Sunday, November 17, 2013

 I've seen a LOT of theater lately but haven't written about it, so right now I'm going to focus on the two shows I've seen most recently and list a few other highlights.

This weekend I had two amazing theatrical experiences, and they were both off-Broadway musicals. There are so many things to see in New York that most people don't know about, but I am so, so glad I found these two shows.

Fun Home
Wow. In his New York Times review Ben Brantley calls this a "beautiful heartbreaker," and that's a fitting term for it. It's simply brilliant. The musical is based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel of the same title (Time Magazine's Book of the Year in 1996), which is a memoir about a girl's relationship with her father. She realizes that they're both gay, and she tries her hardest to connect with him and understand him. It's a specific story being told, but it feels universal (I'm not gay, and I don't have a tyrannical father, but I still identified with it). Alison is played by three different actresses to convey different stages of her life, and this device really worked. All three actresses are amazing. Michael Cerveris plays the father; I feel like he's one of the best stage actors working today, and he is as wonderful as always in this musical. The score is absolutely gorgeous. The show is playing at the Public, which is an intimate house. I was in the second row and felt like I was literally in the "fun home." It's been extended multiple times and keeps selling out, which is awesome; I'm so glad I managed to snag a ticket (even though it wasn't cheap, it was worth every penny. I've read speculation of a transfer to Broadway, but I think this show really belongs in a small, intimate setting. I need them to make a cast recording, especially because I have to hear "Ring of Keys" (sung by Sydney Lucas, who plays small Alison) again. Here's a great new article about the development of the show, and here's a nice montage from the show:

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
I might have been surprised if someone told me one of my favorite shows of the year would be an off-Broadway pop opera based on Tolstoy's War and Peace. I ended up loving everything about this show. All the production elements are top notch; I especially loved the lighting. The show is staged in a supper club-type setting; the audience sits at tables where they are served Russian food and drinks (I liked the pierogis and scones but hated the borscht), and the action takes place all around and throughout the audience. The actors interact with the audience, which is fun. The score of this show is gorgeous (I immediately bought the cast recording).

This is probably my favorite song from the show (actually, it's tied with "Pierre and Natasha" for my favorite). It's Sonya singing for Natasha, her cousin and best friend. It made me cry (so did "Pierre and Natasha," actually).

The music in this show is so diverse. There are a few beautiful ballads (like the one posted above), and there are songs that feature Russian folk melodies interwoven with pop and dance beats. In the second act, they go from "Sonya" to an upbeat song like "Balaga" (which I'm having trouble posting).

Twelfth Night
Mark Rylance is brilliant. This is not news; if you saw Boeing-Boeing and Jerusalem, you experienced his genius already. He just keeps getting better and better. In Twelfth Night he plays Olivia (yes, Olivia; it's an all-male cast), and he is incredible. Ben Brantley calls his Olivia the best he's ever seen. You should just read Ben Brantley's rave review in the New York Times; he tells you everything you need to see this production, which he calls "peerless." I agree. This might be the most enjoyable Shakespeare experience I've ever had (and I've seen a lot of Shakespeare). I was sitting onstage, which was, of course, awesome. This play transferred from the Globe in London and is being performed in repertory with Richard III, and I don't know how the cast (which also includes Stephen Fry) manages that, but they somehow manage it extremely well.

Little Miss Sunshine
I attended opening night of this new musical, and it was fun, although it was missing some of the movie's edge. Hannah Nordberg, who plays Olive, is wonderful.

The Winslow Boy
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this play based on the real court case of a British boy. It got a great review in the New York Times, which says, "The Winslow Boy opens out to become both a stirring drama about the rights of the individual in conflict with the imperatives of the government (a topic that could hardly seem more pertinent, in the post-Edward J. Snowden era), and a moving, surprisingly ambiguous tale of the price to be paid for the relentless pursuit of even an honorable goal." The play really is moving and lovely.

Big Fish
I love Norbert Leo Butz (I highly recommend you read this article about him; he seems like such a great guy who has dealt with tragedy with grace), so he made this musical enjoyable for me. Even though the music wasn't all that memorable, I enjoyed the show and was sad to hear it's closing next month.

Did I write about Romeo & Juliet (either production?) I'm not sure. Anyway, there are two productions currently playing in New York. Go see the off-Broadway version, with Elizabeth Olsen (my favorite Olsen sister). Avoid the Broadway version with Orlando Bloom.

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