performing across town in a bigger venue.  And at one point Hedwig makes an aside about having been kicked out of a dive like The Jane Hotel, which is funny because the original off-Broadway run of Hedwig was in a room at that inexpensive inn, but it was even funnier to me because that is where I was staying.

I enjoyed it and I’m glad I went to see it, but it hasn’t really stuck with me very hard.  I’m not sure why not.

Raisin in the Sun

I wanted to see this play on Broadway for two reasons.  One was that I’d seen the movie earlier this year along with watching the Citadel Theatre performance of Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, an intersecting story set in the same world.  The other was that Denzel Washington is in this production, in the role of Walter Lee Younger, the man of the family, the role played by a young Sidney Poitier in the movie.

Before the play started, the poem excerpt including the phrase “raisin in the sun” and the musings about dreams deferred was projected on a scrim.  And a radio interview was playing on a loop – I figured out quickly that the woman being interviewed was the playwright Lorraine Hansberry, and then I learned from the Playbill that the interviewer was Studs Terkel.

The curtain rises on the main room of a small apartment in Chicago.  Ruth Younger (Sophie Okonedo) is up and in the kitchen before the alarm goes off, and then she begins the tasks of helping her family get ready for the day.  Her small son (Bryce Clyde Jenkins) wakes groggy on the living room couch, and she hustles him into the shared bathroom across the hallway.  The set design was clever, showing the tiled hallway and bathroom door outside the door of the main set, lit in such a way that I wasn’t aware of it being part of the set until Travis scurries across the hall with his towel.  You could see the practised routine of a family in the way Ruth starts waking up her husband as soon as her son’s in the bathroom, rushing him into the bath ahead of the man down the hall, as she makes breakfasts, wraps sandwiches in waxed paper, and reminds her young sister-in-law, college-student Beneatha (Anika Noni Rose), to tidy away Travis’s bedding.   Coming from a later generation, it took me some time to figure out that Ruth actually had a job herself, because in the first scene she was all about taking care of her family.  But in fact, both Ruth and her mother-in-law Lena (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) worked as domestic help.  As we got to know the family and the routines of their lives, we also learned that Lena’s husband Walter had recently died and that they were all anticipating how the life insurance money might change their lives.

Each of them had some dreams and wishes for better life – Lena wants a garden and sunlight, Ruth wants comfort and space for her growing family, Travis wants his own bedroom, and Beneatha wants to be a doctor after embracing college student life, exploring African roots, and trying various creative pursuits like guitar lessons and horseback riding.  But Walter Lee seems to be the most unhappy with his current life, working as a chauffeur and depending on his mother’s and wife’s earnings to help pay the bills.  He yearns to be his own boss, to take care of his family and be in charge.  So of course they don’t all agree about what to do with the money.

I thought Latanya Richardson Jackson was especially strong, but the whole cast was good and balanced.  I felt like I was watching an important story and I was lucky to be seeing it with such good actors.    Many of my seat neighbours in the mezzanine were very well dressed and had bouquets to deliver at the stage door, adding to my impression that I was seeing something important.

Raisin in the Sun intersects with Clybourne Park in the part of the story where a representative of the currently all-white neighbourhood tries to dissuade the family from moving to the house Lena buys, but that is not the main focus of either play.   It was also useful to think about the second act of Clybourne Park which is set in contemporary times, showing that although people nowadays have different customs of how to talk about race, the misunderstandings and misconceptions still continue.

Kinky Boots!

I keep meeting interesting people at the theatre, not just in Edmonton but now on Broadway too.  Tonight I enjoyed some wonderful conversation about theatre and life and as a bonus, one of the people I’d been talking to pointed out Giorgio Armani returning to his seat after intermission.

Tonight’s show was Kinky Boots.  When the movie of the same name was new, I saw it and thought that it was pleasant, but just part of that subgenre with Full Monty and Brassed Off, where plucky English working class factory workers cope in a post-industrial world, and also bore some similarity to Billy Elliot as well as Full Monty in discussing how definitions of masculinity need to change in that world.

But I followed recommendations I’d been hearing from friends and from theatregoers I met earlier in the week here, and lined up at the TKTS same-day discounts booth this afternoon to get a ticket to the musical version of Kinky Boots, book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Cyndi Lauper.  And I was not disappointed.  I liked the musical a lot more than I liked the movie.  The two main characters, Lola (Billy Porter) and Charlie (Andy Kelso), both grew up feeling like they’d let down their fathers in wanting to be themselves, but both ended up using the skills they learned from their fathers in finding their own destinies.  I loved how the ensemble seemed credible as factory workers, men and women of a variety of ages and body types.  An article in the Playbill pointed out that the women at the factory gradually dress in brighter colours as they spend more time with Lola, which I hadn’t picked up on.  I loved how the finale at the Milan footwear show had everyone wearing different spectacular thigh-high boots.  And I loved the glimpses into design problem-solving, with problem definition (male performers need sturdier stilettos than the ones available for women), iteration (burgundy boots with a low heel are comfortable but not acceptable to the target market), group idea generation (Charlie and Lauren mostly), and prototyping.

