The 2014-15 Broadway season was a strong one, breaking records for both gross and attendance. Quality was up as well as quantity, with a bevy of musicals and plays worthy of high praise indeed. The Tonys will be handed out on Sunday night at Radio City, and below are my predictions for who will take home the prize, named after actress, director, and producer Antoinette Perry, the cofounder of the American Theatre Wing. In addition, you can read my review of every nominated show (save for one) here.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Hand to God
Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
What Should Win: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, an utterly dazzling theatrical experience (by the way, was there really no room for Airline Highway in this category?)
What Will Win: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a treat for the eyes, ears, and brain
An American in Paris
What Should Win: Fun Home, because there’s nothing else quite like it
What Will Win: Something Rotten!, because it’s a clever Shakespearean musical that rewards the audience’s love of theater
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY
The Elephant Man
This Is Our Youth
You Can’t Take It with You
What Should Win: This Is Our Youth, a powerful drama that not enough voters will remember (and hey, what about It’s Only a Play?)
What Will Win: You Can’t Take It with You, because it has aged so surprisingly well
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL
The King and I
On the Town
On the Twentieth Century
What Should Win: On the Twentieth Century, for its sheer glee and love of life
What Will Win: The King and I, because it’s The King and I
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE
Fun Home, music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Lisa Kron
The Last Ship, music and lyrics by Sting
Something Rotten!, music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
The Visit, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb
What Should Win: Fun Home, because of its originality and daring
What Will Win: Something Rotten!, because it’s a celebration of all things Broadway
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Steven Boyer, Hand to God
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Ben Miles, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Bill Nighy, Skylight
Alex Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Who Should Win: Sharp, who boggles the mind as a boy on the autism spectrum, although Boyer is outrageous as a puppet-obsessed boy on the edge
Who Will Win: Sharp, in a very strong category where all are deserving
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A PLAY
Geneva Carr, Hand to God
Helen Mirren, The Audience
Elisabeth Moss, The Heidi Chronicles
Carey Mulligan, Skylight
Ruth Wilson, Constellations
Who Should Win: Mulligan, who is sensational as a single woman coming to terms with her life
Who Will Win: Mirren, because she’s royalty on both sides of the pond
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Michael Cerveris, Fun Home
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Ken Watanabe, The King and I
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town
Who Should Win: Cerveris, who gives a complex, nuanced performance as a closeted husband and father
Who Will Win: Fairchild, who brings balletic elegance to Broadway while paying homage to Gene Kelly
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope, An American in Paris
Beth Malone, Fun Home
Kelli O’Hara, The King and I
Chita Rivera, The Visit
Who Should Win: Chenoweth, who is an unstoppable force of nature
Who Will Win: Chenoweth, because there’s just no stopping her
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Matthew Beard, Skylight
K. Todd Freeman, Airline Highway
Richard McCabe, The Audience
Alessandro Nivola, The Elephant Man
Nathaniel Parker, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Micah Stock, It’s Only a Play
Who Should Win: Parker, for his novel, downright friendly interpretation of King Henry VIII, although Freeman and McCabe are exceptional as well
Who Will Win: Freeman, who is beguiling as transgender Sissy Na Na
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A PLAY
Annaleigh Ashford, You Can’t Take It with You
Patricia Clarkson, The Elephant Man
Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Sarah Stiles, Hand to God
Julie White, Airline Highway
Who Should Win: White, for her poignant portrayal of a brave woman struggling to get by day by day
Who Will Win: Clarkson, for her poignant portrayal of the brave woman who looks into John Merrick’s soul
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Andy Karl, On the Twentieth Century
Brad Oscar, Something Rotten!
Brandon Uranowitz, An American in Paris
Max von Essen, An American in Paris
Who Should Win: Oscar, for joyfully going way over the top as the other Nostradamus
Who Will Win: Karl, who has quickly become a Broadway favorite
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Victoria Clark, Gigi
Judy Kuhn, Fun Home
Sydney Lucas, Fun Home
Ruthie Ann Miles, The King and I
Emily Skeggs, Fun Home
Who Should Win: Lucas, for her marvelous turn as the youngest Alison Bechdel
Who Will Win: Lucas, who has a charming presence beyond her years
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY
Stephen Daldry, Skylight
Marianne Elliott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Scott Ellis, You Can’t Take It with You
Jeremy Herrin, Wolf Hall Parts One & Two
Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Hand to God
Who Should Win: Elliott, for the wildly inventive and constantly awe-inspiring Curious Incident
Who Will Win: Elliott, the mastermind behind an unforgettable production
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL
Sam Gold, Fun Home
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!
