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Shows And The City

 

 

Manhattan, there’s an energy like no other.  You can walk for blocks and blocks and not even notice you’ve been trekking for hours. You can eat food from any ethnicity, meet people from all over the world and take transportation easily and cheaply to almost anywhere in the city.  It’s no coincidence that Sidney Lumet cast the city as the Land of Oz in “The Wiz.” 

In a week, you can take a huge bite out of the Big Apple.  In eight days, this New York lover saw shows that exercised the mind and pumped the adrenaline.  Some of the shows were geared for everyone, and some will have a more limited appeal but every one of the shows was worthy. 

First off, as a plug to my other publication, TheaterMania, where I have worked for eight years as the west coast critic, I used their discount tickets to see two preview shows at a very reasonable price (at least by today’s standards).  If you don’t mind a $7.50 Ticketmaster charge, you can order tickets early. If not, you can print out the coupons and walk to the box office.  Be warned.  I decided to be frugal and wait to buy my tickets.  Due to circumstances, great word of mouth and a rave review from Jon Stewart on his show the night before, I missed out on “The Book of Mormon” at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, a show that several friends have called the funniest show on Broadway in ages.  Sometimes you can be pennywise and pound-foolish.

The first show seen was “American Idiot” at the St. James Theatre, based on the operatic album by Green Day.  Three young men attempt to take the world by storm by hitting the big city (a perverse twist on the 40s classic “On The Town”).  One impregnates his girl and is left behind.  The next joins the military and finds hell in Iraq.  The third finds a beautiful girl in the city but allows drugs to destroy his will to live and love. A kinetic, dazzlingly directed musical of the lost generation of the 90s, “American Idiot,” however, will not appeal to some, and might not be appropriate to others.  Older generations may be turned off by the coarse language and drug situations, and the heroin scenes are graphically horrifying and ONLY for a mature audience.  Green Day has created a modern anthem for a youth caught between a government it didn’t understand, a war it didn’t respect and a financial downfall that would leave them poorer than their parents.  Michael Mayer’s direction is fluid and gripping, even the harrowing drug use is not shown as gratuitous but as a virulent death of humanity and hope.   Choreographer Steven Hoggett cleverly uses a combination of militaristic and nihilistic moves.  Billie Joe Armstrong, lead of Green Day, will be returning as the lead, Johnny, in the final weeks before it closes.

At the Neil Simon Theatre, “Catch Me If You Can,” based on the hit movie, is a swingin’ 60s musical by the gang that brought “Hairspray” to the stage.  Like the movie and the true life story, a high school student turns to crime, pretending to be an airline pilot and a doctor, while passing bad checks across the world. Paying homage to Burt Bacharach, composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have written a groovin’ score that is enhanced by Jerry Mitchell’s frug dances and Jack O’Brien’s staging. An obvious winner that should run long both on The Street and On The Road, “Catch Me” is gifted to have a monumental performance by Aaron Tveit (“Next To Normal”).  This story requires a compelling lead. After all, the protagonist is a scoundrel con artist who steals over 5 million dollars, and if you don’t adore him, the show would be doomed. Tveil is charming, funny with a winning voice and capable of smooth dance moves.  Not only do you forgive his character of his crimes, you’re almost honor bound to open your own wallet to him if he had asked. 

“Arcadia,” playing at The Ethel Barrymore is a difficult show. It’s not the sit back and be entertained type of work.  Author Tom Stoppard makes you work HARD as if attending a course at Harvard U.  Moving between eras, focusing on complex mathematical, theoretical and academic thoughts, “Arcadia” is one of the very few shows I’d recommend reading the text before your evening at the theater.  The cast is impeccable.  As the self-aggrandizing Bernard Nightingale, Billy Crudup is all oily charm and snarky pomposity.  In the original Broadway production of 1995, Crudup played a role that Nightingale mirrors, that of Septimus Hodge.  In this production, Tom Riley molds Hodge into a disillusioned philanderer who’s inspired by a precocious teenage mathematical genius.  The strongest performance is from the electric Lia Williams as the Lord Byron scholar inspired by the literary mystery that Nightingale uncovers.  The wise play is reminiscent of sleeper film about two colligates who discover historical breakthrough, Neil LaBute’s “Possession” starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart.  If you adored that film, this play will stimulate your little gray cells.

