Editor’s note: this article has been published following the 2018 Tony Awards, the trip was prior to the awards. For a full list of winners visit this site.

It was great to fly away from the April snow in Minnesota and find Spring in bloom on Manhattan island. While the wind could still be chilly, especially when it rained, the week was filled with good theater. I saw six shows and I didn’t even take advantage of every theater opportunity I could have taken. 

 

Three Tall Women 

Edward Albee won his third Pulitzer Prize for Three Tall Women, and this play is being given a terrific revival, directed by Joe Mantello at the John Golden Theater, whose previous tenant was Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2. Laurie Metcalf starred in that production, winning a Tony Award. Since her long stint as Jackie on Roseanne, Metcalf has grown as a theater performer, appearing frequently on Broadway. In London, she played Mary Tyrone opposite David Suchet’s James in Long Day’s Journey into Night. She’s busier than ever now, what with the Roseannerevival, The Big Bang Theoryand this play, for which she received a Tony nomination. She costars with Alison Pill (Midnight in Paris) and the legendary Glenda Jackson. 

Albee’s play is a stunner, based on the life of his dying mother. A (Jackson) is an elderly woman of wealth, who’s suffering from bouts of Alzheimer’s. She questions the motivations of her nurse, B (Metcalf) as C (Pill) demands information to sort through business. At the end of the first part, set in a well-appointed bedroom, A is put to bed. The back wall rises to reveal the room reflected as the characters now morph into A at different parts of her life. C (the weakest role) learns about choices she made as B and A explain things to her. 

Three Tall Womenis a superb acting challenge for three talented women, and of course this cast is up to the task. 

 

My Fair Lady 

There’s no question that My Fair Ladyis one of the greatest musicals ever written, but until now a good stage production eluded me. I saw a High School production in 1971 that lasted four hours; while a 1978 road company brought the original sets and costumes on tour, with the exception of Edward Mulhare, who played Higgins, the production was dreadful; Joe Dowling’s Guthrie staging was so inaccurate, it was painful. 

All is well at Lincoln Center, where Bartlett Sher’s revision is playing to full houses and has received ten Tony nominations. The production is a wonder!  Sher has maintained the trappings of the musical, while adding some new ones, including a surprise ending as Eliza Doolittle takes charge of her own life.

The performances are excellent. Lauren Ambrose (Claire on Six Feet Under) had some trouble with her voice, probably because she’s still getting used to singing 8 times a week, but she’s clearly having fun with Christopher Gattelli’s choreography as she leads the cast. Harry Haden-Paton (Downton Abbey) plays Higgins as pompously as written, but there’s an emotional wall around him, presumably learned from his mother, played with great aplomb by Dame Diana Rigg.

As Alfie P. Doolittle, Norbert Leo Butz brings an impish glee to his role, turning both “With a Little Bit of Luck” and especially “Get Me to the Church on Time” into show-stopping production numbers. Allan Corduner’s Col. Pickering has just the right amount of disconcertedness, while Jordan Donica’s Freddy Eynsford-Hill brings the right amount of lovesick joy to “On the Street Where You Live.”

The show may be over 60 years old, but this is a My Fair Lady for modern times and it’s to be enjoyed again for generations to come!

 

SpongeBob SquarePants

When I saw the opening number from SpongeBob SquarePants: the Broadway Musicalduring the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it looked so inventive that I decided that I had to see the show. Never a big fan of the TV series, I vaguely knew what is was about, but that didn’t matter. With a script by Kyle Jarrow and songs by Aerosmith, Sarah Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, David Bowie and Brian Eno and many others, the show is a treasure. The evil Sheldon Plankton and his henchwoman, Karen the Computer plot to force the citizens of Bikini Bottom into eating at his restaurant instead of the home of the Crabby Patty, while a volcano threatens to destroy their habitat. It’s up to Patrick Star (Danny Skinner, whose character briefly becomes a god to the Sardines), Sandy Cheeks (Lilli Cooper) and our hero, SpongeBob (Ethan Slater) to save the day.

SpongeBob SquarePantsis an utter delight and fulfills its promise of inventiveness. But it’s the performances that make this a smashing show.

I’ve seen Gavin Lee in Mary Poppinsthree times – twice in London and again in New York. He was marvelous as Bert, but he’s even better as Squidward Q. Tentacles.  His production number, “I’m Not a Loser,” is sensational. 

All of the denizens of Bikini Bottom have their moments. Wesley Taylor and Stephanie Hsu as Plankton and Karen have several amusingly villainous moments, but keep in mind, this is essentially a kid’s show. It all works out, and we all get to singalong with “The SpongeBob Theme Song” at the curtain call.

And how to describe Ethan Slater, the charming young man who stars in the show and has taken the Broadway community by storm? His performance is a joy. Not costumed as you might think (in a huge sponge head and square shorts), his performance is quite physical and he handles it with great aplomb!  The show has earned 12 Tony nominations and it’s my personal choice for Best Musical of the year!