The set was full of moving bits shifting around to be inside the factory, outside the factory, in various pubs and the drag queen nightclub, etc.  And there was some impressive use of conveyor belts.

Kinky Boots has been running on Broadway for about a year.  It won a bunch of Tony awards last year and is about to go on tour.

Having watched costumer friends struggle to assemble enough sandals to outfit the cast of Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I’m guessing that the footwear will be one big obstacle to eventual local productions of this show.  Maybe MTI will rent the boots along with the books and orchestra scores.  Meanwhile – see it here.  It seems to be available at TKTS most days, for 40% or 50% off the face value of the tickets.



Casa Valentina, a new play by Harvey Fierstein

Casa Valentina opened this week after a few weeks of previews, at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre (Manhattan Theatre Club).  It’s been nominated for Best Play for the 2014 Tony Awards (the nominations came out a couple of days ago).

I saw it from the mezzanine, at a midweek matinee.  Many of the people sitting near me turned out to be very frequent Broadway theatregoers attending alone. “I just couldn’t live anywhere else!” “These plays would close if it weren’t for women in the audience, and women writing cheques!” Some of them had opera glasses like my grandmother’s.  They gave me lots of recommendations  and heads-ups about what else to see, where to sit for various performances, and so on.

Casa Valentina is set in 1962 at a rustic resort in the Catskills, a safe meetup spot for cross-dressing men to spend a weekend living as their “girls within”. The resort is run by George (Patrick Page) and his wife Rita (Mare Winningham, also nominated for a Tony).  George’s alter ego is Valentina.  During the play we hear that George and Rita’s marriage, the second for both, is unusual in that Rita not only knows about George’s cross-dressing but accepts it.  In an endearing scene early on, we see Rita (who runs a wig store too) helping George prepare for his transformation to Valentina to greet the guests.

The other visitors have families who don’t know or families who know but don’t accept.  The visiting activist who has served time in jail for cross-dressing (Reed Birney as Charlotte) urges them to go public, but also to improve their group’s chances of being accepted by signing affidavits to say that they are neither drag queens or homo-sexuals.  The anti-queer sentiments that he expresses assuming that they will be shared by the other characters had the 2014 audience gasping and hissing, until the line “Fifty years from now, when homosexuals are still scuttling about as the back-alley vermin of society, cross dressing will be as everyday as cigarette smoking.” at which we all cracked up laughing.  Genius.

There was also lots of audible audience sentiment (but of the “awww” kind) directed towards Jonathon/Miranda (Gabriel Ebert), a young high school teacher making a first visit to the resort and a first outing in women’s clothing outside of the basement at home.  He explains that his wife found it hilarious when he tried on her wedding gown on their honeymoon, but he didn’t think she’d laugh more than once so he never told her or showed her again. And the transformation from Jonathan to Miranda when Miranda appears for dinner isn’t nearly as impressive as Miranda’s subsequent makeover with the help of the other characters, from an awkward ashamed young woman in shapeless dress and limp shoulder-length straight hair, to a delighted fashionable confident young woman and the centre of attention.

I loved the set design for this play.  It created the impression of an old-fashioned resort with weathered wood, porches and decks and lots of stairs.  It also created the impression of lots of cozy small rooms for the guests, using some shifting staircases, the hints of eaves, and lighting on four or five mismatched dressing tables in different corners (because of course the important thing about the bedrooms at this resort isn’t as places to sleep, but as places to get dressed up and made up).

This play is making me think about a different side of LGBTQ history, but also about how oppressed and threatened people can isolate themselves from other marginalised people in an attempt to be accepted, and why that’s problematic.