John Rando, On the Town
Bartlett Sher, The King and I
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris
Who Should Win: Gold, for reinventing Fun Home on its move from the Public to Broadway
Who Will Win: Sher, for his third straight beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein revival at Lincoln Center
Joshua Bergasse, On the Town
Christopher Gattelli, The King and I
Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris
Who Should Win: Wheeldon, who has brought ballet back to Broadway
Who Will Win: Wheeldon, for his ingenuity and craftsmanship
Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway between 50th & 51st Sts.
Wednesday - Sunday through July 5, $49.75-$122
Last season the Brits thrilled Broadway with Shakespeare’s Globe’s doubleheader of Twelfth Night and Richard III, performed as they were in the Bard’s time. This season’s biggest British theatrical event is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s twin bill — but this time they’re not doing Shakespeare. Instead, the Royal Shakespeare Company brings us its widely hailed stage production of Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize–winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, set in the just pre-Elizabethan England of Henry VIII. The two plays, which run more than five hours together and can be seen either on separate nights or the same day (matinee and evening, with a break in between), follow the trials and tribulations of lawyer Thomas Cromwell (Ben Miles), a blacksmith’s son, as he deals with Cardinal Wolsey’s (Paul Jesson) battle with King Henry VIII (Nathaniel Parker), who wants an annulment from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon (Lucy Briers) so he can wed Anne Boleyn (Lydia Leonard) to provide an heir to the throne. The based-on-fact intrigue also involves the conniving, ambitious Stephen Gardiner (Matthew Pidgeon), the dangerous Sir Thomas More (John Ramm), the soon-to-be Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer (Giles Taylor), Henry’s former mistress Mary Boleyn (Olivia Darnley), and untrustworthy court musician Mark Smeaton (Joey Batey). In the first part, Cromwell tries to balance his life with his wife, Lizzie Wykys (Darnley), and children, Gregory (Daniel Fraser) and Grace, while negotiating between the cardinal and the king. In the second part, Cromwell’s power has grown, as he is now adviser to the king, who has married Anne. But Cromwell has learned that the new queen, who has been unable to produce a surviving male heir, might have been unfaithful to the king, who has turned his attention to Jane Seymour (Leah Brotherhead). It all comes to a head in a gripping scene in which Cromwell grills the men who have purportedly bedded down with the queen.
Expertly adapted by Mike Poulton (A Tale of Two Cities, Fortune’s Fool), the stage version of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is very different from the recent six-part Masterpiece television series, which stars Rylance as Cromwell, Damian Lewis as Henry VIII, and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn. Director Jeremy Herrin (The Nether, The Absence of War) keeps things stark and spare, with all of the action taking place on Christopher Oram’s minimalist set, which is usually empty, save for an occasional chair, desk, or table. Scene changes are indicated by Paule Constable’s lighting and the actors walking to the edge of the stage, then turning back around. Oram’s costumes are elegant and dramatic, seeming to have stepped right out of classic historical paintings. The rounded front of the stage juts out into the audience, making for a spectacularly intimate experience, particularly for those in the first few rows. The acting is exceptional, led by Miles’s (The Norman Conquests, Betrayal) sensational portrayal of the complex Cromwell, who would make quite a chief of staff in contemporary America. Parker (The Audience, Speed-the-Plow) is a marvelously devious Henry VIII, Briers (Top Girls, Some Kind of Bliss) is fiery as the embittered Katherine, Jesson (The Normal Heart, Mr. Turner) brings a warm sense of humor to the cardinal, and Joshua Silver, in his Broadway debut, is steadfast as Cromwell’s loyal ward and chief clerk, Rafe Sadler. Jealousy, desire, power, ambition, and vainglory collide in Wolf Hall Parts One & Two, another must-see theatrical event from across the pond.
