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Broadway 2013 - by Jonas Schwartz

Visiting New York City and not going to a Broadway show is like having a birthday party and forgetting to blow out the candles.  The stage sells magical moments and at this moment in particular, audiences can be dazzled by the output on the Great White Way.  From recreation of one of the master’s original choreography to absurdist approaches to two children’s classics, a traveler could not pick a better time to take the I-95 or Amtrak train to the city that never sleeps.

At the Music Box Theater, Director Diane Paulus (Porgy And Bess) has re-envisioned the classic Pippin as a circus, with a clear motif of magic and acrobatics.  This is one of the most astonishing shows: wild and unpredictable with mind blowing visuals. Pippin is a fictionalized, stylized biography of King Charlemagne’s only son and heir to his throne.  A troupe of illusionists astounds the confused lad with tricks, tempting him towards a spectacular but deadly feat. They first show him that sex, power and even love are not as fulfilling as that one moment of flash.  Pippin’s themes — conceived by Fosse, composer Schwartz and book writer Roger O Hirson — were prescient and timely in this reality-TV obsessed world where people tune in weekly to mock the exploits of Jersey Shore or dream of wedded bliss with The Bachelor.  Director Paulus has a talented cast to reinvigorate this 40-year-old show and make it seem fresh.  As the naïve but ambitious title character, Michael James Thomas with his soaring voice succeeds in owning both Stephen Schwartz anthems “Corner of the Sky” and “Morning Glow” as if no one has sung them before.  Patina Miller (Sister Act) is enigmatically alluring as the Pied Piper called upon to lift Pippin above ordinariness in one explosive act. Real life marrieds Terrence Mann and Charlotte d’Amboise play off each other beautifully as the powerful, but mentally thick Charlemagne and his duplicitous wife. Andrea Martin turns the grandmother Bertha into a vital sexual being, scandalizing in a slinky one-piece costume, who can even perform hanging upside down on a trapeze. With Chet Walker, a cast member of the original 1972 production, Pippin excites with Bob Fosse’s heightened dances. The isolated body movements, the sexual gyrations, the utilization of movement as comedy and commentary, are all Fosse trademarks that can be witnessed once again on a Broadway stage. Illusionist Paul Kieve and Cirque Creator Gypsy Snider are responsible for jaw-dropping effects, including costume changes in the blink of an eye (that’s not a hyperbole), leaps and contortions that defy laws of physics and a balancing act on unstable pipes that should only be possible by a trick, yet there are no strings or harnesses involved.  Tickets can be purchased at

Another revival, Annie, has found new life at the Palace Theater with a creatively directed revival by James Lapine (Into The Woods).  Annie turns the popular 30s comic strip and radio show into a paean for optimism.  She escapes a Dickinsian orphanage in Depression-era Manhattan, run by a dipsomaniacal Miss Hannigan, and becomes the adopted daughter of a wealthy industrialist.  The little girl is so spirited she even inspires President Franklin D Roosevelt to lead the country to economical salvation. Sadly, this reviewer missed Lilla Crawford, who has received raves as the curly, red headed orphan.  Her understudy Taylor Richardson has a powerful belting voice and enough joy to fill the grand 1700 seat theater. As the icy billionaire who melts under the urchin’s charms, Anthony Warlow plays Daddy Warbucks with integrity and true heart.  Two-time Tony Winner Katie Finneran (Noises Off) reimagines the villainous Miss Hannigan as a former flapper who turned to the bottle after the stock market crash. She’s Betty Boop, dried up and stuck with a bunch of moppets she hates. Lapine adds an authenticity to the Depression era musical with a sense of a country in desperation.  Scenic Designer David Korins uses the concept of a children’s flip book to approximate the many rooms in Warbucks’ luxurious estate.  Tickets can be purchased at

