This is a brief review of my thoughts on Broadway and the shows I saw on my recent visit to New York City.
This is my first time to Manhattan and I was looking forward to comparing Broadway to the West End. The first thing I have to say is that I was only there 8 days in all (the other two I spent in Washington) and saw 5 shows so this by no means gives me enough time to compare ‘quality’ or ‘choice’ in a balanced way! And of course because of the terror attacks on the city just two weeks before my visit many shows had closed. Having said that, The New York Mayor’s encouragement to go and spend money and see a show is working as I had great difficulty in getting in to see the shows that I wanted to see, although I did manage to. Four of the shows I saw were played to full houses.
Expensive!! Very expensive for British people going to a New York show. Many shows are between $80 to $100 dollars a ticket if bought direct from the box office and as the exchange rate was around 1.4 dollars to the pound it works out at £57 to £71 pounds a ticket. When you consider the top price for a London Theatre ticket is £38 pound if bought direct from the box office it is a lot more expensive!
Of course you can queue at TKS, New York’s half price ticket booth in Times Sq, but the booth does not open until 3pm for most evening performances and there is always a very very long queue. In fact, many people begin queuing a couple of hours before the booth opens. But I guess if you are on a tight budget it is better than nothing. I queued just the once and decided not to do so again!!
The first show I saw was The Tale Of The Allergist’S Wife, a new comedy by Charles Busch, directed by Lynne Meadow. This was performed at the Barrymore Theatre on 47th Street. This fun show concerns culture-obsessed Marjorie (played by Valerie Harper) and her highly accomplished husband Ira (played by Tony Roberts) who are having some kind of marital crises. When Lee (played by Michele Lee), Marjorie’s mysterious old friend comes to visit she boasts of all the famous people she has worked for. But are the stories real? Real or not it sparks something in Marjorie who starts to do things she has always wanted to do and chaos ensures, particularly with the involvement of Marjorie’s eccentric mother played by Shirl Bernheim who actually provides most of the laughs. This is an excellent comedy definitely worth seeing.
The second show was an Off Broadway show called Perfect Crime a thriller by Warren Manzi. This was performed at the Duffy Theatre in Times Square. It is a small theatre that seats around 200. It is classed as Off Broadway, even though it is right in the centre of it! Why? I don’t know, I guess it has to do with the size of the theatre? This play was cheap, only 40 (35 if I knew about the flyer you can get near the TKS booth). What was appealing about this play is that the same actress Catherine Russell has been playing the same part in the play since it opened 13 years ago, only missing four performances! (BTW: She was also the person I bought my ticket off at the box office and also the usher who took my ticket stubb off me). This murder mystery concerns Margaret, a psychiatrist, who is accused of murdering her husband by the local Inspector. But he has no proof, particularly as her husband is still alive!!! This is a clever thriller that will have you guessing all the way to the end. It is full of surprises as each clue is unravelled. It is well acted and performed in a very small stage resulting in a cosy atmosphere. I can highly recommend this!
The third show was at the Broadhurst Theatre and officially still in previews, Dance of Death by August Strinberg, in a new version by Richard Greenberg. This appealed to me for the cast of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, two of my favourite actors and with Sean Mathias directing it was a must see. And indeed I found the play brilliant. The exchanges between McKellen and Mirren are a dream with some sharp dialogue to play with. The story concerns Edgar an army captain who was now beginning to lose his mind, and Alice, his wife who he has been married to for over 20 ‘miserable’ years. They no longer command the respect of the locals and try to hang on to their old ways, but they are deluding themselves. When Kurt, Alice’s cousin visits, their lives are to take a sudden turn for the worse. I thought this play was superb, however, a couple of friends I know in New York have seen it but do not care too much for it!!
The fourth show was the revival 42nd Street at the Ford Centre. A typical old-fashioned Broadway musical. What can I say, it is dated, but nevertheless a lot of fun.
The fifth and final show is a show with an unusual title Urinetown. This was apparently an Off Broadway show that was so successful it transferred to Broadway at the Henry Miller Theatre on 45th Street. What a delightful and refreshing musical it is. It has music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. It's described as "a neo-Brechtian absurdist melodrama about a city in the midst of a drought so devastating that a malevolent corporation has been able to take control of all the toilet facilities. Greed, corruption, and betrayal run rampant and the public desperately seeks relief." However, when an old man is arrested and sent to Urinetown for peeing in public his son decides to rebel and soon a large group is challenging the authorities. To complicate matters the leader of the rebels falls in love with the big bosses daughter! This is a bizarre musical that is attracting a cult audience. It has an original and clever storyline and many funny scenes. I’m not too keen on the music, it has been described as sounding a lot like Sondheim so this is probably why. I’m not a big Sondheim fan. Nevertheless the music is still adequate and with a confident and talented cast this show is a must see.
I enjoyed all of the five shows I saw. If all Broadway shows are this good then the West End has strong competition.
The verdict? West End wins for me simply because of the diversity and choice it offers.