254 West 54th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 2, $55-$159
In the chapter “Sacred Word, Profane Image” in her book Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices, author Ella Shohat writes, “Although according to the Bible God made man in his own image, a few films have projected God in man’s image, making casting an unusually difficult task,” citing portrayals of the Supreme Being by George Burns, Vittorio de Sica, Robert Mitchum, Morgan Freeman, Alanis Morissette, and others. David Javerbaum’s devilishly funny new Broadway comedy, An Act of God, addresses that right at the outset, as Jim Parsons descends from the heavens to take a seat on a couch and chat with the audience. “I reside in all forms, yet my essence is formless, for I transcend all dualities, including that of form and formlessness,” God (Parsons) explains. “Yet tonight I have chosen to appear in form; specifically that of beloved television star Jim Parsons. For lo, I have endowed him with a winning, likable personality; and know of a certainty that your apprehension of My depthless profundities will be aided by his offbeat charm. And then, the irony of him starring in a show called The Big Bang Theory . . . I just couldn’t resist.” For the next ninety minutes, a primarily relaxed, easygoing Almighty presents a revised and updated version of the Ten Commandments for the twenty-first century, with the help of archangels Gabriel (Tim Kazurinsky) and Michael (Christopher Fitzgerald). While Gabriel reads passages from the Bible, Michael roams the audience, taking questions, starting out with innocuous queries but quickly getting into much larger metaphysical and existential matters of the universe as God addresses slavery, abortion, evolution, homosexuality, prayer, the Holocaust, incest, masturbation, Noah, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, the history of Studio 54, and cell phones, all with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But as charming and friendly as he can be, this God can also show his wrath when necessary.
Just as former Daily Show head writer Javerbaum’s book on which the play is based, The Last Testament: With 100 Top Tweets from @TheTweetOfGod, was billed as “A Memoir by God,” An Act of God is “A One-God Show” starring the Supreme Being Himself; He even gets His own paragraph in the Playbill, identifying Him as the Creator and pointing out that this “is His first work written directly for the stage.” Emmy winner Parsons, who dealt with another imaginary figure on Broadway in 2012 when he starred as Elwood P. Dowd in the Roundabout revival of Harvey, in which his character has a giant invisible rabbit for a best friend, is appealing and charismatic as the Lord, wearing sneakers with his long white robe and pushing the merch. He has the audience eating out of the palms of his hands from the get-go, and it willingly gives him the benefit of the doubt even when the script gets too clever for its own good or plays too fast and loose with some very serious subjects. SNL vet Kazurinsky (Police Academy) and two-time Tony nominee Fitzgerald (Finian’s Rainbow, Young Frankenstein) are fine foils for Parsons, the former standing steadfastly at his podium, worshiping his Bible, the latter moving about like Phil Donahue or Jerry Springer, ultimately angering his boss when demanding deeper insight. Tony-winning director Joe Mantello (Airline Highway, Other Desert Cities) maintains a graceful pace on Tony favorite Scott Pask’s (Pal Joey, The Book of Mormon) elegant set, highlighted by a staircase leading up to the stars (and evoking the Merrie Melodies logo), where Peter Nigrini’s projections add an extra touch. The breezy show might not quite answer the questions of the universe that have perplexed humankind throughout the centuries, but An Act of God is a wickedly sinful way to laugh your head off at the foibles of our modern-day, religion-crazed culture, where even the Almighty can be a celebrity.
Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center Theater
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Saturday through January 3, $97-$172
In December 1977, my parents took the whole family to Broadway to see a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, with Yul Brynner returning as King Mongkut of Siam and Constance Towers playing Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher hired by the royal leader to teach English and Western culture to his children as he tries to modernize his country, later known as Thailand. It was my introduction to the Broadway musical in person, not a bad way to begin. So it was with fond memories that I entered Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater recently to see this latest revival, and I’m happy to report that everything you’ve heard about it is correct; it’s a memorable experience from start to finish, a delightful staging loaded with charm and elegance. Based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel, Anna and the King of Siam, a fictionalized version of actual events, the musical gets under way with a lovely overture; the small orchestra, under the direction of Ted Sperling, is in the pit, visible below long wooden slats stretching out in front of the stage. But at the end of the fanfare, the stage floor extends over the musicians, the curtain opens, and a nearly impossibly large, spectacular ship approaches the audience, carrying Anna (six-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara) and her young son, Louis (Jake Lucas), as they pull into Bangkok. Captain Orton (Murphy Guyer) warns Anna not to anger Kralahome (Paul Nakauchi), the king’s prime minister, but the widow immediately shows that she is not afraid of anything, speaking her mind when she learns that she and Louis will be staying at the palace instead of the separate house she was promised. And upon meeting the king (Ken Watanabe), who has a vast number of wives and children, she quickly demonstrates that she is a strong, fearless woman, not about to tolerate treatment as a second-class citizen. In addition to giving lessons to the kids, including the crown prince, Chulalongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz), Anna is soon teaching the king a thing or two as well as he seeks to make tiny Siam a major player in the modern world. Meanwhile, the newest member of his harem, Tuptim (Ashley Park), a gift from the king of Burma, is secretly in love with Lun Tha (Conrad Ricamora), a clandestine romance that could get them both killed.
