BROADWAY WEEK: 2-for-1 Tickets
September 4-17, buy one ticket, get one free
Tickets are on sale for the late-summer edition of Broadway Week, which runs September 4-17 and offers theater lovers a chance to get two-for-one tickets in advance to see new and long-running shows on the Great White Way. Twenty-three shows are participating, with one already sold out — The Lion King, as usual — so you need to act fast. You can still grab seats, however, for 1984, Aladdin, Anastasia, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, A Bronx Tale, Cats, Chicago, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Doll’s House Part 2, Groundhog Day, Hello, Dolly! Kinky Boots, Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender, Miss Saigon, The Phantom of the Opera, The Play That Goes Wrong, Prince of Broadway, School of Rock, Waitress, War Paint, and Wicked. You can also get $20 upgrades by using the code BWAYUP.
Less is certainly not more in Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of the surprisingly slight Prince of Broadway. Continuing at the Samuel J. Friedman through October 22, the show is a tribute to legendary icon Hal Prince, who has won twenty-one Tony Awards during a grand career going back to his days as an assistant stage manager in 1950 through directing and/or producing many of the greatest musicals in Broadway history. Prince himself directs the talented cast of nine — Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck, and Karen Ziemba — who all portray him, glasses on top of their heads, as he discusses brief, mostly unilluminating snippets from his history, many of them self-aggrandizing platitudes that serve as introductions to some of the numbers, although there are a few choice tidbits, including his meeting Stephen Sondheim. The crew is just about as good as it gets, with a book by two-time Tony nominee David Thompson, arrangements and orchestrations by two-time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown, sets and projections by Tony winner Beowulf Boritt, costumes by six-time Tony winner William Ivey Long, lighting by two-time Tony winner Howell Binkley, and codirection and choreography by five-time Tony winner Susan Stroman. And the show has several memorable moments, including Cooper bringing the house down with “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, Parham belting out the theme song from Cabaret, Xavier and Dacal camping it up on “You’ve Got Possibilities” from It’s a Bird...It’s a Plane...It’s Superman, and Skinner delivering a moving “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music. But as Ziemba sings as Fräulein Schneider from Cabaret, “So what?”
Too many of the production numbers are not introduced by name; how many people are likely to know that “This Is Not Over Yet” is from Parade? Prince’s specific contributions, whether director or producer, are not indicated onstage (only in the program), so it is often difficult to grasp how much we’re seeing is from the man himself. With limited or no background information, most of the songs exist in a kind of vacuum, where the audience doesn’t know enough about the characters to get involved in their tales, except for the numbers that have more exposition in them. Even such beloved songs as “Something’s Coming” and “Tonight” from West Side Story feel lost amid the other hits and non-hits; it’s not fair for Stroman and Prince to assume the crowd is already familiar with the songs, a disservice particularly to younger generations or newcomers of any age to musical theater. And although Prince worked on nearly sixty shows, a mere sixteen are represented here, with three or four songs from certain musicals; it would have been fascinating to see tunes from such less-well-known works as Zorba, A Family Affair, Flora, the Red Menace, or even A Doll’s Life, which closed after five performances, instead of multiple numbers from Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. An earlier version did have other songs, including “All I Need Is One Good Break” from Flora, but numerous delays and financial issues led to many changes. (For example, in March 2012 it was announced that the Broadway production would open that November with Sebastian Arcelus, Linda Lavin, Richard Kind, LaChanze, Shuler Hensley, Sierra Boggess, Josh Grisetti, Amanda Kloots-Larsen, Daniel Breaker, Caroline O’Connor, David Pittu, and Skinner.) In a program note, Prince writes, “I doubt if anyone today can duplicate the life I’ve been lucky enough to live.” That’s very likely true, but the eighty-nine-year-old master deserves better than Prince of Broadway.
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through October 22, $29 - $149
I attended the star-studded August 10 opening of Michael Moore’s Broadway debut, the mostly one-man show The Terms of My Surrender, in which the Flint native rails against Donald Trump and shares stories about how one person can make a difference. In my review the next day, I noted that there was a handful of important flaws; other critics were somewhat less generous (amid some raves). With all that is going on in the world, overwhelming us on a constant basis, I decided to revisit the Belasco Theatre the next week to see if Moore and director Michael Mayer had made any important changes and how Moore might incorporate the violent white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The show turned out to be much better the second time around. Moore was more comfortable (though not when it comes to dancing), several cringeworthy lines and a dreadful bit were cut, and no special guest arrived for the interview segment. Trump’s words relating to Charlottesville were projected across the stripes on the American flag that hovers behind Moore, and the proceedings had a more agreeable narrative flow. Moore did note at one moment that he went ahead with a line his producers wanted him to get rid of, and he made a point of explaining that he would not have done the show unless the producers agreed that all balcony seats would sell for $29, something he did not say on opening night, so perhaps the show has indeed undergone some necessary and successful nipping and tucking. Whatever the case, The Terms of My Surrender improved greatly upon repeat viewing, even if Moore is still preaching to the converted. However, I’m unlikely to go back a third time; as with presidents, two “terms” are enough.
