a theatre, film & pop culture review
1. Big Fish (Broadway): Because while nobody’s itching for yet another movie-cum-musical Broadway adaptation, and though Andrew Lippa wrote the inferior The Wild Party (and the terrible The Addams Family), his music is pretty catchy and can verge on truly great (john & jen). Because Susan Stroman is directing-choreographing, so the dancin’ will be smart and polished – even if the direction is not. But, really, because we can all agree that Norbert Leo Butz is the best thing to happen to musical theatre since Jason Robert Brown wrote Parade, and we all know how I feel about that (see #4) — because the obscenely charming Butz is never less than impeccable no matter what dreck he manages to keep running for far longer than it ever should.
2. Little Miss Sunshine (Off-Broadway): Because though the 2006 Oscar-winning film’s high level of quirk feels a bit twee now (am I right?), and even though the always wonderful Toni Collette isn’t reprising her role (c’mon! she can sing!!), we don’t really care when musical genius William Finn is at the helm. Because it’s his first musical since the endearingly hilarious and ridiculously catchy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2005. Because even if I still haven’t seen a great production at Second Stage, director-writer James Lapine and Finn are a dynamic duo. Because I still cry, every time, during certain parts of A New Brain and Falsettos, and because Finn’s cranky-clever, warm and enveloping humor is a perfect match for Sunshine‘s.
3. Anna Nicole (Off-Broadway): Because the life of the infamous small-town Texan with big… dreams is just outlandish enough for a crazily eclectic over-the-top opera. Because its world premiere at the Royal Opera House was critically acclaimed, and because its U.S. premiere at BAM will surely be a hot ticket. Because, fuck this guy, we should be supporting New York City Opera (co-presenter). Because the always brilliant and caustically funny Mary Testa (Queen of the Mist) will portray Aunt Kay. Because Richard Thomas, the mad genius behind Jerry Springer: The Opera — which boasts such lyrical gems as “Chick with a Dick” and “Diaper Man” — has crafted the libretto. Because even though he was convicted of “endangering the welfare of a minor” and starred in such crap as A Tale of Two Cities, Mr. Rochester aka James Barbour has the glorious voice of a god and he’s playing Anna’s Daddy Hogan. Because everyone deserves a second chance.
4. Parade (Regional): Because nothing screams MUSICAL THEATRE! like rape, death and lynching in the turn-of-the-twentieth century South. Because I’ve obsessively followed — and wrote my thesis on — this Jason Robert Brown-Alfred Uhry musical since its messy Broadway premiere in 1998 (through its brilliant London premiere in 2007), and because, quite frankly, if there’s a production in the continental United States (or even in across the pond), I’m there, and you should be too. And “there,” this year, is the Arden Theatre Co. in Philly.
5. Bad Jews (Off-Broadway): Because Joshua Harmon’s black comedy about a group of cousins bickering over the heirlooms of their Holocaust-survivor grandfather got near-rave reviews when it premiered last fall. Because it’s back at the Roundabout Underground with a gleefully game cast that includes the stupendous Tracee Chimo — who captured our hearts and ignited great belly laughs as the über-quirky introvert Circle Mirror Transformation and by the looks of it, bites off and spits out a few heads here — and because it’s not often you get a second shot at experiencing the ephemeral form that is theatre.
6. Appropriate (Off-Broadway): Because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s fascinating, scandal-ridden take on the 19th century melodrama, The Octoroon — peppered with contemporary slang, Mary J. Blige’s soulful strains and black face, red face and every other kind of face — since I saw it over three years ago. And because the newest — finally!! — from this super-heady playwright continues his exploration of (racial) identity with the Lafayette clan — a white family that discovers a not-so-pleasant secret about their father — in a violent, witty and startling play that even Charles Isherwood kind of liked (wait — hmmm). And because Signature, of all places, is producing it (Way to be, STC!).