Director Bartlett Sher, who helmed Lincoln Center’s celebrated 2008 production of South Pacific — which earned seven Tonys, including Best Director of a Musical and Best Revival of a Musical, as well as a nomination for O’Hara’s featured performance as Nellie Forbush — has done another sparkling job with The King and I, inviting the audience to bask in the glow of Richard Rodgers’s glorious music and Oscar Hammerstein III’s exquisite book and lyrics. Once the ship departs, Michael Yeargan’s sets are much more spare yet graceful, allowing Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes to shine. The songs are, well, as wonderful as ever, from “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” and “Shall We Dance?” to “Getting to Know You,” “A Puzzlement,” and, natch, “Something Wonderful.” “The March of Siamese Children,” in which the king’s progeny from his favorite wives bow to him, one at a time, then greet Anna, as their mothers watch closely, hoping their children don’t do anything to hurt their status, is particularly effective, not only in its stellar execution but in displaying the old-fashioned ways of the king, which he must overcome if Siam is to thrive internationally. The issue of slavery is raised quite specifically in the second-act ballet “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” a special presentation, based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for an important British diplomat (Edward Baker-Duly) who is interested in Anna. The show manages to sidestep issues of colonialism and ethnocentricity as Anna criticizes many of Siam’s traditions and her relationship with the king grows more intimate.
O’Hara (The Light in the Piazza, Nice Work If You Can Get It) is enchanting as Anna, a role previously played by the likes of Celeste Holm, Hayley Mills, Faith Prince, Maureen McGovern, and Marie Osmond, giving her a fierce, determined edge while letting her vocal cords soar. (Irene Dunne played Anna in John Cromwell’s 1946 film, Anna and the King of Siam, which also starred Rex Harrison as the king and Lee J. Cobb as Kralahome.) Watanabe (Letters from Iwo Jima, Inception) is a certifiable triumph in a role that might be associated with one actor more than any other role — Brynner played the part more than 4,600 times onstage over the course of thirty-four years, winning two Tonys, while also earning an Oscar for the 1956 film and starring in the 1972 television series Anna and the King with Samantha Eggar. Bare-chested and with a shaven head, Watanabe is utterly engaging as the king, his choppy English adding a nice touch to his depiction of the complex ruler, whether declaring that life is a puzzlement, gleefully exclaiming, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” or sweeping across the floor with Anna. (Just for the record, among the other actors who have portrayed the king in various incarnations, both musical and not, are Farley Granger, Lou Diamond Phillips, Zachary Scott, Herbert Lom, Darren McGavin, and Rudolf Nureyev.) Christopher Gattelli’s choreography, based on Jerome Robbins’s original, keeps things flowing beautifully, accompanying Robert Russell Bennett’s lush orchestrations. The original production won all five of the Tony Awards it was nominated for back in 1952 — Brynner as Best Featured Actor, Gertrude Lawrence for Best Leading Actress as Anna, Best Costume Design, Best Scenic Design, and Best Musical — while the revival I saw as a kid earned Drama Desk nominations for Brynner, Angela Lansbury as Anna, and Outstanding Musical. Lincoln Center’s revival is another runaway hit, garnering nine Tony nominations and two Drama Desk nods. It’s an absolute treat getting to know The King and I all over again.
