New York-Theatre Reviews

I’m back from New York, and will get to blogging about that, but priorities and all that-first I’m posting reviews of what I saw. It’s a lot-I saw ten shows along with the six recordings of shows I saw as research. However this was quite a disappointing trip theatre wise-not with what I actually saw which on the whole was brilliant, but in choice. Usually on a trip to New York, as with London I’d be seeing a show every night and still wishing I had time for more. This year however a combination of prohibitive ticket prices ($130 dollars being a ‘standard’ Broadway seat now) and an overwhelming ‘British invasion’ of shows (that I’d either seen in London or didn’t want to see in the first place!) made it a disappointing selection.

Anyway onto what I did see:

Clybourne Park

I saw this at the RWCMD in the Spring and loved the play. While the students gave brilliant performances seeing this with age-appropriate actors certainly helped! It’s a brilliantly written play, well deserving of the ‘Best Play’ Tony it won this year. Interestingly this an American play very much ‘about’ America was premiered in the West End, and actually I can see how the humour and approach of the play worked well with British audiences-there’s a dry humour to it and an almost self-deprecating tone that’s a more ‘British’ trait. However it was really interesting to see it with an American audience and gauge reactions-it deals with issues of race and prejudice and there are often moments of ‘should I be laughing at this’. A superbly acted piece overall.

Memphis

This is set to come to London this Autumn so normally I might have given it a miss, certainly not gotten to the theatre at 8.30am for student rush tickets. However, as Adam Pascal was in the lead role I had to see it and getting up that early wasn’t a hardship! It was worth it too. The musical is well written and interesting-actually follows on from the racial themes of Clybourne Park, interestingly as I saw them back to back. Some wonderful music also and brilliant performances across the cast. Standout was (and although I’m a bit biased) was Adam Pascal, the role of Huey is a challenge vocally and performance wise and he was simply wonderful. A personal interesting aspect was the day before I’d watched the recording of  the original cast of ‘Rent’ at the archives, seeing his first Broadway performance followed by the most recent was like seeing a career and performance evolution in a fast-forward! This is the fourth time I’ve seen Adam perform and every time he gets stronger vocally and his performance grows. Ok enough gushing now about him! I enourgage anyone to see Memphis in London when it arrives however it’s a night out you wont regret!

War Horse

I saw and loved this in London (despite thinking I might not) The New York production is almost a direct transplant of the National Theatre production in London-aside from fitting it into the space at the Lincoln centre which is a little smaller, the physical performances of the puppeteers (which lets face it is what the audience is there for) remain thankfully unchanged. The moment you see Joey the horse come to life fully is still pure theatrical magic, and the production is still one of the most stunning pieces of theatre I’ve seen in years. Can you hear the ‘but’? yes, well there were changes to the American production which I can only describe as ‘dumbing down’ (I wont be specific in case of ‘spoilering’ anyone) this makes me so angry-either you want to import a production or you don’t, secondly I think the Lincoln Centre should actually credit it’s audiences with more intelligence. There was also a minor directorial alteration to the ending-it didn’t change the story but I just liked the way it was played in London so much better-again spoilers! I also witnessed the worst Welsh accent ever performed on a stage.  But for those who have seen the London production-don’t worry the goose is still there!

Dogfight

Based on a film that I haven’t seen-basic premise Marines compete to find the ugliest girl on their last day before shipping out, predictably one falls in love with the ‘ugly’ girl. It was staged beautifully by Joe Mantello (who I admit I’ve become a bit obsessed with during this trip as he was in two other productions I watched recordings of) sadly for this show the songs were forgettable and I feel it might have worked better as a play. It still had impact-oddly uncomfortable at times and still moving.

Warrior Class

Second play at Second Stage! an engaging play about politics in America-a political candidate deals with a ‘secret’ from his past but with an interesting twist at the end the play reveals more about American politics than it does about the candidates secret. The points it raises aside it was simply one of the most engaging plays I’ve seen in a while, I think it would work equally as well in Britain and I’d love to see it play places like the Sherman!

All the above I saw on my own, the rest I was joined by my Mum for.

Harvey

Booked for the entirely shallow reason that Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, my Mum’s current favourite TV character and one she has unfavourably compared her daughter to). Also based on a film I haven’t seen Harvey is the story of a man and his best friend-a six foot rabbit that only he can see (or maybe not…). There is no way to describe Harvey other than ‘a really nice play’ it’s the kind of play you leave the theatre and just say ‘ahh’. Will it change your life? probably not (though there are a few good lessons to learn there) but it will perhaps reaffirm your faith in humanity a bit and in entertainment. Jim Parsons was brilliant, equally funny as in ‘Big Bang’ the character of Harvey reminded me of what Sheldon would be like if you took away his intelligence and arrogance-blissfully naive about the world but infinatly curious. To quote Harvey in ‘My Grandmother told me in this life you have to be either very smart or very pleasant. I tried smart for many years, I recommend pleasant.’

Cock-Mike Bartlett

Despite providing me with the opportunity to email my mother and ask her ‘do you want to see Mike Bartlett’s Cock’? (yes I’m that mature) It did mean I got to see a play I wish I’d seen in London. Cock is one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time-clever without being pretentious and moving without being sentimental. It contains one of the best monologues-or best explanations full stop, explaining sexuality for anyone who doesn’t fit into a ‘tick box’ category that I’ve heard. It was also amusing to be one of only a couple of people laughing at the intrinsically ‘British’ jokes or references that thankfully weren’t edited out.

Bring it on the musical

A musical about cheer leading. I know, I know it sounds awful. But I would pay good money just for the stunts these dancers performed. I love dance, my Mum more so-I booked this with her mind-I’ve seen a lot of tricks performed by dancers but these cheer leading moves were something else. Flipping a girl backwards from shoulder height, then someone else catching her at shoulder height-and that wasn’t even one of the ‘hard’ moves! Anyway stunning choreography, a strong score and an amusing if plot-light book, Bring it On is a solid musical. Loses points for being based on a film,  but gains them back for the stunts. I’m sorry did I mention the stunts?

Rent-off-Broadway revival

I was wary about this, I love the Original production of Rent, and in recent years have spent far too much of my life thinking about and analysing it. However I felt compelled to go and see the revivial for research purposes, and I was so glad I did. Michael Grief the original director of Rent has directed this revivial sensibly-apart from scaling down the production, the best description for the changes seems to be ‘tidying up’. It’s fair to say the original production became quite ‘enshrined’ after composer Jonathan Larson’s death, now with hindsight and enough years of distance Grief simply tweaks a few things I imagine he’d have changed in the normal evolution of the production from off-Broadway to Broadway but didn’t feel able to under the circumstances. Having an all new cast, with due to the reduced cast size, some tweaked roles also helps bring a new energy to the piece. It’s interesting to think, the cast now are the actors who grew up with Rent and probably dreamed of being Adam Pascal/Anthony Rapp or India Menzel, and somehow for me that was a lovely thought watching them bring it to life in their own way. For me too, it was a fitting end to my trip seeing this almost like a going forward after all the digging in the past I’d done for Rent. It was still an emotional experience seeing it on stage, and for me that’s when I know a production of Rent works. Ok so I’ve gotten sentimental about it here, forgive me I’m writing a PhD chapter on it and keeping my feelings firmly filed away.

Right so that was the theatre, as concise as I could make it! Trip blog coming in the next few days.

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