Here’s a quick glance of some notable happenings on Broadway’s Great White Way this week:
Beginning Preview Performances this Week:
The Boys in the Band – Begins April 30th
A group of gay men gather in a New York City apartment for a friend’s birthday party where the cracks beneath their friendships begin to show, in the Broadway premiere of Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking 1968 play.
The new musical that explores the life of late disco icon Donna Summer, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, officially opened on Broadway last week at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Reviews for the new bio-musical were mostly negative, with most declaring the musical’s book a dud, giving little depth and insight to Summer’s life and career:
New York Times – “Despite the exciting vocalism of a cast led by the formidable LaChanze, it reduces the late Queen of Disco and pioneer of electronica to a few factoids and song samples that make her seem profoundly inconsequential.”
Time Out New York – “…at its most watchable, the show plays like a barely dramatized adaptation of Summer’s Spotify and Wikipedia pages. But when it’s bad, it’s so, so bad.”
But some critics were able to look beyond the script and enjoy the pleasure of Summer’s catalog of hits, performed by the vocally gifted cast:
Newsday – “What saves all this, of course, is the celebration of the music, with a parade of hits…all three Donnas are at the top of their vocal game, raising the roof.”
New York Magazine – “Thanks to the swift, smart construction of Summer, which neither overburdens its material nor overstays its welcome, it’s a pretty damn good time.”
NY1 – “…fortunately, the music’s the thing here, and on that front the show does not disappoint. The tunes…are thrillingly performed by a phenomenal trio of actresses.”
Tom Stoppard’s Tony Award-winning play Travesties returned to Broadway for the first time since its 1975 run, in a new production that officially opened last week at American Airlines Theatre. The general response from critics was enthusiastically positive, though a few found the material a challenge to follow. But the fast-paced direction and spot-on performances were more than enough to make the play’s complex themes and concepts easily accessible to the audience:
Entertainment Weekly – “Travesties‘ ratatat bursts of farce and romance and political theory may be too discursive to ever quite nail down exactly what it’s all about, other than everything.”
Hollywood Reporter – “Simply keeping up with its dizzying braininess admittedly can be exhausting. But when the play soars, it really soars. You may miss a plot point here or a reference there. But you can count on a belly laugh waiting around the corner.”
Time Out New York – “In [director] Marber’s well-judged and high-spirited revival, the result is inviting rather than snobbishly exclusive, and the structural and verbal dazzle are offset with subtle suggestions of elegy. Even if you can’t solve it all as you watch, it’s a pleasure to engage with a production that does Travesties full justice.”
New York Magazine – “Dazzling…a knock-the-wind-out-of-you magnificent revival…what keeps it from being pretentious is the sincere explosive joy with which it’s constructed. Among the triumphs is the stellar comedy of its ensemble who unanimously understand the combination of precision and animation called for by their material.”
Manhattan Theatre Club celebrated the official opening night of its revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan last week, starring Tony nominee Condola Rashsad in the title role. Reviews were mixed for the revival, with some critics finding the production uninspired:
NY1 – “…the production falls a bit short…the nearly three-hour play feels awfully long, in part because the staging is lackluster…the acting styles are jarringly inconsistent.”
Time Out New York – “[Director] Sullivan’s baggy, plainly designed revival is nearly three hours long and feels it, right up to Shaw’s quirky and deflating coda. Saint Joan doesn’t rise to meet the contemporary energy of youthful protest with which it coincides. It flickers with intelligence but doesn’t burn.”
However, some critics were swayed by the talented cast, especially the lead performance of Rashsad:
Variety – “Smart, stylish and engaging…playing a part that is as daunting as it is dazzling, Rashad steps into the starring role in a blaze of glory and claims it as her own.”
Newsday – “Rashad makes an intriguing Joan…[she] portrays the teen with a brave mix of doubt, humility and fierce independence.”