The finest evening belongs to a 50-year-old play.  If anyone wonders how a musical comedy called “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” could win a Pulitzer Prize, gallop to the Al Hirschfeld Theater to see this superlative revival.  Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself, plays another type of con artist from “Catch Me”’s Frank Abagnale Jr, one who brings big business sharks to their knees, conniving them with his double-talk and misdirection as he climbs the ladder of success without any actual skills.  Radcliff may be getting audiences in the theater but director Rob Ashford’s jaw dropping choreography has them jumping to their feet in glee.  Influenced by the style and moves of the legendary Bob Fosse, who was partially responsible for the original’s look and feel, Ashford has created a look all his own.  Radcliffe, who does not come from a dance background, moves like a star, seamlessly in sync with the professional chorus.  John Larroquette is at his usual pompous best as the haughty president of World Wide Wickets.   Tammy Blanchard finds a new note for the voluptuous femme fatale Hedy La Rue than the usual Marilyn Monroe clone found in other productions.  With fiery red hair and a Brooklyn accent, she’s more brassy than ditzy.  The best performances come from Mary Faber as the Girl Friday, Smitty, Ellen Harvey as the boss’s right hand Miss Jones and Rose Hemingway as the girl who wants to snag the hero and ship him to a New Rochelle habitat.

The final show, “Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert” at the Palace, comes from the West End (after premiering in Australia). The star of THIS show is the dazzling costumes of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner who have already won both an Oscar and an Olivier for their work on this text in film and play format.  As outrageous as Bob Mackie in his heyday, they utilize animal imagery, feathered headdresses and other extremely bright colors and designs throughout the show.  Based on the 1994 movie, “Priscilla” is a jukebox musical that will delight “Mamma Mia” fans, as three drag queens sojourn across the Aussie Outback singing tunes of Madonna, as well as 70s and 80s hits “It’s Raining Men,” “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “I Love The Nightlife.” The cast prompts the audience to sing along and clap enthusiastically.  Will Swenson gives a heartfelt performance as conflicted Mitzi while Tony Sheldon lends grace to the post-op Bernadette.  Confronting homophobia head-on, it’s both fresh and palatable for all audiences.

  1. Travelling is not lead by theater alone.  A good meal or two can enhance any trip.  Some of the most memorable food was sampled on this trip.  For economical cuisine in the theater district, the French Pergola Des Artistes,

next to the Imperial Theater on 46th street, offers delicious pre-fix or ala carte delicacies such as duck, lamb, eggplant marinara and steamed vegetables. Also close to theaters, the Greek Restaurant, Uncle Nicks, on 9th Avenue, will bring a variety of Kabobs and hors d'oeuvres like grape leafs, hummus and feta to your stomach.  In Little Italy, La Mela offers family style that is so filling; even gastronomes will not make it past course three.  Caprese Salad with huge mozzarella chucks (course one), marinated asparagus, baked mozzarella and stuffed mozzarella (course two) and gnocchi covered in cheese, rigatoni in tomato sauce and tortellini in cream sauce make for quite a banquet.  Bubby’s in Tribeca has rich and fluffy pancakes that are worth the calories, while the organic favorite, Josie’s on Amsterdam, can satisfy foodies, whether vegan or not.  For crispy pizza with tangy tomato sauce and an array of toppings, Patsy’s on 74th is delicious.

Whether by plane, train, bus or car (or boat if you’re in Europe), you can fill a week with a slew of toe-tapping Broadway spectacles and food that, though not on your dietician’s list, will be worth every calorie.

 

 
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