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Through August 27, $47-$127
Scott McPherson’s 1990 play, Marvin’s Room, is finally making its Broadway debut, in a touching and funny Roundabout production directed gracefully by Anne Kaufman. The work, which focuses on the complex relationship between two sisters, ran in New York at Playwrights Horizon and the Minetta Lane Theater in 1992-93, winning two Drama Desk Awards (including Outstanding Play) and an Obie, and was then turned into a film in 1996 with an Oscar-nominated Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gwen Verdon. For its Great White Way bow, it has enlisted a pair of fab actresses to portray the sisters. Lily Taylor stars as Bessie, a forty-year-old woman who has been caring for her ailing father, Marvin (Carman Lacivita), and her partially incapacitated aunt, Ruth (Celia Weston), in their Florida home for decades. “Dad’s dying but he’s been dying for about twenty years. He’s doing it real slow so I don’t miss anything,” Bessie tells Dr. Wally (Triney Sandoval), who is filling in for her regular physician. “And Dr. Serat has worked a miracle with Ruth,” she adds. “She’s had constant pain from her back since she was born, and now the doctor had her get an electronic anesthetizer; you know, they put the wires right into the brain and when she has a bad pain she just turns her dial. It really is a miracle. . . . If she uses it in the kitchen our automatic garage door goes up. But that’s a small price to pay, don’t you think?” The scene’s elements of vaudeville slapstick prepare the audience for Bessie’s discovery that she is sick as well. Her sister, Lee (Janeane Garofalo), arrives from Ohio to offer assistance, along with her two boys, Charlie (Luca Padovan) and the older, deeply troubled Hank (Jack DiFalco). It’s not exactly the most heartwarming of family reunions as everyone tries to decide how far they’re willing to go to help.
Garofalo (Russian Transport, The Truth about Cats and Dogs), in her Broadway debut, and Emmy winner Taylor (Aunt Dan & Lemon, Six Feet Under) get the sibling thing just right; they even look somewhat similar, and more so as the play continues. Taylor plays Bessie with a soft vulnerability beneath her hard shell, while Garofalo is excellent at keeping Lee’s motives just under the surface. Whenever they are together, Marvin can be seen in silhouette lying down in the bedroom, a constant reminder of what drove the sisters apart. Tony nominee Weston (True West, The Last Night of Ballyhoo) provides comic relief as the slow-moving, God-fearing Ruth, who refers to a bowel movement as a “stinky.” The set by Laura Jellinek (The Nether, The Wolves) easily slides from kitchen to doctor’s office to hospital room to retirement home while Obie winner Kauffman (Marjorie Prime, Belleville) moves the story at a calm pace despite the occasional fireworks. The play was inspired by childhood memories as well as a different play McPherson was writing, about an AIDS clinic. McPherson later cared for his partner, a cartoonist and activist who died of AIDS in February 1992 at the age of thirty-three; McPherson, who also wrote Scraped, passed away from AIDS complications later that year, at the same age. Marvin’s Room is a tragicomic story that boldly addresses the question of what happens when a caregiver needs a caregiver as well as a bittersweet reminder of the weight of family responsibility and heartbreaking loss.
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through October 22, $29 - $149
“How the fuck did this happen?” Michael Moore asks at the beginning of his Broadway debut, The Terms of My Surrender, which opened last night at the Belasco Theatre for a three-month run. He makes it clear that he’s talking about the election of Donald J. Trump, not his one-man show on the Great White Way. For nearly two hours, the filmmaker, activist, and mensch, dressed in his usual schmatas including ever-present baseball cap, mixes pivotal moments from his life with ideas about how the left can come together and retake control of the White House and Congress. When he’s talking about President Trump, usually standing at a microphone at the front center of the stage, a giant American flag behind him, he does not quite have the fanatical fury or commanding presence of George C. Scott as General George S. Patton that setup evokes but instead comes off as a comic pundit preaching to the choir on MSNBC. But when he sits down at a desk or in a comfy reading chair and shares personal stories about how one person — himself, in several cases — can indeed make a difference, the his performance is riveting. Moore relates how he got involved in an Elks Club controversy; how he and a friend went to Germany to protest Ronald Reagan’s visit to a Nazi cemetery in Bitburg; how the governor of Michigan is involved in the poisoning of thousands of children with lead-laced drinking water in Moore’s impoverished hometown of Flint; and how one librarian from Englewood affected the publication of his 2001 book Stupid White Men. (That librarian, Ann Sparanese, was in the audience on opening night and received a standing ovation. Also on hand for the opening-night celebration were Harry Belafonte, Anna Deavere Smith, Dan Rather, Christie Brinkley, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marlo Thomas, Jonathan Alter, Nia Vardalos, Al Sharpton, Rosanna Scotto, and Tony Bennett.)