7. Fun Home (Off-Broadway): Because while nothing about the premise screams MUST-SEE! — based on a graphic novel, a woman delves into her past to tell the story of her volatile, brilliant father — everything about the cast and creative team of this Public Theater production does: four-time Tony Award-nominated composer Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change), Tony Award nominee Lisa Kron (Well) and constant-Annie-Baker-collaborator and Amy-Herzog-husband, director Sam Gold. And because, oh yeah, (crazy) talented Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn (Passion) are starring.
8. Rocky (Broadway): Because the pre-Broadway buzz is that this musical based on the Oscar-winning Sylvestor Stallone underdog flick is actually good. (What?) Because this is despite the fact that Ahrens & Flaherty wrote the score (Ragtime) and Thomas Meehan wrote the book (Chaplin, Cry Baby). And because Steve Hoggett helms the fight choreography, and his isolated stomping and thrusting, alternately romantic and furious, is consistently the most thrilling thing about the shows he works on (Once, American Idiot). And because Sly himself is producing, natch.
9. The Bridges of Madison County (Broadway): Because even though it’s based on “the worst movie ever made” (credit: my dad), this musical adaptation of Robert James Waller’s 1992 best-selling romance novel is by the same composer who wrote Parade, and really, do we need more than that? The answer is ‘no’, but ok: Because the best thing bookwriter Marsha Norman has written until now (in this writer’s opinion) was the gorgeous, haunting The Secret Garden, which leads one to believe she’s got a knack for musicals. Because it’s starring the lushly-voiced Kelli O’Hara and (not) because it’s also starring Steven Pasquale, who if you’ve been following Broadway gossip, recently divorced the über-talend Laura Benanti, who is crazy-hilarious (and just a little bit brokenhearted). But, essentially, because if it’s good enough for Meryl, it’s certainly good enough for musical theatre.
10. Betrayal (Broadway): Because pause-lovin’ Pinter’s 1978 blistering drama of the corrosive nature of betrayal — of lovers, of ourselves — hasn’t lost its edge. Because the radical cunning of his reverse chronology has since turned into an theatrical gimmick, cribbed from JRB to Sondheim. Because when Mike Nichols directs something, you (try to) go. Because, though we had a revival 13 years ago starring Liev Schreiber, Juliette Binoche and John Slattery (!), we clearly need another one with husband and wife Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. Because, apparently, James Bond knows Pinter better than Pinter: “If the pause doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.”
11. Intimacy (Off-Broadway) Because Thomas Bradshaw just don’t give a fuck — in the best kind of way. Because the boundary-pushing playwright (Mary, Burning) has actually been compared to Kushner (say what?) — but it’s not because of his sexually explicit, super-violent premises. Because his latest — involving interracial couples, porn, Latino contractors and faith — premiering with the New Group is sure to piss off even more critics, while wowing the few others. Because calling him “provocative” is the prissy way of saying what he really is: one crazy (good) motherfucker.
12. Aladdin (Broadway): Because the 1992 animated classic is one of Disney’s best — and one of Alan Menkin’s finest scores. Because the one-act version at Disneyland was actually pretty good! Because the fabulous costumer of Follies (Gregg Barnes) is in charge of the fantastical Arabian jewels and kaftans. Because while Disney’s Broadway success is super-scattered (The Lion King, Tarzan), we love them even when they’re terrible (The Little Mermaid! So bad! So good!). But really because THE ORIGINAL JAFAR WILL BE PLAYING JAFAR! Because, YES.
13. Rebecca (Broadway): Because it’s been delayed almost as many times as Spider-Man. Because even though it’s the poor man’s Jane Eyre, it’s still an infinitely better idea than any musicalization of Pride & Prejudice. Because even though the “exclusive song” on the website sounds more like Martin Guerre (shudder) than Les Mis (guilty, gleeful pleasure), Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is a classic Gothic romance that begs to be sung. And because, with a score by Hungarian composer Sylvester Levay, Germans think it’s the next best thing since David Hasselhoff ditched his swim trunks, discovered his vocal chords and took their country by pop-music storm. Because the producers are hoping for a 2014 Broadway bow! Yeah!