New York Times – “Rashad brings her usual intelligence and unfussy theatricality. Although it’s a relief to experience a phlegmatic instead of a violent Joan, it’s also a perplexity because the choice robs her of psychology. Still, when the play reaches its tragic sixth scene – Joan’s trial and burning – all that withholding pays off.”
The new Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, starring Tony and Oscar winner Denzel Washington, celebrated its official opening night last week at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Reviews for the production were mixed to positive, with some feeling the pain of the play’s long running time and repetitive themes:
New York Magazine – “O’Neill’s play is painfully long-winded and often a self-serious emotional slog, and in Wolfe’s lumbering production these issues feel exacerbated rather than addressed.”
New York Daily News – “Wolfe’s staging is a mixed bag. Part of that is because the play is so long, talky and repetitive. You feel its four hours, especially when design-wise there’s little to lose oneself in and performances aren’t all top-shelf.”
But there was ample praise for the finely crafted performances and Wolfe’s expert direction:
Time Out New York – “The cumulative effect of this handsomely decrepit production is bracing. Director Wolfe keeps things moving at a quick clip…there are performances to savor.”
Variety – “Washington is well cast…the huge ensemble cast presents a cross-section of some of the best character actors in the business. Helmer Wolfe has trimmed the play to a reasonable length without losing the nuances.”
New York Times – “Wolfe has filled the stage with such delectably seasoned hams, who lap up limelight the way their characters throw back booze. This Iceman acquires its own poignant lyricism, while vividly reminding us that in life, comedy and tragedy are seldom mutually exclusive. ”
Broadway News and Notes:
2018 Tony Nominations Announced May 1st
- Hamilton Tony Award winner Leslie Odom Jr. and current Waitress star Katharine McPhee will announce the nominations for the 72nd annual Tony Awards May 1. The unveiling of the nominations will be broadcast live from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center at 8:30 AM on CBS and TonyAwards.com. The 2018 Tony Awards ceremony will take place June 10 at Radio City Music Hall hosted by Tony and Grammy nominees Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban. More details here.
Denzel Eyes King Lear for Next Broadway Role
- Denzel Washington, the Tony and Oscar winner currently starring on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s powerful epic The Iceman Cometh has identified his next main-stem role. In a recent interview with The New York Times, the stage and Hollywood veteran talked about how he and Tony-winning producer Scott Rudin chose his current project and why their next Broadway collaboration could be a Shakespeare classic. “We put together a list of possible plays: King Lear, Coriolanus, Iceman, a few more,” said Washington. “Then we boiled it down to Iceman and King Lear. And [Rudin] said: ‘Let’s do Lear five years from now.’ I said: “OK, we’ll do that next – God willing.” More details here.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chita Rivera to Receive Special Tony Awards
- Tony winners and musical theatre luminaries Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chita Rivera will receive special honors for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre at the 2018 Tony Awards. Lloyd Webber, who celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year, is currently represented on Broadway with School of Rock and The Phantom of the Opera. His rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar recently hit the small screen in a live concert presentation on NBC. He won Tony Awards for his scores to Sunset Boulevard, Cats, and Evita. Rivera has won Tony Awards for her performances in The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman, and was also nominated for Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, Bring Back Birdie, Merlin, Jerry’s Girls, Nine, her autobiographical The Dancer’s Life, and, most recently, The Visit. With ten, she holds the record for the most Tony nominations earned by a single performer. More details here.
Hadestown Musical Coming to Broadway in 2019
- The Anaïs Mitchell musical Hadestown will play the National Theatre in London this November before transferring to Broadway in 2019, the show’s producers announced last week. The musical, which was developed with and directed by Rachel Chavkin, originally ran off Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2016 and played Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre in 2017. In a review, The New York Times called Hadestown a “gorgeously sung, elementally spare production.” The musical, which features a mixture of American folk music and New Orleans jazz, follows Orpheus, a songwriter, as he battles with Hades and tries to win over Eurydice, whom he loves. More details here.