A set piece about carry-on items banned by the TSA is hit-or-miss, and a game show pitting the dumbest Canadian in the audience against the smartest American is silly and goes on too long, serving as a way for Moore to spout yet more statistics at us. An informal tête-à-tête with a surprise guest — on opening night it was Gloria Steinem and previously has featured Bryan Cranston, Rep. Maxine Waters, Morgan Spurlock, and Judah Friedlander — can become self-indulgent, a crafty way to turn the spotlight away from Moore temporarily, but that’s easier said than done, as Moore can’t help being the center of attention, whether on a Broadway stage, on television (TV Nation, The Awful Truth), or in such films as Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Michael Moore in Trumpland. His shocking tale of receiving death threats and assassination attempts brings the show to a screeching halt when he decides to test the FCC by calling a public figure and making the same death threats he got from Glenn Beck. Moore most certainly is not in Trumpland at the Belasco, where the predominantly liberal audience claps often in support of the Flint native’s views on the president and politics. Tony-winning director Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening) has his hands full with the show, which jumps around from scene to scene and bit to bit, including a fair amount of ad-libbing, as Moore updates his comments with the latest news to keep things fresh. Tony-winning designer David Rockwell’s (She Loves Me, Kinky Boots) set features a desk and chairs that slide on- and offstage and a large American flag backdrop onto which Andrew Lazarow projects photographs, clips of Trump, headlines, and other images. There’s also an empty presidential box waiting for Trump, complete with “little opera gloves,” but don’t expect Trump or Vice President and Broadway superfan Mike Pence to take those seats anytime soon. The show is uneven, but when Moore, an often amiable yet fiery fellow who drives the right insane, gets away from the rhetoric and focuses on his heartfelt conviction that one person really can initiate change — and insists that now is most definitely not the time to give up — The Terms of My Surrender is right on target, reminding us all that if Moore can do it, there’s no reason we can’t either.
139-141 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 8, $35 - $274
Among the myriad virtues of George Orwell’s final novel, the 1949 groundbreaking, language-redefining 1984, is its continued relevance to changing times, as every generation finds its prescience remarkable. “It’s a vision of the future no matter when it’s being read,” Martin (Carl Hendrick Louis), an antiques dealer, tells protagonist Winston Smith (Tom Sturridge) in Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s confounding stage version, running at the Hudson Theatre through October 8. Martin was talking about both Winston’s secret diary and the masterful source material, Orwell’s clear-eyed view of a bleak future ruled by unseen totalitarian entities who keep the populace under constant suppression and surveillance. Later in the scene, Martin explains to Winston, “Every age sees itself reflected.” Neither of these lines is in the original text, but they get to the heart of this inconsistent theatrical adaptation. Orwell warned us that all this was coming, and now we’re virtually there, pun intended. It’s no coincidence that the book keeps appearing on the bestseller list as President Donald Trump and his associates speak out about “alternative facts” and “fake news” and cabinet members are confirmed to head departments responsible for policy they seem to be against. Icke and Macmillan have interlaced a confusing framing story that takes place well past 2050, inspired by the book’s appendix, looking back at how Winston attempted to navigate a world drowning in Newspeak, where Big Brother proclaims, “War Is Peace,” “Freedom Is Slavery,” and “Ignorance Is Strength” and such words as “doublethink,” “thoughtcrime,” “telescreen,” and “unperson” have entered the lexicon. Romantic love is illegal, but Winston and Julia, who both work at the Ministry of Truth, where Winston erases people and events from history, decide to take a risk, finding themselves in each other’s arms while also plotting to bring down the party. But it’s not going to be easy, as they soon discover.
The 101-minute intermissionless play features some very strong moments, particularly whenever party leader and possible Brotherhood agent O’Brien (Reed Birney) is onstage. The scenes change with a shocking blast of noise and blinding white lights, courtesy of sound designer Tom Gibbons and lighting designer Natasha Chivers, which is frighteningly effective. Later, the torture scenes are so graphic that the theater bars anyone under fourteen. (Originally there was no age limit, but too many families were exiting early with their scared youngsters in tow.) Playing off the concept of the telescreen watching people’s every movement, Icke (Oresteia, Mr. Burns, a post-electric playEvery Brilliant Thing, City of Glass) rely too much on live projections by video designer Tim Reid; at one point the audience is watching the screens at the top of Chloe Lamford’s set for an extended period of time as no live action takes place onstage but instead is being streamed from offstage. In addition, the fourth wall is broken twice, but it’s more of an off-putting device than it is an effective warning that this could happen to us if we’re not careful. “Words matter. Facts matter. The truth matters,” Winston says as the play references Trump and his fight with the media. There’s not much passion between Wilde, in her Broadway debut, and Tony nominee Sturridge (Orphans, Punk Rock), while Tony winner Birney (The Humans, Circle Mirror Transformation) brings just the right calm demeanor to O’Brien. The cast also features Michael Potts as Charrington, Nick Mills as Syme, Wayne Duvall as Parsons, and Cara Seymour as Mrs. Parsons, and the disappearance/erasure of one of the secondary characters is handled quite cleverly. But the narrative jumps around too much between the past, the present, and the future and strays too often from the central plot, creating confusion and annoyance. The story’s overall message — which Orwell arrived at in part as a response to the rise of Stalinism while also predicting the German Stasi — gets buried in too much stylistic stagecraft. However, its relevance is still terrifyingly apparent: Big Brother is indeed watching us, and we don’t seem to mind anymore what they see.