Not a revival but a refashioning of Chekhovian themes, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a hysterical comedy of family most foul.  David Hyde Pierce (TV’s Frasier) and Sigourney Weaver (Working Girl) headline as siblings arguing over their family estate. Hyde Pierce is noble as the level-headed brother who once chose caring for his ailing parents over his personal ambitions, while Weaver’s movie star Masha had abandoned everyone to star in a slew of successful schlock.  Weaver builds on the flighty and self-aggrandizing character from Working Girl.  Like her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Catherine, Masha believes her own hype and treats everyone like currency.  As the adopted sister who feels more like an indentured servant, Kristine Nielsen is a lovable collection of neuroses and insecurities.  Billy Magnussen is splendid as Masha’s boy toy Spike, combining youthful hyper-sexuality with puppy dog innocence.  Shalita Grant evokes a young Whoopi Goldberg with her brassy characterization of Cassandra, the psychic housekeeper. Christopher Durang has written a treat for Chekhov fans, tying character prototypes from the classic works of Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters and The Seagull, but has built such a solid comedy that there are many gems for any audience member regardless of their Chekhov scholar status.  One could walk into The John Golden Theater with no idea who Anton Chekhov was and still love every minute of this priceless family comedy that draws not only on Russian literature, but Neil Simon films and the legacy of Snow White. Tickets can be purchased at

The New World Stages has reopened Peter And The Starcatcher after it closed on Broadway.  The fanciful revision of the Peter Pan legend has been adapted as a theater of the absurd, with actors playing props, throwing out anachronisms and demolishing the fourth wall with glee. Based on the 2004 children’s book, the play imagines Peter’s life before he reached Neverland and became the boy who would wouldn’t age.  Half the fun is watching the characters form into those we know and love from the JM Barrie classic.  Playwright Rick Elice brings witty dialogue and situations to the proceedings while co-directors Alex Timbers and Roger Rees push the boundaries of the ridiculous while never allowing it to overwhelm the charming story.  Understudy Jordan Geiger brought boyish charm to the title character while Rick Holmes makes a hilariously bombastic Black Stache.  The only female in the cast, Nicole Lowrance brings heart to the piece as Molly, the first girl to teach Peter to love.  Audiences who grew up with Charles Ludlum’s style of comedy (Irma Vep) or the lampooning antics of Monty Python will not want to miss this spirited comedy. Tickets can be purchased at

Also based on a children’s book, the London Musical hit Matilda has reached our shores.  A kiddie comedy version of Stephen King’s Carrie, young Matilda overcomes cruel parents and fascistic school principals by unleashing her telekinetic power to move objects and protect her friends, including her shy but loving teacher, Ms. Honey.  Tim Minchin’s original score includes complex musical rounds that add a heightened excitement to the soundtrack. Oona Laurence, one of the four Matildas, exudes adult-size talent, both in voice and in presence, from her pint-size body.  Lesli Margherita and Gabriel Ebert are hilariously grotesque as the greedy parents.  Bertie Carvel steals the show as the mountainous, evil school principal.  Clownishly repugnant with a pinched hoity-toity voice, extremely tight hair bun, prominent mole and trench coat that covers a body that looks like an overinflated balloon about to burst, Carvel makes audiences forget all comic villains such as Annie’s Miss Hannigan, Oliver’s Mr Bumble and The Wiz’s Eveline.  Tickets can be purchased at

A musicalization of the 2005 British film Kinky Boots launches the Broadway debut of composer/lyricist Cyndi Lauper.  Following the plot of the film, Charlie is the son of a factory owner who longed to escape his small British town life for London, but has been saddled with the dying business and the needs of its workers.  Lola, a vivacious drag queen, advises Charlie about a niche market in desperate need of solid boots that can look fashionable but still withstand the weight of 200-pound men.  The combination of titillating performance numbers at the cabaret and more intimate songs at The Factory are a natural for the Stage Musical format.  Billy Porter brings panache to the glamorous Lola, who struts in stiletto heels and sings with a out-and-proud attitude, but also adds pathos to those moments when Lola strips away the make-up and reveals a shy small town guy who still yearns for his father’s approval.  As the earnest Charlie, Stark Sands has a belting Broadway voice and a lovable presence.  Annaleigh Ashford is a star in the making as Charlie’s rebellious but loyal employee/love interest.  Director Jerry Mitchell shows off his innovative flair in both the dance-heavy drag club scenes as well as the blue color world of the factory.  The stellar finale imaginatively involves a thrilling dance on the factory conveyer belts.  It will be a crime if Gregg Barnes extravagant costumes, mixing bright colors and leather, are not rewarded come Tony time.  Tickets can be purchased at

The best of these productions will eventually travel to Baltimore on tour, but even the best road companies can’t compare to the freshness of seeing an original cast perform their hearts out in a Broadway theater. 

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