205 West 46th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Through December 20, $72-$147
After nearly four years of heavy out-of-town tinkering, Finding Neverland has at last landed on Broadway, but it’s still lost, in desperate need of finding itself. Produced by a very hands-on Harvey Weinstein, whose Miramax company released the 2004 Oscar-nominated film starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, and Julie Christie, the stage musical has gone through major cast, director, and composer changes before settling on the current Great White Way team: director Diane Paulus, Matthew Morrison as J. M. Barrie, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, book by Jerry Graham, and choreography by Mia Michaels. Based on Allan Knee’s play The Man Who Was Peter Pan, the show follows Barrie, a successful playwright dealing with his first flop, as he teeters between two worlds: the high-society lifestyle preferred by his wife, Mary (Teal Wicks), and the more down-home, simple existence lived by the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly) and her four sons, Peter, Jack, George, and Michael (played in various configurations by Alex Dreier, Hayden Signoretti, Noah Hinsdale, Aidan Gemme, Christopher Paul Richards, Sawyer Nunes, and Jackson Demott Hill). His producer, Charles Frohman (Kelsey Grammer), an American, needs him to write a hit, and ideas start percolating as Barrie spends more time with the Davies clan, discovering his inner child with an infectious glee. Little events become fodder for his work, the eventual Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. But while Peter Pan is built around magic, Finding Neverland lacks any real spark.
Whenever you see a show, you want to be completely invested in it, lured in by its magic, whether a comedy, a drama, or a glitzy musical. Early in the second act, when Frohman’s acting troupe is drinking together in a pub, its crabby erstwhile star, Mr. Henshaw (Paul Slade Smith), turns to Frohman and asks, “Do they say ‘cheers’ where you come from, mate?” The completely unnecessary reference to the television series that made Grammer famous brings Finding Neverland to a screeching halt; sure, many people in the audience explode in laughter — much as they do when Larry David throws in a gratuitous catchphrase from Curb Your Enthusiasm into the disappointing Fish in the Dark — but it takes you right out of the fantasy, which is what Peter Pan is all about, and the show never recovers. The ballads are drippy, the acting often goes too far over the top — Smith, Josh Lamon as his cohort Mr. Cromer, Tyley Ross as Lord Cannan, and Carolee Carmello as Mary’s mother are particularly annoying — and the way Paulus (Pippin, Hair) and Michaels (So You Think You Can Dance) depict flying is a supreme letdown. It does have its moments — there is a sweet energy between Morrison (The Light in the Piazza, Glee) and Kelly (Mary Poppins, Peter Pan), Grammer has several funny bits, and some of the staging is clever — but it’s all frustratingly inconsistent. Finding Neverland tries way too hard to be a feel-good experience but instead never takes flight.
1564 Broadway at 47th St.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 22, $57-$147
Tony nominee and Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Lucas and Royal Ballet artistic associate Christopher Wheeldon don’t merely translate Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 Oscar-winning film, An American in Paris, to the stage, they transform it. This first-ever theatrical production of the Gershwin musical is set in Paris at the end of WWII, as former GI Jerry Mulligan (New York City Ballet principal dancer Robert Fairchild) decides to stay in France and explore his art — as well as Lise Dassin (Royal Ballet dancer Leanne Cope), a shy young woman who works in a parfumerie but dreams of becoming a ballerina. Jerry soon finds a friend in Adam Hochberg (Brandon Uranowitz), a sarcastic composer and pianist who is training Henri Baurel (Max von Essen) for a cabaret act, a secret Henri keeps from his stern German parents (Veanne Cox and Scott Willis). Meanwhile, wealthy arts patron Milo Davenport (Jill Paice) has taken Jerry under her wing, introducing him to high society — and perhaps into her boudoir. But Jerry has fallen head-over-heels for Lise, who has some secrets of her own — and is also being wooed at the same time by Adam and Henri.
Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza) has cleverly expanded on Alan Jay Lerner’s original screenplay, not only making Lise a ballerina but adding references to Nazism and anti-Semitism, while Wheeldon (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Winter’s Tale) does a spectacular job bringing ballet to Broadway, creating scintillating ballet numbers that are fresh and vibrant. The score, with music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira, features such memorable treats as “I Got Rhythm,” “’S Wonderful,” “But Not for Me,” “The Man I Love,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” in addition to the instrumentals “Concerto in F” and “Second Prelude,” all adapted and arranged beautifully by Rob Fisher. Two of the film’s highlights, the dreamlike “American in Paris” sequence and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” get the deluxe treatment, showing off Natasha Katz’s lighting and Bob Crowley’s gorgeous costumes and dazzling sets, which were inspired by Mondrian and the moving mirrors from the film. Fairchild and Cope are excellent in their Broadway debuts, dancing, singing, and acting with equal aplomb. And Lucas even leaves in Lerner’s Oscar Levant joke. Sure, “Fidgety Feet” is frivolous and the discussions of artistic integrity unnecessary, but everything else about An American in Paris on Broadway is, well, magnifique.
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 3, $37 - $177
Nearly five hundred years after William Shakespeare’s death, the author is still challenging modern dramatists around the world for theater space while influencing story lines and inspiring alternate takes on his thirty-six works. In their first stage production, brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick anachronistically take audiences back to the Renaissance in Something Rotten!, a rousing musical farce that pays tribute to the Bard and Broadway by playfully skewering both. Two-time Tony nominee Brian d’Arcy James stars as Nick Bottom, who runs a local theater troupe with his brother, Nigel (John Cariani), that can’t escape Shakespeare’s (Christian Borle) shadow. Desperate to beat the Bard at his own game — and determined to show his feminist wife, Bea (Heidi Blickenstaff), that he can be the family’s main breadwinner — Nick takes advice from a vagrant soothsayer named Thomas Nostradamus (Brad Oscar), leading him to attempt the first-ever full-fledged musical, Omelette. But Nigel wants to write something more meaningful than a show about breakfast, while also becoming interested in Portia (Kate Reinders), the chaste daughter of Puritan leader Brother Jeremiah (Brooks Ashmanskas). Meanwhile, Shakespeare prances about like a rock star, prepared to take on all comers to his literary throne, ready, willing, and able to do whatever it takes to preserve his lofty status. “Yo! — He’s the bomb, the soul of the age / The wiz of the Elizabethan stage,” the crowd sings about Shakespeare in the opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” continuing, “He’s incredible, unforgettable / He’s just so freakin’ awesome!”
Karey, who cowrote the book with British novelist and script writer John O’Farrell (the two previously collaborated on the hit animated film Chicken Run), and Wayne, with whom Karey cowrote the music and lyrics, fill Something Rotten! with an endless array of references to Shakespeare and the Great White Way, from direct quotes, character names, and Gregg Barnes’s (Follies, The Drowsy Chaperone) costumes to Scott Pask’s (The Book of Mormon, The Coast of Utopia) high-school-like painted-cardboard sets and director Casey Nicholaw’s (The Book of Mormon, Spamalot) choreography. Part of the fun of Something Rotten! is trying to recognize all the references (be on the lookout for homages to Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, A Chorus Line, The Lion King, Hair, The Book of Mormon, The Producers, Gypsy, and countless others), which also saves you from not getting too caught up in the silly plot twists and several of the numbers that are precisely what is being made fun of. “Who talks like this?” Nick asks, referring to Shakespeare’s use of Olde English and iambic pentameter. “Nigel, why can’t we just write like we speak?” Among the most effective production numbers are “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” led by Nick and Nigel (Nick: “That little turd, he / has no sense about the audience / He makes them feel so dumb / The bastard doesn’t care / that my poor ass is getting numb”) and Nick and Nostradamus’s “A Musical” (Nick: “Well, that is the stupidest thing that I have ever heard / You’re doing a play, got something to say / so you sing it? It’s absurd / Who on earth is going to sit there / while an actor breaks into song / What possible thought can the audience think / other than this is horribly — wrong?”), while “Right Hand Man” is standard fluff, and “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard” are overplayed and repetitive. But it’s all still great fun, with particularly fine turns by d’Arcy James (Shrek the Musical, Sweet Smell of Success), the Kristen Chenoweth-like Reinders (Wicked, Into the Woods), and Ashmanskas (Bullets over Broadway, Present Laughter), but Oscar (The Producers, Spamalot) steals the show as the clairvoyant bum who sums up what a musical is quite succinctly: “It appears to be a play where the dialogue stops and the plot is conveyed through song.” And in this case, it’s a celebration of the art form that will leave you giddy with delight, whether you are a lover or hater of Shakespeare — and Broadway musicals.