Book of Mormon at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway

Book of Mormon was the only show I’m seeing on Broadway this trip that I’d already seen.  (I’d seen the touring production when it came to Toronto last spring.)  I loved it then and I loved it here. And I’ll definitely see the Broadway Across Canada production when it comes to Edmonton next season. The dancing was even better than I’d remembered and more of the songs had interesting choreography, even Hello! right at the start.  I was amused that the little bits of product placement in the Salt Lake City backdrop still included Tim Hortons (and I wondered whether this coffee shop chain is particularly successful in a city where lots of people don’t drink coffee).  Elder Kevin Price was Nic Rouleau, Elder Arnold Cunningham was Ben Platt, and Nabulungi was Syesha Mercado.  None of them were from the original cast but the show Playbill said that they’d all played or understudied in the roles elsewhere first.  All of them were good singers, actors, and dancers, and Nic Rouleau had a really great smile too.

I also figured something out which was probably obvious to everyone else who had seen the show before.  See, after I saw it in Toronto I looked at the headshots in my program book and realised the cast didn’t include any white women – but I remembered the scene with the missionaries’ mothers and fathers seeing them off at the airport, and the Mormon-history narrative with pioneer couples.  I couldn’t figure out whether some of the Black women in the cast had done those parts with wigs and I had just seen them as white, or what.  Well, this time I paid more attention – and the white men in the chorus of missionaries also play all the white women.

Again, I loved the staging and choreography of Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, for being terrifying, original, and pointedly ridiculous, all at the same time. The flamboyant / ironic choreography of the missionaries’ chorus numbers was also one of my favourite parts of the show.  Elder Cunningham’s names for Nabulungi definitely didn’t include Nanaimo Bar this time around, so that confirms my hypothesis from Toronto that the actor must have the freedom to improvise that a bit and change from show to show.

At the show I attended, there weren’t any real missionaries outside.  But as in Toronto at one of the Mirvish theatres, there were lots of souvenirs for sale, and lots of patrons who knew the show well.  And I’ll have to check my program from that production to be sure, but I think that possibly a few of the actors from the touring production that I saw might be in the Broadway cast now.  Otherwise, it’s unusual for me (with most of my theatregoing limited to Edmonton) to be seeing a good show without recognising any of the performers.  Perhaps that will change here too, since I hope this is not my last visit to Broadway.

Mothers and Sons – a new Terrence McNally play

The playwright Terrence McNally’s credits include Kiss of the Spider Woman (on next year’s Two One Way Tickets to Broadway season schedule), Love! Valour! Compassion!, and The Full Monty.  His new play, in its first Broadway run at the Golden Theatre, is Mothers and Sons.

Tyne Daly, of TV’s Cagney and Lacey, plays a mother coming to New York to visit the former partner of her dead son.  As the story starts, Katharine (Daly) is gazing out at the view over Central Park from a charming apartment, rigidly still in fur coat and handbag, while Cal (Frederick Weller) looks out beside her.  He is slightly more at ease because it is his apartment, but you can see immediately that the two are not comfortable together.  And the painfully familiar story unfolds, with the history between them of Andre’s mother having disapproved of his life and their relationship, now wondering about connecting with Cal but still angry and grieving and, well, squeamish.  I admired McNally’s writing and Daly’s acting in showing that resolution is not simple after years of hurt, especially for stubborn people.  It seemed very credible.  Cal’s currrent husband, Will (Bobby Steggert), is significantly younger than he is, and this allowed the playwright to explore some concepts of the differences between gay men who lived through the AIDS crisis years and gay men who were born later, who expected parental support and children and marriage.  The fourth actor in this piece is Grayson Taylor, playing Cal and Will’s 6 year old son Bud, with age-appropriate candour and enthusiasm.   The fathers are thoughtful parents, careful about language and devoted to their son.  Cal and Will are both protective of each other, recalling the years of Katharine’s rejection of her son, but Will is also understandably a little jealous of his husband’s history with Andre.  And as Katharine thaws slightly in her interactions with Cal, Will, and Bud, we learn more of the complexity and unhappiness of her own history, and her wry ability to laugh at herself and occasional glimpses of bereavement allow the other characters and the audience the opportunity to forgive her to the extent they choose to.  (I had a flash of recalling Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, having abandoned his youngest daughter after her too-outrageous choice of partner by saying he can only bend so far, then sharing eye contact with her and her husband as they are exiled.)

I was on the edge of my seat gripping my program in the dark and frequently taking off my glasses to wipe away tears of recognition, so the only line I wrote down was “Maple syrup doesn’t recognise state lines” (about one man’s family’s sugar bush in New Hampshire).  But there were lots of better ones.   Tyne Daly is amazing in this show, and the other actors are strong enough to keep up with her.  I hope it will play for a long time, and I hope it will lead to a production in Edmonton someday.   You should see this show if you like portrayals of complicated older women, troubled families, happy families, queer history, New York City, or credible children who are realistically charming. Or if you’re already a fan of Terrence McNally or any of the actors.