Our Favourite Broadway Shows of Autumn / Winter 2016
The Broadway season operates quite differently than in the West End. In New York, the theatre season properly kicks off around September/October time each year and by Christmas, roughly half of the new Broadway shows for that particular season will have officially opened. The second wave of new openings comes around March/April time up to the cut-off date (usually at the end of April) for eligibility for that season's Tony Awards. And finally, at the beginning or midway through June, the Tony Awards ceremony itself officially ends the season, as winners are crowned and celebrated and the Broadway community pats itself on the back and looks forward to the next season. In London, things are less regimented and new shows tend to open whenever a suitable theatre becomes free, regardless of the time of year.
Now that all the Autumn openings on Broadway have taken place, we thought we'd pick out a handful of our favourites for you. Who knows, maybe one or two of these theatrical masterpieces may well cross the pond and grace British audiences in the not-too-distant future?
THE FRONT PAGE
One of the hottest tickets in the Big Apple so far this season has been the star-studded revival of Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur’s 1928 comedy The Front Page. With a duration of 2 hours 45 minutes and two intermissions, one might have thought there may be a risk of becoming restless and glancing discreetly at the watch on the odd occasion. 90 minute plays with no intermissions are increasingly becoming the norm on the Great White Way. However, a true testament to the talents of both the cast and director Jack O’Brien is the fact that time really does fly by at the Broadhurst Theatre. The tremendous maintenance of pace with dialogue, dramatic entrances and exits and physical comedy gags is supremely executed in this period piece set in the press room of Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building. The plot revolves around an escaped fugitive and a pack of merciless journalists wanting to land the scoop of the century and pits some of the most celebrated actors of stage and screen against each other. Nathan Lane, John Slattery, John Goodman, Holland Taylor, Jefferson Mays, Sherie Rene Scott and Robert Morse are just seven reasons out of many more, why this revival has made front page news all over New York.
NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812
The modern musical can sometimes end up in one of two categories. It can be used to either further an already existing brand (from the worlds of literature, film or music) or become a brand in itself and on the other hand, many function as star vehicles in our celebrity-obsessed society. It will certainly be interesting to see where my next pick will ultimately reside. Having built a critically acclaimed reputation from off-off-Broadway to off-Broadway and to its out-of-town tryout, Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 was well on the way to becoming a theatrical juggernaut thanks to its own artistic merit. For the Broadway transfer, to appeal to an even wider audience, multi-platinum recording artist Josh Groban was then added to the cast to play Pierre in a long-awaited Broadway debut. Mr. Groban is of course in fine voice and gives a multi-layered performance, but I hope this innovative production will not suffer after his departure next summer. It deserves to enjoy a longevity that surpasses that of a usual star vehicle. Based on a 70 page section of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and brought to life in a specially re-designed Imperial Theatre, Dave Malloy’s pop rock opera engulfs audience members in the action in a 360 degree immersive experience that mixes modern and classic genres of music together in wholly original ways. A masterpiece not to be missed!
As I came to the world of theatre quite late in the game, I found my bucket list of shows was quite a lengthy one. I had read about and viewed YouTube clips of certain shows whose original Broadway or West End productions I had unfortunately not had the opportunity to experience live and I longed for revivals. As the years go by, I have had the good fortune to be able to tick entries off that bucket list one by one. This happened quite recently with the Lincoln Center Theater revival of James Lapine & William Finn’s cult musical Falsettos, playing at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre. I am also grateful that Lapine himself is at the helm of this revival as director and that Finn was also heavily involved in the rehearsal process. The sung-through tale revolves around a non-traditional family set up of a father Marvin (Christian Borle), his ex-wife Trina (Stephanie J. Block) and teenage son Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) and male lover (Andrew Rannells). The family circle (and plot) thickens as Marvin and Trina’s psychiatrist Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz) becomes Trina’s new lover and a breath of fresh air is introduced in Act II by “the lesbians next door” (Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe). The production is playfully put together with the use of grey building blocks of various shapes and sizes that the cast manipulate to form different set pieces, whilst the central themes of family, love, responsibility and mortality tug on your heartstrings and effortlessly break you down. This is storytelling at its best told through the trials and tribulations of real, three-dimensional characters. Bravo!
DOM O'HANLON'S PICK - DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's emotional new musical Dear Evan Hansen lands on Broadway following a sell-out season at the Second Stage Theatre earlier this year. “Pitch Perfect” star Ben Platt is one of the most memorable leading men of the season in the title role of socially awkward high schooler Evan Hansen who just wants to be visible. When a suicide throws the spotlight on him, he has to learn to cope with a change in status that threatens to alter his entire way of life. Featuring a powerful rock-pop score and a string of knock out performances from co-stars Michael Park and Rachel Bay Jones, this is a truly original Broadway musical that cements the status of Pasek and Paul as two of the genre's most important contemporary composers. Don't miss this Obie, Drama Desk and Outer Critic's Circle Award-winning show now at Broadway's Music Box Theatre and be a part of this year's breakout musical sensation.
Congratulations to all the productions of Autumn/Winter 2016 to making it to the Great White Way - an achievement most plays and musicals can only dream of! Now, we can barely contain our excitement at all the new shows the Big Apple has to offer in the Spring...