 

The Iceman Cometh

One of the purposes for this visit to New York was to see George C. Wolfe’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, a play I’ve wanted to see onstage for decades. There’s a film version, made for the American Film Theater series. It stars Lee Marvin and Fredric March, with Robert Ryan in his last role. It’s a fine movie, but this play, if done right, should be riveting. Clocking in at almost 4 hours, the acting should be stunning. I wish I could say that it was.

Set in Harry Hope’s Bowery Tavern over a few days in 1912, a group of career drunks and tarts drink themselves into a stupor. They await their friend Hickey, a traveling salesman who brings food and other items, as he stirs up trouble. Claiming that he’s given up the bottle, encouraging the men to seek employment and turn their lives around, only to find them back at the bar. O’Neill’s extraordinary play is about the shattered hopes and dreams of these people.

Sadly, Wolfe’s production is not a solid whole, due largely to the acting and its dreary staging. David Morse as Larry Slade, an anarchist, gives the evening’s finest performance. Colm Meaney brings a gruff exterior to the melancholy Hope; Bill Irwin is marvelous in the thankless role of Ed Mosher; Carolyn Mosher and Tammy Blanchard bring little to their roles of Pearl and Cora, a pair of tarts, Austin Butler brings youthful energy to the role of Don Parritt.

In the leading role of Theodore Hickman, “Hickey,” Denzel Washington leaves much to be desired. The character is a showcase role for an actor, and it’s on his shoulders that the production rests. Washington’s Hickey is terribly lazy and drags the production down rather than giving it much-needed energy lifts.

This production has received 8 Tony nominations, but has already limited its engagement, closing July 1.

 

Lucia di Lammermoor

For me, no visit to New York is complete without a visit to the Metropolitan Opera, because opera here is unlike any other in the world. The auditorium, 52 years old this year, is amazing. With the gold-leafing on the ceiling, enhanced by Swarovski crystal chandeliers, several of which rise to the top just as the house lights go down, the large gold curtain rises for a spectacular production, in this case, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Adapted from Walter Scott’s novel, Salvadore Cammarano’s libretto concerns Lucia Ashton, in love with Edgardo di Ravenswood. For political reasons, Lucia’s brother, Enrico, demands that she marry Arturo Bucklaw. To make sure things go according to plan, he challenges Edgardo to a duel. On her wedding night, Lucia enters the festivities, her dress covered in blood, because she’s murdered Bucklaw. The opera ends tragically.

Mary Zimmerman will direct her terrific adaptation of Metamorphosesat the Guthrie next season, and this is her second staging at the Met, following an odd and poorly received staging of Bellini’s La Sonnambula. Zimmerman has given us a dazzling production. While Daniel Ostling’s sets and Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes which move the opera from the 1600s to the late 19thcentury, it’s the performances that are front and center here. Quinn Kesley’s Enrico, is in fine voice as Lucia’s desperate brother, but the evening belongs to South African singer, Pretty Yende as Lucia and Michael Fabiano as Edgardo. Their love duets are sublime and Yende’s choice of underplaying Lucia’s final aria, "Spargi d'amaro pianto" is one of the production’s most remarkable moments. 

Sadly, Zimmerman’s Lucia won’t be in the repertoire next season, but should return in future. Hopefully, Yende and Fabiano will return with it!

 

Frankenstein: The Musical

A show that boldly titles itself Frankenstein: The Musicaltakes ownership of the material and while Eric and Julia Sirota get an A for effort, this off-Broadway show, presented at St. Luke’s Church on 46thStreet, plays like a student directing project, rather than a professional treatment. Everything in this musical looks pulled together from the mix of period costumes and sets, to the styles of acting onstage. The lyrics and score rarely rise to the quality of Mary Shelley’s novel, and the script doesn’t even measure up to a Classics Illustrated rendition.

The show lacks conviction, with rare exception, and a point of view. Under Clint Hromsco’s staging and Austin Nuckols’ musical direction, there’s no clear time element here, because the costumes have obviously been pulled from stock, and they’re on the tacky side. While the women are clothed in long dresses and styled wigs, this is not Shelley’s setting in 1818 Germany.

With the exception of Erick Sanches-Canahuate’s Creature, which was the best of the lot, because there were three covers who went on for the performance I attended, I can’t really comment on the performances, except to say that this is where the lack of conviction was obvious. Furthermore, the production took place, almost exclusively indoors, and while there were occasional tableaux that gave the show some authenticity, this left out some of the more important sections of the novel. Justine’s trial sequence lacked explanation; Stephan Amenta gave Henry an oafishness that wasn’t true to the novel, and Shelley’s great ending, set in the frozen North, was set, instead in Victor’s Laboratory.

Frankenstein, the Musicalplays one night a week, because St. Luke’s has seven other productions using its performance space. It would be interesting to see what else goes on in this theater.